A look back on 2011 and ahead to 2012

The last couple of years have been some of the best of my life so far. 2010 saw the completion of my BA from University, my 30th birthday and the breaking free of a job I didn’t like but kept at for the entire decade. I managed to complete my degree in the amount of time I planned once I decided to go back in 2007.

2011 was even better but for different reasons. I set off in January around the world on an adventurous trip through the Horn of Africa and a Middle East journey that fell short due to the Arab revolutions early in the year. I got my TEFL certification in Thailand and did some volunteer work before settling down in Sumatra. I wrote a post back in 2010 trying to predict where I’d end up living this year and Medan, Indonesia wasn’t even a place I knew anything about other than it was a port city in Sumatra. Now here I am finishing my first full year abroad and just getting going!

Here is a look back at some of the things I’ve accomplished and planned to accomplish but fell short as well as an outlook for 2012. Enjoy!

Things I set out to do in 2011…and did

Learn to iron
Learn to tie a tie
Learn another language (in progress)
Learn to play the guitar (in progress)
Live abroad
Drive a motorbike
Get TEFL certified
Become a teacher
Travel to Somalia (Somaliland)
Travel to the Middle East (Lebanon)

Things I didn’t specifically set out to do but happy I did
Live somewhere that I can see mountains from my house
Have an article written about me by ABC News
Volunteer in a small village
Cut back immensely on drinking alcohol
Lost 35 lbs (15 kg)
Have a proper party week in Thailand with old friends
Motorbike road trip through Northern Sumatra

Things I wanted to do but didn’t do
Learn to cook
Live completely alone

Goals for 2012
Have a close friend or family member visit me
Learn to cook
Return to the U.S. at the end of 2012
Survive the end of the world
Get to see one of my best friends get married
Travel to a nearby country
Visit Java, Komodo or Flores

Some of my favorite photos of 2011

INDONESIA

Banda Aceh

Grand Mosque at Banda Aceh

Bukit Lawang

Orangutan in Bukit Lawang

Samosir Island

Batak children on Samosir in Lake Toba

THAILAND

TEFL Course

Getting into it during teacher practice at TEFL International

Royal Temple Bangkok

Royal Temple, Bangkok

LEBANON

Baalbek

Baalbek

MALAYSIA

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur

SOMALILAND

Somaliland

Somaliland

Somaliland

Tank leftover from the Somalian civil war

Berber

Camels grazing on the beach along the Gulf of Aden

ETHIOPIA

Harar

Hand and mouth feeding of hyenas outside of Harar

Live Now, Make Now the Most Precious Time

One of my favorite quotes is from an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called the Inner Light. Captain Picard was knocked unconscious by a probe sent by a long extinct alien civilization with the purpose of downloading an entire lifetime of memories into his mind that he would experience in a mere 20 minutes so that the civilization could live on and not be forgotten. He spoke these words to his daughter:

“Live now. Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”

They’re words that I have tried to live by even before watching the episode. I know that there will be a time when I’m older and looking back on life wishing I had done more even though I’m accomplishing much of what I’ve always wanted to do. Life is obviously short. I’m in my early 30’s and as quick as it seems to be moving along I know it will only get quicker.

Why am I discussing all of this right now? Well, it’s just a big giant excuse for me not updating my blog much lately. I’m living. I’ve been having some great experiences with my job starting here in Medan. At different times since 2010 I have reached milestones and achieved small goals that I set out for. I knew that once I graduated in August of last year it was going to be a roller coaster ride. First with turning 30, then quitting my debt collections job, then leaving home, then traveling off the beaten path in Somaliland, then getting my TEFL certification in Thailand, then volunteering in Bukit Lawang and then finally settling down in Medan to teach English in Indonesia. The journey is far from over but I can say with confidence I’ve landed and I’m ready to see where this takes me.

I’m a Teacher Now

While I was in Bukit Lawang and doing volunteer teaching I couldn’t help but feel like I hadn’t quite become a teacher yet. It was a great learning experience for me but there was something missing. Now that I’ve been at my current job for three weeks, I’ve finally felt that the career shift is over. When I left my last job I kept thinking that going back to collections was always a safety net. It’s a skill I now have after 10 years in the industry and if things don’t work out as a teacher I have plenty of job opportunities. I’m happy to report however, that it will be a cold day in Bangkok before I go back to any job that requires me to wear a headset and have my production controlled and monitored by a machine.

