reflections: my 2nd semester overseas

It is a beautiful day today here in Sao Paulo.

As I sit on my balcony and type this, I can hear the vibrating diminuendo of the Brazilian-ice-cream-vender-flute-call. A small corner of the sky hides pale blue dancing with crisp cloud puffs. The majority is overcast, hinting at the impending showers; they come just like they did in Colorado: furious in the afternoon, then gone. With this wet promise comes the cooling caress of a breeze.

The breeze takes me back to the first ones my skin felt on this Brazilian land. I remember writing about how hard some of the transitions were. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed by a list of changes: not understanding the language; why can’t I flush toilet paper; why was that meeting so unclear; what is happening here; where are the systems I expected to be in place; do the kiddos like me; do I expect too much; is Dave ok with this adjustment; how do I collaborate with new people; who will be my friends; I want to be with my new great niece; am I good enough to be here; why is the bed wet; can I just find a restaurant to get quick and easy American food. The insecurities and misplacements and disjointings poured down on my cold (didn’t expect that!) skin.

But now, I am months into my second semester abroad. And it feels different. I feel different.

I am different.

I find myself grateful for this dual culture calendar that affords so many holidays. I mean, I was on winter there/summer here break for five weeks! Only to be followed by another week-long break in February. And all of that on top of an extensive summer there/winter break here. I can get used to this!

I am in awe of how many places we’ve experienced and how accessible travel (both in budget and transportation) is down here. Just the other day in a conversation with my students about travel plans, I heard these words come out of my mouth: “Oh I love Buenos Aires!” And then promptly followed by: “OMG, I am a person who says that kind of stuff!”

I feel like I’ve hit my stride in the classroom. I’ve found (and held tight to) colleagues who push me to be better in reflection and practice. I feel like I offer my greatest gift to my students here as I always have: preparing them rigorously while caring for their hearts. Students linger in analytical conversation in my class, but they also laugh uproariously (sorry next door neighbors). Students ask how to grow academically while I ask how they’re really doing. Students have aha’s in the classroom and say hellos in the hall. I have realized: a rich kid needs the same thing as a poor kid; everyone has his/her own trauma. My job doesn’t change from tax bracket to tax bracket or country to country…it is to teach, it is to love.

Professionally, I feel like I’ve prioritized what matters to me: leading by example and not by title. How can I contribute to a positive adult culture? How can I be above reproach in my instruction? How can I be at the top of my game? How can I be reflective and improve? How can I be trustworthy and true to my word?

I’ve made friends and so has Dave. We have more friends than time (partially that’s the innate preservation of my introverted side; I am a homebody at heart). We have several different groups we run with. And yes, though I deeply miss my besties, I don’t feel the aching sense of loneliness anymore.

We speak the language. A bit. But a bit measures a long way in the hearts of warm Brazilians. We feel comfortable in restaurants, in Ubers, in hotels. We still have a long way to go, but a language foundation helps a ton.

Our apartment is more decorated. We’ve hung up treasures from the US, memories of loved ones, and collected moments of our new life.

I guess, in the end, as now I type inside because that impending rain has arrived, I think…

I am home.

And it is beautiful.

 

 

 

 

the untethered expat: culture shock

I’ve been a bit off lately.

I’ve seen it coming, and I recognize it for what it is, but nonetheless, it’s unsettling.

I felt it on our school trip to Belem. The last presentation–the culminating speech–was in Portuguese. Again. Chaos erupted across the room as Brazilian friends leaned in to translate for their foreign peers. Someone leaned over and began translating for me. I was hot. I was itchy. I was tired. I was annoyed by an earlier rude interaction. I couldn’t focus on the speaker, I couldn’t focus on the translator, I couldn’t focus. My skin crawled. I left the room with a wet face and huddled in a bathroom stall, a secret fight with my tears.

Culture shock.

I felt it on our twelve-hour commute home from Ihlabela. The sky leaked, the traffic crawled, the language blurred–all closing our access to “normal” road trip conveniences: a bathroom where I can flush the toilet paper, a restaurant where I can read the menu, a map where I can navigate the alternative routes. No one looked like me. No one talked like me. I was trapped in a car on a road going nowhere, literally, in a foreign land.

