Travel Advice

In an ideal world, nothing bad would ever happen while traveling, like getting sick or losing a passport. Ultimately, at some point, somewhere in all our travels a "snafu", small or large, will likely occur. Nobody likes to prepare for the worst. Just as you would research points of interest like museums, restaurants, hotels, etc. of your particular travel destination, it is also best to know for example: where your home country's embassy/consulate is, how to seek healthcare abroad and what your primary health plan may or may not cover/reimburse for while abroad.

There are two good sources for up-to-date healthcare information prior to traveling and during your travels, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of State.

If you are ill-prepared (no pun intended) and do become sick while traveling or participating in an immersion program you can request help from the on-site language school, the hotel staff where you are staying, or even a consular officer in country (*Please note: a consular officer will usually only provide assistance if there is a serious illness or a severe accident to be dealt with.) Since you are not the first person to ever become sick while traveling, they will be familiar with a local clinic or hospital to refer you to, and in the case of the on-site language school staff may even accompany you to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Back in 2001, during a 4 -week stay in Cusco, Peru, I got sick, really sick with a stomach virus of sorts. The mate de cocoa tea and TLC from my host mother unfortunately was not the cure I had hoped for or needed. It was time to see a doctor. Carol, the then-Director of our partner school in Peru accompanied me to a local clinic, not far from my host family. All in all, the experience was similar to a doctor's visit here in the United States, check-in process and all, and then we waited, and waited, and waited. There was a TV in the lobby; at least there was entertainment, and I could apply my Spanish language listening skills. Several telenovellas later, the doctor was available to see me. After listening and examining my chief complaints he turned to me with a plastic cup and stated to me in English "stool sample" which I fired back "YO NO PUEDO!" Laughter erupted in the exam room and I mustered the strength to do as I was told. Needless to say I survived. The doctor sent me back to my host family with antibiotics. From my experience, be prepared to pay out of pocket for services rendered; you can deal with claim forms and reimbursement once you have returned home. Getting sick or having to receive medical treatment in a foreign country can be a daunting experience; my advice is to remain as calm as possible because even doctors in less developed countries have licenses to practice medicine. Once you are better, your experience might make for some interesting dinner conversation, or in my case, after-dinner conversation.

A good idea prior to traveling is to make two copies of your passport, one to leave at home with your family and/or friends, and one to take along with you on your travels. In the event that your passport is lost or stolen, having a photocopy of your passport in a couple of different known places will save you from more headaches. My advice is to be proactive and take care to secure your passport in a place to avoid theft or losing it upon arrival to your destination after you have cleared immigration/customs. When out and about, carry the photocopy, and lock your passport away in a hotel safe deposit box. If staying with a local family you can lock your passport in your suitcase and store it under your bed. In other words, only carry your passport when it is necessary, for example if you were to cash travelers checks, check into a hotel and so on.

For US citizens, if your passport is lost or stolen, contact the nearest US Embassy or consulate, for up-to-date and detailed information, please refer to The U.S. Department of State.

Here is a brief synopsis of the process; you will need to complete a new passport application and will be asked the following questions by a consular officer:

  • Your name
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Passport number (if available…will expedite process if you memorize it or have a copy)
  • Date and place where passport was issued

You will also need to complete an affidavit explaining the circumstances under which your passport was lost or stolen (heck, even misplaced!). A police report may not be necessary, but a consular officer can request one if there is suspicion of fraud. After citizenship verification and proof of identity, a replacement passport will be issued.

Procedures to obtain and/or replace a passport will likely vary per country; please contact the appropriate branch of government in your home country for up-to-date information.

For any situation that may arise, it is best to be prepared and informed prior to traveling and, lastly, breathe, stay calm if any "snafu" occurs, and just think that tomorrow will be a better day.

By Beth Klemick

Vegetarian Travel Tips

For a vegetarian or vegan, the thought of eating out can be a bit overwhelming. Traveling to a different country and culture can be an even bigger challenge. But fear not, there are many resources available that can make traveling a breeze. In the next few installments, I'm going to include some tips and websites that offer vegetarian alternatives and information for the traveling herbivore.

