One Year in Penang

Another year abroad done. It’s been a really good one. I first heard about working for British Council when I was finishing up my CELTA in 2012 and it instantly became my dream company to work for. This past year — my first year with them — has met all expectations.

It feels like every teaching job that I’ve taken on post-CELTA has been an upgrade from the last. I went from teaching in a university in Kuala Lumpur with the most basic classroom — nothing but a whiteboard and a CD player — to using interactive whiteboards in Hanoi with a computer in every classroom and an amazing teachers’ room stocked with stationery and good people. BC Penang is easily the best so far in terms of resources and facilities. The support I’ve received since I arrived has been nothing short of amazing. I also have my own desk and computer. It’s messy, but it’s mine.

I’m staying in Penang in a little bit longer and I’m optimistic about what the future has in store. In terms of pursuing DELTA, it feels like the desire has died down a little. I still want to do it because I would still like to become a teacher trainer some day as I don’t think I’ll want to keep teaching in the classroom forever, but it’s currently not a priority. I think my creative pursuits have sidetracked me from that, but I have to say that being creative brings me a happiness that keeps me sane.

Looking forward to what’s ahead, as always. 🙂

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Mid-Year Madness

It’s hard to believe that it’s already halfway through June but Term 2 is over and I have to say I’m pretty knackered. Though, if I’m being honest, I was exhausted by the end of week 3 so I’m not sure how I managed to get to the end of week 10. It was mostly the weekends teaching the young learners for 10 hours that got to me, especially ending it all with a challenging teens class. Teaching adults during the week was pretty easy since I only had three classes.

I started teaching Business English at the start of term. It’s really different from teaching the adult classes that we teach in the afternoons in quite a few ways. These classes start in the evening and are only two hours long (compared to the three-hour afternoon ones). The students are older since they are working adults (compared to the mostly pre-university students in the afternoon). I also found that the older students were more motivated and inquisitive when it came to their lessons. They asked a lot more questions during class and they were just very much on-task all the time.

It was challenging for me not only because it was my first time teaching Business English, but also because the learners’ expectations were higher, which meant that I had to step up my planning and really get into language analysis and anticipate all the questions they might have so that I could have a ready answer. I was planning for one hour less but also spending more time planning. I absolutely loved it. I loved the challenge and I liked that it was different from the routine that I had been doing. The late finishes are not ideal and the content isn’t exactly the most interesting for me, but finding ways to make it interesting and engaging is something that I’ve really enjoyed. Also, having Business English experience on the CV is an added bonus.

Currently, it’s four days into term break. It’s actually a pretty long break this time around which I’m quite thankful for. It would have been a great time to fly back home to see the family but I’m still not allowed to leave the country for another month (due to tax reasons). I could travel around the country, but honestly, I’m just so tired that staying home is actually amazing. I’m doing a 30 day art challenge on Instagram which I’ve been doing diligently and I’m supposed to be working on two online courses (Applied Linguistics and Jolly Phonics) which I haven’t gotten around to just yet — being the procrastinator that I am — but I will do soon.

I’ve now been in Penang for nearly eleven months and contract completion is coming up soon. They’ve asked me to extend my contract and I’ve happily accepted so I’ll be staying on the island for a little bit longer.

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Term 2

After a nine-day term break, it’s back to work tomorrow to start Term 2. It also means that March is winding down and bringing the first quarter of the year with it. I can honestly say that it feels as if the last three months have completely flown by.

It’s been a quieter few months, I’ve had a lot more free time on my hands working part-time hours — 4 hours a week at one point — which has given me plenty of time to pursue my creativity and continue living the sloth life. I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting with watercolours and learning how to paint. I can see improvement in my work and that makes me really happy.

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My teaching hours did pick up after the Chinese New Year holiday since two full-time teachers left the centre, so my hours jumped up to 22 hours a week and I was back to busy mode. It was a bit of an adjustment jumping from 4 to 22 hours like that, but I made it work and I’m happy to have the hours, as will my bank account.

Term 2 seems like it will continue being busy for me, so I’ll need to make sure that I’m on top of all my planning and keep everything organised. I’m also expecting to start another professional development course very soon, this time focusing on teaching phonics to very young learners. I’m looking forward to getting that started since teaching phonics isn’t something that I feel very confident in and would like to learn more about.

