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.

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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.

Relocation Limbo

I got my visa nearly a month ago and I still haven’t left the country. Even though I have a visa and employment pass, I can’t just leave the country without exit papers. Before I could get that on my end, I needed papers to get processed in the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia. That entire process took three weeks because they needed to send me something via courier for my signature, which I then had to send back — a process that takes two days each way, but longer if it went through the weekend. So, they sent me papers to sign, I received it, signed it, and sent it back, then they realised they needed me to sign something else because the scanned copy I’d sent wasn’t acceptable to the embassy. When they finally had everything, it took a few days for the embassy to release the papers I needed to apply for the exit papers here. I got my visa on June 6th, and I got the Philippine Embassy papers on June 27th.

That same day, I went to POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Agency) to get my exit papers — something called the OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate). I tried to get it the same way I’d got it last time, but I was told that since I hadn’t actually started working for my employer, I couldn’t get it that way and had to go to a different office to get it. So, I went to the office, submitted my papers, and I was told that I needed to submit more documents.

They wanted my university diploma, transcript of records, CV, certificates of employment from two previous employers, and a written statement saying how I came across the job and how I got the job — notarised.

I couldn’t believe it. They were asking for credentials that my employer had already checked and deemed acceptable to hire me, why was this necessary? So I asked if I would receive the OEC after submitting all these extra documents and was told, no, it would take around two to three weeks to process. If asking for additional documents was a slap on the face, this information was a punch in the gut.

I was originally meant to start my new job in the first week of June, but after all the delays, my new start date was moved to the 28th — the following day, basically. I was pretty much told that there was nothing I could do except submit the additional required documents and wait for approval.

Disbelief was probably an understatement at that point. Here I was, on the brink of starting a job with my dream employer — a well-known, reputable, international company — and subsequently having my country slam the door on my face.

I’m a patient person, for the most part. But if I’m told to wait for something incredibly, unbelievably stupid and unnecessary, it becomes a problem. It’s frustrating. More so when you know that there’s absolutely nothing that you can do and that your fate basically lies in the hands of people who don’t care what happens to you.

The incredulity did not stop there. When I went back to submit the “required” documents they asked for, I was told that I needed to attend a seminar as another requirement. It’s basically someone talking about what life abroad is like, what to expect, what to do, how to conduct yourself, and so on. I’ve been living and working abroad for over two years. This honestly does not apply to me. The woman handling my papers tells me to just take it since it’s free anyway. I don’t care that it’s free. I care that you’re telling me to go waste my time doing something that’s completely unnecessary.

But wait, there’s more. She tells me I also need a medical check-up. I tell her that I’ve already done one for the visa and employment pass. I show her the papers and she sees that it was done back in April. She then tells me that it’s not acceptable because medical check-ups are only valid for three months. So I argue that it technically hasn’t been three months since the check-up, to which she retorts that it will be by the time my papers are processed and approved.

I understand that Filipino workers are taken advantage of and abused in many places. I understand that this process and these requirements are in place to protect workers from scams and human trafficking, but there has to be an exception somewhere when applicable.

There is no job in the Philippines in my line of work that will compensate me the way jobs abroad can. If there were, I wouldn’t be leaving. My family is here. I don’t voluntarily live abroad on my own for fun. I don’t send my salary home for fun. I’m willing to bet that every Filipino working abroad will tell you the same thing.

My case is by no means unique. There were other people there pleading for their OECs because they were already at risk of losing their jobs. The only thing they needed was one person’s signature. One signature to get them a piece of paper to allow them to leave the country and work. It didn’t matter that their flights were booked. It didn’t matter that they were about to lose their jobs. They were told to wait.

If we lose our jobs because of this, nobody is going to compensate us for all the money we’ve already spent on all the paperwork we’ve done. Nobody is going to reimburse them for their flights. Nobody is going to offer us an alternative job with the same benefits. Sorry nalang.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like a country should be helping its people to get ahead in life and not preventing them from good opportunities.

 

Preparations

After over two months of waiting since receiving the offer of employment from Malaysia, I find that I’m suddenly down to my last few days in the mountains. It’s been quite a long wait for all the paperwork to get processed, but I knew that once it was done, the leaving part would be quick. I’ve been preparing myself for this part for the last few months, but leaving home and family is never easy, especially when I tell them that I’m leaving in two days.

I’ve been telling myself to start packing since March since I’m incredibly awful at it, so I’ve been doing a little bit every day, reminding myself to stick to essentials only. My mentality about things has always been, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. However, that does not apply when there are things like airline weight limits and excess baggage fees to consider. I’d like to think that I’ve finally learned my lesson after the Vietnam debacle and I’m limiting myself to one suitcase this trip.

Ditching books is difficult for me, but after living abroad for two years, I’ve learned that it’s the most impractical thing to have. I’ve moved on to ebooks — with great sadness — but when it comes to reference books, I just can’t adjust to using a screen. Particularly when I’m lesson planning, I need to be able to flip through the book and litter it with post-its because that’s my process and that’s how I function. I’ve narrowed my reference library down to two essential books, though, and if weight limit permits, they’ll be the only books I take with me.

Resources is another thing. It’s an essential part of teaching, but it gets pretty heavy. I spent time digitising worksheets and handouts so that I could leave the physical paper behind and just refer to it on my laptop or print it off if I need it. A sheet of paper on its own weighs next to nothing, but a stack of them is another story — literally, when it’s a novel.

