I just cooked a delicious salmon dinner and had two glasses of a white wine made from the only grape indigenous to Lebanon (Obeidy). I coached a successful JV volleyball practice where I realized that the two girls I pegged for setters are true stars and are going to make our team shine. There's a cat on my lap... and I'm lost in my own thoughts about the past year.
This past year has been one of the most challenging I've ever faced. It began with a move to a new school and country (Lebanon), morphed into a wild ride of emotion as my husband voluntarily donated a kidney to his mother (they are both doing well!), and ended with a much better school year starting off. Somewhere in the middle I dealt with all sorts of personal issues, from a career crisis on whether or not I should really be a teacher to difficult relationship decisions which sent Rex and I on our separate paths this summer to individually find ourselves. Thankfully we did... and I am so grateful that our near future seems like it is coming into focus.
What changed? For me, finally finding a bit of a community was a huge, huge one. At the end of last year I started doing things outside of Beirut. I went to the mountains and beach with a friend on several occasions... even camping. I started to appreciate how beautiful of a country I was living in and finally started to appreciate some of its ancient history. Also... volleyball. I haven't played... like really played... since intramurals in college. But I have found some people like me who need that outlet, who love to smash a ball after a long day of herding cats/teenagers. I've watched my body change from the potential to be strong and fit to actually being this. I am not completely where I was in college in terms of my hitting, my consistency, or my stamina, but I am on my way. And I love it. It has literally saved me.
I am an extroverted intravert. I love joining social activities... but only for a little while. I am quickly tired out and ready to go home and go to sleep. But I also don't have the stamina for social events past 10pm, and Lebanese culture dictates that nothing gets going before midnight. This would have been perfect for me in college, but this is my last night of 37... I'm no longer 20 years old. I enjoy my sleep.
As I look back not only over the past year but the past decade, I realize how wonderfully lucky I have been to have the opportunities I've had. To teach and live overseas, to travel to so many places, to meet incredible and like-minded people, to see first-hand the beauty as well as many of the problems with the world. I am in the best shape I've been in since college... or maybe high school. I love my life, I love my husband, and I cannot see myself anywhere other than where I am. Life throws you curve balls, but once you learn how to make contact it makes the game of life that much more enjoyable... and entertaining. Cheers and here's to a great 38!
Three months. It's now been three months since we left our second home in Ukraine to move on to new adventures in Lebanon. While this change was a good one for us on a number of levels, I am still feeling incredibly sad about leaving Kyiv, PSI, and so many of our friends behind in Ukraine.
What do I mean by "sad?" I mean that I still tear up when I think about people I worked with last year. When I look at the photos of all the Kyiv and Ukraine Instagram accounts that I follow I start to cry. When I see the photos of the fall colors and remember how much I loved walking through the park on a cool autumn day, drinking coffee and watching life go by, I get super nostalgic. So hence this particular post.
I am enjoying certain things about being in Lebanon. People here are so incredibly nice. Colleagues are wonderful, food is delicious, and it's such a fascinating part of the world to live in. That said, I've had a rough start to the school year. The students I teach are not well-behaved, and I haven't dealt with that for over a decade (since leaving Texas public school). I'm back in the system that grades on a 1-100 scale, and my students are O-B-S-E-S-S-E-D with every single point. I'm torn between completely lowering my expectations for grading to make my own life easier, and the disservice it will eventually do for the students. The work load is not incredibly heavy, mind you. I think I just put a lot of pressure on myself to do things well and misbehaved children in my classes holds that back.
Volleyball season just ended and I felt like I couldn't even really enjoy that because I'm so tired at the end of the school day. On the plus side, we traveled to Kuwait for our tournament so there's another country checked off the list that, let's be honest, I wouldn't be traveling to for holiday.
Next week is FINALLY fall break for us, and I think if I had to wait 5 more weeks until winter break I'd be finished. We are traveling to Slovenia for 5 days and then on to Vienna to catch the Christmas market. I'm literally ecstatic to get back into nature and away from my classroom. So hopefully you'll soon see an update on our first few months in Lebanon and hear about our adventures in Slovenia.
