Thursday, December 17, 2015

Facebook, Podcasts, and Realizations

Life in Santiago has been pretty routine the past few months, hence the lack of updates.

I've been thinking about a lot of things lately, and this post is going to be quite a bit deeper than my typical posts.

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.

What do I love about it?  I love being connected with friends and seeing their good news.  I can't always be there for milestones like engagements, birthdays, weddings, and the birth of their children.  It's obviously not the same as being there, but I love seeing pictures and  the feeling that I still have a connection to them.

I also love the instant communication.  I can have a quick chat with a friend I've been out of touch with.  I can plan an event and update guests virtually and share news and photos.  I can buy and sell things with a wider audience than if I didn't have Facebook, and I can also get advice and recommendations about restaurants and services.  People also post news about protests and happenings, which is handy when I'm traveling around the city.  They have even added a feature to mark yourself safe when a natural disaster happens.  When the earthquake happened in September, I was able to mark myself as safe so that my Facebook friends knew that I was ok.

What do I hate about it?  Well, the way some people choose to use Facebook.

Before I continue, I have to admit that I am far from perfect.  I look back at posts I made 3 and 4 years ago and realize the pointlessness of my previous posts or my desire for attention.

Some people give a play by play of an event that they are at.  Sometimes it includes pictures of every course of their meal or every picture of their vacation updated by the hour.  Don't get me wrong; it's great seeing some photos of a friend's vacation posted after the fact.  I'm happy for people that are having a great time.  It seems, however, that some people just want to show off how great of a life they have.  And Facebook is the perfect platform to do that.

Other people post about how much fun they had at an event or how much they miss a person, but they do it on their timeline.  There's nothing wrong with sharing this information, but is it necessary to do so in a public way to show off your friendship?  Sometimes it continues on with a string of replies back and forth about some type of inside joke or making plans for the next social event.  Maybe it's just me, but I find it annoying and unnecessary.  There's Facebook messenger, email, Whatsapp, and phone calls that can communicate the same thing in a non public way.

Sometimes you find out that you are excluded from an event or that someone has lied to you via Facebook.  Being on the inside of a social event is great, but being on the outside when you thought you were going to be included is a very isolating feeling.  People saying they are sick and can't meet with you but then post publicly to make plans with other people for the same exact time have also left be with a feeling of loneliness and rejection.  You could either be honest about things or at least be more discreet if you're going to lie or exclude a person.

Another thing that really gets to me is political posts.  There's nothing wrong with posting a news story if you're interested in having a civil political debate or that shows a point of view that you hadn't considered before.  Unfortunately I see people that post things with blatant misinformation or that seem to play on people's fears rather than using facts and statistics.  Why would you want to share something like that?  How is it helpful trying to engage people with different political views if you're not willing to have a civil discussion about things?

Then there are posts that are offensive and people that don't even try to understand another point of view.  I don't know about anyone else, but I find Conan O'Brien's "I ate all your Halloween candy" skit that he shows each year a disgrace.  For those that aren't familiar with it, a parent videotapes themselves telling their son or daughter that he/she ate all of their Halloween candy.  The child then throws a tantrum or bursts out crying.  This is intended to be a joke, and parents are encouraged to send in their videos each year to be shown on national TV.

Why in the world do people think that it's acceptable to manipulate a child's feelings in order to get a laugh?  Do people really value being on national TV more than their children's mental health?  This does not seem like a good way to cultivate a bond of trust and happiness between parents and children.  

Last but not least, there are posts that make fun of others.  Inside jokes and poking fun of friends is one thing, but making fun of people you don't know doesn't seem like a very productive or happy thing to do.  Do you really not have anything better to do than make fun of other people?  This also applies to posts that make fun of politicians, usually ones that have differing viewpoints than the person who's posting.

All in all, I have such mixed feelings.  I love being in touch with people, but you can only see so many posts that a single person makes about their amazing life, awesome vacation, or strong political views with no desire to discuss them.  I have found the unfriend and unfollow button very useful, and I'm also trying to spend less time on Facebook.  All in all, I think it hasn't been contributing to my happiness.

Given all that, how do I think Facebook should be used?

In my opinion, Facebook should be about bringing people together, making our lives easier, and helping contribute to happiness.  How can this be done?  

1. Share photos and personal news that is relevant and interesting.  If it's meant to incite jealousy or show off, don't post it.
2. Share helpful and interesting news.  Is there a road closure in your area?  Is there new research about a cure for cancer?  Did you find a new shop that might interest a friend?  Are there some kitchen hacks that will make cooking easier?  If so, share!
3. Help brighten people's day.  Share a funny story, joke, or video.  My personal favorite is the Suprised Kitty video that went viral on Youtube.  I have quite a few friends that are cat lovers, so any videos or stories that I find relevant I share with them.
4. Make fun of yourself.  A friend of mine jokingly told me that he hated me because of the travelling I had done.  A few weeks later I went to the ER with a badly sprained ankle.  I ended up wearing a boot for 2 weeks.  I posted a picture of my leg on his timeline with the comment, "So do you hate me now?"  It's something that he and I will always remember, and it was a good way to help diffuse his "hatred".
5. Find groups of people that share a common interest with you, and connect with them.  Not just through a screen, but by actually going out and meeting people in person.  I've made some great friends this way, and the in person connection is a way to help build community.