My challenge for this trip is probably going to be the stationery. I’ve reduced my post-its to less than a quarter already, which was difficult, but I just kept chanting “essentials” in my head over and over again. The fact that Malaysia’s stationery game is strong helps to narrow it down, though, when I know that I can easily just get it there if I need it.

Actually, I should really be packing right now.

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The Offer

The title pretty much gives away that I got a job offer from one of the interviews I did, but the suspenseful part is finding out which one! Just kidding — you won’t be left hanging for that long.

So, the first interview I did was for a two-month summer teacher position in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I haven’t been back there since I finished CELTA, and I always told myself I would go back since I liked it there and also I didn’t really get a chance to explore being so busy with the course. I felt that I had the advantage because I had experience teaching Vietnamese learners and I met all the other essential requirements, plus a desirable one. After nearly a four-week wait, I finally heard back from them the other day. They were very sorry to inform me that, after careful consideration, the panel felt unable to offer me the post. They did give me feedback about the interview though, and I thought that was pretty great.

The second interview I did was for a much longer contract period in Penang, Malaysia. I mentioned that I felt pretty good (I wouldn’t say completely confident) with how the interview went, and my feelings were not wrong because I was actually offered the job the day after the interview took place. I could hardly believe it. The Vietnam post was looking for 15 teachers and Malaysia was only looking for 1, I thought my odds were in Vietnam, for sure.

I can’t say that I was completely thrilled at first — actually, I panicked. The prospect of joining the British Council was incredible, but it wasn’t that. It was the fact that my passport was expiring and my appointment to renew it wasn’t for another week after that, plus the 2+ weeks it would take for the new passport to be released. I thought it was a possibility that they would rescind their offer because of that, but I told them and nothing terrible happened, so I was safe. I had to keep reminding myself that “everything happens for a reason” whenever I would start to worry. I kept saying that if anything were to happen to prevent it from happening, then it wasn’t meant to be, so keep calm and have faith in the universe.

Present day, I’m working on completing all the requirements they need for processing my work permit and visa — including spending 5 hours in the hospital yesterday for the medical — and I should be getting my new passport in a few days, so everything is working out so far. I can’t relocate yet until all the paperwork is done, so I’m not entirely sure when I’ll be heading over, but it probably won’t be long now.

I’ve been on my break for a lot longer than I’d anticipated. Things didn’t really go as planned, but it all seems to be falling into place anyway. It’s not exactly where I had hoped to be, but I love Malaysia, it’s always been the start of good things for me. It was the first foreign country I ever visited — the very first stamp on my passport, I got my first classroom teaching job there, and I don’t doubt that this time will open up another wonderful path.

Interviews

Working for the British Council has been my dream since completing CELTA. I think it’s safe to say that everything I’ve been doing in my career so far is to eventually get me to the BC. The last two interviews I’ve had with International House had me nervous and sweating. You can only imagine how it feels to have two British Council interviews in the same week. My sweat glands are basically on overdrive. 

I feel like the second interview went better than the first because I had an idea of what to expect and I felt a bit more relaxed, like I’d already done one, so I’ll be fine for another. The questions were a bit different for both, but I still feel my answers were much better the second time around. 

The first interview actually took place on my birthday. I’m sure that had nothing to do with anything, but I had a lot of blank moments. I’d spent the days leading up to the interview trying to get my holiday brain back into teaching brain — made sure I had the language and terminology back in my head. I went over the guides they’d sent me and went full-on nerd mode preparing answers for any possible questions. In the end, I still felt like words were falling out of my brain. 

I definitely feel that I did my best for both, though. It would be amazing to get either position that I interviewed for, but if it’s not the right time yet, at least I know that what I have so far is enough to get me interviewed and I’ll keep trying till I get there. 

Pursuing Creativity

I’ve been out of the classroom for a few months now, so I don’t have any teacher stories to tell, which should explain the lack of updates/posts. I do, however, have a job interview next week that I need to prepare for because it’s a pretty big one and I definitely, definitely want it. My only fear at this point is that I’ve been on a break for too long and that I’ve already forgotten how to lesson plan and teach (but that doesn’t happen, right?).

Back in January, I mentioned that I picked up a new hobby in brush lettering, doodling, and bullet journalling. I’m happy to report that I haven’t given up and I’m still at it.

Because I’m not really busy in terms of having a schedule, the bullet journalling has taken a back seat, but I still have a lot of fun creating my monthly spreads/calendars.

Every week, I try to create a mandala – “a complex abstract design that is usually circular in form” according to a Google search for a definition. I find the process very relaxing and almost meditative. Depending on how intricate I decide to make the patterns, it could take several hours to complete one. If I choose to do something a bit more simple, though, I could be done in an hour or less. I think my record so far is four hours in one sitting. Most times, though, I will take a break and do a little bit every day because it can be torture on the hand to go non-stop.

The area that I’ve focused on the most is brush lettering. This is something that I’ve been practising daily, sometimes a lot less than I should, but I do practise nonetheless. I joined an online class where I gained enough confidence to share my work and it got positive feedback which then led me to join two daily lettering challenges on Instagram. The challenges give you a prompt, usually a word, and you create something based on the prompt.

With all three creative pursuits, I enjoy the challenge that is presented in attempting to create something new, something different from the one before, something unique. Some days, it can be really difficult to get inspired, but I think that’s part of the process.

I honestly think that if I had jumped straight into another job after my previous one, I would never have done any of this creative stuff. I would have established a routine and I would have watched Netflix on my days off. I may not be great at any of it, but at least I know that I’m capable of it and that means a lot to me.

These are definitely things that I will make sure to keep in my routine once I’m back at work.