Writing is My Therapy Because I Have No Money For Drugs


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Writing is My Therapy Because I Have No Money For Drugs

  1. 1. “Writing is my therapy because I have no money for drugs”<br />BY: AMY WHEELER<br />It wasn’t about the markets, the adorable children or the food. Instead, Belmar, New Jersey native Christine Rochelle’s first blog post upon arrival in Can Tho, Vietnam was about – what else? – blogging. <br />After graduating as a journalism student from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York with five internships under her belt, Christine, 24, a prolific and quirky writer and winner of the college’s 2008 Journalism Award, impulsively moved to Brooklyn and then realized that after a month’s worth of rent and groceries, she was left with $32 in her checking account. She spent one long month looking for a job full time and finally secured a spot as a freelance production assistant at MTV.com. And then, after nine months of signing two-month contracts for a $15 per hour, 6 day a week, 12 hour shifts position as the lone “man” of the nights and weekends crew, each month meeting in her boss’s office to find out if she still had a job, at the 9-month-and-eligible-for-benefits benchmark, she lost it. It being the job.<br />But along the way, she was losing her mind as well. While the work was exciting and allowed her to shadow the news team during Obama’s inauguration and meet New Kids on the Block (any former ‘90s teeniebopper’s dream), the work was draining. “It took over my life,” she said. “I gained a lot of weight, had serious bags under my eyes, lost touch with my friends.” <br />After being offered another job as a nights and weekend production assistant at FOX for a cheaper rate ($12 per hour with no overtime), she realized the – this-is-what-you-have-to-do-to-break-into-the-industry – line wasn’t cutting it for her anymore. “I knew I loved writing, but I thought maybe I wasn’t cut out for it,” she said.<br />Christine learned an important lesson. Work can’t be your whole life. You can’t live to work. This revelation was one that led her to stop looking for media jobs and apply for Teachers for Vietnam, a program she learned about from a Samantha Thornley, a high school friend. <br />“The whole idea of helping people was sort of in my blood,” she said. “I also felt that by helping others, I would get myself out of this rut. I would find my true career path and get myself back on my feet.”<br />She was accepted in March of 2009 and left in August for a four-month position teaching English at Can Tho University in Can Tho, Vietnam. <br />Her parents had mixed reactions to the news that their youngest daughter was planning to pick up and move to Vietnam for four months. When Christine called her mother in January before she mailed out her application to tell her that she had decided, her mom was very calm and got right down to talking about the program. “Then, my dad got on the phone and screamed something about land mines and malaria.” But her mind was made up.<br />When she found out she got into the program, her parents’ roles switched. Her father was thrilled and her mother did everything in her power to make her stay. “It was a rough few months because I was trying to soothe her fears by hiding my own,” she said.<br />Her high school friend, Sam, who had also taught for Teachers for Vietnam, helped her prepare for the experience by giving her advice about customs, teaching, food and traveling. Christine blogged her way through her pre-departure fears, questions, and preparation. <br />And then, before she knew it, it was time to leave.<br />After months of preparation, she found herself in JFK Airport hugging her parents goodbye. As she walked toward the gate, she turned back and saw her mother bawling in her father’s arms. She started to tear up, then took a deep breath and reminded herself that she needed to do this. “At that point, all of my fears just turned into excitement. Of course, the beer I had at the airport bar didn’t hurt!” she said. <br />She would need more than a beer to help her adjust to Vietnam, though. Everything, from the food, to the weather, to the language, to the apartment that would become her home, was different. Not bad, but definitely different. She lived in teacher housing at Can Tho University in an old and “bare bones” apartment with no air conditioning, despite intense humidity and 90 degree weather every day.<br /> <br />While Christine didn’t necessarily choose Vietnam, instead choosing the program which automatically placed her in Vietnam, she fell in love with this “magical” country. “When I was there, Vietnam became mine,” she said. “It’s like I claim anything this is Vietnamese.”<br />She soon found that she and Vietnam were kindred spirits, in a way. “They’re the underdog that no one remembers, but one day, they’re going to be one of the most powerful Asian countries. So, me and Vietnam are one in the same. It sort of chose me.”<br />While in Vietnam, Christine taught three classes at Can Tho University with anywhere from 30 to 70 students in each class. When she started to run low on money, she also started teaching a class at the private school down the road. When she wasn’t teaching, blogging or biking, Christine had the chance to travel to Cambodia and also throughout Vietnam (to Phú Quốc, Ha Long Bay and Da Lat). <br />And amidst the beautiful islands, fried blood and natural disasters, Christine fell in love with the people. From the children who would run after her until she waved and said “hello” to them, to the xe om (motorbike) drivers who knew when Teacher Christine missed a day of school, she adored them all. They treated her like a celebrity – staring as she passed and talking about her when she left, but never in a malicious way. They were simply curious.<br />Her students were the most curious of all. They were eager to learn everything she had to tell them about America and all the English she could teach them. She was constantly surprised by how grateful the students were to have her and how much of a connection she made with some of them. “The students were so sweet to me and changed my perspective on life drastically… They have such good hearts,” she said. “I wasn’t worthy of their hospitality.” They waited thirty minutes for her to find the right classroom on the first day, took her to the café for tra da (iced tea) most days after class and kept her smiling.