Will I ever give up Facebook?  I doubt it.  I do know one thing though.  Facebook has helped me to become more humble.  I share what is necessary.  I don't (or at least try not to) flaunt my success or staunchly post about my political views unless I'm willing to entertain a civil discussion about it.  I don't need to make a post about how blessed I am at Thanksgiving, and I don't need to change my profile picture to the colors of a country's flag in order to support them.  I do what I can to help others (even if I don't post an update or a video of it on my timeline), and I work to maintain my connections to people while connecting with others that will bring happiness into my life.

Another thing that technology has brought us is podcasts.  For those that aren't familiar with them, it is like a radio show that is on the internet that you can listen to at any time after it is published.  There are podcasts about almost everything in any language.  I've started listening to some that I find really interesting and helpful.

The first one is Nation Public Radio Planet Money.  It's about what's happening in the real world regarding economics, but it is geared towards people that don't have a degree in economics or finance.  They have such interesting stories, and they make for great conversation with people.

Another one is called The Tim Ferriss Show.  He's the author of The Four Hour Workweek and interviews guests that have been successful.  He also shares his habits and routines that help him to be successful.  It's interesting hearing from people about what they do and don't do, and it has opened my eyes to things that I can start doing differently in my life.  I particularly enjoyed the interview with Mike Shinoda from my favorite band, Linkin Park.

I also enjoy listening to Happier, a podcast by Gretchen Rubin.  She's the author of The Happiness Project, and she studies happiness and the development of good habits.  Each week she and her sister tackle an issue in an interesting way.  They share their experiences and ask the audience to share their experiences, and it's so interesting to hear that others go through the same challenges that I do.  They also talk about how other people see the world differently, which really helps to understand other people and how to live harmoniously.  They had a podcast about getting fired, and I wrote to share my experience having gone through it.  It was an incredibly hard time of my life, but a lot of positive came out of it, ultimately convincing me to make the move to Chile.

The last big one is called The Voluntary Life.  It's all about finding freedom and financial freedom.  It includes ideas about investing, saving money, living a minimalist lifestyle, and various paths to financial freedom.   This has been particularly helpful for me.

Over this year I have doubted my lifestyle of living in Santiago, having a cheap one bedroom apartment, and being my own boss.  I can make enough money to live, pay off my student loans, and put money into savings.  I don't have (and don't want) a car, because it's not necessary.  I'd like a larger apartment, but it's also not necessary.  I don't really buy many material possessions, but I do enjoy spending my money to eat out from time to time and travel.  People tell me I'm throwing money away by renting and they suggest I move back to the States and "get a real job".  Apparently there's something wrong with my lifestyle if I get such strong objections from people about it.  Or so I thought.

After listening to The Voluntary Life, I came to realize there's nothing wrong with my lifestyle.  I've chosen a lifestyle that doesn't include consumerism (with the exception of eating out and some things I enjoy like video games) and the accumulation of material goods.  I have chosen to be my own boss and manage my free time and workload.  I value experiences and travel, and that is how I choose to spend my money for the most part.  By living below my means and not buying a larger apartment or house that I would then have to spend a lot of money on to furnish and maintain, I prefer to save my money and use public transportation.  When I'm back in the States, I can rent a car if necessary.  I don't need to stay in fancy hotels when I travel; hostels or a room via couchsurfers work just fine.  When others voice their objections to my lifestyle I no longer have to justify it; their comments are a reflection of their own insecurities regarding their lifestyle choices.

I've become more cognizant of how I spend money as well as the possessions that I have.  I have started downsizing my selling or giving away things I'm no longer using, and it's a good feeling.  I've also started going through the vast amounts of paper that I have any getting rid of anything I don't need.  I've done the same with my email inbox.  I now have everything organized by category, have unsubscribed myself to lists, and deal with emails within 48 hours of receiving them.

I have 2 major goals for next year:

1. Be as paperless as possible.
There's an app called Evernote which allows you to take pictures of business cards, receipts, contracts, and other important documents that are then stored securely.  I already use Dropbox for my teaching materials, but being able to get rid of more paper will be a really good feeling.

2. Pay off my last student loan and set up an investment plan.
I got my unsubsidized loan paid off earlier this year, and it was a great feeling.  I have one more to pay off, and then from there I can start focusing on investing for my future.  I know I'm late to the game compared to most people, and I've endured harsh criticism for it.  While enduring that criticism, however, I've been busy crafting a lifestyle that works for me and that allows me to save a significant portion of my income each month.

I hope everyone is staying warm or cool (depending on where you're reading this from and what the weather is like there), and I hope you have a wonderful holiday and end of the year!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fiestas Patrias, Personal and Professional Growth, and When Clowns Attack

As I type this, I find it hard to believe how quickly the year is going by.

The weather has been unseasonably cold, and we have been getting rain beyond when the rainy season is supposed to be.  I've had a few days when I've been able to see my breath on my way to work in the morning.  Hopefully spring will be on its way soon.

Fiestas patrias this year was pretty low key.  I met with a friend and one of his friends, and we made food in his apartment.  It was nice having a small gathering, and they showed me how easy it is to make hummus.

The following day I went to a fonda with some friends.  We went to the one at Parque Padre Hurtado.  It was crowded and had the typical meat, bread, and terremotos along with various displays about Chile's naval and air force.  There were games for kids, and they had bumper balls!

