Traveling Abroad? Here’s Your Pre-Departure Checklist

I was an immature teenager playing a game of tag with a schoolyard full of smiling 9 year-old Nicaraguans.

It was hot out. The air was sticky. I was dressed, unnecessarily, like a young Rick Steves. I was incredibly happy.


Ometepe, Nicaragua with fellow volunteers

During that short three week trip,  to Ometepe, Nicaragua, I had been bitten by the travel bug for the first time. I fell in love with the mentality that the world was my oyster – new cultures, foods, landscapes and experiences were out there to be explored. It spurred a travel-driven period of my life where I managed to visit over 20 different countries with year-long stints in two. I had the pleasure or exploring the Great Barrier Reef from above and below, strolling along the Great Wall of China, trying my hand as a rancher in Wyoming, teaching English to Spanish youth, wandering the immense lands of Patagonia, playing on a traveling basketball squad in Iberia, attending a spiritual retreat in Africa and filling my Moleskin journals with enough stories to make my mother cry — out of both joy and rage.

I’ve learned a lot along the way – emotionally, personally, professionally and logistically. A lot of those lessons are unique to me and me alone, but being prepared to go abroad is a logistical artform that anyone can pick up. If you are preparing for an experience abroad, first of all, congratulations! And second, read our short traveling abroad checklist that can help prepare for a few important things before you depart.

Vaccinations, Pills and All That Jazz.

Make sure you purchase some precautionary medication before your departure, especially if this is your first long stint abroad. I hate taking malaria pills. I hate shots. I hate having to carry things I may never use in my backpack, but I have become violently ill in less than ideal places. I’ve hallucinated from dehydration and a stomach virus on the rooftop of a Moroccan hostel because I didn’t have enough money left over at that point of my trip to afford a room. I’ve had parasites attack my stomach in Central America. And I had that one sickness in Patagonia (I honestly have no idea what it was, but it knocked me off my feet for several days), but in many situations, that medicine in my backpack I was saving for a painfully rainy day really did come in handy. It’s worth the price and the annoyance of carrying it around.  So research the countries you will be visiting, find out the most common traveller issues and buy medicine accordingly.

Fez, Morocco

Fez, Morocco

Copy, Copy, Copy.

Have you ever had a checked bag misplaced by an airline? Have you ever had a bag stolen? Have you ever left one at a friends house for a weekend and couldn’t pick it up for a few days? These things happen and it’s vital that you still have access to your important documents. I once left my Spanish residency card at home while traveling to the UK. Guess what? They wouldn’t let me back in on account that I had overstayed my welcome on a tourist visa and didn’t have proof of my temporary residency. It took several trips to the embassy to figure it all out. If it weren’t for a copy my banker had back in Spain, I might still be stuck in Dublin. With that said, print out essential travel information such as your first hostel location, the name of your in-country contacts, your insurance card, the exchange rate in your country, and most importantly your passport. Make 3 copies of your passport and do the following:

1) Give one to a family member at home before you leave.

2) Pack one in your larger backpack or luggage suitcase and hide it. Put it in the lining of the bag or some place that is hard to get to.

3) Keep the third in your day pack or the bag that never leaves your side.

Also, make sure your passport is valid for a time period well beyond your stay. If you need to apply for a passport or a passport renewal, do so months in advance. Achieving these tasks may seem simple, and they are, but they still take a considerable amount of time.

Think about Doubles

Everyone talks about packing light, but asking yourself “what is the bare minimum I need to pack?” isn’t the most efficient question to ask yourself. Instead, ask yourself, “what do I absolutely need that can benefit me in more than one situation?” For example, when traveling in Europe during the summer, pack a shirt that is not only  that you can use to explore cities in, but also formal enough to wear into museums, churches and a pretty nice restaurant…if the opportunity arises. If you are visiting countries with varying climates on a single trip – like going from the heat of Columbia to near freezing temperatures in Patagonia – think about what kind of layers make sense. A huge overcoat isn’t something you’ll want to carry around all trip, but a sweatshirt with an undershirt and a rain slick could make for a much more useful combination.

