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Alyssa’s Expat Life—Goodbye Teacher Aleeesa

Jun 23, 2014   //   by astahr   //   Alyssa Stahr, Blog, Work Samples  //  Comments Off on Alyssa’s Expat Life—Goodbye Teacher Aleeesa

They say don’t judge a book by its cover, and boy, has this book had its moments. As my time at Always Sun City comes to a close, my heart is full of so many emotions. As many things that are completely opposite from the United States here in China, the fact is, what is the same is that wherever you go there are people who will do you wrong. More importantly, there will people who will become friends and wonderful memories for life.

I will always remember Shane, Ruby, Jenny, Gavin, Rachel, Miki, Ivy, Vicki, Amy, Vivi and especially Eileen for helping me grow as a teacher, helping me with logistical issues and getting me through my time at Always.

Did a small part of me feel robbed in the beginning? Absolutely. I spent months and a lot of money to train to teach a certain age. I wanted all high school or all adult learners. But, how was I to know that even when asking a direct question to the power that was that I would be blatantly lied to? I found out that it’s happened before many times, and I found out one person was mainly to blame and not my school itself. They were nothing but helpful and wonderful. So, my first piece of advice to anyone planning on doing this is to research, research, research and ask questions of people beforehand who are native English speakers. Ask every little question you can think of and more regarding the things that are important to you when moving. Don’t settle for a roundabout answer. Get direct details. Your school, no matter how great they are (and mine was compared to other horror stories I heard) can’t possibly answer the little things that may be personally important to you. I didn’t know that even though they advertised K-12, there were only K-8 at the most at this school. Asking an English speaking teacher that direct question will save you time and energy in the vague-answering land known as China.

I was given serious and even sometimes helpful reviews, yet the school logo was spelled wrong on most of the marketing materials, there were major English errors in the curriculum (which I don’t think were even written by a native English speaker), and they hired someone who absolutely wasn’t qualified to do what they were asking, yet I waded through it somehow. Their “SmartBoard training” lasted no more than 10 minutes and their “classroom training” session had NOTHING to do with what I actually was asked to teach on a weekly basis. Even halfway through the semester, when I was sent to a public school for extra hours, they sent me in with 10 sentences and zero information or technology, forcing me to wing almost every class. A lot of the studies called for audio listening, yet there was no CD, tape player, nothing to supplement the book, so I had to skip those sections or become my own audio. If it weren’t for another expat’s premade slides and technology back at the regular school, I would’ve absolutely sunk. They do the best they can with what they have, and the fact that I care that it should be better perhaps says a lot about my growth as a teacher. I am absolutely a more patient and “go-with-the-flow” person than I’ve ever been. It also allowed me to come up with fun games on my own, which ended up being a blessing in disguise. I found out quickly which games were hits and which ones failed, and I grew leaps and bounds as a teacher.

When it came to things outside of the school, like the airport pickup, my sweet apartment, getting my bank account, helping with trips, etc., the school was incredibly awesome. They were eager to help and to answer any questions I had about daily life in Jinan. I can’t say enough good things about the efficiency of this part of my stay.

While I would not trade my particular school for anything, I also feel kind of sad because of the location I was put in. I was so far away from the other expats, which I really envisioned getting to know a lot more than I did, and city life. People here really do settle into everyday life more than I expected, however the last couple of weeks I branched out more, which in turn cultivated many more friendships. That was a big lesson and true to another major cliché—you definitely get out of something what you put into it.

With that being said, do I feel like I made a difference in a child’s life? With their attention spans, I doubt most of them remember who I am past Saturday. But now that the bulk of teaching is over, I can look back and cherish the faces in each class. I did find that whenever new kids and their parents would enter a class to check out the school (promo classes) that I was protective of my current students over the new kids. We had built a bond and I felt like the outsiders had invaded their turf. Perhaps that was a bit of a maternal instinct taking over that I’ve never had before. I want to say in the tougher little kid (Sticker) classes that I tried. God, did I try. I tried picturing the kids as my friends’ kids. I love my friends’ kids because I know them and they are the spawn of the best people I know. I tried picturing them as a litter of puppies, which I would adore and have the time of my life with. Some days it worked OK, and I’ve definitely grown to love and will miss many of my students. Hearing “Hallo Aleeesa” did warm my cold, dead heart. I will see their faces in my mind for the rest of my life and wonder 20 years down the road what kind of adults they are.

