Turns out that when you’re traveling alone you get lonely. Turns out you can get very sad and down. It happens to everyone who’s living in another country. I’ll tell you a little bit about my experience with that.
My first couple of weeks were flawless. I moved into my apartment without any problems, my training week was nice because I met other people in the same state as me, and I met other people through a social event set up by my recruiting company. I was meeting people and generally was having a good time adjusting to a new country. I was very lucky that everything went as smoothly as it did and my situation was definitely better than others I’ve heard about.
Long Distance - Then, I found out just how difficult it was to keep in contact with those from back home. You can have every application in the world but unless people actually have time to utilize it, it becomes kind of useless. I still haven’t talked with a couple people that I’d love to speak with back home. And I don’t think I speak with some people nearly enough. What I’ve learned is to be patient and flexible and set appointments. You can say to a person a billion times, “I desperately need to Skype with you or something.” and they can be all, “Okay!” but unless you actually get to the whole “When?” part of the conversation, it’s likely that it’ll never happen. Say “When?” right off the bat and I guarantee much more success. The “when” may not come soon enough, but being patient can really pay off. The “when” also may be a little inconvenient for you. For example, I woke up early one morning to talk with a good friend of mine. Did I exactly want to wake up early? Nah, not really. But I did want to talk to my friend. So that’s what I did. Totes worth it.
Language Barriers - I also started feeling down when the language barrier became overwhelming. Being vegetarian meant that it was a little more difficult for me to get food. Food. Ya know, that basic human need. That really sucked. And not only food, but trying to communicate anything was difficult. I didn’t know the language for basic transactions. I didn’t know even “How are you?”. That can make the world extremely isolating. I mean - communication, talking about your wants and needs and not being able to do that can make your world very small. People helped when they could, but, for me, it wasn’t enough. What I learned was… well, the language. I really started tackling the language. I now know the character for vegetarian. And I set up a language exchange so I’m learning more and more each week. Once you realize it’s something you can overcome, it’s something you can handle, it becomes a lot less intimidating.
New Experiences - Almost every single day I’ve been here I’ve done something new. At least one thing. Every. Single. Day. I love new things. I love new experiences and I’m usually pretty adept to change. But every single day? For weeks? Wow. That becomes A LOT. It becomes overwhelming. New food. New neighborhood. New people. New routes to work. New students. New co-workers. New apartment. New cookware. New this. New that. Every. Single. Day. What I learned was to find something familiar and do that too. I didn’t really notice the upswing to my blues until I started doing something very familiar to me (for me, that’s re-watching ‘Buffy: The Vampire Slayer’ TV series). I think we all have our cap on new experiences and having familiar ones thrown in the mix can give the comfort that everything is okay.
Holidays - I think my most sad time was during a Chinese 4 day holiday. I don’t think it would not have been nearly as bad if it hadn’t also been in the middle of a typhoon. That meant people, nor I really, wanted to brave the natural disaster to get together and do anything. I was stuck in my apartment literally all day. It was the worst. I was bored out of my skull with only my lonely thoughts to depress me. It’s hard to say what I learned from this one, other than keep yourself occupied. A friend of mine was saying that she finished a sewing project over that holiday. A project like that would have been perfect for me.
Limits - I think everyone has their limits. For me, I was so desperate to hang out with people and have any sort of contact whatsoever that I broke a lot of my limits, which didn’t work out for me as well as I hoped. For example, I don’t really like clubs. They’re noisy and crowded and everyone is there to get drunk or laid. I go out to have good conversation and connections. Can’t do that in a club. But a few friends dragged me out to clubs while I wasn’t feeling super great. I went to spend time with friends. That was quite possibly the worst plan ever. I left feeling more lonely than I had when I went in. What I learned was know your limits and abide by them. I think I would have been happier going home than going out to the clubs. Going out to them was beyond my limits. I couldn’t handle them and I just felt awful for having tried. Now when people ask me if I want to go out to a club, now my response is all, “Ya know that song that’s like ‘the club can’t even handle me right now’?” “Yeah…?” “Yeah, I’m the opposite of that song. So no. I’m not going. But have fun! :)” And then I go home and recite Buffy for the billionth time.
