At Home in Budapest

I’ve been trying to balance my weekends between nesting at home in my apartment and getting out to explore my new city. I think I was fairly successful this weekend.

Here are a couple of snaps around town from the last two days. (Not a proper photo walk, but it’s something!)

Next weekend is the big wine festival, but this weekend was the Young Winemakers Association Festival. The weather was beautiful and the setting was just perfect in the plaza of the Basilica with lanterns strewn overhead.

Next weekend is the big wine festival, but this weekend was the Young Winemakers’ Association Festival. The weather was beautiful and the setting was just perfect in the plaza of the Basilica with lanterns strewn overhead.

Long morning drinking coffee at home and catching up on my blog reader made better only by my Chemex which hasn't seen the light of day in several months.

Long morning drinking coffee at home and catching up on my blog reader, made better only by my Chemex which hasn’t seen the light of day in several months.

Bar by night, farmers market by (Sun)day. A colleague of mine directed me to this fun little spot and it was well worth the excursion on a Sunday morning.

Bar by night, farmers market by (Sun)day. A colleague of mine directed me to this fun little spot and it was well worth the excursion on a Sunday morning.

Tacos in Budapest.

Tacos in Budapest

Seen in the Jewish Quarter. Unfortunately, Google translate is a mess when it comes to Hungarian and I couldn't make out what all the phrases on this mural were.

Seen in the Jewish Quarter. Unfortunately, Google translate is a mess when it comes to Hungarian and I couldn’t make out what all the phrases on this mural were.

A friend recommended that I try some gelato from Café Gerbaud, so when I spotted it on my walk Saturday I had to try it. I got a scoop of coffee and a scoop of cinnamon.

A friend recommended that I try some gelato from Café Gerbaud, so when I spotted it on my walk Saturday I had to try it. I got a scoop of coffee and a scoop of cinnamon.

Happy weekend!

Learning to Eat Again

Hummus at a local take out place near my apartmemt

Last summer I returned to the U.S. with a little bit of extra weight–and I don’t just mean excess baggage. A year of crafting (all the while drinking tea and eating baked goods!) and little to no exercise will do that to you. Within the first week back I had started CrossFit and then slowly started working towards healthy eating. Baked goods were the first to go. Then I started making healthy meals (many inspired by Skinnytase.com) and eventually ended up eating a more Paleo-style diet. I say Paleo-style since I never could get on board with the whole eating-like-our-primal-ancestors philosophy, but a lot of the concepts like eating real food with minimal to no preservatives or additives I am definitely on board with. In May I started the Whole Life Challenge and refined my diet to the point where I stopped adding milk and Splenda to my morning coffee, avoided things like olives and Peperoncini at the salad bar because they MIGHT have an artificial ingredient added, and passed on every single work potluck (conveniently hosted in the cubicle next to mine). And, I guess I’ll add that all of that did work. I went back to my pre-crafting pant size, maybe even a bit smaller.

But this isn’t a post about weight loss (or the dangers of all crafting and no exercise). This is a post about how hard it is to maintain your eating habits in a new country where you don’t speak the language.

At first it’s all fun and adventure, and you’re on vacation and you’ll eat anything!

My very first meal in Budapest! Grilled pork medallions and some kind of sour cream sauce with pumpkin seed oil (which apparently is a delicacy here).

But then at some stage you’re ready to settle into a routine and start cooking for yourself again. Which means you’re going to have to go to the grocery store.

And that’s where things get tricky.

I know, I know. Going to the grocery store while you are traveling is so much fun! You get to discover strange local products, see what the local are filling their carts with, pick up fun little goodies for a picnic lunch in the park. (Christine at Almost Fearless had a post about this exact thing today!) But when you are permanently living in a place, it’s a little bit of a different thing. This weird little grocery store is now my grocery store. The novelty wears off pretty quickly.

Reading labels is the first thing to go out the window. Not only can I not find fancy Whole Foods-type products with all organic and natural ingredients, but I couldn’t read the labels if I tried as they are all in Hungarian.

The first trip to the grocery store is a little overwhelming: trying to figure out what everything is, observing all the unique local products, trying to figure out where the baskets are (why aren’t they by the entrance??), and of course, on top of all that, what to cook for dinner in your new apartment with bare cabinets and an empty fridge.

I’m not sure my first trip to the grocery store actually yielded much in the way of a meal.
IMAG0198And then there’s the fun of trying to figure out the look-alikes at the store. Oh, good, here’s the butter! Wait, what if it’s margarine?? How can I tell the difference?
Here are a few interesting things I found at the grocery store this week:

Lots of packaged mystery meat

Lots of packaged pork and mystery meat in tubes

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Looks like cat food, but it is indeed human food

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Some interesting beige and brown offerings from the deli

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The most horrifying food I have ever seen in a deli case. I’m not sure I want to know what this is!

I would be remiss if I didn't point out a small portion of the sour cream selection at the store.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out (a small portion of ) the sour cream selection at the store.
So my strategy for navigating this all is just to stick to what I know in the beginning and make those old standbys that are easy for me to cook–without taking into account “eating clean” or Paleo or any other healthy eating style. The first week before I actually got to cooking was a lot of cheese, salami, and Caprese salad (they sell the packaged, fresh mozzarella balls here just like in Italy!). And when I finally did get around to cooking . . . pasta, risotto, stir-fry.

A recent dinner at home

A recent dinner at home

This past weekend I went to the fancy import grocer and got a couple of fun items. I spent a lot, but it was nice shopping in a store with nice presentation and someone who bagged my groceries! It’s also comforting to know that you can get some of those things that you are really missing when you want them. (Hi, Frank’s Red Hot!) Interestingly enough, some of my purchases were not even American (tuna from Italy, Crème fraîche from England).
IMAG0269And so, learning to eat again . . . For now I’m just eating what’s convenient. As I settle into a routine here and learn my way around the grocery store I’ll start to get back to my old, healthier eating habits, instead of eating in (what I’ve been calling) “survival mode.”

