Talent Is Universal, But Opportunity Is Not

This is a repost of an article I wrote for Guinea Pigging Green

A Path Appears >> Life In Limbo

I just finished reading A Path Appears by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof. Their book is a smart, well-researched guide to some of the major problems the world faces in terms of issues like health, education and violence, as well as how we can best help others both with our money and our time. I’m still processing everything I learned from it, but I recommend it highly.

The book is really making me think about how I can help more effectively both financially and in person. It’s also enlightening me about what the problems really are, and the sometimes-surprising best ways to help others. Long story short: it’s rocking my world and I’ve gotten so many new ideas about how to help more going forward.

One quote that stood out to me was: “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not.” Hope is not, either. Safety is not. Justice is not.

It’s really hard to learn about how some of the most preventable or cheaply curable health conditions keep so many children out of school because they can’t afford the treatment. It’s hard to read about fathers drinking away two thirds of their family’s income while their children starve or can’t afford to go to school. It’s hard to learn about all the horrifying trafficking that occurs worldwide and even at home.


But this quote reminds me of the humanity, passion and skills that exist worldwide. People don’t only need our money, they also need hope and jobs and more opportunities to learn and grow and develop to their full potential.

I think sometimes we in developed countries have this misconception that our individual success is a product of our work ethic and talent and drive to succeed. And while that’s partially true, it’s important to recognize just how much of our success in life is a product of where we were lucky enough to be born. We should never assume that people who did not have the same luck are stupider or less talented or less hard-working just because they may seem less “successful” by our standards.

I don’t know yet what the best way to help is and I’m thinking about it a lot. But more and more lately I’ve been feeling a pull to give where and what I can, and this book is making the path towards that goal a bit clearer. It’s actually so inspiring and exciting! As I continue to think about these ideas, I want to keep this quote in the front of my mind: the idea that the most important thing we can do is spread and create opportunities for talented, capable people worldwide to spread their own wings.

You can see a great interview with the authors on MarieTV here. You can get this amazing book here.

How I’m Giving More Meaningful Gifts This Holiday Season

How to Give More Meaningful Gifts This Holiday Season >> Life In Limbo

This is my first Christmas away from home, which has helped me to get a little creative with gift-giving. I can’t just go to the mall and then wrap something up – I have to think about shipping and timing more than I’ve ever had to before. It’s a good thing though, as I’ve had to think more intentionally about what I want to give people this holiday season and what is important to me. I realized that when I am faced with getting a great gift for someone, there are two major ideas I tend to turn to:

1. Give an experience:

Happiness research backs me up on this – spending money on experiences rather than things offers the most return on your dollar investment in terms of enjoyment. These days it’s getting harder to buy someone an interesting thing, especially since most people buy themselves the things they want or are trying to get rid of their extraneous belongings. Gifting an activity is a wonderful way to sidestep all those concerns while still showing your care and thought for the person you’re giving to.

Some experiences that are fun to give (and receive!): tickets to a concert, play, or sports game, vouchers for the spa or an interesting fitness class, a gift certificate for a cooking class or workshop, or a night out at a nice restaurant. If price is a concern, look for local events happening in your community through smaller theatres, restaurants and other small businesses and you’ll be more likely to find something in your price range.

2. Give a book: 

Books are the best of both worlds – they’re a physical object, yes, but they also offer the reader a whole experience, perspective, and set of new ideas. Books are my favourite type of thing to both give because you’re able to be so thoughtful and generous while spending as much or as little as you can afford. I believe that a book that meant a lot to someone is one of the more special presents you could ever receive. Plus, the gift-giver will usually write a personal message on the inside flap, and how great is it to grow a personalized library!?

Some books I would give this year:

Non-fiction: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, Thrive by Ariana Huffington, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, Adulting by Kelly Brown Williams, The Defining Decade by Meg Jay, The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun, Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott.