The moral is, it happens to everyone. I’m on the uptick now and I expect I’ll have a downturn again, but I’m really enjoying the uptick. And I’ll ride it out for as long as I can. :)
So… I don’t have any experience living in another country. I’ve lived in one state, in one country (the USA), for as long as I can remember. I’ve never even visited Asia. When I accepted the job to teach in Taiwan, I was understandably nervous.
I chose an excellent recruiting company with a great reputation, as well as a chain of bushyban (after school school) schools that were widely known. I hoped that these two things would help me with my adjustment into a brand new environment.
Well, first off, I spent about 18 hours in the air. And August 29th happened during that time. So when I landed at 6am in Taipei (the capital of Taiwan) I was like
And filling out the visa paperwork was stressful. I had no idea what to put. But then people helped me out and it was okay. And trying to tell people that I made it alive without spending a crapload of money was also troublesome, but luckily I found a wifi network that I could connect to and I was all, “I’m alive in Taipei!” on The Book of Faces.
After grabbing my luggage, one of my co-workers from the school was there with a sign to pick me up. We took a bus and the metro to my hotel where they held my luggage. We immediately rushed off to the hospital for a health check to get an ID card. Turns out, my co-workers had it wrong and the health checks weren’t done until the afternoon. So, she dropped me back off at my hotel. I was finally able to take a shower and eat. I then tried to get a SIM card for my phone, but my phone was locked and I had totally forgot to get a code from T-Mobile before I left.
(Ugh. Don’t do that. Remember to get a code. Because I’m still waiting, 3 days later, for them to e-mail me with the stupid code. Rar. Not to mention, I’m probably going to be billed 5 fortune’s worth for the international calls I had to make.)
After that, another co-worker picked me up to look at apartments. They wanted to get me into an apartment as quickly as possible so I wouldn’t spend so much at the hotel. Sound reasoning, I think. I viewed two apartments that were close to metro stops and the school. (Here's a good resource for apartment hunting in Taipei.) I liked the first one a lot and the second one was meh. After viewing the two apartments, it was back to the hospital for the health check.
The health check was a breeze. Fill out some paperwork with basic information, get a chest x-ray, draw some blood, and get asked a couple health questions. The end! All told, it took less than an hour (we had to wait a bit).
After the health check, I got to visit my school! :D I met the other English teacher (she’s from Chicago) and the manager of the school. Everyone seems really nice and great and helpful and I’m excited to begin working there (I have a week-long training at the headquarters before I begin teaching).
Then I hopped back onto the metro and I was able to just relax and get myself sorted in the hotel room.
After a couple days of living in Taipei, here’s my first impressions…
It’s actually pretty easy to get around! Yeah - since Taipei is a big city and the capital, it receives a lot of foreigners. That means signs have English underneath them, there’s English menus, and the metro has English signs for everything. Many people here also speak English, but good luck getting past “hello” and “thank you” as far as most people understanding you.
Some things are definitely not Western. Obviously, there are going to be some differences, but, for the most part, a lot of things are Westernized. Which is also really great for adjusting to life here. What’s not Western? Well…
That’s all I can think of for now. Sorry, I’m still jet-lagged and I haven’t gotten much sleep over the past few days. But I’ll definitely let you know other thoughts later. And pictures! I’ll do some of that, too. :)
Okay, so you have a TEFL certificate and a bachelor’s degree and you want to teach abroad. What do you do first?
Save money. Many schools will reimburse you for your flight and costs to begin teaching for them, so that means you’ll be paying all your costs up front. Get a temporary job and don’t accept a teaching job until you’re confident that you’ll have enough money to handle yourself for a month or so. I would say $3000USD is a decent amount, but you might need more depending on the conversion rate between your home country and the country that you’re traveling to. Again, plan for deposit on a new apartment, health checks, visa requirements, flight, local transit, food and various other living expenses, and emergencies. For a month or so.
Look for a job! There are so many websites out there that post jobs for those looking to teach abroad. Here’s one and another to start. You can also check with recruiting companies. I’m currently working with this one. I’m really happy I chose them. :) Recruiting companies will find jobs for you and you can interview with the schools and then go from there. I kinda like have a recruiting company because they are kind of like back-up if the school doesn’t follow through.