I’ll probably even learn a few new tricks in the kitchen. Tonight I stopped at the store for chicken on the way home and picked up a small jar of paprika; not the dried spice, but a jar like tomato paste. I had imagined it to be like red pepper paste I had once bought back home, but it was much spicier and more textured. Without even tasting it, I stirred a few spoonfuls into my chicken and veggie stir fry and it was amazing. I’m not quite sure how many kinds of paprika there are or what the intended use of this jar of paprika paste is, but it was really good. Who knows, maybe when I leave Hungary it will be my new favorite thing that I’m buying in bulk on Amazon and shipping to my new teaching destination.

Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com

Two Weeks in Budapest

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The title of this post was supposed to be “One Week in Budapest” but here we are and already 17 days have passed since I arrived. So I guess, more accurately: Two and a Half Weeks in Budapest.

I know that I want to say something to mark my arrival and new beginnings in a new city, new county, new life, but I haven’t been quite sure just what exactly it is that I want to say. I guess I’m not so good at detailing all the minutia of the everyday, though I quite enjoy reading about expat experiences on other blogs; the more detailed the better.

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Lots of rain in Europe this summer

I had it in my mind that this time around I would try to write about all of my observations about this new country, language, culture from the beginning (not only for the sake of the blog, but for my own record). Turns out, it’s not as different here as I would have imagined. I feel so at home here in Europe that it’s almost like I’ve been here before. I’m sure that slowly over time I will pick up on all of the nuances, but for now it has been quite easy to adjust. In fact, the returning teachers at my school have all been asking me, “How are you adjusting to Budapest?”, and really, I don’t feel like there was any adjustment needed. I’m just here. And it’s great. Maybe it’s my years living in Italy talking, or maybe I’m just good at adapting to new places. I remember the first days in Beirut people asking the same question, and again I really didn’t feel like it was too hard. I always said that it was because I had visited Lebanon for a whole month the previous year and thus “knew what I was getting into.”

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Open bars and cafes all over the city center

My first impression of the city was that it was even more beautiful than I had imagined. The Danube, the architecture, the cobblestone streets and sidewalk cafes: pure Europe. It’s amazing the amount of green space, sidewalks, public transportation, and infrastructure there is here. (<—-That is definitely the Beirut years talking). It’s truly wonderful here and I can’t wait to explore every nook and cranny of this city.

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So, what have I been doing these past two weeks?

Week One: I arrived on a Friday evening and the next morning was already out hunting for apartments. Well, I saw exactly ONE apartment. Apparently weekends aren’t so great for apartment hunting as the landlords like to take the weekends off. So mostly I spent that first weekend playing tourist and starting to get to know the city. It was actually kind of nice as I had worked all summer and didn’t get to travel at all. I was staying in a hotel that the school put me up in so I really did feel like I was on vacation. Monday and Tuesday were spent seriously looking for apartments with two different real estate agents. By the second day we were six new teachers touring around together so I did feel al little pressure to jump on something quickly before it was snapped up. By the end of the day on Tuesday I claimed one of the places we had seen and was able to move in by Friday. It was such  a relief to have that major task checked off and to be able to focus on school rather that finding a home!

The view from my new apartment

The view from my new apartment

Thursday and Friday were the first days of new teacher orientation so it was great to finally meet the 17 other new teachers and see the school that we would be working at. The school is truly amazing and has gorgeous facilities: everything including a theater, swimming pool, soccer fields, multiple gyms, rock climbing wall, coffee shops, cafeterias–you name it, we have it. (I remember my first days at my new school in Beirut thinking that the school was so great, where could you possibly go from there. I’m having those thoughts once again!) Then the weekend came and it was all about settling into the new apartment, including a school-sponsored trip to IKEA.

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Pretty balconies discovered while house hunting

Week Two: We had a few more days of new teacher orientation to get acclimated to the school and our new roles. I was really lucky to have the teacher whose job I’m taking there to help show me the ropes. By the end of the week the rest of the faculty returned and our light get-to-know-you days of new teacher orientation were clearly over. Thursday and Friday were packed with meetings, meetings, and more meetings. Luckily I had time the previous week to set up my classroom. Finally, the weekend came and it was back to exploring the city. Friday night some of the new teachers took a trip outside of Budapest for some dinner and wine tasting to celebrate a new colleague’s birthday. Saturday and Sunday were for getting to know the city, including the Hungarian Folk Art Festival up in the Castle District.

Saturday on the Margaret Bridge

Saturday on the Margaret Bridge

Next week we just have two days left to plan before the kids arrive! I’m not quite ready, but hopefully I can get prepared quickly!

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More house hunting pretties

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Not my Mini Cooper

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Since I started telling people that I accepted a job in Budapest back in February, I have been met with many a blank stare from people who had no idea where it was located (Europe). Based on my own experience, I can only imagine what Ebby went through telling his friends and family that he was moving to Baku in Azerbaijan. I admit, I had to look it up myself (It’s east of Turkey on the Caspian Sea. You’re welcome.)

Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?

I am currently living in Baku, Azerbaijan and teaching at The International School of Azerbaijan (TISA). Here, I teach MYP4, IBDP English Language & Literature Higher Level, am the Director of CAS and Lead Advisor, and serve as the M4 & M5 Pastoral Coordinator

Is this your first international post or is this one in a string of many international posts for you?

This is my second international post and start of a few!

