Eleven months ago I began the journey of repatriation and I’m here to tell you that I’ve taken a beating. When I started this blog in 2012, I tried to uncover everything I could about how to get an overseas teaching job. What I never researched, and never even thought about, were the effects of reverse culture shock – if and when I’d ever return to the USA.
During my first months in Istanbul, Turkey, when culture shock was overwhelming at times, I reached out to administrators, colleagues and friends who were experiencing the same thing. Most of us had moved there from different countries and were not native to Turkey. We supported each other and worked through all the emotional changes we were experiencing. What I never prepared myself for was the hardship of coming back to your home country, alone, with no one who understood or could give emotional support.
After returning to the USA and living out of WalMart gray containers in the homes of friends and family for nine months, I felt like a tumbling tumbleweed. Even so, I don’t know how to ever repay the generosity of these people who lovingly opened their homes to me while I tried to sort out my life and make new decisions. After the wedding of my only daughter in early January, I drove back to my home state of Texas, crying all the way across California, Arizona and New Mexico. I felt like I’d lost all my identities: being a mother, being a teacher, being an artist and being a traveler.
I’ve now been in Texas for eight months. My brother and his wife graciously offered me a job in their company and I rented a small apartment. I count my blessings every day as I get to be alone with my thoughts and my things. My thoughts have been tangled this year, but two weeks ago I finished a 6-week course by Dr. Cate Brubaker called The Re-Entry Relaunch Roadmap. I would highly recommend this course to anyone struggling with repatriation. It helped me process all the changes I’ve been through and it gave me a community of people who understand me. One key exercise was to reframe my re-entry experience in a few words. The statement I came up with explains where I’m at in my new state of mind: Rest and Re-Invent.
One reader of my blog recently wrote me and asked if I were going to write again; she hoped so. With her in mind, I’m looking forward to sharing some new ideas in the weeks ahead.
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This week I checked the box, “I will not be returning to school next year,” and handed it in. I cannot remember a time that I have felt this frightened, this excited and this numb at the same time. Last weekend I hibernated as the recruiting fairs of the past two weekends had taken their toil. That Saturday night I slept for 12 hours straight. I fell asleep in my clothes and woke up hoarse, thankful for no fever or sore throat. Since waking, I’ve been in an altered state; detached in a new way. I had a Skype interview last Sunday night, and within minutes I knew it wasn’t a right fit and cut the cord. Free falling again. Monday morning I handed in my decision with the box checked.
By mid-week I’d contacted my real estate neighbor and said I was ready to proceed with the selling of my house. We met to discuss the contract, set a selling price and take photos. I spent the next few days detailing my home, cleaning out a few remaining closets and having my carpets cleaned. Yesterday my house went on the market.
I’ve simply invested too much mentally, emotionally and economically to turn back now. I’m sure the difference between being wise and being foolish is very slim, similar to the way that pain and humor reside close together. A friend once said, “I’m a paycheck away from living beneath Highway 30.” I know how he feels. I’ve sold almost everything I own, I’m about to be homeless and I’ve just let go of my job, with no security that there will be one in the future.
But in those brief moments when fear seems distant, the possibilities seem great! If I don’t get offered a teaching contract that I want, I could volunteer on a woof farm! I could volunteer for Mercy Ships! I could apply for artist residencies! I could travel around the world seeing all the great people I’ve met. If I were to do that, my flight pattern might look like this: Dallas to London; to Scotland; to Germany; to Switzerland; to Morocco; to Turkey; to Taiwan; to Seoul; then to LAX; then to Craigslist to buy an RV, turn south to San Diego, park it on a beach and go swimming in the Pacific. That sounds pretty good. I’m free. I can do anything! How thankful and fortunate I am. As my brother says, “Sell the house and damn the torpedos!”
Last September I wrote an article called, “Transitions, Or Leaping From The Lion’s Head.” In it, I included a video, “ The Parable of the Trapeze,” with the voice of Daanan Parry. I’ve watched that video again this week and invite you to also. When referring to letting go of the net, Parry says, “We do it anyway because somehow, to hold on to the old net is no longer on the list of alternatives. The past is gone, the future is not quite here. It’s called transition.” I recognize that I had to let go completely before my net will appear. I’ve stepped off the cliff; let’s see what happens!
I’ve spent the summer preparing files, updating my resume, scanning copies of my teaching certificate, transcript and passport, refining my CV, crafting cover letters, reading forums, gathering recommendation letters and networking with international teachers. I am confident about moving, yet, on some days, I play tug-o-war with the temptation to just stay put in my comfort zone. Some days the transition seems more like climbing an insurmountable mountain rather than kicking over a molehill. On those days, butterflies of self-doubt quiver in my stomach. What am I doing? I already have a great job at the best school ever. I teach great students who come from great families and I work with a host of supportive colleagues; there’s no reason to leave.
Except . . . I want an overseas teaching adventure and I’ve been dreaming and longing for this for some years. Being witness to my Dad’s slow decline towards death this summer, I know there’s still more I want to do with my life. I want to give away what I know best: helping others find self-expression and joy through the visual arts. And why not? I’m single, my terrific daughter is going to graduate from college next May, I could care less about owning my home or continuing to collect material possessions and I want to see the world!
In my faith there is a common saying, “Let Go and Let God.” I know this is true, but letting go is scary. Remember the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indiana comes to an opening high above in the rocky cliffs?
His treasure book of clues says, “Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.” Teetering on the edge, sweating bullets, he knows he has to step off the cliff into the void below! And what happens? As he steps off, a stone bridge magically appears. He steps off into unknown territory and he is saved from destruction by his faith. In the same way, I know I must go. It is difficult to provide answers to many who ask for specifics, like Where? When? And How? Yet, I know I must leave to prove my worth. There is nothing that scares me more and nothing that excites me more.