I will remember my very first New Parade class and how I was so nervous and scared and NO IDEA what I was doing when I walked in. I will remember Rain, and his amazing note to me and how I wished he was in the class the full semester (he came in half way). I will remember Vicki and her pink glasses and how she and her dad zipped by me before class on their e-bike and she would yell out “Hallo Aleeesa” as they whizzed by, but once she got to class she rarely paid attention. (A lot of kids lived in my neighborhood, so seeing them outside of class and hearing “Aleeesa” on the street always made my day.)

I will remember little Linda in my New Parade 1 class and how cute and smart she was, her smoker’s laugh and how I teared up the day her mom smacked her arm so hard it echoed in the classroom, but she acted like it happens every day. And, it probably does.

I will remember Arthur in Sticker 7 and how he yelled “Bea Schwa La! (sp?) in class and I figured out it meant “Be Quiet!” It was one of the first Chinese phrases I learned, and I don’t know if he was trying to be a teacher’s pet or just couldn’t stand the noise. I’ll remember Mike’s face from the same class on the last day when I handed him the $1 he had been begging for since our money unit. He beamed with joy.

I’ll remember the girl in Interchange 0B who made my black and white bracelet. I’ll remember my cute kindy classes and how fun they were and how much Eileen and I laughed during them. I’ll remember Eric, Claire, Tyler and Tony. I’ll remember Ali, Rolly, Mary, Charles, Mike, David 1, David 2, Vic, and Turbo, who I couldn’t believe his name was Turbo until I got to know him. Now he’s obviously Turbo. I’ll remember Amy’s Connect class and how much fun we had just sitting around the table and talking about KFC and English sayings. I’ll remember Bob from the other 0B class who seriously knew English before he got there. I’ll remember the other Rain from my Sticker 3 class who jumped up and down the entire class. Every day. He was so cute and just could not contain his energy. I’ll remember poor Do Do from the same class, whose parents changed her name four times and settled on a word that means poop in English. I doubt they knew. The one regret I do have is not learning their names early on. By mid-semester I had maybe 1/3 of them down and was too embarrassed to ask again since so much time had passed. Next time (if there is one) I’ll have a better naming system down.

Lastly, I’ll remember my two Interchange 2B classes the most. They were my two favorite classes, and they were visibly dejected when they found out I wasn’t teaching the next level. To me that’s the ultimate compliment; they kicked ass and I always knew they would. They made everything else worth it, from laughing at me when Miki tried to teach me Chinese words to just being great listeners and fun learners. I will always remember my conversation with Fred in the lobby, his smile and how he loved to play Boggle. I’ll remember the back row of my Saturday class and how the first half they barely said anything, but by the second half of the semester they were engaged in everything—we completely had a blast.

And, I’ll remember Candy. I had to write down our last encounter, because she reminds me so much of me in so many ways. She’s convinced her mom hates her, her parents are way too hard on her, and she’s so bright. I left class that day with a blanket goodbye and we met eyes. Something told me not to go home and to wait outside. I did so, and Candy walked out unable to find her mother. After finding her she ran back to me with a somewhat embarrassed and longing look on her face. I just knew what was about to happen. She said, “It was so good to get to know you.” I at this point am fighting back tears with all my might and said, “The same to you and good luck to you. Can I give you a hug?” I said, “E-mail me if you ever need anything and we will keep in touch.” There’s so much more I wish I could’ve/would’ve said in that moment, but I was so stunned that I could feel this strongly about one of my students. She said, “I hope you have a happy life.” And with that, she was gone.

The next day more tears were held back when Mark asked me about high school in America, that he wants to test into studying there and he thanked me for everything I taught him. I would be thrilled to see him again. Such a bright student and a joy to be around. Sherry wasn’t in our last class, so I asked Eric, her best friend in class, to send me a photo. I’m convinced that they hate each other and playfully smack each other around enough to marry one day. Eric handed me a note at the end of class and I decided to read it later for fear of crying again in front of all male 13-year-olds. In hindsight, I think they would’ve cried with me. Eric’s note (along with Rain’s note and Candy’s interaction) were some of the most loveliest things I’ve ever received. A photo of the notes are attached to this blog. With words like those, how could I ever feel robbed? I feel like the most blessed person in the world.






