School Daze, Minus the Spike Lee

“Foreign Service? Sure! That sounds great! With my teaching degrees and background, I’m sure I’ll be able to land a job as we jump from country to country from now until retirement. Hauling boxes of young adult books and hard copies of fabulous lesson plans trans-Pacific/Atlantic will be no problem at all. I’ll go pack my bags right now!” These were the thoughts running through my head as Thad passed test after test to land himself a dream job with the US Department of State.

Oh, the naivety of my youth…

Because yes, I do have a bachelor’s degree in English/Spanish teaching; and yes, I do have a master’s degree in middle level education; and yes, I have taught for seven years in the US and two in China; but no, I cannot just jump on the first job opening at the local international school in each new posting. You see, when traveling with the State Department, the list of rules/regulations is longer than the Christmas list of my five year old niece. (It does include much, much less Hello Kitty. As I think about it, though, a little pink and glitter would liven of the FAM guidelines a bit. )  Some countries allow spouses to work on the local economy and some do not. While the reasons for the prohibitions are as numerous as the aforementioned Hello Kitty swag on the Christmas list, the outcome is still the same: if there is no bilateral work agreement with the host country, the diplomatic spouse cannot work.

That is the boat I am currently floating along in in China. Because there is no bilateral work agreement here, as I was exploring my employment options in Chengdu, I was told that I was not allowed to apply for jobs at the international school, even though there were openings that would have been perfect for my background. Although I was initially disappointed, my spirits were revived when I saw the Community Liaison Officer (CLO) position would be opening up within weeks of our arrival. With impeccable timing and a lot of background working with people in various capacities, the CLO job ended up being a great fit. I’ve been lucky to work under fantastic management during my introductory year to State and had a great time expanding the CLO position in Chengdu. It has been a great way to spend my time in Chengdu.

But, at heart, I am a teacher. I miss teaching, especially literature and writing. (My middle school niece recently started her own blog and I’ve been pestering her constantly about what she is writing about, excited to see some middle school creativity again! She may soon start ignoring me on G-chat messages if I’m not careful.) So, while at times I’ve felt a bit discombobulated by the lack of lesson plans to write or expository essays to edit, I’ve comforted myself with the thought that I’ll be back in the classroom in 2014.

Oh, the naivety of my (less than before) youth…

Much like the royal baby, there was great anticipation for bidding season. (This is an appropriate simile, as you may remember that I wrote a long post comparing Foreign Service bidding to having a child. Check that one out here.) We waited with eager expectancy to find out where we would spend (aka: where I would teach) the next two years. And at last we got the coveted email: Kuala Lumpur.

Great! It is warm (hot!!) year round, the travel opportunities are endless and the cutest baby elephant I’ve ever seen lived in Malaysia. I’ll go pack my teaching bags right now!

Or not.

After the excitement (and shock!) of our posting wore off, I did what I always do- research and obsess. Before the news had even been announced to all of our family and friends back home, my Amazon cart was filled with books (both fiction and non-fiction) about Malaysia and I bought the Malaysia, Borneo, Singapore Lonely Planet at a bookstore in downtown Taipei. I plied through document after document from the embassy in KL, reading everything I could get my hands on about housing, transportation, community events…and work. Much to my chagrin, I soon realized that diplomatic spouses in Malaysia are facing the same struggles that the ones in China are- no bilateral work agreement. Long story short- I can’t teach in the international school in KL either.

Frustration doesn’t begin to do justice to the moment.

Quickly, I decided it was time for a new game plan. Knowing that complaining about the situation wasn’t going to change it, I started scouring the internet for possible online teaching opportunities and bugging everyone I knew in the education world for possible connections into the world on online teaching. But, introductions would not be enough. Coming from a background of teaching in a traditional classroom setting, I figured some training in online teaching wouldn’t be a bad idea, so when I stumbled upon  an Online Teaching Certificate program through Pacific Lutheran University, I knew this was a perfect fit! I’m excited to start a program will give me the tools I need to be a successful teacher in a new environment and an attractive candidate when I start applying for jobs in the spring. (Plus, I need to renew my Idaho teaching certificate in the spring.  Win-win!)

