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.

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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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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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.