I think the logical place to start would be with flight information. With budget cuts and bankruptcies, many airlines have limited if not completely cut out all specialized meal options. If you wish to be provided with a snack or meal on your flight remember to contact your airline ahead of time. If a vegetarian option is available it must be requested beforehand. If a vegetarian option is not available, packing a small snack is a great option. PETA has a great list of vegan foods at the following link: Accidentally Vegan

Here are some popular snack items that are vegan and travel-friendly:

  • Goldenberg's Peanut Chews (Original)
  • Nature Valley Peanut Butter, Maple Brown Sugar, Banana Nut, Cinnamon, Pecan Crunch, Roasted Almond and Apple Crisp Granola Bars
  • Laffy Taffy
  • Oreos
  • Ginger Snaps
  • Ritz Crackers
  • Swedish Fish
  • Twizzlers
  • Wheat Thins
  • Fritos
  • Famous Amos Sandwich Cookies
  • Starbursts

My favorite place to find vegetarian-friendly information on the Web is HappyCow. I will be making many references to this wonderful site. In the future, I will discuss fast food options for the traveling veggie, vegetarian and vegan friendly foreign cuisine, and things to look out for when looking for food. Happy eating!

By Jennifer Horigan

Staff Stories: Miscommunication

Everyone has experienced various degrees of miscommunication at some time. Maybe you thought that someone had said something different than what they were trying to say, or maybe you were not successful in getting your point across to someone who did not speak the same language as you or at the same level of fluency as you did. This is a natural occurrence periodically in life. Experience has taught me that the miscommunications and misinterpretations that occur between native and non-native language speakers can be the most confusing in the moment, but they are also many times the most amusing (sometimes even hysterical) in retrospect. Anyone who has ever seen the movie Lost in Translation knows what I'm talking about.

Granada, Spain – What did she say?
Every Tuesday afternoon during my semester in Spain, a good friend of our host mother's would come for lunch. My roommate and I never knew this woman's name, so we secretly referred to her as "the friend". The strange part about "the friend" is that neither my roommate nor I could understand one single word this woman said. She didn't mumble or have any kind of difficulty speaking, and she was speaking in Spanish. I really am convinced that it was just her voice (very high pitched and very nasal) that made it difficult to understand. We had to try so hard not to laugh through lunch because every week it was the same scenario. "The friend" would ask us a question. We would look at Maria (our host mother) with a blank stare. Maria would then translate (I assume verbatim) what "the friend" had asked. We would answer and on and on it went. Despite four months of Tuesday lunches with "the friend", we never did get any better at understanding her. Lucky for us, this was an isolated case as our overall Spanish skills improved tremendously during our time in Spain.

Prague, Czech Republic – Playing Charades
My brother, plagued with allergies, found himself surrounded in every hotel by feather pillows and down comforters. He was staying in mostly smaller hotels that did not have staff with strong English speaking skills. At first, he did not want to make a big deal and be the ugly American yelling at the housekeeping staff in English for "NOOOOO FEA-THER PILL-OWS." So he kept quiet, until the third night where he could not stand the allergy attacks any longer. The maid came to the room and he got a pillow off the bed, gave it to her and proceeded to shake his head no violently while flapping his arms and clucking like a chicken. After a few attempts at trying to get his point across with no visible response, he gave up and started fake sneezing. The maid finally caught on to what point he was trying to make, and gave him a non-feather pillow. This technique worked throughout his trip in Europe. Finally, he did stay in a larger hotel and proceeded with the standard reenactment as usual. He was very embarrassed when they asked him in English, "Why don't you just tell us you are allergic to feathers?"

Frankfurt, Germany – Who's Alice?
It was my first day in a beginner German class. The class consisted of myself, a girl from Japan and two boys (one from Russia and the other from Turkey). The teacher was a native German speaker. The class was conducted entirely in German. I was clueless for most of the class until the end, or so I thought. At the end of class, I thought I was starting to get the gist of what was being said. The teacher started with a long list of examples (I will translate from German from where I thought I was starting to understand).

