Coffee Taste Test – Four Preparations

I am not a coffee afficionada, because my brain only has so much space (and it’s been taken up with beer knowledge). I do love coffee, though. I like it when travelling, and have found ways to make it differ greatly on this little blue planet.


Vietnamese –> Drip –> French Press

In Italy, the moka and the cafeterria reign supreme. In Boulder, the french press is popular. In South America, instant is the way to go. In Korea, one can use a drip coffee maker if you are common enough to want to make your coffee at home. In Vietnam, they use a special silver filter.

Which one is best? Or at least, which is best for me?

Time for a side-by-side taste test. All these coffee types were made with the same coffee (Peet’s Robust Roast, or as my Mama calls it, ‘Crack’). That excludes the instant espresso, which is Medaglia D’Oro brand from the Latino foods section. Where’s the Moka? I can’t find it. Maybe it’s in Korea somewhere.



Boom, done! 10 seconds to fresh espresso. Just add hot water. It’s so convenient, and I know why I normally keep one of these on my desk if I happen to be working an office job. At $4 for 2oz., it’s also the most cost efficient. It’s grassy and burnt in taste, but it has a great little foam if you pour the hot water hard.

Korean-Style Drip


This brought back memories of Busan mornings. The drawback: you have to buy filters. The good part: it makes the biggest cup. The result is a lighter, smooth coffee with a certain amount of slickness in the mouth. This process seemed to bring out a cinnamon aroma in this coffee, too.

French Press


Hard to believe that this was once my favourite coffee maker. It’s light, and burnt on the first sip. The second sip is milder, but I just cannot get over the debris left in the coffee. I wrote, “SANDY” in my tasting notes. No longer a favourite.



This is my new obsession. Vietnamese coffee is wonderful and thick. There is nothing better than a coffee next to the busy street on a hot Hanoi afternoon. I am not yet an expert at making it, but this attempt was concentrated and thick. There is remarkably less aroma compared to the other preparations, and it’s earthy. My favourite.


Even though I’m back freelancing and need energy to sit in front of the laptop for eight hours a day, I don’t need four cups of coffee. I poured some into cups to put outside with incense, in true Vietnamese fashion. Thank you, gods of coffee, for such abundance.

International Cuisine Weekend: Chile

I made this yesterday, but ran out of time to post it. Cazuela is a famous Chilean soup that I ate almost every day while living in Patagonia in 2011. It is flexible and warming when it starts to get chilly (nudge nudge).

This one was adapted a little bit and I didn’t have any corn, so I left that part out.


I made the veggie stock with scraps from the Italia day. It’s a favourite thing of mine to do, and it makes me feel like I’ve used all parts of the animal/vegetable to make food. I often have a sealed box filled with scraps and bones in my freezer, ready to go. Bone broth is a big deal these days, but I’ve been making it for years!

Yesterday was Chile, and today will be China!

First, to the mountains.

Al Camino Que Hicieron Mis Zapatos

I spent six months of this year living, teaching, traveling, and struggling in South America through a program with the Chilean MINEDUC (Ministry of Education). It was a life-changing experience in many ways, and I am so glad that I kept a blog while I was trying to sort myself out. This is a re-posting of the last entry, written from a hotel room in Lima, and I’ve added the photos from the experience. 
Originally published on 18 August 2011, and re-published on 22 December 2011. Before the adventure in China begins, it’s good too look back on the first time I taught English Abroad. 

Seven more hours in South America. What does that even mean? In a certain sense, I feel as though it is already over. Everything that I have experienced since leaving la Región de Magallanes in Chile has given me perspective, but it also made the time there feel as distant as its physical location 2800 miles South.

Everything feels surreal. Instead of having to take an extremely uncomfortable bus full of puking Peruvians for forty-eight hours, followed by a collectivo on the fly and a stowaway passage on a cargo boat to get home, I will walk onto my flight to the States and be home within ten hours. It seems impossible. (<–It was. See my story of how I actually got out of the Lima Airport.)