Fall semester might be a little overwhelming. I’m registered for nine credits through the university and plan to keep working at the same time. I figure if I could teach full-time while completing my graduate degree, I can definitely CLO full-time while doing a certificate program. No problemo! (I say now, full of energy and excitement. Ask me again in October and I may be singing a different tune.)

“Foreign Service? Sure! That sounds great! With my teaching degrees and background, I’m sure I’ll be able to land a job as we jump from country to country from now until retirement. I’ll go pack my bags right now!”  I may not have had a clue what I was talking about a few years ago, but I still think the Foreign Service sounds like a great idea and I am still convinced that I can use my teaching degree as we bounce from post to post. It is just a matter of expanding my teaching tool kit and looking at education-oriented jobs outside a traditional classroom setting- both of which are exciting prospects.

Now, about those nine credits…

A Bundle of Joy (X3)!

Almost two weeks ago, our UAB arrived in Chengdu. For those of my loyal readers not familiar with this State Department acronym, it stands for “unaccompanied air baggage.” (The Department has an alphabet and a half of acronyms. Everything from my job as CLO, community liaison officer in long-hand,   to ELO, one of Thad’s many designations, being an “entry level officer” to VAT, which is the “value added tax” that diplomats often get back from their host countries. It’s a veritable menagerie of capital letters!)  This UAB shipment contains most of the daily-life “stuff” we had while living a stone’s throw away from the Pentagon, including clothes, shoes, accessories and Thad’s ever-so-important PlayStation 3.

I was excited to hear that this set of boxes had finally made their way around the world, been approved for entry into China once Thad had his diplomatic ID card from the government and was headed to my doorstep, and more thrilled that I was not the one responsible for getting them to my twenty-fourth floor doorstep!

Two Fridays ago, a pair laborers from the consulate rang my doorbell at 10AM with a delivery that rivaled anything Santa might bring down the chimney. These two men hauled three large crates into my apartment, nicely dragging them a bit further in to the front spare bedroom so I at least had a walkway through my dining room.

Since it was a workday, I had asked my boss if I could stay home to receive the shipments and then come in post-delivery. (Wow! That last part sounds a little too maternity ward for me!) She said yes without batting an eye, as she is awesome like that! But, that meant that after the three crates made their way in to my home, I had to walk out the door without even cracking them open to take a peek. I had arranged with the consulate workers to ride back to work with them, so as soon as the boxes were shoved in the spare room, we headed out the door and to work, leaving me to ponder their contents and clock-watch all afternoon! (It is amazing how in just nine weeks you can totally forget what was packed where! What that means for the impending arrival of our HHE- household effects- being the things we packed out in Idaho well over a year ago, I can only speculate.)

When the minute hand hit the “12,” designating the arrival of 4PM, I quickly shut down my computer, grabbed my purse and hopped on my furious-fuchsia scooter, honking at any poor sap who happened to block my path on First Ring Road.

I had boxes to open!

As it turns out, the boxes were filled with what I would consider essentials. After nine weeks of wearing the same four dresses to work, I finally had options! (Four dresses in a five day work week means they go on a set rotation schedule. Monday’s dress also becomes Friday’s dress, but with a different necklace to hopefully hide the fact that it is in fact, Monday’s dress. Tuesday’s dress then becomes next Monday’s dress and the process starts all over again.)  Plus, the crates were the bearers of extra shoes and more necklaces (and decorative scarves for winter) and enough tank-tops to last me until, well, until next spring when they go on sale at Old Navy again.

I was also excited to see my Scentsy wax warmer and new scents I got while home in Idaho in the spring. (Thanks Candace!) Anything to make Chengdu seem a bit more home-y is high on my list. (Note: that is home-y, not homie, as in the gangsta’ crew and high as in top-ranking, not high as in “I took bath salts and tried to eat someone’s face.” That would make for a totally different blog post.)