"And you know, if it's this way, then Alice will be this way, and if this happens, then Alice will do that." This went on for the last few minutes of class. She kept talking about all kinds of things that Alice could do. I sat in utter confusion wondering to myself "Did I miss something? Who's Alice?" I looked at my notes since I wrote down the teacher's name (Katarina) as soon as she said it. "OK, I thought. She's not Alice. The Japanese girl isn't Alice, she just called her by name. Wait! Does she think my name is Alice? Who is this Alice person? The character in the story we just read was Hans. What is she talking about?"

Class finally ended, and I left shaking my head knowing how confusing and frustrating the next 2 weeks would be. I trudged back to my host family and decided to ask my host mother a simple question to try and make some sense out of everything. "Was beduetet Alice?" (Translation: "What does Alice mean?") My host mother looked at me and said in English "it means – everything." I started laughing and couldn't stop. I felt so stupid. I explained to her what transpired in class. We both had a good laugh at that one. That night, I re-told the story to my dad who had taken years of German in school. "Come on, Elizabeth," he said "It's pronounced ahl-less not Alice." Whatever, dad. I'm still sticking to the fact that it sounds like Alice with a German accent!

By Elizabeth Gregory

International Cuisine

Oaxacan Street Vendors

Anything that walks, swims, crawls, or flies with its back to heaven is edible. – Cantonese saying

Travel to any country anywhere in the world, and the food will give you a good idea of its religious and cultural identity. Crossing all socio-economic boundaries, it symbolizes community, love, life and home. It was written best by the renowned gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1825: "Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you who you are." Street vendors, specifically, are an important icon of any culture, selling the "food of the people", which can be anything from fresh coconut juice and mangoes on a stick to fried guinea pig and a bowl of noodles.

Known as the culinary center of the country, during one recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, we found ourselves in an adventurous mood for some local grub. And what better way to explore local delights but from street vendors, we thought! First, we gazed upon a huge pile of small dark red fried grasshoppers, or chapulines, which are generally dry roasted and spiced with chilies, salt and lemon. We were told that you are supposed to take a spoonful of chapulines and place them in a soft tortilla and then eat it.

Try as I might, no amount of distraction could convince me to try the chapulines even with closed eyes, so I wandered next door to see what I could find. There was another vendor selling tlayudas, which are delicious, huge 12 inch tortillas crisped on the barbeque and topped with Oaxacan-style beans, shredded cheese and salsa, often eaten as a late night snack.

Further down the street, we found a stand with a local indigenous woman selling tejate, the traditional Oaxacan corn drink made with cinnamon and cocoa beans with a frothy cap. With her long braided hair and brightly colored embroidered (and sleeveless!) blouse, she was stirring it around up to her armpits in the huge bowl in front of her. Even though back home this demonstration would have turned my stomach, I decided to let go of my normal inhibitions and promised myself I'd at least try it once.

It has been said that Oaxaca is to Mexican food lovers and cooks perhaps what Florence is to art aficionados. Although there are certainly times when a fancy restaurant meal hits the spot, you need not spend a lot of money on food to be completely satisfied in Oaxaca. Just have a stroll down Oaxaca's colonial streets and you will find some of the best regional food ever! Buen provecho!

*Disclaimer: Eating food from street vendors can be a really neat experience when done with caution. If you are skittish, trust your instincts. There are other ways to taste the local fare such as staying with a host family (with meals included, of course!) or going to reputable restaurants serving regional dishes.

By Sue Lavene

Meet John

I think I speak for everyone here when I say TGIF because it's been a looooong week. I hope that this weekend is as lengthy as everyone needs it to be, and hey, if two days is enough for you, I applaud your efficiency with your free time. Our final "Meet AmeriSpan" entry for the week is all about John. He's the President and Co-founder of AmeriSpan, and he's the most recognizable because he's the only guy here. To sum John up in a few words, I'd say he's committed, focused and maybe a little crazy for the amount of time he can sit in front of a computer. I'll stop before I get fired… Anyway, have a great weekend!

Where are you from?
Born near Detroit on August 8, 1963

What's your sign?
Leo – Anne-Marie and I are both born on the same day.