Fiction: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

Note: I have read and would personally recommend all of the above books. They are all among my favourites of the books that I read this year. You can see all my favourite books and recommendations right here.


This week on the podcast, Laura and I are discussing giving great gifts. We touch on the two themes I’ve just mentioned, but also talk a lot more about where to turn if the occasion calls for a special object (spoiler: it’s Etsy!). We also have a conversation about ways we can give back at this time of year to charities and organizations in our communities and worldwide. In my humble opinion, it’s a great episode and I’m proud to share it with you. Have a listen on our blog or by subscribing to the show on iTunes.

What are your favourite things to give as gifts? What will you be buying for those on your list this year? 

What to Pack When Moving to Korea to Teach English

What to Pack When Moving to Korea to Teach English >> Life In Limbo

When moving to Korea to teach English, it can be hard to know what exactly you need to bring. Although Korea is modernizing quite a bit, not that much has changed since many of the posts already online were written. Still, I wanted to write my updated list for 2014 of things you should consider packing if you move abroad to teach English.



  • This list is based on my experience living and teaching in Busan, the second-largest city in Korea and home to Shinsegae, the largest department store in the world.
  • In Seoul, these are still the less common products, but I can say that they are easier to find in Seoul than elsewhere in Korea, because it is a more diverse city with lots of international grocery stores and big brand chains.
  • Just like in any country, these kinds of imported products become scarcer as you get into more rural towns.
  • For food and beauty products, iHerb is your best friend. You can use my coupon code LWW752 to get 10% off.

What to Pack When Moving to Korea to Teach English >> Life In Limbo

Fitted sheet:

I have friends that went their entire year in Korea without using a fitted sheet, instead opting to place a duvet on top of their bed or use a flat sheet, but for me having a fitted sheet has made all the difference. Be aware that the beds here are of slightly different proportions so the sheet may not fit exactly, but in my opinion it’s infinitely better to have a sheet you can tuck in easily and not have to adjust every morning.

Full-sized bath towel:

I brought one from home, and I have never seen a large one, though I’ve read they’re sold at Costco. The typical towels sold in Korea tend to be just slightly larger than a hand towel size.

Your favourite toiletries:

The majority of products sold here are, of course, Korean. I have had good experience with many of the local brands and have adopted many of them to use in my beauty routines. You can find imported brands like Clean and Clear, Nivea, Tresemme, Crest, and Neutrogena, but these tend to be more expensive and they may not have the exact product you use back home. They definitely do carry higher-end products, for example Estée Lauder and even Clinique at the big department stores, but again these will be much more expensive. So if there’s anything you feel you (or your skin) couldn’t live without, make sure to bring a year’s supply.


It’s not hard to find, but it’s very expensive here.


I would recommend bringing enough tubes of your favourite toothpaste to last you for the year. I haven’t used Korean toothpaste, but I’ve heard that it tends to be a bit weaker than we’re used to in North America and has a funny taste. I personally can’t brush with anything other than Sensodyne otherwise I get bad tooth pain and I haven’t been able to find that brand here.


Don’t ask me why, but deodorant is not a common product here. I can find tiny, expensive imported deodorants (usually Nivea liquid roll-on) at a local store but stick deodorants aren’t common. I’m told that the cosmetics section at places like Costco and EMart have it, but since I make my own deodorant (yes, even in Korea) this hasn’t been too much of a problem for me.


If you have feet larger than a size 8 1/2, as I do, I would recommend bringing shoes for every season to Korea with you. My feet are just slightly too large for most of the Korean sizes, which usually go up to about 250mm in women’s sizes, which means I can only usually wear unisex shoes like off-brand Toms or Converse styles that they sell for men’s and women’s sizes. You can often find larger sizes at stores like H&M, but they are much harder to find than regular shoes. If your feet are smaller than mine you shouldn’t really have a problem as long as you live in a city center or will visit one during your time in Korea.