Alyssa’s Expat Life Part 5—Practicum Class Musings About Lost Loves

Feb 2, 2014   //   by astahr   //   Alyssa Stahr, Blog, Work Samples  //  Comments Off on Alyssa’s Expat Life Part 5—Practicum Class Musings About Lost Loves

Fall 2013

I’m sitting in my practicum class at the UMSL ESL center watching students take a writing test. I’m amazed at the students who have only been here a couple of weeks or months and who already are grasping the language. I think it’s a good testament to the teachers here who all are very friendly and have fun ways of explaining things. I only have a couple of weeks of class left. I would only have one week, but I opted to take two extended free classes dealing with young learners and business professionals. I figure if it’s included, why not? I want to be armed with as much knowledge as I can get before I go. And I already feel more prepared, yet really unprepared at the same time.

In the past couple of weeks my friends who know I’m going have been asking a lot of questions, No. 1 being where my beloved dog is going. I don’t like to think or talk about that subject a lot because that’s the very thing that will make me talk myself out of doing this. As I said to my friend Jessi recently—he’s my every thing, but he’s my only thing. My relationships in life have led me to put all my faith in the little guy, and he never disappoints. A recent text by an ex, well we can’t even call him an ex since I sabotaged the relationship literally a half an hour into it, got me to thinking back upon my last 10 years of relationships in St. Louis. What a ride it has been.

In January 2004 I was packing up a Budget rental truck and preparing to leave my cats and husband in Phoenix and to make the long drive back to St. Louis. I hated Phoenix, and much like my mother who left before me, I felt trapped and was ready to run. Nick was a great guy. I can’t think of one bad thing to say about him. I married him for all the logical reasons, except one. I wasn’t in love with him. I simply got bored, and it didn’t help that I hated Phoenix. God—what a boring, hot, uneventful city with less personality than the cacti that sat in the desert. I loved Nick for sure, but as my best friend Tere knew long before I did, I didn’t feel that passionate spark that life-long partners would have. I knew I was capable of it, and drove almost 26 hours straight into the arms of the person who I always had always loved. Leaving wasn’t a mistake, but running back into the unhealthy pattern that would take over the next four years of my life was.

For four long, emotionally draining and exhausting years, we tried everything. We moved in together I think three or four different times; we fought like hell and I screamed and threw things, which I’ve only done in my life with him; we tried time apart; we got engaged; and then he got someone else pregnant and knew for weeks before telling me. He let us take gifts at an engagement party, watched as I put a deposit down on a dress, sat with me and booked our dream destination wedding, all the while knowing that another woman was carrying his child. Once she was five months along and while we were sitting in my future in-laws’ living room filling out gift thank-you notes, he looks up and said the unthinkable—I’m going to be a dad again. The neighbors got a show that day, which wasn’t unusual at that house, but probably one of the better ones they’ve seen. He tried the whole “we were on a break when she got pregnant” story so I stayed. Wow, how I’ve changed. The new me would never ever have done that. I finally ended it a week before Christmas, and I laid under my Christmas tree in a daze, not knowing how to move on from someone and a family I’d loved and dreamed about being a permanent part of since I was 16.

In our typical fashion, a couple of months later we actually started to see each other again (I know, jaws dropped on my end as well.) The night under the Christmas tree surprisingly turned out not to be rock bottom, just well under the surface. One night on his beloved boat, which I only liked in small doses but was forced to be on each weekend or face his wrath, I got the worst stomachache known to man. (We won’t even talk about the tantrums and manipulation that happened when he didn’t get his way. That would take up more time than I have in this class.) Thank God he packed toilet paper. I ran to the dock bathroom and to my dismay, the door was locked. I looked around in a panic. The water was foggy; the dock gates were locked, so I couldn’t even get to a tree because the fence was too high. My only recourse was the water. I took a long pause, and then I did it. My life had been reduced to defecating in a river in the middle of the night while mosquitoes bit at me for a person who completely controlled me. And, for the first time ever, I didn’t cry. I got up, wiped my ass, got through the night until the gates opened, and left. I left—physically, mentally and emotionally. Thirteen years later, I was finally really gone. A couple of years later he tried to start the pattern again, and it was such a profound moment in my life to be able to say, “I don’t love you anymore,” and really, truly mean it.

