Throwback Thursday

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. . . to that time in March when I went to Istanbul for the weekend but never got around to editing my photos. Yeah, I’m a little behind in the photo department this year. I actually went on a weekend trip last month and deliberately left my camera at home because I didn’t want to have to deal with yet MORE pictures to edit.

And now in less than 36 hours I will be on a plane to start my summer holidays, so naturally my top priority (right along with packing) is to get caught up on some photos.

These are a few highlights from the long weekend in Istanbul. I actually went with about nine of my colleagues from the EAL department for a training at the NESA Conference. It was great that there was a lot of free time to explore Istanbul built into the conference and even better that I had already been once so I could just enjoy the city without feeling like I had to see all the sights.

One thing we did make time for was shopping! One of the benefits of a short trip is that you don’t have to worry about carrying your purchases around from city to city so you feel like you can buy EVERYTHING that you want. And we did. I had some encouragement from my super shopper friends, Heather and Jen. I came home with dried fruit, apple tea, a hamam towel, a queen sized blanket, a bowl, a framed tile, and undoubtably something else that I’m not thinking of at the moment. At one point I was even inspired to buy a carpet whereas normally I don’t even glance inside a carpet shop! I didn’t end up getting the carpet, but seeing the picture now makes me kind of wish that I had! Oh well, at least now when I go back I have an idea of the style that I like.

We stayed at a great place called Miel Suites  which is in an area near Taksim Square that I hadn’t explored before. It was a really cute neighborhood with lots of antiques shops and cafes.

Another new area I got to explore was the fish market near the Galata Bridge; I don’t think I knew about it my first time in the city. On our last day we had a fantastic lunch there with a great view of the city.

I would definitely say that Istanbul is still one of my favorite cities in the world.

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Hamish’s Big Day Out

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Ever since I fell in love with this sweet girl, I have wanted a French Bulldog of my own. I seriously looked into getting one when I moved here to Budapest, but unfortunately my lifestyle right now just doesn’t give me enough time to take care of a dog.

Lucky for me, my friends here in Budapest got their own sweet Frenchie and they let me take him out last Sunday. Hamish and I traipsed all over Budapest meeting up with friends (me) and making lots of new ones (Hamish).

Happy on this hot day.

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In front of Parliament with my friend Liliane from Beirut.

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Near the Basilica.

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Someone’s getting tired.

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Time for one last meet up at the park to play with Yoshi and Martyn.

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A day in my life here in Budapest. Friday, May 29th to be exact. I didn’t quite manage a photo an hour but this is a fairly representative sampling of my day. I woke up at 5:45, as usual, and remembered to snap my first picture 45 minutes later.

6:30 Looking in my closet to see what I should wear. Decided not to make the bed this morning.

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6:39 Putting my extra 10 minutes to use this morning to drink my coffee in the stream of sunlight coming through the window. Good use of time, I’d say.

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6:54 Walking to meet Lauren and Jess for my ride to school.

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7:03 Off we go.

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7:05 Always have to sneak a peak at that view!

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7:09 We decided on a little impromptu pit stop at Starbucks. It used to be our Monday morning tradition until construction around the bridge got crazy.

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7:47 At my desk. Time to check emails and maaaybe get some work done before the school day starts.

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10:52 Almost done with the first teaching period of the day. We were watching videos that the students chose from the website The Kid Should See This while I checked their video summaries on my computer to see how well they did.

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2:18 (Really I’m not always at my desk!) I taught another period, ate some lunch in the faculty dining room, and worked in some classrooms. Now back at my desk grading some student work.

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3:52 My ride home.

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5:22 I killed some time at the mall and then hopped on the train to get to CrossFit.

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5:27 On “our island”–Hajógyári sziget.

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5:46 Checking out the whiteboard. Fraaan. Oh boy, this is going to be a tough one!

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7:13 Heading back home. I love these longer days when it’s still light out when I leave the box.

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7:41 Took the train part way then jumped in a cab to make it on time to dinner with the girls. Taverna Dionysos overlooking the Danube on this gorgeous spring night.

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10:08 It been a long week and I am so ready for bed. Decided to cab it home. Erzsebet Bridge and Castle Hill lit up in the background.

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10:22 Three flights of stairs. I hate them with a passion.

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10:30 Eight minutes later and I am already in bed. Zonked!

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Fall Break in Italy

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I told myself that I wasn’t going to travel during the fall break this year, that I had just arrived in Budapest and I would spend some time really getting to know my new city.

But then, at the last-minute, I decided to go to Florence. It seems Italy’s magnetic pull on me is even stronger now that I’m in Europe, just an hour-long flight away.

I didn’t have much on the agenda other than visiting with Sophia and Lorenzo, drinking wine, eating good food, and having as much coffee as I could manage.

I spent my days wandering around Florence making sure everything was right where I left it (and for the most part it was) and visiting with friends around the city. The last day was a little jaunt to Siena where we spent the day exploring every nook and cranny of the Duomo.

It was lovely to be in a place that felt like home. Fingers crossed that next year I will triumphantly return with Italian passport in hand.

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Catching the last bit of light

A Tuesday evening photo walk on my way home from school.

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Where I am From

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Trying out something a little different here on the Present Perfect. Are you ready for some poetry??

I wrote this poem today as part of an eCourse I am doing called the Geography of Now. I was inspired to take this course because I love Monna McDiarmid’s blog, At Home Where You Are. I can’t say I remember the last time I wrote a poem, so here goes nothing.

Where I am From

I am from the cold-weather beaches
and salty, fresh air
of a small coastal town:
three room schoolhouse,
salt water taffy shack–
pink and white stripes,
volunteer fire department,
and sea lions barking at your lunch.

I am from the wide open spaces
of my college years:
heat like an oven,
sprawling chaos,
and long distances to travel,
the peaceful tranquility
of a night-time drive
under dancing stars.

I am my first experience
living abroad:
learning a language,
a culture,
a new way of being.
Where I had my first taste
of city life:
a ballet to make
Jane Jacobs proud.

I am from big city living,
where I finally learned where
I needed to be.
Where children play on stoops,
and everyone
anticipates the arrival, each year,
of the Mr. Softee truck.
Where we put up with dead of winter
just for the chance
to be a part of it all.

I am from the crumbling ruins
of a city by the sea,
but it’s not what you would think.
I am from the gritty, chaotic,
and unruly streets,
but also from snow-capped mountains,
wrought iron balconies, and
ancient Cedar trees.

I live in a city which I am only just
coming to know:
river views,
healing waters,
grand buildings lit up at night,
it’s foreign yet familiar,
like I’ve been here before.
Someday I will say
I am from here.

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.”

Budapest Beginnings (1 of 14)

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.

Budapest Beginnings (3 of 14)

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.

Budapest Beginnings (8 of 14)

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!

Budapest Beginnings (9 of 14)

More house hunting pretties

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Budapest Beginnings (6 of 14)

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.

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