Elana and I decided to get in touch with our inner child.  Inside the ball I woke up a sweat, and it wore me out even though I was only inside for about 5 minutes.  Being heavier worked to my advantage, as I was able to knock people over easily and was only knocked over once.  I tried to be gentle with the little kids, but even when I tried to bump them lightly they went flying (or rolling I should say).  A friend took a video of the experience, but apparently the file is too big to post on here. You can see it on Youtube by clicking here

One of the benefits of being my own boss is that I have control over my schedule and free time.  I haven't been very good about making good use of my free time, and for me it's easy to fall into the pattern of watching TV and spending too much time on Facebook.  I feel like I haven't been nurturing my mind to contribute to my personal and professional growth, but I've started making progress in a few ways.

First of all, I found a free online course offered by the British Council about taking the IELTS.  For those non-English teachers, the IELTS is an international tests that non-native speakers of English take in order to study or live in the UK or Australia.  I've been participating in the course for the past 4 weeks.  The videos and links that they provide are very useful, and it's interesting seeing other people's comments regarding the test.  On the website I've also found a few other online courses that I'm considering taking in November.

I'm also meditating on an almost daily basis.  It leaves me feeling more relaxed and calm, and I'm more prepared to tackle what I need to do any given day while feeling less anxious.

In addition, I've found a few podcasts that I enjoy listening to.  The first one is The Happier Podcast with Gretchen Rubin.  It's really interesting hearing about a different topic each week and what people do in other to develop habits that make them happier and healthier.  Another one is Freakonomics.  It was suggested by a friend, and it looks at interesting economic concepts related to current events.  The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss is also very interesting.  He's always trying something new, and it's interesting to see what he's done in his life to become so successful and happy.  

Taking in all this new knowledge and information is great, but at the same time it leaves me feeling a bit overwhelmed.  There are suggestions of new habits to try, new books to read, and articles that are worth checking out.  There are also a lot of interesting people here in Santiago that I could meet with in order to network and develop personally and professionally.  But where do I start?  Sometimes I feel a bit paralyzed and find it hard to start at all, but I'm trying to be patient with myself.  Between that and meditating I'm taking small steps to try new things and become the best version of myself personally and professionally.

Living in Santiago wouldn't be complete with some type of completely random event happening every once in a while.  So what happened this time?

I was attacked by a clown.

Yes, you read that right.  So, how did it all happen?

I was riding the bus home from my morning class, and a man dressed up as a clown got on the bus.  He had on a wig, a clown costume, and his face was painted white.  This isn't uncommon in Santiago, as entertainers in the form of instrumentalists, singers, and clowns will get on the bus and provide some entertainment.  In exchange they then ask for a small donation and walk around the bus accepting what is offered and thanking the passengers.  The clowns usually put on some type of comedy show.  If they are in pairs, they provide some quick-witted banter back and forth which usually gets anyone listening laughing.  If they are alone, they might make jokes or tease people.  They tend to try to get people that aren't paying attention to them to laugh or respond.

This clown was different, however.  He was seated on the other side of the aisle and spoke to me, and I ignored him and continued checking my emails on my phone.  Then he actually kicked my foot lightly and spoke to me again, but I continued to ignore him.  I thought it was strange that he wasn't trying to entertain people, but at that time I didn't think much of it.

Eventually he changed his seat to sit behind me, and then he moved back to his original seat.  A woman sat down next to me when we got to the next stop.  About a minute later, the clown started speaking loudly and stood up.  The woman fled from her seat, and he came closer to me.  He then stuck me on the head, and my glasses flew to the ground.

He was screaming at me, and I realized that he had been asking for money the entire time.  I'm not normally one to ignore someone that asks for help, but there was something strange about him from the beginning.  I shielded myself with my bookbag for about another minute while I called out for someone to help me.  We came to a bus stop, and he got off the bus.  As we were at the bus stop, he banged on the glass from the outside and continued to yell at me.

My hands were shaking, and I managed to pick up my glasses off the ground.  Luckily they weren't damaged.  A man came over to me and asked if I was ok.  I told him that I was fine, just a bit shook up.

I was fortunate that it hadn't been any worse.  The Chileans that I've spoken to say that it was a very strange situation and that they had never experienced nor heard of anything like it before.  I feel like I stood out because of my lighter skin, and he probably thought I was rich and would give him money.  The incident served as a reminder that I need to keep my guard up, even when I'm out and about during the day.

And now you can add me to the group of people that has a slight fear of clowns.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

In the Clear

As you've all probably heard by now, there was an earthquake in Chile.  Don't worry, I'm ok.

The epicenter was north of Santiago, near La Serena.  It was an 8.2, and apparently it was really strong.  

So, why do I say apparently?  Well, I didn't feel it!

I was on the bus on my way home from work.  At about 8:00 I got off the bus, and when I walked into my apartment building I saw a lot of people outside.  I asked what was happening, and they told me.  

While I waited outside, I started to contact friends in Santiago and family at home.  5 years ago I needed to communicate through TeachingChile in order to get through to my family, and I had to wait until the next day to get to an internet cafe to be able to call home.  This time I was able to email people directly and communicate via Whatsapp.  What a difference 5 years and having a smartphone makes.

After about 15 minutes, I decided to go up and check on my apartment.  The doormen told me that the elevators were working, so I decided to take it up rather than walking up 20 flights of stairs.

Another person joined me in the elevator, and we chatted until he got off at the 13th floor.  

