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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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. 

The Quest for Paper (part 2)

In 2014, I wrote about my decade-long quest for paper, which ultimately resulted in the acquisition of a college degree. Not long after that, I landed a teaching job in Malaysia and fast forward to two years later, I am about to complete my second expatriate stint in Vietnam.

Although Vietnam would be happy to keep me, I have begun the process of applying for new jobs in another Southeast Asian country in the hopes of finding something more long-term and comfortable. I wish I could say that my search has produced positive results, but on the contrary, nothing has turned up yet. Admittedly, it is a rather large step up that I’m trying to make, but I remain determined and optimistic.

One of the outcomes of seeing all the job adverts – and there are many – has been a realisation that I’ve still got a lot of work cut out for me. Getting the college degree wasn’t a finish line at all, but rather, the first checkpoint of who knows how many.

Despite being a fully-qualified and somewhat experienced English language teacher, I now have a few new barriers in the way.

  • Schools are looking for native speakers. According to Wikipedia, “a native speaker is someone who speaks a language as his or her first language or mother tongue.” I consider myself a native speaker because I grew up in an English speaking environment – we spoke English at home and I attended international schools where everything was done in English. I didn’t speak my country’s local language “fluently” until I was eighteen. Unfortunately, my passport automatically classifies me as a non-native speaker.
  • Because of the above point, I now have to give proof of my proficiency in English. Because I didn’t attend formal schooling, I can’t produce grades, so I’m left with having to do certificate courses to prove my English language abilities. I can do this through the IELTS or Cambridge English Proficiency (CPE) exam. Both of which cost quite a bit of money.
  • Although I have the IH CYLT qualification to teach English to children and teenagers, there is an additional requirement for teaching in preschools, which is the Diploma in Early Childhood Care and Education. Attaining this as a foreign student will cost an arm, two legs, and probably a kidney. Though a useful qualification to have, it’s a rather large investment for an area that I’m not even sure I want to dedicate myself to.

So, two years on, the quest for paper has not ceased. In the back of my head, I fear that being Asian provides an obstacle in my chosen career, though I remind myself that any institution that shows any sort of discrimination is not a place worth working for.

Right now, I think that DELTA is still the logical next step. If I were to invest a large sum of money into something, it would definitely be that.

In the meantime, the job hunt continues.

Countdown Commences

With only six weeks remaining in my contract, it’s starting to sink in that my time in Hanoi is winding down. My job search for the next chapter of my adventure has begun and the familiar feeling of slight anxiety sinking in has made itself a constant visitor in the back of my mind.

I attempted to start packing a few weeks ago, but work has kept me busy so I haven’t made much progress in that area. Looking around my apartment though, I can already tell that a challenge awaits me — how do I fit this all into my airline weight limit? But perhaps this will be the time when I am finally able to let go of the things that I don’t need.

I’m looking forward to taking a break at the end of my contract and spending the holidays with my family. I’ve worked really hard this year — sometimes a little too hard — so I think that I’ve earned myself a little time off to reevaluate where I am, where I’m going, and just to be with my loved ones.

As you can probably tell from this post, I’m a bit scatter-brained at the moment and there isn’t really much flow to my thought process. However, I felt that an update was in order, and I will attempt to write a better post when I can.

 

One Year in Hanoi

I’ve reached the one year mark of living and working in Hanoi. As with the previous year, it looked long and daunting as I began it, but looking back from the end feels like it was only a short moment.

This year has been an amazing one for my career. I’ve completed my two-years post-CELTA teaching experience (in a classroom), I have a year of teaching young learners under my belt, I added a young learner certificate to my qualifications, I got promoted to Summer Mentor Teacher, and I’ve basically just grown so much as a teacher overall. I’ve learned a lot and it’s been an incredibly rewarding year.

Hanoi is a lovely city. Despite its crazy traffic and horrible pollution, I’ve had a pretty good life here, however much of a love/hate relationship it’s been. The people are nice, the job pays well, and life is affordable. It’s a quaint place. I’d consider staying if not for other things calling me away and if it weren’t such a health risk for me living here (I’ve been sick here more times than I’ve ever been in my life).

I have around ten weeks left until the end of my contract. Moving forward, I think I’d like something that’s less temporary. I’d like to go somewhere for longer than a year and work on getting my DELTA modules done. Part of me wants to settle down in a way, which I’ll be happy to do if I end up in the right place.

Job hunting starts soon.

Back to School

Summer is officially over which means the end of back to back classes and late night finishes. It means going back to working two days over the weekend. It marks the end of my Summer Mentor Teacher position and it means saying goodbye to all the summer teachers and a few full-timers.

The end of summer usually means heading back to school for students and teachers who get the summers off. As for myself, I’ve decided to go back to school, too. Well, not school exactly, but learning.

My education has been unconventional, but I like learning and I enjoy being a student. I spent maybe eight or nine years in a proper school and the rest of it has been online—high school, about a dozen Coursera courses, some ELT professional development courses, and most recently the IH CYLT.

Now that I have a bit more free-time on my hands, I’m going back to online education. At the end of August, I’ll be starting Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics with Coursera, Universiteit Leiden and Meeterns Instituut. In mid-October, I’ll be starting Understanding Language with Future Learn and the University of Southampton. As you can see, these courses are career related. On a side note, they’re both free.

I did some research recently about further studies and what sort of experience and qualifications I need to advance in my career and it looks like the next step is the DELTA. It’s a very big and intimidating step, not to mention an expensive one, but it is half the price of a Master’s Degree and it will ultimately enable me to reach my career goals.

It’s something that I definitely want to do. If I start saving and preparing for it now, I think that I can probably do it in about a year or two. Let’s see how it goes.

Milestones

Milestone 1:

I am officially certified to teach young learners and teenagers as of the 19th of July when I received my certificate and reports. My marks and tutor feedback were quite positive. I received 17 out of 38 Above Standard marks, and the remaining 21 marks were Standard. I felt a wonderful sense of achievement when my tutor handed me the papers knowing how much work I put into it and knowing that I’ve been applying everything I learned in the classroom with good results.

It was a tough 3 months and it’s hard to believe that it started nearly 6 months ago, but I definitely feel that I have improved as a teacher. I’m thankful to everyone who supported me in this undertaking.

Milestone 2:

I am nearly at my 2 year post-CELTA-classroom-teaching-experience mark. This means that I can apply for more jobs, particularly those that ask for this specifically. With that and my YL qualification, finding employment should be much easier after I move on from Vietnam.

Milestone 3:

I have been living in Vietnam for 11 months now, fast approaching a year. This also means that I’ve been living and working abroad for almost 2 years. It doesn’t feel like it’s been a year in Vietnam or 2 years away from home. Time is flying.