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.