Friday, 11 July 2014

HAPPY AMERICA DAY!!! Adult camp, July 4th & Rehoboth

Hello again!

Having previously moaned about session 2, I'm pleased to tell you my mood as well as general life at camp has improved greatly. Currently I am writing this post half way through what is now session 4, reflecting back on a somewhat successful session 3- the first of two Adult camp sessions.

At first, I wasn't sure what to think of Adult camp. Staff from last year like my D2 friend Snoopz described it as being more relaxed and in some cases better for it but this didn't really appeal to me. Adult sessions are less structured to allow the campers more freedom and relaxation so there aren't any skits,awards or competitions, the day is extended meaning that as staff you don't end up going to bed until at least 11:30PM and campers choose the programs they go to which as a Program Leader can get quite frustrating as we never know how many people are going to show up for our activities. Despite these initial irritations, as I got more used to the new structure I really began to enjoy the session a lot more.

In D2 we had a much better group of campers this session including our first wheelchair users, very much a new experience for me which I've learned a lot from. I thought there would be a problem connecting with them at first due to the age gap between us however many of the adult campers are more cognitive than those in youth sessions and it was great to socialise with them, especially Greg from my cabin who is a big music fan so we bounced off each other all the time.

Among my highlights from session 3 was celebrating July 4th for the first time in the US. Everyone was in face paint and American t-shirts, glorious weather, Country music was blasting over the speakers all day long, we ate typically American food such as Pancakes, Burgers and Fried Chicken as well as playing a great game of NFL in the Pool. The end of session banquet was a Hollywood Red Carpet theme so I dressed up as Marty McFly from Back To The Future (one of my favourite 'movies') and fun was had by all.

What makes Adult sessions at camp particularly enjoyable is all the trips that are organised. As a Program Leader I get to go on less trips than regular counselors as I have to run my activities so in Session 3 I only got one trip which was to Camden Yards in Baltimore- home stadium to the Baltimore Orioles Baseball team. It was my first visit to a Baseball stadium and I really enjoyed our almost-all-access tour whilst learning all about Baseball and the Orioles.

Once the session came to a close, it was time for another break so this time we went to Rehoboth beach in Delaware. My first trip to the American seaside was great and contained lots of swimming and splashing in the warm Atlantic water, tanning, partying and an excellent meal at the Purple Parrot restaurant. I really liked Rehoboth as a place due to its laidback atmosphere and cos it wasn't quite as commercial and touristy as I thought it would be so overall I was pleasantly surprised.

That's all for now folks. Next time I post I shall be telling you all about session 4 at camp (our second Adult session) and the break that followed it. Hopefully I will have these posts illustrated sometime soon as well.

Over and out

FP

#FraserOnTour


Monday, 30 June 2014

Hard times in session 2

Hey! Hey!

I'm happy to report that session 2 here at Camp Greentop has come to a close and I am writing this to you now whilst on my second break. A slightly more relaxed affair than our first break in Baltimore as I sit here typing in the camp Dining Hall after a great night which included a lot of partying and a lovely meal at TGI Fridays.

If I had to summarise session 2 in one word it would be: tough. Session one now feels so distant, free and easy in comparison. So I bet you're now thinking, what was so hard about this session? Well I'll tell you now but first I'll put in a little disclaimer. Many of the things I'm about to moan about are likely to seem quite trivial and I'm sure there are worse job's I could be doing right now but anyway, here it goes.

Session 2 was difficult for a number of reasons most notable of which was that camp had a full capacity of campers. During first session there weren't quite as many due to school's finishing later because of a rather unpleasant winter so to go from that to actually seeing camp at its fullest was quite a shock to the system. More people to look after meant that everyone was more stressed and to make things worse for me, I had to move out of my cabin in D-Unit to go and stay in B1 cabin on the other side of the site to accommodate for our extra campers. For me, this made things fairly difficult as the actual geography of the situation meant that it was even harder for me to create a rapport with the campers in my cabin, a task that is already quite difficult as a program leader when I spend all day running activities. Also my injury played a big role in my mood during the week. I found it frustrating that certain aspects of my job were just so difficult to do with my leg in the pain it was in and few people had the time to sympathise or help me. It wasn't just that, I just found many of the things that I enjoyed so much in session 1 didn't excite me as much cos they weren't new. By Tuesday and Wednesday I had hit rock bottom physically and emotionally and I must say those two days were probably my worst and toughest days at camp so far.

