So I arrived home on Tuesday morning, December 18th.
My last time home was the month of February, so about 9 and a half months ago. It wasn't as long as a time as least year (about a year to the day). There's a strange paradox in that it seems like it was a long time (especially during the Chilean winters and random days feeling homesick), but at the same time it seems like such a short time ago when I was last home.
My flights home were pretty uneventful. The airport in Santiago was busy on Monday night, but I had checked in online and only had to drop off my one checked bag. Recently airlines have moved to charging for a second checked bag for flights to and from South America, and if my dad hadn't told me about it I would have shown up with two luggage pieces and 70 dollars poorer.
There were swarms of people at the entrance for the international police, and I had to wade through Chileans waving, taking pictures, giving hugs, and calling out farewells as people walked through the gate for their international flights. International police took longer than I expected, but I still got through with plenty of time.
Using online checkin I was able to get myself into the middle seat with two empty seats on each side for both flights. I was able to sleep on the overnight flight to Miami and was surprised with both dinner and breakfast.
This was my first time in the Miami airport, and it is HUGE. I took a monorail after getting through customs and immigration and then found a breakfast place near my gate. I had about an hour until boarding, so I got a breakfast plate and some juice. The total with tax and mandatory 15% tip? Over 17 dollars. Note to self: Next time check the cost of an orange juice before just buying it. (It was 5 bucks).
After walking down to my gate with my luggage, I found out the gate had been moved. Back up 2 escalators and another monorail ride later, I arrived at my gate. I was anxious to get home and had a hard time sleeping on the flight, but after about 2 and a half hours I arrived.
We touched down about half an hour before we were scheduled to arrive. I got my bags and tried calling my dad from a kind stranger's cell phone, but he didn't answer. So I went out to the curb to see if he was driving around but no luck. Another phone call from another kind stranger's phone, and it turns out he was waiting up at the passenger exit.
The ride home included stops to get a pizza steak at the mall food court where my dad and I used to work as well as a stop to get some Philly pretzels.
So now I'm home, and it's a good feeling. I've been enjoying time with family and the food and places that are familiar to me: Texas Roadhouse, Panera Bread, Starbucks, and Barnes and Noble to name a few.
I've found myself with a good amount of free time here. I'm not working, and mostly everyone I know is working. At the same time I'm also sharing a car with my dad. In this free time I've come to a couple conclusions:
1. I have too many things at home that I'm not using.
2. I don't really need or want that many things when I go shopping here.
I'm sure that I've written about this before, but it's so easy to accumulate things thinking that you'll use them one day. Combine this with low prices of clothing and almost everything at Target and Walmart and you have a recipe for consumerism and accumulation of lots of unnecessary stuff.
I have to admit that I am particularly guilty of this in the realm of teaching materials. The textbooks and materials you receive as a teacher in the States often leave a lot to be desired, and so it's common to buy more books and materials to give your students the best experience possible. I ended up doing this not only for one subject area, but for three: kindergarten, Spanish, and German.
Most of those materials are collecting dust when they could be used by teachers here in the area. So I've made it a goal to clear out my teaching materials that I'm not using and either donate or provide them as an indefinite loan until I need them again. (In case that I ever return to the States to teach)
Coming back to the States always affords the perfect opportunity to go shopping. As I said before, prices are cheap and you can get really good value for your money compared to Chile. Walking around Walmart and Target, however, was a strange experience for me. I didn't really find much that I wanted or even needed. The only exceptions were travel size toiletries, a folding up laundry basket, and a few other odds and ends. I'm sure that other things will pop up between now and the time I return to Chile, but I find that I'm happy without feeling the need to buy "stuff".
This accumulation of "stuff" also carries over to teaching. I remember learning early on in my teaching career that the sign of a real language teacher is that he can teach without the use of a textbook. The teacher I worked with during student teaching didn't know what levels of Spanish he'd be teaching until the first day of school let alone have textbooks, and it was really interesting seeing how he managed to teach despite those challenges. I carried this over to my teaching, as I was in the same situation teaching Spanish for my first year at a charter school.
When I am out shopping I find myself feeling that perhaps I am relying too much on materials to do the teaching. Is this Wallace and Gromit video necessary? Do I really need another game? What about this puzzle?
After giving it some thought, I realize that my teaching is based on effective second language acquisition strategies. The materials that I have been seeking out are mostly for enrichment for kids classes that I teach; I find that kids don't want to have more school when I visit them, so we do minimal work for school and make learning fun and activity-based in an English-speaking atmosphere.
At the same time, I have gone a bit overboard with buying books and materials and not using them all. So in addition to clearing out materials I'm not using at home, another goal is to stop accumulating and maximize the use of the materials I already have for classes back in Chile.
It's hard to believe that Christmas is only 3 days away. I'm very fortunate to be home for Christmas this year and to have the opportunity to spend the holidays and most of January visiting family and friends.
To all of my readers I hope you have a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Belated Happy Hanukkah, and that you have an equally wonderful holiday season.