The beautiful Fallas festival in Valencia, Spain

The beautiful Fallas festival in Valencia, Spain

Practice Being Flexible

Abroad you will be put into awkward positions. You will be uncomfortable. Some smiles will start with cringe faces. These are character building moments, but you need to keep an open mind and learn how to best embrace them. You can attempt to prepare for these experiences before you leave by getting out of your comfort zone in a variety of different ways. I’ll let you get creative here, but here are a few things that I have been subject to that you need to learn how to deal with on the road:

– How to sleep in new, less ideal places (ex: a dirt shack with no AC or formal roofing).

– How to try new foods even if you think you’ll hate them. (Think fish bread, matador testicles, blood sausage, etc).

– Physical embraces. (ex: If you aren’t comfortable giving another man 2 kisses on the cheek, you aren’t ready to visit a lot of different countries).

– Not having electricity 24/7.

Make a “Don’t Get Duped List”

Tourists often get served tourists prices while on the road. That’s okay, it’s going to happen – your pocketbook will get taken advantage once in a while. However, your goal should be to prevent it to the best of your ability. In order to do that, research the following before you depart on your trip:

– The exchange rate.

– The average price of a taxi from the airport.

– The average price of a hostel or hotel accommodation.

– Public transportation costs.

– Cell phone or any other communication costs.

– Find out the translation for “I’m sorry, but that’s too expensive,” and “I’ve only got ___ dollars,” and “thanks so much, but I’m on a budget.”

Skype Numbers

If you are going to be traveling for more than a month or so, you will most likely look into an international plan or grabbing a local cell phone. It’s much cheaper to do the latter and then sign up for a Skype number for that particular country. That way, your family or friends can call you in case of any emergency and have it relayed to your local cellphone for a few cents. Even if it’s not an emergency, it’s a cheap alternative to an international cellphone. Trust me. If you find yourself is a terrible bind and need to contact someone abroad, all you’ll need is a few cheap local credits to get through. You can usually buy credits at local mini marts and grocery stores.

A lot of people ask me if you need Internet on your phone. Sure, it helps, but for me it takes away the fun of having to interact with locals to find your way and communicate. If you want it for security reasons, having an unlocked phone is the way to go. That way, all you need to do is buy a new SIM abroad and purchase a prepaid credit plan.

I hope this short list helps some of you better prepare for an incredible experience abroad. Remember, it’s a beautiful world out there with beautiful people and beautiful sites. Go out and enjoy it – just do what you can to stay safe while you do it.

Posted by on January 29, 2015
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Hack Your Local Library

Free resources are a hackademic’s best friend. So why is it that so many people forget about one of the biggest and most valuable free resources around?

The public library is about more than just dusty books…but even if it were just books, that alone would be reason enough to visit. Instead of having to buy a book you might only read once, you can borrow it, read it, and give it back. It doesn’t take up space in your house, it doesn’t cost money. What’s not to love? How many places in the world can you get something for nothing?

But libraries are more than just the books they hold. Libraries are community and resource hubs.

Learn at Free Events

If you are looking to learn a new skill from scratch and have no idea where to start, your local library is the best, and most inexpensive option.

There are always events, speakers, exhibits and groups to join at libraries. Also, keep your eyes open for quarterly classes ranging from history to languages.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, ask an employee – they usually have the beat on local academic events.

Take Advantage of Free Tech and Meeting Spaces

If you don’t have high-speed internet or are in a temporary bind, libraries become an invaluable resource. With a library card, you can get time on the computer to get work done, do some research or try your hand at networking through social media networks like LinkedIn. Most libraries also have small private rooms or alcoves where you can host peer-to-peer learning groups, meetups and academic-driven events.