I always find my self grasping at strings to sum up a journey adequately when I confront returning home. Words and phrases that I want to lean on because they are easy fall flat. “Overall, it was a ______ experience…” is not sufficient. “At the end, I see that ______ was _______ all along…” doesn’t cut it. “When I began this journey, I thought _______, but now I’ve learned _______…” just can’t work.

I can’t tie the thousands of experiences and lessons into a nice little box and package them in shiny wrapping paper. I can’t even get them all straight in my mind. Besides, I think somehow that there is no box big enough. Especially not this tiny one on Blogger.
Instead I will make a minor and inefficient attempt to draw the closing lines of Al Camino que Hicieron Mis Zapatos quoting…myself. From the beginning.

“Now this experience is beginning, and it feels surreal still…So much craziness has already happened and I feel as though it can only get better from here (and here is pretty great already)…” -26 February

March 3, Santiago de Chile

“Occasionally a shooting star that only I get to see shows up and streaks across my life. And I get to be satisfied that there are people like me out there in the world, and that we occasionally find one another.” -2 March

Holy shit. I’m about to see someone get stabbed.” -3 March

“Complete And Utter Chaos would come today when my head teacher decided not to come back from his lunch break and the director asked me to substitute with no preparation or lesson plan or materials.” -15 March

March 14, Puerto Natales, Chile

“And maybe all the things that seem to be contradictions are simply juxtapositions that I am not used to. Maybe my definition of contradiction needs to evolve. And maybe I’m over-reacting because this is actual culture shock instead of the “I’m at home!” feeling Italy immediately gave me.” -23 March

“Am I just a cog in the English Cult Machine here in Chile? Maybe.” -31 March

I had no idea how hard I would be expected to work here, nor how hard I would have to push myself.” -10 April

March 19, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

“They all think I am crazy. Also I am covered in cat pee.” -20 April

“I’m not even concerned with breaking even anymore. I just want a little sprinkling of good surprises and minor victories to season the greater confusion, frustration, and lack of progress. It’s enough.” -3 May

“I can’t change everything. Maybe, just maybe, I can’t change ANYthing. I hope that the reality is somehwere in the middle, but it remains to be seen.” -16 May

April 4, Two of my students

“So, what do you do when there is nothing more to do? When you have nothing more to give? When what you thought was the point of your life has been erroded by three months of floundering and you wonder what the point of trying is?

You tell the existential crisis bearing down on you to go fuck itself, and you spend some of the UN’s money on some new boots and a coffee.” -24 May

April 17, Villa Renovald

“The images of all the places I have been able to travel so far on this trip materialize out of the bluish gray light, seeming to shine in the snow and cloudy sky. Torres del Paine. Tierra del Fuego. Ushuaia. Natales. Puerto Bulnes. The Straight of Magellan. That big hill over there, that we spent the day climbing yesterday. All the toughness of the teaching and the daily stuggles, did it pay for those places?” -27 May

Crossing the Strait of Magellan, April 25

“Circumstantial changes mimic the coming and going of the weather here. If you don’t like it, wait five minutes. The chaos will shift again and you will be humbled by your smallness in the face of Patagonia. But you will also find that you can change some of it, and occasionally outsmart the chaos for just long enough to move to the next challenge.” -7 June

April 26, Ushuaia, Argentina

“I am not working here. This is not a job. This is something at I am choosing to do and that I can just as easily choose not to. I am a volunteer.”- 8 June

“There was no assistant teaching. No orientation. No gradual transition from non-teacher to Miss Coleen. Hell, there wasn’t even an observation period. I made the transition in a day, in front of a room full of seventh graders. But honestly, I think I’ve risen well to the challenge. After four months of the struggle in this school, I can say with some confidence that I have at least a tiny claim to that kick ass brotherhood of teachers making a difference.” -22 June

Campo de Inbierno, Late June

“I have done the best job I could do to change and adapt and accept. A lot of what I have learned and changed is great, and I will use the new point of view Chile has offered me to judge my own life more carefully. But that doesn’t mean I should lose myself completely either. My own culture and identity have a lot to offer, and the exchange should change Puerto Natales and the people I meet as well.” -30 June

With three of my Chilean sisters, July 24, Puerto Natales

“You did it. You did what you came here to do. And you did it so well.

