Introducing Christina, probably the most free spirited person we’ve met on the road so far. She told us some amazing stories from her travels around the world. We just had to share. Make sure to check out her insights on traveling while being “broke”.
When We Met: April 2014
Where We Met: San Pedro, Guatemala
Occupation(s): Student, Orphanage Worker, All Around Awesome Person
“I find you don’t really know yourself until you take yourself out of your comfort zone.”
How long have you been in Guatemala? About three months.
Why did you come here? Well, I came here because my boyfriend was going to come here and we got together over the summer. I was not really too certain about it and I went back to Moscow where I was working for three months, went crazy, realized I didn’t like the place where I was because I was traveling two hours every day just to get to work and nearly three to get back just because of the traffic. I lived in an awful flat, never saw the sunlight, not for three months, and I just went mad and thought, why don’t I just try something new? Then my boyfriend came to visit me and pointed out how bad Moscow was and I realized that if I ever wanted a job back in Moscow I could easily get one again or get one in Germany. So I thought, why don’t I just try Guatemala because my boyfriend has a sister here who can help us get set up and it just seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Why were you in Moscow? I was there working, I studied German and Russian at University. I was working in an orphanage for six months, loved it.
What was it like working in an orphanage and how did you get that job? Well, when I was studying Russian in University in my second year there was an Australian girl who was in England for one year as part of her studies and nobody really seemed interested in talking to her apart from me because I thought she was funny and she started saying she wanted to do a year out. So I started talking to her and she said “oh, I have this friend who has recommended that I go to Kitezh, to this sort of fairy tale orphanage in Russia and I thought, what a great idea, yeah why not?
The orphanage was really unusual. The founder of the community had bought some land twenty, twenty-five years previously, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and he built wooden houses there. First he started out with one which was near the farm that they built as well and then more people came to join them and they formed this sort of spiritual community of people who worked together and take in orphan children. You have professors, scientists, all sorts of people. The children were really nice, they only take children who they can see signs of wanting to develop. So they go other orphanages and take the children that want to change and not the ones that are stuck in their ways. There was one black girl that was there. Another orphanage had called to ask if we could take her because if we didn’t the other kids were going to kill her because she was black. So she got taken in and they gave her so much education and boosted her confidence. She was the lead in a play, The Snow Queen, and she was a really beautiful girl. She went on to study English at University.
What is the age range of children there? From two or three up to 18. They can leave at 16 or 18 due to the Russian educational system. If they want to stay on and do their high school certificate they stay till 18 if they want to do an apprenticeship they go off at 16. Sometimes you have whole families there. There was one family called the Cinco family that I became very close to, there were about 8 of them, all children. Their father and mother were alcoholics and they came from Kazakhstan to Moscow. Basically they kept having children to get more money from the state and fell deeper and deeper into alcoholism and the children were put into care in different orphanages. The oldest one went into care in Kitezh, because they found him and wanted to help him, and he said you can only take me if you take all of my brothers and sisters. There was a woman from Turkmenistan there with three other kids and she said she would take all of the children in if they would help her. And she did and they were all educated. A few are now in the army, one has his own tattoo studio, one at University, they are all doing very well. They reformed them.
Do all of the children stay there until they are 16 or 18, or do some get adopted? They are kind of fostered, it is a group of foster families. In Russia you get more money and more support if you foster a child rather than if you adopt it. There are about 5-6 different foster families.
Wow. Crazy. Switching gears a little…how long will you be here, in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala? Probably another 5 – 6 more weeks. Because I have a job in a bar and will try to keep that.
What is your impressions of Guatemala and the people so far? It is kinda like a beauty you don’t really see in Europe. The nature and the vastness of the mountains, being from England where it is just hills and rain and wet and then going to Russia where it’s flat and wet and gray. So when I came here I was like “wow” and for the first time ever I was taller than 90% of the population. Which after living in Germany and Russia was great.
And the people? When I first came we were picked up by my boyfriend’s sister who started breastfeeding whilst driving the car through Guatemala City, which looks like Moscow with palm trees, so it was like, wow, okay. And on every corner there was a guy with a gun. We were staying in a compound where you aren’t allowed to leave for safety reasons. It is a compound of 20 houses protected by 2 or 3 people with guns so my impression was “oh my god, what have I gotten myself into” and I could see the smoking volcano in the corner and I thought, well this may as well be like a tropical Mordor. But after a while it really grew on me. It’s a different sort of culture, the people are open and really friendly. When we went to Antigua it was like Europe. It was a similar kind of architecture. But we preferred it here [Lake Atitlan] where you can go for walks and go swimming.