<br />But despite her love for her students and the Vietnamese people, her time in Vietnam was not a walk in the park. Any extended travel experience is plagued with days that could get anyone down. Her hardest days? The ones where she felt alone, or sick, or out of place, or the week she had 50 mosquito bites on each lower leg. The days when she simply felt exhausted. In perhaps one of her least humorous or sarcastic, most introspective and poignant blog posts, she wrote about days like these.<br /> <br />Loneliness was the one thing she hadn’t prepared for. “But dealing with that is also one of the reasons why I went there to begin with – to be on my own and sort through a few personal things,” she said. “It was difficult, but it was worth it.” <br />However, it was the painful times like these that allowed her reflect, think, write, and accomplish what she had gone to Vietnam for. To find her way.<br />Christine had escaped from writing in corporate America only to find herself with fresh eyes and thoughts, needing to writing in Can Tho. “I definitely write through everything,” she said. “I never realized how much I depended on my writing until I went through Vietnam, living in the city, etc.”<br />“Language is a huge part of you but you don't realize that until you don't have it,” she said. “Writing was a way to hang onto my language and thus hang onto my identity when I was in Vietnam.”<br />Blogging, along with beef soup and Glee, was part of her everyday routine:<br />She wasn’t doing it for her parents, or her cyberspace followers, or her ex-boyfriends. She was doing it for herself. “I guess that was the whole trip in general, a way to find myself,” she said. “Selfish, but in a crazy world where you're updating seven different profiles and talking through emails and text messages, sometimes you need time for yourself. I had my four months in Vietnam.”<br />While she was doing it for herself, she wasn’t doing it by herself… at least not entirely. Applications like Twitter, Facebook and Skype allow today’s expats to remain in near-constant and instant communication with those back home. While her Internet connection wasn’t the best, she was able to keep in contact by email and Skype with those back at home, which made the distance seem just a little bit smaller. <br />Christine also found herself connecting with other expats who were in Saigon or Ha Noi through her blog and other social networking sites. “The connection with the expats online actually sometimes meant more than talking [with people] back home because talking to family and friends at home often ended in frustration since they still were unable to understand a lot that I went through,” she said. <br />Many travelers say that one of the hardest aspects of travel to deal with is their loved ones not being able to relate. When this occurs upon entrance back into the home culture, it is often called reverse culture shock. Long before the traveler is ready to stop talking about their experiences, their listeners lose interest in listening.<br /> <br />Despite having connections via the Internet to her friends and family back home, there were some things Christine just couldn’t have in Vietnam. Bagels, for instance.<br />But, before Christine’s craving for bagels became too strong, it was time for her to go back to New Jersey. Was she excited to be going home? She didn’t know. “Honestly, I feel numb to it all,” she wrote. “Yet 48 hours from now I’ll by flying over the Midwest headed to JFK.”<br />Before she left, her students presented her with “Nancy.”<br />She brought the doll back to her apartment thinking, “WTF am I going to do with this?” Then, she turned it over and saw that, not only was it a slinky-bobble head doll, but it was also a piggy bank. Opening it, a shower of notes from her students fell out. She started to read them but started getting choked up. She put the notes back into Nancy, went into her room where she had started packing, took a pile of her clothes and threw them out so she could make room for the doll. It sits on her shelf in her room in New Jersey now.<br />And then, she left, blogging as she went. <br />Back in New Jersey, she was greeted with all of her cravings, and before long, it was like she never left.<br />But she had left. She had spent four months learning who she was, what she valued and what she needed. And what she needed was writing. She went all the way to Vietnam to discover that she is cut out for writing, but that she doesn’t have to sell her soul, or her happiness, in order to do it. “I feel more confident about myself and once again I’m strongly pursuing writing as a career – except instead of the crazy media world, I’m doing blogging. At my own pace. And I’m getting paid as I should. I love it,” she said. “Any doubts I’ve had about myself or friends have been resolved. I’m closer to my family and stronger as a person in general. I don’t know if any other place would have done that to me, so I would never regret choosing Vietnam.”<br />“I know it sounds cheesy to say all of this,” she continued, “but doing this experience and going to this type of country is different than many going to Italy for a semester. Sure, you come out loving it, but an experience like this hits you a little harder. And I needed that.” <br />While she was packing to back home, she had some time to reflect (in written form on her blog, of course). Her dad had his own thoughts.<br />However, despite her dad’s wishes, she is still keeping busy. Within three days of returning to the states, Christine was hired as a Content Manager at PCG Digital Marketing. She is also now a contributor to LifestylerMag.com, the careers section of AOL.com and is still writing for mediaelites.com as their relationships editor. “I can now tell people I’m a paid blogger. So, in a sense, I’m doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do. It still boggles my mind. So much so that I Google myself all the time to see my own articles.”<br />If it wasn’t clear the important role blogging plays in her life, in a recent questionnaire for Crushable.com, she answered:<br />Blogging isn’t the only thing on her mind though. Her thoughts often wander to her memories from Vietnam.<br /> <br />As for her plans for the future? They are – “To keep blogging and eating cupcakes. I have health insurance now so my mom is generally happy. My next stop is to move out so I can brag about things like buying a couch. I also want to write a book about Vietnam but I haven’t gotten started yet. I just keep working on my surprise face for my acceptance of best screenplay (think along the lines of Christina Aguilera and her first Grammy). Oh, and to end up here would be nice: <br />. And I want to make out with Brian Stelter. Okay, I’m done.”<br />