“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” – Denis Waitley
Every time we've gone to the Philippines for a visit we've been greeted at the airport by a group of smiling family members who are so happy for us to be there! They drive up from Los Banos in a van, spend a few hours at the casino, and then pick us up at whatever ungodly hour our flight arrives. Almost every time, a face among those we see upon arrival is that of our Tita Joy.
On Thursday, 1 November near midnight, Tita Joy left this world for the next.
One of my first and most vivid memories of Tita Joy is the first time Rex took me to the Philippines for Christmas in 2008. We were living in China at the time so the flight was just a hop. There were so many different parties, but there was a very lively one at Tita Ycel and Tito Ike's house, that involved karaoke (as you do... always), more food than I could imagine, carolers from the nearby church, and Tita Joy dancing in the living room to "La Isla Bonita." To this day that song reminds me of her dancing and singing along on that night.
Tita Joy (actually Jocelyn, but nobody calls her that informally) embodied her name. Always smiling, ready for a good time, cracking jokes (usually in Tagalog), and putting smiles on the faces of those around her. Her Facebook feed is full of posts using "Joy" in some way, always a play on words with her own name. It is also filled with pictures of her posing with flowers, fruits, vegetables, and so many awards!
Yes, Tita Joy lived an extraordinary and in my opinion full life and while she will be sorely missed (and already is) the world is a little better because of her being a part of it. Dr. Joy Eusebio worked in agriculture with University of the Philippines, Los Banos, doing some life-changing work. I don't know all of the details, but I often had conversations with her about her part in researching and testing golden rice (rice modified to produce extra beta carotene/vitamin A), and only last week she posted photos from another conference in which she was recognized for her contributions in sustainable agriculture in the Philippines. Last time we were visiting we were watching the news one evening and an interview with Dr. Jocelyn Eusebio was featured. She was well-respected in her area of expertise. Tita Joy traveled all over Asia as a consultant and expert on agriculture. If I ever saw a post with about 10 pictures of flowers, I could usually count on it being by Tita Joy, traveling to another new area and admiring nature and its beauty.
Thank you for all the smiles, the laughs, the travels, the conversations, and may you rest in peace, Tita Joy. For Rex and me, visits to the Philippines will never be the same. For the world, you have left more than your share of positive marks.
It wasn't all that long ago, 51 years to be exact, that marriages such as my own were illegal in many states of the country that I grew up in and call home. It was the landmark Loving vs. Virginia case that finally required all states to recognize interracial marriage. I can't even fathom how many relationships like mine were torn apart, how many lynchings took place, or how many children had to grow up without knowing one of their parents due to such unnecessary bigotry. What I do know is that people half a century ago went to bat for people like me. People gave up their lives so that I could live my life today with the partner of my choice.
To be completely honest, I didn't even know this dark history of interracial marriage or had never thought much about it until June of 2017 when so many articles came out commemorating the 50 year anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia decision. It absolutely floors me to think that within my parents' lifetime, my marriage was illegal.
It was also around this time that the sign ups were going around for the 2017 Kyiv Pride March for Equality. Yes, I did say "sign ups." LGBT+ rights were mixed under Soviet rule, but the general consensus was that being different was bad. And homosexuality was definitely not considered the norm. In some places being gay was criminalized (and in some former Soviet countries it still is). Needless to say, Ukraine still has a lot of issues around the concept of allowing all people to choose who they love and how they live. With the Euromaidan revolution of 2013-2014 behind them, a group of civil rights activists in Ukraine decided to hold a Kyiv Pride march in 2015. The Euromaidan revolution was hugely focused on the rights of free speech and peaceful protest, and marchers felt they had earned the right to peacefully march in Ukraine carrying a rainbow flag. Unfortunately, many far right activists disagreed and the mere 250 marchers had to take serious precautions to ensure a safe march. This included a sign-up system, riot police at twice the number as marchers, and no knowledge of where the march would be held until the morning of. Still, the protesters came with weapons and some police were seriously injured defending the marchers. For more on the story, you can read this article.