But life goes on and this post needs to get much more happier really quickly! I may have painted a rather over the top, bleak picture there but I think overall this session will have been very useful to me come the end of the summer. I learnt many hard lessons from those days of breakdown but the most important one was to keep going on. I may have been drained every evening once the campers went to bed but what I found to be pivotal to doing my job successfully was pushing every to one side and making sure I do everything for the campers. They take priority. As long as I keep a smile on my face and make sure every single one of them has the best week at camp that is humanely possible then I can be at peace. It's a state of mind I shall be sticking to for the rest of the summer and it was certainly a key lesson for me to learn.

So let's talk positives now. The one thing that I am most happy about from session 2 is the pool. After successfully negotiating the lack of one during the first session, a temporary pool was installed so that Ben, Sam and I could run our program as it should be. Every day we ran some really fun activities (not to mention the skits we did to introduce them at breakfast time of which one of them involved me dressing up as Michael Phelps!) such as Capture The Flag, Dance choreography and Aquatic Olympics which the campers and counselors seemed to really enjoy and it was especially great to see so many campers (who probably wouldn't have come to our activities in session 1) joining us in the pool. Even Jeremy, a non-verbal and one of my favourite campers who generally didn't go to any activities, jumped in twice on the final day which was a real personal highlight of mine. I found being in the cool pool water to be really beneficial for my leg too and as my leg got better my mood picked up so by Thursday when I could walk without my crutches I was back to loving life and immersing myself fully in Camp. The theme days this session were jungle boogie dance (which I watched enviously as I couldn't dance on my crutches), Twin Day and Halloween Banquet which were all super fun like in the first session.

Well, that's all I've got to say about session 2... I think. I say this a lot but I do genuinely mean it, I am sorry about the essay I've just made you read. I do feel that it is all relevant to tell you though and hopefully it gives you a great insight into life working at a summer camp and life here at Camp Greentop. Session 3 starts on Wednesday and I'm pretty sure the only way is up from here. It's a full adult session so things will be slightly different to our first two sessions here and I'm sure it will be just as enjoyable and challenging. Pictures will be added to this when I get decent wifi access (probably our next break when we are planning to go to the beach!) so hopefully these posts I write will be more bearable to read soon.


Onwards and upwards.

FP

#FraserOnTour


Sunday, 29 June 2014

First Session and Baltimore

Hello again from sunny Camp Greentop!

A lot has happened since I last spoke to you so without further ado, here's what's been happening at camp over this past week or so.

Last saturday (14th June) signaled the start of our first session of the summer. As we waited for the campers to arrive I couldn't help being apprehensive. My prior experience with people with disabilities isn't too extensive so I didn't really know what to expect. However, once campers in the other cabins started to arrive and I saw how excited both them and my fellow staff were to see each other, I couldn't wait to get started ad once the nerves were out of the way I think I really grew into my role as a program leader.

Our first session at camp was packed full of fun and games to keep us busy. Here's a rough timetable of a day at camp:

7:00AM- Wake up

7:30AM- Wake up, shower and brush the campers' teeth

8:15AM- Flag Pole. Everyone gathers around the flag pole outside the office and Camp Director Emily welcomes us to the day with a joke and weather news. Assistant Camp Director Mel then leads the camp chant which we sing while the flag is raised.

8:30AM- Breakfast. We are treated to a cooked breakfast which then followed by morning announcements. As a program leader, every morning I have to preform a skit to demonstrate the activity we'll be running that day which is always great fun and I enjoy thinking of ideas for it.

9:45AM- Morning activities start. At the pool we will have two groups whereas other programs will receive three as preparing the campers to get in and out of the pool takes much longer. Things were a bit different for the first session as we didn't have access to a pool so we did land based activities instead such as Quidditch, Dances and Danish Longball.

12:30PM- Lunch time

1:15PM- "Quality Time"-This is when we take the campers back to the cabin and they have a bit of a rest before the rest of the afternoon. I use this time to either plan out pool sessions or do some exercise

3:00PM- Afternoon activities start- 2 groups of campers, same as the morning

5:15PM- Pool activities finish and then we clean up and evaluate how the day went

6:00PM- Dinner Time. Afterwards all of us program leaders give out awards to certain campers for their achievements in activities during the day. The results for the coveted "Bronze Belt Of Enthusiasm" are revealed and the winning cabin holds onto the belt for a day.