Culture shock.

Those moments were sudden and striking compared to the undertone of malaise I’ve been experiencing lately. A sense of floating pervades my daily experience. A lack of connections confounds me. A tangled web of “what was” and “what is” and “what will be” constricts my access to air. And I already wrote about the plague of insecurity.

Culture shock.

1_8NUOaTClmFPvDi9U4HpscwRecently during some circle conversations and mindfulness moments in class, I’ve asked kiddos:

What are you grateful for? Who are you grateful for?

Like always, I was moved by their responses. However, unlike always, I was also moved by my response. Not in a good way: it took me so long to think of who or what I was grateful for. For a while, my mind was completely blank. This is not like me. I’ve written about gratitude often (see: here or here or here or here). It is important. It is foundational. It is me.

But there I sat, a silent vacuum.

Culture shock.

All of this–my response to and experience with culture shock–has been on my mind constantly. It guides my meditation practice. It is the source of dinner conversations with Dave. And I’ve come to realize that my lack of gratitude is rooted in, well, my lack of being rooted.

It honestly hurts my heart to call to mind people or things or experiences back in the US. I’ve “left.” My heart aches with a sense of abandonment.

It’s as equally challenging to root into what is new and express gratitude for the here and now. My heart aches with a fear of surrender.

And I know it doesn’t make sense.

Culture shock.

And so, as always, I am left with my breath. Gently noticing this experience, observing what it feels like from head to toe, from heart to soul, and ultimately letting go.

f4f1f9ed7fdab75e0f4eb45357a89225

 

 

 

 

 

 

expat insecurities: how moving overseas turns you into a middle schooler

This post has been marinating a while in my mind (often around 1 or 2 middle of the night: time to wake up and worry about things you can’t control. yippee!).

A variety of factors have appeared on the radar recently that I’ll attribute to a storm of culture shock brewing off the shore. An extended commute where I was stuck in a car in a land where I don’t speak the language (where is a restaurant where we can stop for a quick meal where we actually fully understand the menu without a million Google acts of translation?). My dear niece having a baby (whose cuteness level should be legit illegal). Video chatting with my best friend (oh right, your life goes on without me). The stupid fantasy that it would be easier to get healthier here (look at all those fresh, local fruits! where? well, you just have to walk past the bread and cheese aisles. what?). Texting with my godson (I shouldn’t be crying this much).

We arrived in Brazil in July (three months!), and so I expect this on some level.

But what has taken me by complete surprise is how completely insecure I am around other adults (eck! I am that adult).

It’s like my mind has been usurped by a middle schooler:

Do they like me?

I don’t fit in.

How come they didn’t invite me?

Where do I belong?

Do I look ok?

Where is the cool group and how do I get in?

Nobody likes me.

What am I doing wrong?

Gross.

Of course, as I reflect, it makes sense. I am a new country, alone except for Dave, everything is unfamiliar, nothing is easy, the majority of those around me are also in some form of transition, my family and soul friends are on another continent, etc.

Yes, a healthy social structure is essential to surviving in a foreign land.

But, a healthy social structure takes time to find.

Time to build.

So in the meantime, I will try to accept this part of the process, this part of myself.

You too, Middle-School-Mary, are welcome here.

 

 

catch up journal: days 10-31

Today marks our 31st day living in another country. We have frequent moments where we look at each other and say: “Holy cow, we LIVE here. In another country. On a different continent.” As of late, I often find myself in the stage of admiring our hefty-ball size for doing something so bold. #teampossum for the win, indeed.

It’s been awhile since I shared about the happenings down here in Sampa, so here goes.