After the doors closed, it seemed like an eternity to get to the 20th floor.  Why was that?

Well, things started shaking again.

I felt it, and I was able to see thinks shaking through the cracks.

Luckily, the elevator still made it up to the 20th floor and opened.  I went right to the doorway of the stairs and stood there.  

While I was there, the shaking continued.  I heard one of my neighbors calling out in despair.  Eventually he went to his doorway, and I talked with him and told him it was going to be ok.  He has family that lives along the coast, and he wasn't able to talk to them.  I motioned for him to come over to me, and I gave him a hug and told him it was going to be ok.  I told him we'd charge my cell phone once the shaking stopped and we'd get in contact with them.

A few moments later he went back inside, and the shaking stopped.  I checked my apartment, and only one thing was knocked out of place.  I moved my TV down to the ground and secured it between the TV rack and coffee table, and then I proceeded to pack an emergency bag.

One of my friends invited me over, so after turning off the water and taking my bag I went right back out the door.  (But this time I took the stairs down.)  I arrived about 20 minutes later.

We talked about our experiences with the earthquake and watched the live coverage while we had our cell phones out.  We spent the time updating Facebook and messaging people to see how everyone was doing.  There were some more aftershocks, and each time we gauged if we should stay where we were or go outside.  Luckily we were able to stay inside for all of them.

They set up an air mattress for me, and I went to sleep around 12:30.  It was difficult to sleep given the continued aftershocks, and one was so strong that we thought we´d have to go out.

I set my alarm for 6, and after thanking my friends for having me over I headed out.  After a taxi ride and quick breakfast and shower, I was back out the door for my only class of the day at 8 AM.  I had communicated with the student to confirm the class, and seeing that we were both fine we still met.

We spent about half the class discussing the earthquake.  When I returned home, I took a look around the city.  Everything looked pretty normal, and I doubt that there was any major damage in Santiago.

I have enough food in, but just to be on the safe side I decided to give the supermarket a try.  
In 2010 when I went it was a madhouse, so I was prepared to wait in long lines and to be patient.  The smaller grocery store Unimarc was almost empty and fully stocked.  I picked up some essentials and then went home for some much needed rest.

I have my emergency bag packed and ready by the door in case I need it, but I think the worst has come and gone.  Despite my good fortune, there are coastal areas that have been ravaged just a few days before the country's independence day holiday.  If you have the means, there are organizations to donate to in order to help people that are now homeless or without running water or electricity.

I'll update with more details in case anything else happens.

One more test to show how strong we are.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Weekend Travels, A Potluck Dinner, Some Despedidas, and the End of Winter

With the exception of two weekend trips, things have been pretty uneventful lately.

At the end of July there was the IATEFL conference in Concepción.  I took the bus down on Friday morning and arrived that night.  I stayed with the same friend that I stayed with for the wedding back in 2013, and it was great catching up.  We went out to a traditional restaurant for dinner on Friday night, which means seafood, fish, and more seafood.  I ordered chicken a lo pobre.  (I'm already fishy enough).

The conference started bright and early on Saturday morning, and I went around to some workshops with friends.  I also saw one of my former colleagues from Universidad de Talca as well as some amazing teachers from previous conferences.  I really enjoyed the professional collaboration and seeing what is happening with English teaching around Chile.  My workshop went well, and I had about 30 people attend.  The conference was supposed to go til about 8 at night, but by 7 I was worn out and headed out.

That night I went out for dinner and karaoke with friends, and I had a great time.  We spoke in Spanish, and I was able to understand and participate in 90% of the conversation.  It was a really satisfying feeling, and it helped me realize how much my Spanish has improved compared to when I arrived in 2010.

On Sunday we slept in and then hit up Papa John's for lunch.  This was my first time eating it outside of Santiago, and it was a nice lunch to have before getting back on the bus to return to el gran capital.  

After having paid off my big student loan and managing to establish stability working independently, I decided that I had earned a weekend trip to the beach.  I cancelled my Saturday morning class and moved my Sunday morning class to the evening, and I made my way to Viña del Mar on Friday afternoon.

I stayed at the same hostel that I stayed at in December of last year, and it was really nice.  It's quiet and in a safe and central location, and there were some really interesting people there. I shared a room with a guy from Germany that had just arrived to spend a semester in Viña, and there were 2 women from Germany studying in Santiago.  It was cool to talk about their experiences and impressions of Chile,and we had a little German breakfast corner which allowed me to practice my German.  At one point the guy turned to me and asked if I had any idea of how loud I snore, and we all got a good laugh out of it.  The hostel owner is also a great guy, and he remembered me from my last visit.

Besides the socializing, I enjoyed some nice meals, journaling and working at coffee shops, and just general exploring of the area.  The air is cleaner there, and it´s much calmer than Santiago.  While I love my work, working 7 days a week starts to wear on you after a while.  Going to Viña was such a nice change from the hustle and bustle of the city, and I'm glad I got away for a bit.

Anyone that knows me well or that reads my blog regularly knows that I enjoy bringing people together, and so I hosted a potluck dinner a few weeks ago.  I explained the concept to my Chilean friends, and some of them seemed puzzled that it wouldn't be ok to just bring potato chips.  Others thought it was strange that they would make some food that they liked but then have to share it for other people, and some thought that they had to prepare food for 15 people.  Explaining it seemed a bit strange to me since Chilean culture values the community over the individual, but in the end it was a success.  