Over the years people kept telling me that I would make a good teacher but I never really knew for myself if it was something I could pull off. My TEFL trainer said we would know after our first day in the classroom. I know now. I’m a teacher.

So Where Have I been?
I returned from Aceh with the idea of hanging out for a few days and then heading to Lake Toba later in the week. On the Monday of that week I arranged to observe some classes at school. I went in and after a couple of hours I was asked if I could start work immediately the following day rather than a week later. I took a deep breathe and accepted. Ultimately this way was much better. It was like ripping off a band-aid rather than pulling it off slowly. I would have spent the rest of the week and the weekend thinking about my first day and instead I was thrust into it.

There are three schools that I need to be available to teach at on any given day however my home school is literally next door to where I live. I teach four days a week there and then one day at the flagship school. The good thing about starting early was that I was doing substituting for local teachers. This allowed me to learn the ropes a bit and get used to it without having my normal classes. The real reason I’m here is because another native English teacher finished his 12 month contract and is heading back to Canada. As of September 16th I took over his classes and will now have the same students throughout the semester.

Jln. Jemadi House in Medan, Indonesia

From the balcony of my room.

Home Sweet Home
I’m finally settled into the house I’ll be living in for the long term. It’s a huge four story condo with big bedrooms with AC, balconies, a roof top, a shared kitchen and shared bathrooms. I couldn’t ask for better roommates. We seem to be on the same page so far. My bedroom has some work to be done. There was a leak in the ceiling that is supposedly fixed. The AC isn’t too strong but there is a leak in it and I’m waiting on the mechanic to come fix that. The door to the balcony is an absolute mess and it looks like a giant rat has been trying to chew its way through. I’ve moved in a couch and coffee table from the living room, bought a rug for the floor and moved some things around so it’s starting to come together. Most importantly I switched the dreadful white light to a softer yellow which makes such a big difference.

The Expats
The ex-patriot community (westerners living and working in Medan) seems quite nice. There are probably only about 100 or so of us here which is part of the reason i wanted to live in Medan. Westerners are rare so we get a unique experience. As opposed to Bangkok where there are tons of foreigners and you just blend in as another face in the crowd. There is a core group of guys that occasionally meet up for drinks and only a few western women. As far as I know there are only three Americans living Medan. I’m sure there are more but I’ve only met the two others and one just arrived as an art teacher from Texas.

This is it for now. I’ll try and make sure I update more about the classroom. I absolutely love

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.

How Joey Got His Groove Back

I finished the first full week of teaching last week. I will admit, I was a broken man by Thursday. Starting out has been tough. I have no arsenal of lesson plans and even though the internet is a great resource nothing could get me ready for starting out my volunteer teaching here Sumatra other than being thrown in and being forced to sink or swim.

There was a point last week where my heart literally hurt. I haven’t felt stress like that since I left my collections job so it was pretty disappointing. My night class was a real struggle for me last week. The most difficult thing about this assignment so far is that there is no organization in the classes by skill level and they only separate by age. I have students that are real bright with English and others in the same class who are beginners. This makes lesson planning tricky. I imagine that this experience will only help me going forward as most teaching jobs won’t require as much creativity with dealing with different skill levels. My night class is a group of about 8 girls that come every night and are pretty eager to learn. The children in the afternoon are great and I just took on 2 more classes during the day that aren’t connected to my contract. I technically don’t have to do them but 30 children from the village want to be taught English and I’m here so I couldn’t possibly take that away from them. Even though I have little experience in teaching any exposure to natives speakers for these kids is useful for them. This is a moment where lazy Joey really wanted to take over and act as if he can’t handle when in reality I just need to suck it up and take on the extra classes.

So, after last week’s stress filled freak out after my Wednesday night class I decided that I’d finish out the week on Thursday with the kids and then head into town to spend a few nights relaxing by the river. My accommodation at the clinic is paid for by the organization I’m volunteering for so if I want to stay by the river it’s on my own dime, which is fine by me. I booked 4 nights at a really cheap bungalow right on the Bohorok River and hung out with Frida and Liz, two girls I met on the jungle trek when I was here in February. Frida is a frequent reader of Joey Goes Global and has become a good friend with some really great conversation. She is Indonesian and has experience teaching English already as well as NGO work in Aceh after the 2004 Tsunami. She’s also a great Bahasa Indonesian teacher! Liz has been traveling around South East Asia for awhile and passed through here to keep me company for a few days. It’s been great because after about 10 days at the clinic I was getting bored.