How long have you been with AmeriSpan?
Since it was called Study Programs and its office was in a one bedroom apartment. Feb 1993, Mar 1993 was incorporated as AmeriSpan. Still remember desperately cleaning the apartment when one of our first clients and her father wanted to stop by "the office" in May 1993.

What are your current favorites?
Books: Guerilla Marketing ~ Jay Conrad Levinson, Hawke ~ Ted Bell, Jitterbug Perfume ~ Tom Robbins

Music: In the car it is WIP Sports Radio. The Darkness, old Oasis, early Prince but usually whatever my wife is listening to.
Television: The Shield, Boston Legal, Best Week Ever, Saturday Night Live and Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List
Movies: Good Will Hunting, Silverado (favorite western, yes, I like Westerns – thanks dad) The Sixth Sense, The Lord of the Rings (don't tell my wife!!!)
Sports: Flyers – hockey is my favorite sport. Season tickets. Phillies, usually listen to every game and as usually my heart is broken. Like the Philly Fan Misery index here.

What do you do in your spare time?
What spare time? I work 15+ hours/day. I read about current events and follow the local sports teams. Like to travel – obviously…

What is your favorite place in the world and why?
Has to be Philadelphia. A big city where you know everyone. Iguazu Falls is the best natural wonder I have seen. Inca Ruins in Machu Picchu, Peru is the coolest man-made thing and Saquerema, Brazil has the best beaches I've seen…great body surfing

What is your favorite food?
Spaghetti as evidenced by my waistline. I love eating at my in-laws' who were born Italian and usually have two full kitchens in their house. Opt for Chinese and Indian takeout often, but I really miss the following three things from Michigan:
- Pink Peppermint Ice Cream (found at Stroh's Ice Cream Parlor in Birmingham, Michigan)
- WinSchueler's Cheese spread and crackers
- Vernors soda, especially when I'm sick

What is your favorite drink?
Lemonade. Yuengling Lager

What is your favorite time of year?
Fall – usually get to travel and relax a bit after busy high season. I like the cooler temperatures but still not too cold yet.

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what five things would you have to have and why?
I don't need much…

  • Stuff to read
  • A comfortable chair to lounge
  • Marina (my wife) – she makes me laugh and "gets" me
  • Access to the sports scores – at least baseball and hockey – I'm addicted to sports.
  • A fan if it is hot

Travel Abroad Advisor : Meet Beth

Happy Tuesday! We hope that everyone's return to the daily grind hasn't been too difficult. With the start of school, it's only a matter of time before the weather really begins to get cooler and the leaves begin changing color. Our “Meet AmeriSpan” spotlight is on Beth today. She's the one to call if you need anything regarding our study abroad or teen programs, though she generally has the answer to any question you may have (as I have learned plenty of times!) Beth is funny and sweet and quite the snappy dresser, and she has a real eye for typos so beware, friends who write comments and guest bloggers. Well, I should be signing off. Have a great day!

Where are you from?
Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania and bred in Philadelphia, PA

What's your sign?
I am the tenacious and witty Capricorn.

How long have you been with AmeriSpan?
Going on five years….

What are your current favorites?
Books: The Time Travelers Wife, The Sun Also Rises, and every book by Nicholas Sparks
Music: Big Elton John fan, also enjoy disco, classical, name it. I have a very eclectic taste in music.
Television: Recently I got hooked on the Bravo show Blow Out, I really like The Amazing Race, Will and Grace and of course Sex and the City.

What do you do in your spare time?
I love to read, plan and cook dinner with my boyfriend, shop, check out new restaurants and areas of interests, happy hours with girlfriends

What is your favorite place in the world and why?
Philadelphia because it is home

What is your favorite food?
Cheese, all types of cheese

What is your favorite drink?
Red wine

What is your favorite time of year?
I love the change of seasons because you get to have it all, but I most prefer Fall. The air is crisp, skies are clear blue and the ever changing color of the tree leaves is pretty spectacular.