Learn from People and Experiences

Libraries are also a great place to learn by doing. Volunteer and give back to your community.  Many of the people who run free events and spend endless hours researching in your local library could make for some amazing mentors.  One sure way to put yourself into a prime learning situation is to offer to help and just spend more time with them.

If you refrain from approaching volunteering as a means to an end, but rather as a learning experience,  you will be surprised at what you can pick up.

Libraries have evolved over time to adapt to our technology and our changing lives. Libraries are no longer just big buildings filled with books. They have much more to offer: networking, on and offline resources, volunteer opportunities and more. Most of us never know what awesome resources we are missing out on by not going to the library. So don’t miss out. Now you know how to hack your library and get the most out of your learning experience there. Now, there are no excuses.

Posted by on January 27, 2015
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Jisc infoNet

Creating In-Person Study Groups

Written by Catherine Stevens.

Hackademics: We Have A Problem

College students have it easy: school offers both content (your classes) and community (your classmates).

Hackademics, on the other hand, need to embrace a certain “I’ll-do-it-myself” mindset. Although we now have access to the content we need — through online classes, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), the library, and so forth — we don’t have a built-in community. Instead we have to build our own.

Why They’re Important

Real-life discussions facilitate learning. Although MOOCs offer forums for students to talk to each other, pertinent social cues can get lost in online dialogue. You don’t get the sensory feedback that you would get if you met and talked in person.

You’ll meet people with similar interests as you. Forming in-person study groups will help you expand your network. With these like-minded people you can develop lasting friendships and possibly collaborate in the future.

Student-directed groups often work better than professor-directed classes. In college, the professor might ask for questions right after a lecture, when students haven’t yet had the time to grasp the material. If you create your own study group, you can ask your peers for help at any point. Learning becomes a group experience, instead of a solitary one.

Starting Your Own

One way to get in touch with other learners is to create a Meetup group, which can be about almost anything. Many MOOCs have a Meetup page (e.g. Khan Academy’s one here). Ask other students to meet with you to have heated debates about things you’ve learned or just to help each other out with problems you’ve encountered. Being able to explain a concept to someone else will help you understand the material better as well.

Check out under “Study Groups” for more learning communities.

Posted by on January 21, 2015
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Why should you take a different path?

By being part of the hackademic community and thinking critically about education, you’ve separated yourself from your peers. You’ve asked questions like “is college the right path?” Perhaps you’re taking a gap year. Maybe you’ve dropped out of college. Even better, you’ve been hacking your education from the start.

Regardless, you’ve committed to taking a significantly different path than other people. This is incredibly important, for reasons I’ll explain below.

But first, why do people take the normal path? Let’s consider a few reasons:

1. They haven’t thought through their long-term strategy.

By the end of freshman year in college, we’re encouraged to declare a major, which in turn puts us on track to becoming a doctor/lawyer/[insert generic profession here]. But this selection mechanism doesn’t require people to actually think through their path. The process is too easy.

Figuring out what you want to do 20 years down the line is supposed to be difficult. And, if you’ve actually thought through your long-term plan, you’ll see that it’s littered with contradictions and uncertainty. People sometimes take a “normal” path because they can’t deal with this reality.

2. They’re uncomfortable being “weird.”

People have a strong desire for social acceptance, but go about achieving it in different ways. Some people gain it by taking a path that they know society will approve of. They have an aversion to doing things that will cause them to be seen as strange, because they’re afraid that others won’t like them as a result.

3. They’re aiming for average success.

If making a decent living working 40-hour workweeks is what you want, then by all means do what everyone else is doing, because it’s probably what you’ll get. Unfortunately, it’s all that you’ll get.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a normal path. It’s just important to note that a normal path yields normal results. You’ll get to live a very comfortable life, but the tradeoff is that you’ll be severely limiting your potential. If your goal is to do something phenomenal, this is not for you.