And for your sake, RESEARCH!! (1) Research the country you want to go to! Check blogs and interwebs for how people adjusted to the country you’re moving to. Is it safe? Does it have restaurants you like? Does it have a good expat community? Can you talk to anyone who’s been there? Do they like it? (2) Research the job. Does the school pay on time? Does the school offer teaching resources for teachers? Do they have any other English teachers? Can you talk with them? Do they like working there? Do people working at the school respond consistently and professionally? How long has the school been in existence? Does it even exist??? How about the recruiting company? Do they exist? Are they a scam? How do they help your transition into another country? Do they take a cut of your paycheck? Are the people working for the company EFL teachers? Do they have any experience teaching? All these questions should be answered before you accept any job. This process is going to be tedious and stupid and you’re going to hate doing it, but you’ll be so happy you did once you’re over in a foreign country and you have no idea what day it even is because you’ve been through so many different time zones. There also might be quirky things that sort of just pop up while you’re investigating like in Taiwan, kindergarteners aren’t supposed to be learning English (like it’s against the law), but it’s done anyway. So if you’re teaching K students, you’ll need to know what do about that.
Interview. Interviews will go over why you chose that school and that country. They might also ask you: “What will you do in the classroom if this happened?” “Give us an idea for a lesson you would do.” “3 strengths and 3 weaknesses?” But remember to ask questions, too! You should ask about everything above (research) and ask about student size, sample teaching schedules, student age, pay schedule, flight/housing/visa reimbursement, sample contract, pay amount, location of school (are they near metros or bus stops?), do you have a resource room?, do you have a TA?, are you allowed to deviate from lessons given to you?, are lesson plans given to you?, does the school offer health insurance? There are SO many things you should find out about before even accepting the job. And don’t be shy and not ask these questions because it could be a major detriment to you later. Suck it up and ask.
Accept. Everything passes your requirements and it looks awesome and you’re beginning to get excited. Great! Accept the job and get started!
Plan and go! You’ll need to plan your flight, your vaccinations (if you need any), how you’re going to get a phone (does your current phone work in another country? if so, do you need a code to unlock the phone?), how you’re going to stay in contact with friends and family back home, do you need to notify your current job that you’re leaving?, if your bank will allow you to use your debit or credit card in this country, if you’re going to have health insurance, visa requirements… Get all this stuff sorted out! Sure, you could wing it. And be very, very sad. Plan. Again, it’ll be repetitive and redundant and repetitive and redundant, but you’ll thank yourself so much later. You’ll be all, “Past self, you’re the greatest.” Then head out and good luck! :D
Okay, so a while ago I promised a more detailed post about my CELTA interview before I was accepted into the course. I am pretty much awful and I can’t find my notes on the interview…
But here’s what I can tell you!
The interview is based on the pre-course task. So make sure you thoroughly look that over and do it. Do it hard.
The interviewer will go over every question. As I said, most the answers are free-answer so if you put something incorrect, but the reasoning is sound, the interviewer will give you a break. And they don’t expect you to know everything, but they will expect you to be open to criticism and critique and get things mostly correct.
Then they will ask you about some personal preferences including why you’re choosing CELTA and where you want to go with CELTA and that sort of stuff.
Then they will ask you about your experience teaching. I have teaching experience, so they asked me about discipline in the classroom and how I handle it (the best preventer of discipline problems, is solid ground rules in my opinion). For those of you without experience, my best guess would be to ask you about what you would do in a classroom if certain issues popped up or whatever. So think about what you would do in the classroom. Look up #education blags and read the hell out of them. You also might want to do a quick Google search on ESL lessons (there’s tons of free lesson ideas out there) and maybe have some ideas for activities for students.
Omgosh, you all. That was the toughest ever. I don’t think I even did that much in college. And I was still a slacker in the course!
I took the 4 week intensive course. Those taking the 6 week course probably have a little more time on their hands to do things and whatnot.
Your day looks like this:
9am: Start your day at the center. Maybe you’re working on your lesson plan or catching up on reading or preparing to turn in your assignment. Come in early. It helps. Plus you get dibs on printers early. :)
9:45am: Lesson 1 begins. A tutor will come in and talk to you about ways of teaching things like grammar, vocabulary, using technology in the classroom, etc.