Ebby celebrating his 34th birthday in Baku

Ebby celebrating his 34th birthday in Baku

What made you decide to teach internationally?

I taught in a small public high school outside of Washington DC (George Mason High School in Falls Church, VA. GO MUSTANGS!), and there I was introduced to many students who traveled with their families for fun, work, and on exchange programs. When I was little, I was bitten with the travel bug because my parents did a great job of getting my siblings and I out of the US, so once I began my career in teaching, I found myself traveling a lot for fun and thought, “There’s got to be a way to do both of these things!” A year later after my department mate left for The Graded School in Sao Paulo, I found myself on a plane en route to Abu Dhabi for my first international post. The rest, as they say is history.

What’s challenging about teaching at a new school in a new country?

I think the very first challenge is the culture shock. Depending on where you are, it can be rather jarring and quite severe. I am lucky in that the Middle East, the UAE in particular, is very western, which makes it quite easy to adapt to. The life in Abu Dhabi for an expat is beyond cushy.

Pub Street, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Pub Street, Siem Reap, Cambodia

How is teaching internationally different from teaching in your home country?

The main difference that I have found is that the local students who are members of your class are very well connected. Even more so than in Washington DC. Since being international, I’ve taught [and currently teach] kids of people in the highest offices in the country.

What’s it like living in Baku? What’s your favorite thing about being an expat there? What is challenging?

Baku is a city of contrast and of facade, albeit quite noisy with all the traffic and the incessant honking. Azerbaijan as a country is ex-soviet, so as you meander around the city, you see the remnants of that all around. There are sections of the immediate city that are broken and patched up, especially in the Old City where I live (the Old City, or “Ichari Shehar” is surrounded by the original fort walls). However, right next to this dilapidated neighbourhood, there is the Baku Flame Towers and Fairmont Hotel, that overlooks the entire city and the Caspian. It’s a real mix of old and new, traditional and liberal, stone and glass. It’s quite striking.

The Flame Towers/The Fairmont Hotel, Baku

The Flame Towers/The Fairmont Hotel, Baku

Icharisheher (the Old City)

Icharisheher (the Old City)

Do you still get culture shock? How do you experience re-entry?

Now in my third year internationally, nothing really fazes me. I’ve been blessed to have been able to travel to many places both near and far while I was in Abu Dhabi and now in Baku. So, if anything, I tend to relate what is happening at the time/moment to “Well, at least it’s not . . .” , etc.)

How do you spend you holidays? How often do you visit home?

Well, since the start of my adventures abroad, I’ve only been home to New York (Syracuse) a handful of times, usually for the summer holiday. I am in the middle of hitting my intermediate goal of traveling to 40 countries before turning 40. (I’m 34 and actually have a blog about this goal.)

The Coronation of Napoleon, The Palace of Versaille, Paris, France

The Coronation of Napoleon, The Palace of Versaille, Paris, France

When you are looking for a new job, what do you personally look for in a school and country? Has that changed from when you first started teaching?

Well, in the States, I went to the DC area as soon as I graduated undergrad because there weren’t any jobs in NY at that time. Once there, I followed friends to other school districts that were closer to where I was living. Internationally, there are a lot more factors to take into consideration. Location of city/country, number of expats, life in the city, and culture are all very important. Once those factors have been looked at, the school (number of students, the job, the pay, etc…) factors come into play. Usually, I look at both at the same time, so I choose schools in cities that I want to live in. Baku was strictly a job reason. I knew nothing about the city/country or even the location. The job and the pay was what brought me here and why I would consider staying past my contract.

How do you go about making a new place your own? (That is, both your new accommodation and your new country.)

I travel with pictures of friends and family and try to make each apartment as “homey” as possible in that way. When I’m settled I find a gym, a coffee shop, and a bar/pub that I know I’d always be able to go to and get food & drink. I think it is safe to say that in the short 9 months I’ve been in Baku, I’ve made my mark on the city and have a handful of places to go where I’m immediately recognised. Not sure if that’s a blessing or a curse!

Panoramic of the Caspian Sea, from the Four Seasons Hotel, Baku, Azerbaijan

Panoramic of the Caspian Sea, from the Four Seasons Hotel, Baku, Azerbaijan

What do you miss most about home when you’re abroad?

The food. I am finding especially since being here in Baku, that I yearn for food back in the States. Anything from my mom’s Indian food to pizza or even a Shake Shack cheeseburger and fries. I also miss the ease of going to Target or Staples. Internationally, you have to plan well in advance and bring that empty suitcase back to the States to fill up with goodies (both office supplies and food).

What do you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?

I met people at work that I felt that I’d be able to click with. With that said, you have to be careful, especially if you don’t want work and personal life to mix. Unfortunately, that’s not always able to be helped. Internations is also a great way to meet other expats. Doing an expat search of Facebook always brings up other groups that are in the area.

Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman's sculpture, "The Rubber Duck" in the Caspian Sea (on a world tour)

Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s sculpture, “The Rubber Duck” in the Caspian Sea (on a world tour)

What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?

In Baku, like other places, the citizens tend to stare at everyone. Sometimes it can come across as rude but 9 times out of 10, its just what they do.

How do you know when it’s time to leave?

I think if you’ve felt like you haven’t been able to progress in your career, have asked for professional development and haven’t gotten it, or the school is making drastic changes and you don’t agree with them, it might be your time to go.

The Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku

The Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku

What has been your favorite teaching position/location thus far? Is there anywhere you are hoping to land a position in the future?

So far, my favorite job was at George Mason High School. The kids were fantastic and there was a real sense of community and school spirit. I do find that a lot of schools internationally are missing the spirit idea, because they are too focused on other things that have been deemed more important.