So why should you take a different path? Here’s what I think:

1. Competing is hard.

When you’re doing the same thing as everyone else, it’s really hard to be the best. The sheer number of people you’re competing against is brutal.

And if the way you’re trying achieve social acceptance is by being the best in a well-walked path, you’ll be constantly trying to keep your insecurity at bay. One solution to this is to take yourself out of the running and do something so different that the normal path can’t compare.

2. Also, competing is futile.

What’s more is that when people all aim to take the same path, they tend to lose track of who they’re actually competing against, and what really matters.

A good example of this is the rat race to get into college. In their haste to do more than those around them, students forget that they’re actually competing with thousands of other people that they’ve never met.

Except it doesn’t actually matter who has the highest grades or the most impressive activities, although both can be a strong indicator of ability. What really matters for getting into college, and what people should compete to have, is who has the highest capacity for learning and creating.

3. In order to innovate, you have to figure out how to access the world in a different way.

If you want to create something better than other people, taking the same path as them is a sure way to hold yourself back. You’ll be limited to coming up with the same ideas as other people, because you haven’t gained exposure to anything different.

But by taking a “strange” path, you’ll be able to gain a vastly different perspective than other people, and understand reality better. Armed with this new perspective, you’ll be able to access the world in a different way, and create valuable things that have not been created before.

Posted by on January 20, 2015
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Failure. Rejection. Success: The J. K. Rowling Story

“By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

Those are the words of J.K. Rowling – the author whose book series has been translated into 73 languages, sold millions of copies and accrued over $20 billion through movie adaptations and sponsorships. So why does she admit to being such a failure?

Creating her book series wasn’t as easy as scribbling down notes on a few dinner napkins. It wasn’t a one, two or even three step process. It would take years of perseverance to become the success she is today.

Soon after conceiving the idea for Harry Potter, Rowling began writing, but was immediately pulled away from her work by the devastating death of her mother. Rowling ceased working on the book and sank into a deep, grieving depression, getting little to nothing accomplished in that time.

In the hopes of digging herself out of grievance, she took a job teaching English in Portugal for a year. Her goal in venturing abroad was to get away from her troubles and more importantly, use her time off to continue working on her book. She set the goal of having the first Harry Potter book done by the time she returned from Portugal.

Things did not go as planned.

Not only did she fail to make progress on her first book, but after falling in, and then out of, love, she ended up with a failed marriage and a baby daughter she now had to raise alone. She came back to nothing. She had no job, no finished product and two mouths to feed. She had hit rock bottom. As she struggled with depression, raising a child on her own and living off meager unemployment benefits, she resumed work on her book in cafes while her daughter was asleep.

Despite numerous setbacks, she found solace in doing what she loved – writing. In fact, she found that the little she had was enough to be moderately happy. She had ended up in exactly the position she had feared most and found that it wasn’t that bad. There wasn’t anything left to be afraid of and her worked showcased that mindset.

When Rowling finally finished the first three chapters, she sent the manuscript off to a publisher – They quickly passed on the project.

She sent it to another publisher. Again, the answer was no. Her mailbox filled up with rejection letters, but she didn’t let it stop her.

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.” — J.K. Rowling

After sending her manuscript to 12 different publishers and getting rejected by every single one, Rowling began losing confidence in her book. Finally, the editor at Bloomsbury Publishing company sat down to read the manuscript. And so did the editor’s 8 year-old daughter. The little girl loved the opening chapters, and begged to read the whole thing. This made the publisher agree to publish Rowling’s novel. But Rowling was left with a warning: that she should get a day job, because she wouldn’t make any money writing children’s books. Once Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published, though, she proved everyone wrong.

J.K. Rowling went from being a jobless single mother living off unemployment benefits to one of the best selling authors of all time. But it didn’t happen over night. She faced rejection and constantly strived for success. She worked hard at her craft before anyone noticed her. That practice, along with strengthening herself against rejection, was what made her work unforgettable. Looking back, the Harry Potter series has earned over $400 million in book sales, and the last movie alone earned $476 million dollars in ticket sales… on opening weekend. She was the first female to become a billionaire author, not that many authors make it that far in the first place.

