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Tagged with " TEFL"

Alyssa’s Expat Life—The Grinch Who Stole Childhood English Teaching

Apr 8, 2014   //   by astahr   //   Alyssa Stahr, Blog  //  Comments Off on Alyssa’s Expat Life—The Grinch Who Stole Childhood English Teaching

Something happened when I gave my notice this week that I was leaving Always and China at the end of the semester in June. I’m not sure what it is, if it’s a combination of the fact that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel or that it was a holiday weekend here in China. But, I actually LIKE some of the children now. I can safely say I actually care whether a handful remember me and have learned something from me, even if it’s a funny story. I wonder what they’ll be like as adults. I’m not sure how this happened, or maybe it’s “I’m off for the next three days” euphoria talking.

My good friend Angie said the other day that she views children like adults—on a case-by-case basis. After some thought into that comment, I completely agree! I can no longer sit here and say “I don’t like children” anymore. Does this mean I don’t walk into almost every class with an overwhelming sense of dread and leave with an overwhelming sense of relief? No. However, some of the classes I actually really enjoy.

For instance, my Wednesday and Friday night Kindergarten classes. One class has four students, the other six. We have a blast singing and dancing and learning new words. They think everything I do is funny and we joke around. These are the only two classes where I know every students’ names, even the ones who have changed their English names mid-semester.

My Sticker 7 class (ages 7-9 I’d say) is great because I have The Enforcer. This is my largest class and one of the loudest, and he has become my right hand man. He’s part of the “cool” boys group, I can tell, and when he stands up and yells at the class to be quiet, man, they listen. I’m not sure if he likes to show his power or likes me as a teacher personally, but either way it’s great and he’s one of my favorite students. There’s a group of really smart girls in this class who sit at the same table in the front as well, and they know enough English were I can joke around with them as well. One of them also has the same birthday as I do, so we have a bond. I did notice that the “cool” boys group is hard on one boy in class, and I can’t tell if he’s ultra sensitive or being bullied. All I know is I’ve seen him cry twice and I’m keeping an eye on it. I don’t like seeing anyone’s feelings hurt no matter what the situation.

My two favorite classes have to be my Interchange class on Saturday afternoons and my Interchange class on Sunday afternoons, which happens to be my last class after a brutal 17 classes in two days marathon. These are approximately ages 12-13. Sherry and her friend (I need to get his name again, I’m so terrible with names) sit in the front and Mike sits in the back, but they are so smart. They are so great and engaging and fun that I am thinking about giving them my number at the end of all of this and telling them to look me up if they ever come to America. I want to know how they turn out, what they become, and I love knowing that I am a tiny, small part of that equation.

Lastly, I want to talk about Candy. Yes, her name in the United States would equate to something entirely different, however here in China, she’s my absolutely brightest student. She has mentioned her parents’ strict ways many times in class, almost to the point where I know she’s learning English for a way out. Her favorite day so far was when her incredibly strict mother took her to the mall to buy a new T-shirt. Her only one was old and she needed a new one. You could tell this was a rare occurrence and she was very happy. As someone who has never once been shopping with her mom besides embarrassing hand-me-down yard sales as a child, I felt Candy’s joy. She gave me a card for Working Women’s Day, a Chinese holiday. She will definitely get my number and words of absolute encouragement when I leave.

At first I was so angry with my school owner for lying to me about the age groups I was teaching. And, for the most part, I still am from time-to-time. However, it’s these stand-out students and Rachel, Miky and Eileen, my stand-out Chinese English Teachers, whom I have absolutely bonded with through the teaching war, that have made it all worthwhile so far. Every person has a unique quality and a gift. And, now that I’m halfway through teaching already, I am concentrating on cultivating those bonds and making my time here even more worthwhile.