How has living abroad changed you?

If anything, I’ve become a more “worldly” person, in that, I have an understanding of the world around me. Having lived abroad now for 3 years and am more than halfway to meeting my initial goal of “40 before Forty,” I am taking a lot more time to really look at what is around me, to talk to the locals, and to not be afraid to travel alone.

What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching.

Really think about if this is something for you. Are you wiling to give up all of your creature comforts from home? Europe is great, but it’ll always be there. They don’t pay in terms of benefits and such, so if you’re set on that, it might not work. If you want to go into this career, especially internationally, keep an open heart and mind.

You can follow Ebby on Instagram Adukkale32 and Twitter @stylishdcgntlmn


 Find the full series of Interviews with International Educators here.


If you are an international educator and you would like to be featured on The Present Perfect, contact me at thepresentperfectblog {at} gmail {dot} com.

J + M Wedding Blog Post (6 of 36)

Earlier this month, just a little over a year since we said our good-byes and parted ways, my Beirut friends met up in beautiful Whistler for a bliss-filled wedding weekend for our dear friends Jimmy and Madeleine. It’s hard to imagine a better reunion weekend than this, with friends from across the globe coming together for a weekend of food, exploration, World Cup viewing, coffee, laughs, yoga, and a celebration of love.

We came from Portland, New Zealand, Arizona, and Argentina to wish Jimmy and Madeleine well.

We came from Portland, New Zealand, Arizona, and Argentina to wish Jimmy and Madeleine well.

Jodi and Andrew met me at the airport in Seattle and we drove up to Whistler with some fun times at the border crossing and a quick lunch in Vancouver on the way. When we arrived at our Air B&B condo that Jodi arranged, we met up with Bethany and Ted (who I had last seen in Portland last August) and their sweet baby girl Lucie who is quite the charmer. She and I immediately hit it off.

After some exploration and dinner in the village, the boys headed out for a boys’ bachelor night of sorts, while the girls had a stay-in night with wine, cheese, and chocolate.

Friday was a big brunch at home and a spa day for the girls, followed by lunch and catching up by the lake.

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Night time festivities included craft beer, comfort food, Whistler Wedding Olympics, and a bonfire, complete with sparklers, S’mores, and sing-alongs.

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J + M Wedding Blog Post (10 of 36)

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Saturday morning before the wedding, we made another communal brunch with plenty of strong coffee.

Friday's brunch on the left, Saturday's on the right.

Friday’s brunch on the left, Saturday’s on the right. Do we know how to do brunch, or what?

Bethany and I took Lucie to explore the village, while the rest of the crew headed back to the spa.

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Saturday evening it was time for the wedding. The rain let up just long enough to have the ceremony outside by the lake.

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Four flags: the Canadian and Lebanese representing Jimmy’s heritage and the French and American representing Madeleine’s.

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The hand-picked Chateau Khoury cork, a nod to our trip to the winery last year.

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More Beirut friends.

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Sunday morning was yoga and a brunch, again hosted by Jimmy and Madeleine.

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After brunch we headed out for one last adventure riding the Peak 2 Peak gondola from Whistler to Blackcomb. It was quite the cloudy day, so rather than scenic views, we got the experience of riding into the clouds with just a few glimpses of the earth below.

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And with that we said our goodbyes and until-we-meet-agains. Perhaps at the next wedding??

Congratulations, Jimmy and Madeleine! 

Taking photos of the northern lights in Fairbanks, Alaska
This week I introduce you to Richard who took his international teaching career back to the U.S. for a five-year stint in Alaska. Soon to make his way back south to warmer climates, this outdoor adventurer is just getting started teaching his way around the world.
Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?

I am currently in Anchorage, Alaska teaching 6th grade.

How does Alaska fit into you international teaching career?

I have taught at two previous international schools before.  My teaching career is as such – I taught in Virginia for two years, then three years at Ross Prep School in St.Kitts in the Caribbean, then Mexico City for one year, Alaska for five years, and next school year I will be teaching 5th grade in Guadalajara, Mexico at ASFG (American School Foundation of Guadalajara).

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Volunteering as a dog handler at the Iditarod Trail starting line in WIllow, Alaska

What is it like living in Alaska?

The best thing about Alaska is the remote outdoors and being surrounded by people who want to go play in them.  You can do a myriad of activities and it will be just you and the outdoors.

What made you decide to teach internationally?

Being a son of a military family, I thought it would be exciting to live overseas and to work for DODDS.  It wasn’t until a relationship ended badly for me that I had enough motivation to leave the country.  I felt like I was in a rut with life and the idea of teaching outside the US seemed like the answer to shake things up.

Bastillia in Mexico City

Bastillia in Mexico City

What challenges have you faced teaching internationally?

The School in St.Kitts was very small with few resources and most were outdated, like still calling Russia the USSR.  I had to get creative and resourceful for the students to get quality education.  There were only five teachers for the entire K-8 school, so the school was only as good as the effort the teachers were putting in.  Mexico City was a huge school with eight grade-level teachers, and it seemed to be very disorganized due to being too big.  It felt like I was being pulled in every direction with students, parents, PYP, administration, etc.

Shark Dive in St. Maarten

Shark Dive in St. Maarten

How is teaching internationally different from teaching in your home country?

No union, so no job security.  Also, the parents are more involved than any school in the U.S.  This can be good and bad, depending on the personality of the parent.  Also, I really enjoyed being creative again in the classroom.  Public schools seemed like a factory to me, where international schools allowed for more flexibility and creative teaching since testing is not as important.

Me and my surf board in St. Kitts

Do you still get culture shock? How do you experience re-entry?