If you have a dream or a passion and you keep getting rejected or running into failure, don’t let that stop you. If you’re going through a tough time in your life, but working on something you really believe in, don’t give up. If you do, you’ll never know what could have been. Who knows, you might end up breaking records.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” — J.K. Rowling

Posted by on January 15, 2015
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2 Skills Every Gap Year Student Has to Learn

By Jean Fan

After observing other gap year students and taking a gap year myself, I’ve noticed some patterns. I’ve noticed that there are two essential meta-skills you absolutely have to practice as a gap year student:

1. How to be comfortable with uncertainty

It takes guts to take a gap year, because you’re admitting to the world that you don’t have your life all figured out. No one does, obviously, but being able to admit this openly is a sign of maturity.

If you choose to go the college route, you’ve chosen a path that is well-traveled and “safe” in the eyes of society. College students know for certain what they’re going to be doing for four years: going to school. Gap year students don’t have that luxury.

Perhaps you chose to take a gap year because you didn’t know what you wanted to study in school. Perhaps you took a gap year because you didn’t know if you even wanted to BE in school.

On your gap year, you’ll be confronted with a lot of uncertainty as well. Your plans during your time off from school will most certainly change, or not pan out the way you expected them to. And that’s okay. Welcome to real life.

2. How to be a misfit (and explain yourself!)

“So where do you go to school?” This is a question that I get asked by almost everyone I meet. (A more neutral question, by the way: “Where in life are you?”)

People make the assumption that every young person is in school. Not all of us are, of course, and people who are taking a gap year have chosen a noticeably different step.

Usually people can answer the question above with one or two words, and then the interaction is over. Interactions as a gap year student go more like this:

Other Person: “So where do you go to school?”

Gap Year Student: “Actually, I’m not in school right now. I’m taking a gap year.”

Other Person: “Whoa, that’s really interesting. Why are you doing that? How are you spending your time? What will you do after this year?”

Gap Year Student: “Well… [insert rather long explanation here]”

The thing above doing unusual things is that you have to justify them constantly — which is great, actually. You immediately seen as someone interesting to talk to. You get extra practice pitching yourself, which will come in handy in the long run. You delve into the why behind what you’re doing, and as a result have a platform that allows you to have more meaningful conversations.

What are other skills that Gap Year students have to learn? Send in your thoughts to [email protected].


Posted by on January 13, 2015
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Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

“By taking risks.”

“By getting out of my comfort zone.”

“Through failure.”

These are the types of answers successful people give you when they are asked about their journey. They all took risks and most importantly, they all felt uncomfortable at some point or another.

When you are outside your comfort zone, you are forced to be decisive as opposed to having the luxury of staying idle. In other words, it forces us forward.

Most self-directed learners already know this. The problem, however, is that they don’t know the best way to challenge themselves and create these types of situations. That’s why we’ve put together the following list to give you a few ideas of how to force yourself out of your comfort zone:

Learn a New Skill

What skill scares you to try and learn? Dancing? Public speaking? Improv? Cooking? Sales? Try it. And don’t just try it once, stick with it for a set amount of time. Doing something that scares you, just in this small way, can help your rational mind see that the things it is afraid of aren’t such a big deal. It will help you when you are facing bigger obstacles and bigger fears. It will also help you extend your comfort zone outward, making you more comfortable in similar situations later.

Get on Stage

Stagefright. Whether it’s doing music, acting or speaking, whether at a small open mic or a big conference, being on stage scares a lot of people. However, once you’ve done it, you realize you have made progress. You’ve faced one of your fears down, and grown from that.

