The Travel Bug is Here to Stay

It all started back in Grade 12 when I spent March Break in Asia with my two older sisters. That trip opened my eyes to a whole new world outside life in rural Nova Scotia.

At that time, diversity meant the handful of black students and community of First Nations in high school; the one friend who wasn’t a Christian; or the classmate who didn’t play hockey. Experiencing two completely different cultures in the span of two weeks was exhilarating - from barbecued horse on open-grill tabletops, corn topped pizza, and karaoke rooms in South Korea, to vodka buckets, tuk-tuk rides and bartering in Thailand. Miscommunication made for good stories and cheap eats and drinks were easy on the wallet. 

Halfway through University I took a year off to travel with my sister and her boyfriend. We spent months backpacking throughout Southeast Asia – hitting up the beaches in Thailand (again), exploring ancient ruins in Cambodia, surfing sand dunes and sailing through floating villages in Vietnam, and tubing and kayaking in Laos. After Christmas I flew to Australia with little money, absolutely no plan, and no backpack (thanks to the airlines). I lived in that first hostel in Melbourne for 3 months. I changed beds in exchange for free rent. I sold milk and other dairy products door to door, worked at a call centre, and waitressed. I traveled up the east coast with my newfound friends and went skydiving, bungee jumping, scuba diving, zodiac tubing - basically did any and all activities available. It was an adrenaline packed adventure and a big party all rolled into one.

Back at University I jumped on every opportunity to go abroad again. I spent a semester in Ghana interning at a local health NGO (non--governmental organization). I persuaded a friend to join me on my stopover in England and together we traveled Amsterdam, Spain and Italy. I extended my second stopover as well, and rode camels and went dune bashing in the deserts of Dubai. Ghana fed my curious personality and being friends with the locals exposed me to a side of their culture I wouldn't have experienced otherwise. I had never-ending questions about their economy, corruption, their cuisine, and the devotion of Charismatic Christians. I traveled around the country to assist in the delivery of HIV/AIDS prevention and buruli ulcer workshops. I went to villages that had never seen a foreigner, ate with my hands, and spent upwards of six hours in a vehicle without a pit stop. When I left the airport on that scorching December morning I had no idea I would return three years later.  

In 2010 I graduated from Saint Mary's University with a Commerce Degree. I knew I didn't want to join the ranks of society in getting a job, a mortgage and a car payment – responsibilities that inevitably knock travel down the priority list. So instead, my friend and I went to South Korea to teach English to six year olds. Weekends were spent partying until sunrise or exploring the mountains, beaches and cultural festivities Korea has in abundance. Winter breaks were spent in Thailand. It was a lucrative life, one that many turn into a career. I, however, wanted to work in international development, and so I returned to Ghana for ten months, facilitating entrepreneurial workshops and expanding a micro-finance program in rural communities. I spent the majority of my time in a small town six hours north of the capital. It was an incredible experience to be stripped of everything familiar and essentially have to create a new life. It got dark at 6 pm, every third night was without power, and there were no activities to partake in. There were no foreigners, no coffee shops, no beaches or pools of water. Internet was weak and it was generally frowned upon to be seen at the local bar. I had no choice but to put myself out there. I made a few close friends and we would sit on cement blocks, drink mango juice, and contemplate life. Conversations were free of material goods, gossip, and trivial matters. Some weekends we would jump on the work moto and head to the waterfalls and monkeys a few hours away. I became involved with fundraising for local schools and daycares. The children craved stimulation and so I always had books, toys and craft supplies on hand. I loved meeting new people and learning about their beliefs and customs. I had dinners with priests and discussed religion, witches, and voodoo. I looked forward to the randomness of each day. I handled ‘Ghanaian time’ by having a book in my purse at all times. Life was good even without constant access to amenities of the western world. I slept on a sponge, boiled water on my portable stove top to take bucket showers, washed my dishes in a bin (which doubled as my washing machine), and woke with the goats and roosters (not waking to an alarm clock is pretty liberating). Every few weeks I indulged in beach weekends, imported foods and visited my friends in the capital. I valued the relationships I built, the continuous learning and the small things in life. 

Now, I find myself abroad again. I decided to come out to Central America in September of 2014 to learn Spanish and see where life takes me. I spent a few months in Nicaragua, teaching English to some children in the hostel and doing promotions for a restaurant/bar in town. I'm heading to Guatemala in February to work at a hostel in the jungle and work remotely for Barrio Planta Project, placing volunteers in their Cultural Exchange Program based in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Follow me on this adventure as I write my blog and post photos. Feel free to contact me anytime. 

- Renee LeVangie, Grow Inc COO

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