Why did you start traveling? When I was younger I grew up in a poor family and I spent a lot of time with very rich people because I got a scholarship to go to private school and ever single holiday they would go away to Spain, America, Australia and they would just do it on a rotor of seeing me. I would always be there and see a different friend who had been somewhere and hear about it and be amazed. So, I ended up going to University and studying German. I picked another language, Russian, because I love Russian literature and was very interested in the language. I went to St. Petersburg for two weeks because it was a compulsory part of the course and loved it. When I went on my year out I did something pretty unusual with working in the orphanage and working in Vienna at hotels and hitchhiked around. When I went back to England I couldn’t relate to the people I used to know so easily. I met an Irish friend of mine who said “hitchhiking, that sounds great! Let’s hitchhike through Ireland and fly to Estonia and hitchhike to Latvia.” This was during the middle of my final exam and in Estonia I could practice my Russian so I thought why not. But I just found it really interesting to be in new cultures. I find you don’t really know yourself until you take yourself out of your comfort zone. For me, there was just so much to see that I just didn’t want to stay in one place. And the society in Europe wasn’t interesting to me. The idea of wanting a house and 2.5 kids and a dog, it just wasn’t interesting. I wanted to do more and see more.
What is the one thing you would say travel has changed about you the most? My confidence, more than anything. The way that I perceive people and see people. In England we are really fearful people. We are scared of hitchhiking, we’re always told things are dangerous and don’t focus on beautiful things and the good things you see in people. I also think it is about people, the kindness of people and how open they can be and what you can learn from them. It doesn’t matter if they are a bricklayer or an astrophysicist. I met both in Vienna and had wonderful conversations with both of them. It changed me and how I thought about what the point was to how I was leading my life.
Have you done any Couchsurfing? Yes, a lot. The first time was in Moscow with the Malaysian girl. I’ve met lots of random people. I’ve stayed friends with a lot of them. I stayed with a banker, well we actually met him first then he wanted us to Couchsurf with him so we could make sushi together. When I went to Vienna I thought I could use Couchsurfing and I messaged two people. A guy and a girl, one of them was Dominick, my boyfriend. We stayed in contact for two years before we got together.
Do you use Couchsurfing more than staying in hostels? Yeah, to be honest the first time I’ve stayed in a hostel in years was when we came here. I’m not use to staying in hostels. I’m use to using Couchsurfing. With Couchsurfing you get to meet the local people, meet a lot of unusual people, they tell you about the culture, town, country.
Would you say traveling is just something you are doing now because you are young or is it part of who you are? I think it is part of my nature and something I want to keep doing as long as I can. If I have a job which could allow me to travel it would be good. That is when I decided when I finish my degree to teach in Moscow and the company I worked for gave me a certificate, TEFL, so I can teach English. That is the idea. I want to do my Masters in either Germany or Russia, because it is free. Generally apart from that I would like to get more qualified and go traveling. The idea of being in one place for a long time isn’t good.
What is your dream destination? When I was a kid I like Anime. I just fell in love with it. I never knew anything about it because I grew up without Internet access and not much access to television but I saw this Anime on TV in England at about 7 in the morning and asked where it was from. I was told it was from Japan so I started to try to teach myself Japanese at 11 years old, I was determined that I wanted to study Japanese and go to Japan but unfortunately no university did German and Japanese and English as a combination so it was one or the other. Russian seemed so appealing and much easier because I am quite a rude person and the Japanese have like 25 different terms for being polite. So Tokyo is somewhere I would really like to visit. And also Iceland for the natural beauty.
What is your favorite place you have ever been? Ooh, that is really tough to say. I guess for the natural beauty I would say Guatemala. For the people, Eastern Europe has always been great for me. Romania, Bulgaria and Russia. I love being in Russia so much, I love the people.
What is the most important thing you pack for long term trips? The essential items of clothing. Now I have a Kindle and that is great because I don’t have to pack all these heavy books. My WiFi device because there are sites that tell you where you can get picked up while hitchhiking. Also, the best thing you can pack is your wits and confidence.
You said a few times, you don’t have a lot of money, you don’t come from money. What would you say to people that maybe don’t have a lot of money but want to start traveling? The best thing you can do is believe in yourself and just look for a job in the countries you want to go to. I don’t think people realize how many jobs there are for English speakers abroad. There is the idea of teaching English as well. If you don’t have much money, the thing is if you just go out with a little money and get a job many companies will provide a free flat and if you do have to look for a flat it isn’t as difficult as you might think, especially in Europe. If you want something enough, you are always able to manage it. There is always a possibility.