Needless to say, in 2017 we were a bit nervous about participating in the Kyiv Pride march. It's definitely not the Pride "parade" in Kyiv like it is in other regions of the world and is more of an activist event. During sign-ups online, the organizers suggested trying to "blend in as much as possible" when participating in the march. This included wearing "drab colored clothing" and wearing good running shoes in case you need to make a break for it. If anybody stands out in this sea of white it's Rex, so I was extra nervous about him coming along. Fortunately, we had also been assured that the city was doing everything it could to protect the marchers and that several thousand people were expected to come out on that day to participate.
We walked with the expats, of which there were many diplomats and embassy groups marching for equality in Ukraine. The thing that surprised me most was how the city prepared for the event. Likely due to the issues in 2015, a section of the city center was fenced off the night before the march, blocking all cars and people from entering or exiting. Bomb detection devices and bomb squad dogs had then gone around looking for traces of explosives. To enter the march, we had to walk through metal detectors and submit to bag searches. Riot police, estimated to be twice the number of marchers, formed a "human shield" as we made our way along the 1km course that had been prepared for us. Most surprisingly, at the very end of the march we were herded into the metro station which had been closed the previous night and the morning of. This was the city's planned get-away route for the marchers. We stood on the platform and watched several trains zoom past our station before a completely empty train pulled up and stopped, allowing the marchers to pile inside. There was no choice in where to get off. Instead, the train drove to the very end of the line before allowing us to disembark, along with a number of riot police. Luckily there were no protesters this far out and we all just hopped right back on the train going back into the city, this time blending in with all other passengers in our "drab" clothing.
The 2017 Kyiv Pride march went off pretty much without a hitch, to our relief. Only about 3000 were in attendance, but in 2018 we watched that number to grow to an estimated 3500! This is quite a win considering that first march in 2015 with only 250 people.
For the 2018 march we had actually planned to not attend, due to an appointment with the vet to get our cat's teeth cleaned. We just hadn't put 2 and 2 together with the dates. On that morning, though, we awoke to find the barricades set up in front of our building and our entire street and the street leading up to ours closed off. As early as 7:30am, there were also protesters from the far right who showed up to try and overtake the course and block the march from taking place. Below is a video I recorded from our apartment as the protesters attempted to storm the course. Apparently dozens were arrested at this time, but again, thanks to the city for being prepared to allow for the safety of the Kyiv Pride March for Equality.
We ended up canceling the vet appointment, as it just seemed too chaotic to try and get a taxi to our place, and instead joined our friends who gathered on the steps of the Opera House below.
As we marched again this year, with much less anxiety, I couldn't help but feel emotional for all the students at my school who came out to support the movement for equality. They came wearing their country's flag, rainbow paint on their faces, and carrying signs that read things like "Love is a terrible thing to hate" and "Human" in different colored letters. They held their heads and signs high and stood tall as the fearless next generation for change. As always, the young people give me hope for the future. A future of tolerance, of peace, and where people coexist in harmony regardless of race, religion, gender, or any other human conceived means of categorizing and dividing. I am proud to be a part of Pride worldwide 🌈 It sounds like Beirut Pride might needs some support as well. Next up!
This is a post that needs to happen, although I've been putting it off for quite some time.
In fact, I just typed that first line, teared up, and let it simmer for a few more hours before picking up again.
I know that as an expat, moving is the nature of the beast. We are always transitioning in some way. In fact, a big part of why we are not staying in Kyiv for longer is that, simply put, we did not move overseas to stay in one place. We came to be adventurous, chart unknown territories, learn life lessons from those who live differently than we do. I guess it's just time for the next chapter of... that.
It still doesn't make this any easier. Kyiv and PSI have become like a second home to us. In fact, of our 10 years of marriage, this is the place we've spent the longest time as a couple. We've made so many friends, each who fits a different facet of our personality (stealing that line from Kelli). We've watched people come and go. We've given our all to our classes, our projects, and our sports teams. It's a lot to let go.
Recently I was introduced to the concept of the RAFT. "Building your RAFT" is a concept that embodies the actions and emotions we should engage in order to leave well. Below is what my RAFT means to me as we get ready to bid farewell to PSI.