11am: Break for 10 mins.
11:10am: Lesson 2 begins. A second tutor will talk to you more about these different areas.
12:30pm: Guided lesson planning/lunch. You sit down with your group tutor and go over tomorrow’s lesson (you teach about every other day). It’s good to have your lesson mostly planned out at this point so you can just clarify with your tutor and make sure they’ll think it works. Then you have lunch. Most people worked over their lunch preparing for their lessons.
1:30pm: Teaching/observation begins. Depending on your group, you’ll either have “intermediate” adult learners or “advanced” adult learners. They know that you are training and they get free English lessons out of it. It’s a win-win. :) And it takes a lot of pressure off the situation. You’ll either be teaching them, or preparing feedback for the other teachers.
*Remember that in for-realzies life, you will never teach 20mins or 40mins, nor will you have to turn in so much paperwork for each lesson. This course is meant to introduce you to the whole idea of teaching and to get your brain trained into thinking about the things on the paperwork.*
4pm: Feedback begins. Your tutor and fellow teachers will give you feedback on your teaching or you will be giving the feedback if you didn’t teach that day. I found this time most helpful because it allowed you to gain understanding in your own style and what you need to improve on.
5:30pm: Feedback is usually done by this point. You’re officially done for the day, but you will probably have homework or lesson planning or reading that will keep you up until the wee hours of the morning. You will always find something that you could be doing that could improve your progress in the course.
Your first week is overwhelming with all the information. The second week you are buried in work. The third week you start to be able to utilize all the information you’ve been given and start to handle the swing of things. The fourth week you can actually plan a day off. Yeah, it’s that crazy. I took more days off than I should have. Just don’t plan anything. I’m for serious. Don’t.
That sounds like a hella lot of work. What will I gain? You’ll gain extensive knowledge about teaching techniques for EFL, great practice, and spectacular confidence of tackling your first real classroom. You’ll also get a certificate that opens a lot of doors for you. You’ll be wanted in your job arena, which is priceless, as far as I’m concerned. I mean - I’m already hired. :)
Well, I'm actually moving at the end of June
Oh, where to?
Oh! That's awesome! What are you doing there?
I'm getting a certification to teach English as a foreign language, then I'm moving to another country to do that thing.
That's... wow! What country?
I don't know.
Ya know, I have a friend who does that...
*thinking* Apparently everyone has friends who do that...
My life journey is heading in a new direction. I’m super excited, but it means this blog is going to change gears a bit. It’s going to go from an education blog to education + travel blog. I’ll be documenting my adventures teaching English as a foreign language all over the world, starting with New York City! I can’t wait and the adventure officially begins June 22nd. :)
1. GREG (group)
12. DOL (pain)
13. VOR / VOUR (eat)
14. PAN (all)
15. FOLI (leaf)
17. FID (faith)
18. CULP (blame)
19. CORP (body)
20. CIS (cut)
21. CHRON (time)
In June, I will be beginning the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) program in New York City, New York, USA.
It’s a big move, which I’m ecstatic about, but starting to stress a little. But, I thought I’d give some info about the program, course, and process.
How did I find out about this program? Well, I began my journey looking at Teaching English as Foreign Language (TEFL) courses. There’s a wide range of those types of courses out there. Some of them are offered online, a few weekends in a class, or “intensive” courses actually teaching students. Beware! Some of these (if not most) can be scams! (Think logically… how can you be prepared to go in front of a classroom and teach English, if you never went in front of a classroom during the training course?) I found a site that reviews TEFL courses and found that the Teaching House CELTA course was one of the highest rated and seemed the most rigorous. I was looking for a certification program that would fully prepare me to go in front of a class of foreign speakers.
How did I apply? Once I decided on which location, I applied through the website. The application process is threefold: (1) Fill out application through website, (2) Successfully complete worksheet, (3) Successfully complete interview. I used this book to complete the worksheet. I would order the book before you apply. They are quick to respond (I’m sure my substitute teaching experience didn’t hurt, either), so it might look bad if you lag between steps. All three steps took place in about 2 weeks. And take your time filling out the worksheet. Get things correct. Know why you answered the way you did. Many of the questions on the worksheet were free answer (not multiple choice), so figuring out why you answered the way you did will help in the interview. Many of the questions in the interview were biased on the worksheet.