I didn’t look back. Really, I couldn’t…the more pressing needs to watch out for stray ankle-biting poodles, speeding POS cars on the avenue, and boot-swollowing mud puddles pressed me back to Chilean reality. The Goodbye Spell complete, I walked home.” -8 July

Mobbed by my students on my last day, July 8

“To any observer including me it appears that she has been trying to kill me…but she was actually trying to save me.

Chile woke me up and made me realize that I have a lot of work to do on myself before my life can have stability and I can truly be happy. She laid my own issues and those of the world bare, forcing me to deal with pain, sadness, lonliness, anger, and my own personal tormentors from the past.

Valparaiso, July 29

She forced me to give up a lot about my own way of viewing the world and to try to get by on fumes (and a ton of white bread) even when I was exhausted. She made me feel so tiny and powerless in the face of mountains and the problems of her society, but yet huge and powerful as the most noticeable gringa this side of Puerto Montt and able to do something to help those students.” -18 July

In one week, I’ve literally done Chile end to end. Punta Arenas to Arica.” -9 August

San Pedro de Atacama, August 1

“I don’t want to give up on one of the things that I’ve always held dear to me… The idea that I could act and change something about the world for the better. It is easier to choose to be jaded. The narrow path is not convenient.” -16 August

With Sandra, On Lake Titkaka, August 9

All the tethers to this experience are breaking free, one by one, to flutter in the wind. This week I felt the surprise of already missing Patagonia and everyone who was witness to my adventure here.

Likely whatever change there is within me will only become clear in the stark contrast this last, short leg of the journey will inevitably bring. I have an inkling that there is a big enough physical change that people may be shocked.

With our host family in Taquine, on Lake Titikaka

South America stripped pounds from my frame, changed my hair color, and put the first lines on my face. Also my clothes haven’t had a real washing in almost six months.

A girl in my hostel (a random, faked-tanned and overly-bleached California blonde) listened to a few lines of concentrated six months in South America the other day over a mediocre vegetarian sandwich. She was shocked at how long I’ve been here, and clearly had no grasp on how far South Puerto Natales is. She couldn’t stop complimenting my Spanish (that language I did not speak six months ago that I now take for granted).

Cusco, August 11

“Would you do it all again?”

I hesitated. This was, without question, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. A few weeks ago, I said that I wished I had never come to South America, through tears in the fancy SkyBar at the Punta Arenas casino.

“Yes. Yes, I would do it again.”

My answer surprised even myself. Something must have shifted in the 3000 miles since then. I don’t know what that shift is yet, but that tiny glimmer of light peeking out from the darkness seems to be a good omen.

Machu Picchu, August 13

“It is known that one who returns never left…” -Pablo Neruda

How to Quit Your Job and Move Abroad

I haven’t lived full-time in the USA since 2009. Each new adventure seems to be longer, and to pull me further away from staying permanently in the States. I now have a binational marriage, and moving abroad will always be a part of my life.

It’s been readily apparent recently that this lifestyle is unconventional. I’ve been hanging around in my hometown, waiting for a visa for China and then waiting to heal from shingles so that we can actually go on said visa! I often get asked how we do it. How do you just go and live in another country every year?

Question: How do you quit a job and move abroad?

The answer: Just do it. 

I know that sounds like an oversimplification. It can be really hard to see the layout of a lifestyle that is chosen, or out of a career that seems to be set in its path. Maybe you’ve been doing the same things since high school, always banking on the fact that if you just keep doing what has always been told to you as the way to happiness you will find it. And maybe you will!

But travel is an essential part of any life. Living abroad is obtainable for more people than ever in human history. The world is smaller and safer than ever. It doesn’t have to be forever. Just go and see the world.

A good bit of advice from my mid-February self...

A good bit of advice from my 2012 self….

Step 1: Plan Your Escape

You will need to begin planning several months ahead. Start by setting a tentative date for departure about six months in the future. Begin putting away money for the move, while you still have the job. Make sure that you take into account extra expenses like student loan payments.