7:15PM- Evening Program. This will be some form of entertainment organised by Evening Program Leader Naki. Evening program tends to be events such as talent shows, dances or campfire. If we have a night off, this is also the time that we will leave camp usually to go to the cinema or Westview shopping centre

8:30PM- Bed time

9:00PM onwards- Free time/cabin duty. Each night we have to stay in the cabin for a 1 hour 30 minute period to look after the campers while they sleep but otherwise we are free to meet up, chat to out friends and access the internet (which is what I'm doing right now).

Overall I found the first session to be quite enjoyable. We had less campers due to US schools finishing later in the year because of poor winter weather meaning we had an easy group of campers and quickly got attached to our group of campers. In the Pool program our task was a little difficult as we didn't actually have a pool available to use (thank you very much US National Park Service) so instead we resulted to running land-based activities such as Quidditch, Danish Longball, Dance choreography and other games. The theme days for this session were Pirate Day and Monsters vs Aliens for the final banquet which were both fun to dress up in as well as the Welcome dance, Talent show and Fashion show in Evening program. It was a great start to summer camp and I still have many fond memories of that week.

Once we'd cleaned up and waved goodbye to all the campers it was swiftly onto making the most of our first two and a half day break. Destination: Baltimore. We left camp in mid-afternoon and arrived at our hotel a couple of hours later. It wasn't long until the partying started and what an enjoyable and crazy night it was. Unfortunately for me, it ended with a rather sour twist. I'd noticed a bit of pain in my leg when I woke up on Friday morning which I ignored throughout the day but by night time it became excrutiatingly painful and to cut a long story short-I ended up in hospital at 5:30AM on Saturday morning. It turned out I'd pulled a Quadricep muscle in my left leg and was told that I would be on crutches for a week. Understandably I was gutted by the news but at the same time I was relieved as if it were a tear then perhaps I would've left on a plane home by now.

My Saturday afternoon was rather non-eventful as I spent it sleeping in the hotel, recovering from my rather sleepless Friday night/Saturday morning meaning that I missed out on all the Baltimore sightseeing my friends were doing. In the evening however, I joined everybody for a meal at the Cheesecake Factory in Baltimore Harbour which was awesome. The food was amazing, especially the cheesecake, and the quality time with my friends was just what I needed after the events of the early morning. On Sunday we left Baltimore to return to camp, stopping at Towson shopping mall on the way back for a bit of retail therapy.

So that's where I'll leave you for now. I apologise if this post seems a little lacking in details as I really don't have the time at the moment to flesh out my writing but I hope I've been informative enough. I'll add photos to this at a later date as well so you won't be bored by my endless writing. In my next post expect to read all about 2nd session at camp anything that may happen on our upcoming break.

Stay classy, internet

FP

#FraserOnTour

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Staff Orientation

Camp report number two from the Greentop. It's 'the eve before battle' here as we all prepare for the arrival of the first set of campers tomorrow and the official start of my role as Pool Program Leader. The feeling couldn't be compared to the above mentioned cliche at all though as most people (particularly returning staff) are getting ready and excited to finally see the campers.

The past week has all been about training and getting to know each other. Start of the week was dedicated to Program leader training whilst returning and new staff were arriving. This is essentially training for all the guys running the camp activities- Arts & Crafts (Matt), League Pioneers (Tom, Rory & Bronwyn), Performing Arts (Louis), Nature (Kate), Sports & Games (Lisa) Horse Riding (Zoe, Joyce & Becca) and Pool (Sam, Ben and Me). This was fun and involved lots of icebreaker games.

Once all the other staff had arrived by Thursday, general staff orientation began which consisted of learning about all the disabilities we'll be dealing with this summer, Everyday Living tasks and various bits of health & safety with bits of fun in between such as a camp fire, talent show, quiz night, bingo, Superhero dress-up banquet, wacky wednesday, scavenger hunt and many more icebreakers. I found general staff training to be a bit tougher but getting to know all the staff I'll be working with this summer made it more bearable.

staff talent show



me singing 'New Shoes' by Paolo Nutini

me and my mexican family

Wacky Wednesday

Superheroes and Super villains banquet 


My cabin for tthe summer-D2

wet trip to Cunningham Falls


Tonight we graduated from Staff Orientation and held a special 'web of love' where we had to tell the rest of the group why we'd decided to come to Camp Greentop. It was lovely moment to hear everyone's individual reasons and I know for sure we're onto something special here.

Bring on the campers tomorrow and let the work begin!

#FP

#FraserOnTour

Monday, 2 June 2014

The Summer has begun!

I'm in the U S of A!!!

