Saturday, December 29, 2012

HAPPY Holidays

I’m a pretty happy person all the time.  I’m optimistic and tend to find the bright side in life.  I have also been incredibly blessed with fantastic opportunities, and I think my life is pretty great.

This December, though, I’ve been consistently happier than I can remember being in a long time.  Things have lined up well for me, and the next year will bring me a lot of good things. 

So of course, my time home for the Christmas holidays has been filled with lots of happy. 

I mean, come on…the good things started with the flight home.  Somehow when I booked my flight, the website put me into first class (without any price increase).  It’s the first time I ever flew first class, and I love it.  I’m probably spoiled already; flying coach is going to seem shabby after this.  So, even though last Saturday I spent 14 hours traveling, 6 hours sitting in first class made it all worth it. 

I love being home for the holidays.  My family Christmases are steeped in tradition, and I can’t imagine missing out for a year.  Even though preparations were rushed this year due to me coming home so late, we made it work.  My sister and I went shopping for gifts on Christmas Eve morning, and contrary to it being a stressful experience, we laughed our way up and down the aisles and came out with some fun purchases (let’s home our family agrees!). 

That afternoon, Liz and I put up the Christmas village in my parents’ house.  You let 2 teachers put up a village, and suddenly all of the characters have lives and backstories, and there’s not just a fence around a house—there’s a REASON for the fence.  Again, laughter ensued. 

The fence has traditionally gone around the church.  This
year, though, the family in this house has become
anti-social and lives on the edge of town.  

After church on Christmas Eve, my family opens our presents from each other.  Then on Christmas morning, we get up and there are more presents under the tree—the ones from Santa.  This year there wasn’t much that I desperately wanted, so of course I appreciate everything I did get that much more.  I got some AWESOME presents this year!  Some of the favorites include: a portable hard drive for my computer, a case for my tablet (see the post about the mayor’s gift to all students and teachers in Guayama), a travel book on Central America, and finding out my mom will pay for me to have a quilt made out of my old t-shirts.  

Christmas Day at my aunt's house 

One of Grandma's gifts on Christmas Day. 

The day after Christmas, my mom and Liz and I went to my grandma’s house to bake cookies for Saturday’s family celebration.  This is something we’ve done every year for as long as I can remember.  Over the years, Grandma has gone from being the head baker and teacher to being the official taste tester.  She supplies the kitchen and some of the ingredients, and her good company.  We do all the work.  I love it.  Of course, I have a nasty habit of eating too much cookie dough and too many cookies, so about 3 hours into the 5 hour baking day, my stomach was hurting and my energy was waning.  One day I’ll become an adult and learn from my mistakes.  Maybe. 

5 batches of cookies done... 4 more to go.

The rest of my break will be spent catching up with lots of people.  I have friends coming to town from far away, and I’ll be taking a road-trip to see a friend who IS far away, and of course there’s everyone who lives in my hometown and is always here.  There will be board games, and movies, and lots of food and lots of laughter. 

To all of you—I wish you very, very HAPPY Holidays!    

Thursday, December 20, 2012

La Parranda

Sunday night, I lay in bed at 11pm, having a stern talking with my brain, telling it to stop thinking about how great life was and to please let me sleep.  My brain had been refusing to listen for the past hour, and I was a bit frustrated with it.  And then my phone buzzed. 

Normally when a friend asks “what are you doing?” at 11pm on a school night, I would be tempted to reply with “Sleeping. Go away.” or just not replying.  And in fact, my answer Sunday night semi-resembled the former.  However, my friend replied that he was going to parrandear, and asked if I wanted to come along. 

Well…I wasn’t sleeping anyway, and the chance to experience a Puerto Rican cultural event really shouldn’t be passed up. 

Parrandas are sort of a funny tradition.  It’s basically really obnoxious caroling.  You stand outside someone’s house in the middle of the night, and then loudly bang on drums and sing Christmas songs until the residents wake up, let you in, and share their food and drink with you while you keep them awake a while longer singing more songs. 

On our way to Arroyo, my friend gave me a briefing on the drums that would be used.  There’s la bomba, or bass drum—which we didn’t have last night.  Then there are 2 hand drums—like tambourines, but without the jangles around the edges, more or less—the big one leads the rhythm, and the smaller complements it.  The bongos fit in around the cracks, filling out the melody.  My friend showed me the rhythms and how to strike each drum.  After 11 years on the drumline, I probably should have been more excited about trying it out myself.  But I was content just to learn and later watch, assured I wouldn’t have to play anything.   