Thad was less thrilled with the clothing options afforded by the shipment (this could be because I am pretty sure he packed every pair of socks he owned in our luggage to go on the airplane) and more excited that his beloved PS3 arrived, giving him (and by extension, me) a good excuse to hide indoors from the recent spate of hot/humid weather.  The sad (okay, not sad for me, amusing for me, but sad for him) part of this unpacking adventure was that the day I accepted delivery of our shipment, the power in our complex was scheduled to be off for eight hours.

Now, a PlayStation with no power is no fun, but the eight-hour window would have been over by late afternoon, before he would be home from work anyway. But no. Eight hours without power turned into a thirty-four hour slog sans electricity. (Think hot and humid with no air conditioning, no fans, no good way to get a cross-breeze through the house and a freezer full of precious cheese slowing turning to the Dark Side.) Eventually, as in a day and a half later, power was restored and the video-game playing machine was hooked up and ready to roll!

So now, we are one and one with our shipments. One has arrived, safely and soundly, while the other one still floats somewhere mid-Pacific. While it is exciting to contemplate the arrival of the second, meaning we will have all of our stuff again for the first time in nearly a year and a half, it is a bit intimidating, as I really have no idea what is coming from the house in Idaho! It will be like the grab-bag you can purchase at the school carnival. If you want even one or two things in the paper sack, it is considered a good buy. Even though I may not still want everything coming in that shipment (read: clothes I have not seen/worn in well over a year that are probably horribly out of style or so smashed and wrinkled they would make a shar pei look smooth), I know that at least my kitchen stuff, oodles of lotion/body spray and Christmas tree will find a good home in Chengdu!

Here’s to one newly arrived bundle of joy and fingers crossed that its sibling makes an arrival soon and without complications. Someone bust out the cigars and pass them around!

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Goodbye Bonbons, Hello PB&J

After a year of self-imposed temporary retirement, my days of lounging on the couch and eating Bonbons are coming to an end.  (Okay, there were no Bonbons consumed over the course of the last twelve months, but there was a lot of reading, writing and random wandering in the DC metro area, as well as a few less thrilling days filled with boredom and doubt. Luckily, the down days were few and more nostalgic than depressing.) Soon, as in Monday, it is time for me to rejoin the full-time workforce that powers our great nation. Granted, I am joining that forty-hour-a-week club on a different continent, but it is in the service of the Homeland, so I can soon commiserate with everyone else looking forward to weekend each Monday morning.

While my re-entry isn’t into the world of education (a topic about which I am having very mixed emotions), it is in a capacity that will allow me to be deeply involved in our new community and hopefully create some of the same connections with people that I was able to do teaching. I will be the CLO (community liaison officer) for the Chengdu Consulate. This means that I will work to help officers and families make the transition to their new home, work to create a great morale at the post, provide information about schools in the area, as well as event planning and (heaven forbid it is needed) crisis management on behalf of the families.

My brain (and notebook) have been in overdrive the last few weeks as I have been trying to glean as much information as possible from the outgoing CLO. She is a treasure-trove of knowledge about everything in this city. She can point an officer or family member in the right direction for anything from simple tailoring needs to wherein town to go to get an entire costume created. She can tell someone where to go to get a picture framed and then turn around and office advice to someone else on the best place to find a turkey for a special dinner. The woman is a walking Rolodex for Chengdu! Needless to say, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of having to create all of those connections myself, but luckily she has been kind enough to introduce me to many of her contacts and to take me on a variety of field trips to various sections of town.  She is leaving behind some rather large shoes to fill, but with my predilection for footwear, I am hoping I’ve got something in the closet that will sparkle and shine!

Monday morning, the year-long vacation comes screeching to halt. It might be a little painful when Thad’s alarm goes off and I actually have to roll out of bed, rather than give him a slight nudge to get him moving and then sprawl diagonally across the vastness of an entire bed to myself. And, in a few weeks I may be seeing the grass as greener on the unemployed side of the fence, but for now, I am excited to rejoin the workforce, to pack my peanut butter sandwich each morning and to actually contribute a few dead presidents to our bank account each month.

What exactly have I done with my year off? I have been…

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