This week’s interview is with Greg Lemoine who is a career international educator currently working in Saudi Arabia. Greg has been teaching overseas since 2001 (Honduras, Egypt, Kuwait, Cambodia, Venezuela, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia – in that order). I was first introduced to Greg through his podcast, The International Teacher Podcast which he hosts with two friends. (He interviewed me for episode 33 if you want to check it out.) Greg has also written a book called Finding the Right Fit about how to get a job in international schools.

Tell me about living in Saudi Arabia.

I’ve been working for Saudi Aramco Schools since 2016. Did you know it gets up to 52 degrees Celsius (126F) in Saudi Arabia? Living in this company compound is like living in a small suburb back in the 50s. Kids walk or ride their bikes to school. They play at the park until dark without their parents watching them. Of course, it has to do with the multiple layers of serious security. But that’s how I can best describe the feeling of living around the school I work in. I’ll leave it at that. Saudi is not the easiest country to live in if you like women and bacon. Enough said.

What is a myth (or something most people don’t know) about your adopted country?

I love the way you call it an adopted country. I sort of feel like the country is adopting me. It’s fun to hear it turned around. My favorite myth of Saudi Arabia that I usually end up explaining – debunking, so to speak – is the idea that all Saudis are oil-rich. There are a lot of Saudis that fall way short of being rich. Most of them are from a class of Muslims that is in the minority in Saudi.

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

My favorite teaching position is right where I am. I am a techie and maker space teacher at a fantastic school with a great package. My favorite place to live and teach was Switzerland. I am in love with Switzerland.

What made you decide to become a teacher?

The best thing about being a manager for Warner Bros. stores was training my staff to fill my positions as I moved up in the stores from part-time. One of the core values that drives my personality is the idea that whatever I learn is wasted unless I pass it on to at least one other person. I’m a natural teacher. It’s truly a calling for me.

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

The first real challenge for me is to be away from my family. Mom, dad, and my two brothers’ families are all close. The other challenge is being single. I believe in serendipity, so someday the right woman and I will cross paths. In the meantime, I’m enjoying life and living the dream of international travel. 

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

The most important difference between teaching overseas and teaching in the U.S.A. is respect from students and parents. Teaching overseas gives me a chance to earn what a teacher SHOULD earn. Plumbers make more than the average elementary teacher in the States. What’s with that?

When you are looking for a new job, what do you personally look for in a school and country? Has that changed from your first international job search?

I still stand by the rule that I can live in any country. It’s the school that is important to me. If I am happy at work, I am happy in life. I spend so much time at work, I have to enjoy it. As for what needs I have, there are three. You may laugh, but I need a maid because I hate ironing and cooking. The second need I have is ice cubes. If I can have a good supply of ice cubes, life is grand. Third is transportation. In most countries I have lived, I had access to a car or moped. It is important for me to be independent. Many schools offer a bus for their expats, but in my experience, those bus rides turn into a negative teacher lounge pretty quickly. 

How do you go about making both your new accommodations and your new country your own? 

Well, it’s not decorating. Hah! Actually, I make my apartment “mine” by hanging up my collection of underwater photographs I’ve taken over the years from all over the world. Other than that, language is the overall key. Learn the local language and you will feel part of the country. It will quickly become home.

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

Gut feeling for the most part. Although, I was fired early on one September morning. I knew well in advance that it was time to leave at the end of the year. Long story with a great ending. Life isn’t always easy. That was a bizarre September morning.

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

Read my book, Finding the Right Fit. Then talk to me.

To find out more about Greg:

Visit his personal website: St. SomeWhere.  

Listen to his podcast: The International Teacher Podcast.

Find him on Twitter: @21Teachnology

Buy his book! Finding the Right Fit

Home Sweet Home

Friday I completed the last step in feeling at home in my apartment…hanging my art on the walls! I am the kind of person who likes everything to be in place YESTERDAY, so I’d say it really took me a long time to get settled in this apartment. It had pretty good furniture to start out with and a pretty clean look, but there were a few things I did to make it more of my own. First of all, I got a gorgeous white couch that was NOT from Ikea. It was the most I’d ever spent on a couch but so so worth it. The kitchen needed a lot of sprucing up. I got rid of the countertop dishwasher that was taking up space, installed an oven under the cooktop, replaced the faucet, and hung some backing paper to make it look like a backsplash and add some fun color. I’m actually going to replace the cooktop as well (a new one is being installed this week!). It’s a lot of work to put into a rental, but I love to cook so the kitchen needed to be a happy place for me. Once my shipment finally came, I realized I didn’t have quite enough storage for all of my kitchen stuff and cookbooks. I had just seen this gorgeous Chinese cabinet in navy blue on Instagram from a shop that a friend told me about, so I got online and ordered it while I was unpacking. I loved it and it was the perfect size to fit in the small space between the two doors in the dining area so I didn’t need to give it a second thought. Another investment piece that I’m so happy I got.

