Today I bring you the second interview in my new series of International Educator Interviews.  I can’t wait to introduce you to my friend, Kim, who is now in her seventh year of international school teaching. Kim started out as an elementary educator and has recently transitioned into a new role as a school counselor.

Skiing in Lebanon

Skiing in Lebanon

Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?

Currently, I am an elementary school counselor working with students in grades 3, 4 and 5. When I first came overseas, I was a grade 4 teacher in an American international school in Dubai, followed by a middle school French teacher. I then had an opportunity to move to Beirut and take part in the Primary Years Program (PYP), a program that I was curious about learning. After some time, I moved cities yet again returning to Dubai and entered my third international school where I became a grade 5 PYP classroom teacher. The school in Dubai was expanding and I had a professional opportunity to continue to expand on the social/emotional aspect of learning, an area that I have always been very passionate about so that aided in my decision to return to Dubai. I am now working as one of the Elementary School counselors at the same school and love it.

Dubai MarinaDubai Marina at night

How did you get your first international teaching job?

I went to my first job fair in February 2007 to find out more about living and teaching in an international setting. I enjoyed my time teaching in Canada though I loved to travel and knew I needed more. Over the weekend at the job fair, I took part in 11 interviews and had 9 different job offers which I narrowed down to three top choices. Quickly, I needed to decide where I wanted to be and what part of life was being offered to me. I knew I wanted to be surrounded by an expat population, close to travel options, and to honor some of my financial goals. For these reasons, I chose to move to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, after never having been there before.

Visiting CanadaA summertime visit back home in Canada

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

This is my third international school in 7 years. My first school was in Dubai, and after three years of new professional opportunities, travel to more than 6 countries each year, new friendships and lots of socializing, I decided it was time for a change. My fourth year I moved to Beirut, Lebanon to work in a new school in a new country. Before I knew it, I was back in Dubai taking on new challenges at an international IB school. The travel and way of life suit me well.

What made you decide to teach internationally?

I always knew that I would be living and working abroad, from a very young age. After teaching in my home province for 7 years, I realized if I didn’t go soon, I may never leave. I started to inquire that year and was granted a two-year leave of absence from my school district. During the second year, I decided that there was more going for me internationally than returning home. I love being able to travel all around the world during my time off. As everyone else that is living and working with me is doing the same thing, it is easy to have people to travel with and many destinations to go to.

Holiday Travels in IndiaHoliday travels in India

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

At the beginning, it may seem like there are only challenges. The educational systems are different and take some time to get used to, as do your colleagues. It takes time to redevelop your strengths in a new setting and discover the strengths of others as well. Everything takes time to adapt, discover and understand.

UAE Flag 40th AnniversaryFlag celebration for the 40th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates

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

It is far more rewarding and interesting teaching internationally as the students come from all over the world. In addition, there is usually more funding available for technology, resources and professional development, making it difficult to return home to work without these options.

Beach in DubaiOn the beach in Dubai

How do you go about making a new place your own?

Every experience is what you make of it. By being open-minded and willing to make my life abroad, permanent, I have found my experiences to be much more rich. Usually in each of the places I have lived, I have let go of the idea of living temporary and made it much more permanent despite the fact that I may be there for only a short time. My living space has always been very important to me, so I have painted the walls and purchased the necessary furniture to make my surroundings comfortable. It is always important to become a part of clubs, such as sports teams to be a part of life outside of only the school setting. As time moves on, you will find that you have great communities in various aspects of the city and your life.

Home Sweet Home in DubaiHome Sweet Home in Dubai

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

It depends on where you are in your life and career. Are you single, married or with a family? What are your needs in a living environment? Is this the beginning of your career, middle of your career of end of your career? Are you going abroad for the cultural experience, the professional experience or to move ahead financially? Are you wanting to be placed in an area that has significant travel options? Once you are able to answer these questions, you being to discover the options that are available and make the necessary decisions from there. In each place, there will always be a community of people in which you will integrate into and the rest of the experience is up to you.

During my first three years in Dubai, I was interested in traveling the world, expanding my professional horizons and enjoying the expatriate life. When I was living in Beirut, I had more of a chance to interact with the local community and take part in cultural activities while visiting a variety of geographic locations. I loved speaking French, learning Arabic, and walking along the Mediterranean Sea. Of course, the food was delicious, too!

Upon returning to Dubai, I was curious to continue in the IB Program and interested in transitioning my professional development to counseling with children. As my school was expanding, this was the perfect opportunity to make this transition. I really enjoy my new role in a school that I have been familiar with.

