Offers Coming in…

After spending the entire month of April in Ban Phe staring across the gulf at Ko Samet, I finally took the 45 minute ferry ride to the island. I have been vigorously applying for jobs since getting to Thailand. I even started sending out my resume to schools I don’t really have any intention on working for in locations that are not my top choices just so I can gauge my worth and perhaps take the chance to get an interview under my belt with the intentions of declining any offer.

Just before hopping over to the island I got a job offer for an international school in Khon Kaen which is a small city in the North East of Thailand in a province called Isan. Isan is the poorest area of Thailand and has always been a possibility as a landing spot for me. It’s often less Thai and starts blending into Lao and Cambodian culture the further north east you get. It is interesting to me and the job offer itself is pretty sweet. It’s only for about 3 months till October but the pay is good for the location. The best part is that they want me teach more than just English. I would get experience teaching mathematics, science and arts to students around 9 years old. This would be really valuable experience.

Ko Samet

Drinking a coffee shake on the beach in Ko Samet

However, once I arrived to the island I got a reply back from my top choice school in Medan. They like my resume and want to hear more through a phone interview. I’m kind of in limbo right now. I don’t really want to be far from a fast WiFi connection and phone lines so I have stayed in Ko Samet town away from the beaches. It’s OK because I’m spending less money by not going out and eating at a fancy resort. I’m hoping that by Monday I have the interview and a possible offer so that I can make my final decision. If Medan wants me, I take it. If they don’t want me I will go to Khon Kaen and do 3 months in Thailand.

For now though I’m just going to hang around Ko Samet town and maybe hit one of the beaches tomorrow. It would be nice if the school would give me an exact time they will call me so that I can go off and play but it’s worth it to wait around. The school in Thailand has laid out the offer officially so if I want it, it’s mine.

These are very good predicaments to be in. There was a time where I thought the only job I’d ever be able to get was in a cubicle with a headset. This is exciting! Time to get beat up with a Thai massage.

Sumatra, I’ll be back. Inshallah.

I’ve committed blogger sin and in the heart of my first teaching gig I went off the grid. I want to apologize for the lack of updates. I spent the second month of my volunteer contract in Sumatra just experiencing it. Sometimes it’s best to be that way. I didn’t put too much thought into writing. The contract is finished and due to strict immigration laws I was forced to make my way out of Indonesia. If I had it my way I would still be in Sumatra spending my money there but instead I am in Thailand now and will vacation for a couple of weeks in here before heading back to Indonesia.

Everything finished up smoothly in Bukit Lawang. I eventually got the hang of lesson planning and execution. I started to get really comfortable with myself and with the students. It started to become fun. Life in the village was good and the last week I spent by the river at a guest house with some great friends that I’m sure I’ll keep in touch with.

Bukit Lawang

Hands in the air for Mr. Joe!!

Next Step
I’m faced with a tough decision right now. For the last three months everything has been set up for me. I was doing my TEFL certification in April and immediately jumped into the volunteering in Sumatra. I haven’t had to make any decisions on what I’m doing as it’s been laid out in front of me. Now, what though?

For years my final teaching destination was always going to be Thailand. Specifically, Chiang Mai. Indonesia was also in the mix but I never really thought it would appeal to me as much as Thailand. The tables have turned dramatically now after having experienced the warmth of Northern Sumatra. I find myself missing the language and the people the most. I came back to Thailand with multiple motives. One was obviously to just have some fun for a couple of weeks and hang out by the water. The other was to see how I would feel after 2 months in Indonesia and whether or not Thailand would still appeal to me. I’ve confirmed Thailand as a holiday destination and not a place for me to live. The language is too difficult and I don’t want to live somewhere that I can’t pick up the language. One of my goals in living abroad was to acquire fluency in another language and Bahasa Indonesia is easy enough for that to happen. In 2 months I’ve become quite comfortable with holding pretty solid conversations with people. The population is far more eager to teach and there is less English overall so the necessity is there.

Now that I’ve narrowed it down to Indonesia with out any doubt, there comes the question of where? I’ve had a connection in Jakarta for some years now that has offered me a position if I’m willing to come take it. However, I’ve kind of fallen in love with Sumatra. I love a lot of things about it and I can see myself living in Medan, taking a job teaching English for a 12 month contract and really becoming fluent in Bahasa Indonesia by the end of it. I have friends that I have made already and places within the island I haven’t yet visited so plenty of new opportunities to explore.