Friday evening after the handyman left, I cooked some dinner and enjoyed the evening in my cozy apartment. Evening time with lamp lights is my favorite time at home in my apartment, so that’s why I wanted to try to capture the apartment in the evening rather than in bright daylight. Now that everything is in place (and there are lots of extra holes hiding behind the frames..eek) I definitely am not moving to another apartment in Bangkok. Good thing I like it here!

Today was the first day back to work after a much-needed three-week vacation. There’s no tired like end-of-term-as-a-newbie-teacher-in-a-new-country tired. Traveling back to the U.S. after a full year abroad was not only a welcome break from work, but a break from the chaos and heat of Bangkok as well. Even though I had the end-of-break scaries yesterday and really did not want to do the work on Monday, I actually felt refreshed and energized to be back today. (No signs of jet lag either!)

One thing that has been very different about returning abroad after the new year compared to the last 8 year in Budapest is returning back to “summer.” I’d gotten so used to January being a month of hibernation with 4 p.m. sunsets and freezing temperatures. Normally, I would come back from the Christmas holidays and find a permanent spot on the couch with a cozy blanket, some candles, and a pot of soup cooking in the kitchen. Today, on the other hand, I left for work in sandals and a tank top carrying a tumbler of iced coffee. (Thankfully, the weather is slightly cooler this month, so I’m not drowning in sweat by the time I get to work!) It’s such a different vibe and feels very weird to not have that dead of winter, slower pace that I am used to.

Speaking of pace, I am starting to anticipate the race of time toward the summer holidays. I know it’s weird to be already thinking of summer, but every year January is a little hump to get over and then suddenly summer is here before I know it. We have six weeks until February vacation, another six weeks until April vacation, and then the countdown will be on for the end of the school year in mid-June. I’m not sure what I will do with the two upcoming breaks yet, but I’ve already bought my ticket for the start of summer.

After three months In Bangkok, I’ve finally gotten word that my shipment has arrived at the Port of Bangkok and I should be getting my boxes any day now! I am very excited to get my stuff but at the same time not totally desperate. (My aunt just visited for the weekend and commented: “You haven’t gotten your shipment yet? But your apartment looks complete. Where will you put anything else?”) Part of the reason for that is that my apartment came pretty well equipped with basics, but I think my packing strategy was also good. I thought I’d make some notes here about what I’m happy I packed to get me through the first few months and what I wished I would have packed so that next time I make an international move I can be even more prepared.

First, some background info on my shipping situation. I was lucky to have two shipping allowances (one from my departing school and one from my new school), so I had plenty of money to ship and pay for overweight baggage. I flew to Bangkok with three suitcases and a carry-on bag and shipped the rest. I had also purchased a plastic heavy-duty tub from the hardware store to bring as checked baggage but didn’t end up having enough to fill it, so I left it behind. My packing strategy was to pack one suitcase for my summer trip to Italy (luckily that was the same wardrobe I would need in Bangkok) and then in the other suitcases, I would pack a work wardrobe, workout clothes, some personal items and photos, and a few essential kitchen items to get me started in my new Bangkok apartment. Everything else got shipped.

What I’m happy I packed

Spices. I had a very well-stocked pantry and spice cabinet in Budapest, and the thought of getting rid of everything and starting over hurt a bit. I wondered if it was crazy to pack some spices in my checked luggage but my friend encouraged me to pack it if I wanted it. I decided to fill one gallon-sized Ziplock baggie with spice jars and then quickly realized I would actually need two. I was so happy to get to my new apartment and have all of my essential spices with me.

Hangers. I put as many hangers into my suitcase as I could fit. It’s a great feeling to be able to unpack right away and have everything neat and organized. Plus, I am really particular about hangers and love the simple white plastic ones that I get in the U.S. Ever since I’ve lived abroad I have been packing these hangers. Another quirk of mine: all of my hangers have to match, so I don’t want to just go out and buy random ones to join the ones in my shipment.

