2020

January

Ah, January 2020. When things still felt sort of normal and we were relatively unconcerned about coronavirus. We felt hopeful, even. We were finally starting to sort of get into a rhythm with our new school and city and were looking forward to an awesome trip to Japan, somewhere we had wanted to visit for years. We ate warm bowls of ramen, indulged in otaku culture in Osaka, and saw fabulous Shinto temples in Kyoto.

February

Sh*t got real in February. The virus was spreading quickly. China was going into lockdown. Our school advised those of us who were out of the country to stay out and prepare to teach online for two weeks. Like many of our colleagues, we made the move to Thailand since we couldn’t really afford two more weeks of Japan. We were pretty happy about this….at first. Two weeks of teaching from the beach while things calm down? That won’t be so bad!

Two weeks became a month. What was really going on? When could we get back? How long is this going to last? Our visa for Thailand was only good for 30 days…where were we going to go? Things were already getting bad in both Japan and Korea. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before the virus would reach us.

That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy some of that time. We split our time between Krabi and Chiang Mai, both of which exceeded our expectations.

March

We spent most of March in Cambodia – Siem Reap specifically. We had friends who worked at the same school who were also there, so that made the experience feel a little less insane…at least we had others who were going through the same thing. We also LOVED everything about Siem Reap. Amazing restaurants, amazing people, and Angkor Wat was a dream. I definitely plan to go back when the world is normal again.

Towards the end of March, we suddenly got a message from our school saying “COME BACK NOW”, just two days after a message saying “DON’T COME BACK” and at the same time as the American embassy said to get back to the U.S. A lot of mixed messages with very little explanation or transparency. In the end, we couldn’t get a ticket back the U.S. as many countries were closing their borders, so we took the chance on China and got in just days before they closed the border to all foreigners.

April

April was strange. We spent 15 days in a tiny quarantine hotel, half of which was supposed to be our “spring break”. When we finally made it home, it was nice to be in our own apartment for the first time in over three months. Living out of a backpack had definitely taken its toll. Life was seemingly more or less back to some sort of normal in Chongqing, save for the ultra anti-foreigner attitude and people in masks everywhere. Still, we were ready for some kind of normality.

May

May suuuuuuuuucked. The whole school got an email on a Monday evening telling us we would be informed by email the next day whether we had jobs for the next year or not. Enrollment was down and they were planning to cut 50% of stuff. We got the email the next day that we were both being laid off. It was terrible. After everything we had gone through, it felt like a slap in the face. Neither of us had ever lost a job before…and what a time to be suddenly unemployed. All travel between China and the rest of the world was shut down. Where were we supposed to go? What were we supposed to do? Looking back, I realized I should have been way less trusting of the school and demanded more transparency. You live and you learn, eh? Anyway, it was pretty rough being laid off towards the end of the school year, just a couple days before my birthday.

June

June was a lot of negotiating our termination contract and severance, while also trying to enjoy the last bit of time with our friends in Chongqing. We did a lot of touristy things around the city. We had decided not to bother with another school in China. So many of them were laying off teachers in droves. There were opportunities in Chinese schools, but I was sick of being at the mercy of schools in China. Very few of them were being honest with their staff. Yes, the U.S. was faring worse with the pandemic, but at least we wouldn’t be deported. The only issue remaining was a complete lack of flights, but our residence permits were good through August, so we knew we had a little time at least.

July

Wine club taste test!

We made it home! We got to my sister’s house in Kansas City and I dyed my hair turquoise, because why the hell not!

August

Takeout tacos. Yoga. Art. Repeat.

September

We celebrated our 12th dating anniversary with a little outdoor date in downtown KC (since we had to spend our wedding anniversary in quarantine). Switched to purple hair. Got my yoga instructor license and mastered headstands (woohoo!)

October

Happy Halloween! Celebrated all month with crafts, treats, art, and costumes. Even with social distancing, it’s so much easier to feel the Halloween spirit in America. October is such a magical month.