Medan is a short flight away from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Bangkok which could all make for long weekend getaways. I plan to purchase a motorcycle if I live in Medan so that I can travel myself outside of the city back to Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba on the weekends. Public buses take way too long and the tourist buses are really expensive. I sent out my resume and cover letter to a school in Medan that posted a job 2 days ago. I feel good about my chances if they take a look at my email, however I can’t tell how many people are trying to get jobs in Medan. I did include that I am currently in Thailand and my availability to start is immediately. This means that the school wouldn’t have to prepare a flight from the west and could save money by hiring me. That being said, there could be candidates showing up at the school in Medan in person who would be a better choice. I really have no idea what to expect but I’m hoping one way or another I hear something back shortly so that I can decide on what I’m going to do.

Flights from Bangkok to Jakarta at the end of next week are around $200 where as a flight to Medan is only about $80 and another $100 to Jakarta. So my thinking is that I will go back to Medan next week, purchase a tie and some slacks and go door-to-door with my resume and see what happens. If I don’t have any luck finding something then I will know I did my best and can head to Jakarta and take the position at EF that is available.

I kind of feel like I belong in Sumatra. Jakarta would be really fun and I’m certain there is a lot more to do as an ex-pat, but Sumatra is just where I need to be.

Holiday in Cambodia

It’s now 3 weeks into my two month contract. I’m in Indonesia on a 30 day tourist visa which meant from the beginning that I would have to handle my visa issue at the end of May. Luckily, there is a contact in Medan that works who will sponsor me to get a 30 day extension till the end of June. This is good because my only other option would be to fly out of the country to Penang, Malaysia and back in. Not only the money is a problem but if you’ve read my blog over the last several months you’d know that Penang is not one of my favorite places.

I sent a message to my contact and got a reply this morning saying that if I needed his help I would have to come this week and not wait till the halfway point next week. There is a certain visa processing time that I have to allow for. He said I have to bring my passport, disembarkation note from when I arrived in Indonesia and proof of onward travel before my visa runs out. This means, at the end of my stay here in Sumatra I won’t be traveling around the area like I had hoped. Instead, I have to choose a destination to fly out to so that I don’t overstay my time in Indonesia. Visa restrictions have gotten tighter recently here and I’m not really sure why. Instead of an extra 30 days spending my money as a tourist, Indonesia has forced me to other places.

(Update: I’ve arrived in Medan and I am going to do the visa extension at my guesthouse. It’s about $20 cheaper than the other guy)

Angkor

I'm probably not going back to Angkor this time

This brings me to my next order of business. Where do I go after my extension runs out? I had absolutely no time to really go over it in my head since I have to be in Medan tomorrow with the confirmation for a flight in my hand. Internet is really spotty here so I can’t depend on being able to go in the evening due to the nightly storms and power outages so I made my decision early this morning. I’m going to fly back to Bangkok. (Obviously?) The flight isn’t too expensive and I plan to visit a good friend that I didn’t get to see my last time through. I’ll head south east again and pass back through Ban Phe and say hello to the TEFL International crew as well as some of the locals I had made friends with. This will be a quick trip through Thailand as the ultimate goal is to take a couple of weeks to relax in Cambodia before I start work. The border isn’t too far from Ban Phe and it will be nice to meet up with a good friend from the TEFL course who is working in Phnom Penh now.

I plan to return to Indonesia and start working in Jakarta as early as August 1st. I know, I know, why do I need a vacation after working only 2 months? Well, if you had the ability to travel for a month in between jobs, wouldn’t you? I’ll be locked into a 12 month contract with little vacation time so I’ll take it when I can. The job isn’t guaranteed yet but I have the feeling it’s just pending some copies of my degrees and certifications. There is an opening at English First and a friend of mine is a contact there so I should be OK, if I want it.

So, How is the Teaching Going?
I’m having my good days and my bad days. The bad days are pretty rough as I tend to lose all confidence in myself. The good days pick me back up nicely as soon as I realize where I am and that what I’m doing is something really special. Murphy’s Law applies strongly here in Sumatra. If anything can go wrong, it will. There are already very limited resources at my disposal and the ones I do have are dependant on mother-nature. Internet is a luxury and since I don’t have my own arsenal of lessons plans to fall back on, it’s imperative that I get online. The power goes out daily and there are storms in the evening that prevent me from being able to plan anything as internet places close down at the first lightning strike. Hujan deras! Raining profusely! The rain is bittersweet here as it hinders movement, is usually accompanied by lightning and causes the students to understandably not show up for class. On the other hand, without the rain it would be unbearably hot. The first week I arrived here it hadn’t rained for 10 days and if my readers can recall, I was pretty miserable. Since then the temperature has been mild due to the heavy rainfall every day.

