At A Friend Afar, we want to introduce you to some of our most inspiring fellow travelers. We met Krista at Georgia Tech, and it’s safe to say that she’s been living abroad for the majority of the time that we’ve known her. Krista was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria and now teaches English in South Korea.
Our Friend Krista feeding the deer in Nara, Japan on her most recent trip.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Krista. I’m a global citizen who happens to hold a US passport. My passport opens quite a few more doors than some of my fellow world travelers, which is a privilege I appreciate and try to take advantage of as much as possible. I’ve been traveling internationally since I was 15 years old. My career is teaching. Currently I live in South Korea.
Do you have any specific travel interests?
Early in my travels I loved to experience anything and everything new. I wanted to see as much of the world as I could, and I quickly ticked off all the continents, except Antarctica which I’m still a little bitter about. Seeing new places all the time was exciting, challenging, and adventurous, however my interests in travel changed after about 5 years. I realized that for all my bucket lists completed and checked boxes there was a lot I was still missing. Living abroad and getting to know a place, culture, people, and not just experience a small piece of it, started to appeal to me far more, so I decided to live abroad.
I do still travel from my base country quite a bit, but my goals have changed in traveling. I like to travel to countries where I have friends that live there and know the culture well, that way I can have a better idea of the country, culture, and people. Now I base myself in a new country every few years and take small trips to surrounding countries where I have local connections. Most of the things I enjoy doing on my trips aren’t in any travel brochure or magazine, and most often I’m the only tourist. I guess you could say my interests in travel are cultural discovery, exploration, and always adventure.
Krista in London
Do you speak a foreign language? How has that influenced your travel?
I speak Bulgarian quite well and Spanish passably. Disclaimer: I lived in Bulgaria for 4 years. Speaking Bulgarian has definitely influenced my travel habits, but Spanish, not so much. Bulgarian isn’t the easiest language to learn, it’s also not very common, it shares an alphabet with several other similar languages, and the country where they speak it isn’t English proficient outside the major tourist areas. Being able to speak Bulgarian gave me a really good base for roughly understanding many Slavic languages. That, combined with being able to read Cyrillic, makes it much easier for me to travel with confidence in Eastern Europe, a region that’s not very easy to get around if you only speak English. I think that if I didn’t speak Bulgarian I probably wouldn’t have done most of the adventurous things I’ve been able to do in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. I guess I could tell you what some of those are….
I used to rent a car and drive to Greece every spring. I never had a specific location in mind, just somewhere near Thessaloniki or The Fingers. I’d pack a tent and sleeping bag and find a beach or mountain I liked, pull over, and camp for the week. Once I was accidentally on private land and the owner came out to kick me off. After going through English, rudimentary Greek, and then Bulgarian we were able to communicate and he let me stay for the night with the promise I’d move in the morning. I probably should have been really nervous in that situation, but knowing the culture and that eventually I’d be able to communicate it ended up being a really great interaction and we talked for quite a while about his family and land.
Do you plan everything out or go with the flow?
A bit of both actually. I’m a ridiculous researcher. I spend at least double the amount of time I’ll be traveling researching and figuring out all my options for the trip, then usually I make very few plans and decide what to do day by day. Having researched so much and gained a knowledge base of what there is to do, prices, timeframes, possible snags, and effort expended to do each different thing before I leave, I feel super comfortable going with the flow and not worrying I’ll miss out on something once I get to the actual place. Doing it this way seems to be a bit more stressful on the front-end before I leave, but super relaxing when I’m actually on the trip, which is more important to me.
Livorno, Italy – Photo by Krista
What’s the craziest thing you’ve eaten on a trip?
I used to think it was pig brains or bat testicles in Vanuatu, and it still might be. But those were much easier to eat than live octopus and squid in Korea. When your food is moving it makes it a bit more challenging physically and mentally. The octopus suctioned onto one of my molars, and I was a bit worried I’d lose it, but it was just for a few minutes and then I chewed it to death. So the scariest thing was the octopus, but the oddest was the bat.
Do you collect a specific type of souvenir?
Yes! I try to get a piece of small jewellery (earrings, necklace, ring) from each place I go or trip I go on. Each country has such unique techniques and styles that I’ve ended up with a very eclectic collection. I don’t wear much jewellery, but whenever I do it always reminds me of a unique time and place far away. It’s like taking a piece of the place home with you.
What advice would you give someone traveling abroad for the first time?
– Keep in mind you’re in a foreign country where no one is required to speak English. Don’t expect people to speak English.
– Go with the experience. Don’t try to put your own cultural values on someone else’s culture.
– Enjoy the experiences for everything they are! Imagine it as a window into a different world. Even if you don’t like some of the things you see, it’s not your world and you’re just looking; you get to go back to your world soon. If you do like what you see, then explore even more.
And most of all, be aware that you may see everything differently when you go home. it may change you, and that’s ok.