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.   

 

The First Year: A Survival Guide

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It always helps if you stay caffeinated.  Also, don’t be surprised if they can’t figure out your name at Starbuck’s.

The first year of teaching is never easy.  Being a first time expat is also never easy.  Put them both together and you have a recipe for panic.

When I look back on my first year, both as a teacher and as an American living in Turkey, I am inclined to both shudder and laugh maniacally at how chaotic it really was.  I don’t even have the words to describe it properly.  Let’s just say the highs were high and the lows were low.

I know that no two people truly have the same journeys, but in the event that this advice reaches someone in the thick of it, wondering if they’ve just made the worst mistake of their life, it will have been worth the time spent writing it if it helps.

Expect to feel lost and overwhelmed

Sometimes just hearing someone else say they were lost and overwhelmed in the beginning is enough to make you feel better because you realize that you are not crazy and that you are not alone.  Everything will seem a little batshit in the beginning because it’s all new.  Often, schools abroad are less structured than what you might be used to in the U.S. or similar countries.  You may have no curriculum.  Things might change every ten seconds and then change again.  Rules and policies may not seem logical to you.  Accept that this is normal and that you are going to have to learn to deal with it.  Some of the changes will forever drive you nuts and some you may come to embrace.  That’s part of the frustration and beauty of choosing to step out of the comfortable bubble of your own culture.

Let go of the non-essential

The first year is always a trial by fire.  Give up anything that feels like too much or adds nothing to your life, even if it’s only temporary.  I remember feeling a tremendous amount of pressure because I wasn’t doing enough.  I wasn’t planning fast enough, or grading fast enough, or reading enough, or keeping in touch with people back home enough, or learning Turkish fast enough…so many things were piling up.  Just stop.  If it’s stressing you out, it’s not worth wasting the energy on…at least not at that moment.  Let some things go and take things one day at a time until you get used to all of the changes.

Take care of yourself

On the other hand, don’t just let yourself go.  The first few months, I made the mistake of spending all my time working because I wanted everything to be perfect.  In doing so, I completely neglected myself.  I stopped cooking, I stopped exercising, I stopped pursuing hobbies…all in the name of work that never ended.  While it’s a good thing to be a dedicated teacher and to take the time to improve wherever you can, that is not the only thing that you are and it’s a good way to burn yourself out very fast.  Don’t forget that the work will never be over.  There will always be something else you could have done better. Let it go. You need and deserve to spend some time just being yourself.

Find a support system

I can’t emphasize this one enough.  If not for the friends that started the same year I did, I probably wouldn’t have survived last year.  The best case scenario is working for a school that has some kind of mentor system, or at least having a few experienced teachers at your disposal.  Unfortunately, our situation didn’t quite work out like that, but our fellow newbies ended up being our second family, and together, we made it through.  Ask for help, exchange ideas, and have fun  doing it.  It makes such a difference having friends and/or colleagues who can understand what you’re dealing with and can make the bad times seem not so bad.

Go out and explore

What’s the point of moving across the world if you’re not going to enjoy it?  Have adventures and live it up.  If you’re going to work hard, you might as well play hard too.

Get to know the culture

And this goes for both the school and the country it’s in.  Learning all of the nuances and “unspoken rules” of a new place can be tricky, but it’s essential.  Figure out what’s really expected of you.  Study the language.  Understand what is and isn’t offensive.  Make friends.  Try new things.  Engage with locals.  You’ll never feel at home if you don’t.

Remember why you’re doing it

At the end of the day, it’s really about the students because they are the reason that teachers stay teachers.  I truly love my students and I love teaching and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  Keep that love going, even when you are ready to pull out all of your hair and throw in the towel.  Too often the little bureaucratic details of a school can stand in the way of the stuff that really matters.

Sometimes it’s not about the place; it’s just about the day

This is some of the best advice I’ve ever received on being an expat, so I’m passing it on.  If it’s a bad day, just let it be what it is.  If you need to lay on the floor for a couple days crying and eating ice cream straight from the carton, so be it.  There will be bad days, but there will be good days also.  Remember that we all have bad days, regardless of where we live or what we do for a living.  Get yourself through the bad days however you must and rejoice in the good ones.

Know that it gets better

With time and experience, most things work themselves out eventually.  I can’t say when exactly, but after a little while, you will experience a moment that feels like breathing for the first time after an extended period of being underwater.  All of the sudden, things that used to get under your skin will go by unnoticed.  Things that were once so foreign will seem familiar.  You will feel more and more like yourself.  It takes time, but it does happen.  Just be patient.

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Emerging as a very happy second year expat teacher