Saturday, September 01, 2012

Another update--Sept 2012

Just when you think you've got it all figured out, life throws you another curveball...

After my last post in April, it soon became apparent that things weren't working out so well at YCIS. Basically, I got burned out and it was time for me to make a change. I started looking for another job (while in the midst of continuing to teach, write reports and finish up the school year, a very busy time to say the least!) Plus, I knew that I was going to need to move, as I was living in staff housing. Even had I stayed at YCIS, I knew that I wanted to move because living 25 minutes walk away meant that I relied on taxis to get to work everyday which was a real hassle. Fortunately a fellow teaching colleague and friend who lived in the same complex was able to have me store my stuff at her apartment.

I was sad to leave my students, my wonderful Chinese co-teacher Juliet and many wonderful teaching colleagues. However, I knew that I wanted to stay in Shanghai, so that helped narrow my search. I knew in my heart that Shanghai is where I'm meant to be right now. I have some good friends here and I really want to get a good grasp on Mandarin. There are also a ton of international schools here in Shanghai. Although late in the game to look for another job in April (most schools start the hiring process in January), I knew that it wasn't too late. The last day of school was June 29th. That afternoon I had a job interview at a school called Shanghai United International School, or SUIS for short. The next two days (June 30th and July 1st) I moved my stuff into storage. July 2nd I got the job offer at SUIS to teach First grade. The next day I flew back to Seattle for the summer. I got home in time to celebrate the Fourth of July with my family.

I spent five weeks back in the states with my family, which included two weeks vacationing on the Oregon Coast and a week visiting my sister, brother in law and three year old nephew in Indiana.

I returned to Shanghai on August 11th and have now started my new job and have moved to a nearby neighborhood. I love the fact that I have found an apartment that is 10 minutes walking distance from the school. I'm also sharing the apartment with another teacher from the states. First grade is a big adjustment from Fourth grade, but I do enjoy that the planning is a lot easier. I have another Chinese co-teacher and 22 students from around the world.

It's another chapter in the Journey Called Life!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

A long awaited update

Holy Kamoley! I just checked my blog and realized that it has been exactly a year since I posted last. So if I actually have any followers left, thanks for your dedication! Here's a long awaited update:

Last year I decided to stay in China, since there are actually teaching jobs here and managed to be hired on by a British international school called Yew Chung International, or YCIS, for short. I started the school year in August (I went home for 6 weeks between jobs) and am teaching Year 5 students (4th graders in the American system). I have been so excited to *finally* have a real teaching job after the three agonizing years of subbing and trying to find work back home in Seattle. (And isn't it an interesting commentary of the US Economy when one has to leave the country in order to find a job?)

Here's an interesting comparison for my job-hunting experiences. For three years, I was applying and trying to find a teaching job in the states. I mostly applied in and around the Seattle area, but also filled out applications from Eastern Washington to Alaska. I was even looking into teaching in Indiana where my sister, brother-in-law and two year old nephew live. I didn't keep track of the number of jobs I applied to, but I'm sure it was at least 1000 from various school districts. From those applications, I had 10 job interviews, but no job. However, while in Shanghai, job hunting lasted 3 months. I sent out my resume to about 10 different schools and had 3 job interviews and got hired by YCIS. I signed a two-year contract, which included my passage to China, health insurance and housing. I'm doing well financially as well, since the cost of living is lower than it is in the states.

My first year teaching at an international school has had a sharp learning curve as just about everything is new to me...the British curriculum, the courses, even the Mac computers that all of the teachers have been issued. I typically work 12 hours a day, although the school hours are from 8 to 3:30 Monday through Friday. I almost always go in to school one day over the weekend to prepare for the upcoming week. My colleagues tell me that I'm crazy to work so much and that I need to let things go. However, being a new teacher, I don't know that many time saving tricks and, truthfully, could really use more support. But I'm just trying to do my job...I've given up trying to be "super teacher". Next year will be easier, because it will be the same curriculum and I'll have a lot of the resources that I had to create this year that I can re-use. Plus I'll have a clue as to what is going on. This year has been really overwhelming and I have very little leisure time. However, I really enjoy my students and my Chinese co-teacher and that is what keeps me going.

As for learning Chinese, that has slowed down significantly because I don't have time to work with my tutor anymore. But I still try to learn a little bit here and there. I decided about a month ago that my goal is to learn one Chinese word or phrase a day. That seems to be going well.