Alyssa’s Expat Life—One is a Comforting Number Sometimes

Apr 3, 2014   //   by astahr   //   Alyssa Stahr, Blog  //  Comments Off on Alyssa’s Expat Life—One is a Comforting Number Sometimes

I am going to do my best to speak in generalities in this post, because I don’t want to group one group together due to a few bad apples in a bunch. I’ve been reading a lot recently about suicide and bullies, and to be honest I really didn’t know what I thought about the whole bullying subject. After recent events and things said by adults, not even children, nonetheless (seriously, I feel like I’m back in high school on most days) I felt like it was a good time to address my thoughts because I’m stuck here just like in high school. It’s not regular life at the moment, and I can only walk so far away. It’s a trapping feeling, and as many who know me well know, me feeling trapped is torture to my psyche.

My “favorite” thing about bullies is how they react when you try to defend yourself or you try to explain why something they said made you feel hurt or bad. The bully will say “Oh, you took it the wrong way,” or “I said that in jest.” The backward compliment is one of my favorites. Dr. Phil said on his show once that “Most truths are said in jest.” It’s a coward’s way of saying what he or she really feels, and then manipulating you and making you feel like you’re the bad guy because you “reacted wrong.”

For example, this week when I was told by someone I’ve literally met three times, “Oh so that’s what you look like without makeup on.” And I say, “Wow that was a jerk thing to say,” and he responded with something to the effect of it was just a quip or that’s the way he jokes around. Don’t quit your day job, buddy. Was this supposed to make my day better? Was it supposed to make you feel better about yourself? I’m not sure what purpose “jokes” like that are supposed to serve.

Of course this one little dig wasn’t that bad in a huge world of reality. However, after a two-day ordeal of more thoughts about my blog and how I “should” be reacting to China because others don’t have a problem with children shitting in the streets, or even being told the kind of therapy I should be getting, again, by someone I’ve met all of three times, it was the icing on the cake. It has made me rethink who I’m so eager to befriend while I’m here and made me appreciate those who are closest to me.

So, my thoughts on bullying are this, and again, they are only MY thoughts. They aren’t gospel. No one’s thoughts are. Just because you feel or think something doesn’t mean someone else does. So quit thinking you are right just because you feel it and someone else doesn’t. I believe too much focus is on the bully. Did we used to battle it out on the playground in our own way? Of course! Are some parents or people too sensitive? Of course! I think bullying is more about the person who is being bullied and how the words (which I think are way worse than actions) or actions made that person feel. Have you said or done something today to make a person feel bad or even worthless? I wouldn’t go so far as to call you a bully, but you definitely didn’t throw sunshine over that person’s day. And for that, you’re probably a jerk. Apologizing later (which one of the people did) has its effects, but human nature shows that words sting and resonate in people’s minds long after they roll off a person’s tongue. With your words comes extreme power. Try not abusing it next time.

I realize that in being a writer, and even more so in writing a personal blog, that I put myself in harm’s way with words. I’m not sitting at home judging people silently–I’m writing about my thoughts and feelings while trying to get through a life-changing experience abroad. Do I feel I possibly subject myself to more scrutiny then most by having the, for lack of better words, balls to say how I feel? Historically speaking, of course. I’ve been been told in the same sentence of being scrutinized that I’m in the wrong for feeling that way because I have a blog. Amazingly manipulative. I’m impressed.

In reading other authors’ works recently, I also feel with that comes a strength and a power. I much more respect people who have the courage to speak up. Thinking before we speak, however, is something I think we all need to work on.

Alyssa’s Expat Life—Unexpected vs. the Expected

Mar 20, 2014   //   by astahr   //   Alyssa Stahr, Blog  //  Comments Off on Alyssa’s Expat Life—Unexpected vs. the Expected

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. I must say my “pen” has been a bit stifled this week after learning that some of the expats here were talking about the negative points of my blog. Every person on earth has talked about someone else behind his or her backs at one point or another in life. What bothers me, I think, is that my blog is sort of a diary, and to write it down is not only cathartic, but will allow me to look back one day on my thoughts, opinions, etc. in a point in time in my life while living abroad. It’s also for my friends and family at home who care to read it.