About 12 people made it, and there was a mix of chicken, mac and cheese, Iranian food, cole slaw, beef stronganof, nutella crepes, leche asada, apple crumble, and a few other things that I'm forgetting at the moment.  It was an interesting mix of people, and I'm thinking of making it an annual event to bring people together.

One of the great things about the expat life is meeting really interesting people.  One of the challenges is then knowing that those people may one day return to their country of origin or move on to another place.  This is the case with a few of my friends.   Rudolf is returning to the Netherlands with his Chilean girlfriend, and Martin is moving to Germany with his Chilean girlfriend.  Because of other social engagements and travel plans I wasn't able to attend their official despedidas (farewell celebrations), but I still made a point to meet up with them one last time.  Them moving away makes me realize how much I value their friendships, and I'm hoping to stay in contact and eventually visit them on my next trip to Europe.

Last but not least, winter is coming to an end.  The weather has been much warmer than normal, and talking with friends we are all surprised that June was pretty cold but that July and August were quite mild.  There has also been very little rain in comparison to previous years, which unfortunately doesn't help the pollution and air quality.

September is around the corner, and soon everyone will be in a festive mood for the upcoming 18 holiday.  There will be empanadas, wine, pisco, fondas, and lots of cueca.  It will be a nice way to celebrate the start of spring.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Long Overdue Update

I'm back to the blogging world!

After an absence of almost 3 months, I'm updating my blog.

So, what happened to me?  

Well, a few things.  

First off, I decided to focus on some personal and professional development.  This has meant more reading, listening to podcasts, journaling, and connecting with other English teachers.

At the end of each day I felt mentally exhausted, and so I preferred to spend time watching TV or doing some other mindless activity on my own.  Such an attitude doesn't lend itself well to keeping a blog updated regularly, unfortunately.

During this time, I have come to some realizations.

I've been reading a book about being introverted, and it has been really interesting.  Not only do introverts (like me) have different preferences about how they spend their time, but they also think differently.  They process information differently, and even their physiological makeup is different.  These differences account for differences in energy levels, communication styles, and a myriad of other things.  

The book has helped me realize that I'm not a strange or bad person if I want to spend a quiet weekend mostly to myself.  It's not strange that if I'm out at a social event that I feel tired after 2 or 3 hours and am ready to go home.  

Another realization is that one of the most important relationships you can have is with yourself.  I think that being able to spend time by yourself, find activities that interest and nourish you as a person, and not need to depend on others for happiness is an important accomplishment to achieve in life.  

The third (and perhaps most important) realization is the reminder that I got from a podcast that a person's happiness largely depends on the connections that a person develops with others.  For some people it is very easy to withdraw from social situations and keep to yourself, but it's not always the healthiest thing to do.  During this time, I have made a conscious effort to connect with my friends and spend time together, and they have also made an effort to be sure that I get out and stay social.

So, what else has happened over this time period?

Some very positive things!

1. I paid off one of my student loans.
Anyone that knows me personally has probably heard me talk about the loans that I took out to attend graduate school, and over the years I have felt frustrated to be paying back an unsubsidized loan that accrued interest every single day regardless of if I was working or unemployed, healthy or sick.  I decided that I wanted to have this particular loan paid off by the end of the year, and as I made payments I realized that I was closer to paying it off than I had realized.  I made my last payment on July 3rd.

2. Chile won the American Cup.
Chile hosted the American Cup this year, which meant a huge influx of tourists.  It also meant that there was a lot of traffic around my neighborhood before, during, and after each game.  Chile won round after round, and each time the victory was celebrated with honking horns, celebratory chanting, and drunken revelry.  In the final it was Chile versus Argentina, and when Chile won the city exploded in celebration.  The game happened on the 4th of July, and knowing that the game was scheduled to end at about 7 or so I decided to just stay in and recharge my batteries that day.  It was a good decision after hearing about people trying to travel from one part of the city to another after the game finished.

3. I I was selected to give a workshop at the IATEFL Chile conference in Concepción this weekend.
I always enjoy going to conferences and getting to share teaching strategies and ideas, and being selected to present this year is a huge honor.  This will be my first weekend trip outside of Santiago since I returned in February, so I'm really looking forward to it.

4. I've been able to start a gym routine.
I have some new classes located in downtown Santiago, and I have a 2 and a half hour break between some of them.  This allows me enough time to get to the gym, work out for an hour, shower and change, and run a quick errand or two before my next class.  My schedule will allow for me to do this 4 days a week, so my goal is to get to the gym 3 days a week.

To make up for all the text in beginning of the post, here are some pictures of social gatherings/events that have happened over the past 3 months:

At Moe's Tavern

View of the fireworks from my apartment after Chile won the American Cup
A burger at Hard Rock Cafe in Santiago
Vanilla tea and pumpkin pie at a new coffee shop
Meeting up with Cristobal.  We were both exchange students in Germany 15 years ago.
In the polka dot art exhibition with Ellen
A room of changing colors in the polka dot art exhibition
An interesting room in the art exhibition
In the polka dot sticker room.  Everything was covered in stickers.
A dance troupe performs caporiera at an Africa Day celebration
Having fun at a cat cafe
I hope everyone up in the Northern Hemisphere is enjoying the summer!  Until my next update.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Following your dreams

The idea of following your dream has been something that has guided me throughout life.