Bedding and towels. It’s a well-known tip to pack a set of sheets for each bed when you make an overseas move. Familiar sheets and duvet covers made my place feel like home right away. I’m also glad that I remembered to pack a towel so that I wasn’t caught unprepared on my first night in my apartment.

Photos and art. This is another common tip and I had it on my “Bangkok Suitcase” packing list but in my mind, there was a caveat of “only if there’s enough space.” I managed to fit a few framed photographs and a watercolor of Budapest that I got as a departing gift from school. In those first few weeks, just seeing my new bookcase with pictures of friends and family made me so happy.

Coffee supplies. Of course, you can get everything related to coffee in Bangkok, but I knew I would want to be able to make my first cup of coffee right away and not have to go shopping for the right supplies. I packed my French press, a metal filter, a metal tumbler for iced coffee, and even my plastic ice cube trays (good ice is very important!). All I had to do was buy a bag of beans from Starbucks and I was good to go.

What I wish I would have packed

I got really lucky in finding an apartment that had nice looking furniture and a pretty decent starter set in the kitchen with plates, glasses, and a few essential cooking items. All of that combined with the stuff I’ve packed and the shopping trips I’ve done means I have been pretty comfortable for these first three months. Still, there are a few items that I would want to pack in my suitcases next time I make a move abroad.

More essential kitchen items. Seeing as I had the space and money to bring more with me on the plane, I’ve been wishing that I packed more kitchen items. In the last month or so as I’ve been cooking more, I’ve been struggling without some of the things I am used to in the kitchen and I don’t want to go out and buy them knowing that my shipment is on its way and I would then have doubles of a lot of things. Some things I would have added to my suitcase: a whisk, a microplane, a spatula, tongs, etc. These items don’t take up that much space but they would make a big difference in cooking comfortably. Basically, anything I would really need for my last weeks in my kitchen after my shipment was packed up are the same first things I will need while waiting for my shipment to arrive.

More towels. Yes, I remembered to pack that ONE bath towel, but why didn’t I think to bring at least two so they could be switched out and washed. Again, I could buy some new ones, but I have a set of nice Turkish towels that I love plus a few more from Ikea in my shipment, so I really don’t need to buy any more to have on hand. The same thing goes for hand towels. I didn’t pack any so I bought two to get me through, but I could have easily added a few to my suitcase.

More toiletry backups. I packed a regular TSA-sized kit for my summer trip to Italy and left some partial bottles in Budapest to refill them when I got back to Budapest before my flight to Bangkok. I shipped a big tub of my backup supplies (that I get in the US whenever I’m back). I wish I had put some of those extra supplies in my suitcase.

What I wish I would have shipped

I was really in a frenzy selling and downsizing when I was preparing to move, but now I’m thinking that I may have been too hasty in selling some things.

Small appliances. This I know was a mistake. When I looked up the voltage used in Thailand before deciding what to pack, I read that the voltage was the same as in Europe (good!) but the plugs were different (bad), so I thought about it and decided that it was not worth it to have to use plug adaptors for all of my small appliances if I was going to be in Bangkok for a while. When I got here I discovered that most of the outlets DO use European plugs. And not only that, but most of them have universal plugs where you can plug in all kinds of plugs- even ones from the US. I sold my coffee grinder, milk frother, immersion blender, and a few other small items that I liked having but may or may not replace at this point.

Blender/food processor combo. This is partly connected to the plug issue, but for a bigger item, I was more willing to use an adaptor. What I was thinking about more with this one was whether I could wait several months for it to come in my shipment or if I wanted to be able to go out and buy a new one so I could have it right away. I finally decided that since the machine was 8 years old (it was one of my first purchases in Budapest) and I would want to use it right away, I would sell mine and buy a new one. I did go out and shop for one right away, but I found that the models here were both more expensive and not as good as the one I had in Budapest. I ended up buying one from an unknown (to me) brand and it broke after one use. I had to take it back to the store and they sent it to the manufacturer for repair. It seems my shipment will now arrive before I get it back, so I went three months without it anyway!

Big screen TV. I’m not really sure why I didn’t even think to ship my TV. Too big? Too valuable? Easily replaceable? I had a TV that came with the apartment, but it was pretty small and old, so I went out and got a new one right away. Still, I was thinking how there was really no reason not to pack the one I had.