And the fact that people that I barely know or, more importantly, barely know me are talking behind my back, which led to make me hesitate in my writing, made me feel weak. That, I don’t like. I do like the fact that people ask questions, want to know more and value a person’s opinion. That is the aspect that I will try to continue to facilitate in a positive approach more than the negative. With that being said, I will always have my own opinion and my own voice. That’s what truly being free is all about.

My boss Keith asked me today what I have found that I liked about China that I didn’t expect to like. I really couldn’t answer him in that moment. I had to take the day to think about it, because my knee jerk reaction was to say, “Not a whole hell of a lot.” There truly are only a handful of things I can say I like about this country so far. Today I took the time to really think about my top 10 unexpected likeable moments about life in Jinan.

  1. Making friends. Throughout my entire adult life, I’ve never had a problem making friends. I thought the same would be said for coming abroad, since I am close with everyone I’ve ever been on a tour group with for the most part. This isn’t a vacation, however, so the small amount of friends I’ve made I cherish more than I normally would, since it’s much harder to make friends here than any place I’ve ever been. Perhaps that’s due to my blog, my sarcastic personality, the location of where I live, etc. Whatever the reason, I’m thankful for those who invite me to things, noticing that I’m here completely on my own. Thank you.
  2. Walking home. Walking the mile home at night after a long weekend of classes is a relief like none other. Each night I have either successfully managed 18 classes in two days, navigated my way through Jinan or relished in seeing the rare stars. It’s a wonderful time to reflect, breathe and think about my time here and why I came in the first place.
  3. My Chinese English teachers. I had no idea when I came here how much I truly would rely on them, especially with the little kids. They help me come up with games, run around, and we laugh more than I expected to. And, they help me outside of class with questions, my first time at the ATM and in writing down addresses to places I should/need to see in the city. I can honestly say I will miss Micky, Eileen, Ruby and Rachel a ton. It’s been a pleasure working with them already in just four short weeks.
  4. My apartment. My apartment is my safe haven in the crazytown of Jinan. I absolutely love it. It’s huge! I spend more time there than I expected due to the location of my suburb and the lack of funds in the first month. It has a toilet, refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven, a large room to hang my wet clothes and the best chopping knife I’ve ever had. These may seem like little things in America, but here they are luxuries to me.
  5. The value of appreciating the smallest of things. I don’t even know where to begin here, so I’ll use one example. Just to get to, say, a bar. The first night we had to remember to bring our home address in Chinese to show the cab driver, or else we couldn’t get home unless we knew which bus to take. Then, you have to get the bar address in Chinese. Then you’re there once the cab drops you off, right? No! All of the buildings are in Chinese! So, unless it looks blatantly like a bar, you are left playing charades in the street to find the exact building the bar is in. It takes a lot of patience, and I’m glad there was actual Bacardi waiting for me at the end of that rainbow. (There may be rum elsewhere, but I can’t read the liquor labels at the Unimart, so I’ve started a drinking process of elimination.)
  6. It’s freaking cheap. Holy hell it’s cheap here. It’s about $6 U.S. to an RMB, yuan, quay, whatever you want to call it here. I get paid $8000 RMB a month. I can live off of about $500 RMB a week. Do the math on how much I can bring back to the states at the end of this. It’s wonderful and makes all the classes worth it when you see the dollar signs in your eyes.
  7. Some of my classes. To my surprise, I actually enjoy some of my classes. The teachers help, but a lot of my students are just plain fun. As stated in a previous Alyssa’s Expat Life, I have my favorites, but as the weeks go on, they are gaining in numbers. We’re becoming more familiar and having more fun. I try to think more like a kid and try to make my classes as less-boring as possible. Those poor things have to work all day at school, do homework and come to classes at Always. I would hate all of that pressure. So, within the confines of the lessons, I do games as much as possible and try to act crazy so they like me. I want them to have a good experience. Some of the smart asses and the ones who scream or roll around on the ground I still want to punch, though.
  8. My celebrity status. I worked at a public school this morning, and holy cow, I was like Britney Spears or something. I signed about 50 autographs and was bum rushed at the door with photos and questions. I seriously thought TMZ was going to come running around the corner. I’m glad my hair is brunette, because if I was a blonde here I’d never survive. I get stared at on the street, not bad, but enough. I couldn’t imagine what that hair would do to these people. I’m like an alien!
  9. The comfort of having freelance work. My work at The Arland Group and Vape News Magazine have kept me sane in this time of total surrealness. It’s comforting to do what you love and what you know in a time where everything else is upended. I’m truly enjoying the work that I do in my “spare” time. And, it’s reassuring to know my bills at home are being paid, because even though I have fewer of them, they don’t stop just because I’m in China!
  10. Fast food delivery. KFC and McDonald’s deliver. This is completely unexpected and a joy like none other, when only one restaurant in your suburb has photos on the menu. The local food choices consist of that restaurant, fruits, vegetables, mystery meat and the glorified Walgreens known as Unimart. After a month I’m seeking variation, and this will definitely do the trick! I can’t wait for April so I can venture out more to different food places, but for now I will look to my school to call and get that delivery started!


