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.

This week’s interview is with Stephanie, a first-grade teacher in Hong Kong. Stephanie is another friend that I met in the Literacy Coach Cohort. We discovered that we actually have a fun “small world” connection. Stephanie taught in Guatemala with Kelly who I met while traveling in Guatemala in 2007. (Kelly was just about to start her international teaching career when we met and she’s still at the same school today!) Kelly was also the first teacher that I interviewed for this series. Since starting out in Guatemala 14 years ago, Stephanie has taught at an impressive string of schools around the world:

  • American School of Guatemala, Guatemala (4 years)
  • American School of Doha, Qatar (4 years)
  • International School of Beijing, China (2 years)
  • American School of Bombay, India (3 years)
  • Hong Kong International School, Hong Kong (1 year so far)

Next year, Stephanie will move into a new role as the Lower Primary Literacy Coach/Coordinator at her school.

What made you decide to teach internationally?

I had done a few international trips during and after college and caught the bug! It’s so cliche, but I loved exploring new cities, navigating cultures different from my own, and learning about cultures by EATING! As a first-generation Chinese-American, I had grown up feeling “othered.” My neighborhood elementary school was in a majority Irish/Italian Catholic neighborhood, and I was one of a handful of Asian Americans in the entire school. Thus, traveling/living/working abroad did not feel super different to me as I had already grown up feeling like that. I am interested in how people might do the same things, but in different ways (cook, eat, parent, teach, dance, sing…).

At the end of my six years teaching in a public school system (my first job out of university) in Massachusetts, USA, I had also just finished my Master’s degree and was trying to make decisions. I then started researching schools specifically in Guatemala, which had been the site of one of those international trips during college. I eventually became a late hire replacing a late retirement announcement. It was only supposed to be two years! The rest, they say, is history.

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

Teaching at a new school is basically like being in a new country. There are things that every school does, like report cards, fire drills, cafeteria duty… but every school does them in a different way! Every school has its own culture and vibe. You have to learn the acronyms, you learn where the good (private) bathrooms are, and you learn names.

How is teaching at your current school different from previous schools that you’ve worked in?

Some schools I’ve been at have been amazingly diverse. At one point for a few years in a row, I had 22 students in class but around16 home countries represented. That was a very special time for me, to be able to work so closely with children to help them develop a community. At a different school, I once had a Hindu and Muslim student hugging each other and singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas” as loudly as possible– in a country that was not majority Christian. They did this for a week. Those are the moments that stay with me because they are so different from how I grew up.

What’s it like living in Hong Kong? 

My city is vibrant. There are so many different things to do for all moods and lifestyles– in one weekend, I can sit at a gorgeous beach for sunset, go on a beautiful island hike, enjoy a meal at a very small local family restaurant, or then go for a hotel brunch. There is nightlife… and day life. All of this is easily accessible by public transport and bilingual signs.

How easy is it to meet locals and integrate into the local culture?

My very dormant mother tongue is Cantonese, so I can communicate a tiny bit with locals. I sound like a 5 4 3-year-old, but I laugh and they laugh. Sometimes they switch to English. I think if you are generally extroverted, you can meet anyone, anywhere (local or expat).

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

I have traveled and lived in so many places that I’m not sure if I experience culture shock in the same way as I used to. My re-entry into the US does involve some reverse culture shock– mostly going to supermarkets or big box stores and seeing an entire giant aisle devoted to one thing (like laundry supplies).

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?

After 20 years of teaching, I know there are no perfect schools or places. There will be pros and cons to every setting and when I try to let go of my pride/ego, I can enjoy it all. During interviews, I do look for links to my educational philosophy and use the internet to check if the new location is a fit for my indoor and outdoor hobbies.

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

I think walking is one of the best ways to get to know a place well- you start seeing more and more details even after passing by the same spot daily for months. Only some businesses have an online or social media presence. I find the more interesting businesses– the ones that have been in the neighborhood forever– are found on foot, like the tiny hardware store or the small cart selling local food. Through walking, you notice the local businesses, the spaces, and the people who make up your host country. My accommodations in each location have been composed of things I’ve hauled around in my travels and things I pick up locally (usually found on long walks about town!).

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

When the little annoyances feel like they are greater than the benefits, it feels like it’s time to leave.

What has been your favorite teaching location thus far? 

They have all been so great for me for so many different reasons! I have enjoyed the diversity of climates, food, religions, music, and most importantly, joy.

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

Most things are not permanent- try it out with an open mind and see what happens. 

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.

It finally happened

Well, after more than two years, Covid finally got me. I was almost starting to think that I was somehow magically avoiding it. Oddly enough, this week was also the same week that a handful of friends back home and another handful of people that I follow online all announced that they got Covid for the first time making it seem like EVERYONE was finally getting it now.