Sunrise-use kim's captionBeautiful moments in Dubai: “I was driving to the mountains this morning to meet some friends for a little cycling excursion. The nice thing about leaving when it is dark out is that the sun rises and one is able to witness something as spectacular as such. Dubai is NOT all about plastic and material items- not if one chooses. I love moments of watching the sunrise.”

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

I have enjoyed each of my experiences abroad as each experience has taught me something new and given me new professional opportunities that I would not have been able to have when working at home. After being in the Middle East for some time now, I always dream of moving to Europe where I can improve my French or German, take part in the seasons, enjoy the outdoors and spend all of my hard earned teacher savings.

IMG_8664East meets West: “I love the decor of the Islamic section of this shopping mall; the Starbucks sign makes it seem a little surreal. Then again, I was in an indoor air-conditioned mall in Dubai where everything is surreal.”

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

You just know. When you are able to answer the question: “Am I leaving to move on to somewhere else?” or “Am I leaving to run away from somewhere?” If either of those questions have a solid answer, it may be time to leave. If not, it is always a great thing to ride the wave of what is working for you away. There is no sense fixing a situation that does not need to be fixed.

Teaching in DubaiTeaching abroad is not all glitz and glamor.

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

Just do it! If you are thinking about it, are adventurous, and open to new possibilities, then it is for you. Talk to others who have been involved, sign up on Search Associates and get your documentation ready for a job fair. Make a list of what you are looking for in your experience and discover the options that are available today. Just do it!


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.

Since starting this blog over three years ago, I’ve shared with you why I decided to teach in Beirut, how I landed my first international teaching position, and even did a longer interview for the blog Atlas Sliced talking all about the nitty-gritty of teaching abroad. I love the world of international teaching and think that it’s such a great opportunity for adventurous teachers who love to travel and want to experience new cultures while putting down some (temporary) roots in a new country. Not to mention the professional benefits that come along with working in some of the best schools in the world.

I’ve given advice to countless friends and friends of friends about getting started teaching abroad. Over the last few months, I have been substitute teaching in Illinois and every chance I get I talk up teaching abroad in the teachers’ lounges where I’m working. Through all this talking about my own experiences, it hit me–I’ve met so many international educators over the last few years that it would be fun to share their stories on my blog. Each one has taken their own path and has a unique story to tell.

I’m so excited to bring you the first interview in the series today! Our first international educator is Kelly teaching in Guatemala. I think Kelly was the very first international school teacher that I ever met. I was traveling around Guatemala one summer and bumped into her and her friend Jessa traveling around before Kelly started her first international posting. I picked her brain about working abroad and got really excited to take the plunge myself. Seven years later Kelly is still at that same teaching position in Guatemala City! I’ll let Kelly tell you the rest.


Kelly in Guatemala

Buenos dias!! My name is Kelly, and I teach in Guatemala City, Guatemala. This is my first international teaching post, and I am in my 7th year. I teach 4th grade, and I love it. Teaching internationally is a wonderful experience for any teacher who enjoys new adventures, cultures, and can be flexible. Being a part of a new culture means you must have a flexible attitude and be willing to try new things. I have learned to eat new foods, explore new terrains, and adapt to a lifestyle different from my past. Daily life includes work, travel, and learning all the time! I hope others have the opportunity to explore a new country and culture as I have.
kelly running
How did you end up in Guatemala?

I have always loved the Latino culture and came to volunteer in Guatemala in 2006. I knew immediately this was where I wanted to be… I just didn’t realize I would still be here!

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

The most challenging part of teaching in a new school and country is a mix of so many cultures. You have the host culture (the country where you moved to), and you also have the mix of cultures of each person that you teach with. This was my biggest challenge coming from a rural school in Georgia where there was not as much diversity.

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

I have found that the biggest difference in teaching internationally is FREEDOM!! You have the freedom to teach how you want to teach. There are standards and curriculum, but it is not as rigid because we do not have to teach to state tests. Another huge difference is the teaching time. Because we are a bilingual school, I have a lot of time to prep and grade at school.

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

I am fortunate that I speak Spanish fluently, so that has been helpful in Guatemala. I also have brought a lot of stuff at home (personal art, keepsakes, etc) that has made my transition much easier. In Guatemala, you can find most items, but you may have to pay a premium.


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

I haven’t yet, but I know this is a super hard question for many. All I can say is, never look back. You may find an amazing school, or you may pick a lemon. Either way, just keep moving forward.

