Life in Europe

Here are two excerpts from emails I got from a fellow teacher about getting settled in France. Look and see how the tones of each changes…
Excerpt 1
“Interestingly, Belgium was cold and foggy but when I stepped out of the train station at Valenciennias (a town in Lille, France) I was pleasantly surprised by blue skies and sunshine mixed with cool breeze. It was lovely.  I basked in the goodness of being alive … I was extremely happy and I felt  my dream came true. Yesterday was my best birthday ever.  My friend took me to church with her and afterwards, we ate at another friend`s house where I was again surprised by a chocolate birthday cake. I was like WOW WOW WOW! Imagine, I was in Belgium looking at their wide array of chocolate and thought that this place is full of chocolate. I would love to taste but didn’t want to eat alone. I ate dinner with the cook (a lady from the Congo) my friend and a guy  from the Ivory Coast. Today, my friend took me all over town and gave a good overview of life in France. However, in the evening I took the train to Arras where my administrative teacher picked me up. She is lovely. I`m now at her house where I just had a feast. Her (probably 7 year old) son cannot speak English yet so he used gestures to get me to play football with him and he showed me his dog, rabbits and pigeons.  I feel at home already…SMILE!”
Excerpt 2
“I AM BLESSED AND I MUST NOT COMPLAIN BUT BEING HERE IN FRANCE WITHOUT ANY FAMILY MEMBERS WILL MAKE YOU SCREAM so what I have decided to do is to go out with my students. Most of my students are involved in a sporting activity or a music club. I have always wanted to learn to play the Congo drum. One of my students told me that she goes to music classes in the town that my Lycee is located. I went with her on Saturday, I learnt a lot and I had a new opportunity to talk to different persons. Plus,  I feel better emotionally when I get to meet new persons and interact with them. On Sunday, I went with my student and her mother to a Horse Back Riding Championship. She won a trophy and a ribbon for her horse.  The horse`s ribbon was quite cute.  Dogs are highly cherished here. I am not fond of them because I was bitten by one when I was a child. But in France, people treat dogs like babies. It makes me laugh – there are dogs everywhere – in the front seat of the car, in the bus, even in the bakery, and at home in the chair, and underneath the bed….they are watching TV and even wrapped up in towels. Now this was a big culture shock for me but now I am starting to really like them. “

It was obvious that my friend was feeling the emotional pressure of being away from her family while teaching in another country. How did she cope with those feelings? She immersed herself in the culture of France. She also spent a lot of time making, meeting and enjoying friendships there. Even though she missed her family, the task of learning a new language and enjoying the simplicities of life, like walking a dog, helped her to overcome the initial homesickness she felt. These tips are tried and true so when you are lonely and need companionship one way to cope is to reach out to someone.

Thought for today:   “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”   — Ralph Waldo Emerson


Culture Shock

“Depression, acute unhappiness, resentment, fear, loss of identity and privacy, longing for your own wonderful support system back home, and let’s not forget crying, crying, crying. These are also the halmark emotions of the onset of a black woman’s culture shock. In other words, you’re scared out of your wits about your new life, but are desperately trying not to show it. Panic is written all over your face. Or you think it is, which is just as bad. You sit in a chair, staring off into space, chanting a dazed mantra: ‘Why the hell did I come here? Why the hell did I come here?’ – Culture shock by Robin Pascoe.

I arrived in Taiwan with a fresh expectation believing that I was in for the time of my life. Boy, was I right. The first few weeks were exhilarating. The novice of the experience hit me like a flood. But after a month, I felt like a fish out of water.

Culture shock knocked on my door every moment of the day. At first I welcomed it with open arms. But after the hundredth person asking why am I so black, I began to recoil in my shell.

I couldn’t understand why they thought I was so unique. How can people, in this day and age, never seen a black person before? It was the strangest thing. Funny enough, I thought only my black friends and I were victims of the people’s ignorance. Not! Apparently, Taiwan is well known for xenophobia so even my white friends bore this burden.

It took me months to come out of my shell and be comfortable in my own skin. I realized I had to change ME. Everything was in my power – my reaction, my behavior, my words, my habits- they were all under my control. After learning to respond amicably to curious questions from onlookers, I found that I was enjoying my stay in Taiwan. It wasn’t easy and it was definitely a  cathartic period in my life.  After that metamorphosis, I emerged into the well grounded, confident and intelligent being that I am today.

Thought for today: No one is in control of your happiness but you; therefore, you have the power to change anything about yourself or your life that you want to change.

Hello world!

Hello World!

I often try to help my friends find jobs around the world. Since I am an ESL teacher who has lived abroad for over six years, I figured, why not try to help people to come to Asia to teach for a little extra cash….

I began the daunting task with ease and tenacity. My first successful placement was in Taiwan when an Italian teacher was placed in a kindergarten. After a month, her first of many complaint letter came. I will share an excerpt of it below…

“…I spent my birthday working on the extremely time-consuming Evaluation and Comments, plus the less time-consuming Daily Sentences and Daily Schedule, which is my Sunday’s routine. That’s why I haven’t written you or any other friend anymore. The amount of work is overwhelming and I barely find time to get enough sleep at night. I have always liked to give my students the best and since this School does not supply any material for the Language Arts classes, I spend hours hooked on the Internet every night, reading, looking for, copying, pasting, enlarging and reducing pictures, building PowerPoint Presentation files, Word files. Or, otherwise, cutting pictures, making game cards, etc. At the first weekly meeting with the principal, she increased A2 and A3 class time to 1 hour and established my punch-out time at 12:00, not 11:30 as she had told me it would be. Therefore, I could not teach Adam* from 12:00 to 2:00 twice a week, because, like anyone else, I am human and I need a break after a 4-hour exhausting work period (because I always punch in at 8:00 to help ungrateful Hannah* with the kids). So, I started teaching Adam for an hour on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. After 2 months I wanted to change the schedule, teach him 3 times a week and have a 2-hour break for myself once a week, but he had to pick up the evening children at school because his father was in China for a month. Then, after his father came back, for some other reasons Adam would usually be busy or too tired to start class earlier and I ended up having to continue teaching him 4 times a week. I can’t say they’re treating me as I had expected. No one ever says an encouraging or praising word, the principal and Hannah* are always asking or telling me to do more and more. Hannah’s rudeness has stressed me so much that after two months working at that school, all I wanted was to quit the job. I just didn’t for 2 reasons: the children in the first place, and the 5,000 euro I had invested to get to Taiwan, enroll at the Mandarin Language Center, travel to Macau for a student visa, buy a new laptop computer (because mine stopped working and couldn’t be fixed), pay rent and survive before I got my first pay check. I decided I had to do some more sacrifice…”

And the letter went on for another two pages. I must say it was exhausting reading this epistle and I wondered what I had gotten myself into. But after wrestling with the idea of throwing in the towel, my heart triumphed over common sense and I stepped knee deep into what I call ‘the mission’.

I immediately got the teacher into a different school while giving her helpful teaching strategies and tips to manage her time more effectively. Even though teaching abroad is filled with uncertainties, it can surely strengthen your character and cause you to be open to new cultures, languages and traditions. Follow me as I explore all the right reasons to teach abroad and enjoy it!

* – Names have been changed to protect the identity of the student