Break Your Routine

Routines can add a much needed structure to our lives, but we need to break those same routines to stay productive, creative and healthy. In order to stretch your comfort zone, think of something that you wouldn’t normally do. Whether that’s reading a classic work of literature you would normally never touch, spending all day in a ridiculous costume or being part of a flash mob. Breaking a routine and doing something totally out of the ordinary will force you to feel a different emotion, think differently and see a situation from a different point of view.

Network, Network, Network.

Networking is both a useful skill and a way to stretch your comfort zone. Networking causes a lot of people anxiety, and it can be really awkward at times. It’s getting beyond that anxiety and awkwardness that will make you grow both personally and professionally.

Some things to keep in mind when you’re networking: First, listen and ask questions about the other person. Show that you’re interested in what they have to say and that you find value in them as a person. Second, give before you get. Try to help them instead of trying to get help from them. This will make the connection last and turn into a friendship, instead of just an iffy connection. Last but not least, connect people together who you think would benefit from the connection. If you can do this effectively, you’re doing it right.

Learn a New Language. And Speak it.

Learning a new language is not only good for your brain, it’s good for stretching your comfort zone. You will run into embarrassment and frustration when you begin speaking a new language. You will learn and be humbled, and in the end, you will be better for it.

Embrace a New Culture

Whether that means travelling abroad, trying a new food, or going to a religious service with your friend of a different religion, do something to take on a new and unfamiliar culture. The easiest (and hardest) way to dive into this is to travel, but if that’s not in your budget, try looking around in your area. Go find and embrace another culture, and do something along the way to help out, like volunteering. First it will feel uncomfortable and new, but as you go on, you will learn and understand more and become a more culturally aware and culturally sensitive person.

Face Your Fears

The best way to get outside your comfort zone is to do something that scares you. I don’t know what that is because I’m not you. It’s a very individual and personal journey, but hopefully some of the ideas here resonated with you and will encourage you to make your own list. No matter what you want to learn, part of learning means getting out of your comfort zone and facing your fears. Remember, your fears are the only thing holding you back from learning and growing. Don’t let them.

Posted by on January 6, 2015
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8 Ways to Motivate Your Teen in the New Year

Part of being a successful parent is learning how to support and motivate your teen. Navigating these waters is much easier said than done – doing so while steering clear of painful arguments, stress and the many pitfalls of parenthood is extremely difficult. If you’re looking for new fresh strategies to help motivate your teen in the coming year, give this list of recommendations a read:

1. Reflect and Listen.

Adolescence is a difficult time. Take a moment to reflect and remember some of the struggles you had as a teenager. Surely your kid has been confronted with a challenge very similar to one that you had to go through. Understanding that fact and expressing it to your teen is a way to create a connection and instill trust. Once you do this, make sure to listen attentively. This will create an environment free of judgement that will make them more receptive to suggestions you might have. That said, you don’t have to have advice or suggestions lined up. It might actually be better if you don’t.

Empathetic listening is a powerful tool that you can learn more about here.

2. Keep a Growth Mindset.

There are two ways of thinking when it comes to traits like motivation and intelligence. One is known as fixed mindset, in which the trait is seen as an innate ability. The other is called growth mindset, where it is seen as something you can develop through hard work and experience.

When it comes to intelligence, a lot of teens think they’re either smart or not, and if they’re not, they never will be. That’s entirely untrue. There are things that parents can do to counteract this myth and push teens to do better. When your teen gives up on something because they “aren’t smart enough,” remind them that it’s hard work that matters. Conversely, instead of praising your teen for being smart, praise them for their hard work. It’s a difficult shift to make, but as we can see from this study, it’s entirely worth it.

3. Help them set realistic, achievable goals.

As part of our Gap Year curriculum at UnCollege, we put a lot of emphasis on what are called SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. Making sure goals fit the SMART framework will both clarify your expectations and give your teen deadlines to try and meet those goals.

Don’t just stop there. Check in with them every week to help them set new goals. They will respect and appreciate it in the long run if you keep an active eye on their progress. Just remember, let them drive the boat. You are along for support.