I remember being introduced to the double bass in middle school and deciding that I wanted to learn to play it really well.  I began practicing at school each day, convinced my parents to let me take a school bass home over the summer to be able to practice, took lessons, and played in as many orchestras as I could.  I was very fortunate to have the unwavering support of my parents in the form of attending concerts and driving me all over the area for lessons, rehearsals, auditions, and concerts.  I also had some inspiring teachers that always believed in me and helped me to become the best musician I could be.  By the time I left the States in 2010 I had played in my high school orchestra in New Jersey, South Jersey Youth Orchestra, New Jersey All State Orchestra, some community orchestras, and even the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra.

Another vivid memory of mine was meeting some exchange students when I was in high school.  I went to a presentation about being an exchange student during my freshman or sophomore year, and it sounded like a great experience.  I had this dream about living abroad, learning a new language, making new friends, and being immersed in another culture.  At that time I decided it was something that I couldn't do for financial reasons.  The following year I met and became good friends with an exchange student from Spain, and it rekindled my interest in the idea.  I decided that I was going to apply and see what happened with it.  In the end, I was accepted to the program and was an exchange student in Germany for a year.  During that time I lived with host families, attended school, played in the school orchestra, and traveled.  Some Germans there told me that there was no way I could master German in one year, and that lit a fire in me that made me even more determined to master the language.  By the end of the year, I was fluent and at the point that I was dreaming in German.  I once again had the support of my family to help make the experience happen, but this time I also had the Rotary club that sent and received me, my host families that opened their homes to me.

I didn't see myself being happy staying in New Jersey or anywhere nearby to go to college.  I didn't know what it was, but something about California was calling out to me.  With the help of a generous financial aid package, I was able to fulfill my dream of going away for college.  Meeting people from different parts of the country and even different parts of the world broadened my horizons even further.  Being so focused on my studies, not having a car, and also needing to work didn't allow me to have as active of a social life as I would have liked to have, but I still have great memories from my undergraduate studies.

During my time in college I knew I wanted to travel and see more of the world.  After having spent a semester in Spain, I decided I didn't want to go back to Europe.  Something about Chile was calling to me.  While I was still in Spain during the spring semester of my junior year I started applying to a program to teach in Chile.  By the time I got back the program requirements had changed to needing to go to Asia for 2 years first, and I didn't want to do that.  I made contact with someone with a bilingual nursery school and wanted to give that a try, but that fell through.  I also applied for a Fulbright to be a teaching assistant at Universidad Católica for a year, but my application was shot down in the preliminary round.

At that point I figured that this was a sign for me to start my teaching career in California.  Due to a desire to expand my teaching skills and also make myself recession proof, I got my Masters in Teaching and my multiple subject teaching credentials after having gotten my single subject for Spanish and German.  The economy in California was already on the downturn by the time I started teaching in the fall of 2006, and after moving from one school ,city, apartment, and subject matter to another for 3 years in a row it was obvious that my opportunities in California weren't going to improve.

The hard work and constantly getting laid off was exhausting and beyond frustrating.  I wasn't happy, and I decided it was the time to go after the dream of traveling and living abroad again.  

Chasing my dream led me to Santiago, and after a brief stint as a teaching assistant as a colegio I got into institute work and began to pave my own path here.  

Over the 5 years here I've met people that have also followed their dreams.  A dating couple that I became friends with grew tired of Santiago and decided to move to Istanbul.  Another couple of friends that I met really wanted to experience life in Asia and moved to Cambodia and Thailand.  Other people I know weren't happy living in New Jersey. After putting in a lot of hard work into searching for the right place for them, they made the move to another part of the country where they could have more space to grow their own food and live in a calmer area. I have met other people on my travels with dreams of expanding their small tour companies and hostels to be able to show more people the beauty of South America, and yet others have taught themselves how to repair electronics and build furniture but lack the funding to get their own business off the ground.  

No matter at which stage people are at in their pursuit of their dreams, hearing the dreams and what drives people is something that is really inspiring for me.  It reminds me that I have those dreams too and no matter what other people say or think that my dreams are worth chasing and that I am capable of realizing them.

One person that has been particularly inspiring for me is a good friend of mine named Ellen Dizzia.  I met her when she was working as an administrator at a low income school in Santiago managing the English program, and she worked incredibly hard to give the kids at the school the best experience possible with an exposure to English.  Since then she has moved on to form an NGO called Access Inglés.  

The gap between the haves and have nots in Chile is large, and one of the roots causes is access to a quailty education.  In short, Access Inglés wants to improve English instruction for schools in Santiago.  Ellen has worked tirelessly for the past four and a half years to develop the program and help end the inequality with access to quality English instruction for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.  When opportunities have arisen, I've donated resources to the school and done what I can to help her.

She has started a fundraising campaign in order to help the program continue to grow.  If you'd like to read more about it, click here to visit the website and here for the Facebook page.

If you'd like to read more about the fundraiser effort and/or contribute to it you can click here.  

To give full disclosure, I am listed on the website as one of the teachers supporting the program.  I am donating a portion of the money I make from any classes I receive through Access Inglés back to the program.  

As I think back to my past dreams and the people that I've met and their dreams, I also feel conflicted as I hear the voices of naysayers in the back of my mind that suggest I change careers or move back to the States.  Seeing others achieving their dreams around me just inspires me more to follow my dreams and create my own path.

