Sunday, October 24, 2010

Iguazu and Gratitude

I wish I could tell you that I give my due diligence to daily prayers. My mother told me when I was a little girl to say my prayers before I went to sleep. This was excellent advice, and when I was younger, her reminder helped to give my thanks and ask for things that I felt I needed routinely. Now that I'm older, I don't have that evening reminder and I fall short. Oh yeah, I also forget to say thanks before my meals. Disappointing.

I'm not trying to be disrespectful and I'm not wanting to be sarcastic, implying that praying is something for children. I'm really telling you that I'm disappointed in myself. The amount of things I have to be thankful for are innumerable. It would be nice if I could send some positive appreciation back to the Creator.

I'd say that my prayers have been fleeting. A quick "thanks for the opportunities", a request that my family and friends remain healthy and then my mind thinks of something else and I "hang up" on God. I'm usually so wrapped up in myself, I have a difficult time feeling "blessed". I'm just trying to make it through the day.

So...a smack in the face. A literal wet smack in the face from a waterfall in the Northern part of Argentina had me thinking about what I'm lacking when it comes to praise and gratitude. This world holds such beauties that I will never see. What an honor to be able to experience even one of these.

Seeing the Iguazu Falls was a spiritual gift. I will not spend time describing this place, I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves. I will not describe how it made me feel, because that is just a bit too "touchy-feely" for me. Sit on a bolder about a 1/2 mile from these falls or get on a boat that drives you into Devil's Mouth and you'll understand what I mean.

Life, love, beauty and the time to experience them are all gifts. The transition I'm hoping to make here is one of consistency. I want to see and feel that waterfall everyday in different ways. I want to do more than just religiously say a prayer out of routine. Since I don't have Mom here to tell me to be thankful, I need to regulate myself. I want to really appreciate what I've been given. Even those things that don't necessarily seem like blessings at first. Then, send a "shout out". And, I want to do it everyday.

Henry's Vacation:
Henry had a vacation of his own while I was at the falls. He spent time with our most lovely neighbor, who babied him, snuggled him, bought him organic dog treats and a new super bouncy blue ball. He could not have had a better time. So while I have a new found gratitude for life and beauty, Henry found his blessings on the 8th floor of our apartment building.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

They Say October Equals Depression

So as soon as I got here they (the almighty guides who first help you with your visas, set you up in your apartments, and then take you on tours) warned us that we will go through 3 phases. First is the Honeymoon phase. Please feel free to guess what that means. Then we will have a drastic plunge into a sad, homesick, "I hate it here, you can't get that here like you can in the states" phase. This is supposed to happen in October, funny enough. Then you even out into a place in the middle. They don't give you a month when that phase begins, but they say sometime after the holidays. This is a place of contentment where it doesn't feel like vacation anymore, but it sure does feel exciting most every day. Now, those of you reading my blog will want to know about how I have dealt with these phases, and even more of you will want to know how Henry has faired.

I never had a Honeymoon. Not the kind you get after you walk down the aisle or the one you are supposed to experience when you first move to a new country. Instead, I woke up every morning surprised that I was in South America. I just kept trying to function and stay "real". That sounds silly, but let me clarify. I knew I was in a new country (this from a girl who got her first ever stamp in her passport) and that was enough for me. I didn't have to soak everything in. I didn't have to paint the town. I just wanted to be here. Understanding that I actually had the balls (excuse me if that is crude to you) to do it. So there was no high for me.

Now here comes October. The month that most ex-pats (if you aren't familiar with the term it means ex-patriot ~American who lives fairly permanently in another country) plunge. Here is how I feel.

I miss the Fall in the High Country. Pumpkins, Fall Festivals, leaves changing, apple butter. That makes me sad, and I knew it would! Self fulfilled prophecy I tell you! I love the Kruger Brothers and their song "Carolina in the Fall" and I knew that sometime during the month of October I'd listen to that song and dry a few tears. But do I miss the mammoth supermarkets, driving a car all over town, eating at my favorite Mexican restaurant as much as I'm supposed to? Not yet. I do miss my Sweet Heart of a guy, random visits with my folks and canoe trips down the New River. Those things I miss and October does make it a bit sadder.
Now the last phase approaches for me, maybe a bit early. There was no big high for me, and no big low, so I think the last phase might have been my phase all along with little spikes here and there.