4. Tell them your “why.”

Your teen is going through a curious stage in life – they will no longer accept commands from authority, but will instead question that authority. For good reason, your teen will no longer simply accept the “because I said so” argument. It means they’re becoming an independent thinker. Celebrate this. Express yourself and if you don’t have an answer, say so. You can work together to find the answer.

In addition to answering their questions, encourage their curiosity. Studies have shown that the more curious people are, the better they are at developing close relationships.

5. Trust them.

Don’t hover over your teen – let them be self-directed and self-motivated. You’ve done your part. You’ve helped to guide them and set goals. Letting loose of the reigns is necessary for them to have space to work on their goals without feeling like you’re fully in charge.

6. Lead by example.

It’s not fair for your teen to have goals and you to have none. Set some and share them with your teen. If they see you working towards something and setting aside time to accomplish a task, job, housework, personal project, hobby or volunteer work, they will learn by watching how good habits and organization pay off.

7.  Help them see the intrinsic value of what they are doing.

Many parents think that they can motivate their kids by rewarding them for their school work. Often times, this comes in the form of paying their kids for their grades. Unfortunately, this won’t motivate your teen to do any better in school. The best way to motivate your teen to consistently do better and work harder is to show them that there in intrinsic value to what they are doing. This will motivate them even when they don’t need money. If they are motivated by wanting to help out around the house or learn for the sake of learning, they will outperform their peers because their motivation will stand the test of time.

Though you shouldn’t reward your teen all the time, a reward every now and again can reinforce their good habits. There is a balance in motivating your teen when it comes to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, but that balance leans more towards intrinsic motivation.

8. Learn to argue constructively.

Arguing is a teen’s way to see how far they can push you and test where the boundaries are. It’s healthy. In fact, it’s constructive for teens to argue with their parents from time to time. Again, lead by example. State your points, don’t raise your voice and do not put down their opinion. In many ways, a kind-hearted argument is another way to show that you care.

Motivating your teen is going to be tough, and a lot of it falls on their shoulders, but you can do your part as a parent to help. If you’re worried about your teen’s success and motivation, it means you care. Let them know that by talking it out, being a good listener, and offering to help them. Getting your teen to a place where they can be self-motivated can take time, but it can be done. Hopefully after reading this, you’re ready to renew your efforts for the coming year and will encourage your teen to do the same.

Posted by on December 30, 2014
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photo credit: Bekah

A Foolproof Strategy For Achieving Your New Year’s Resolution

It’s about that time for you to start thinking about goals for next year, but just writing them down isn’t going to get you anywhere.

Achieving your resolution is all about is about knowing where you want to go and predicting the obstacles that might keep you from getting there. It’s like programming directions into Google maps and finding out what traffic jams and construction zones you should steer clear of – it will make things much smoother and easier.

Instead of just telling yourself that this is the year I’m going to learn a new language or save up enough money to travel or create a business plan or do anything – and we mean anything  answer the following questions before the clock strikes twelve on New Years Eve.

1) Where do you want your resolution to take you?

Think about the driving force behind your desire to accomplish your resolution and what achieving it will bring to your life. What will life look like with this new addition? If you can envision an improvement, it’s easier to stay motivated to complete the task at hand. If you are embarking on a large project, such as learning a new language, make sure to define milestones you need to hit on your way such as mastering the present tense and learning how to talk about future events. Once you reach a milestone, plan a mini celebration to remind yourself of the end goal how much closer you are to achieving it.

2) What’s standing in the way of your resolution?

There are plenty of obstacles on the way to accomplishing any resolution. It’s practically impossible to identify all of them ahead of time — many lessons are learned the hard way — but it’s important to understand the roadblocks that are directly in front of you.

What time constraints in near future will make it hard for you to dedicate time to your resolution?

Are there any expenses you’ll need to consider?