November

YAY NEW PRESIDENT! Also, we moved to my mom’s, I started grad school, and the rigamarole of international job hunting began. Quite a busy month after such a relaxing summer! At least we get to hang out with this kitty.

December

Christmas at home for the first time in six years! It’s a little sad that there are a lot of people we still can’t see because of the pandemic, but it is nice to have a traditional Christmas for a change after so many years in places that don’t celebrate. I am grateful for this time to get back in touch with my roots a little and enjoy all of the hygge vibes.

2020 has certainly been a strange year of ups and downs. It certainly did not turn out how I expected it to, but it has taught me to be grateful for the little things and to get comfortable living in the present (and with uncertainty). I’m grateful for the lessons, experiences, and relationships that have gotten me through it. Here’s to hoping for a brighter 2021 and new adventures on the horizon!

Where to even begin…

It’s been almost a year since I’ve written anything….probably because I’ve been grappling with the nightmare that is COVID-19 for about as much time. Having just stepped out of Turkey, which – although a lovely place- was in the grips of economic downturn and political turmoil, we had hoped China would be an era of stability for us. Turns out we were really, really wrong.

Four months in, at the peak of culture shock and just before a much-anticipated Chinese New Year break, the news of a deadly epidemic was spreading like wildfire. Reluctantly, we went on our scheduled vacation to Japan…just days before we were to return, our school and the American embassy sent out a warning not to come back. What was supposed to be two weeks turned into to three months of e-learning, running out one visa and then another (we stayed in Thailand for about a month and a half and in Cambodia for a month). We were dealing with a school that was giving as little information as possible; one day, they would say “don’t come back to China” and the next they would say “buy a ticket and come back now!” When we did eventually go back, we endured a horrific quarantine, replete with anti-foreigner sentiment, being separated from my husband without being informed in advance, and not being fed or given water consistently for the first several days. The whole experience ruined China for me, frankly, which has been hard to deal with after falling in love with being an expat in Turkey.

To add insult to injury, just two weeks after we finally made it back home to Chongqing, my husband and I were laid off for the following school year, along with several other staff members due to declining enrollment.

I didn’t love the school or Chongqing, but it still felt like a punch to the gut. We really only had two choices: take another job in China, or go back to the U.S. to figure things out and be with our families. In the end, we chose the latter. Neither of us could really take much more of China or its schools.

And now here we are in America…which really can’t seem to get its shit together in this pandemic. We had initially toyed with the idea of teaching here, but seeing how political schools have become in all this -using teachers and students as sacrificial lambs for the economy- we just decided to take a year off and live off of our savings. It isn’t ideal, but we are lucky to have that option.

We’ve been back home in Kansas for about four months now, and it’s been pretty boring for the most part. But boring hasn’t been all bad after over a year of frequent turmoil.

All I can hope is that next year will be better.

Nihao, Chongqing.

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We’ve officially been in China for two weeks and my head is definitely still spinning.

In a nutshell…the city is huge, the food is spicy, the weather is very hot, I am still processing a lot of information from our orientation, I start teaching next week, I also start my own classes next week, I optimistically joined a gym…and…that’s it so far.

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Though we have been spending most of our time working, settling in, and trying to prepare for classes, we have tried to get out and explore this gigantic city a bit.  We walked through the Expo Gardens (didn’t even scratch the surface on that place) for a bit of exercise one afternoon and we recently took a taxi into the city center to get a feel for some of the main squares.

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I am very happy to report that I LOVE our new apartment and there is plenty to do in our neighborhood, including a fabulous gym and a great local cafe that sells good coffee and craft beers.  It’s only a five minute walk to grab groceries, which is LIFE-CHANGING after living in the middle of nowhere in Turkey.

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It is still taking some time to get used to everything being unfamiliar again.  The language, culture, and landscape are all still alien to me, so I am looking forward to getting to know it all better.

Here’s to a new adventure.

 

We are moving…

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Photo from Wikimedia

…to Chongqing, China!

After a few months of intense job hunting, we found a school that seems like a great fit for us for next year and were offered the jobs a few days before Christmas.  It still feels pretty surreal.