It was a little after midnight when we pulled up onto a quiet residential street and parked near a few cars that were already waiting.  My friend passed around his drums and introduced la gringa to his high school classmates and their families—and everyone welcomed me with smiles.   Then, the 10 or so of us crept quietly to the front door of a house lit up with Christmas lights, and on the count of three, everyone started singing the traditional “let us in!” song.  I stood back and clapped along to the beat.  After a moment, the lights came on inside, and the residents came out to greet us.  After a few minutes of chatting, we all went inside and found seats in their family room.  Refreshments were brought out, and we spent perhaps an hour and a half singing every parranda song they could think of at the tops of their lungs.  I wish I knew the songs…singing along would have been a lot of fun!  I still enjoyed myself clapping along, though. 

Normally during a parranda, the party goes on, moving from one house to another. Since Sunday night was a school night and we were tired, however, we only went to the one house, then returned home. 
My brain gave me no more trouble about whether it was ready to sleep after that.  Spontaneity definitely does pay off once in a while.  I’m glad I bothered to read that text message!   

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Calle 13 Concert

There are so many reasons why I love my life right now.  The sun is shining, there’s a warm breeze blowing, I have 3 half days of school left before Christmas break begins, I live on a beautiful island, I have fantastic friends and a wonderful family, a great job, and there are—as always—travel plans in my future. 
And I got to go to an amazing concert last night.

I sort of decided to go to the Calle 13 concert on a whim, because Jenni, Kelsey, and Kezia were going, and I didn’t want to be stuck at home alone on a Saturday night. 
Excellent choice on my part. 

I didn’t know much about Calle 13 until the past week or so.  I’d heard a few of their songs and liked them, but that was it.  Once I’d purchased my ticket, I started listening to more of their music—and found I liked it.  I also found out that in 2009, the group was banned from performing in Puerto Rico by the then-mayor.  With San Juan under new leadership, they were allowed back for the first time last night.  25,000 people showed up to cheer them on. 

The crowd, as seen from above.
Photo from El Nuevo Dia

It. was. AWESOME. 
In the past, I haven’t been a huge fan of live concerts.  I find myself getting bored, or tired, or overly crowded (and with 25,000 people you’d think that would be a concert).  But that wasn’t the case last night.  I was completely entertained for the entire 2 ½ hours the group performed.  The music was great, the show was fantastic, and surprisingly, it wasn’t overly crowded.  Sure, there were tons of people, but we had room to dance and move along.  And we did dance.  It was a beautiful night, and while my shoes are now covered in mud and I drove home exhausted, the rest of me is no worse for the wear. 

Calle 13’s message was completely empowering too.  Before singing one song, the leader proclaimed, “En Puerto Rico se está viviendo demasiado violencia. Hay odio. Hay que dedicarle prioridad a la educación. Por eso es que pedimos una universidad accesible y gratuita. Si hubiese mejor educación, hubiese menos violencia. Se lo dedico a todas la familias que han perdido a sus familiares por criminales despiadados, a los estudiantes que han muerto por la causa, a lo que acaba de ocurrir en Conneticut, a Carlos Muñiz Varela... Se lo dedico a mi tío, asesinado. No hace falta delfinario, ni estupideces. Faltan profesores preparados, más escuelas.”
(My translation: Puerto Rico is experiencing too much violence.   There is hate.  We need to give priority to education.  Therefore we ask for accessible and free universities.  If there were better education, there would be less violence.  I dedicate this to all of the families who have lost family members to ruthless criminals, to the students who have died for the cause, to what just happened in Connecticut, to Carlos Muñiz Varela…I dedicate it to my uncle, murdered.  …We’re missing qualified teachers and more schools.”) 

You just can’t argue with that.
So…good music, a good message, good friends, and not to mention a singer with a body it did NOT hurt to look at for 2 hours…you’ve got a recipe for a fantastic, unforgettable night.  

My phone died as the concert started, and I didn't
have my I stole this photo from
Calle 13's facebook page.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Can't Change Your Fate

I don’t always believe in fate.  But there are some things that happen, and the odds just stack up against you.  And you can’t help but think nothing you could have done would have changed the outcome.  You can’t change your fate. 

Saturday morning, I had a goal: get to the beach as early as possible to enjoy the day.  Amanda and Josh also had a goal: avoid a flat tire.  We both took measures to make sure our goals would be reached.  But fate had other plans. 

