14 December 2015 § 2 Comments
I’m still here.
I get up at 5:45 every morning. I get to work at about 7:00. I usually get home around 6:00. I teach, I plan, I mark, I assess, I make phone calls, I enter data, I solve problems, I make problems. The last thing I think about is updating a blog.
Sometimes, though, I think about the fact that when I’m driving, my left hand is on the gearstick. I think about how I don’t know how to sound deliberately Canadian. About how I found it easier to meet people and make friends in a country where I couldn’t speak the dominant language very well. How as I’m getting older, exercise seems more important, but time seems more scarce (scarcer?). How the longer I’m away from Japan, the more of a personal Neverland it seems. How I loved being back in Southern Ontario in the summer because it felt so comfortable and I loved being near the people I love, but the thought of moving back with any kind of permanence scares me.
More on these stories at a later date. Possibly not for another year or two, but ideally sooner.
28 July 2014 § 1 Comment
And just like that, my first year as a secondary school teacher is complete. Above all else, patience and humility got me through – along with some dear individuals who helped me keep things in perspective. I’m excited about putting in to practice next academic year what I’ve learned this past one. I’m also excited that I am in the midst of a six week long holiday.
While lots of people fly off to destinations far and near, I am spending most of the summer here in London, doing all the things I wish I had more time to do during the school year. Learning to drive in the UK, reading, jogging/making efforts to be more fit, writing, donating blood, learning to make bread.
Being done my first year of teaching also means that I’ve nearly been living in the UK for a year.
I’ve been writing poetry on and off since elementary school, nearly since I could write a coherent sentence. I find that each phase of my life is accompanied by a different voice, a different kind of poetry. Middle school was fantasy, Tolkein-inspired stuff. High school was poems about loneliness and love. University was academic and playful. Post-University was thoughtful and romantic. Japan was reflective and focussed on communication. England doesn’t have a voice yet. This has been reflected in my lack of writing poetry, as well as my general ambivalence about living here – so obvious when anyone asks how I find living in London/England (“Umm.. well,.. it’s good. Not great, but.. it’s alright..! You know, I don’t love it, don’t really hate it…”). I’m hoping I can find that voice this summer.
A colleague lent me a book a while back. “Burnt Shadows”, by Kamila Shamsie. I only just started reading it last week, as my holiday kicked off (“At least one book every two weeks!” I promised myself). It seems to fit fairly well with this idea of finding my England voice. While it is driven largely by international conflict, it follows the lives of a few different families as they move about, providing a thoughtful look at ideas of loss and foreignness. I’m about two thirds in. I recommend it. Y’know, if it sounds like your kind of thing.
And that’s your end of July update! Over and out.
9 June 2014 § Leave a comment
I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” (Kurt Vonnegut)
Ah, the end of the academic year is nigh. Six more weeks before summer break. The school is buzzing with talk of schedules, exams, exam results, end of year activities, data, meeting targets, etc. Yes, it’s stressful. And everyday has been a reminder for me of how important it is to stay positive. I’ve become increasingly aware of second-hand stress. All those horrible, negative feelings that arise when things are too much, when things don’t go the way you want, when nothing is going the way you want it – and they’re not my feelings! They’re everybody else’s!
My partner has commented before on how your environment and everyday activities really affect how you respond to issues. I mean, if you are a runner in a kitchen at a post-production house, the “big issues” are things like the dishwasher not working, or a client complaining when the tea’s not quite right or if you’re out of a particular kind of biscuit. When you really think about it, they’re not big issues, but if that’s what you’re experiencing everyday, then it gains more significance. It’s easy enough to complain and to point out everything that’s wrong, but do you really know what it’s like in other places? Do you really know what everybody else is going through that might lead them to say that thing you didn’t like, or to make them forget to do that thing that they didn’t do, that you then complained about?
A friend posted on Facebook the other day: “Practice noticing when life is good.” Certainly, it does need practicing. It is so easy to get caught up in a cycle of negative thinking. It’s easy to complain. It’s easy to point out everything that sucks. And to make matters worse, it’s highly contagious. But you know… it’s also easy to change the topic. It’s easy to say something nice. And when some of that stuff seems harder than it should be, or when that negative thinking is catching like wildfire, it’s easy to leave the room (well, usually).
So, you, reading this. Practice noticing when life is good. If you’re happy, think about how nice that is. And encourage others to do the same. And when you are on the verge of complaining about someone or something, exercise a little empathy and think before you speak. And then, maybe, don’t complain.
30 April 2014 § Leave a comment
Today, a student told me that I’m his favourite teacher. I thought to myself, “I’ll bet he says that to all his teachers”. I hate to be so negative, though, and when I thought about the fact that, without my asking him to, he willingly stayed after school for an hour to go over his homework with me to make sure he understood, I thought maybe there was some truth in what he said.
There are so many days where it’s difficult to stay positive or feel like I’m doing anything right. Sometimes, it’s not so unlike my first weeks and months working in a restaurant for the first time when I was 19. Sometimes.