I’m also two-thirds into my contract. The thought of packing up and moving again honestly gives me mini panic attacks whenever I think about it. Mostly because I don’t want to do it anymore. I turned 31 recently and a big part of me would like to settle down somewhere and not have to move anymore. I’m actually very happy in Penang and I would very much like to stay if I can. True, the weather is basically fire at the moment and I’m now considerably darker than when I first arrived, but the island life resonates with me. Life here is nice.

Meanwhile, Term 2 commences.

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Hello, 2018!

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The three week holiday has come to an end and it’s back to work tomorrow. I think that I may have officially turned into a sloth and that my body will most likely retaliate against the early morning alarms that I’ll be setting. On the other hand, I think it will be nice to be busy again and slowly slip out of the sloth life. Maybe.

As always, positive vibes for the coming year. Hoping to keep growing as a teacher and to continue working on my art no matter how busy I may get. Looking forward to the next twelve months. 🙂

Holiday Break

It’s about halfway through the break now and it’s been really nice to be able to have some time off after the incredibly busy past few months. As I promised myself, I’ve been spending a lot of time at home attempting to be creative, reading books, marathoning shows on Netflix, and playing Hearthstone when my Internet doesn’t disconnect me.

I’ve finished the Focus on Primary course that I’ve been working on and I learned a lot about teaching the little ones. Despite already having a Young Learner qualification, the course was still quite useful and I feel that I’ve definitely benefited from it. When it comes to professional development, I feel that there’s always something new to learn so I will always say yes to it. Especially if it’s free.

Around this time five years ago, I had just completed my CELTA training in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It’s funny how a year can go by so quickly and five years can seem like a lifetime ago.

This time last year, I had just arrived back in the Philippines after my year in Hanoi to spend the holidays with my family. This year, however, will be my very first Christmas away from home. Not only were the flight prices exorbitant, but I also have time restrictions related to Malaysian tax laws that prevent me from leaving the country for more than a certain number of days and require me to be back in the country before the last day of the year. Not to mention, once I get back to the Philippines, I would also have to make time to get that ever-so-wonderful exit clearance that I have such fond memories of. I will definitely miss the food, the family, and the cold weather but at least there’s always FaceTime.

I’ll be spending the second half of the break much the same as I’ve spent the first half. Good stuff.

Here’s a photo that has absolutely nothing to do with anything I’ve just written. Happy holidays!

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Time Flies

I honestly feel like I was just telling myself how I couldn’t believe that it was already November, and now the month is nearly over with only nine days left to go.

Work has been crazy busy the last few weeks. End of term is coming up, so I’ve had a lot of reports to write, which I was able to finish by the deadline two days ago. I’ve been covering a lot of classes, I’ve been working on some holiday course materials, I’m in the middle of a training course for primary learners, and I just had my first formal observation. It’s been busy.

This time last year, I had just completed my contract with Apollo and was getting ready to leave Vietnam for a new adventure. I had a plan for this new adventure and Penang wasn’t a part of it, yet here I am. I’ve been here for about four months now and it’s been amazing. The work is good, the people are great, and I’m happy to be here. It may not have been the adventure I planned, but it has been a wonderful alternative.

One more week left in the term, then a week of holiday courses, and the holiday break begins. I’m definitely looking forward to lots of staying in, reading, drawing, and bingeing on Netflix.

New Book Smell

Today, I bought a book for the first time in quite a long time. For the last few years, I’ve been doing all my reading on a tablet in an effort to reduce any travel weight whenever the time came for me to move country again. It’s definitely convenient, but it just isn’t the same as reading an actual book.

I was a bit surprised to find out that books are still expensive — particularly when it’s a newly-released hard cover book. Luckily, you can get some pretty good discounts if you pledge your allegiance to a bookstore by means of a membership card, which is precisely what I did. Extra bonus was that the membership was free (unless the woman just forgot to ask me for my money to pay the membership fee).

So now I have a lovely new book to sniff, and I was actually pretty excited when I was unwrapping it. It was perfect in every way, until I realised… that the discount sticker didn’t come off with the plastic cover… and that it was stuck directly onto the book sleeve.

You monster.