And Henry, you ask, has been in phase 3 since....maybe the second day of our time here. He was really ready to get out of that kennel!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Preparing For And Going To The Hiring Fair

Anyone who knows me knows that if I decide I'm going to do something, come hell or high water I do it. I made up my mind that I was going to teach internationally, so all of my energy went into this. Nothing half way. I say this because if you decide to do this, you can't go in half heartedly. This is a trying, life changing, excruciating process.
Awhile ago I said I would describe the hiring fair I went to in Cambridge, hosted by Search Associates (I'll refer to them as SA). Before I do that, I'd like to describe how I prepared myself for this crazy 4 day whirlwind experience.
After I became a candidate through SA I started my research. School's websites, blogs, country profiles, asking questions of friends who have traveled, etc. I joined International School Review and Joy Jobs. (International School Review is the worth the money, Joy Jobs is not in my opinion). You have to have 4 on-line evaluations by administrators or former student's parents. Then you can begin your communication with schools.
Around November you will start getting emails about positions you may be interested in from SA. Everything about you that a school wants to see is on-line. Resume, picture, educational statement, and evaluations. You can contact the people in charge of hiring right away by email and don't be surprised if you get an email from a school who wants to recruit you. This is very cool and exciting. Especially when you are safe and sound in your home country dreaming about how nice Morocco really could be...*sigh* Then reality sets in and Rabat wants a phone interview and you begin freaking out saying, "I don't want to live in Rabat!" (Although I'm sure Rabat is a wonderful place, that was my childish reaction)
The Hiring Fair (cue music from "The New World Symphony" here)
This is a competitive, intimidating, and inspiring experience. Now I've been to my share of cattle calls, auditioning for musicals and operas. But, nothing like this. These teachers are fierce and ready (and don't even get me started on the teaching couples). Portfolios in hand, dressed to impress, and very worldly. Boy did I ever feel like the biggest Yankee Red Neck around these folks. Many were younger than me and have been to 2 or 3 different postings (schools in different countries). I was impressed for sure. The cool thing was that everyone was supportive, fellow teachers included. You have a SA advisor that you can meet with and discuss schools. These guys either personally know the schools or know someone that does. They will be honest about whether or not the school is a fit for you.
It is best to stay in the hotel where the conference takes place. Book your room way in advance. You are going to be in that hotel non-stop for 4 days going from interview to interview. This is where all of the schools are staying as well. This is where they hold the interviews. It makes life so much easier.
Part one begins at 7am. With a cup of coffee in hand you walk through a ball room with big pieces of paper hanging on the wall with names of schools on them and a list of positions they are hiring for the upcoming school year. There are jobs you expected to see listed and there are many surprises. At 8am the schools come in and set up at various tables ready to accept interviews. Then you go stand in line at your school of choice and kindly ask for an interview. Some schools say, "get lost" (a bit nicer) but some hunt you down before hand and say "come by my table" and tempt you with chocolates and pens. When you leave this affair, you may have anywhere from 3 to 10 interviews set up. Then there is a whole other round of this craziness because there are over 100 schools at the fair.
Round 2 is your interview. You give your best interview possible even though you are in a hotel room with a principal, a bed, and a micro-fridge. It is awkward, but you get the job done. Usually there is not an immediate job offer, but you may be asked for a second interview. By day two of this, things start happening fast. You may get offered a job at your 2nd favorite school and have a 2nd interview with your 1st favorite school within hours of when you are to tell your 2nd favorite school if you will take the job....huh? I know...right!
But, if you are lucky, by the end of this fair and this crazy four days you will have a job. Hopefully you have done your research and you are getting a fabulous package (salary, housing, travel expenses paid, yearly travel home, etc). Hopefully you are going to live in a place where you will feel blessed to live for at least two years (it is customary to sign two year contracts). Hopefully you have found a job like the one I landed.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Henry's First Month

Henry and I have been here a little over one month now. Time for a quick update.