For Chinese New Year, we got a week off of school. I chose to travel to Thailand at that time and had a blast and a half (I'll post about that later with some photos). For Christmas holiday I went home to visit my family, which was really nice however not relaxing at all. In January, I was under so much stress that my body kind of gave up and I had terrible back and neck pain. I was referred to a Chiropractor and fortunately that has helped a lot. But I still have a lot to do to make changes towards a healthier lifestyle.

Fortunately I have made some friends in Shanghai, mostly with other ex-pats that I do not work with. I see them almost every Friday night, so that is one way that helps me deal with the stresses of work that accumulate during the week.

Overall, I am very grateful for my job and the opportunities that living in Shanghai is giving me. I am definitely in the middle of a new adventure: LIVING IN CHINA!

stay tuned...

Monday, April 04, 2011

See China Right in Front of You

Five weeks go by fast! I can't believe I've been here that long already! Well, as some of you know, I was not able to access certain websites once I arrived in China, with Blogspot being one of them. The Chinese government censors certain websites that happen to be too political (yup, even Facebook). But fortunately one of my fellow American teachers happened to have a proxy, which allows me to once again be able to get back to this website and start blogging again!

As an update from January, I got my general science endorsement in late February, just before leaving for China. I was thrilled to finally get it DONE!!!

I also really enjoyed my ESL job teaching Korean exchange students. I wish it could have been a more permanent position. But it also reinforces to me that I enjoy teaching English and ESL, so perhaps after China I will look into those kinds of positions (although the Science endorsement can only help as well).

So much has happened, I'll have to backdate some of my, stay tuned and follow along on this crazy new adventure of mine...Teaching in China!

Arriving in Shanghai

February 27th

I have arrived safely in China. It is 12:30am local time and 8:30am Seattle time. Just wanted to let you know that everything is working out just fine. I was met at the airport by a gal named Helen who works for the Shanghai Maritime University (not Academy, where I’m teaching). There was a van and driver from the school, who brought me to my new home. I am now in my little dorm "apartment" and delighted to discover I have internet. My dorm has no kitchen, so guess I"ll be eating out a lot. Tomorrow morning someone from the school is picking me up at 9:30am and I will meet the director of the school. It sounds like I won't start teaching classes until Tuesday (whew!). My dorm is 3 bus stops from the school. Someone will show me which bus to take, probably tomorrow.

One unexpected snafu was that I almost missed my connecting flight in Seoul because our flight was delayed in arrival and then I accidentally went to the wrong gate. I don't know if they displayed it wrong or if I misread it. (How do you misread gate 123 for gate 30?) I also misplaced my boarding pass twice, but that was definitely due to fatigue on my part. I slept about 6 hours on the 12 hour flight to Seoul.

OK. I'm exhausted and going to bed now. After I figure out what to wear tomorrow that isn't wrinkled. ;)

Getting Settled

February 28th

I'm doing great! There is so much to tell you! The important thing is that the school is taking good care of me, I am happy and warm and safe. My “apartment” is really is dorm room, it is small, but it is big enough for one person. It is about half the size of my Macedonian apartment. But, good news, there is a public washer and dryer I can use downstairs. The dorm rooms are above a restaurant; I just had lunch there. This morning I was told someone would come by at 9:30am to take me to school. They arrived at 9:15am, a very nice girl Nikki, from the Shanghai Maritime University. She shepherd me around today. The nice thing is that I didn't have to teach classes today, I will start tomorrow. Today was like an orientation. I met with the head of the English department, got my teaching schedule (only one 8am class on Thursdays and no classes on Friday). The school is much more strict about how I will teach the English major classes and much more flexible about how I teach the Marine Engineering classes. I have to submit lesson plans for all of the classes (4 a week). Then Nikki and another girl showed me where my first class will be tomorrow, I think there will be about 30 students. Then they helped me buy a SIM card so that my Chinese cell phone (thanks Riley) will work. I have it now, but will wait for tomorrow to use it so that I don't have to pay for February, since tomorrow is the first of March. Then Nikki took me to a local bank and got me an account so that the school can pay me my salary through the bank. I also now have an ATM card for it. Then we had lunch and now I am relaxing in my apartment and finishing my unpacking. You would not believe the number of bicycles parked outside my building! The traffic here is crazy, I am so glad that I don't have to drive. My dorm is a short bus ride away from school. Nikki showed me which bus to take. Last night I met my landlady, Mrs. Huong, and tonight she will take me to dinner. Tomorrow another student will arrive in the morning to bring me to school.

My apartment has a heater/AC unit, a fridge, TV, water cooler, a double size bed, a window with a little bit of a view, a western toilet and shower and some closet space. There is no microwave or hot plate, so no real cooking here. Food seems to be reasonable priced.