I know I haven't exactly been prompt with my blog posting recently but I've found a spare 30 minutes or so on one of the camp computers to write up what's happened so far. Pictures are hard to access at the moment and I don't have a lot of time to be too detailed so I'll be fluffing up these posts at a later date.

Starting several weeks back, just hours after arriving home from Colombia, I headed down to London for the first of two days in the capital over the space of a week. My first trip was for an Americamp orientation day at the University of West London in Ealing. Although the main reason of the day was to get valuable information towards the summer ahead, it was a fun day and it was good to meet other camp counselors who were also excited for the summer ahead. My next London trip was when I went down to get my US Visa at the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair. Besides two rather terrible mega bus trips to and from Manchester, it was quite a pleasant day. Once my Visa appointment was out of the way, I met up with Zoe and Cody, two other Camp Counselors who are also at Camp Greentop this summer-our home. It was a lovely sunny day and enjoyed walking around London once more, stopping to sunbathe in St.James' Park and a rather surprise bumping into with former Norwich manager Chris Hughton on Oxford Street.

A week passed by then it was time for the grand depart. The start of my summer working at Camp Greentop. I left on Monday 26th May from Manchester Airport, taking the 7 hour flight across the Atlantic touching down for the first time in America at Philadelphia Airport-The city where this great nation was founded. 3 hours of hanging around followed before I boarded what is most probably the shortest flight I've ever been on to Washington DC. I was greeted at Ronald Reagan Airport by fellow CGT-ers James, Toni, Jen, Jody and Julio who despite getting lost eventually brought me to Camp Greentop, ending a long day of travelling.

Landing in Philadelphia

Me with my welcoming committee (from left to right- Jen, Jody, Toni, me and James)

A week has now passed since I arrived in America and life at camp has already proved to quite fast paced. On Tuesday I met Sam and Ben who will be lifeguarding with me at Camp this summer. On Wednesday we then started our 3 days of lifeguard training with the American Red Cross in Silver Springs near DC. Although the days were long (9-7), the course was fairly straightforward and we proved to be quite popular with our American counterparts who were very friendly and interested in learning about the English way of life. Course completed, on Saturday we joined in with family camp which involved us making skits, running the Sports & Games activity stations, an awesome trip to nearby Cunningham Falls, Pizza Making and a campfire in the evening to top it all off.


Home for the summer

Cunningham Falls

Sam loved this car

So now I'm up to date. My first week at Camp Greentop has been both challenging and enjoyable and I'm sure it will be a memorable summer. Tomorrow marks the start of proper staff training so all the remaining members of staff will be arriving soon and I can't wait to meet them all. Once training is over then our first session of campers arrives so I expect I'll be very busy. I'll try to post something within that time but if you don't see anything on this blog then you'll know I'm busy with all things camp related.

Let's hope for a long, hot summer!

Hopefully speak soon,

FP

#FraserOnTour

Saturday, 24 May 2014

30 Days-30 Observations. Colombian Edition

Why hello there,

welcome back to yet another Observations blogpost. This one, as you will know from the title, is about my time in Colombia and what I learnt while I was there. Unlike my Belgium Observations post, I have achieved my goal and learnt something every day I was in Bogotá so here's my 30 Observations for my month in the country's capital. Providing extra insight into the place as well as my experience while there. Hope you like it.

1. Bogotá, the city that doesn't sleep

It is often said about New York City but perhaps those who say it haven't been to Bogotá. The Colombian capital is home to more than 7 and a half million people and is constantly noisy and alive with activity (and 24 hour traffic).

2. Weather

Bogotá is in the northern reaches of the Andes providing it with a different climate to much of the country. The sun may shine most days but due to its altitude, the air is much cooler making the weather more manageable. There is also quite a bit of rain during April and May, the closest it really gets to 'winter' as the country's proximity to the equator means that seasons are muddled and don't really exist.

3. Colombian Spanish

As a Spanish student, what I was very keen on discovering when I came to Colombia was how the local dialect of Spanish compares with the Castillian variety (Spanish from Spain). My initial fears that I would find Colombian Spanish almost impossible to understand were put at ease as I found it to be not too different from the Spanish used in Spain however I did notice a few subtle differences. As expected, most of these differences are in pronunciation. Examples include double l's being pronounced as j's and q's as k's. There are also differences words used in situations such as when they say 'Ciao' instead of 'Adios' or 'Hasta Luego'.