Sprachreisen & Sprachschulen

Sprachreisen & Sprachschulen means language journeys and language schools. We have launched a German language version of our website to better assist our German speaking clients. In the future we hope to introduce sites in Dutch (Talenreizen) and in Swedish (Språkresor)

German version:
Swedish version:
Dutch version:

Cultural Immersion Abroad – Travel Etiquette

Are You an Obnoxious Tourist? "Who me? Of course not, not in a million years! I've never been on a tour to see 12 countries in 3 1/2 days. Don't even own a loud Hawaiian shirt! Heck, I'm studying their language."

Well, despite being well-intentioned, you may end up "Culturally
Maladjusted" and never know it because in Latin America, it is rude to
point out people's faults to their faces. The problem lies in assuming
that behavior and habits accepted in your country are acceptable in
Latin America. We recently conducted a survey of our partner schools to find out how students might unknowingly offend their host families,
teachers and others. Here are some tips to follow:

Waste Not Want Not
Latin Americans are astounded at the wastefulness of some students:
leaving the lights and TV's on, taking long showers, not eating all the food served and using "all that toilet paper". This is the real reason that in many places low wattage light-bulbs, cold showers, small helpings at meals and no toilet paper are the norm.

Telephone – A Precious & Expensive Commodity
Normally, Latin Americans don't talk on the phone for long periods of
time, and you should keep this in mind when you use the phone at your
homestay or the school. Your homestay is likely to be a bit paranoid
about you using the phone because many families have been left with
gigantic phone bills. School administration will also want you to keep
it short, so that their lines are not tied up forever. Why not get
additional lines? Because it can take up to several years and it can be very expensive.

Shower Regularly
Body odor is just as unpleasant to Latin Americans! Why do you think many homestays provide laundry service?

Keep Your Clothes & Shoes On:
In most Latin American countries it is offensive to be wandering around the homestay "half-naked" or without shoes. Bring a pair of flip-flops or slippers for wearing in the household if you don't feel comfortable in your regular shoes.

You Are The Student, Not The Teacher:
Don't try to teach the class, correct your classmates' mistakes or
speak in your native language during class. Here is something to
remember: "Why?" is not a valid question for explaining grammatical
problems. "How?" is a better question. In language there is usually not an answer to the former, since rules are made to rationalize usage.

Learn Local Politeness!
Lots of niceties and small talk are part of the culture, and it's considered rude if you don't conform – you should greet a person (Buenas Tardes, etc.), even if you see them 20 times a day; say "con permiso" before leaving a room; and MOST IMPORTANT, if your homestay señora says "my house is your house" she does not mean it is OK to raid the refrigerator or bring home overnight guests.

Be Prepared, Attentive and On Time!
Your teacher and other classmates are there to teach and learn,
respectively. Do your homework assignments, review your notes, come to
class on time and pay attention. Hangovers are never an acceptable
excuse for not being prepared, arriving late or falling asleep in

Operate Doors Properly:
Sounds pretty simple, but it never ceases to amaze Latin Americans how
so many foreigners can only "slam" doors or just never close them.

Your Home Is Different:
Plain and simple, Latin America will be different from your home
country. Don't expect it to be the same and don't compare it by telling Latin Americans "this is better in my country".

Are Language Skills Enough?

There is so much more meaning to a message than
what exists in the spoken/written word. For example, if a person says,
“You know, Barbara, I really like you” it will have different meanings
depending on if it is said by/to a man or a woman, in a work
environment or a bar. Eye contact, physical distance, relationship
between the speaker and listener, context, the tone of voice, and the
stress put on certain words are all aspects of the message which give
meaning to the words being said. In fact, these factors can provide
much more meaning than the words themselves. Sarcasm is a perfect
example of how non-linguistic aspects of communication relay meaning.
If a friend says to me, “Gee, I can't wait to vote in the upcoming
election”, the way I interpret that message will be based upon my
knowledge of my friend's political views, the situation with the
current campaign, and my ability to understand the meaning behind the
tone of voice.