It is cold here today so I'm wearing my long underwear under my clothes. There are many things here that remind me of Macedonia (or really any developing country). People stare at me a bit, I'm so obviously a foreigner, but it doesn't really bother me. I find it slightly amusing, at least for now.

One thing that is interesting is that it appears that Facebook is not accessible online. I don't know if that is true for all of China or just my server. I will find out more for sure.

OK, back to unpacking. Let everyone know that I'm doing well and thanks for asking about me. I'm a little nervous about teaching tomorrow, but it should be fine, the first day is really just going to be about introducing myself to the students (for an hour and a half?!) This is definitely looking like it will be quite the adventure. So far it feels like a very exciting dream...

Lessons learned

February 28th

I'm getting settled into my new home. My "kitchen" includes a fridge, toaster and tiny coffee maker, but no hot plate. I live on the third (top) floor of a dorm room which is unfortunately not a part of the school, but is a short bus ride away. I woke up this morning to Chinese firecrackers, go figure. I asked someone about it and was told it was probably celebrating a wedding or some other good news. Here are a few lessons that I have learned (or been reminded of) so far...

* Don't assume that sidewalks are for pedestrians only. They can also be used for bicycles, motorbikes and cars.
* Always watch where you are walking.
* Don't assume that everyone around you doesn't speak English or that they can't understand what you're saying.

When walking around, I am reminded of Skopje in Macedonia, only Shanghai is A LOT bigger. I haven't yet seen the heart of downtown with the huge skyscrapers, but I'm sure I will soon. I took an evening walk tonight and noticed that the buses are PACKED and saw interesting foods being sold by street vendors. I'm also slightly amused at how many people stare at me. I haven't really seen any other foreigners yet, although I'm sure they are hiding somewhere!

Also, I have found the biggest drawback to my dorm room (so far). The shower. It only runs two settings...icy cold or scalding hot. I will have to ask my landlady (via a translator) if there is a trick to getting something in between.

The Oscars here made Chinese news, which is kind of disturbing IMHO (is it really THAT important?).

Oh, another thing is that I have internet in my apartment (woot!). I think it's something like $10 a month, so not bad.

The bathroom situation

Tuesday, March 1st

Today was my first day of classes and it went just fine, other than the fact that I forgot to bring an adapter for my laptop computer so was unable to use the powerpoint I had planned to show. I managed to wing it and my students enjoyed looking at the photos that I brought of my family from back home.

But let me tell you about one thing that was really unpleasant that I was not expecting. THE BATHROOMS. I thought I had seen it all and I *have* been in some really awfully gross bathrooms before, but this was something that really threw me. I knew that the school had squat toilets, so I was expecting a little hole in the ground with cement foot pads and then a way to flush it all down. Well, what I discovered in the crowded girls restroom were stalls with doors that are about 3.5 feet tall, so people can see who is in them when standing, but not when squatting. I noticed girls were turning sideways, not facing forward before they would disappear when they squatted, which, in and of itself is a little embarrassing. When it was my turn, I tried not to speak out loud what I was thinking. Oh my god, no way. There was no hole in the floor. Instead there was a sideways trough that you straddle and pee into. Plug your nose and don't ask me what they do about solid waste. At one stall on the end is a cord that is pulled downwards to flush. Fortunately I found that in the administration buildings they have bathrooms that at least have doors that stretch up to the ceiling, so you can't see the person inside the stall when they stand up.

It is really cold here, especially with a biting wind. I am having to blow my nose a lot due to the cold. I'm going through tissue pretty quickly. In my apartment I spend most of my time on my bed next to the heater, which is reminiscent of when I was in Macedonia, in the winter. I am already looking forward to it warming up!

I am in e-mail contact with Andrew, another English teacher. I have met two other English teachers at my school, but they are both Chinese. I have seen a total of two other foreigners ("white people") since I arrived but did not speak to. I hope to meet up with Andrew in the next day or so.

The school is taking pretty good care of me. I met Madame Jia tonight, the one responsible for connecting me from Riley to getting this teaching job in Shanghai. Her assistant Helen has been very helpful and she assisted me in purchasing "coupons" (little slips of paper) to pay for my meals at the restaurant downstairs. I asked why I needed the coupons and was told it is a management system.

Today I had two big firsts. I crossed the street today by myself and I figured out how to take the bus home after school on my own. Traffic in this city is absolutely insane. Pedestrians have no right of way in China. In fact, there really is no concept of "right of way" here. Although most cars and buses follow the rules of the traffic lights, bikes, carts, motorcycles etc do their own thing. I've learned that you have to have 360 degree vision when crossing the street here. You have to look in all directions and just be super aware of anything that might be coming at you. I've also learned to cross the street when other people do and try to have them be a buffer between me and any oncoming vehicles!