4. Time difference/Not moving the clocks back/forward

The time difference between Bogota and the UK is 6 hours. I was fooled early on in my stay when the clocks changed however in Colombia the time stayed the same meaning I was a whole hour early meeting with Maritza! Silly me.

5. Tea/Coffee

I came to Colombia expecting to be dominated by coffee once more, just like every country I've been to in my gap year. This is a pretty reasonable assumption as Colombia is renowned for its coffee however it wasn't quite what I expected. Much of Colombia's best coffee is exported to countries across the world meaning that finding the really good quality Colombian coffee in the country itself is difficult. Although I did try a Tinto (coffee mixed chocolate), the majority of the time tea was the beverage of choice both to help with the heat and cos you can't be certain of clean running water from all of the taps so it is better to brew up than risk it.

6. Colourful Houses

Colombians like their colours and what was particularly nice to see was the amount of brightly coloured houses in Bogotá. Many of the best ones are found in La Candelaria and here's a short collection of my favourites.

7. Fruit

Besides Coffee, Colombia is well known for its tropical fruit production. On the streets around La Candelaria there are loads of people selling a large variety of fruits and fruit juices of which I liked freshly squeezed Orange juice and Passion fruit the most

8. Beggars

As a whole, Colombia is considered a developing nations but the issues of poverty and starvation still exist fairly prominently. Many homeless people can be found sleeping in the strangest of places out in the streets and at many points due to being a westerner, I was approached by people asking for money. The police make a big effort to discourage begging however many that you encounter are happy one or two hundred pesos which is a small price to pay. Think of it as your good deed for the day.

9. Traffic

Bogota is an incredibly busy city and is therefore filled with an extortionate amount of traffic. Many vehicles drive way over the speed limit while motorbikes weave in and out and for pedestrians it is almost impossible to cross any of the main roads. Better keep your whits about you!

10. Doormen at housing complex-correcting you on time of day

While I was staying in the studio, it was customary to greet the doormen to the housing complex on the way in and out. I'm not always aware of the current time so I found it rather amusing whenever I said the wrong greeting to them (e.g. saying Buenos dias in the afternoon, typically a morning greeting), they would correct me without apology or a smug grin at my fault. Call me weird but I used to think it was quite funny!

11. Colombia and the national football team #Unidosporunpais

Football is Colombia's national sport and for the first time since France 1998, the national side has qualified for the World Cup finals in Brazil. As cliches go, World Cup fever has already swept the nation so much so that you'd think the tournament was in Colombia itself. Walking through the centre of Bogotá, you'll see just about every man, woman, child and even pet wearing a Colombia jersey (not surprising when you can buy one for about a fiver on the street), shops are selling all kinds of merchandise to get fans in the mood, stars such as Monaco players Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez are all over the advertisements and all the eyes of the sports media are trained onto how Los Cafeteros* (currently 5th in the FIFA World rankings) fair at the main event in a few weeks time. The whole country is most definitely behind the team and excited to be involved with football's greatest showpiece once more. It reminds of how excited England used to get before world cups up until 2010, the less said about that-the better.

*= 'Los Cafeteros', or the coffee growers in English, is the nickname for the Colombia national football team. Typical!

12. Street vendors

Just about anywhere you walk in the city centre of Bogotá, the Carrera Septima in particular, you'll find lots of people trying to sell you things. There is a real variety of products on display including food, drinks, football shirts, hats, sunglasses, pirate DVDs, electronics and textiles so you may pick up a bargain or two, especially if you fancy a bit of bartering in Spanish. I got my Colombia football shirt for 15,000 CP which is roughly a fiver whereas I'd have to pay over 10 times that amount to buy one in an official sports shop.

13. Altitude Sickness

Bogotá is the 4th highest capital city in the world (2 of the top 4 are also in the Andes, I'll let you name those yourself) standing at a height of 2640m above sea level. It may not be the same as climbing Everest but the altitude does have certain effects on people-including me. Altitude sickness can be quite a horrible thing to go through but you can take medication or drink Coca Tea- a traditional south american drink made from Coca leaves (the source of Cocaine but don't worry, there's not actual cocaine in it) which can both help counter its effects.

14. Cycling

After Football, Cycling is the second sport in Colombia and Bogotá is filled with thousands of cyclists everyday. The government accomodates its nation's love of life on 2 wheels by making cycle ways, offering bike hire services and during Sundays and Bank Holidays some main streets in Bogotá are closed off exclusively for Cycling. Also just before I arrived the World Track Cycling Championships were held in the southern city of Cali. Power to the pedal!