If you'd like some inspiration about following your dreams and creating the life you want, I recommend reading No Opportunity Wasted by Phil Keoghan.  He writes about almost dying as a teenager and then vowing to pursue his dreams, no matter how crazy or difficult they seemed.  He lays out a roadmap for how to do so as well as common themes he associates with doing so.  It's a really easy read, and he includes anecdotes from his own life as well as others he has helped to realize their dreams.  If you want to learn more about it you can visit the website Phil has created here.  

Some thoughts to finish this post:

Image result for it's the possibility of having a dream

My dream is broad.  I want to help people reach their goals in relation to English.  I want to inspire fellow educators and help improve the teaching of English in Chile.  I want to teach people, help them expand, and inspire them to chase after their dreams.  I want to help people see that you are capable of doing anything you put your mind to.  Doing these things, I hope I can bring about positive change in the world.

So, what is your dream?

Friday, April 10, 2015

A visit home, some challenges, Easter, and a new beginning

So I arrived back in Santiago the third week of February, and a lot has happened since then.

My trip back to the States was all about connecting and reconnecting.  I saw the family and friends that I usually get to see, but I also reconnected with people I hadn't seen in years.  A friend from high school had been on Jeopardy a few weeks before I got back, and my dad saved it on DVR for me to see.  I got to meet up with her and met her 2 year old daughter, and it was so nice catching up since we had last seen each other in 2009. 

Another friend from college who quite possibly saved my life during a motorcycle accident now is going to vet school in the area.  (In 2006 was hit by driver who wasn't looking where she was going and knocked off my motorcycle and was lying in the street.  My friend parked her car in front of me, preventing any cars that might not have seen me from running me over while lying on the ground.)   Although we had been in contact via Facebook over the years, this was our first time seeing each other since the accident.  She got to experience the magic of New Jersey diners, and I got to embarrass her with the waiters and waitresses singing her Happy Birthday, as her birthday had been a few days before then.

Another friend got married in September, and I traveled out to Pennsylvania to spend time with her and her husband.  They took me on a culinary tour of the area, and we also went to an arcade game place.  You got a card and was able to play as many games as you wanted, and you just paid based on the amount of time you were there when you left.  I beat The Simpsons game for the first time and got to play Smash TV and Paperboy, both games that I enjoyed playing as a kid. 

I reconnected with some other friends from my time when I first came to Chile that have since moved to San Diego, and another friend from my exchange year in Germany was also in the San Diego area.  I stayed with a friend that's interested in moving to Chile, so we had some things in common to talk about, and getting out to the West Coast was a really nice experience given the cold weather in New Jersey and since I hadn't been to San Diego in over 5 years.

At the same time, I have mixed feelings whenever I go "home".

I say home with quotation marks because I feel like that concept of home is a fuzzy one for me.  I'm from New Jersey and I consider that my home, but I have an apartment, job, friends, and life in Chile.  I also consider it home.

Back at my dad's house I have a lot of books, teaching materials, and general things that I own.  Every time I go home my dad asks me to organize them or do something with them.  Most of them are in the basement so they aren't bothering him, but they are collecting dust and taking up space.
I've always told myself that I need to hang onto my teaching materials.  For those of you that don't know, teachers are usually pack rats.  The textbooks that schools provide (if they provide one) aren't always motivating, accurate, or updated, and as you grow you develop materials that fit your teaching style and student population.  Even thought I taught a relatively short time in the States, I have things to teach elementary school, Spanish, and German.

I have this internal debate with myself.  Part of me says that I should give these things away to teachers that can use them now.  Another part of me says I should hang onto them in case I need to move back.

During this visit home, I painstakingly sorted through some of my things and eliminated one of the bookcases in my room.  Part of this was possible because with my new job I have an office where I can store and use my books about teaching methods, which I took back with me to Chile.  This then allowed space on another bookshelf to put books from the one I had just gotten rid of.

There's still a lot more to sort through and decide what to do with.  I really thought why this has been so hard for me to do.  Having things occupying space in my dad's house gives me a sense of connection to one of my homes.  The way I see it, I have a foot placed solidly in Chile and a bit less solidly in the States.  By giving away or getting rid of the things I have at my dad's house, I feel like I would be lifting that foot up off the ground in the States.  This would leave me with the option of putting both my feet down on the ground in Chile or standing on one foot in Chile, not sure what to do with my other foot.  I think both of those ideas are a bit more for me to deal with than I can handle at the moment, hence me dragging my feet on my dad's request each time I'm home.

During this last visit home I had the same feelings as the past few times.  I feel like a tourist in the same area where I grew up.  I did a pretty good job of occupying my free time, but another feeling came up.  This time I felt like I'm drifting away from people.  My lifestyle of living outside the States, being able to hop on a bus and get to the beach for a day or inexpensive weekend trip, being able to rely on public transportation instead of maintaining a car, and other factors are so different from other people's lifestyles.  As time goes on, with some people it seems like you have less and less in common and less and less to talk about.  You grow and change in different rates and in different ways.  Unfortunately it's not always easy to deal with these things.

It was great returning to Santiago, but I faced some unexpected challenges.