I love Guatemala. Yes, it is a bit dangerous, but I am close to the beach, mountains, lake, rivers, volcanoes. I am happy where I am, for now!

guatemala children

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in international teaching?

Do it!! Your initial contract is for two years. You can survive any situation for that amount of time. The teaching is the bonus to living and exploring so many parts of the world. I highly recommend it.

I think that the most important piece of advice that I can give is to find friends outside of school, too. Many people get sucked into the bubble where their school friends are their only friends. Thankfully, I have found friends outside of school and that allows me to be open with the local culture.

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.

Well, it’s officially fall around these parts (the Midwest, that is). The air is crisp, the leaves are changing color, and every type of food or beverage you can imagine comes in pumpkin flavor. Certainly a change from what I was used to in Beirut where the weather it still hitting the 80s and Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin puree is a rare find in the specialty grocery store. Though I can’t complain as I’ve definitely been taking advantage of the abundance of pumpkin here making pumpkin breakfast cookies, pumpkin spice syrup for lattes, and of course, pumpkin pie.

Another thing that fall is great for (besides eating your body weight in pumpkin) is breaking out the sweaters! And with perfect timing, I finished knitting my second sweater ever, the Rocky Coast Cardigan. I started this back in May and was on track to finish by the beginning of the summer, but the end of the school year + an impromptu trip to Italy + packing all of my stuff up to move half way around the world meant that it got put on the back burner for a while. Luckily I managed to finish it just in time for my bf to help me out with the photographs on our apple picking excursion. I’d say the sweater looks just about right for a day in the apple orchard.

Rocky Coast Cardigan
Rocky Coast Cardigan

I have to say I could have never knit this sweater without the help of my fabulous neighbor in Beirut (and knitting expert), Silvana. She helped me with everything from figuring out the right materials and sizing, to teaching me to read the pattern and how to fix my mistakes. I’m sure she must have gotten sick of me knocking on her door every other day asking for help with one thing or another! Fortunately, I learned so much about knitting on this project that I have since been able to start a new sweater (now half way finished!) all on my own.

In the end, I am super proud of my work on this sweater but I have to admit I don’t actually love wearing it. The shoulders tend to slip off (which I had read some other knitters on Ravelry also mentioning) and the front kind of bunches by the arms if it’s not laid out smoothly (which is of course impossible while wearing it around). So while this won’t become my go-to sweater, I am really glad that I made it and learned so much. And I can’t wait to share my third sweater with you all just as soon as it’s finished!

And now, on to the promised fall goodness! It’s apples and pumpkins galore!

two in the hand apples! perfect for picking getting the perfect pumpkin blurry us at the pumpkin patch

Self Portraits in July

Things got a little busy in July and I seriously neglected my photo project.The beginning of July marked the half way point in the year and also my big move from Beirut to the Midwest (USA). I think it’s kind of fitting that so much grass showed up in my self portraits this month!

I’ve been trying to catch up, so I won’t lie and say that all of these pictures were actually taken in July, but these were the themes of the week in July: half, strength, hair, hobby, skin.

half 26/52

strength 27/52

summer hair 28/52

my (newish) hobby 29/52

morning light on my skin 30/52

Dress Refashion

OK, so I finished this dress a really long time ago (we’re talking last November!). As usual, the hold up was the pictures (full body self-portraits are hard!). Well, I’ve been wanting to post about it, so better late than never. Am I right?

I packed this dress to wear on my trip to Venice last month and I had my friend Sophia with me to play photographer. This picture was taken at the Biennale outside of the Finland pavilion.

So, a little about the dress. The top portion came from a dress I bought a H&M which turned out to be a little too tight and a lot too short to wear comfortably. Below you can see the dress just before I chopped off the skirt portion.

dress before

The inspiration for the dress came from one of my favorite summer dresses that I bought from a boutique by my old apartment in Brooklyn. The stretchy jersey tank top combined with a light, breezy cotton bottom makes for a comfortable, yet polished looking dress. I could really wear it everyday!

Below is a picture of the inspiration dress. (Excuse the jumping picture. It was the only one I could find of the dress in my archives.) Coincidentally, here I am again with Sophia.

[ Day 151 | Year 2 ] june is for jumping

Another fun detail about the dress (as you can see in the picture) is that it has a few rows of pleats at the bottom, so I wanted to try to recreate that part too.

