I’m writing from the reclined seat of my second flight of the day, the Dallas Fort Worth to Miami International leg. My week at home flew by, just like I knew it would, but it was definitely a wonderful, life-changing trip!
Life-changing? I know it sounds dramatic, but it’s true. Although any excuse to go home would have been nice, the reason I carved this trip out of my schedule months back was because I needed to attend the UNI Overseas Teaching Fair. In order to, you know, have a paid teaching job next school year while continuing to have the opportunity to live overseas. I’ll get to the fair in a minute, but first I want to reflect upon the weeks leading up to the fair.
First of all, I need to admit that for months, this fair consumed my thoughts. I started registering and preparing for it last fall. In September, I created an online portfolio that I figured would impress interested administrators. In October, I had completed every document that I was needed for registration, even though registering wasn’t even an option until December. I wanted to do everything I could to be totally prepared.
In January, I began researching schools that were hiring. It’s important to be careful when considering which school to work at, because although all of the international schools that attend the fair are English-speaking institutions that usually offer US diploma programs and use American or British curricula, they are outside of the US and can function very differently than schools there. There are horror stories all over the internet of teachers getting suckered into signing a contract at the fair and arriving at the school months later to a school that bears no resemblance to the one the interviewer promised them they would be working at. And no matter how much one dislikes his school or the way in which it is ran, the decision to break a signed contract is a terrible one that can have lasting negative repercussions. Basically, I read enough reviews of schools and horrifying stories on International School Review that I knew I needed to take the decision of where I would work seriously, even before I had the chance to interview with schools or sign any contracts. After all my research on the hiring schools was done, I had two Excel workbooks, one containing information on schools where I would like to work, the other a list of schools I would definitely not work at because of all the dirt I was digging up on them. These lists took a substantial amount of time to compile.
In January, once the candidats’ online profiles became visible to directors and superintendants from all over the world, I sent out a slew of emails containing a cover letter, resume, and the link to my portfolio. Twenty-five in total! To schools in Bolivia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Israel, Korea, Madagascar, Oman (the ONLY middle east country I was considering!), Puerto Rico, Serbia, Singapore, Spain, and Thailand. More than anything, I wanted to stay in Latin America, because I’m in love with the culture and I want to continue practicing my Spanish. Central Africa and the Middle East tied for the two places I wanted to go to the least.
Finally, January came to a close and it was time to cease preparing for the fair and, instead, actually attend the fair. I flew to the US on Tuesday, January 31st.
I can’t even describe how excited I was to come home. I’m sure that I will feel differently when I’m returning for good in April; that will be a very bittersweet feeling. This was sheer excitement over getting to see friends and family, and, of course, attend the fair and finally (after all that thought and effort!) find out where my next overseas chapter would take place. Because of an intended layover in Dallas, I was able to spend the night of the 31st with my good friend, Rachel Martin. She picked me up at Dallas Fort Worth around 8:30 pm and showed me a wonderful time (involving In-N-Out, mansion-viewing, and good old girl talk) in the city she’s lived in for about six months. After getting about four hours of sleep, I took off in a plane the next morning and landed in Kansas City at around 8:30 am. My dad picked me up at the airport and I spent the day unpacking, resting, visiting my very adorably pregnant friend Elena, running a few errands, enjoying dinner with my parents, and finally getting to hang out with Jeremiah (he had to work until 7:15).
Thursday (the 2nd), Jeremiah and I made it out of Topeka (after a busy, slightly stressful morning) around 4 in the afternoon. Although I had already prepared so much, on the drive to Iowa I felt the need to continue working on fair material. I reread a list of potential interview questions and reviewed my previously typed-out responses. I practiced how I would respond to other possible questions in my head. Making my anxiety even more intense was the fact that my voice was nonexistent, due to some ill-timed sickness I managed to pick up. I barely spoke a word the entire day, with the hope that I would have a voice Friday, when the interviews would begin. Fortunately, this vocal rest helped out a lot. We reached Waterloo, Iowa at around 11:00 and went to bed immediately.
Friday, it all began! I won’t go into the details of the fair, but believe me when I say that the weekend of the fair was an incredibly unique, fast-paced, emotional experience. In all, I had nine interviews (plus one half interview). Five were for middle school math positions: four with schools in Colombia, one with a school in Puerto Rico. Four (and a half) were with elementary schools: one in Indonesia, one in Honduras, one in Madagascar, one in Kuwait, and the half interview in Bahrain. I genuinely felt like the interviews went well. Many administrators told me that I would definitely get a job at the fair and that they really liked me. Three schools that I really wanted to work at (two in Colombia and one in Honduras) came very close to offering me a job. I was offered jobs at three schools. The job I ended up going with? I really never imagined it as a possibility before the fair, and when I accepted this school’s invitation to interview, I only did it because I figured that even if I wasn’t interested in the job, I could use a good practice interview (it was my first interview of the fair). Which school will I be working at? An all girls school in Kuwait City!
