Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

I did not edit this photo.  Notice the sky is the same color as the sand on the ground. 
Welcome to a sandstorm in Bahrain.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Some Really Good Advice...

The recruiting process for international teachers is hard.  It's a ridiculously long, stressful process that reminds me a lot of Rush (Recruitment) in a sorority.  Will they like me?  Is this school cool?  Will everyone think I'm awesome if I go here?  Why is no one else applying here?  What do they know that I don't?  Can I really live with all these people, day in and day out?

When the Rugby Star and I started recruiting during our third year in Guatemala, we had no idea where we wanted to go but we knew one thing- we needed more money.  Guatemala was beautiful and we made some wonderful friends there.  The campus was sprawling and green, our principal was a dream to work for, the old city made for a great day trip and the mountains and rivers calmed the soul.  But we were broke.  So we made the decision it was time to leave and find a job where we could save money, plan for the future a bit more and not have to count every penny.

We liked the Middle East- it's where we met, we had fond memories.  You make good money.  We decided to put our efforts into getting a job back in the ol' sandbox.

A school in India started poking its' nose around our profiles and resumes.  We got a request for an initial interview.  We researched and talked and thought about it and talked some more.  We had the interview; they wanted another one.  We had another one; they wanted another one.  By the third interview, it was feeling pretty promising.  We had stopped putting out feelers for other schools, had stopped sending our resumes out.  After the fourth interview, I went out and bought the Lonely Planet guide to India.  We had a fifth and then a sixth interview.  The director wanted us to fly to Portland for an interview over Christmas break.  We considered it.  But it was really short notice and the Rugby Star was going to his first NFL game with my dad...

The only problem with all of this- I did not want to move to India.  I still have no desire to live in 
Well, if Oprah went...
India.  From everything we read, from everyone we talked to, it sounded like all of the things I hated about Shanghai, magnified.  People, pollution, noise, traffic, heat, humidity.  The school sounded wonderful; the director told us that people spent weekends at 5-star, all-inclusive resorts to escape the city.  That was promising, but I was also tired of living places where you felt like you couldn't relax unless you left.

He said that the city wasn't incredibly child-friendly.  There weren't really parks or places to go for walks.  Well, I wanted to go for walks.  We couldn't really walk in Guatemala because it wasn't safe.  I wanted a family-friendly place to live. 

Basically, I didn't want to live in India and I knew that.   And I kept saying that to the Rugby Star (who did want to go to India- he thought it would be a great adventure and the school did sound unbelievably amazing).  But the whole process of recruiting is so stressful that you worry- if I turn this job down, will I get another?  What if this is my only chance?

During each interview we had, the director kept stressing the hard parts of living in India.  And at the end of every interview he gave me the best advice I've ever received, whether in recruiting or life in general- Just Think About It.  He kept telling us to really think about it- could we handle living in the place he was describing?  The Rugby Star assured him that we could... but I think he might've sensed my hesitation. 

In the end, we didn't get the job.  He said he wouldn't hire anyone until he met them face-to-face.  We were scheduled to meet him at the recruiting fair we were attending in February but he hired someone at an earlier fair.  Fine by me.  Because I had thought about it.  I'm pretty sure I would not have liked living in India.  Maybe one day I'll visit but it's not a top travel priority.

My advice to those moving overseas (or making any big decisions):

Just Think About It.  Go with your gut.  You know what you can and can't handle.  If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.  Don't be afraid to say no- it just means something better is waiting out there for you!

The Time I Didn't Take My Visa to Kuwait

After being hired to go teach in the Dominican Republic, I spent the month I had left in the States preparing for my certification exam, telling everyone I was moving, crying about moving, counting down the days until I moved, and having about six million going-away parties (which was awesome).  The one thing I don't remember having to worry too much about was paperwork.  Except for quickly getting one of those pesky but necessary passports everyone was always going on about.

After 2 1/2 years in the sunny Caribbean, I got hired in the sunny desert.  Preparing to move to Kuwait involved a lot more steps and processes and one of those was getting a visa before I left American soil.  I had to send my much-loved passport off to the Kuwaiti Embassy in Washington, D.C..  This experience in itself was nerve-wracking; after only a few years overseas, I already felt completely lost without my passport in my hands.  I was anxious until the moment I got it back, which was only about two weeks later, if memory serves.  I opened the envelop, hugged took out my passport and saw the big sticker on one of the pages in the middle, disregarded the letter written all in Arabic and threw the envelop under the seat of my car.

Fast forward a month later.  After an exhausting journey traveling from Atlanta to Frankfurt, a seven hour layover in an airport with hardly anything to do and only one restaurant that wasn't McDonald's and then another six hours from Frankfurt to Kuwait, I arrived.  And as we approached customs, someone said, "Everyone get your visas ready."  I smiled and gripped my passport tightly.  But my smile quickly faded as I realized everyone else was holding their passports AND a piece of paper written all in Arabic.

 "What is that?" I nervously asked the guy next to me, a guy who was so totally self-assured in what he was doing that I felt certain he was a returning teacher. 

"That's your visa," Confident Guy replied.

"I don't have one of those," I stammered, panic rising in my chest.

"It came with your passport," he said, eying me suspiciously,  checking to see if he could gauge my level of stupid from the look on my face.

"It's under the seat of my car," I whispered.

Confident Guy, who I later learned WAS a newbie but was also a TCK (Third Culture Kid) took control then and there.  He went up to the customs agent with me.

Let me pause to tell you that Confident Guy was at least a foot and then some taller than me and had a good 70lbs on me.  He was big and loud and had a beard.  He reminded me of a young Santa Claus with his booming voice and cheerful smile.  He immediately inspired confidence- hence the name- camaraderie, and trust.  You believed what he was saying.

"Excuse me, good sir.  This young lady has left her visa in her luggage.  Can we go through and get it and then bring it back over?" he asked of the customs agent.


"I will personally walk over with her and help her find it," he tried again, leaning on the counter.


"You can come, too."


"But it's not in my suitcase," I whispered as we made our way to the luggage belt.

"No worries," he said, my first time hearing that phrase.  "I've got this."
This may or may not be Confident Guy. 
I'm not telling one way or the other.
Also, I don't know who's leg that is...

After my luggage came out, on Confident Guy's instruction, I rifled through my clothes and books, adding a hint of panic as I went along, unable to find the visa that I already knew wasn't there.  Finally, after fifteen minutes of looking and the rest of our group safely on the other side of the s-ray machines, Confident Guy steps in again.

"Listen buddy, we're exhausted and she can't find it.  Is it okay if we just bring it back tomorrow?  After she's had a chance to unpack and get some rest?  It's been a long day, you know?"  He smiled, gave the guy a little eyebrow wriggle and stuck out his hand.  "I'll bring her back tomorrow."

And the guy said yes.  Confident Guy got me into the country, rather illegally, using only his charm and good-nature.

Take a minute to process that- I was let into a country WITHOUT A VISA- people go to jail for trying that nonsense.  And all because of my Confident Friend.

I have since taken every piece of paper I've ever received when moving to a new country, envelops included... because you just never know.  

Have you ever done anything as ridiculous as not taking a visa to a foreign country?  Tell me about it!