  • Students. My students have consulates and CEO’s as parents. My students are Olympic-bound athletes. My students are well-educated and articulate and reflective. My students say thank you at the end of the lesson with sincerity in their voices. I worried I wasn’t going to be good enough for them. But alas, all my fears about not being able to meet their needs have been assuaged. As a trusted friend said: “Students are students and Mary is Mary.” I have anchored my new classroom experience in this. And it is true. The Mary who makes connections reaches the students who thrive through relationships. Or vice versa.
  • School. It has been a chaotic start to school. I’m still navigating, at times unsuccessfully, new professional relationships. The schedule has been surprisingly and frustratingly unsettled. There are so many different platforms to maneuver. I’m a bit astonished at how far behind international schools are from current US educational practices–some elements to my relief, some to my angst. And always, I am drawn to think about urban education. Despite these snafus, my current students steadily achieve at the highest levels of international competition. How I wish that were true for students for whom a defective system is just one more overarching oppression in their lives.
  • Home. We are nesting more and more. We put up one of our collage walls. Bought some rugs. Supplemented our kitchen. Figured out laundry (#godave). Got internet (hallefreakinglujah). Cooked dinner at home several times. Ordered some chairs for the guest room. Slept in and lazed around. Hooked up the tv. Bit the bullet to buy more expensive–but better–wine. The routine is starting to become more and more normal. Slowly. However, it still is a struggle with Dave not working full time and him assuming some weird imposed identity of #housebitch. What does that mean? And how do we do that? How do we adapt our roles? Well, lots more nesting to do there I guess. On the upside, it has been really good for him to take on role as JV coach for boys basketball, and to join in on staff league once a week.
  • Sampa living. It is starting to feel a bit more normal to not speak the language. We know the common greetings to give our porteiro and say them regularly. We use the beautifully industrious Google translate for images when ordering off a menu. We can consistently say “we’d like” (gostaria) and “2 more beers” (mais duas cervejas) and “no onion” (sem cebalo) and “thank you” (brigada). We are feeling more confident to order in stores by starting with whether or not someone speaks English. If not, Google translate to the rescue. We know the common questions asked at the grocery store. (No we don’t want to give our CPF. No we don’t need bags. No we don’t need parking validated. Yes credito.) [All of which clips quickly together in social Portuguese]). We regularly get around with Uber (aqui por favor) and order in with Ubereats (comida está aqui? vaminos [that’s Spanish, but it works]).
  • Climate. This one’s funny. I’m pretty sure the Brazilian-God-of-Weather is punishing me for how I made fun of people needing “winter coats down there.” Today I straight up taught in my Neff hat. I have had days where I am so cold, I have a sweater wrapped around my sweatshirt. Dave and I nightly sleep with Mom’s warm fuzzy blanket (that I told him we were bringing not for the weather, but for sentimental reasons) under another ADDITIONAL blanket. I haven’t seen the sun for the past week (as my new colleague said, “oh yeah, RAINforest”). Dave and I are currently working the miraculous two inches of warmth coming from our space heater. And it’s not the temperature that gets ya. It’s the bone-decaying-cold that comes from the humidity. I mean, come on, I’m coming from Colorado! Several nights, Dave and I have gone to bed on wet sheets. (And though I’m prone to wonder what he’s been doing all day, nope, it’s just the heavy wetness hanging in the air, perpetually. Perpetually.) When I put on clothes, they feel damp. (So NOW I know what the heck that DEhumidifier is I saw in the store a month ago. People would laugh that off the shelves in Colorado!)
  • What’s next? Well, we’re going to buy a car. Uber is convenient, but when it comes to driving out to Embu to buy furniture or shop without limit of trunk space or escaping for a hike or weekending on the beach or…  And, we need to buy some tickets. I’m really holding to the advice we’ve been given: always have a ticket in your pocket. I think first on the docket is wine country in Argentina for Thanksgiving. You know, just a few hours away by flight (insert whaaaaaaa face emoji here).

As I type this, I recognize I am in the honeymoon phase of culture shock. I feel good, for the first time in a while. (I feel like I went through every single stage every single day when I first arrived.)

But I’m here. Now.

And life is good.

 

parabéns: burgers and tutors

If you know us, you know we LOVE to eat out. (Like many other people, we plan our vacations around our meals.) This is one of the exhilarating and exhausting parts of being in a new country where the language is unknown: what do those Portuguese menus say?!

Unlike at home, it is not easy to go out here in Sampa. Enjoyable… Yes. Accessible… Yes. Varied… Yes. Adventurous… Yes. Exciting… Yes. Cheap… Depends. But easy? No.

This is what I’m realizing about living in a foreign country: nothing is easy. From reading different cultural cues to translating different menus, everything takes so. much. energy. I am a different kind of tired than usual: an aching and deep kinda tired. I’m tired in two languages.