Yes, that phenomenon of the option you want the least being the one that offers itself to you, that joke that the universe just loves to play on its inhabitants, the reason I didn’t want to admit to which areas of the world I was avoiding (remember that in my last blog post?)… it happened. My other offers were with schools in Puerto Rico and Indonesia. Puerto Rico would have been a dream, but I did not feel at all comfortable with the director interviewing me and found his offer methods very shady. Indonesia offered me a job on Saturday night, a few hours after I had already accepted the Kuwait job. Although Kuwait was, obviously, not my dream location, I just did not have enough experience to be choosy. Thank goodness Jeremiah was in Iowa to support and guide me through this crazy weekend! He took me out to pizza Saturday afternoon, when I was a complete frazzled (but oh-so optimistic and professional with any interviewers!) mess with only one valid job offer in a location I was not interested in and a stack of very polite “sorry we filled the position with another candidate” notes. I was so disappointed that I would not be able to continue living in South America and really did not fancy living in the desert, so suddenly letting go of the dream of international teaching and focusing my efforts on finding a job in Topeka became my reality. Jeremiah woke me up from those thoughts and told me that if I didn’t open my mind to another location and accept the offer I was being presented with, I would regret it. He was completely right. After our pizza and beer (man, was it ever needed!), I returned to the fair with Jeremiah, and we met with my new director so that I could sign my contract.
I am now incredibly excited about teaching in Kuwait! Firstly, it will be my first full-time teaching job. I graduated from a school of education nearly two years ago and could not be more ready than I am now to finally have my own classroom. Secondly, teaching jobs (especially for first-year teachers) are not easy to come by in the US (or any other country for that matter) so knowing that I have a job and that I don’t need to spend the next several months sending out more cover letters and applications (and possibly, the next school year substitute teaching) is very comforting. Thirdly, Kuwait is an income tax-free country, so nothing will be deducted from my salary. Also, like many international schools, mine provides its teachers with a furnished apartment, a round-trip ticket from the US to Kuwait, and transportation every day to the school and back home, so I should be able to save a big chunk of my salary (I’m hoping to save about 70%) and pay off much of my student loans. Fourthly, I have a few good friends who will, as life would have it, be relatively close to me while I’m all the way in Kuwait. Jeremiah will be serving as a medic on a ten-month agro-economic mission in Afghanistan with the Air National Guard from August to May. My good friend Teresa will be teaching in Dubai from August to June. I am excited about the travel opportunities I will have with both of them and our closer proximity to Europe and Asia (hmmmm, maybe I should aim for a more realistic savings goal of 60%…). Finally, as resistant as I was at first, I am excited about the education I will receive on a culture and region completely and totally different than any I’ve yet encountered. I am determined to have a good attitude about Kuwait and learn as much as I can about the country and its people while I’m there. And, one more thing: I’m finally going to live close to a beach (I’ve already read up on this, and it sounds like the public beaches are sort of dirty, but I can pay to join a pristine private beach- totally worth it to this land-locked beach bum)!
Gosh, even after editing, this post is crazy long. I just need to wrap up by saying that after the fair, I was able to have a restful finale to my trip. On the way back to Kansas, Jeremiah and I had lunch in Des Moines with a friend of mine whom I worked with at Camp Med-o-Lark. It’s always such a joy when I’m able to meet up with one of the many beautiful souls from that camp.
Monday, I met up with friends at one of my all-time favorite food joints in Topeka, Tuptim Thai.
Tuesday, I got some much-needed time with my parents. We had a family friend and faithful blog-reader (I’m guessing he’s my oldest reader- if anyone’s over 91 years old, feel free to correct me), JJ, over for a completely traditional family dinner, Algerian Cous Cous. I don’t think I’ve been as full as I was on Tuesday night since… maybe Thanksgiving of 2010!
That brings me to today. Wednesday the 8th. By this point, I’m in MIA and am no more than five minutes from boarding my flight to Quito. Goodbyes have been made (this time, less tearfully- it helps that I got a fair amount of sleep last night [unlike my last pre-departure night] and that I know where I’m headed; that I have a “family” there, people I genuinely have missed this week). My US phone number has been deactivated. I’m very pleased with the way my trip home went, and am already looking forward to being home again (while being excited to be back in Ecuador, if that conflict of emotions makes any sense- then again, whoever said feelings needed to be sensible?). But, finally, after all that planning for the fair and thinking about my future location, I am happy to be able to focus on the present. I am determined to give my last couple of months in Ecuador my all. As always, thanks for reading and making me sure that I have company no matter where I am in the world.