While it’s never great to get sick, now was probably the best possible time for it to happen to me. I took two trips earlier this year for school breaks and getting covid then could have really messed up those plans and cost me a lot of money. (Actually, just before each trip I had that paranoid feeling of “tingle” in my throat, but both times it turned out to be nothing.) In a month, school will be out and I have a fully booked summer and will be moving out of my apartment, so definitely not ideal for getting sick. After that, I’ll be moving to Bangkok and I will be in a new city, new country, new school, and looking for a place to live. So, that’s why, for me, this was the last best time for me to get covid if I was going to have to get it. Hopefully now with some immunity and added precautions, I will be ok for the next several months.

So, how did I get covid? I’m still not sure. I started feeling that “tingle” in my throat on Sunday evening. Like I had done several times already this year, I planned to go to the nurse in the morning for an antigen test to see if I had a positive result. When I got to school, I found out that a student I had been at an event with on Saturday had tested positive (though we hadn’t been in particularly close contact). My antigen test came back negative, but because my throat was feeling slightly sore and I was at an event with a positive case, I went home immediately before the school day even started. Tuesday I felt a little worse, and that night I did a home test and got a positive result. Wednesday was the day I felt the worst, but it really wasn’t terrible. (Now thinking back, the reaction I had to the first vaccine was way worse.)

Our health liaison at school told me I would be able to come back to school on Monday if I had three symptom-free days, but Friday morning I woke up with an ongoing sore throat and stuffy/runny nose, pushing my return date to Tuesday at the earliest. By the weekend, I felt much better aside from a lingering sore throat. My return to school was finally agreed upon for Wednesday as long as I no longer had a runny nose and any cough was gone or at least a “dry cough.” As I sit here and write this on Tuesday, I am happy to say that I WILL be going back to work tomorrow! So did I get covid from the student at the event on Saturday? Seems unlikely since we were not in close contact. On the Friday night before that, I had gone to a wine event indoors, but I checked with all of the other attendees, and I was the only one who got sick. Maybe from school on Friday? We only had two cases in the middle school and I’m not sure when they occurred, so small chance there as well. I guess this is just an unknowable thing.

The international educator interviews series is back! First up, I want to introduce you to my dear friend Kate whom I met during a literacy coaching program that we participated in from 2017-2019. Kate and her family recently repatriated to the U.S. where she works at a private school in Houston as the head librarian. In her 14 years in Education, Kate has taught English, Humanities, World Religions, and Photography I and II.

What made you decide to teach internationally? How did you land your first overseas teaching job?

I always knew I wanted to teach overseas. I grew up in Bandung, Indonesia until I was 18 years old. After moving back to the States for college, I knew I wanted to move back overseas as soon as possible. I was teaching at a private school in Minneapolis, Minnesota and thought maybe I would take a break from teaching to be home with my two children. I will never forget the day I got an email from the American Community School in Amman, Jordan, asking for an interview. We decided within a couple weeks to sell everything and move overseas! 

Where have you taught overseas and how did you end up back in the U.S.? 

I worked at the American Community School in Amman, Jordan for two years, the American International School of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia for four years, and Bandung Independent School in Indonesia for three years. We decided to move back to the U.S. for many reasons, but the main one was the pandemic. Being stuck overseas away from family for so long was very trying for our family. My husband was looking for a job, which is very challenging to do overseas, especially during a pandemic. Although we were offered teaching jobs in other countries, in the end, we felt it was the best decision to move back. We are very glad to be in the U.S., closer to family. 

How is teaching in the U.S. different from teaching abroad?

Teaching overseas is a truly wonderful experience. The students I had in my classes overseas were diverse, respectful, and inquisitive. I was privileged to work with some amazing educators. Because international schools often have teachers coming and going, there are always opportunities to take on new leadership roles and really grow your resume. The professional development opportunities through groups like NESA and CEESA are exceptional.

How easy/difficult is it to meet locals and integrate into the local culture in the places that you have taught?

Every culture is very different! Jordanian culture is warm, accepting, and vibrant. I really loved the people there and felt very comfortable living in Jordan. It was easy to make friends and it is really diverse. There are incredible sites to see and it is a good hub for traveling through Europe. Saudi Arabia was probably one of the safest places I ever lived. With two small children, we lived on a compound and really enjoyed the slower-paced life of having all of our friends in one place with a playground and pool, and store right there. It was very hard to meet local people, though we did through my children’s classroom friends. Indonesia is my home and the people are genuinely the nicest people you will ever meet. It is also incredibly beautiful there with jungles, volcanoes, beaches, and rice paddies. The challenge there is the frequent bouts of sickness with poor health care. It is easy to make friends with locals and they will be friends for life. Language is a barrier, though Indonesian is a language that is not too challenging to learn.

What is a myth about living abroad?

There are lots of stories about how living overseas is dangerous, but honestly, I feel more nervous in America! We definitely had some scares when we lived overseas, but I never worried about school shootings or people carrying guns.