The next month I met someone on a plane on a connection from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas. Two days later we got married. It’s the running joke amongst all of my friends. I don’t think anyone really understands where I was coming from in the course of those two days. I was fearless and was ready to actually fall in love with someone new, not have the false sense of security and comfort that the last four years had been. We walked all night talking about our lives, hopes and dreams, and he got down on his knee in front of the Wynn. We both knew it was crazy, but in the moment nothing else felt more right. I was shaking like a leaf when we took our vows, and being in that chapel is a memory I will cherish forever. After weeks of his family freaking out and the looming threat of his deployment to Afghanistan, I sadly annulled my marriage to Chris. By then all he could think about was the insurance money he would get if we stayed married. I choose not to think about the way it ended, but the magic in the time that it all happened.

I met the absolute love of my life two months after Vegas, and I have chosen not to talk about that or the torturous heartache that ensued for years after. It’s something that I want to keep close to my heart and not put out there for everyone to read. There will never be another him, and it’s a tough life lesson to learn that two people who love each other sometimes just can’t be together, but I will love him until the day that I take my last breath. All I can say is that a part of me thinks it ended so I could have the room in my heart to adopt Maddux three weeks later. And so I can go on this adventure. I find a little bit of comfort knowing that.

I don’t regret any of these past relationships, because as cliche as it sounds, they truly have shaped the person that I am now. Who can say that they are going to spend a year traveling, teaching and living in China? Because of the personal strength I’ve achieved since coming back to St. Louis in 2004—I’d never have been able to do it then. And now I can safely say that I know exactly what I want out of life and who I want, if he ever comes along. And if he doesn’t? That’s perfectly OK too.

Alyssa’s Expat Life Chapter 1

Jan 1, 2014   //   by astahr   //   Alyssa Stahr, Blog, Work Samples  //  Comments Off on Alyssa’s Expat Life Chapter 1

Professionally I have always been an overachiever. I was the sole participant in my own reading group in kindergarten and only one of seven in the gifted program until junior high; I was singing on stage by age 8. I wrote, directed and starred in my own musical at age 10. I got a full-time job in my field before college graduation and was picked as a managing editor for my first “big” job out of college over hundreds of other applicants due to one line on my resume: Maintained a 4.0 major GPA while working a full-time job in college. It showed that I was an extreme multi-tasker, according to my boss. I’ve always had more than one job at a time for my entire adult life, sometimes upwards of six to seven jobs at a time, more for boredom’s sake than the paycheck (even though that’s nice).

I had always been the best. Until I wasn’t anymore.

After a string of jobs that looked good on paper but left me feeling slightly unfulfilled in my career, over a gradual course of about five years I started to lose my purpose. For someone who has dedicated her life to work, work naturally filters into your very being.

Then two years ago I took a work-from-home local editor position that was a breath of fresh air. I absolutely loved it. I had responsibility, autonomy and the freedom of not being stuck in an absolutely suffocating cube while the clock ticked by. I swore to never have an office job again and to stick with this company forever. And then … they didn’t stick with me. I was working 80-hour weeks, was having chest pains and heart palpitations due to anxiety and stress and endured bronchitis, mono, pneumonia and a hospitalization all in the course of a year. And they let me go. I ended up being the first in a long line of people getting the axe, but it made me realize something that I don’t think I ever realized before. I’m just like everybody else and hard work doesn’t always pay off. The normalcy of that feeling ate at me like nothing ever had in my life.

After a painstaking six months and ego deflation, I finally accepted a position at home in St. Louis. It was the perfect job for me, even with an office being involved, and I loved it. I was so thankful to have this new breath of fresh air creatively and to mean something to the outside world again. But, outside of work the normalcy of being a day-to-day average person still was tearing at my soul. Some said it was due to my current mental status. Some said it was because I was a Sagittarius—we are never at rest. Others just chalked it up to “that’s life” and pretty much told me to deal with it. But, life isn’t meant to just be dealt with, is it? Shouldn’t we always strive to be and do better and be our best selves?