Then what? Immediately after the interview was done, I was offered a spot in the course. They require a deposit (“to secure place in the course”). The rest of the course fees must be applied a couple of weeks before the course begins. They immediately e-mailed me pre-course homework, a letter of acceptance, and a receipt for the enrollment deposit. So, before you go into the interview, be 100% sure that you want to attend the course. I’ve done research and been preparing to attend this course for literally two years (needless to say, I’m very excited to have gotten in).
Why this program? The CELTA program is accepted all over the world. It’s accepted, pretty much universally. And it’s prestigious. Since it’s backed by the University of Cambridge, it definitely adds some “umpf”, ya know? From what I’ve read, a lot of Europe prefers British English as opposed to US English speakers. So where I was limited, I might not be after I receive this certification. That’s very important to me since I could easily see myself traveling and teaching English for the rest of my life. But by far, it’s not the only program out there; it just fits me best. :)
I will have a separate post detailing the interview.
1. FINISH IT
Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.
Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.
3. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY
This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys?’
4. EVERYBODY HAS A REASON TO LIVE
Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue: you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny; not everybody has to be cute; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.
5. CUT WHAT YOU LOVE
Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.
When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.
7. TRACK THE AUDIENCE MOOD
You have one goal: to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.
8. WRITE LIKE A MOVIE
Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet?’
9. DON’T LISTEN
Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up: they’d started talking about a different show.
10. DON’T SELL OUT
The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie: if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are: that’s called whoring.
I teach 4 and 5 year olds. Some have no concept of gender and some notice a difference. The students in my class that think certain things are “for boys” or “for girls” generally have younger parents or have older siblings in middle school or high school. I find that they’ve learned that certain things are “for boys” or “for girls” by being explicitly told by someone older than them. Just as I work to make sure we have books that feature kids like my students and like other ethnicity I also try to make each item in my room inviting to every kid.
In the dramatic play center, I have costumes for construction workers, chefs, veterinarians, postal workers, one princess dress, one men’s suit jacket for a kid and a few other items. I try to purchase items for that center that represent real professions, but also try to consider the kids’ interests. When one of my boys picked up the princess dress this year, I watched closely to see what he’d do and what the other kids would say. While holding it, he looked at me like he was seeking permission. I walked over and helped him step into it. I was bracing myself for when someone else would say something. No one did. The boy looked in the mirror, smiled big, and went around taking some “orders” for the restaurant. I don’t think the reason he put it on had anything to do with whether he identifies with one gender or the other or somewhere in between. I think kids that age don’t normally think in those confines until we impose it on them. I think he was just genuinely curious. He’s never put it on again, but nothing was said by anyone to discourage him from doing so.
Later this year, I handed out buddy bags (I use my own books to send home with kids each night, and they get a new one the following night when they bring it back). Due to my student’s ages, I keep track of which book they take home and rotate them so that if one goes missing I know which one it is. The same boy pulled out a Dora book and complained, “I got a girl book.”
I had the whole class stop. I told them in a whisper (somehow whispers make things super exciting to my student) that I had something very special to tell them about books.
“Books are not for boys. Books are not for girls. Books are for everybody. A girl can read and like a book about dinosaurs. Why do you think I have so many? A boy can like a book about a girl like Dora. She’s a smart girl and can teach anyone a lot.
Do you know what Ms. PPT’s FAVORITE book is? It is Harry Potter. It is ALL about a boy and his friends. In fact there are 7 of these books. I’m a girl and I LOVE this book. In fact, the boy in this book is very good friends with a girl.
There are no boys’ books or girls’ books. Every book is for anyone to read. Sometimes it might be too hard for you to read right now and you’ll have to wait until you get better. Sometimes what the book is about is for grown ups and not kids. But any book that you are able to read and is about things for kids is a book FOR YOU.”
Sometimes I lose their attention when I try to make a long point, but afterwards they all stood in silent awe.