Alyssa’s Expat Life—An Explanation of Thoughts

Mar 14, 2014   //   by astahr   //   Alyssa Stahr, Blog  //  Comments Off on Alyssa’s Expat Life—An Explanation of Thoughts

Tonight I got into a lovely clichéd Facebook war of words with someone I barely know, who took it upon himself to say that I “rant” and that I’m not embracing the food or culture of China. That I signed up for this adventure, so now I have to live with it. Let me provide a small disclaimer; I come from the Webb school of negativity. I was raised to be negative, to have all negative thoughts and to think the worst of every situation. It’s something, along with my depression and bipolar II diagnosis, that I am very keenly aware of and struggle with daily.

I find myself beating myself up over it. “Am I being too negative in this conversation?” “Have I talked too much and have I asked the person enough about their day?” And, it’s because of this that I think about what I say about China on a daily basis. I try to mix the positive posts with the negative. People ask me every day what it’s like here, and I try to give my honest opinion. Whether it’s too negative, I can’t tell—I wasn’t raised to be a positive person so it’s hard for me to seriously gauge.

I will say this: I did NOT sign up for an adventure. I have no idea where people who know me are getting this. I left to become an expat because I simply can’t sit still. I was afraid of being normal and having a “normal” life, whatever that is. I wanted something different, yes, but an adventure? I wouldn’t go that far. Over the past year or so I have tried to steer clear of risk taking behavior, as that is a sure sign of my mental illness. My counselor and I even discussed if this whole thing was just another risky trip.

I’m not as brave as everyone says I am in coming here. I don’t feel brave or strong at all. If I were, I would’ve picked a country that had no comforts and no hand holding. China provides a furnished apartment, Visa assistance and a school that pretty much guides you through every little detail. Even my normal travels are done within the confines of a tour group. I am not an adventurous person, and in my mind I was thinking, OK, I’ll be near the Wal-Mart and the McDonald’s.

So, it’s been tough for me to find out I’m not teaching what I trained to teach or want to teach. I feel cheated, especially with all the money I have put into this. I do believe in fate though, so something brought me to this place whether I like it or not. With that being said, I am going into my classes 100% and giving the kids an education and hopefully what their parents are paying for.

It’s also tough to be dropped into a suburb that has nothing, including minimal food options. It’s hard for me to be adventurous and to go out on my own to find things in a country that doesn’t speak any English. It gets lonely, and the cab ride alone is taxing for my over-anxiety mind, but soon I will be forced to do so if I am to have any sort of life here. The other teachers all are in one building together in the heart of the city. So again, I feel kind of cheated.