It’s not impossible to find jeans in your size if you live near major shopping center, which has stores like H&M, the Gap or Uniqlo. However you should know that jeans here are expensive. If you can bring enough pairs to last you for the year, you’ll save some money.


Same as for jeans. I’m sure you can find them some places but most stores don’t carry my size.

Books or a Kindle:

English books aren’t common here, even at larger bookstores. But you can use the awesome website What The Book which stocks a lot of books and offers free shipping throughout Korea.

Plug adaptors:

I’d recommend bringing enough to charge every device you have. I only brought two, and I need to invest in a couple more so I can charge things from home. Don’t bring a hairdryer or straightener from home: they’ll be the wrong voltage and they’re inexpensive here. By the way, most electronics you bring from home won’t need a voltage converter, read here for more details.

Favourite food products:

I was sure when I first came that I wouldn’t be able to get things like peanut butter, ranch dressing, or Earl Grey tea. But Korea has come a long way since Simon and Martina made that initial video. I can now find Caesar salad dressing, tortillas, barbecue sauce, honey mustard and Alfredo sauce in almost every grocery store. While these products do tend to be a bit more expensive than you’ll be used to paying back home, they’re not impossible to find. Still, if there’s a particular brand of hot sauce or tea you love, bring it with you.

What to Pack When Moving to Korea to Teach English >> Life In Limbo

For everything else, don’t worry too much. Korea is becoming more developed all the time, especially if you’re in a city, and increasingly you can get almost anything you need. If I was packing for Korea now I would pack: a few more bras, a few more pairs of shoes and comfortable pants, more of my clothes, and a few more of my favourite cosmetics. But in general I have been able to find just about everything I want (even avocados!). Except for maybe cheese – there’s still not much cheese here.

Just bring yourself, a good attitude, and enough clothes to last you for the year. You’ll do great. Also, congratulations on making this huge decision! For me it’s been such a rewarding experience in so many different ways and I wish you the best of luck on your upcoming adventure.

If you’ve ever moved to a foreign country, what was on your packing list for your big move? Fellow expats in Korea, what would you add to this list?

October Faves + Wishlist

Wishlist October

1. e.l.f. All Over Stick in Pink Lemonade 2. H&M Chelsea boots 3. ONA The Lima Camera Strap 4. 8 Seconds Graphic Tee 5. Gap Denim Vest 6. GoPro Hero 3 7. Kate Spade Heart of Gold Idiom Bracelet 8. Lightroom + Photoshop Creative Cloud 9. iPhone 5s

Just like last month, some of this stuff are things I’ve been loving lately, and the others are things I’m wishlisting. That e.l.f. color stick is such a nice shade of pink – it goes on really bright but blends really well. Plus it costs about $2, somehow. Even though I’m not usually one for writing on shirts, I’ve been wearing that graphic tee nonstop. It’s so soft and cozy and matches well with my denim vest. It’s the first jean jacket-type thing I’ve had since I was a kid and I’m very obsessed. I thrifted mine here in Korea but that Gap one is very similar.

I am thisclose to signing up for creative cloud so that I can experience Lightroom. I was thisclose to buying those boots at H&M this weekend but decided they were too expensive. I’m still on the hunt for something similar. The camera strap that came with my camera (approximately 5 years ago!) has finally started to show its age and is peeling like crazy. I think it might be time to invest in a lovely new one. Also, as I’m starting to plan my trip through South East Asia after my contract’s done here, I’m hearing the siren song of the GoPro. I just think the little bangle is pretty and witty. And of course, an unlocked iPhone 5 (the camera! the speed! the beauty!) will be on the wishlist until the end of the time. I’m still using my uber-slow iPhone 4 (not even S) but don’t use the camera anymore because it’s so awful.

As always, I’m counting my blessings for all the awesome things (both material and not) I’m lucky enough to have in my life. It’s funny, even as I was making this post I was thinking “I don’t really need anything else though, really..” My life is so great as it is.