Tubing

This actually was as dangerous as it looks

The river was just what I needed. The nights have been cooled off from the heavy rains and it set my mind straight. That coupled with getting pep talks from a lot of friends, including Brooke Carleton of Brooke Reviews who is currently in her last 2 semesters of he education degree at the University of South Florida. Frida shared some of her lesson plans with me which will be useful because they include some Indonesian words.

I’m picking up Bahasa Indonesia fairly quickly here which I’m happy about. I’ve been sort of forced into it. I’ve used the language to help get through lessons. I taught mostly in Indonesian today and had the students translate certain vocabulary into English. I have a few students that are really good with English so since they may be bored with the slow pace since I have beginners, I may actually give them assignments on the side that are a little more challenging.

I feel like I’m all over the place with this post as it’s been a few days since an update so I’m trying to cram a lot into a small space. It’s just that I’ve gone through a huge swing over the last 4 days going from a real low point in feeling like I can’t do this to where I am now where the confidence is building. Tomorrow is a public holiday in Indonesia so schools are closed. My night class is not mandatory so I asked the girls if they wanted me to hold class tomorrow. They all said yes and when I told them I’d cancel it if they want they all gave me dirty looks and said “Nooo!” It’s weird being in a position of authority where if I want to I can cancel a class. In the end though, I went with what they wanted and will hold class. Can’t keep students from learning if they are eager.

I’m back in the game! I see hope now where as last week things were looking pretty grim. I just have to keep a few days ahead on the lesson planning so I’m not panicking and stressing myself out. There is a beautiful river with rapids to tube down and plenty of people here that will join me. I have tons of opportunities to improve my Bahasa Indonesia as well. So things are looking up!

I got my first teaching gig!

I’m 3/4 of the way through my TEFL certification course and I’ve secured my first teaching position. It started back in February when I was in Sumatra in the tourist town of Bukit Lawang, Indonesia. I did the 2 day jungle trek and really enjoyed the time spent along the river and near the jungle. It was peaceful, quiet and I could fall asleep to the low roar of the Bohorok River. Mosquitos are not a big issue and the slightly elevated and hilly location means there is always a cool breeze in the evenings to make sleep comfortable. The people were friendly and welcoming and I left some people behind with the promise that I would return someday. A few days later while in Lake Toba, about 8 hours away, I started looking for teaching jobs online. The first hit I got was an English school that is looking for British teachers to come in on 2 month contracts. I emailed them and got a response within a few days. I filled out my application, told them I have no teaching experience, answered their questions about my ability to adapt to different cultures and waited for a response.

I got a very positive response from their offices in the UK saying they’d like to do a Skype interview. I set that up a few days ago and during the interview was offered the position. My prior travels to Sumatra and other conservative Muslim parts of the world was what set me apart. It was a nice feeling because it was one of the justifications I’ve always had for doing heavy travel to parts of the world that are off the beaten path. They sent me a teachers packet and gave me a couple of days to confirm.

Teaching in Rayong, Thailand

Teaching in Rayong, Thailand

The packet was a bit daunting. It went through their expectations of the teachers, some welcoming information and a bit of the schedule. The village I’ll be teaching in is about 10 minutes away from Bukit Lawang itself. My first duty is to introduce myself to the head of the village and register my arrival within the first 2 days. Accommodation will be very basic. I’m still working out the details of my schedule. I know for a fact I’ll be working Mon-Thurs but I’m confused on what times my classes will be. I know I’ll be teaching 9-11 yr olds in one session and then adults at university level in the evenings. I’ll have Friday, Saturday and Sunday to myself. For the young ones, their English is very basic so I’ll have my work cut out for me. Going to have to figure out some fun activities to keep their interest going. They said they want me to incorporate ecology and the geography of their part of the world in it so I’m going to have to do some research on Sumatra and orangutan preservation. With the adults it’ll basically be about finding ways to come up with conversation topics. Their English is intermediate to advanced and just need someone to speak native English with.

The contract begins May 1st but there is no way I can get there by then. My course ends next Friday and the earliest I can fly out is Tuesday the 3rd. I’ll arrive in Medan in the evening and then the following morning take the 4 hour bus ride to the village.

It’s on! What happens after the 2 months is over is still up in there air.