15. Confusing Transmilenio

The Transmilenio is the BRT Bus system in Bogotá designed for quick, affordable transport in and around the city. Once you get over how overcrowded many of the services are and work out the confusing route maps at each station, you then can really appreciate how efficient and safe the system is. A real credit to Bogotá.


16. Museums

Bogotá is famous for its many museums. There many different kinds of them across the city showing off exhibitions of Art, Political History, War and many other subjects which can make for a really interesting afternoon.  Many people are drawn in by cheap or sometimes no entry charge so it's a relatively inexpensive tourist activity however be aware that many of them close on Mondays or Tuesdays for maintenance so unfortunately I fell victim to this on more than once occasion. My top picks? I'd definitely make sure you check out the Museo Del Oro, Museo Botero, Museo Nacional and Quinta de Bolívar.

17. Colombian Food

Colombian cuisine is either very salty or very sweet. Many every day dishes consist of chicken and rice with a stew-type sauce which is quite nice. The best dish I tried is called Tamal. It's a dish served for sunday breakfast in a banana leaf that contains chicken, rice and chickpeas and is supposedly a great hangover cure! Colombians are also big on their meat and sweets.

18. Zona Rosa

Where's the party at in Bogotá? The Zona Rosa is your answer. This is an area 30 minutes cab ride from La Candelaria renowned for its vast array of designer shops, restaurants and nightlife. Literally within one square mile you will find over 100 different bars and clubs, each with their own different personality and taste in music meaning that there is something for everyone. Be careful though, many of the places charge 'tourist prices'  for entry and drinks that are comparable to those in the US or UK. Don't expect a cheap night out but expect an enjoyable one.

19. Money

At first, it took me quite a while to get my head around the currency situation in Colombia. It may be a developing nation but Colombia is still quite poor which means that the Colombian peso is a highly inflated currency. It's common to see 10 and 20 thousand peso notes in use and the smallest coin you can find is 100 so you can imagine how boggled mind was trying to work out the value of things compared to the British pound. Turns out that according to Google, £1 is the equivalent to 3211.47 CP meaning that the general cost of living in Colombia is quite cheap for a Brit like myself.

20. Bear Grills

Whilst staying in the studio, there a few nights where I had to fend for myself in the kitchen which presented quite a challenge. Generally, my cooking abilities are average at best and there weren't a great deal of facilities or utensils I could use to make truly desirable meals but I got by making Pasta/Rice based meals which were actually pretty darn tasty if I do say so myself. My previous fears about cooking at Uni have been somewhat alleviated since.

21. Dangerous roads

If I had to give a description of it, the traffic on the roads of Bogotá is a bit like watching endless Mario Kart races. Nearly everyone drives over the speed limit, motorbikes are constantly weaving in and out, no one stops for pedestrians crossing the street, everyone is trying to overtake each other and to make matters worse, there are often cars that aren't even fully equipped with seatbelts. On the basis of my personal driving experience to date, I don't think I'd last 5 seconds in Bogotá! In my opinion it's much safer to travel by bus as many routes in the city are segregated from the main traffic.

22. Dogs

Dogs are most certainly man's best friend in Colombia. They're a very popular pet and it is very common to see plenty of them with their owners when you're out and about as well as a large quantity of sniffer dogs used by the police. The sad thing is that you also see an abnormally large amount of stray dogs in the streets so in this case maybe what I said earlier isn't always true.

23. Safety/Personal Security

Colombia has often been given a bad reputation by western media over the years. Stories of drug related violence, crime and smuggling as well as tourism and political unrest have not shed a very positive light on the nation. Crime rates and general safety is still improving and at times when walking around Bogotá you may feel like you're just in any other busy world city but there are still dangers out there. My best advice would be to be constantly alert about yourself and surroundings. Never walk the streets alone at night, don't go around showing off valuables items such as Phones or Cameras and generally stick to the more touristic areas as you are more likely to blend in with fellow travelers. Really just have your wits about you and make sure you don't draw too much attention. I did all these things and as a consequence I faced no problems with crime or anything else of that nature.

24. Radio GaGa

Listening to Colombian radio is really confusing. Unlike in the UK, stations don't seem to have a common musical agenda which makes for a rather inconsistent playlist of songs. You could be listening to a heavy metal band one minute then a jazz band the next. I even heard a bit of Brit music from  Oasis, Blur and my favourites Bombay Bicycle Club! To call Colombian radio stations diverse would be an understatement.