I’m really enjoying the village where I’m staying. Everyone is extremely friendly and all the children in the neighborhood scream HELLO, HELLO!!! HELLO!!!!!!!! as I walk by. It really puts a smile on your face to get to leave the house to the sight and sound of children with absolute elation on their face. When the neighbor’s kids have friends over there are about 6 adorable Indonesian kids yelling “HELLO TAFUUUURO!! HELLO TAFUUUUURO!!!” It’s pretty amazing.

Bukit Lawang

Home!

It’s turning out that my evening class with the 7-8 teenage girls is becoming the easier class to plan for and teach. This is opposite of my feelings earlier in the month where I was struggling with them. They’re all really eager to learn and at times bordering flirtatious. When they’re not calling me “sir” they’re usually smiling and saying “ganteng,” or “handsome.” I don’t care what they call me to be honest. Mister, Joe, teacher, pak, guru, sir… just not Justin Bieber.

I took on an extra two classes that weren’t a part of the contract. There is a guy who lives in the village who has students come to house two times a week. These are the most difficult classes for me to plan for because the age difference and skill levels makes it complicated. On Tuesday there is a 6 yr old girl who just stares back at me with a blank look on her face. The problem is, if I take it back too basic, I’ll lose the interest of the students who have basic English already. The last thing a 15 yr old boy wants to do is count his ABC’s and call out ” C is for CAT!” at some lame flash cards.

I think my confidence is growing as the weeks go on. As with every jobs, it seems my low points are Mondays when I have a fresh set of classes to teach. If I plan properly there is zero stress in teaching. My problem is wanting to unwind on the weekend instead of planning out the following week. I moved around some class times to free up Friday night so I have Friday and Saturday entirely to myself. The Friday night class I switched to Sunday night, since I’m already back at the clinic at that point. This will give me more proper me time after teaching so that Sunday afternoon I can start figuring out the plan for the week.

So, that’s what has been going on. There is hope here. When this first started out I questioned whether or not this is for me. If I’m being honest with myself, I know I’ve been lazy about lesson planning but as each week goes on I’m organizing myself and my time to better accomplish what I need to. Teaching in Jakarta should be a breeze after this as there will be much more structure and most likely a specific curriculum to follow.

TESOL Certified! (TEFL International)

I completely forgot to update the blog with the news that I completed my TEFL course and received my certificate to teach English as a second or other language (TESOL). This is a big milestone in becoming an ESL teacher around the world.

TEFL International has been great. The head trainer was a Florida boy like myself and born in New York with Italian ancestry. He’s the same age as me but started out his teaching 5 years ago and has made amazing strides. His personality and delivery of lessons was engaging and definitely the best part of the course itself. The 120 hour course doesn’t necessarily provide you with the practical tools needed to be an ESL teacher. The trainer’s job is to get the trainees comfortable and compotent as English teachers and I feel that was accomplished in my eyes. It isn’t that a certification is required to teach all the time but it opens the door to more countries, higher pay and an edge on my resume with competitive jobs.

The other really great thing about the course was the friends that I made. Dave and Gareth, both from England were together most of the time on the course and really pushed each other to succeed. These are friends that I’ll have for a life time and we made it a point to make sure we stay in contact. Then there was Derek, the 77 yr old Englishman who fit right in with us. His stories were amazing and he is a true English gentleman. I’m going miss all 3 of them and look forward to a reunion somewhere in Asia.

Certified!

Certified!

If I had one complaint about the course it might be the facilities themselves. They were moving out of the building we were staying in and into a new location and as the last residents they probably weren’t too concerned with fixing pipes or broken appliances. That being said, most of us on the course just sucked it up and dealt with it.

Again, in a practical sense, not a whole lot can be taken away from this course. I wasn’t provided with specific directions on how to lesson plan or what day to day life as an ESL teacher will bring. That will only come with experience and research on my own. There were several quotes posted around the classroom and two stood out in particular for me.

“A good teacher always knows what to do.” and “Sort it out!”

To me, these quotes basically mean, no matter what the situation, whether it be a mistake made by someone else that you have to a fix, or a problem you create yourself, it is up to you to take care of it yourself. Sort it out! Ultimately, it will always be up to me to make sure something gets done, even if the fact is true that someone else dropped the ball or there are issues out of my control. These are quotes that can translate into almost any profession or part of life. Don’t blame other people. Sort it out. Figure out what you have to do.

So, the next step is landing back on the island of Sumatra on Tuesday and begin my life as an ESL teacher with a 2 month volunteer contract in the town of Bukit Lawang. Here we go!