Our ability to interpret such cues is subconsciously developed through
our process of socialization. The meanings that we attach to certain
non-verbal aspects of communication seem inherent to us. Our
interpretation of these cues just comes naturally. Now take into
consideration that every culture has its own set of cultural cues that
each member of that culture understands. It's easy to see how a person
from Culture A and a person from Culture B may interpret the very same
words in totally different ways. Here are some examples:

When Sarcasm Means Sincerity
Marsha thought things were going well with her new French friends,
particularly Bertrand. He continually invited her to interesting and
fun events, but he was constantly making fun of her. One day at an art
exhibit, while looking at a particularly abstract piece, Marsha says
that she cannot understand what the artist was trying to express.
Bertrand smiles and responds, “Yes, I'm afraid French art is far too
advanced for Americans to comprehend.” Marsha was desperate; she really
liked him and could not figure out what she was doing to cause his
constant teasing, so she asked her host mother about it. “My dear,” the
host mother told her, “this means that he really likes you. In France,
when someone feels comfortable enough to tease you, that means that you
have been welcomed as an intimate friend.”

When Now Doesn't Mean Now
Joshua, an American student in Heredia, Costa Rica, called his Costa
Rican intercambio partner to meet for coffee. When he asked what time
they should meet, the response was “Nos encontramos ahora en el
parque.” For Joshua (and the dictionary), “ahora” literally means
“now.” So, he grabbed his jacket and headed straight to the park where
he sat on a bench and waited for over half an hour. His friend arrived
without the least sign of repentance for being late. After discussing
the matter with his Spanish teacher, Joshua learned that in Costa Rica,
“ahora” means sometime within the hour. And, if you are meeting a
friend someplace like the park, it is expected that it is no problem
for one or the other person to wait for a while because you will spend
some nice time sitting in the park, probably running into some other
friends, or meeting someone friendly also sitting on a bench.

When Yes Doesn't Mean Yes
Many business people have experienced this frustrating scenario in
Japan. Sarah, a young businesswoman from New York, was sent to Japan to
close a big deal for her company. While giving her pitch, she became
more and more sure of the sale because her Japanese counterparts
continually nodded their heads as she spoke. When she finished, she
thought the deal was made and asked when they would like to sign the
contract. She was shocked when she was told that they were not yet sure
if they wanted to make the deal or not. What Sarah did not know is that
in Japan, nodding of the head does not necessarily mean yes as it does
in the U.S. It can also mean “Yes, I am listening and understanding
what you are saying."

These stories provide just a few examples of how language skills are
simply not enough to achieve effective communication in another
culture. To get the most out of your international learning experience,
focus on gaining cross-cultural skills as well as linguistic ones.
Cross-cultural skills will enable you to:
1) Understand how culture effects communication (your own and that of others)
2) Deal with behaviors that, to you, seem strange or annoying
3) Learn from your cultural adaptation process
4) Communicate more effectively.

These skills will also help you in your pursuit to learn a new
language. After all, language is a reflection of the culture from which it developed.

Recipe: Chicken Mole

6  chicken breasts 
4  tablespoons olive oil 
1/4  cup raisins 
2  cloves garlic, minced 
1/2  teaspoon cumin 
1/4  teaspoon nutmeg 
1/4  teaspoon ground cloves 
1  onion, chopped 
1/4  teaspoon cinnamon 
1  green pepper, chopped 
1/2  teaspoon salt 
3  slices pimento pepper, chopped 
1/4  teaspoon pepper 
1  teaspoon sugar 
2  large tomatoes, peeled,seeded and chopped 
1  grated orange rind   
2  ounces unsweetened chocolate squares, chopped 
2  tablespoons chili powder (or to taste) 
2 1/2  cups chicken broth 
1/4  cup light rum 
1/4  cup slivered almonds 

In casserole, heat oil and cook garlic for a few moments to flavour oil; add chicken and brown.
Remove chicken.
In remaining fat, cook onion, green pepper, pimento, and tomato over gentle heat for 10 minutes.
To onion mixture, add chili powder, blending well.
Add broth, almonds, raisins, seasonings, and rind; simmer, covered, 30 minutes longer.
Add chocolate, stirring until melted.
Replace chicken, spooning sauce over.
Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until chicken is tender.
Warm rum, ignite it, and pour over contents of casserole; allow to stand for a few minutes.

Serves 6