Tomorrow I just have one class in the afternoon. I am all unpacked now and soon I will need to go to a supermarket to get a few things for my dorm like cleaning supplies, a hairdryer, an iron and board, and, of course, tissue.

Although I think that I am not having much aftereffects of jet lag, I am pretty worn out at night, I think it is due to a combination of all the energy I need to use for experiencing all of these new things and from all the walking and climbing stairs that I must do. My hips are sore at the end of the day! So, I am getting to bed by 10pm at the latest. It is just after 8pm now and I am getting sleepy.

I am grateful that I have already learned how to use chopsticks, since that is the only thing available to eat with. I will have to learn to be more dexterous with them. It was a challenge to eat a chicken drumstick using only chopsticks. I have had white rice with almost every single meal so far. I hope I don't get sick of it.

My students seem to be pleasant and eager to learn. In the English majors class they seemed to understand me pretty well. In the Navigation class they seem to struggle to understand me, but are receptive and also are very jovial and like to joke around with each other, so I tried to be a little more strict with them, at least in the beginning. Even so, in both of my classes today, we had some good laughs.

Monday, January 10, 2011


After two and a half years from graduating with my Masters in Teaching, I finally have a job that does not involve substituting! Just before New Years, I was happy to get hired by Vision Haksa, a private Christian organization that hosts Korean exchange students for 6 weeks to visit the United States. Starting January 14th, I will be teaching 11 students, grades 5-10, conversational English. I think that I will enjoy it, and even though it requires a lot of lesson planning and curriculum, I hear that these students are motivated and fun to work with.

Now, just after New Years Day, I learned of an opportunity to teach English in China. At first I didn't seriously consider it, because it started before my ESL job ended. However, thanks to some great connections, I learned that the start date was negotiable. So now, ten days later, I have been offered a teaching position at the Shanghai Maritime Academy from the end of February to the end of June. I've been told that Shanghai is a westernized city (with a population of a mere 20 million) and that it is easy to get around with English. They've got Starbucks there, so I know that I'll survive!

This has been a challenging two and a half years which also gave me the opportunity to do some soul searching. I really don't know what will greet me in the future once I return to Seattle this summer. I will continue to look for a job for the fall, however, I often wonder if traditional classroom teaching is for me. The teaching of students I absolutely love. It's the behavior problems that burn me out, as well as the politics and excessive societal demands that teachers deal with every day. While I would love to teach those students who really need it, the ones at risk, I don't know how I would handle it for more than a year. That is why I started looking into teaching jobs outside of the classroom and landed this ESL job. Although I am overqualified and there were only two open positions, I am very happy and grateful to have gotten hired. As for China, I am convinced that was divine intervention. I didn't even apply for the job, much less know about it. I got the position because I happen to have a relative who was over in China at the time who is a treasure trove when it comes to networking. The school had hired a teacher for a year and he ended up having to leave suddenly for personal reasons (sound familiar? It's similar to why I got the job a year ago at the Private Catholic School).

So off I go, into the wild blue yonder. I have a lot of preparation to do. Never have I had such little time to prepare (physically, mentally, emotionally) to go live abroad. Yet I am very excited to start another chapter in this amazing incredible adventure called life! :)

P.S. This fall I finally finished (hopefully) the last requirement for my general science endorsement, taking a mycology (botany) class. Now I am waiting for Seattle U to approve all the paperwork and then I will have the general science endorsement in my hot little hands!!!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Subbing (again)

The new school year has begun so I'm trying to get motivated to substitute again after thoroughly enjoying having the summer off. I have a half day tomorrow, that'll be my first day back in the saddle and I have to admit that my heart is not in it. The one good thing about it is that it'll be nice to have some income coming in again.

Oh by the way, did I mention that I do not qualify for unemployment? Yup. For two reasons. First of all, when you work for a religious organization (which I did from Jan to June) they do not take money out for unemployment, so those six months don't count. Also, when you are subbing, you cannot apply for unemployment during the breaks because you are technically employed (there's just no jobs available). Lame, huh?

I'm registered to take my last science class, Botany. This (should be) my last requirement to fulfill the Science endorsement. It is a 6 credit online class, which basically translates to a lot of reading and hard work. I'll be glad when it is all over. Once I finish the endorsement, and it will be January, I expect one of three possible things will happen:

1. I'll get a science teaching job somewhere (maybe in Washington, if I am lucky)
2. I'll get a position teaching abroad (which may not happen until next fall, but the job fair for International Schools is in Jan or Feb)
3. I'll get a job doing sometime completely different.