The Good (Actually Great) ~We LOVE it here. It is beautiful, convenient, and challenging in positive ways. This is a doggie town for sure! The door man loves Henry, people in my apartment are thrilled to see him (not to many dogs in my building surprisingly) and he is making friends with the locals (both dog and human alike). Still not too great with cats however.

Henry loves walking down by the Rio De La Plata which is one block from my apartment. I have a great new "walk to work" lifestyle that is such a blessing for me and for Henry. There is a pet store two blocks from me (note: pets are a big deal here, so you can find a pet store or two in every neighborhood) and a vet two blocks in the other direction. We have the option of hiring a professional dog walker (very inexpensive and a great social opportunity for H-Dog), but so far I've been too lazy to set that up. Also, I love walking him everyday because it is gorgeous around here:) Henry also enjoys sitting on the balcony of my apartment so he can watch people, cars, and other dogs go by.

He sometimes gets to play with Pumpkin, a female black lab who belongs to a co-worker/friend. They have "play dates" occasionally. Very cute.

The Bad~ No Newman's Own organic dog food. No more high quality Earth Fare doggie bones and treats. No more Maggie, our fabulous holistic vet in Boone. No more open the back door and let Henry run without a leash to do his "business".

Also, I don't see Henry getting back into that kennel anytime soon. Will I ever have the heart to put him through air travel again?

The Ugly~ No BFF Cody. It gets lonely when you are the only dog.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Amy's Flight ~ the bitter sweet

Now that I have written about Henry's flight, I'll tell you a bit about my experience. I was riding a high the last couple weeks before this trip. I mean super-duper excited. I felt that this new adventure was the missing piece. However when I got to the airport...meltdown.
Reality set in the moment I was LEFT at the airport. Not checking my bags or getting a final cup of coffee before I went through security, but the moment when I was left ALONE. It was like a light switch or a manic moment. Huge high to huge low. But in that moment you certainly know that you are a real live human with serious feelings. And on the brink of crazy.
I truly love the life I left behind. I was mourning.
Those few hours of waiting at the airport were torture. Then there was a 5 hour layover that was even worse.
What is even more odd is that the moment I got on the plane to Buenos Aires I felt loads better. I have no explanation.

Henry's Flight

Henry was all set to go. Paperwork from the vet had come back from the USDA, signed and stamped, staying in the kennel was getting a bit easier, he had gotten a good work out swimming behind the canoe for several hours the day before, and Continental had confirmed his place in cargo. Now, we had to travel to Raleigh with all of my bags (4 large suitcases and two carry ons if you were curious) Henry's kennel, and Henry (of course!). Henry's plane leaves Friday at 5pm from Raleigh and mine on Saturday at 2pm from Greensboro. We are to meet up in Houston and get on the same plane to Buenos Aires! Sounds simple right?
So, we get to the Continental Cargo facility at the Raliegh airport 2 and a half hours early (as requested). Should I also mention it is almost 100 degrees? We are not to bring the dog into the cargo office, so we are stuck walking him around in the hot parking lot. These cargo guys are super nice, but not as well put together as they are made out to be by the Continental "pet safe" program. One guy keeps telling me that I'm going to be homesick in Argentina right away and come running home to Mommy (thanks a bunch). They also do not want Henry loaded yet, so they tell us to "go for dinner and come back in an hour". Did I forget to mention it is 100 degrees? Those of you with dogs will know the problem here. So, we drive around forever and find a nice creek for him to swim in for about 20 minutes and then head back to the cargo facility.
They strap his food, his collar, and his vet papers to the top of his kennel. They let him have his stuffed bunny and a meaty bone (his favorite) which made me feel better (I was told he wouldn't be able to have these things in the kennel with him). I say "farewell", shed a few tears, and head for the hotel to prepare for my flight.
Henry stays overnight in the Huston airport. I call through the "pet safe" hot line and they say "Henry arrived safely and has eaten dinner".
The next afternoon I arrive in Houston and again they say, "Henry's fine and he has eaten". By the way, I can't see him at the airport, only call to check in. He loads the plane with me. I ask the airline attendants to make sure he is on the plane before we take off. "Yes" he is on the plane.
Doesn't sound bad so far, right? The worst is yet to come....
I arrive at the EZE airport in Buenos Aires at around 9:30am on Sunday. I am immediately greeted by the lovely Lia from Pet's Ventura who is to help me break Henry out of cargo jail. THANK GOD I HAD LIA! This was the craziest process. We walked all over that airport from facility to facility (let me also mention it was in the upper 40's and raining). We had to pay this guy, then get that guy's signature, then go to this place to pay this fee, then go back and get that signature. So 9:30am turned into 4:00pm before I had Henry in the pet taxi. I was able to give him some food and water and let him out to relieve himself (although he was in such shock he wouldn't go). Just to put him back in to finish this cursed process. He was in that kennel for almost 24 hours! Did not make a mess either (very proud). But Pet's Ventura saved the day. There is NO WAY I could have done it alone.
Note 1: they never asked for my vet translations from English to Spanish (that would have saved me $100). But, it was very important that my vet papers were correct. Who knows how much longer it would have taken if I didn't have the right USDA stamped form.
Note 2: Continental either did not feed Henry or they didn't feed him my food because every single last kibble bit was left in that bag. Not to happy about that!
Note 3: Weekend travel with a pet to EZE isn't a bad idea. The lines are much shorter for paying fees and getting paperwork signed.
Learn from me. Beg, steal or borrow to get your pet to fly excess baggage if you are flying to Argentina. Apparently there are little fees and no where near the hassle I went through. The kennel just comes off the conveyor belt like your bags. Customs checks them out fairly quickly (maybe with a vet and maybe not) and seem super pet friendly (I've heard from other sources). I had no choice but to send Henry cargo because of the US heat embargo.
Henry snapped right back to his normal bubbly self. He was tired and backed up (if you know what I mean), but in great shape other wise. He proved to be pretty tough. I think it was me who was not.