What have been the challenging parts of returning back to the U.S. to teach?

There have been many challenges with moving to Texas. First, the schools where we worked overseas took care of our housing and furniture, and our children went to school with us. That is not the case in the States! Also, because we were overseas for so long, we really are starting over in so many ways. 

What’s it like living in Houston? What’s your favorite thing about living there?

It is wonderful to drive again after so many years of not being able to (in Saudi) or because it was difficult (in Indonesia). The convenience of the States is a nice benefit, as well as the good food! Yet it is the bigger things of coming out of a pandemic that make us so grateful. We spend lots of time with family and friends. We go to the opera, museums, farmer’s markets, breweries, dance performances, all of those things that were not available during the pandemic. Much of those things were also not available because they did not exist in the countries where we lived. We are finding a rich and wonderful life here in Texas. 

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

When we lived overseas we always traveled for every holiday and vacation. We would visit Minnesota in the summers, of course, that could not happen during the pandemic.

What has been your favorite teaching position/location thus far?

I loved something about all of my positions. I loved living in Jordan and the students were amazing. I loved being a literacy coach in Saudi and really felt like I was able to make a difference in the reading program. I loved living in Indonesia, and the school was such a lovely place to work. Now, I absolutely love being a librarian! 

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

We knew it was time to move back to the States when we had offers from other countries and did not have the peace to accept them. The thought of moving to yet another country was overwhelming. After we said no to the offers, we had such peace. For us, it was clearly time to move. 

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

This is just my experience, but one of the hardest parts about moving around internationally is making the tough decision of when to leave and where to go! It is really wild to think that every couple of years you can uproot your whole family and move to a completely different country and start over. It is hard to choose to take the leap, but with every decision we made, I really felt peace.

You can follow Kate on Instagram @greenindomac and on Twitter @katemachall

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.

Instagram vs. Travel Reality

Day one of my spring break trip and I am already being reminded that traveling is not all sunshine and rainbows. Over the last two years of not traveling, I had almost forgotten about the unpleasant side of traveling just wanting to be magically transported to the colorful scenes of Instagram travel. This trip, my first big one since South Africa in February of 2020, was one that I’d been particularly excited about because it combined a place I had wanted to visit for ages (Tunisia) and a familiar one that I haven’t been back to in a while (Palermo).

The travel day started out with one of the things I hate most about traveling: a 6 a.m. flight. Every time I take one, I swear it will be the last, but sometimes it really is the best (or only) option. Since I had trouble getting to sleep the night before, I was starting the day off with about three hours of sleep. A layover at CDG had me running to the gate to get to my flight. (I should have known better than to book a flight with only a 50-minute layover, but I guess I’m out of practice.) I landed in Tunis to find the biggest mob at passport control that I’ve seen in a while. It was chaotic for a while with the mass of people trying to push their way to the from until you got to the part where the lines were actually guided by barriers; then it was just incredibly slow moving. Two hours later my passport was stamped and it was off to collect my bag. My initial elation at being able to finally get out of the airport dissipated when I got to the luggage carousels and was met with another chaotic scene. Every carousel had bags piled up around them apparently having been taken off to allow for the other bags that were now circling around. It had been so long since my flight arrived, that the flight number was no longer listed on the screens, so I didn’t even know where to begin looking for my bag. I did a quick scan of all the bags scattered around on the floor and then went back to every carousel and did a slow and careful check. I wondered if my short layover was the cause of my missing bag and not the chaotic scene at the carousels. I went to the lost baggage office, and yup, my bag was still in Paris. The lady assured me that my bag would be there by the evening. (Though I’d have to come back to the airport to pick it up myself. No delivery service in Tunisia.) Well, at least I was finally getting out of the airport. You didn’t think that part went smoothly, did you? Because I was so late getting out of the airport (about 3 hours), the hotel driver I had arranged had long since left leaving me to have to haggle with taxi drivers – another thing I dread about traveling.

Things started looking up when I finally got checked into the hotel and I got a call from my walking tour guide. The day prior I had gotten an email saying he had to cancel (so I was going to be on my own for the first day in Tunisia), but here he was telling me that he was ready for the tour and he didn’t cancel. None of it made sense, but I was happy to have something go right on this day. Mouin met me at my hotel and then expertly led me through the medina of Tunis pointing out symbols on wooden doors, explaining the different types of minarets rising above the landscape, and showing me how to recognize real artisan crafts from tourist junk. Finally, I was able to get to the good part of traveling! (Or the aforementioned “Instagram,” if you will.)

Oh, and I eventually did get my bag back! Shout out to Air France and their amazing communication letting me know when my bag was on a flight so I could time picking it up perfectly before the luggage office closed.

On to new adventures this week and hoping that all of my MISadventures for this trip are behind me.

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