Lastly, I will not get used to the level of cleanliness here. That is not a negative expression, it’s a fact. I get sick enough in the states. We’re talking about my health, and I don’t take that lightly. I could easily contract something very serious with the absolute utter lack of personal hygiene in China. So, when someone tells me to get used to people pooping in the streets and having no toilets, it’s not going to happen. If I would’ve known about this, China would not have been a country I would’ve even considered.

But, I’m here. And I am making the most of the situation I was dealt, I promise. Most of the crap I say is sarcastic anyway, and I am settling into life OK. Am I having the time of my life? Of course not. Am I miserable? Not even close. I am doing my best to enjoy my classes and my time here, while it lasts. Even though I did not seek out an adventure per se, the adventure has surely found me.




Alyssa’s Expat Life Chapter 3

Jan 14, 2014   //   by astahr   //   Alyssa Stahr, Blog  //  Comments Off on Alyssa’s Expat Life Chapter 3

InternationalTEFL_logoAfter a lot of online searching for a reputable school that would certify me as a teacher, I came across the International TEFL Academy, based out of Chicago. After speaking with my adviser Shay on the phone, I felt very comfortable with my decision to go with this institution over others. He answered my questions and was always there to alleviate my fears. The online class schedule worked with my crazy schedule (assignments were due on Sunday nights, which was great).

My class began and I was so excited to begin! Little things along the way solidified my choice. After the first day of class, we already got a job posting from a school in Vietnam. I did not wish to go to this destination, but it was exciting to already hear from a school that was looking for teachers.

I found myself saying goodbye to little things in St. Louis along the way. After almost 10 years back here I feel like I’ve done everything I can do and am in a comfort zone that has triggered this whole process. Some people feel that comfort is OK, and in some cases it very much is. But, when I think about it, I could be doing the exact same things—watching movies, going to the same bars, rinse and repeat—10 years or more from now.  And, I don’t want to look back 25 years from now and not have grown at all.

The first chat with my teacher, Mariam, and fellow students went well, and I got an A on my first assignment. Even though it was an online course, I was happy with the thorough way the class was taught and the accessibility to the teacher. Before I knew it, I was looking further into which countries had what I was looking for. I knew I wanted somewhere that I could have a furnished apartment with Internet access, someone to pick me up at the airport and somewhere I wouldn’t starve to death. (I’m a picky eater.) Europe was my first choice since I had been to many countries there and knew more of what to expect, however, their teaching structure was one where you had to pack up, live in a hostel and knock on doors until a school hired you. I did not want that much uncertainly going into living in a foreign country. Along the way I found that Asia and Russia were the only viable options, which didn’t excite me very much. Was my dream about to come to an end before it even began?

Change is hard. And I knew I was about to make the biggest one of my life. I was essentially preparing to leave my life. I remember back in 2002 my ex-husband and I had a choice—Chicago or Arizona. At the time Arizona was the easy choice. Bigger house for more money, he had friends there, etc. And, it turned out to be a disaster. I didn’t want to go for the easy choice again because I don’t think in the end that it will change anything. So, here I was, wondering where in the world, literally, I was going to be.

I loved my TEFL class. By week three of 11 the work was fun and different. Student affairs sent me a note including a 215 page manual about all of the countries, comparing and contrasting, and all of the things I would have to do to interview and secure a teaching job overseas. It was very overwhelming, like picking a place to vacation times 100. This was a country choice that I would have to live with for an entire year, and coming from someone who isn’t a great decision maker, I went back and forth every day among country choices.

Add to that, I really was learning to be comfortable in my own skin and being my own best friend. I was able to go to movies, restaurants and bars by myself and not feel weird. Sure, there were twinges of loneliness, but for the most part I knew that I had the confidence to move on. For the first time I wasn’t running away from life, I was running toward the person I wanted to be and always, really inside, had been. I was still stuck on leaving my dog. I knew I was leaving him in great hands, but he is my best friend and I know that I will have a much harder time than he will. Summer was almost to an end and I hadn’t made any decisions on where to go, so I decided to focus on school and work and see where fate would take me.