Monday, July 12, 2010

2 Weeks

I am less than 2 weeks away from leaving North Carolina for my new job in Buenos Aires. It is a scary time for me. I am excited to go, but sad to leave (classic really). What I feel is a fear of the transition time. I am more worried about getting there than what it will be like when I'm there to stay....for a very, very long time. I am not concerned with the classroom, the new apartment, or adapting to the culture. I'm really just nervous about what is right in front of me...these last two weeks.
I am trying to find the motivation to finish packing. I've successfully secured a temperature controlled storage unit at what seems a great deal and packed it full of all of the things I can't take with me. Now I'm staring at things I WANT to take with me that I can't ship, but must take as excess baggage. This is going to get interesting.
Henry update:
I have officially hired a pet broker (Pets Ventura) located in Buenos Aires to meet me a the airport and help me through cargo and customs. The goal is get the dog out of there ASAP with little lost in translation.
Crate training has been interesting. Henry does not enjoy the crate like some dogs do. If he gets locked up in there he whines (not typical for him) and if I leave for a long period of time he gets upset and throws around his pet bed. I am working with his fabulous NC vet Maggie Fedderhart of Whispering Winds (holistic animal care). She is treating his anxiety with flower extracts and also helping with his pet papers for the trip. By the way, we also believe Henry is dealing with grief over the loss of a beloved doggie companion, causing some separation anxiety. He is really responding well to the flower extract treatment.
Amy update:
final pet visit....check
flights for Henry and I...check
packing is underway
visiting friends and family before I leave is underway

More soon about these last couple weeks and also more about international teaching and the hiring process.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Headaches of Pet Travel

I will continue on with my story about Search Associates and becoming a international teacher, but travel headaches! Now that I've finished my visa (yeah!) I am planning the big move. Realize that Henry comes first. I have no children, so the dog is my child. I purchased a kennel almost too big to get into the house (XL/500 series if you are interested) and began training. But the real headaches come with airlines and now...customs.
Good news is that there is no quarantine in Argentina. Some countries require that you leave your dog in a restricted facility for up to 6 months! Needless to say, Henry would not be going. Getting through customs should not be a problem, except for the fact that "yo no hablo espanol".
First, airlines. I went back and forth with several different airlines until I found that Continental had a pet safe program with no heat restrictions. Many airlines say that if it gets over 85 degrees, the pet doesn't fly. The problem is not the plane which has a/c, but the transportation to the plane from the airport. Continental has vehicles that are prepared for this. But, I searched the world over to figure this out. If only someone had just written a blog about this....
I could pee my pants I'm so nervous about putting Henry through it all. My biggest fear is that he has to be in a kennel for over 10 hours for the longest leg of our trip (Houston to Bs As). I don't want to mess around when we get to Argentina. I want him to get out of that kennel quickly so he can pee, eat, whatever. So customs makes me nervous.
Now, do I hire a pet mover. I had a quote of $6000 to get Henry from NC to Argentina. Not happening! I'm negotiating with a pet mover who is located in Bs As, who I'm hoping can help me through customs for a fee ($350). Now the questions I face are, is it worth it, or am I neurotic and should try and handle this on my own . More later.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Teaching Abroad ~Where to Begin