The making of the skirt wasn’t all that complicated. I basically cut a big rectangle adding extra length for the pleats. I measured each row, folded and ironed it, and then sewed on the fold line. Because of the eyelet pattern on the fabric, it was really easy to measure the folds perfectly (my occasional-perfectionist side very much appreciated that). Also because of the eyelets I had to add a lining. I added pockets which the original dress didn’t have but which I think all dresses should!

So this dress was actually only the second or third garment I ever made. Luckily I made it with the help of my sewing teacher or I’m sure I would have been frustrated at home in front of my machine on my own. I knew in theory how I wanted the dress to look but Layla helped me execute it.

Being a novice sewer, I did learn a few things along the way. First, the bottom half of the skirt turned out to be really heavy compared to the top half. In hindsight I now realize that the top of my inspiration dress was a double layer of knit, giving it more strength than my flimsy H&M dress had. Second, both fabrics I chose for the skirt were much heavier than the original dress so that also added to the weight. At first when I finished the dress I thought I wouldn’t really wear it because it looked awkward and bottom heavy. Then, this spring I changed my mind about the dress when I tried it on again but added a belt. I think that the belt totally makes the look, connecting the top and bottom half so they look like they were meant to be together.

You can see in this picture below a bit of how the dress looks without a belt. I wore it in California during the Dressember challenge. The skirt seems to be pulling the top down (though I think that’s just how the stripes are). It looks so much better as a summer dress! (All that yellow! What was I thinking?)

Dressember | Day 22

Snapshots of Venice

I had no goals or plans for my trip to Italy. I’ve been to Italy more times than I can count, and although I haven’t seen everything that I’d like to see, this trip wasn’t about seeing Italy, it was about being in Italy. For the whole six days I’d be in there I wanted nothing more than to eat some delicious meals, drink wine (or Spritz as the case may be), have some gelato, and speak Italian. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s my recipe for a perfect vacation.

I could have gone anywhere in Italy (or anywhere else within easy flight distance for that matter), but when my good friend Sophia told me she was in Venice working on a study abroad program and had a free place for me to stay I didn’t have to think it over.

I’ve been to Venice on several occasions, in both summer and winter, but always for just two or three days and always seeming to cover the same sights. This time, I really enjoyed being there for more than a couple of days because it gave me time to explore much more of the city than I previously had. It helped that I was with Sophia who knows the city so well having studied abroad there. I also had the benefit of tagging along with her study abroad students on their art history lectures around the city so I saw some art and architecture that I wouldn’t necessarily have sought out on my own.

Surprisingly I didn’t actually take a ton of photos on this trip. Or perhaps, not surprisingly since I have so many from previous trips. In any case, here are a few of my favorites from my quick little jaunt to Venice last month.

il campanile

The campanile in Piazza San Marco

sophia and a nice plate of frutti di mareSophia with a nice plate of frutti di mare

Spritz time is all the time in VeneziaIt’s always Spritz time in Venice

bridge of sighs

Bridge of Sighs

sunset on venice Sunset over the Giudecca Canal

scuola grande di san roccoInside the Scuola Grande di San Marco

canal laundry Laundry drying on the canal

scuola grande di san roccoSucola Grande di San Rocco

inside the biennaleBiennale Artwork

watch out for the massive swinging tree!Massive swinging tree at the Latvia Pavilion at the Biennale

sophia at the water entrance to her apartment

The water entrance to Sophia’s apartment

Some people discount Venice saying that it’s too touristy and too Disneyland-like. It’s true there are swarms of tourists if you visit in summer, but I don’t think it’s at all like Disneyland (go to Las Vegas if you want to see the Disneyland version of Venice). To me, the city of Venice is like a living museum preserved for visitors to witness. True, it’s not exactly as it was, but how could it be? All of the buildings, all of the canals, those are real, and it’s up to your imagination to try and envision it as it was in its day. If you can do that, visiting Venice is a bit more like stepping back in time than stepping into an amusement park.

I invite you to pop over and read Bethany’s take on “escaping Disneyland Venice” from her and Ted’s round-the-world trip last year. (It’s worth it for the photos alone!)

Bilingual Summer Update

It’s one month into my Bilingual Summer project so I thought it would be a good time to give a little update on my progress.

In my first post a made an ambitious list of goals to accomplish this summer. One thing that I hadn’t really factored into this whole thing, however,  was that the time I planned on putting into immersing myself in Italian probably should have been allocated to things like, say, finding a job and getting ready to move back to the U.S. That said, I have been working on doing at least a little something every day.

