how it begins
for granted that climbing above the crowd and letting yourself go is a viable option for anybody who wants to seize it. However, their seemingly effortless bravery can’t explain why or how I managed to step my bare foot on the first rung of the high dive of international teaching and begin to climb.
Less than a month ago, I booked a flight to San Francisco and reserved a hotel room to attend the Search Associates Job Fair. The opportunity opened up last minute due to a major component of my Search profile finally coming into place. I noticed the fair landed on the first winter break teachers in our district have had in over 10 years. It felt right. So I went.
how it unfolds
While there, I sensed my life merging with Lindsay and Joey of Teach, Travel Taste as I followed their suggestions from the Cambridge Fair down to extra thank you notes for interviews. As interviews and offers came in, my life suddenly intersected with Jee Young of Teach to Inspire in a dramatic way, as I Skype-interviewed for a job in Seoul, South Korea where she is currently from and then had another offer later on which sent me into decision making turmoil, just as she described in her post surrounding her recent experiences at the Bangkok fair. Her judicious email assessment and advice were both guarded and also generous. I remain grateful.
The stakes are so high! Each minute you’re at a fair gives you a taste of being on Chopped or Top Chef. Not a minute to lose and decisions could cost or benefit you in life-changing ways.
I went from focusing on just one country to taking to heart the advice of the fair director, Michael Williams, to not rule out any country. In fact, he told a story of a couple who came to the fair open to any country except one, and ended up accepting an offer from that very country. According to Mr. Williams, this couple has remained there for the past 3 years. I didn’t think this applied to me as I was planning to return to the country of my birth. As an adoptee, I had candid email exchanges with Jee Young about this as I am from Korea. I had carefully considered the implications. I was going to Korea.
how it takes a sudden turn
Until I answered what appeared to be a random email invitation to interview with a school in the Southern Hemisphere . . . I had requested more time after being offered a position to teach 4th or 5th grade at a school in Seoul via Skype (in the hotel lobby as I was too cheap to sign up for wi-fi in my hotel room) in order to at least rationalize my cross-country airfare by interviewing in person with recruiters actually at the San Francisco fair. The superintendent kindly agreed to a noon deadline.
Tick Tock. I went for a morning run. I called my parents. I made the pro / con list on hotel stationary. “Living in Korea” appeared on both sides. Then I went to the 9 a.m. interview with the school from the Southern Hemisphere.
After the interview, the recruiter asked for a second interview. I let him know of the 12:00 p.m. deadline from the first school offer in Korea. He rushed to schedule another time, but noon was the first that was available. I accepted and immediately requested more time from the school in Seoul. Both schools had interviewers who were from Canada. There is an undeniable warmth about Canadians. The middle school job at the school in the Southern Hemisphere seemed to be a package deal of my cliche life’s passions: technology, English Lit and teaching English Acquisition to speakers of other languages. It felt customized in a way that the elementary position had not.
By 5:30 p.m. I had interviewed with a third school–but told them about what was going on with the other two situations. By 5:30 p.m. I had also spoken with the second school with the middle school position 3 more times. The third interview was prompted by a call on my cellphone from the interviewer that sent me sprinting back from a restaurant while a new friend, Ana, got our food (tempura salmon roll) to take out and followed me back to the hotel after accepting my cash for the order. By the fourth call back, I had an offer to teach at a middle school that practiced the Middle Years Program, a branch of the International Baccalaureate.
This time, I had until Wednesday to make my decision. I reluctantly emailed the school in Seoul who had made the initial offer to say that I had another offer and couldn’t let them know by the end of the day, which meant I declined their invitation to join the staff. Again, I thought of Jee Young, as she also mentioned how much more difficult it is to decline an offer than you might imagine as you had really personal and heart-felt conversations with your potential employers. Also, the intensity of time constraints surrounding a major life change for the next 2 years of your life actually causes you to question everything, including your ability to see clearly.
As it turns out, I regretted turning down the initial offer while I was in my state of indecision about the middle school offer. However, when I returned home to Michigan and wrote the superintendent of the elementary job, expressing my regret, I received a definitive answer that it was too late to change my mind. This actually gave me more peace and permission to possibly accept the middle school offer which immediately regained its initial appeal.
I was able to correspond with a middle school teacher, Kim, at the school whose offer was still on the table. She was refreshingly up-front about the weather, the pollution and the atmosphere of the school. Because of her frankness to not shield anyone from the possible down-sides, I felt less apprehensive.
I had a conversation with my two third grade colleagues and my principal about making my decision that night. Most of the day I was 60% / 40%.
how it gets settled
On Tuesday night, after school, I drove down to my local FedEx, formerly Kinkos, and tried to fax the signed contract to the school. It would not go after 10 attempts. So I sent an email from my iPhone and thought, “This is how my life changes. By hitting ‘send.'” Then I decided to scan in the papers and send the contract via email.
They accepted. People from the school have subsequently sent warm welcomes via email–including Kim, who asked if I was into diving because it is a really popular activity where I have decided to live.
I’m moving to Jakarta, Indonesia to teach middle school.
Here are a few more photos from the San Francisco Search Associates job fair:
1) I sent my friend, Kimberly, this pic from the hotel room to show her the scarf she gave me as a good-luck gesture while on one of our infamous “Just going to return something at the mall” trips:
2) After having lived in CA, I’ve always craved the In-and-Out since becoming a Michiganian. In Harold and Kumar style, I finally hunted one down after 3 attempts:
3) This one is for my dad:
4) There’s something about this picture that makes me smile:
This decision is dedicated to my parents, the original international teachers, and friends near and far.