Will you need support from someone like a family member?

If so, write them down and make the necessary arrangements to overcome them. In this way, you will have already planned out the first few steps you’ll need to take to accomplish your goal.

3) What strategies will help you accomplish your resolution?

Once you’ve identified both why your resolution is important and what’s standing in the way of achieving it,  the only thing left to do is to plan how to move forward. To do this, take a Getting Things Done approach and break down items into 1-step actions you can actually take. If your goal is to learn a new language, your first action step isn’t going to be learn the essentials. instead it’s going to be study my workbook and listening exercises so that I can practice.

Remember, the process of achieving your  resolution is a lot like planning the perfect vacation. You can’t just pick a destination – you need to choose it, find out what you need to get there, and go make it happen.

So, what do you want to accomplish in 2015?



Posted by on December 22, 2014
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Advice for HS Graduates: Get Started Now

By Lisa Nalbone

I’ve been to several high school graduation parties and conversed with graduates and their friends. Some knew exactly what they want to do next, while others were unsure about what field they want to pursue. When I asked these young people what experience or interaction they have in the field they wanted to pursue, most admitted to having no experience at all.

It’s easy to make excuses.

“I don’t have an established background to land a job in my field.”

“My field doesn’t grant internships until senior year of college.”

“How would I even know where to start?”

The reality: there’s no reason you can’t start gaining experience now.

Finding Your Field

Make a list, mind-map, or collage of the things you have done in your life that made you feel most alive, excited, energized, competent and confident. Think about all aspects of your life, including play and fun and hobbies, not just paid work or school assignments. They might be big projects or just small, magical moments where you felt in the flow – you weren’t even aware of time passing.

Okay. Now figure out what it was about those moments that felt so good. What skills and talents were you using? What are the common threads between those moments? What does the world need that uses those skills?

Think about what’s wrong in the world. What matters to you so much that you want to do something about it? Take a look at who, where and how people are working on that issue. How could you try to fit your abilities into that work? What work could you create to combine what you care about with what you love to do?

Start Learning

Once you identify a field that you’re interested, learn as much about it as you possibly can. Don’t wait for the possibility of a future internship to decide if it’s an area you’re passionate about. Many programs don’t schedule official internships until junior year, when you are already heavily invested in that major.

You should start investigating what a job looks like as soon as you’re interested in it:

  1. Start following people in the field on Twitter.
  2. Read professional blogs.
  3. Notice which resources and authors they recommend, make a comment, and ask a question.
  4. Interview people in the field. Few people turn down a cup of coffee!

These types of interactions will help you absorb a lot of second hand experience, as well as gain a better picture of what that career looks like on the ground.

Which areas make you want to know more and more and more? Which ones bore you to tears? Do you feel more compelled to pursue that field? Great! If not, great! You now have more data to work with. In either case, try to discern what is pulling and pushing you. When you identify those edges you will have more information to help you find your own best fit in that field, or discover a related field you might be more interested in.

Try Things!

Learning is a critical first step, but the sooner you gain real experience the more feedback and information you’ll have to work with.

  1. Ask someone you interacted with in the learning stage if you can job shadow them for a day.
  2. Volunteer doing anything just to be in and around the actual day to day work. Offering free work is a powerful secret weapon. It opens doors.
  3. Ask for an internship opportunity (even if there’s not a position being offered). Paid or unpaid, this is extremely valuable experience.

Getting your hands dirty is worth the trouble. Once you have first-hand experience, you can make more informed choices. While it may seem counterproductive, gaining experience in something you find uninteresting or frustrating can lead to new skills and connections.

Don’t let the graduation season turn into the summer of indecision. You may want to think of this time as the last chance you’ll have to relax, but don’t let yourself become too complacent. Set yourself some goals and commit to implementing a plan for trying new things in order to gain the most valuable credential of all: experience.  Ready, set, go!

Posted by on December 21, 2014
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