Oh I definitely still get culture shock.  International experiences prepare me for most things, but every culture is different and something will stand out to you.  I think “shock” implies such a strong reaction, but to me it is that “wow, I can’t believe they do that” feeling.

Re-entry is hard.  I felt like I was missing out on the world.  It was hard for me to appreciate Alaska and what I had around me for the first year.  I would just talk about how I missed the feeling of living abroad. Being overseas, groceries and other mundane chores become an adventure that you will just have to laugh at as they always take longer than you think, or are done differently.  Back home, they become a drag and a burden again.  It was hard to connect with people who were interested in buying a house, having a family, and owning a new car instead of going on adventures and exploring and pushing limits internally and externally.  They enjoyed comfort, while I enjoy the chaos of adventure.
Getting Lucha Libre at Cruz Azul futbol game in Mexico City

Getting Lucha Libre at Cruz Azul futbol game in Mexico City

What are some myths about some of the countries you have lived in?

St.Kitts – The Caribbean is friendly, easy-going place – It is poor, and it comes with harsh crime of being extremely poor.  I was robbed, stolen from, and had two attempts on my life while living there (brakes cut and I was shot in the arm).

Mexico – There is no middle-class – The city is very different from the countryside and resorts.  Middle-class exists.  Also, the term Mexican is not as singular as one would think.  The rift within Mexico is between Spanish and native descendents.
How do you spend you holidays? How often do you visit home?

I would always go on an adventure within the country or nearby countries.  I would visit home once a year, but I would rather be exploring.  Alas, I have a great family that I love, so seeing them often is great.

Photo published in an Airline Magazine of me buying street chicken in St. Kitts

Photo published in an airline magazine of me buying street chicken in St. Kitts

When you are looking for a new job, what do you personally look for in a school and country? Has that changed from when you first started teaching?

I look for a school with a good administration, stable, and with happy teachers.  I also look for PD and how this school will bolster my resume.  Country?  I look for how do teachers and other expats have fun?  Can you explore the country and travel?  Has that changed?  No, I don’t plan on growing up anytime soon.

How do you go about making a new place your own? (That is, both your new accommodation and your new country.)

I really don’t bother making it “my own.”  My home is a storage unit with my collectibles.  I go to the country seeking new collectibles and adapting myself to my new home.  I guess with my upcoming job, I have my pictures on a hard dive to look at, I plan on buying a grill, and I am bringing my bike, bouldering pad, and surf and scuba gear to play in the outdoors . . . so I guess that counts!  I am not much of a homebody.  I could live in someone’s closet and be happy.
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Ice climbing on a glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

What do you miss most when you’re abroad?
Family.  It is rough to see my parents and be shocked on how old they look and are!  I want them to come with me.  Family is the biggest by far.  But I have no desire to live in the US again.  Big Catch 22.
What do you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I go to local hangouts and just talk with people.  I tried as much as I could to get “a life” outside of the people at my school.  I would do activities like hiking or clubs like the scuba club to make sure I had diverse friends of expats, co-workers, and locals.
Surfing in St. Kitts

Surfing in St. Kitts

What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?

First thing that popped into my head – street tacos.  When getting street tacos, I would get the beef, but every part of the cow would be on the grill…brain, intestines, liver, etc.  And all of them would be the same price, and the locals would rather eat tripe instead of the meat.

How do you know when it’s time to leave?

You get shot!!!!  Hahahah.  I know it’s time to leave when I get this feeling of being too comfortable. When I have explored a lot and might be doing something a second time.  When I feel like I’ve figured out life where I am at and I am comfortable. Then I know it’s time to shake things up and move on.

Day of the Dead celebrated in the streets of Mexico City

Day of the Dead celebrated in the streets of Mexico City

What has been your favorite teaching position and location thus far? Is there anywhere you are hoping to land a position in the future?

I loved Alaska.  That stole my heart.  You feel like you are overseas there!  I didn’t want to leave, but I know international teaching is meant for me.  My favorite position was the school in St. Kitts because I felt I had a powerful impact on the kids and the school itself.  I hope to land a job in South America and South East Asia.  Also the Middle East before it is said and done.  Africa and India are also on my list to explore.
Has living abroad changed you?
Immensely.  I learned to live as a minority, that the law and government will not help me.  So I had to not take things, negative experiences, personally.  The negatives come with the blessings of the positives, so I had to take them too.  I get to laugh at myself and be ok with not knowing what is happening or how to do things.  I enjoy exploring new places and such, but also exploring who I am by placing myself in new and different situations and seeing how I act and react, think and feel.
One of the many ancient ruins in Mexico

One of the many ancient ruins in Mexico

What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching.
Do it.  Even if you decide it is not for you and return in two years, it will be an experience where you learn a lot about yourself.  Do you research to hedge your bets that you will enjoy your new place, but ultimately, its you, not the school or the country, that makes your experience enjoyable.  Have an open mind and embrace what is different, not how you think things should be.

Find the full series of Interviews with International Educators here.


If you are an international educator and you would like to be featured on The Present Perfect, contact me at thepresentperfectblog {at} gmail {dot} com.

Hostess With the Mostess*

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One of the things I miss most about Beirut really doesn’t have anything to do with Beirut, the city, at all. What I really miss about life in Beirut is my great circle of friends that I had. More the going out, more than being invited somewhere, I love hosting a good party for my friends. It can be a dinner party, a barbecue, brunch, or a cocktail party; I just love having people over to my place and showing them a good time with good food and drink.

My apartment in Beirut was perfect for hosting with a spacious living space, full dining room table, and decent sized kitchen. Sure, in Brooklyn I could host eight people for Thanksgiving dinner by cramming them into my tiny living room and using the couch as extra seating, but having a great space makes all the difference.

