You can’t help but be amazed by the Internet when you’ve been attending a virtual classroom with teachers from all over the world while traveling and blogging for a living. But that is exactly what I’ve been doing since I began taking Arabic lessons on italki in December.
Despite shifting timezones, a long layover or two in Istanbul plus the occasional rickshaw traffic jam, I’ve learn to read, write, and speak Arabic conversationally. These are the 7 cities across 3 countries, from the developed to developing world, where I’ve been able to log in most days for class.
Although Bulgaria doesn’t quite have the amazing Internet speeds of neighbor Romania, in Sofia the average download is faster than 90% of the world. Maintaining a solid Skype connection was never an issue, at least on my end.
Despite being a 5 hour grandmother’s drive from Sofia, by the time I got to this Black Sea coastal town I had picked up quite a bit of Arabic.
There are always late nights in Istanbul but I made sure to set aside some time during the day for an Arabic lesson.
New Delhi, India
The Internet in Hinduism’s holiest city wasn’t the easiest to work with but the Arabic teachers I have developed a routine with were very flexible. My regular teacher Ali has especially made rescheduling around flaky Internet connections very easy.
I have visited the Taj Mahal three times and can further confirm, it’s one of 5 popular tourist destinations that won’t disappoint you.
Where I am currently typing this from, a few hours before my next Arabic lesson using italki.
Location Language Independence
Even learning to speak tourist before your next vacation takes some time, a commodity that oddly can be scarce when traveling. Programs that don’t have a human element are great for some basic phrases you should know everywhere, but having a teacher can force you to stay committed if you want to go a lingual level deeper. Even a few hours on italki can teach you the slang, local bargaining skills, or colorful curse words to give you a much more local experience.
When I landed in London’s Gatwick Airport the immigration official routinely asked me where I was going. When I told him Botley, I was surprised to hear his reply of a question, “where is that”? I explained to him that from what I could recall it was about a two hour drive southwest of London. He said, “I know.”
“So why did you ask me,” the conversation went. “I wanted to see if you knew.”
I can see that security at the England‘s borders are really on their top game. Several hours later when the train rolled into the quiet Botley station I walked across the pedestrian bridge over the rails, ran back, and waited to snap this photo. A cheeky welcome to London but a warm one from Botley.
Although international borders themselves aren’t very thick, they often outline the boundaries of security for whole nations in our minds. Typically, entire countries aren’t dangerous but once they’re associated with the word, booking a trip to one of them doesn’t seem like a sane decision. For those of you who enjoy adventure without risking your life, these are the regions I’ve traveled to that you can carefully visit, in countries that have an unsafe reputation.
Socotra Island, Yemen
I’ve written quite a bit about Socotra Island, because if there’s any reason to travel to Yemen, this archipelago is it. Socotra is technically a part of Yemen but it’s nearly 300 kilometers (~190 miles) off the mainland’s coast. There’s so little crime on Socotra that it doesn’t even have a police force. Despite this, due to its nominal connection to Yemen, Socotra remains one of the most neglected tourist destinations in the world.
Actually this advice goes for much of western Ukraine, which is unaffected by the conflict in Donetsk and other eastern regions. Here’s the longer version to the question: is it safe to travel to Kiev right now but in short, outside of the capital city’s Maidan, you’ll see life has returned much to normal.
Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Iraq
Despite their proximity to Syria and territory captured by ISIS, these heavily fortified cities have stayed protected within the areas controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Both cities have international airports but before you go read more about safety in northern Iraq, what it’s like to travel there, and this digital pocket guide to traveling in Iraq.
Most Places South Of The Border, Mexico
Mexico is a country whose economy is booming and crime rate is falling in areas tourists are most likely to visit; though maintains a reputation of lawlessness. Much of this has to do with a series of highly publicized kidnappings as well as the murder of 43 students in 2014. A large percentage of these crimes are related to local drug trafficking, away from tourist areas so you can discover the ciudad under Mexico City and swim in enchanted cenotes without fear.
