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.

Home

I’ve officially been on a break from teaching for two months now, half of which has been spent at home, up in the cold mountains. I’m enjoying being with my family, eating home-cooked meals, reading actual books with actual pages to turn, and drinking yummy cups of tea every day. I may never want to leave.

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I mostly stay home reading or practising my lettering and doodles. Some days I go for walks around the neighbourhood to stretch my legs, feel the cold air on my face, and get a bit of sunshine. Some days I go into town to run errands or see people (though that doesn’t happen often since I’m in full-hermit mode at the moment).

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I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’d like to do with my career. I wanted to relocate to start a new chapter in a new city – and I still do – but my knocks have gone unanswered so far, which leads me to think that there might be another step I need to take before that specific door is ready to open.

If this was a few years ago, I’d probably be panicking and going out of my mind. But I know better now and I understand that things happen when they’re meant to as long as I stay focused, positive, and productive.

In the meantime, I’m quite happy being home, exploring my creativity, and experiencing indecision about which book to read next.

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – The Alchemist

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Thanks, 2016.

Despite the numerous celebrity deaths, political craziness, and all the scary things happening around the world that have caused many to dub 2016 as “the worst year ever,” I can honestly say that 2016 has been a really good year for me, personally.

I’ve mentioned it a bit in my previous posts, but I’m happy to say again that 2016 has been professionally rewarding. A YL qualification, a promotion, teacher of the quarter award, another contract completed abroad, and so much learned in the classroom from trial and error, not to mention all the ideas and information I was able to exchange with my incredible colleagues.

I was able to experience another year in a different country, I was able to take little holidays and trips throughout the year, I got all the stationery I wanted, I spent time with my loved ones, and now I’m at home eating to my heart’s content. I honestly can’t complain.

I’m incredibly grateful for the year I’ve had. I am determined to do what it takes to ensure that the coming year will be just as fruitful, if not more so. It will be challenging to top the highlights and achievements of 2016, but I’m ready for it.

So thank you, 2016. You’ve been awesome.

Off to the next adventure.

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.

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.