But, Monday night, after a ten-hour day being productive at school, a nice meal at a restaurant was in order. I was both feeling fulfilled from finally working with my students as well as feeling prepared for the next day. So, a little bit of adventure called for the night. We considered walking to the Mexican restaurant (more Tex-Mex… Mexicancito?) because we LOVE Mexican food, and the menu there is more accessible with so many cognates and all.

But, alas, it doesn’t open until 6…and us gringos like to eat early and get home early and go to bed early. So we decided on a local burger place that had some delicious looking fries on the menu (I like salt, what can I say). A short Uber ride away, and we arrived at The Burger Experience.

Naturally, as it was earlier than Brazilian dinner time, we were the only ones there. But it was perfect because our waiter took us under his wings and made us his private little tutees. We stumbled through the language, relying on pictures, pointing, gestures and Google translate. And he would stop, look at us, and slowly say the syllables of words we butchered.

Car a mel iz ad a

Pic les

When we got it right, he made sure to give us the biggest high five and the loudest parabéns and the warmest smile. When we faltered, he’d pause on the part we got wrong and repeat it until we got it right, making us do the same. And then, parabéns!

So though not easy, Brazil is beautiful. A place where people bend over backwards to help you if only you try. (And not for a tip…this is not a tipping culture.) Their generosity and care flows from the pure tropical warmth of their hearts.

So now, Dave and I will start a new eating out tradition: burgers and tutors.

Parabéns!

 

 

 

 

 

prepare for liftoff: culture shock

In 2010, I spent three weeks in Puebla, Mexico to finish up my master’s program in ESL. Amid ancient cathedrals and extensive teaching units and luxurious welcomes and late-night plaza dancing and studious students and chocolaty mole dishes and open air markets, I found myself–in the air conditioned safety of my hotel room–having a meltdown. My skin crawled. I was overwhelmed with exhaustion. My brain was tangled between two languages. My body felt like it was walking in the twilight zone. My heart ached for home… for comfort, for ease, for freedom from having to work so damn hard to understand the mere basics of life.

recite-i5obqf

Culture shock.

I can’t help but reflect on that experience as we prepare to move 5,769 miles south to Brazil.

Like the naive American expat I am, I have been predicting the layers of culture shock and in what order they will fall.

  • First: school culture. One of the reasons I am changing student demographics is because over the last ten years teaching, I have felt my pedagogical craft dwindle more and more into the realm of motivational therapy. In each of the three schools I have taught, I have spent the first year there working my way into the hearts and trust of students; if not, there would be no learning. And though that is exactly where I want to dwell, and also where students remain forever with me, it is utterly exhausting to pour the entire contents of your identity out over and over and over and over, just hoping it will stick. (And of course, I do not in anyway blame the students. I blame their trauma and the system, but that is another post.) When interviewing for my new job, one of the questions the superintendent asked me was: “What are you most nervous about?” To which, I responded: “Having to win over another group of students.” He looked at me, quizzically, and then followed with a statement: “Oh, you won’t have to worry about that; Brazilians are so warm and welcoming. They will love you from day one.” Talk about a foreign language. Huh? Additionally, I have spent the last ten years convincing students what they can do: overcome society’s low expectations, overcome their neighborhood’s low expectations, overcome the school’s low expectations, overcome their own low expectations. Now, I wonder how much of my job is going to be convincing students of what they do not have to do: be perfect, pile it on, extend their resumes from two to three pages, add one more club, avoid mistakes, look a certain way, do it all. I have felt my calling the last ten years as one of inspiration; and now, I think it will be more aligned with the archaic definition: giving students the space to breath.
  • Second, city culture. This feels even more poignant as I have spent the last couple of weeks before departing the country in the country. In the mornings, we sit on the porch and watch the circus-squirrels fly from tree to tree and comically climb up (or fall down) a slinky to get to the bird feeder. We sit on the porch and listen to the echo of morning doves and the call of cardinals and the squelch of black birds. We sit on the porch and watch the sunlight dance in and out of shade. We sit on the porch and feel the caress of the wind. We sit on the porch and rest in the peace of nature. We did that in Evergreen, too. And now, we are moving to the straight. up. city. High rises and traffic and airports and favelas and exhaust and pigeon poop and sirens and constant lights… well, I don’t know what else, because we’ve never done it before.
  • Then, third, Brazilian culture. In Mexico, I could manage the language. But Portuguese? And what am I going to wear on a very-liberal-almost-naked beach? How do I pay in a currency I can barely pronounce? Am I going to be just another fat American? How do I get my prescriptions refilled? How do I follow along in a foreign workout class? Am I going to stick out like a sore thumb? What if I cling my forks on the plate in a restaurant? What other faux pas am I going to commit before I even realize what a faux pas is? (And how do you say that? And is there a word for that in Portuguese?) How do I find someone reliable to wax my privates? What if we can’t even find our way out of the airport? What if they think my anxiety-reducing-poop-provoking-magnesium-powder is crack? The more question marks I type, the more I think this actually might be the first after all.

