It’s been a busy few weeks for me college wise. One thing keeping me busy was compiling my feature writing portfolio for the end of semester 1. I decided to include a feature on two great friends of mine, who are currently living the dream and having the time of their lives travelling around Asia. Here is the piece I wrote on their Asian Adventure. Hope you like it😃
What will I do when I finish college?
It is a question that will undoubtedly cross the mind of any student a million times over while they study for their degree. Will I go straight into a job? Will I do a postgraduate course? Or will I take a year out?
For many nowadays, travelling the world has become a rite of passage. Either directly after taking the steps to the stage on graduation day to receive the piece of paper signifying their hard work over the last number of years, or taking a career break after making the jump straight into a career. The latter is true for two graduates, who met and became firm friends during their time NUI Galway.
Marie McDonnell (26) from Castleconor in Sligo, and Jane Healy (25) from Craughwell, in Galway, both studied Arts, and eventually went on to study for a Professional Diploma in Education in the hopes of breaking into teaching. After spending time teaching in London, they decided that they wanted to broaden their horizons and see what the rest of the world has to offer. Eventually, they decided Asia was somewhere they were keen to explore.
Jane: “I had toyed with the idea of moving to Asia permanently after teaching for two years in London. But obviously, I was apprehensive as it is such a huge move to make and a huge cultural difference to what we are used to.”
Marie: “I was working in London in quite a difficult school in London, and I thought it would be a good idea to go spend three months in Asia. So it just worked out well that the time was right for both of us to go together.”
And so began a three-month sojourn exploring what Asia had to offer. Boarding the plane, the girls had only made plans for their first week upon touching down on the other side of the world. After that it was just wherever the adventure took them, with only their passports, VISAs and the clothes on their backs.
Marie: “We never planned for more than two days on the trip really. If we liked a place, we stayed for a bit, if not, we moved on.”
The first port of call was a one week stay in Beijing, followed by a planned two-week stay in Vietnam, which quickly turned into over three weeks.
Marie: “The Great Wall was the highlight of Beijing. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. And of course, we met a man from Dublin as we were walking it. What are the chances? You can’t go too far in the world without meeting someone Irish.”
Jane: “Hoi An in Vietnam was really lovely as well. It’s a UNESCO heritage city, and the people there were just so welcoming. We had so many experiences of being invited into people’s homes and getting fed constantly.”
Then it was on to Cambodia for a ten-day stay. They were there during the now famous rugby match between Ireland and the All Blacks, in which Ireland finally ended a 111-year drought with a convincing win. Eager to see the game, they went to a local bar in the early hours and knocked on the windows asking if they could stream the match. The owners obliged and they ended up ‘doing a bit of bar work in return’. Cambodia also brought a deeply emotional visit to the so-called ‘Killing Fields’ in Khmer Rouge. These are a number of sites in Cambodia where more than a million people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979, immediately after the end of the Cambodian Civil War.
Jane: “The Killing Fields in Cambodia were very upsetting. But it was so eye-opening, because we had to travel so far to really get a sense of what happened here. And this is very recent history, only about 40 years ago.”
After a short stop of in Kuala Lumper, which they describe as ‘very built up, very modern, and very cosmopolitan’, they arrived in the Philippines, their favourite destination so far, and where they’re currently residing at the time of our chat. And it has been filled with life changing experiences, some good and some not so good. One of the good saw them take a visit to a local school, and it was amazing to observe the differences between there and Ireland. There were no computers, and no I-Pads. Just old-fashioned paper and pen and a willingness to learn.
Jane: “We were really lucky because we got the chance to visit a school, which was really interesting for us as teachers to see what people have, or in fact don’t have, in comparison to Ireland. Yet they are so happy and just happy to have the opportunity to learn.”
Marie: “They got so excited when Jane produced a globe and asked if they knew where Ireland was. There was a mini stampede to the front to see who could find it first.”
While that was undoubtedly a positive experience, there were other times that were quite frightening if you were a tourist. While they were on the island of Cebu, a warning was issued by the British and American governments warning tourists not to travel to certain areas in Cebu and the rest of the south. This was due to a rebellion against the government by a group targeting tourists for kidnappings and robberies, as it was thought the government weren’t actively trying to help the people in the poor areas of the south.
Marie: “Luckily we had enough money with us, because they cut all the cables to the ATM’s on the south of the island, which meant if you needed money you’d have to travel four or five hours to get to the nearest cash point. They were trying to deter tourists by giving the south a bad name, which would be disastrous for a country that relies a lot on tourism. So that was a bit scary.”
But with the help of the kind people in the hostel they were staying in, they managed to get out of the area to a safe place. Later on in the trip, Marie also had some money and clothing stolen, which they say is ‘quite upsetting when it first happens, but then you think move on and start enjoying yourself again, it’s only money’.
Ultimately though, the good experiences have far outweighed the bad on their Asian adventure. When I ask them what they would say to somebody thinking of following in their footsteps, they are very clear:
Jane: “Don’t plan things too much, if you want to go, just do it. We have met loads from different age groups travelling in pairs, groups or even alone. But really you are never alone here.
Marie: “It can be so daunting. And I know I always thought I had to do it while I was young. But we have met loads out here who are older, who just quit their jobs and went for it. So our advice is just don’t over think it, and do it.”
For now, the girls are contemplating the inevitable end to their journey. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t contemplating where the next destination will be in 2017. But first, their thoughts are on returning to Ireland to spend Christmas at home catching up with family and friends, and getting some good old-fashioned TLC from Mam, and saving for future adventures.
Jane: “We are looking forward to getting home, because really there is no better time to come home than Christmas. But we know we will miss out here so much. You learn so much about the world, but also about yourself when you travel. It puts a lot into perspective.”