I'm ready to go abroad again, I am sick and tired of not getting a job around here. I've heard from local teachers that many open positions get several hundred applicants. How can I compete with that? With teachers who have 20 years experience, teachers coming in from out of state, yadda yadda. I've hardly bothered with applying for jobs for this fall. The one hitch to going abroad is my 14 year old cat. I don't want to leave him again, like I did when I taught English in Ecuador and when I was in the Peace Corps. But it'll be strenuous on him, and I'd want to make sure that my living conditions would be favorable for him, as well as making sure I get good vet care.

I was helping out with the Peace Corps booth at Bumbershoot festival recently and was talking to a recruiter. She encouraged me to pursuit working for the Peace Corps. It's an interesting idea...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The adventure is not over yet

Wow, where has the last 4 months gone? I can't believe it's been so long. The other night I rented "Julie & Julia", which I hadn't see before (cute movie) and it made me realize that I haven't been doing a very good job of keeping up my blog (and I could relate to Julie's blogging quest, and wondering if anybody even reads this anymore).

I started this blog when I began my Peace Corps adventure in Macedonia, which was quite exciting. Now, for the last two years I've been trying to find a teaching job in a tough economy, which has not been very exciting, and to tell the truth, pretty depressing. A few months ago the New York Times came out with an article that stated that it is as difficult nowadays to get a teaching job as it was in the Great Depression. I believe it!

As for my job at the Catholic School, I learned later that I was one out of 400 applications for 3rd & 4th grade position. One job and 400 people applied for it. Yikes! Well, unfortunately, I did not get the job, which totally floored me. I worked my butt off at that school and sacrificed many hours and much of my personal life to do the best flipping job that I could. The staff liked me, the students liked me and the majority of the parents liked me and I was doing an excellent job, so why wouldn't they hire me back? I already had plans to get my own apartment up in Everett, my career was finally taking off! Well, my deepest fear came true. They did not hire me because I am not Catholic. It is a small school and they really need teachers who can teach Religion. My principal told me that she "would hire me back in a second", but they needed Catholic teachers. Now, I'm not bitter or anything, but out of 400 applicants, they ended up hiring a gal who is about 22 years old and straight out of Graduate School and only 5 months of subbing experience under her belt. However, she is Catholic, so she got the job. Did I mention that I'm not bitter?

So, here I am now back in the subbing pool, still looking for a job. I'm just about ready to throw the towel in and start applying at restaurants and retail stores, in order to find a job with regular hours and a steady income. But even those jobs are hard to come by. I can't even qualify for unemployment, it's pathetic.

On the bright side, I have completely enjoyed having the summer off not working. I went to San Antonio, TX to visit friends, visited my sister, brother-in-law and cutest nephew in the world in Indiana for a week and then went to Cannon Beach, OR for a little vacation and R & R.

School starts up soon and subbing jobs will probably start creeping up around October. I have such mixed feelings about returning to subbing.

My long term plan is to pursue a job in International teaching. The sky is the limit to where I could go, but I am feeling an urge to return to South America (I could regain my Spanish skills!). Argentina sounds fantastic...

The adventure is not over yet.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spring update

Well, I've been so swamped with my job that I haven't had time to keep the blog up to date. Here's a quick synopsis: coming into this classroom in the middle of the year with NO info on where the kids are at assessment-wise with very little information from the previous teacher and NO lesson plans to go with, I think that I've managed to keep my head above water pretty well. Of course, I'm still in survival mode, but things are better now that I've established myself a little bit. My job is incredibly stressful, overwhelming and rewarding too. I think it is pretty common for most teachers to want to embrace and strangle their students, sometimes at the same time. I LOVE MY STUDENTS!!! They are clever, funny, intuitive, sweet, talkative, curious, loyal, devout, kind and energetic. There is *never* a dull moment in my class. I have done so much for my kids, to the point of sacrificing my own time and energy, I barely have a life outside of school. I am working on average 15 hours a day and mostly on weekends too. Part of the reason for this is due to the fact that this is my first year teaching. I have run into some problems with parents, AKA "Helicopter parents" who hoover over every little thing that their kids do and want to control every part of their child's education. Fortunately, this is a minority.

My long term sub job goes from January to June. Now I am applying for a permanent position at my school for this fall. I really pray that I get it. My job interview is tomorrow. Wish me luck!

I wish I had the time to write some stories about funny, humerous and poignant events that have happened in my class. I feel very blessed to be working with such an amazing group of kids. I also am grateful to have a supportive staff that have made me feel at home.

I'll keep you posted when I know more of what is to come!