If I’ve learned anything from my meditation practice, it is that 1, what we avoid, expands and 2, by naming it, something loses its grip. And so, this post.

I will welcome culture shock by its name, a guest to the party of adventure.

Tried and True Teaching Tools

writing into meaning

Reflections

An archive of reflective pieces included in school memos and publications.

gadflyonthewallblog

"To sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth."

Escaping Bars

Writings on Love, Pain, Overcoming, Hope, Longing, Justice, and Injustice

juliaetorres.blog

Strength \ Vision \ Service \ Exploration

A Tree On Fire With Love

But it's still scary sometimes because most people think love only looks like one thing, instead of the whole world

teaching With "Ang-sigh-eh-tea"

The life of a teacher who struggles with anxiety and depression.

Sampa Sympatico

A Yankee Teacher's Experience of Sao Paulo, Brazil

LINDSAY JILL

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

Once Upon a Time in México

Living my dream of teaching, traveling, and discovering culture

Teach. Travel. Taste.

A peek into the life of an American teacher in Colombia

2seetheglobe

Adventures in Globetrotting

Nomad Notions

Tales of Expat Living, Teaching, and Tramping in Taiwan and Beyond.

Sojourners' Journal

“Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people." —Albert Einstein

Middle East by Midwest

Observations and Experiences of Bahrain

Ex(pat) and the City

The life of a twenty-something Canadian living & teaching in Korea.

International Schools Review

ISR Discussion Boards are open to site members and visitors alike. Your Voice Counts.

Teaching & Traveling

The Life of An International Teacher

EAT~PRAY~TRAVEL

THE ADVENTURES OF A NOMADIC EDUCATOR

pedagogyofthereformed

Teaching in Brooklyn in Spite of Everything

Actively Dying

by Peter Fall Ranger

Practicing Presence

An attempt at mindfulness in life, learning, and love

chanyado

by Aleya Kassam

Words Half Heard

writing into meaning

Greatfull

A snapshot of my journey to living each day with gratitude and striving to be full of greatness

Imperfect Happiness

Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. ~ Mary Oliver

tspelczech

"I'm too old to live my life in fear of dumb people." - Charlie Skinner, The Newsroom

Perfectly Pleased

Finding joy and beauty in the simple things

Cultivate Clarity

creative writing and mindfulness-based coaching, workshops, and retreats

Crawling Out of the Classroom

In everything that my students and I do together, we strive to find ways to use reading and writing to make the world outside of our classroom a better place for all of us to be

ADVENTURES ON THE YOGA MAT

writing into meaning

affectiveliving.wordpress.com/

Purpose, Perspective, and Perseverance for thriving in a challenging world

candidkay

Taking the journey, bumps and all

jenny's lark

the beauty of an ordinary life

Nonlinear Compilations

Parenting, teaching, writing, and learning to find beauty in the present

talk from chalk

What I've learned while teaching

Thoughtful teaching

Thoughts on teaching in the modern world.

Hope, Honor, and Happiness

A blog for the book “Kingdom of the Sun” and discussions on finding the Hope, Honor, and Happiness in education, life, and the seemingly impossible.

Secret Teacher

Life inside the primary classroom

A Confederacy of Spinsters

Sex, Dating, and Surviving Your Twenties

Miss Four Eyes

Seeing twice as much absolutely counts as a super power.