I thought about volunteering, about singing in an acoustic duo, even about singing on a cruise ship for a while. Over the course of several months my either my networking efforts didn’t pan out or someone didn’t return my call—either way it was enough for me to give up trying.

In addition to this weird gut feeling, my personal life, at least in my own mind, was in the toilet. I had two failed marriages, a failed engagement and a line of failed relationships. I couldn’t handle the pressures of being in a relationship, but not having a support system at home and watching my friends happily marry off one-by-one in typical Midwestern fashion served three nagging-my-mind roles:

  1. Shouldn’t I be like everybody else and have 2.2 kids and a garage by now?
  2. Wait, I had that (minus the kids) 10 years ago and that’s not what I wanted. I felt trapped in that situation and got out. Was something wrong with me?
  3. None of my friends can/want to hang out as often as I want to. I see their “one big happy family photos” on Facebook and I tear up. I’m completely alone.

Even though I had great friends and sporadic time with them, it wasn’t enough. They had their own lives and their own families. My new “friends” were bartenders and my time out on the town by myself usually ended up with me crying, yelling at someone or just passing out in order not to feel the pain I was going through. I felt like I was living on another planet compared to my friends. I started to become my own best friend, going to dinner and movies by myself. My dog became my complete world. It’s not like I didn’t have exciting times or a life that others may want. I had plenty of things to be thankful for, and I knew that.

However, about a year into my new job and almost two years after my last relationship—I made a tough decision. I finally had force myself to make a change.


Missouri’s Soup Restaurants, Kitchens Make a Splash

Nov 27, 2013   //   by astahr   //   Alyssa Stahr, Work Samples  //  Comments Off on Missouri’s Soup Restaurants, Kitchens Make a Splash

Panera_CountryStyleMushroomSoup_CorpEvidence of the existence of soup dates back to around 20,000 B.C., and the liquid broth with solid ingredients continues to be a hit to this day. Whether you like cold, hot, canned or homemade, Missouri has a soup variety for everyone.

The Show-Me state’s restaurants and soup kitchens promise to leave no one hungry this holiday season, however, it’s not just about feeding the masses. These soups also sound like quite the treat!

Panera Bread Co.

Panera Bread Co.’s Country Style Mushroom with Truffle Soup is the current seasonal soup offering for winter. The Sunset Hills, Mo. based company makes this soup with tender white mushrooms, onions and tomatoes, simmered with cream and flavored with truffle, shallot puree and red wine. According to Mandy Burns, marketing and public relations coordinator for Panera, the bakery-cafes rotate seven soups daily on a rotating schedule, including chicken noodle, creamy tomato and broccoli cheddar, all of Panera’s most popular soups. For a full list of Panera soups and the soup of the day, visit www.PaneraBread.com.

Sister Soups 

Sister Soups and Dry Mixes is a company based out of Ozark, Mo. The line of soup mixes include versatile onion, cheesy loaded potato, beefy vegetable, Lil’ Rue’s Broccoli & Cheese and more. Four sisters started the company by creating soup recipes, dips and desserts. They recently opened a new general store in Ozark. For more information, visit the Sister Soups website here.

Pomme Café and Wine Bar

Named Best Soup in 2012 by the Riverfront Times, Pomme Café and Wine Bar’s French onion gratinee and gazpacho or the soup du jour, a puree of vegetables, were said to never fail to delight. For a look at Pomme’s menu, visit their website.

Café Soupe

Head to Cape Girardeau, Mo., and try Café Soupe. Its soup menu features everyday items such as loaded baked potato and beer cheese. The café also has vegetarian options (macaroni and cheese and tomato basil bisque) and rotating options (buffalo chicken, cheddar corn chowder, chicken pot pie and chicken and sausage gumbo). For more information, visit Café Soupe’s website here.

Give Back

To give to a soup kitchen this holiday season, visit ShareFoodBringHope.org, a Fulton, Mo., based organization that is one of 14 food banks nationwide that does not charge agencies for the food it provides.