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First Term Done

It was a busy seven weeks with so many things to do and learn, but I’ve successfully completed my first term in Penang. I was initially worried that my extended break might have erased everything I ever learned about teaching, but stepping into the classroom on my first day was like having a switch turned back on and it all just came back to me.

I’ve managed to learn nearly all of my students’ names, but I definitely  need to work on my pronunciation because the kids giggle at me when I say someone’s name wrong. They refuse to correct me, though, they just sit there and giggle their little hearts out.

I’m also back to teaching adults, which I’m incredibly happy about. I haven’t taught adults since the last time I was in Malaysia and I didn’t realise how much I’ve missed it. After teaching young learners for so long, it’s just a welcome change to have that again.

So I started out teaching only adults, then only young learners, and now I teach adults during the week and young learners at the weekend — it seems like it’s progressing quite nicely. I often have to remind myself that I’m with my dream employer now. It was just a goal for such a long time and now I’m here.

I’ve also had some time to get my creativity going again. I’ve been drawing mandalas and I’m slowly getting back into lettering. Next to get restarted is painting and sketching. I should be able to find some pretty good inspiration for that with the lovely buildings in George Town (if I can find the energy to leave my house and wander around on my days off).

New term starts tomorrow!

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Penang

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I arrived in Penang around four weeks ago. It’s been a pretty busy first month with adjusting to the new job, house-hunting, and general settling in stuff, but everything has been working out really well so far.

The first thing on my agenda when I arrived was finding a home. I was staying in a little motel close to the office for the first few days. The owners were lovely and the room was clean and I have to admit, I did like the luxury of being a five-minute walk to work, but I knew I had to find my own place as soon as possible.

The office is located in the capital, so finding accommodation that was walking distance and in my budget was basically impossible. My priority was convenience in terms of accessibility to public transport.

The first place I looked at met that priority — the location was great for transportation and there were shopping malls close by. However, the apartment itself was not so great. It was a three-bedroom, two-bathroom corner apartment with a lovely view, but it was quite run-down. I learned two things from that viewing: One, three-bedroom apartments are standard in Penang. Two, having the shower right next to, or even above, the toilet with no partition so that the entire bathroom gets soaked, is also standard. Not having a bathroom like that instantly became a requirement.

The second place I looked at was absolutely stunning. It was next to the botanical garden, so there were lots of trees and the view from the balcony was beautiful — completely green. It had a spacious kitchen, three bedrooms, and best of all, two bathrooms with partitioned showers. I immediately wanted it. I did need to consider the location, though. It was a bit out of the way, and even though the bus stop was right in front of the building, the bus only passed every 40 minutes or so and I would need to transfer to another bus after that to get to work. Calling for a Grab or Uber could also be difficult since it was a bit isolated. Also, it was over my budget.

I looked at another four apartments after that. The bathroom situation was the same in each one, one of them even having one of those floor toilets that you squat over. I was beginning to think that this was all I was going to be able to get with my budget, so my mind was starting to tell myself to settle for the best of the worst. I found myself saying that a year will go by quickly and that I would be able to bear with it. But I had to make a decision soon because I needed to settle down before I could really get into my work. It was hard for me to concentrate on policies, procedures, and lesson planning when I didn’t have a home.

After a week of looking, I found “the one.” When I got the call to go see it, I didn’t have very high expectations because of the ones I’d already seen. But when we pulled up outside and she pointed to the house, I was in disbelief. I thought, surely that can’t be it. It must be a little apartment behind that house or something. It wasn’t. It’s a beautiful, beautiful house. It meets all my requirements and exceeds them.

It’s a massive upgrade considering the master bedroom is bigger than my entire apartment in Vietnam, but it’s a wonderful place to come home to after a long day of teaching. It has a lovely garden in a quiet neighborhood and the owner of the house is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my entire life.

Actually, the level of kindness that I’ve been shown since I arrived has been incomparable to anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve met some incredibly kind people before, but the people here seem to be on a completely different level. It’s amazing.

The Internet was installed the other day and I’ve also had some free time to start drawing again, which felt wonderful after such a long break. So I think I can officially say that I’m settled in. Definitely looking forward to calling this place home for the next year.