Many books and films resonate with this theme but nothing I have ever watched has affected me more than the words by Danaan Parry . I’m begging you to watch this short, 6-minute film called, “The Parable of the Trapeze.” Parry’s powerful words capture the double-edged sword of faith and fear. This film is a gift and I’m happy to share it with you. Do yourself a favor and watch. As Dianne Gray says, “Death is not optional, but living life fully is.”
Reminiscing about David Byrne and the Talking Heads brings back a torrential downpour of pleasant memories. These musical-memories connect significantly to a transition time in my life: graduating from college, getting married and moving out of state. In the mid-1980’s, my then-husband and I moved from Missouri to Texas to begin a new life. Recently graduated from college, we were psyched to land our first jobs and start down our career path, which for me meant beginning the climb up the corporate ladder. My imaginative dreams were centered on my new marriage, my new job, buying our first new car, buying our first home and eventually becoming parents. My mind couldn’t fully wrap around all these new, upcoming changes, but I was excited and hopeful about my future.
None of these dreams turned out exactly the way I thought they would. I could have never predicted the end results of my hopes and expectations. More than once I awoke, seemingly from a deep sleep, and thought, as Bryne’s lyrics read, “My God! What have I done?” There’s no way that we can fully predict what our lives will be, even with all the research we do and all the well wishes and prayers from friends and family. But life is wonderfully mysterious and I wouldn’t trade in any of my experiences, both the good ones and the bad ones, for they’ve brought me to where I am today. Life is full of transitions and I find that I am still excited and hopeful about my future as I seriously consider moving overseas.
And You May Find Yourself Living In A Shotgun Shack
And You May Find Yourself In Another Part Of The World
And You May Find Yourself Behind The Wheel Of A Large Automobile
And You May Find Yourself In A Beautiful House, With A Beautiful Wife
And You May Ask Yourself-Well…How Did I Get Here?
This rendition of The Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”, is recorded by Robert Luis:
When I went to Europe for the first time in 2006 I remember thinking, “I belong here. This feels like home. Surely I was born here and my parents adopted me into the USA and just have never told me!” How did I get here (USA)? “This is not my beautiful house,” as the song goes. But my mother assures me that I wasn’t adopted and that I am truly American! I often feel like a foreigner in my own country. I long to live a slower, more observant, less cluttered lifestyle. Every minute of every day is a “once in a lifetime” possibility. The next time I ask myself, “My God! What have I done?” I want to honestly and peacefully answer the question in a way that shows love, bravery, courage and trust.
Part 3 of 3: SA (Search Associates)
This article concludes with my research about the international educational recruitment company, Search Associates (SA). In my previous two posts I explained what I have found out about UNI (University of Northern Iowa) and ISS (International Schools Services). SA has been in existence for more than 21 years. Not only have they helped teachers find positions in international schools around the world, they also place administrators and interns. Their current website boasts that in 2011 they set a record by helping 2,198 candidates secure positions abroad.
SA works with more than 600 schools, compared to ISS who works with about 150 schools. SA feels confident they are the best educational recruitment company because of the personal attention they give to both candidates and schools. For instance, once I completed my online application and SA had received recommendations from my administrators, my file was considered “active” and I was assigned a Senior Associate who will personally assist me throughout the entire search process. I was given her email and phone number so that I can reach her at all times. Additionally, because my file is active, I receive a daily log of SA represented schools that are currently seeking teachers and administrators. Since my file became active in March 2012, I’ve been tracking how many art positions have been posted. I’m delighted to report that there have been 23 art teaching positions listed to date, and this is really late in the hiring season! Keep in mind that most positions for the 2012-13 school year have already been placed.
Although my file is considered active, my online profile will not be made known to seeking schools until I pay my membership dues. Once I pay $200, I will have access to SA for three years and interested schools can review my credentials. I will have access to job openings, salaries and benefits and I will be able to contact schools directly through the database upon notification of an opening in one of my listed preferences. Interested schools will be able to email me directly, set up interviews or ask for additional information. The first SA educational recruitment fair is free and each additional fair is $50, although all job fairs are by invitation only. Both candidates and schools that are fully registered may request invitations. In comparison, ISS charges $290 for all fairs in a season. Search Associates offers 13 annual job fairs worldwide between November and June. These fairs allow candidates and schools to have face-to-face interviews to determine if there is a mutual interest and a good “fit” between the school and candidate. In addition, Search Associates keeps their fairs small in order to provide maximum support for candidates and schools.
There are many more educational recruitment companies, but I’ve limited my search to these three: UNI, ISS and SA. In my last post I described the wonderful resource, International Schools Review (ISR) which allows open dialogue, through a forum, on a host of subjects centered around teaching internationally. On this website you will find many opinions about the differences of these companies. Some people prefer one company over another for a host of reasons. Many international educators never attend a fair at all. After paying their application fee, they contact the seeking schools directly and are accustomed to interviewing over Skype.
In the ISR article called, “How Do International Educators See Their Careers?” Bill says, “I left as soon as I got my BEd and never looked back. Best decision I could have ever made. I was looking to explore the world, learn about new cultures and languages, work in schools that value teachers and provide a stimulating work environment. Next year, will be my 4th international school and my 12th year overseas. Sometimes I think about going back for a couple of years but I really do enjoy this life too much to do so.”
Is teaching internationally a once in a lifetime opportunity? I think it may be. I’d be interested in what once in a lifetime opportunities you’ve been given.
Have a dose of what life is really like living here – from Turkish in 1000 easy lessons to learning the secrets to making the perfect kebab! Highs or lows this is our random observations from the melting pot of crazy that is my life in Mersin.