Luckily, I feel like this is the easiest for me. I'm at a point in my life where I don't hold grudges quite to the extent that I did as teenage me. Still, there are a couple of people who I will be making peace with, more for myself than anything. The thing is, they probably don't even know that there are any negative feelings between us, which could make this step slightly awkward. Nonetheless, I will make myself do it.
Affirmation involves telling people who have been a big part of my time here in Kyiv that they are special to me and thanking them. There are a lot of these people. I'd best get to writing! Luckily, I'll be seeing most of my friends again in August before we actually step on the plane to our next destination.
Probably the least fun step of the RAFT. There are obvious farewells to friends, colleagues, students... but there are also farewells to places, foods, and experiences. I've found myself doing this one for about the past month, but due to the fact that I haven't planned the events very well, I'm never 100% certain that it's "the last time." Many of these farewells are to restaurants we have frequented, but there are also parts of our daily routine that I've been cataloguing as possible farewells. The people we pass to and from school, the layout of the metro stations, the voice(s) on the metro cars (yes, that's you, Paul!), along with the sights and sounds along our path from the metro exit to the school entrance. I said farewell to the snow globe view from our window at the end of March when we had our last good snow. I told my seniors farewell as they head off to find themselves in university (although graduation happened the same weekend as my volleyball tournament in Helsinki, so that was a difficult choice to make). From here it only gets worse. *deep breath*
Above: The snow globe view I'm going to miss like crazy
The part I haven't been so good at because I've been too focused on the "F" part of my RAFT. We're moving to freaking Beirut, Lebanon! We have an idea of what our new apartment will look like, and it looks incredible! We've been told that we'll be living in a very hip part of town, full of cafes and right by the Mediterranean. Our walk to school each day is about 15 minutes along the Corniche, which is the "boardwalk" that goes along the water. Lebanese food is something I can't wait to eat fresh from the source! There are so many aspects of our new life to look forward to, so I really should start "thinking destination" on a more regular basis.
The emotions intensify, especially with the last two parts of the RAFT. All said, we've had an amazing stretch in Ukraine and can't wait for our next adventure in Lebanon! Here's to many more new friends, all the new flavors of incredible foods, and fantastic memories yet to be made. Do svedanya, Ukraine, Merhaba, Lebanon!
Photos of our new apartment (sent from the current occupant), plus views of the Mediterranean on the walk to school from our neighborhood (photo by Paul C., current colleague who worked in Beirut at the school we're going to)
Back in August (of 2017), Rex and I reopened our portfolio with one of the top international teacher recruitment sites: Search Associates. We started off just wanting to see what jobs would come available before we had to give our binding intentions in December, but ended up going all in and resigning from our current positions when the time came. Ever since we got all the reference forms filled out, updated our profiles, and re-submitted our CVs, the knowledge that something big was to come has been lingering on the edge of my subconscious. After 5 months of this, you're just ready to be done.
That said, until mid to late January there was very little out there for us. We are way more specialized than most teaching couples, with me in biology and Rex in technology, so not only do positions need to be posted for both of us at the same school, but that school needs to be in a location where we'd like to live while also providing decent salary and benefits. Thus, there were very few schools to actually send applications to. For awhile we even started sending them to schools that had only a job for me, knowing that often there is a need for someone to join the technology team but schools sometimes look for those teachers internally.
Pictured above: A screen capture from my job search portal
Suddenly, as the job fair in London came to a close, we started getting emails of interest to set up Skype interviews. One day we had three all at once. An early match with a school in the Cayman Islands (yes, imagine that?) ended up on the back burner as we spoke with schools in the Netherlands, Shanghai, Qatar, Rome, and Lebanon. There were two weeks where almost every free moment of our day was involved in speaking with someone... first interview together (or separate), second interview with heads of departments (or school directors), sometimes even third interviews. The emotions were running at peak levels and personally I felt like I could hardly bring myself into the present with anything I was doing. Finally, clarity started to come in waves. A school that was top of our list dropped off the radar when we got negative vibes from a department head. Another school that had all but offered us contracts emailed us that their director had gone to a job fair and hired someone to fill their science vacancy. We swore up and down that we weren't applying to anywhere in China this time around, but one of the top schools in Shanghai sought us out so we spoke with them and ended up with contracts. Really it was all such a whirlwind.