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Sunday morning potluck brunch at my place.

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An early summer barbecue for friends on my rooftop.

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My friend Emily visited from Cairo and together we hosted a dinner party for her Lebanese friends.

14-20111210-IMG_4602-untitledBefore the arrival of guests to my holiday cocktail party. Must photograph all the food!

13-IMG_4770I love introducing people!

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Creating the menu and trying out new recipes is half the fun.

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Book club at my place. After the eating, drinking, and socializing, we do finally get around to talking about some books.

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The people in the kitchen always seem to be having the most fun.

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Fresh baked strawberry scones to welcome my traveling friends to Beirut for the weekend.

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Things can get interesting at the end of the night.

I’m really looking forward to starting my new life in Budapest, meeting some awesome people, and hosting some great parties! I hope to find a great apartment with plenty of space for hosting (and a spare bedroom for overnight guests). Friends, if you’re interested in visiting Budapest, I can’t wait to have you!

*At least I like to think so! (Also, I needed a title for this post.)

Monterrey

In this installment of International Educator Interview Corey dishes on how studying abroad led to teaching abroad and what Mexico is really like. (Hint: He likes it so much he’s staying in-country for his next teaching post.)

Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?

I’m currently in Monterrey, Mexico teaching fourth grade at the American Institute of Monterrey.

Is this your first international post or is this one in a string of many international posts for you?

This is my second international teaching post.  I taught fifth and sixth grade English in Bucharest, Romania for a year before coming to Mexico.  Next year, I’m going to teach in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Puerto Escondido

Puerto Escondido

What made you decide to teach internationally?

Ever since I studied abroad in university, I’ve had a passion for traveling, so teaching abroad was an easy decision for me to make.  During my last year of university, I started looking for teaching jobs in the United States, and I found it very difficult to find any vacancies.  After my first post teaching in Romania, I figured, you know what, I could make this my career, and here I am.

What’s challenging about teaching at a new school in a new country?

There are a lot of challenges about teaching at a new school in a new country.  Starting a new job in your home country is stressful enough, but starting a new job in a different country is something entirely different.  Of course, you have the normal things that can be stressful at the beginning of the school year (procedures, getting materials, setting up your classroom, etc.), but if you top that off with the fact that you’re living in a new country where you don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language, and don’t know where places are, then it can be a very challenging situation indeed.
Las Pozas de Edward James

Las Pozas de Edward James

How is teaching internationally different from teaching in your home country?

Teaching in the United States has its perks.  Materials are easier to come by than in other countries. (I’m looking at you, Target.)  In Mexico, finding simple teaching items can be difficult.  However, the workload in international schools is generally smaller because there is less paperwork and students use part of the day to take classes in their native language.

What’s it like living in Mexico? What’s your favorite thing about being an expat there? What is challenging?

I love Mexican food!  Tacos, chilaquiles, enchiladas, guacamole… I can’t get enough of it.  Mexican culture is generally more chilled out and relaxed, which can be very refreshing.  Also, there is so much to see in Mexico.  Waterfalls, jungle, beaches, mountains, ruins, architecture, cities, churches… Mexico has it all.  I’ve found that Monterrey, specifically, can be pretty conservative, which continues to be a challenge for me.  Since Monterrey is located in the north of Mexico, which is close to the U.S./Mexico border, sometimes safety can be an issue.  I’ve never had anything happen to me, but it’s always good to keep an eye out while traveling on foot or on the bus.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

Do you still get culture shock? How do you experience re-entry?

When I came back to the U.S. for the summer after my first year of teaching abroad, I had a lot of negative culture shock.  However, when I went back to the U.S. for Easter earlier this year, I enjoyed it a lot, so I guess it just depends on my mood and what I encounter.  When I came back for Easter, I had forgotten how organized the U.S. is and how everything is very reliable, which I definitely appreciated.

What is a myth about Mexico?

Even though Mexico is right next to the U.S., I think that a lot of Americans have a false idea of what Mexico is really like.  Many people seem to think that Mexicans wear sombreros (the big hats), ride donkeys, and take siestas (afternoon nap), but really, very few people do any of those things.  Another myth is that Mexico is just a big desert, which isn’t true.  It has a very wide variety of habitats and climates.  Before I came to Mexico, I thought that cities would just be big slums, but I was so wrong.  Mexico can be very modern.  There is a lot of wealth in Monterrey and other big cities.  The last myth would be that Mexico is unsafe to travel to.  Mexico seems to get a really bad rap for being unsafe because of what people hear on the news.  I’m here to tell you that it’s only unsafe in a few spots along the U.S./Mexico border (that aren’t even worth going to anyway) and that most of it is pretty safe.  Mexico, as a whole, has a lower homicide rate than Washington D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, and many other large U.S. cities.

Agua Azul

Agua Azul

How do you spend you holidays? How often do you visit home?

I spend my holidays traveling around Mexico; there is so much to see.  I go home (to Minnesota) every summer.

When you are looking for a new job, what do you personally look for in a school and country? Has that changed from when you first started teaching?

Now that I have experienced international teaching and read a lot about it, I would say that my requirements for a school have changed.  I look for a few things in schools: positive administration, access to materials, in a desirable location, and of course, salary.  When I look at specific countries, I research the culture and think about if I would fit in that culture and if the city the school is in has a lot to offer.
Tulum

Tulum

How do you go about making a new place your own? (That is, both your new accommodation and your new country.)
I bought new furniture, kitchen appliances, and other various accessories for my kitchen and bathroom to make my apartment my own.  Traveling around Monterrey by bus has helped me to get to know the different neighborhoods in the city, which has made me feel more at home.
My Apartment
How do you know when it’s time to leave?
As an international teacher, I think that I should leave when I’m no longer feeling happy, satisfied, or challenged when working at a school.  Also, if I think that the city has become too boring or frustrating, then it’s a good time to move on.  There are so many other places to live and work in the world as a teacher, and I would hate to waste years of my life working somewhere that doesn’t make me feel happy.