The political turmoil in Egypt has crippled the country’s tourism industry. You may be weary of visiting Cairo but the biggest worry anyone has in the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada is whether there’s a good wind for surfing that day. (The answer is usually, yes.) Turkish Airlines has direct flights from Istanbul to this paradise town that might not look anything like you imagine when Egypt comes to mind.
Texas, United States
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United States has a homicide rate on par with Yemen. The high murder rate in Yemen and the United States shouldn’t be entirely surprising as those two countries have the first and third highest gun ownership rates per capita in the world. The surprising part is that a quarter of America’s 20 safest cities are located in the Lone Star State known for its cowboy culture.
You Can’t Put A Border Around Safe
Just as you can’t put an imaginary line around dangerous, the same is true of safe. Although both the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan and Somaliland in the horn of Africa are considered safe, they’re not ideal places for inexperienced or unprepared travelers. Sometimes it’s best to cancel your travel plans because of unfolding circumstances in places that were safe or take a look back at somewhere like Sarajevo whose recent history might be keeping you away needlessly.
What are some of the safest places in “dangerous” countries you’ve visited? I’m curious to hear your comments below!
There are a number of ways you can save money to travel, see the world for less than $50 a day, but you can expand your travel budget from the other end by converting existing skills into a side income. The language learning website italki I’ve been using for the past several weeks lets you do just that as a language teacher in your native or other fluent tongue. Many of you may have teaching certificates, language degrees, or other qualifications you can use to become a teacher in your spare time to boost your travel fund.
I’ve spoken about my experiences from a student’s perspective, but for a view of the other side, I interviewed Ali Abdulwahed, a professional teacher who has been giving me lessons in Arabic. He shared his experience using the italki, how he puts together lessons, and how much you might be able to earn with classes of your own.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and teaching background.
How did you first hear about and get involved with italki?
Several years ago I began searching online for good teaching sites where I could give lessons when I have time from my university work. I found italki provides a lot of good options for teachers and was where I could be most visible to potential students.
How many courses have you given through italki?
I’ve given over 225 lessons, averaging one to two hours each, to approximately 30 different students.
How do you plan your curriculum for each student?
The first thing I do is assess the level of the student in terms of what Arabic they know. Some students are complete beginners while others require more advanced lessons. It’s also important for me as a teacher to know why the person wants to learn Arabic – is it for business, travel, school, etc. I have a number of course books as well as a series of my own supplementary lessons for a variety of levels.
About how much time do you spend teaching on italki? What’s the amount per lesson a teacher can earn?
I teach as often as I can when I have time which for me is generally between semesters; when school is in session I can’t offer as many courses. italki lets you set up your schedule so students can choose when to take a lesson based on when I’m available. Right now I’m teaching about 7 regular students. italki also lets teachers set their own rates and from looking at others, I decided to charge 120 italki credits (roughly $10 per hourly lesson). Most students purchase package of 10 lessons with some taking courses for months while others simply need a brush up.
What do you like most about using italki?
The site is excellent for connecting students and teachers. You can add a lot of information to your teaching profile, there are teacher ratings, and students can take sample courses. There is a great base of people who can search, find, and take classes with you.
What do you think they could improve?
There are a few things I wish were built-in to the italki site itself. Right now you connect with students directly through Skype but I would prefer a communication method embedded in italki. Also, a digital whiteboard or virtual classroom space would be great so I could prepare a few things before each lesson. Currently I use Google Docs with other online whiteboards which works but having it all in italki would be better.
Would you recommend others to become teachers on italki?
Yes, definitely. I’ve told a number of my friends to sign up to italki. You can be easily found through the site, it’s really superior to other online language websites in this regard.
Thank you very much Ali for taking the time to answer these questions. For those of you interested in learning Arabic, I can highly recommend Ali (here’s his italki profile). He’s an organized teacher who knows how to maximize every lesson so you learn as much as possible. This little digital postcard of mine shows what I was able to learn in a short time and what I need to work on for my next lesson!