I have wanted to teach abroad ever since I stepped foot in the public school classroom. At first I looked at Department of Defense Schools, but never had response from recruiters or found any music teacher positions. I had no clue there was a thing such as Search Associates (which is like a middle man connecting teachers with international schools). So, as I stated earlier, when a friend told me about his new job in Romania, I jumped right in.
Search Associates is an AMAZING asset for the international teacher. All of the resumes, references, and job searches are on-line. Super simple. You pay a one time fee for 3 years of service and at the time it was $200. You are given a supervisor (mine was Dexter Lewis whom I loved) who helps you through the entire process from beginning to end. You fill out your forms, get your references to fill out their forms (don't forget, all on-line, which is awesome), and begin searching for possible jobs. Once you are a candidate, you may even begin hearing from schools who are interested in phone interviews before the big hiring fairs. I had 3 such schools call my references asking for more information about me and then finally asked me for phone interviews.
So, here is the time line I followed for beginning the teach abroad process:
August: contact Search Associates, send them requested information and see if they accept your candidacy, get your Search Associate Supervisor who guides you through the process
September-October: pay $200 Search Associates fee, fill out on-line resume and get 3-4 high quality references (mostly supervisors, although I also used a parent of a previous student and a co-worker who was a mentor to me), book flight and room at the appropriate hiring fair (I went to the one in Boston)
November-February: contact schools that look interesting to you for future employment (usually by email)
February: hiring fair

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Making the Decision to Take an International Teaching Job

"Each indecision brings its own delays and days are lost lamenting over lost days... What you can do or think you can do, begin it. For boldness has magic, power, and genius in it."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I suppose I better answer the question asked the most, "why are you doing this?" My answer is, "why NOT!" I'm a performer turned public school music teacher. I LOVE teaching (surprisingly because I hated public school as a student), but miss the excitement of the performing profession. I've been blessed to blend teaching with performing the last 5 years, but it hasn't quite fulfilled my passion for adventure. I'm also not getting any younger....
A good friend took a position teaching in Romania after 10 years of public school teaching. When he told me about his new job, it was like a switch was turned on inside me. "YES" was what I kept feeling. "THIS IS IT, THIS IS NOW"!! Understand that I've NEVER been out of the country. I spent one year in NYC (which can feel like a foreign country), but that is it. So this was going to be a huge undertaking for me. Life changing.
Lets clear up a few things. First of all, my employer at the time knew I was looking into international teaching, so there was no "weirdness" and I was able to ask supervisors to be references. Also, I have had to slowly introduce this idea to friends and family, whom have had mixed reactions to this decision. Let's face it, some of them are merely tolerating this. They are probably saying I'm going through an early mid-life crisis or some ridiculous phase. They may be right!!
I've also had to downsize my possessions, refuse gigs and voice students, and leave a really good job here in the states. This was not an easy decision and once you've decided to follow through with it your life shifts in every way.
Sitting still and not moving forward has never been an option for me. That is how I have felt the last couple of years; stagnant. When life starts to feel like that, I move. That is who I've always been. That is my reality.
This blog is about my mountain dog Henry, a 70lbs lab, and I taking on this adventure together. He has been welcomed by my new employers and we are moving to a lovely, pet friendly city. I hope to explain this process (international teaching) from the beginning, offering some insight to how it works (or at least how it worked for me). I am sure this will be a beautiful comedy of errors that I hope will prove to be insightful and entertaining for you.