Triumphs and Tribulations of a Part-Time English Teacher

As both my flight to Japan and my inevitable first day of work in Japanese schools draws closer (less than a week away!) I’ve been thinking — and reminiscing — about teaching ESL. If I could jump back to late evening of the first Monday in November 2013, I would search for a frazzled girl who was nervously pacing her adopted city streets and giving herself a pep talk before going to her very first class as a teacher; I would stop her and I would give her the following advice: “Dear, poor part-time English teacher, stranded abroad. Welcome to the profession of blank stares and glazed-over eyes. Welcome to class periods of awkward silences and zombie students. Welcome to the job you’ll both cry and laugh over. You’ll love it, I promise.”

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From November 2013 through April 2014, I taught English conversation classes at EPITECH, a small computer science and technology university located in Strasbourg, France. It was two classes per week, each lasting two hours. A maximum of 10 students could sign up for each class. These kids were all meant to have a “high language proficiency,” meaning I could skip over all the nit-picky grammar and teach all the fun stuff. Easy, right?

I received no training. No textbook. No syllabus. No real indication of the language ability of my students, which ended up being all over the place. Nothing. My boss simply said, in his very best broken English, “Go teach ze boys how to speak!”

…Yeah. As you can imagine, that’s a pretty big request.  Continue reading

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The Beginning of the Goodbyes

To celebrate one of my last days of work (before I throw my life into a suitcase and leave the country) my coworkers threw me a little surprise party yesterday! Right in the middle of catering a huge family reunion, of course. I’ll tell you, my beautifully decorated cake was the envy of all the children at the party, several of whom spotted the cake hidden away on the back table. The kids just had to satisfy their sweet teeth with mango water ice, though, while my coworkers and I enjoyed slices of cake in our spare moments!

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Although work is work, and although sometimes the catering business can get a little crazy, I really enjoy the people I’ve worked with these past two summers, so it’s a little sad to say goodbye. And this is just the beginning… I still have all my friends and family to part with! But as I keep saying to my dad, “I’m not dying! I’m just moving to the other side of the world for a little while.” I’ll be back, eventually. And that makes saying “goodbye” a little easier.

17 Days ‘Till Tokyo

Nope, I HAVEN’T started packing yet. Thank you for asking / making me panic.

I do realize that in 17 days, I’ll be in Tokyo. I also realize that I leave my house in LESS THAN A WEEK (then I’m off to the Connecticut / Boston area to visit with family and friends before leaving the country for who knows how long). And yes, I realize that I should have started packing by now, especially since I only have a week to do so. But hey, I’m an all-star procrastinator, so I’ve honestly accepted the fact that I’ll probably be frantically shoving all of my clothes in a suitcase the day before I leave. That was what happened when I moved to France for 10 months, and it worked out pretty nicely.

I haven’t been completely idle in my preparations, though, I promise. I now have an envelope full of crisp yen notes, the beginnings of a professional wardrobe, a miniature drug store’s worth of necessary toiletries, and an International Driver’s Permit! Honestly, I might even have two IDPs, since I lost the first one somewhere… Luckily the process for getting an International Driver’s Permit is a breeze, so misplacing the first one wasn’t a complete disaster (I can only imagine the nightmare of losing a passport).

Seeing as my time here in the USA is quickly ticking away, though… to tell you the truth, I’m freaking out a little bit. And it’s not just the packing obstacle that is worrying me.

I have to acknowledge that this adventure comes with a mixed bag of emotions. While moving to Japan is extremely exciting (I’m talking bouncing-off-walls, beaming-when-talking-about-it-to-strangers exciting), it’s also a little sad. I’m leaving behind a lot of people whom I love. I’m also leaving behind a set of social rules that I understand, as well as the ability to easily communicate with the people around me, since most people in my rural town will have little to no English ability. (And I’m not crossing my fingers that there are any fluent French speakers there, either). These challenges are all part of the expat life, and of course, there’s always Skype and Google Translate to help me through; I just wanted to  voice the slight scary shadow that lingers with moving to a foreign country.

Enough about my fears though: I’ll be in TOKYO in 17 DAYS! My excitement far outweighs my nerves: I can’t help telling EVERYONE about my job. My dentist, my coworkers, the cashier at Forever 21… Somehow it slips into almost every conversation, I don’t know how that happens? A mystery, to be sure.