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Connie Hum of ConnVoyage has been hopping out to explore the world since 2005. Based in NYC for many years, she eventually decided to leave in order to travel the world more extensively. Since late 2008, she’s been a world nomad, exploring many corners of the globe and teaching English here and there. In this in-depth interview, we find out why Connie gave up a brilliant NYC career, where she’s been, her favorite spots in Europe and Asia, and perspectives on teaching English in Asia. Without further ado, here’s Connie:
Q1. As you explained on your website, in late 2008 you decided to give up your apartment, job and life in NYC to go travel the world. Was that decision more about dissatisfaction with corporate life in NY or pure desire to see the world or a bit of both?
I suppose it was a little bit of both, but I think the true driving force was my own unhappiness about where I was in life. I felt so incredibly lucky to be living in New York City (truly one of the greatest cities in the world), some of the best people in the world were my closest friends, I was working for a great company, and yet I felt like something was missing in my life. I was living a life that was an absolute dream and I wanted to give some of that goodness back to the world.
|Connie with her mother in Istanbul, 2009|
Q2. You set out on your world trip in March 2009 to Istanbul, Turkey. Why did you choose to start in Turkey, of all the countries in the world?
I had worked and traveled in Turkey during the summer of 2005 and really fell in love with the people, food and country. I honestly didn’t know a single thing about Turkey when I first arrived and everything about it was a complete wonder to me. When I started planning where to go first after New York City, Istanbul just kept coming up in my mind. I started looking for opportunities for travel and I was truly lucky to find something that allowed me to return to Turkey. In a way, it was just meant to be.
|Connie in Venice, 2005|
Q3. You’ve traveled quite extensively around Europe. What are your 3 favorite places in Europe and why?
Lisbon, Portugal – Pasteis de Belem. These incredibly tasty treats are reason enough to go to Lisbon, but the stunning architecture and friendly locals made Lisbon an instant favorite for me.
Seville, Spain – One of my favorite travel memories of all time took place one incredibly random and fun night. I found myself lost and wandering around dark alleyways after dinner when I heard some music coming out from behind a lone red door. I’m a HUGE fan of doors and so of course, I had to take a closer look. As I was admiring the red door, a Spanish couple walked in. I followed and ended up inside a famous flamenco bar (I later discovered) where I spent a magical night watching local flamenco dancers dance passionately and listening to some of the most soulful music of my life. That experience will probably never come around again, but it was enough to forever draw me to Seville.
Brasov, Romania – The little town of Brasov and its quaint square, Plata Sfatului, completely captured my heart. Every street led to some hidden gem and I seriously considered changing my plans for the rest of Europe just so that I could stay in Brasov longer.
|Connie in India, 2010|
Q4. Looks like most of 2010-2011 you were traveling extensively through Asia. What are your 3 favorite places in Asia and why?
India – There is just simply no other place in the world like India. I couldn’t get enough of the bright colors, flavorful food, diversity, friendly and curious people, and rich history. I dream of India often and would return in a heartbeat. Every traveler should spend at least a few months in India. It will open your eyes and change you in ways you can never imagine.
Burma – Since I’m half Burmese and I have some family living in Burma, no trip to Asia is ever complete without a trip to Burma for me. The country itself is just an absolute wonder. The people are some of the friendliest I’ve ever encountered, the food is marvelous, and the country is just breath taking.
Hoi An, Vietnam – Although I love Vietnam as a whole, the little town of Hoi An really won me over. It’s just the cutest town with some of the best regional Vietnamese food in the country. It’s easy to get swept up in Hoi An’s charms and it’s one of my top destinations for Asia.
Q5. In mid 2010 you taught English to Burmese migrant workers’ children in Thailand. Please tell us about that experience. And what is the situation for Burmese migrant workers there?
My three months volunteering in Thailand with Burmese migrant workers was undoubtedly one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have never before been so humbled by the kindness, generosity, and resilience of the people I was lucky enough to meet during that time.
The situation for Burmese migrant workers in Thailand isn’t the best and there’s much to be improved upon, but I don’t feel I’m knowledgeable enough to really get into the details. All I can say is that if anyone is looking for a truly rewarding volunteer experience, this particular cause is one of the best anyone can have.
Q6. You’re clearly of Asian descent. Do you mind if I ask of what nationality?
My mother is Chinese and my father is Burmese.
Q7. While traveling in Asia do you find that locals assume you’re of their nationality and try speaking to you in their own language? If so, in which countries? Or do they somehow get that you’re American?
To be honest, I think in every single Asian country I visited, I was mistaken for a local! Even when I tell them that I’m American and that I don’t understand their local language, they sometimes continue to fail to make that connection that someone Asian looking can be “American.” It’s only after several tries to get me to respond to them in their language and I absolutely fail, that they begin to realize that maybe I wasn’t joking after all.
Q8. In countries where locals realize you’re a foreigner, what gives it away? Your clothing, mannerisms, facial features, or?
My mannerisms are probably the number one thing that gives away my American-ness. I travel alone most times, I speak with a very American accent, I have a loud laugh, I eat loads, and I’m sure I do a million other subtle things that call attention to myself and my American-ness that even I’m not aware of!
|Connie freezing in Iceland, 2007|
Q9. About one year ago you moved to Hong Kong to teach English. What are your impressions of HK so far?
Hong Kong is definitely an interesting place to live. There’s so much I’m still learning about this city, even after a year of living here. The people of Hong Kong take their food very seriously and for a foodie like me, there’s no end to the culinary delights I can experience. Another thing that I love about Hong Kong is the fact that I can escape the city and spend a day at the beach or hiking in the woods. Hong Kong is all about convenience and accessibility, and the ease of which I find living here never ceases to amaze me.
|Connie Hum of ConnVoyage in Peru, 2008|
Q10. What do you think about teaching English there?
Teaching English in Hong Kong has been quite challenging. All the students here have such rigorous schedules and high expectations placed on them. It’s a curious thing to witness, and even though I love teaching and want all my students to excel, I also think they deserve to be given a little break once in awhile and be allowed to be just be kids.
Q11. How long to do you plan to live in HK?
It’s really hard to say how long I’ll live in Hong Kong. I’ve been living here for just over a year now and although I have no immediate plans to leave, I can honestly say that I don’t see myself here for too much longer. I think one more year (at the most) in Hong Kong would be a reasonable estimate. Living in Hong Kong has been a great learning experience for me but I think there are bigger fish for me to fry out there in the world.
|Connie in Costa Rica, 2007|
Q12. What travel plans do you have for 2012?
I always have travel plans and 2012 is no different. I currently have no concrete plans for travel this year, but I know that I will be doing my best to take advantage of my centralized location in Hong Kong to travel more in Asia. I still haven’t been to Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, most parts of mainland China, and Laos. It’s probably a little ambitious to say that I will visit all these destinations in 2012, but it can’t hurt to dream big, can it?
Thanks so much, Connie, for sharing your travels and Asian teaching experiences with us. Here’s to visiting ALL those Asian countries this year! HOpe to meet you on the road somewhere soon. Cheers, Lash