Winter clothes. People told me not to get rid of all of my winter things because I might want them for a vacation to a cold-weather spot, but knowing I would be based in SE Asia and going to Arizona for winter breaks, I didn’t think that would be likely. Sure enough, now I am considering a trip to Japan for skiing in February and wondering if I have the right clothes now! I actually couldn’t bear to part with some of my favorite winter items, so I know I have some things, but I did sell most (all?) of my coats. One cozy winter one, in particular, I am thinking about that maybe I should have held on to. BUT, it was a little small and I didn’t love the color, so maybe I will just replace it when I am home for Christmas. (It’s pretty much always available on Amazon and not too expensive.

My second week in Bangkok was a big week.

On Sunday I moved into my new apartment and on Monday I started work. I always find it hard sleeping the first night in a new apartment (though sleeping in a hotel is not a problem). The bed is never quite right and something about it always just feels off. Luckily I had my sheets from Budapest to make it feel a little more familiar.

On Monday, we started our new teacher orientation and I finally got to meet all of the new teachers. We are a big cohort (about 42 new teachers) and the vast majority are couples/families. Still, everyone is very nice and I found some people to hang out with here and there outside of school time.

The orientation week started with getting to know our new school, new colleagues, and our host country. As the week went on, we started getting into the nitty gritty of our day-to-day working and teaching lives. Suddenly everything was becoming real. It’s hard to not compare everything to how you used to do it at your old school (in some cases it’s an improvement and in other cases it doesn’t seem to be!). I am still only starting to get a feel for what my department is like, what I will be teaching, and what I will be expected to do every day. Next week, that will start to come into focus a lot more as the rest of the staff returns on Monday and we will start to get into the real work of planning for the return of students and the first semester. I am feeling a little nervous about being ready after our four work days next week (Friday is a public holiday).

In terms of getting settled in, it’s happening slowly, but it is happening. I unpacked all of my bags and having a clean and organized apartment went a long way to settling in. Still, it doesn’t feel like home. I still don’t have internet, so when what I really want to do in the evening is watch some TV on the couch, I can’t do that yet. I also feel like certain tasks such as banking, looking at stuff for school, and other things online are piling up, so that makes me feel a little anxious that I’m not keeping my life under control. But, the internet should be set up on Tuesday and I have a beautiful new couch coming soon which I think will really make everything feel homier.

I have been loving traveling by the Khlong boats. It’s super convenient to where I live. I even took it to the fancy mall.

I’ve also started to make some good progress on my shopping list for the apartment. I’ve been to the big mall called Central World where I bought the couch and some other household items, and then I went to Ikea for a big shop (including a much-needed mattress pad!). Today, I got some furniture for the balcony as I have been loving sitting out there in the evening despite the warm and humid air. Once all of this gets delivered this week, I’ll be feeling much better, I’m sure.

First dinner at home.

Another thing that I’m not quite settled with is cooking at home. All summer, I’ve been looking forward to getting my apartment so I could finally cook myself a meal. Eating out every meal for an entire summer is really a lot. But I’ve been struggling to buy groceries because I don’t know what I want to buy or what I would feel like eating/making. I also need to figure out a balance between finding all of the comforts of home at the fancy import grocery stores that are super expensive and just buying staples that are locally priced. So far I have not been to what I would consider a “local” grocery store. I did finally buy the ingredients for one of my favorite summer salads and made an approximation of the recipe.

Hopefully, this upcoming week I will start to feel more comfortable in both my apartment and at work.

Remember, you can follow my daily updates on my 365 Day in Bangkok album on Flickr. Still going strong with the photo a day!

One week in Bangkok!

Hard to believe it’s already been a week since I arrived in Bangkok. The main goal this week was to find an apartment, and I am happy to say that–as of today–I accomplished that goal! It took me a little longer than I thought it would, but I’m happy with the end result. I should be able to move in either Saturday or Sunday. Just in time to start work on Monday! (Eek!)

Here are some photos (one for each day) of my first week in Bangkok!

As many of you may know, I have done several 365 projects on Flickr. Some were daily self-portraits and some were just daily photos. I did my first one in 2007 and I did my last one during the start of the pandemic. (It was supposed to just be a photo a day for the duration of Covid/the pandemic, but, well, we know how that turned out! I decided to cut it off at 365.) Anyway, someone asked me if I had any creative projects on the horizon, and on a whim, I said that maybe I’d do a 365 for my first year in Bangkok. Sooo…behold the first 7 photos of my 365. If you go to the album on Flickr I actually wrote journal-style captions for each picture, so you can get a full rundown of each day. I probably won’t do such detailed captions every day, but I do love the journaling aspect of the 365 project, so there will be some days that I write a lot. Feel free to head on over there if you’re interested.