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It’s (Not) More Fun in the Philippines

The Philippines love their acronyms, so here are a few that I’m dealing with at the moment:

OFW – Overseas Filipino Worker

OEC – Overseas Employment Certificate

POEA – Philippine Overseas Employment Agency

DOLE – Department of Labor and Employment

Sample sentence: I’m an OFW in need of an OEC that’s issued by POEA but requires clearance from DOLE before issuance.

First of all, well done to POEA for having your evaluator mislead me into thinking that the 2-3 week waiting period was DOLE’s fault. Her display of empathy was convincing as she spoke about how awful she felt that we were being forced to wait on one person’s signature as we risked losing well-paid work. I fell for it when she told me that they, at POEA, work quickly and efficiently to serve and support OFWs.

What she failed to tell me, however, was that before my documents could be sent to DOLE, they would need to go through several departments within POEA to get signed off. Two weeks have gone by, and those signatures still haven’t been collected. She did inform me, though, that they made up the figure of 2-3 weeks and they sort of just hope that it gets done within that time.

I had to attend the mandatory PDOS (Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar) as a requirement for receiving my OEC. When it started, the woman facilitating it asked for a show of hands for first-time OFWs, to which roughly half the room raised their hands. She then asked if there were any veterans in the room — anyone who’d been an OFW for ten years. One man raised his hand. She then went on to say that the seminar was really meant for first-time OFWs so the rest of us were free to day-dream for the rest of her presentation, as long as we didn’t day-dream about her.

A few people laughed, but I was far from amused. She basically just told us that we didn’t have to be there, but we didn’t have a choice about it either. Plus the fact that I’d just sat in rush-hour traffic for an hour and fifteen minutes to travel the 5 kilometres to get there — a ten-minute drive without traffic.

The two things I took away from the seminar were:

  1. Don’t become a prostitute
  2. Buckle your seatbelt on the plane

The other thing that I’ve had to deal with is the medical. They’re asking me to provide this even though my visa and employment pass have already been approved with a previous medical that I’d already done. This can’t be done at just any clinic either, it needs to come from a DOH (Department of Health) accredited clinic.

The first piece of advice I was given was to look for the one closest to me and just get it done. The closest clinic turns out to be 10 kilometres away. The second piece of advice I was given was to do it once my clearance was released so that the medical wouldn’t expire again (because I should expect another three months to pass before you release my papers?!).

I called the clinic to enquire. The woman on the phone tells me that she’s unsure if they do medical checkups for Malaysia-bound OFWs. I’m confused. What does that mean? So now it’s not even about finding the closest clinic, but finding the closest clinic that caters to the country you’re bound for. The ridiculous thing is that it’s not even an international requirement but a local one. Malaysia is never going to see this medical, it’s for POEA. She then tells me that results are given after a week. I was under the impression that I could get the results within the same day.

I must have called over ten clinics before I found one. The prices and release of results varied for each one, but none of them were cheap. And to think that every single OFW has to pay that just to leave.

It’s coming up on three weeks now since this whole fiasco began. I’ve been lucky enough so far to have an employer that tells me they understand that it isn’t my fault, but I know they’re suffering, too. They hired me for a reason and they needed me there weeks ago. They’re losing money for every class that needs to be cancelled because the teacher who was meant to be there to teach it isn’t there. They’re potentially losing credibility because of it. They’re possibly regretting hiring me now because hiring someone else could have meant that they could have avoided this entire situation.

I don’t know if it’s nearly over. I don’t know what sort of place takes over two weeks to process a document. I don’t know why it’s so difficult to get this done. This entire thing is meant to be for the well-being of the OFW, but it really feels like it hurts a lot more than it helps.

Finding a decent job isn’t easy. POEA and DOLE need to fix this insanity. When people tell me that there’s a delay because there’s been a change in signatory, reorganisation in departments, and lots of meetings going on, that is not acceptable. The people shouldn’t have to suffer for your lack of organisation. How many people have lost jobs because of this? How many companies have blacklisted Filipino employees because of this? How many qualified, talented Filipinos have lost opportunities because of this?

People say to be patient and wait it out because leaving without compliance will cause problems for me in the future. Being unemployed causes some pretty big problems, too. That’s the trouble with this country. The people are told to just bear it and they do.

Don’t even get me started on the Grab/Uber lunacy happening right now.

It is definitely not more fun in the Philippines.