25. Rice

I don't for sure but it would be a very good guess to say that Rice is Colombia's staple food. I ate it with most meals as it is suitable for the local climate due to its dry nature and long shelf-life.


26. Salsa

Colombians love their music and partying so it is of no real surprise that Salsa is taught to kids in many schools. This means by the time they're adults salsa becomes like a second nature to many people and there is a real passion for it in the country. I did try my hand at it but it turns out it's much more difficult than I expected. Better get practicing...

27. Kissing Greetings

Being an awkward Brit, kiss greetings is something I've struggled in every country I've visited so far on my gap year. In terms of Colombia, more often than not it's just the one peck on the person's right cheek although some people go for the double which really does confuse things. I'd suggest sticking to one just to save the embarrassment if the other person doesn't go for a second one.

28. Poker

In the hostel we played a few games of poker to pass the time during the evenings. I've never really been that good of a poker player and confess that I still don't quite understand the rules but somehow I still managed to not lose any of the games we played and even finished second in one of them. It's by no means my favourite game but I wasn't put off it by my recent experience, I'm sure I'll get the hang of it in the future.

29. Hostelling

My week in the Cranky Croc wasn't my first stay in a hostel but it has certainly improved my opinion of it. Hostels are great for travelers and students-people wanting to travel on a budget. Beds are generally cheap in most countries, you get lots of great facilities provided as well links to tourist activities but the best thing for me about hostels is that sense of community and friendliness that you just don't get in hotels. You get to meet lots of like minded people and even makes some friends which makes your time away that bit more enjoyable.

30. More to Colombia than just Bogotá

Overall I'd say I enjoyed my 5 weeks in Bogotá but I hope this isn't the last time I visit Colombia. The country has improved greatly from its bleak past and is now really starting to open itself up to tourism. Colombia is currently an almost undiscovered gem of a travel location. There is so much it has to offer from its high peaks, to tropical rainforests, to its white sandy Caribbean beaches, to its lively cities and nightlife. There are many great places in the country that I heard about from travelers in the hostel that I'd love to visit someday so I most certainly won't reject the idea of a return to the country or South America at some point in the future.


So there you have it. What I learned from my time in Colombia. Same drill again, if you feel I've made some misguided observations then don't be offended and feel free to call me out on anything that you think isn't right. I enjoy writing these posts a lot and they're only meant as a bit of light hearted fun.

Expect to be reading my final observations post from gap year when I return home from the US. I look forward to writing it for you. It's now just a matter of hours till I leave on my flight over there and I can't wait for my summer camp experience to begin. I've no idea as to how often I will be able to blog while I'm at camp but I hope to update my blog at least once or twice a month to keep up appearances and so that my family won't be worrying about me.

That's all for now,

see you stateside!

FP

#FraserOnTour

Gap Yah! Review Part 1: 10 tips on having a great gap year

It's mid May now and in just a few days my final gap year adventure in the USA will be kicking off. Now by the time I arrive back in blighty afterwards, I will have a whole 3 days worth of shopping, packing and panicking before heading off to Southampton to start University. Basically, I'm not going to have much time once my gap year actually ends and I would like to do a series of blogposts similar to my Review of 2013 to reflect on what I've done this past year. So to give me one less thing to do in September, I've decided to start slightly early.

Here's the first installment of my Gap Year Review series.

In the months prior to starting my gap year, I didn't really know how to approach it. I felt a bit clueless, didn't really know anyone who'd taken one and was far too swamped in exam revision to pay it much attention. I wish there was someone around at that time who could've given me some decent advice. So the focus of this first post in my Gap Year review is to pass on a few things I've learnt going through the process of taking a year out. A few things I would've liked to know prior to starting. If you're thinking of taking a gap year yourself then I suggest you give this a read-not that I'm big headed or anything!

1. Have a plan

Taking a gap year is a great concept. A whole 12 months to do what you want and go where you want to go. The possibility are endless which I actually found quite daunting and at first, I had no real idea what I really wanted to do. Whether you want to go backpacking around Australia or volunteer in Africa , the sooner you have a plan, the sooner you can start putting it into action. If you're indecisive like me, the best thing to do is to set some goals and criteria for what you'd like to get out of your gap year. To show what I mean, here's what my gap year goals were: 1. ALWAYS travel to new places 2. Spend as few days at home as possible 3. As a French and Spanish student, I needed to travel to/work/live in at least one Hispanic or Francophone in order to maintain my level of proficiency in these languages ahead of Uni.