Saturday, because six of us were going to the beach, we took two cars.  Because I wanted to spend as much time as possible in the sun, I went in the early car with Amanda and Josh.  We left Guayama by about 8:30am, right on schedule. 

Amanda and Josh, likewise, tried to avoid a flat tire by going to get new tires on Friday evening.  They purchased used tires and were pleased with the speedy service of getting them changed. 

We both thought we’d achieve our goals.

At about 9:45am, we felt a familiar thump-thump-thump-thump, and Josh pulled over. 
The right front tire (one of the newly replaced ones) was not only flat, it was shredded. 
Well…they tried.  But apparently we were meant to get a flat tire and be delayed on our way to the beach.  You can’t change your fate. 

And it was the theme, all morning.  We took a “donut break” with a dual purpose—to eat our breakfast and to give the donut tire a chance to cool down a bit.  Amanda proactively thought to avoid getting powdered sugar all over the seat of the car.  So, she took her donut with her and got out of the car.  Then she thought, she’d better have a napkin too.  So, she leaned into the car through the open window…and dumped powdered sugar from her donut all over the seat. 
You just can’t change your fate.  And that’s exactly what she told Josh when he noticed the white seat.    

The rest of the day was pretty great.  We’d only been about half an hour from our destination when we got the flat, so we just drove the remaining distance at about 35-40mph.  We still arrived at Crashboat Beach by about 11am, and the others joined us by noon.  The beach was a beautiful as ever, and we all enjoyed our day in the sun and on the sand.  It was relaxing, and…just great.  As any good day at the beach should be.  

Crashboat Beach, Aguadilla, PR

We stayed almost until sunset...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Take me out to a ball game!

Sometimes, I admit, I write a blog post simply because I’m out with friends and they say, “Take a picture!  For the blog!”  And then, well, I feel I’m obligated.

Even so, my first ever baseball game should probably merit a post anyway.

Friday afternoon, Sonja texted me and said they were going to a baseball game in Ponce, and stopping at Chili’s before, for an “all-American night.”  Funny thing is, before I came to Puerto Rico, I had never been to a baseball game OR to Chili’s!  So for me, I guess perhaps both “American” pastimes may be tinged with Puerto Rican flavor in my memories.  Still, I was all in for the evening.

The evening went just exactly according to plan.  Our waiter at Chili’s was from Connecticut, and from out seats the view through the window was of Burger King…we could have been in Anywhere, USA.  After dinner, we headed to the game: Ponce Leones vs Santurce…somethings.  We paid $7 for our entrance tickets and took our choice of seats.  We sat on the first base line in the front row for the beginning of the game.  There weren’t all that many people there…I was assured a game in the States would be different (not that I cared, at all).  During the 7th inning, we decided to take advantage of the choice seating and moved to the front row, right behind home plate. 

The game itself was quite enjoyable.  The experience was peppered with cries of “Cervesa!” (which switched to “Beer!” when the vendor was near our seats and the sounds of an air gun and a man blowing on a conch shell (only on a tropical island…we’ve got the real thing; no need to buy a plastic horn to blow here).  We “caught” one foul ball.  (The 1st base coach caught it and tossed it to us—but that totally counts).  Scott proved his psychic abilities by predicting in the 7th inning that #44, the pinch hitter, would hit it long and to left field to get on base.  His hit ended up being a home run…far into left field. 

The Leones lost the game, 4 to 11, but seeing as our allegiance to the team wasn’t the real reason we were there anyway, none of us minded too much.  We went home quite content.  And now I’ve seen a baseball game! 

From our seats on the 1st baseline

Our foul ball.  Puerto Rico baseball league! 

View from behind home plate

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Dangerous (Wonderful?) Addiction

I may have a problem.  International teaching job fairs are addicting.  After I finish one, I find myself thinking how amazing the next one will be and the things I will do differently.  I had such thoughts after the UNI fair two years ago.  Now, my plan has long been to end my international stint after my next placement—Guatemala, as it turns out.  But after this fair, I find thoughts, unbidden, coming to my mind such as, “In two or three years, I’ll have a masters in International Education and 4 or 5 years of international experience.  I’d have a free ticket to practically any school I wanted to go to.  The job fair would be excellent.”  Oh dear.  My family and friends back home would not be happy to hear these nasty thoughts! 

But the fact remains…these job fairs ARE addicting. 
There are a few reasons why.