What has been your favorite teaching position/location thus far? Is there anywhere you are hoping to land a position in the future?

I started teaching fourth grade last year, and I’m liking it a lot.  It’s great that fourth graders can work independently when I want them to, but they are not as independent as teenagers who act like they don’t need your help anymore. It’s a good balance.  As much as I enjoy living in Mexico, I feel like Europe is calling my name again; I would love to go back there to live.
Cholula

Cholula

How has living abroad changed you?
Before living abroad, I was very unaware of other cultures and how other people have very different world views than me.  I’ve met so many people while living abroad: Iranians, Argentinians, Australians, South Africans, Italians, etc.  It’s amazing because all of those people have something different to share with the world and something to teach me.  I have become a more open person because I have lived abroad, and I don’t regret making the choice to do so.
What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching.
If you are on the fence about making the leap to a career in international teaching, just do it.  You won’t regret it. Hiring season is from November to April, so start looking for jobs in October.  Since teaching internationally is competitive, you might have to work at a less desirable school in a less desirable location for two years before you make the jump to a location and a school that you actually want.
Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan

You can read more about Corey and his adventures teaching in Mexico at  coreysvogel.wordpress.com.

Find the full series of Interviews with International Educators here.


If you are an international educator and you would like to be featured on The Present Perfect, contact me at thepresentperfectblog {at} gmail {dot} com.

When I was teaching in Beirut, I was often tasked with writing to incoming teachers to tell them all about their new teaching position as well as a little about life in Beirut. I’d tell them the grade levels they would be teaching, what “ESL” at our school meant, a general idea a schedule, and maybe a little about the middle school. The incoming teacher would often write back with a few specific questions about curriculum or what to pack for the big move to Beirut.

At my new school, AISB, there is a much more structured system for disseminating information. I was assigned an “academic buddy” from my department to tell me all about teaching and a “social buddy” to tell me all about life in Budapest. In addition, I have a staff contact at the school who helps organize everything related to travel, housing, and shipping. There is a website for new teachers with forms, FAQs, new teacher bios, etc. The level of organization is really unreal compared to my previous school.

On the academic side of things, I have had quite a bit of communication and information from the two outgoing ESL teachers in the middle school. An online handbook gave information on everything you could imagine, and one of the teachers even shared a link to his online lesson plans to give an idea of how he teaches. Despite all of this information, one of my new colleagues joining the department wrote to ask a number of very specific question about the ESL program including testing, screening of new students, exiting ESL, classroom space, scheduling, assessment, etc. The school contact happily answered all of the questions in detail and copied my on the email for my knowledge too.

While the level of information and communication is greatly appreciated, it got me to thinking about different styles of preparation. I skimmed through the info given, but know that there is no way I can process it or assign meaning to it until I am actually there on the job. You can tell me how the assessments are done at each term, and what parent-teacher conferences look like, but what can I do with that information this summer as I prepare to close this chapter of my life and move on to the next? I’m not saying there is anything at all wrong with collecting this kind of information in advance, but it’s just not my style at all. (I think I’m like this in most aspects of life; I’m not a huge planner–just get there and figure it out as I go.)

I’m curious to know (for all you international teachers out there), what’s your new school need-to-know? I think for me, the most important questions get asked in the interview before accepting the job: what is the ESL model at the school, how many student are served in the ESL population, what grades/type of schedule will I have? And I think that about covers it.

Anyone else a minimalist in their need-to-know like me?

jodi

Today’s interview features my dear friend Jodi whom I met during my time in Beirut. Jodi is actually not a teacher, but a school guidance counselor, and thus has a unique perspective on the world of international schools. I’m quite jealous of her current posting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a place I’d love to visit, if not stay for longer.

Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?

I’m finishing up my first year at Lincoln (Asociacion Escuelas Lincoln) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I work in the High School division, as the grade 9/10/11 guidance counselor.

Is this your first international post or is this one in a string of many international posts for you?

This is my second international stint. I was in Beirut, Lebanon, at the American Community School, for three years, also as a high school counselor.

What made you decide to teach internationally?

San Martin Plaza, Buenos Aires

San Martin Plaza, Buenos Aires

Downtown Beirut by Night

Downtown Beirut by Night

 I traveled internationally for the first time as a 10-year-old (a month-long trip to the UK with my mum and sister) and was hooked. My family had endured years of my chatter about traveling (I explored a bit but nothing too long-term) and living overseas until 2010, when, in the final months of graduate school, as I was applying to positions in Oregon, almost on a whim I decided to search internationally too, just in case anything was still available in April (at that time I had no clue about the hiring timeline for international positions). The position at ACS came my way and, well, here I am.

What’s challenging about working at a new school in a new country?

There are so many layers of “new” all at once: culture, language, school climate and community… the list is endless. And usually wrapped up in the tangible of a new location and school are the intangibles of life abroad, such as communication with friends and family, which require tweaks with each move (time zone change, different routines, etc.). As well, there is an element of not being fully prepared, regardless of the best of preparations. I’ve been fortunate to be hired by schools that endeavor to provide good details and have put me in touch with current teachers pre-arrival. Yet, acclimating to a new context is personal, and even if another person is doing her best to be objective in answering my many questions about the school, city, and customs, the information is still coming through a subjective perspective that might not match my on-the-ground experiences at all. And as we deal with all this new and detail, we have been hired for specific roles and need to jump in professionally right away. Complicated, no?

