Lost Girl of the Week: Denice Crawford

Couples Travel, Expats Abroad, Lost Girl of the Week, Volunteering & Giving Back — By on October 5, 2008 at 11:54 pm

Denice Crawford China While Denice Crawford admits that she’s never been the biggest fan of traveling (motion sickness and a fear of flying kind of put a damper on things) few things make her happier than journeying overseas to learn about new cultures and places.

She recently wrote to tell us why she’s living overseas with her husband and has no plans to head home anytime soon:

“I always knew I would never fit in at a desk job. Although I love my friends and family stateside, I cherish the amazing opportunities and challenges of living and working as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Eastern Europe and as an ESL teacher in Asia. My lifestyle may not be popular with (or taken seriously!) by most of my friends and family back home, but reading the other Lost Girls’ stories and visiting their blogs reaffirms that my choice is the best for me and that I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

We second that, Denice! Her story, below:

: I don’t know when my love affair with all things foreign started, but I blame the liberal community I was raised in which celebrated diversity before it was trendy. As soon as I had my own library card, I checked out all the books on other countries and cultures. I insisted on celebrating every culture’s holidays at home and miniature flags stood atop my dressers and nightstand where most girls kept their dolls. I went to school early in the morning to take Spanish lessons beginning at age 8, watched soccer games on Rai Uno to hear Italian, and at night, I was lulled to sleep by Polish radio. I forced my family into looking at all of the cultural exhibits at Chicago’s finest museums.

In high school, I attended foreign exchange student recruitment meetings, bringing home the brochures, begging my parents to allow me to study abroad for my senior of high school. However, they refused and insisted that I had to be 18 first and that they’d rather have me go to college a year early than to have their youngest daughter live far across the world

Denice Crawford ChinaSo, I did what any spiteful teenager would do-I graduated a year early and found a college which allowed freshman to travel abroad. As a small nod to being duped, my parents took me to visit my first foreign city, Toronto. But signs in English and French and a maple leaf on the McDonald’s sign was hardly exotic. A month later, I found myself at college in rural Iowa, which was completely foreign to a self-professed city-girl. But unfortunately, I picked up a boyfriend, got distracted with trying to find a responsible career, and put my dreams on hold.
Luckily, things started falling into place during my senior year, and I came across a volunteer opportunity in Guatemala. It was my first opportunity to get a passport and I was ecstatic. I was interested in joining the Peace Corps and saw the trip as a very small taste of living abroad. During the tour of the village I’d be serving in for 8 days, I heard my calling for the first time in my life-I wanted to help people around the world in any way I could.

At the same time, I was invited to do a summer internship at a school for the blind in northern Greece which I pounced on, even extending my graduation to do so. After returning home that summer and prepping for the Peace Corps, September 11th happened and the world seemed too unstable to travel around so I honed my skills in Youth Development as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Arizona and Oregon (escaping the mid-west for a desert and a temperate rainforest).

Denice Crawford China Finally, in 2004, I was invited to work in Bulgaria as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It was the only career goal I had set for myself in life and as I boarded the plane I was thrilled to be coming into my own and to be living my dream. Little did I know that the fellow Volunteer sitting next to me from New York to Paris would turn out to be the man of my dreams!

Five months later, on New Year’s Eve, we were married in a small Bulgarian civil ceremony and we spent the remaining 2 years in Bulgaria on the best honeymoon ever. We vowed to spend our anniversary in a new place around the world every year. After our service was over we had to return to the States to conquer the dreaded student loan situation. I took a desk job in International Trade and quickly found it painful to look at document after document coming across my desk from faraway ports in China, Russia, Brazil and Korea.

Eight months in, I’d had enough and knew I could never be satisfied staying in one place at this point in my life, and my husband whole-heartedly agreed. We both loved language, travel and the ex-pat lifestyle, and we realized that teaching ESL would allow us to pursue all of those things.We saved a bit more and turned in our resignations. A few weeks later we were getting our teaching certifications in Costa Rica, and shortly after found ourselves teaching ESL at middle schools in a charming rural coastal village in South Korea an hour away from one of the ports I used to only read about on my import documents. Our plan is to continue on teaching in various capacities until we find a place we can’t bear to leave.

Denice Crawford ChinaContrary to what most people assume, I am not a backpacker. I actually HATE the act of traveling (motion sickness plus fear of flying = bad mood). The thought of carrying 50lbs on my back for months at a time, makes me want to crawl in bed and never leave home. I haven’t “done” Europe or South-East Asia or Latin America. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to turn down a short trip to a new place, and I do hope to one day travel around the world, but I love getting to know a country and its people. I love that the ex-pat lifestyle (at least mine) has always given me the opportunity to become a part of the community.

Everybody here knows who I am, and how I am helping their community. My husband and I are greeted by everyone on the street and people go out of their way to share their culture with us. Moving far away from home does take an independent spirit, but it has taught me to be humble and child-like in depending on others to help me with even the most basic of tasks like learning how to operate household appliances or setting up a bank account.

Working overseas requires amazing patience, flexibility and a generous sense of humor. If my boss does something really offensive or counterintuitive here, I can laugh and chalk it up to cultural differences, but if my boss did something annoying in the US, I’d probably take it personally and think he was a total jerk.

And while being the token foreigner in town is like living under a microscope that gives odd feedback all of the time (“Wow! You can eat with chopsticks!… Do all Americans drink Coca-Cola every day?… Are your eyelashes real?”), it has also shown me that I am a capable, respected and valued community member in places where tourists rarely travel (“You have many new good ideas… I want to be a teacher like you… Will you stay here forever, please?”

Denice Crawford China

The old cliche is true, spending time abroad gives you a new perspective on the world, your culture and mostly yourself. If you’re reading this blog, you are probably a lot like me- you could spend hours looking at the travel section in a bookstore or reading travel blogs- saying to yourself, “I really want to experience that!” Many people out there don’t think it’s realistic, but I can’t think of any other reality that makes me happier.

To read more about Denice’s experiences living and loving abroad, visit her blog at notanothertourist.blogspot.com.

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