       1. The people
International job fairs are always filled with great people to talk to and get to know.  I think it takes a special breed of person to be an international teacher; they are people who both love to teach and love to travel.  What this translates into in terms of personality (in my opinion) is a group of people who both love interacting with people and have a great sense of adventure.  So they’re easy to get to know, and they’re really fun!! 
     2.   The competition (against yourself, more even than against other people)
I say the competition is against myself, because at the fair, I truly wish the best for every candidate.  There’s no backstabbing, no resentment if someone else snags my job, no badmouthing others or employing “strategies” to give myself leverage.  But I do compete against myself.  There’s a strategy to gaining interviews, to keeping in contact, selling myself, making a good first impression, and ultimately landing a job.  It’s a game, and a really fun one!  (And the prize for winning is pretty excellent).
      3.  Possibilities looming before you and the ability to change your fate in a matter of hours.
Job fairs move FAST.  Often in 24 hours or less, you’ve got a new job.  In a matter of hours, varying possibilities are placed in front of you, and one decision will influence the next 1-3 years of your life.  It’s exciting!  The fair is definitely an “emotional roller coaster” (a term I heard used over and over this past weekend), and, in my opinion, it’s certainly a fun one to ride.

Don’t worry, friends and family.  Even though I would love to return to a job fair with all the tools to “win the game” in a few years, I don’t really see that happening.  I never say never… but don’t fret about losing me to the international world forever just yet.  I may try to break the addiction one day, after all.   

Monday, December 3, 2012

Follow Your Heart (Job Fair 2012)

I'll give you a hint...this post ends well! 

Oh, what a difference two years makes!  If you’d asked me two years ago, I wouldn’t have said I was particularly unconfident or scared at the UNI Overseas Job Fair—where I landed my job in PR.  But after my experience at the AASSA fair this weekend, I look back and realize that I was nothing more than a scared little puppy at the last fair. 

Of course, I had reason to be.  I was fresh out of college, no experience, only my student teaching and a few references to back me up.  It’s AMAZING what two years of international teaching experience will do for you at a job fair, and the doors it will open.  But more on that later.

Thursday morning, I left my house bright and early (okay, dark and early) at 6:15am.  I hoped to make it to the San Juan area by about 7:30, so that I’d have a little time to find the park and fly place I had researched and get to the airport by 7:45—2 hours before my flight. 
I hit San Juan traffic outside of Caguas.  (For those of you not from Puerto Rico, that’s about halfway there). 
At around 8:05am, I took my exit for the airport.  The plan to use the park and fly was out of the question, and I headed straight for the San Juan airport.  $18 per day to park?  Okay then; it could no longer be avoided. 
By 8:15am, I had parked and was in line for security.  Thankfully I had no bags to check, so an hour and a half was the perfect amount of time to get through the line and wait about 20 minutes at my gate before boarding. 

My flight was smooth, and I enjoyed my time above the clouds.  I took a moment to really think about what I wanted for the fair.  Looking out over the clouds and listening to Joshua Radin’s music, I felt quite at peace.  I promised myself that when it came time to make decisions, I would dig deep, and follow my heart. 

The plane landed, and taking public transportation to my hotel in Atlanta was no issue.  I arrived at my hotel by about 2pm, and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the surrounding area and settling in.  It was my first time every having a hotel room to myself.  I was surprisingly excited when I walked in; I felt like such an adult!  I didn’t jump up and down on the bed (it would have mussed the bedcovers, after all), but I did dance around the room a bit. 

My big girl hotel room! 

Thursday night was candidate orientation for the job fair, and I had the good fortune to sit next to someone who was also on his own and turned out to be from Wisconsin as well!  We introduced ourselves before orientation began, and when Matt found out it was my second job fair, he asked to pick my brain after the orientation ended, since it was his first.  We took what turned out to be a rather long walk to Whole Foods and our weekend’s friendship was sealed.  For the next two days, we ran into each other quite often and offered each other support, advice, and someone to share meals with.  I’d been nervous about being at the fair all on my own with no one to lean on, and having a friend there made the weekend quite wonderful.

Friday morning the job fair proper began, and I began to realize just how different this fair was for me than the one almost two years ago. 

At my first job fair, I had emailed every school with an open English position in a Spanish speaking country.  I’d gotten a fair amount of responses pre-fair via email, and when the job fair started, I had three interview requests in my mailbox before interview sign-up asking me to stop by recruiters’ tables to set up an appointment. 
This fair, I had 9 requests.  Three of the schools I’d already had skype interviews with before the fair began. 