2. Save up

It goes without saying that gap years are expensive. If they weren't then I'm sure nearly everyone would have a year out before heading off to Uni. Many of the amazing projects and trips advertised online charge high fees in exchange for an unforgettable experience and the bank of Mum and Dad can only stretch so far. Start saving your money up as soon as you can and only spend money on essential things. Gear your finances towards your gap year plan,  whatever it may be


3. Get a job

To help with point 2, the best way of sprucing up your savings is through a good bit of hard earned income. There's two different approaches to this. A) you can get a job before you go travelling. Or B) you can work while you travel. I chose the latter option and it's one I've stuck to throughout my gap year. Working abroad during your gap year has many benefits. It allows you to stay in one place for an extended period, letting you learn a lot about a new place, country or culture and if you can get food and accommodation thrown in as part of the deal then even better! Whatever your skill set, there are lots of kinds of employment prospects abroad available over the internet and all you have to do is pick one that suits and pursue it like hell.

4. Stay fit

When you're abroad, it's very easy to indulge in the finer things in life. Over time, all the foreign cuisine, drink and party lifestyle you've been enjoying for so long does eventually catch up on you so it's a good idea (if you want to maintain your figure) to keep active. You could join a local sports team or exercise group-also providing you with a great opportunity to meet locals or fellow travellers, take a walking or bike tour or just do your own thing be it a run, cycle or swim. Staying fit while you travel can be difficult as there are so many distractions but if you do a bit while you're away then it means that you've got less catching up to do when you get back home.

5. Step out of your comfort zone

Taking a gap year really encourages you to step up and take on many difficult situations. At times things might be overwhelming but I say embrace the chaos. As my former History teacher Mike Wilson told me before departing on my year out, it is in these tricky situations that we really learn the most about ourselves and develop as a person. Rise to the challenge and you'll feel better for it.


6. Be a YES man/lady

This is similar to the last point. During your gap year, you will be presented with a billion different opportunities and new experiences to try out and as long as they're not too life threatening then I suggest you take all of them. Even if the outcome isn't always positive, you will still have had that experience and maybe even a great story to go with it. As the old saying goes 'don't knock it till you try it'

7. Stay in touch with your school/college friends

One thing just about everyone and every website will tell you about your gap year is that you'll make 'loads of friends'. Now unless you're travelling as part of a group of fellow gappers, it is very difficult to stay friends with the people you meet on your travels as just about everyone is working/studying  or travelling off somewhere else. A gap year can certainly be very lonely at times and I must say this has affected me on more than one occasion over these past months. Because of this, I have found it to be very important to stay in contact with friends from back home via Facebook or Skype or even to meet up in the flesh just so you have a familiar face to talk to when times are tough, have a laugh and to chat about their life at work/school/ university. Good quality time with friends and family is often underestimated and you should always make time for it even when you're many hundreds and thousands of miles from home.

8. Walk it

If you end up taking a similar gap year to mine, visiting lots of different cities and tourist attractions, it can become quite costly to use local public transport or getting a taxi. If your destination is nearby, I strongly suggest you walk it. The benefits are huge! Not only are you staying fit (see point 4) but you also get to see more of the city/place you are in and therefore see many of the unique things such as shops, eateries, parks and architecture that many lazier tourists will miss out on. More importantly, you get a much better idea of what the place is really like rather than through the artificial tinted lenses of a tourist.

9. Record it

Taking a gap year is an amazing experience that you will want to look back on and remember for years in the future. It's all well and good having those memories stored in your head but as we do get older we do become more forgetful so it is worth creating some more physical evidence to help our brains out. Go Asian tourist mode and take LOADS of pictures of everyone and everything (I strongly urge you to take a camera/photo capturing device everywhere you go, you never know what you're going to see or experience and there have been countless times this year where I wished I had my camera handy to capture the moment), take short videos, create a playlist of your favourite songs from your travels, write facebook statuses when key events happen, get in touch with your creative side by making a scrapbook or collage, even write your very own blog or travel diary like I've done.

10. Enjoy it

Last but not least, a no brainer. Enjoy it. Once your return back to reality, you're not likely to have this much freedom ever again so make the most of it and take every opportunity that comes your way.


To those of you taking a gap year this September or sometime in the future- I really hope you have a great time.

I hope this post was helpful and insightful and not too cheesy for you.  Expect Gap Year Review Part 2 sometime in September when I return from America.

Stay classy, World!

FP

#FraserOnTour