I am already daydreaming about misty green mountains, spicy hot pot, breathtaking temples, and cuddly pandas.

We are super excited to explore Asia, take another step in our careers, and immerse ourselves in a brand new culture.  We are also soaking up our last six months here in Turkey before taking off on this next crazy adventure.

Bring it on, 2019!

Reflections

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***I can’t believe I just finished my second year of teaching in Turkey.  Time flies like crazy here.

***I can’t believe how many of our friends are leaving this time around and I’m so sad about it.

***I got to teach some seriously amazing kids for two years in a row and I feel like the luckiest teacher in the world.

***I feel like I grew a lot as a teacher this year and I hope to do so even more next year.

***I helped start a lit mag at our school this year and I’m pretty stoked about it.

***I think I’m going to buy a dishwasher to celebrate.

***I can’t wait to FINALLY get to work on some creative projects now that my workload will be a little lighter for a few months.

***I’m looking forward to doing a little traveling through Turkey and Europe before heading back to the States.

***Speaking of which, we finally got our tickets!  It will feel good to go “home” and reset.

***Year 2 has been pretty good.  I hope Year 3 is even better.

Tides of Change

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How the hell is it already May?

The sun is brighter than ever, often waking me up well before my alarm clock.  The weather is more bearable, the flowers are blooming…change is in the air and it all seems so sudden.

I feel like this second half of the school year has been blazing by at thrice the normal speed.  There is a part of me that is happy about that because all teachers naturally rejoice at the thought of summer, but there is another part of me that isn’t ready for all the change that comes with it.

Being an expat means that you have to learn to say a lot more goodbyes than most people.  Goodbye to friends and family in the motherland.  Goodbye to fellow expat friends who move on to other adventures.  Of course, being a teacher also means a lot of goodbyes.  Goodbyes to teachers and staff who leave or retire…and to all of the students who are off to do bigger and better things.

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Escape the room shenanigans in Istanbul…we succeeded, of course.

This year is no different.  We have quite a few goodbyes in our near future and are trying to soak up the present while it’s still here.  We’ve been sticking around campus more often than usual and going on adventures with friends who will soon be leaving.

As for us, Turkey is stuck with us for at least one more year.  We signed on for a third year at the school and are looking forward to what next year will bring.

In the meantime, we are trying to enjoy what’s left of now.

B(eating) Burnout

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What a long, strange term it has been.  My life has pretty much revolved around nothing but work for the past two months and I can really feel it.  Now that we are reaching the end-of-term chaos, I am more exhausted than ever.  No amount of sleep or coffee seems to wake me up anymore and I find myself daydreaming about spring break at least twice an hour.

For the most part, we have stayed on campus this term, mainly because of work obligations.  After FIVE consecutive weeks of nothing but this tiny microcosm, I had to get out before I lost my mind, so we FINALLY went to Istanbul for the weekend for no other reason than to get the hell off campus.

Can you tell I’m a little burnt out?

Luckily, I dealt with it in the healthiest way I know how:  retail therapy and binge eating!  It was super effective.

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We started off with  breakfast at a new, hipster cereal restaurant in Moda called Crazy Flakes and it didn’t disappoint.  They sell cereal brands from all over the world, including my beloved Peanut Butter Crunch!  You can mix cereals with a variety of toppings, but I opted for a plain bowl with some sliced bananas on top.  SO good!  My husband went straight for the Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

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Afterward, we hopped on the ferry over to Galata, where we planned to spend the night.  We walked and shopped around Istiklal before taking a little detour to Cezayir Sokağı, known informally as “The French Street” for its pastel pink facades and floral decor.  It’s a fun-looking street, but there isn’t much that’s French about it.  After about five minutes of being harassed by waiters to come sit down, we headed back to Istiklal.

Turning back to Galata, we went to one of our favorite restaurants in all of Istanbul, Picante, for some delicious Mexican food and real margaritas.  After dinner, we were pretty much out for the count, so we called it a night and watched YouTube videos until we succumbed to our food comas.