As I sit here in my Budapest hotel room on the eve of my departure for Bangkok, I’m reflecting on one of the best summers I can remember. My only goal for this summer was to spend some time in Italy before I move so far away and can no longer just “pop over” for the weekend. While I originally imagined my holidays being mostly alone time hanging out on the beach, it ended up being filled with friends and family and I was only alone a few days out of the entire summer. I started out with a few days in Berlin where my friend Kathleen hosted me for several days while also sneaking in quick catch-up visits with two other friends (Iman and Rich) in the city. Then on to Italy where I spent a week in Puglia with my sister, a week in Ischia with Sophia and Cristina, a week in Liguria with my aunt, and then closing out the summer in Venice with my aunt and Sophia.

I am in a Whatsapp group with the rest of the newbie teachers that will be starting with me in Bangkok in August. As the summer wore on, I started getting more and more updates about teachers arriving in Bangkok, finding housing, and starting to get settled. I started feeling twinges of unease as I was enjoying my holiday yet feeling that I should be there preparing for this next chapter. I pushed those thoughts aside reminding myself that I had given myself a week before new teacher orientation both in Beirut and Budapest and it was enough. I don’t regret a single moment or memory of my summer

Last Day of School

Last day of school for the 2021-2022 school year and the last day of school for me at AISB. What a strange feeling it was to close the door of my classroom for the last time. I left a note and a guidebook to Budapest in the desk drawer for the incoming EAL teacher. (For a while she’ll be known around school as “the new Lindsay.”) I hope that she loves Budapest and AISB as much as I have.

The traditional last day of school farewell to students as they depart campus for summer.
Last night in Budapest before heading out for the summer holidays.

Packed Out

The movers came Tuesday and packed up my things for my shipment to Thailand. So much thought and preparation went into this move that I can truly say I feel one thousand times lighter now that it is done. I started back in January by getting rid of the winter clothes that I knew I didn’t want or need in Bangkok. I went through all of my clothes and purged as much as I thought possible. (And then I repeated that process about five more times throughout the year, each time finding more and more that I could part with.)

I started making lists of what I needed to make sure to keep with me and not send in my shipment, and I made mental notes of how and when to get rid of things. I sold things to colleagues and made many trips carrying things from my apartment to my car to the school building. I meticulously made lists of what was in my pantry and made my weekly meal plans based on what I had left. Just before the movers arrived, I packed my suitcase for my summer holidays in Italy (the first time I have EVER packed a week in advance) and then packed two suitcases with the stuff I would take with me directly to Bangkok to hold me over until my shipment arrives in mid-September (hopefully!).

With all of those preparations, I was ready for the movers! They arrived at 11:30 am (I took the day off of school) and I followed them around as they packed just to make sure they didn’t mistakenly pack something that belonged to the apartment. By 3:30 they were done and the paperwork was signed and I said goodbye to my things until we meet again in Bangkok. Now I sit in an empty apartment with four suitcases packed to the brim. Sunday I leave for Italy and then on July 21st I’ll come back to collect my Bangkok suitcases and head to the airport to begin the next chapter.

Two and a half weeks left in Budapest. It doesn’t feel real. School is winding down (and at the same time ramping up with all of the end-of-year activities). In a way it feels like any other year getting ready for summer break and that it’s only “goodbye for now.” It’s not quite sunk in yet that these really are the last weeks that I’ll be living in Budapest.

Slowly, I have been getting ready to move. A few months ago I started paring down my belongings, selling and donating more than I thought possible. I have been systematically eating through my very well-stocked pantry and freezer, and I’m happy to say that both are almost empty. My beloved red Mini Cooper has been sold (though I get to keep it until the last day of school). The movers are scheduled for exactly two weeks from now and before then I need to sort my things into: one bag for my summer hols in Italy, two bags for Bangkok (mostly clothes and some household essentials), and the rest for my shipment. I have notes in my phone that I’ve been adding to for weeks as I think of what I need to pack into each category. Originally my new school said that we couldn’t expect to get our shipment until October 31st as that was how long it would take to get our work visas sorted, but today I got the happy news that that can be moved up to September 15th which will make getting settled in Bangkok a lot easier.

Today I had the first conversation with a colleague where I could feel some sadness creeping in. Apart from feeling a burst of emotions right after announcing back in the fall that I was not planning to return, it’s been only feelings of excitement since then. I’m sure that is about to change as I say goodbye to this place that I have loved for 8 years.

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