Step 2: Choose a General Direction 

Do you want to teach abroad and work while you live in another country? Start looking into TEFL options.

Do you want to have more flexibility and travel for a shorter time? Look into longterm visa regulations for any countries you intend to visit. For example, in the Schengen Zone a US Citizen can only travel for 90 days without a visa. Some South American countries have similar limits on tourists.

Do you want to study abroad? Even if you aren’t currently in school, there are many options for short and long-term courses in other countries. I studied abroad three times, twice in college and once at the IFALPES institute in Annecy, France. Studying a language abroad is a unique opportunity, not to be missed.

Once you choose the general theme of your travels, you can begin taking concrete steps to move abroad.

3/14/2011 Puerto Natales, Chile

3/14/2011 Puerto Natales, Chile

Step 3 (Optional): Get A Criminal Record Check  

For many work and student visas, you will be required to submit a spotless criminal history from a national police record check. In the US, this can take up to four months!!!!! Get a move on and submit this before you even have job interviews.

How to Apply For an FBI Background Check 

While you’re at it, apply for your passport. That way it won’t get down to the wire, and you won’t have to use this guide to get your passport ASAP. 

Step 4: Job Interviews/Study Applications 

Take professional photos for applications. Awkwardly.

Take professional photos for applications. Awkwardly.

Begin to apply for jobs or study. You may need to gather a lot of documents, so get in bureaucratic shape. Don’t be surprised if you have a lot of job interviews before you find a place that’s right for you. When I went to Korea, I had about eight interviews. With China, we had a weeklong slog of interviews in our last week in London. I applied early for my MA programme in the UK, and that helped with loan applications. This is where things will begin to look solid, but…

Step 5: Get Comfortable with Ambiguity 

A lot of waiting will happen. A whole lot of not knowing what’s going on. A whole lot of guessing about visa regulations and where specifically you will be working. In my experience, you may not know where you will be living in the new country until about a week before you leave. In the case of China, we couldn’t buy our flights until the week before we were supposed to fly out.

Think of this as Zen training. And try not to get shingles from stress. 

Yeongtong 2012

Yeongtong 2012

Step 6 (Optional): Get Your Visa

Depending on the country, you may need to apply up to three months in advance. Sometimes, it will be much shorter. use these guides to help you if you are going to Korea, China, or the UK (student).

E-2 Visa for Korea and ARC 

Tier 4 Student Visa for the UK

Work Visa (Z visa) for China 

If you are planning on just travelling, check to see if you need to apply for a tourist visa before you leave. It is necessary for India, but most places let you pay a fee on arrival and step on through the border.

Step 7: Give Notice 

When things are in place, and you have enough money to travel, hand in your notice at work. Make sure that you keep things friendly, despite how happy you are to be moving into adventure mode. You never know when you might need a job!

Eat delicious food!

Eat delicious food!

Step 8: Fly Out

Get on that flight! Eat well and rest before you go if you can. Don’t pack too much; you really won’t need five shirts and a toilet brush. You can buy shampoo everywhere in the world. Just leave it. Travel light.

Prepare yourself for some serious weirdness on arrival. You might get taken directly from the airport to your hagwon in Korea! You might get robbed your first week in Chile! You might have to turn your flight around and land in Houston because of a drunken Brazilian! Anything can happen!

Step 9: Don’t. Give. Up. 

Travelling is a beautiful and fulfilling lifestyle. It’s life-changing. But you will have days when you get sick. You will have days when you just want to eat some real pizza. You will have days where you just don’t understand what the hell you are doing in The Great English Teaching Machine. You will have days where you just want toilet paper to be in every stall, damn it!

It feels like it looks. Underwear strapped to your face.

It feels like it looks. Underwear strapped to your face. Two type of influenza, at once! Korea, 2012.

These are the days that make the best stories later on. Keep a journal. Find local activities. Push yourself to get outside, even if it’s just for a walk. Whatever you do, don’t waste this opportunity by sitting around ‘saving money’ by playing WOW all weekend, every weekend. 

Quit your job. Move abroad. Nine easy steps. Are you up to the challenge?

Contact me directly with any questions you have about the international life. Direct access to my email!!