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The next morning, we walked down to our favorite breakfast joint, Arada Cafe.  They serve a delightful mix of both Turkish and Lebanese foods and all of it is homemade and delicious.  We got the Turkish/Lebanese breakfast platter, which was basically an epic feast with all of the classic Turkish breakfast staples, as well as hummus, tahini, falafel, zahter, and all kinds of other delicious things I didn’t even know the name of.  Needless to say, I didn’t need lunch or dinner later that evening.

We tried our best to walk off the food babies while doing a little last minute shopping for SPAIN next week!  The end of the term is nigh and I am so ready!

Any teachers out there:  How do you deal with burnout?  I find it especially hard as an expat in a very small, sheltered community.

 

Sunlight

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in the far-flung corner of a dream,

i see myself and

the way the sunlight swallows wayward tendrils

 

i look older than i’ve ever been,

but there is beauty in the way i hold my cup

so intrepidly

 

from my unearthly vantage point, i watch the steam spiral

upward, like a great staircase

and i wonder where it would take me

 

if i followed.

 

***Hello, world!  I have been drowning in grading, duties, and exams, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t celebrate World Poetry Day, so here is my contribution to the cause!***

 

“Come what come may, time and the hour run through the roughest day.”

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View from my living room window, from which I will be sulking all weekend.

So foul and fair a day I have not seen.

It was a promising Friday; not a cloud in the sky after a grey and frigid week.  I had reservations at a rather nice spa hotel, poised to spend a relaxing weekend away with my Valentine.  I should have known this scene was just the calm before the storm, much like the  deceptive vision of Inverness poor Duncan never could see through.

Can you tell I’ve been up to my eyeballs in Shakespeare?

We loaded up our bags and headed to the train station, asked for two tickets to Eskişehir, and…

Bugün yok.” (There aren’t any today.)

There was a tiny sliver of me that wanted to scream and shout until they gave me my way (which the guy behind me did for about thirty minutes after being told the same thing), but to be honest, I’ve just been here too long.  I know that this is how Turkey works.  Sometimes the menu lists 30 items when the restaurant only serves 3 of them; sometimes the website says the seats are there and the train station tells you the opposite.  Consistency is not a strong cultural value here and I’ve learned to accept that.

Without saying much, my husband and I calmly walked across the street to drown out our sorrows in lahmacun.  The circumstances may have sucked, but I couldn’t have asked for better company.  We embraced an attitude of self-schadenfreude and let the day be what it was.

Alas, “what’s done cannot be undone.”

***For a more upbeat ending to this tragedy, check out Sir Ian McKellen as Macbeth here.  My students are always so surprised to see Gandalf in such a different light.***  

Quiet Adventures: Bookworming

20170212_182948[1].jpgIt’s always so hard to adjust back to the grind after a long vacation.  It honestly felt a bit like Narnia; we stepped through a portal into this magical land full of adventure and sunshine, and then came back as if no time had passed.  If it weren’t for the photos and massive piles of laundry, I might be convinced it was only a dream.

After coming back and hitting the ground running with grading, lesson planning, and duties, we have honestly just wanted to relax and lay low the past couple of weeks.  We’ve been cooking (for a change), rearranging the lojman, playing  video games, keeping the coffee pot going, and diving into some good books.

I hate to say it, but being a teacher can really kill your desire to read.  When you have to read so much to prepare for lessons, the last thing you want to do when you’re off work is read some more.  Still, I realize that my Goodreads list isn’t getting any shorter and it felt good to lay back on my carpet and escape without moving an inch.  My husband and I even decided to read a book together, something we used to do in college (especially in the summers!).  We settled on The Alchemist because we both have our hearts set on Spain for Spring Break!  So far, so good.  I’m also on the second book of the Miss Peregrine’s series after months of my students urging me to read it.  The premise is pretty cool and they are quick reads!

It seems I’m slowly recovering from my reading allergy.  Has anyone out there read anything good lately?  I’d love some recommendations.