The game changer came after a school I'd targeted early in January, American Community School Beirut, finally got back to us to set up interviews. From that point on, they were moving fast. Rex's first interview with the elementary principal to our second with the director took place within a span of 3 days and on Friday morning we woke up with an offer in our inbox! So it came down to an amazing school in Shanghai versus a really good school in the magical city of Beirut. There was so much to consider. Deliberations were made over a meal of kebabs, buttery pilaf, and fresh dolma, which may have tipped the scale more in one direction. In the end, adventure won out to comfort and we're off to Beirut in August!
Right now we're living on a high with all the potentials that our new move will bring! What a beautiful and fascinating part of the world to live in; a true junction of east meets west, right on the shores of the Mediterranean. If for some reason you've never eaten Lebanese food, you must try it!
We learned so, so much on the job quest this time around. We learned that timing is everything, but the most difficult (and most important) goal is to get your CVs into the inbox of an administrator. HR is the worst about not passing along the applications of good candidates. So finding the director's email (or the email formula the school uses), CCing all the principals... it matters, and it works. Someone described the international school job hunt as cutthroat, and after this time through I believe it. Additionally checking with our friends who've been in the circuit for awhile to see whether they know someone at a particular school of interest became invaluable. In fact, it was a colleague's connection that got us our initial interviews in Beirut.
Don't know much about Lebanon? Here's a beautiful video showing drone footage of the country we will soon call our 4th home. It starts slow, but keep watching.
Limbo [lim-boh]: Latin- on the edge, on hell's border; an intermediate, transitional, or midway state or place
As an expatriate international teacher you have an odd expectation. The year you choose to leave your post you are expected to give notice to your school quite early. No, I don't mean a two week notice, or even a two month notice. Most schools expect you to give your notice (by not re-signing your contract) in December, or even for some as early as October. October!!?? The school year has barely started and you're having to make decisions for the coming year! It seems absurd that many schools have already posted, interviewed, and filled vacancies for the next school year before half term.
For us teachers, that leaves us in a strange state of not-belonging. By October you've joined several databases to view school vacancies, perfected your resume and (several versions of your) cover letter, and probably applied to more than a dozen schools. Yet, it's the end of January and we still don't know where we will be next year.
It took time, about 30 job applications, and a personal commitment to do whatever it would take to get our applications noticed, but we've finally nailed down some interviews. In fact, we have nailed down interviews with 7 schools almost all in the past week. It has been damn exhausting.
We are now hovering on this border of belonging somewhere, choosing our next home, but still not knowing where that path will lead. No more are we refreshing our Search Associates portal every half-hour to see if new jobs have been posted. We're beyond that at this point (although I do check a couple times each day). Instead we're sitting here with quite a few rather decent potentials for next year, but still no definitive answers. I don't know how else to describe it other than painful.
We had our priorities in the beginning. We were going to only apply for jobs in Africa or South America, because we wanted one of those continents for our next travel hub. Of course we wanted a school with a good reputation, a good package, and decent savings potential. Why live in these destinations if you can't enjoy them? Western Europe? Never. Back to Asia? Not ideal. Middle East? Also a no. Where do we stand with those seven interviews (actually nine if you count two previous schools that didn't work out)? Two schools in Asia, two in the Middle East, three in Western Europe, one in the USA (gasp), and one in the Caribbean. Life has its own way of showing you that you cannot plan for everything. Africa/South America goal not met. For a teaching couple who need two specialized positions at the same school we really have to just see what comes available and weigh our options. So far, these are what we have.
We are excited, but I think a better word to use would be "anxious." We know that the choice we make over the course of the next couple of weeks will determine the next chapter in our book of life. We're going to be okay, but until we know something for certain we're just hanging out... biding our time. Trying to enjoy our last few months in Ukraine and refrain from eating too much junk food while I peel my nails to the quick.
I'm finishing with this absolutely beautiful rendition of "Africa"... because we, too, seem to have missed the rains. Watch it. I cried.