Books: I’m still chugging along reading my first novel of the summer Come Dio Comanda by Niccolò Ammaniti. I am about halfway through which means I’m probably not going to make my goal of reading three novels this summer. I have to set aside specific time to read when I’m not tired, otherwise I can easily read a few pages and have no idea what I just read. I try to read without looking up any words so focus is necessary–not ideal for before-bed reading.

Come Dio Comanda

I also picked up some magazines for cheap at the Milan airport. I’ve already read one cover to cover and I’m saving the rest for next month.

Italian magazines

Movies: I watched just one movie this month, Dieci Inverni. (I probably should have tried to watch more before I canceled my abbonamento at the Italian Cultural Center in Lebanon since that gave me easy access to movies, but alas, I didn’t.) Italian movies tend to be really strange, but I liked this one a lot, though it was a bit quirky.

Music: I haven’t yet discovered any new CD to become obsessed over, but I did figure out how to listen to Radio Italia online and have been listening to live Italian radio daily. Not only am I getting music, but I’m hearing the DJs talk which is good for listening comprehension. My favorite was the other day when one of the two radio hosts started speaking in a very poor accent accent (read: American) out of the blue and the other host suddenly interrupted him and said, “Ma perché parli cosi?” (But why are you talking like that?)

Blogs: As far as reading material online goes, I have been terrible. Surfing the internet and reading blogs is something I tend to do rather mindlessly, so even when I have come across a few posts, I’ve only really skimmed them.

Cultural Events: No . . . BUT, I did take an impromptu little jaunt over to Venice for a week! I had not anticipated a trip to Italy when I committed to the Bilingual Summer project but when the opportunity came up, I jumped on it. Because, who can resist a trip to Italy? I certainly can’t! So I spent six days actually being immersed in Italian: speaking, reading, listening. It was fantastic.

I have to say, I came back from Italy feeling a little down about the whole idea of creating an “immersive environment” at home. Being in Italy is the way to do it! Creating the need to speak, plus listening non-stop is the way to actually learn. In Italy (and even now since I’ve been back) I found myself thinking in Italian and creating dialogues in my head in anticipation of future conversations. What I’ve been doing at home is really only the minimum that I should be doing every day in general (not just during Bilingual Summer) to maintain my Italian.

The good news was that I didn’t at all feel that I’d regressed in my Italian. Especially after a day or two, I felt that I could easily communicate and wasn’t searching for words too often. That made me feel hopeful. And the icing on the cake was at the end of the trip when the woman from Alitalia was helping me with the self-service check-in kiosk and was confused about how I wasn’t Italian (first name American, last name Italian). But your accent is perfect! Not sure that’s true, but it made my day, I’ll tell you.

And so, I’m planning on continuing my efforts at working on my Italian this summer in the hope that maybe it will stick and even become a regular thing. I’ve got some ideas for what I want to work on next month, especially in the area of goal #6.

I leave you with a picture from my week in Venice, and a proper post to come later, I hope.

venitian traffic

Self Portraits in June

Whew! June seemed to pass in a flash! In the midst of finishing up the school year and preparing for an international move, I decided to take an impromptu trip to Italy. (I know, life is rough!) In all of the confusion, I’ve been a little out of touch with my photography course and I managed to miss a weekly prompt for the first time: soft. I’ll try to make it up this month if I can. Here are the photos for this month. The themes were smile, flare, and jump.

See you back here next month with a round of pictures taken Stateside. Eek!

smile 22/52

that beirut flare 23/52

jump over venezia 24/52

My ears are filled with Italian already.

One of the hardest parts about leaving Beirut in a few, short weeks will be leaving behind all of the wonderful friends and great community that I’ve found here in Beirut. (In fact, my friend Emilee just wrote a post on this very topic today on her blog Beirut, An Education.)

While expats tend to form a natural community abroad, being in the relatively similar position of being an outsider in a foreign place, it take a little more effort to meet locals. I happen to think that Beirut provides plenty of opportunity to meet locals as the Lebanese tend to be friendly, outgoing and welcoming. Not to mention most people speak English, so there isn’t much of a language barrier to contend with.

Missy Gluckmann, of Melibee Global started a series on her blog called “How To Meet People Abroad” after one commenter on a post said she couldn’t meet locals in England. So far there have been posts on London, Argentina, Honduras, and others, giving advice on how to meet locals in that country. Missy asked to me write a guest post to contribute to the series based on my experience in Lebanon.  Click on over if you want to read my tips for meeting people in Beirut.

If you have your own tips for meeting locals in Beirut (or elsewhere), feel free to leave them in the comments.


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