Petra, Jordan

Petra, Jordan

How is counseling internationally different from counseling in the U.S.?

The professional community is near automatic with counseling in the US, and professional development is a bit more accessible. It is not impossible to find within the international community, but, depending on location, can require much more effort. That being said, the case load ratio is a dream compared to the often times gargantuan ratios of many U.S. locations. As well, depending on the school and its governance, there can be much leeway to implement new projects in a counseling program.

Exploring Angor Wat, Cambodia

Exploring Angor Wat, Cambodia

What’s it like living in Buenos Aires? What’s your favorite thing about being an expat there? What is challenging?

Buenos Aires is a massive metro area. Along with the city center, there is a formidable swath of suburban neighborhoods. In short, it’s a city with many hidden gems, few of which I’ve discovered yet. I do appreciate the copious amounts of green space and a relatively functional mass transit system. I don’t have a favorite aspect of life here quite yet, but hopefully in time. Challenging…. language for sure; it requires a daily humility to get by with my broken Spanish, knowing that I’m being gifted a lot of grace, or pity, by the Argentines I’m interacting with. There is also a different reality regarding personal safety here than what I’ve been accustomed to. In no way would I say that Buenos Aires is overly dangerous, but violence and crime does have a distinctly economic factor to it, and, as a foreigner, and so often seen as a lucrative target, that means needing to be keenly aware of surroundings most of the time.

Kayaking in Tigre, Buenos Aires

Kayaking in Tigre, Buenos Aires

What is a myth about your adopted country?

All Argentines eat steak, dance tango, and drink wine, Malbec specifically. And Patagonia is a weekend trip. In fact, Argentina is an immigrant nation, much like the U.S. Yes, steak is ubiquitous, but pasta and all foods Italian are even more typical, especially in the city proper where there is a historically Italian-European influence. It is common to meet individuals of Korean, Japanese, or Chinese ancestry who are fourth generation Argentines. And the country is massive. Not as big as the US, but many places, especially Patagonia and other southern locations, require several hours of flying to reach.

Smith Rock, Oregon

Smith Rock, Oregon

Bonte Beach, Sydney, Australia

Bonte Beach, Sydney, Australia

How do you spend your holidays? How often do you visit home?

I’m finding this is very location specific. I often traveled outside of Beirut for holidays due to ease of access to Europe and other Middle Eastern countries, and because I could explore Lebanon enough via weekends. Argentina is a bit trickier due to size and lack of proximity. I’ve stayed in the city a lot this year, or traveled within the surrounding provinces (an estancia in the northern province of Corrientes, and, most recently, a day trip kayaking in the Tigre delta), and, while in Beirut I went home for Christmas, that is our only long holiday in the school year and so has been used for non-US travel or longer trips in Argentina. I do go home, to Oregon, during the summer.

Do you still get culture shock? How do you experience re-entry?

Yes, consistently. And in the US, the most abrupt jarring is when I interact with individuals who are operating with false information or gross generalization about another part of the world and seem to have no interest in adjusting their misconceptions. I’m a bit shocked every time. Oh, and when I go to the grocery store and produce costs are double of my adopted residence and I can find every variation of a certain product known to man.

How do you go about making a new place your own? (That is, both your new accommodation and your new country.)

Buenos Aires apartment with a fresh coat of paint

Buenos Aires apartment with a fresh coat of paint

Succulents

Succulents

Home: Creating a space that I find restful is top priority when I move to a new location. In Argentina, that has meant collaborating with my landlady to update my apartment with new paint, bringing a few specific favorites from Oregon, and buying plants for the terrace space within my first few weeks of living here. It also means my French press and a half pound of coffee are in my carry on so I’m set for coffee as soon as I arrive.

Country: I am continually reminded to be patient with myself in creating routine and rhythm in a new location, and to go at my own pace. I want to play tourist right away and discover everything, but I have found there is wisdom in balancing exploring with the realities of acclimating to both a new country and school. I do try to learn about key historical details and take time to look over maps of both the city and country – it’s helpful when I can visualize how landmarks, streets, and neighborhoods interplay.

How do you know when it’s time to leave?

It’s part gut feeling and part consideration of the professional commitment I have made. I’m yet to meet someone who has a purely objective system of deciding this crucial detail of expat life, and it seems like in most cases there is a twinge of “what if?” but in the end, I think you just know. On the professional commitment side, for me the big question is, “Have I left a school better than I found it in some way?”

Sunset on the Corniche in Beirut

Sunset on the Corniche in Beirut

What has been your favorite teaching position/location thus far? Is there anywhere you are hoping to land a position in the future?

I very much enjoyed my immediate team, the expat community, and ease of access for travel in Beirut. I’d like to eventually make my way to Scotland, though perhaps not in an education role.

 How has living abroad changed you?

I’d like to think I am more discerning about how events, both current and historical, fit together. I think that understanding will continue to grow over time but living in varied locations certainly has been an accelerated course. I have, without doubt, gained a deeper appreciation for my community of family and friends, both those from Oregon and those I have met along the way.

Casa Rosada and Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires

Casa Rosada and Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires

What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching.

Keep in mind that you’re taking on two major life changes (career shift and new location) at once, and, thus, be patient with yourself. Also, don’t shy away from a school or location you did not originally consider; sometimes a well-managed but relatively new school allows for greater leadership opportunities or the ability to grow professionally. And you just might be surprised by the gems and unique experiences a location off the beaten path has to offer.

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Find the full series of Interviews with International Educators here.

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If you are an international educator and you would like to be featured on The Present Perfect, contact me at thepresentperfectblog {at} gmail {dot} com.

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