12 April 2014 § Leave a comment
One of the key differences so far between my life in England and my life in Japan: my work now requires most of my energy. Day trips and adventuring are not as frequent as a result. When I have time to do whatever I want, that ends up being staying in in my pajamas. I admire the other teachers from abroad here who take full advantage of their time off by exploring the UK and other parts of Europe. A part of me, though I hate to admit it, was more motivated to see Japan on the basis of it being Japan (England, you’re still cool though! Don’t take it personally!).
More than anything, I’ve been trying to take advantage of being in London, of being in a big city. A trip to Royal Albert Hall to see Pixar in Concert, seeing Canadian band Walk off the Earth in Shepherd’s Bush, a poetry event at the Southbank Centre to listen to five poet laureates, film screenings in Soho, improv comedy at the Comedy Club, overpriced ramen, a long walk around Kew Gardens.
Along with enjoying London, I’ve been trying to figure out what I actually want to be when I grow up. After having spent four years studying English literature at University, I find myself leaning towards specializing in maths, particularly where students with weak numeracy skills are concerned. This has come as somewhat of a surprise to me.
Nonetheless, I want to continue exercising my writing skills. I’ve written a couple of film reviews for The Film Circle Reviews (for Under the Skin and the new Robocop). Poetry has been sparse, however. I’m hoping the two week break I’m enjoying now will bring me some inspiration that isn’t solely related to teaching/education.
Every now and again I am reminded that I’m not from around here, especially when I hear words I’m not familiar with, or words being used in a way with which I’m not familiar. Hard graft. Todger. Yorkshire “pudding”. It was fun when we were in Canada, having it the other way around. Tom tried on some clothes at a store. Upon coming out of the changing rooms, a store clerk asked, “How’d you make out with those?” Tom: “Sorry? That’s not what I do with my clothes…”
16 October 2013 § 1 Comment
Things that moving to Japan and moving to England have in common: lack of funds.
Certainly, somehow, some way, there was enough money each time, but not enough to afford the (somewhat frivolous) comforts of home. The nicer bread. The extra virgin olive oil. A desperately needed replacement pair of shoes. Zucchini. Little things, but things that cost more money than I really needed to spend after having just moved to a new country and weeks before getting my first paycheck.
We just opened up a new bottle of washing up liquid (dish detergent, whatever you want to call it) and it’s such a delight because it’s not the stuff from the £1 shop and it actually makes things nice and soapy. In August, though, what a deal to be able to get two big bottles of washing up liquid for £1! £1 for 2 bottles! Brilliant! After a couple days, we regretted our thriftiness.
Two months in, we’re still using an upside down cardboard box as a coffee table. It’s functional. And it’s more out of not having had enough time to go shopping that we haven’t replaced it with a proper table yet.
But despite penny-pinching at first, we find joy in the little things. Playing 20 questions in Japanese while playing cards. Sitting around on a couch, entertaining ourselves with conversation and wordplay. Browsing through furniture on the IKEA website. Watching the entire Breaking Bad series (well, we’re two episodes away from finishing up). Going to a huge music festival for the entire weekend with £5 tickets (and what a weekend it was!).
A lot of people that I work with have asked me if it’s very different here from Canada. My response the other day was that it’s more like everything’s just a bit different, such that it seems nearly like Canada, nearly like home, but not quite – almost like being in a dream, or like being the victim of Amelie Poulain’s revenge scheme. The cars are on a different part of the road. There isn’t French on all the packaging. Instead of Walmart, there’s ASDA. Instead of Food Basics and Zehrs, Sainbury’s and Tesco. My students look at me funny when I say notebook instead of exercise book. I was out for a drink after work with some coworkers a few weeks ago and we were listening some tunes from the 1960’s – they all sounded very similar to the songs I grew up listening to on Oldies 1150 , but I wasn’t familiar with any of them. It’s eerie sometimes.
I might go visit somewhere new in a couple weekends. Explore a bit. Go relax. Take a break from lesson planning. Take a break from London. Remind myself that I’m living in England, which is kind of cool.
11 October 2013 § 1 Comment
Less than half a year ago, I was living in Japan.
Three months ago, I was living in Canada. Working at the same two locations as I was in January 2011, prior to moving to Japan.
Nearly two months ago, I packed my bags again and moved to England.
Culture shock has been minimal.
If anything, I’m still experiencing the culture shock that I started experiencing upon leaving Japan. It’s the shock of leaving the first home I established for myself independently. The shock of such a big life goal being accomplished – past tense. The shock of no longer living in a country in which I feel safe. No more cycling everywhere with ease. No more cheap kaitenzushi. No more cheap, amazing, punctual trains. No more ex-pat community (not one that I’m part of, anyway).
It’s the shock of not being sure anymore. I have no idea what’s next. Where I’ll be in a year. It’s trying to wrap my head around home feeling now split between three countries. The home that always was, the home I made for myself, and the home I now find myself in. A constant sense of displacement.
Anyway, I’m here. I’m pretty settled in. Teaching’s a crazy, stressful, beyond full time job. I love my apartment. London’s pretty cool – though I haven’t had any time to really check it out. More on these things and more.. at a later date when I’m not exhausted from the work week! x