At interview sign-up,   almost every recruiter I talked with recognized my name and was eager to sign me up for an interview in a prime time spot (as a rule of thumb, Friday afternoon interviews are ideal, as Saturdays most recruiters try to reserve for call-backs and/or end up making their offers by the end of Friday).  I walked out of the interview sign-up with 8 interviews scheduled for Friday and two for Saturday morning. 

My Friday afternoon interviews all went well.  I always say that at an international job fair, where interviews are 30 minutes long and there are so many more topics to discuss than at a normal job interview, you can tell it’s a quality school when the interview focus is on your abilities as a teacher.  At my last fair, I had a lot of interviews that were more info sessions on the school than a discussion of my teaching abilities.  At this fair, every single interview began with good questions about my teaching philosophy, style, and experience.  I respect each and every school I interviewed with and would have been happy to work at any of them. 

My 6:00 interview was the one I was very excited about.  I’d had an “in” with the American School of Guatemala before the fair, because one of my friends—who I actually met at the UNI fair two years ago—works there now.  He’d gotten me an interview with the middle school principal via Skype right before the fair, and that interview had gone really well.  I’d left the Skype interview completely excited about everything the school is focusing on at the middle school level and feeling like I had a good connection with the principal.  The principal wouldn’t be at the fair, but he told me he’d be in contact with the directors and saying very good things.  Turns out, he wasn’t lying.
My 6:00pm interview was not so much an interview as a job offer.  We went over salary information and benefits, and then she told me, “At this point, I’d like to offer you the job.  This is an official offer; you are the only one we’re making this offer to.  Of course you can have time to think about it—no pressure.  But I hope you’ll stop by at any point tomorrow to talk more or to sign a contract.” 

That wording is SO refreshing to hear at a job fair.  The very fact that she was so upfront about it and didn’t give me a time limit made a huge impression.  And then there was the fact that I had a great connection with her as well.  The school seemed like a good fit, and the benefits package really appealed to me.  I knew it’d be a hard offer to pass up. 

I went to one more interview on Friday night, and cancelled my final one.  I also cancelled one of the two interviews on Saturday because I knew I’d rather be in Guatemala than in Venezuela when it came down to it. 

Saturday morning I had one interview at 8:00am, and then attended a school presentation from a school in Colombia.  Right before the presentation I was offered the job there. 

So I had my first decision to make.  I really really wanted to be in Colombia.  But I really really wanted to be at the school in Guatemala. 

School versus location.  School versus location.  Trust your heart…
I went with school.  I turned down the position in Colombia.  I was still waiting to hear back from three other schools in Colombia, though.  (As a side note, apparently the directors talked amongst each other about me, which is a bit disconcerting.  My Saturday morning interview with a school from Brazil opened with, “Ms. Rosendale…I have heard about you.  You’ve been interviewing with schools in Colombia, yes?”) 

So the period between 10:30 and 1:30 became a waiting game.  I let my top Colombian schools know where I was at, and waited.  Early on I heard back from my top school; they’d hired someone outside of the fair.  By noon, I heard back from my 3rd choice; they’re hired someone else.  It all came down to Colombian school #2—which would have rivaled Guatemala had an offer been made.  At 1:30, Matt urged me to call the director since I hadn’t heard.  I was reticent.  “He has my email.  He said he’d keep me posted via email.  He’s just going to tell me he’s still interviewing.”  Matt had the phone in his hand ready to dial, when I checked my phone and there was a new email. 
My last Colombian school had gone in another direction.

A thank-you note written on the back of a
business card?  Not traditional.  

Decision made. 
Thank goodness it was one I was still quite happy with. 
I went up to Tracy’s room (the assistant director who offered me the job), and when I told her I was ready to sign, she let out a joyous scream and gave me a big hug.  (Caught me a bit off balance, and I toppled backwards into the arm chair, bringing her with me—a bit more intimate than either of us had anticipated!) 

Saturday night my new directors took all of their new hires from this fair out to dinner.  I truly enjoyed getting to know everyone, directors included. 

New hires (and directors) of CAG

Next year’s going to be a big change, to say the very least.  My new school employs 78 foreign hires—a big step up from 9 at my current school!!  It will also be a culture shock moving to Guatemala City (which has a population in the millions) in a truly Latin American country.  I could go on and on, but this post is already much too long.  So more on my future later. 

For me, it’s time to focus back on the present; I went back to school tomorrow morning.  I’ve got midterm tests to write and projects to lead, baby!