In early March I had an accident and had to go to the emergency room.  I was walking towards the bus stop, and when I saw people starting to board the bus I started to run to try to catch the bus.  There was a hose on the ground that I didn't see, and I fell forward on my chin and my teeth went into my lip.  My white dress shirt had some varying shades of red due to the blood.  I laid there for a minute or so trying to figure out what to do, and a kid jumped out of his father's car and helped me up.  They took me to the clinica, and there a dentist took some X rays.  My teeth were fine, but I needed stitches in my lower lip and my right hand was scratched up from the fall.  For about a week and a half I could only eat soft food, but after that I got the stitches out and I'm back to normal.  I thought everything would be fine with my insurance, but since a dentist took care of me they considered everything as dental work that was done.  My insurance doesn't cover emergency dental work, and so none of it was covered by my insurance.

A week after the accident I started having problems with my phone.  I checked it one day, and the screen was a scramble of images and colors, and shortly after that the screen would only show a lovely shade of black.  I could hear that I was receiving notifications and the touch screen still worked, but not being able to see anything rendered it useless.  

I tried going around to get it fixed, but after visiting Samsung's repair shop and 3 other stores here I gave up.  I contacted Amazon since Samsung in the United States wasn't able to do anything, and luckily they agreed to give me a refund if I mailed the phone back.  (I had had the phone for less than 6 months when the problem happened.)  I didn't feel confident mailing it back to the States from Chile, but luckily a friend of mine was traveling to the States and mail it back from there.  

In the end things worked out fine, I got a new phone down here, and I got my refund.  I was just left feeling anxious, as there was a period of almost 3 weeks when I wasn't able to see any of the notifications I received.  I lost all my Whatsapp conversations, so I don't know what I missed during that time.

Last but certainly not least, I was excited to start my new job as the coordinator of the language program of the Santiago campus at Universidad de Talca, but in the end it wasn't the right position for me.  I don't have any administrative experience, and I naively thought that it was something I'd be able to pick up and learn on the go.  In addition to managing the program (scheduling classes between 3 different schools, dealing with constantly changing schedules, creating an annual plan, opening a tutoring center, overseeing the tutoring center of 5 different campuses, managing conversation classes and the problems of over 400 students), I had to teach 7 courses. The stress got to me, and my anxiety was so bad that my hands were shaking at work, I couldn't sleep, and I couldn't concentrate to do any work.  My health was taking a serious toll, and I had only been on the job for a little over a month.

I called up my boss last Friday (it was a holiday here), and I resigned.  I had mixed emotions about it.  I felt like I was letting the university down and that I was abandoning the students I had been teaching.  I felt like a failure for not having been able to live up to the expectations of my bosses and manage the program.  The hardest part was packing up my office and writing a letter to the students explaining that I was leaving.  I went in early Monday morning to clean out my office and drop off my keys, and as I walked home I ran into one of my students.  It was really hard to see him and know that he was going to be without a professor until they find a replacement.  I also had this dream in my mind that I would one day be a university professor, specifically the type that pushes his students to achieve their dreams and see them move on to accomplish their dreams.  With my resignation this dream came to an end.

Despite the challenges, some good came out of the situation.  I had a great time teaching the summer course in Talca, and I'm still in touch with my former students there.  Some of them are now starting their musical careers and have moved to Santiago, and it's so great seeing them pursuing their dreams.  I met some amazing teachers in Talca, and the sense of community and collaboration there was inspiring.  The staff at the campus in Santiago was great, and they did what they could to support me and help me with the job.  I also got an insider's look at the inner workings of a university of Chile, and I think it's quite a unique experience that not many foreigners would normally have.  

Last but not least, the contract that I had was to issue boletas and didn't have any health benefits or retirement contributions.  Essentially, I was an independent contractor. While that doesn't sound like a good situation, a contract of that type allows employees to be fired at any moment.  On the flip side, employees can also quit a job at any moment.  It became quite clear to me that I didn't have the necessary skills for the job, I was miserable, and my health was suffering, so this allowed me to get out and opens things up for a more qualified person to take over.

During this time, I had great support from my family at home as well as my friends here.  I organized a barbecue to celebrate the beginning of the new job the second week of March, and we had a great time.

With Martin and my CORFO students from 2012

Friends from all over
My friends also talked me through the difficulties I was having, visited me, and made a special effort to spend time with me, and it was really helpful having their sympathetic ears and support.

Then it was Easter Sunday.  

It was unconventional in the sense that there were no Easter baskets, no Easter bunny, and no visit to church.  I met up with a friend and we walked to the top of Cerro San Cristobal, and in the afternoon friends came over for drinks, food, and to play Settlers of Catan.
Settlers of Catan with friends.  Thanks to Rodrigo and his selfie stick for the picture!
In another way, however, it was a bit conventional.  

I'm not a very religious person, but Easter was a time of resurrection of Christ.  It's springtime, a time when flowers bloom and flourish.  I feel like the same is happening for me.

After thinking it through, I don't think that having a conventional job is for me.  I like being my own boss, deciding which classes I'm going to teach, and which projects I'm going to work on.  I like the flexibility of deciding my own hours and workload.

So this Easter season is a time of rebirth for me.  It's a time of taking control of my professional career .  It's a time to reestablish healthy eating habits, an acceptable work life balance, an exercise routine, and help people meet their professional goals in relation to English.

This new beginning is exciting for me.  I don't know how it is all going to play out, but I know that in the end everything will be fine.  In order to start the new adventure I'm meeting with friends tonight for Mexican food and margaritas to celebrate.

Now I just need to strap myself in for the ride.