Travel Blog #16: Trial and Error

My dream of spending a year living in Asia so far hasn’t gone quite as planned. But that doesn’t mean it’s been a complete mess or waste of time. These are some of the biggest trials I’ve gone through in a while, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

Trial #1: The Job

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This digital plaza shopping spree made me realize I need a job ASAP

Since I came here knowing I wanted to teach English I did what any logical person would do – found a teaching job at a school. After a few weeks of travel and another week of depressed burnout I decided to actually be productive. (That is, after staying out until 2 a.m. eating and drinking with a then-stranger, now best friend.) In a strong burst of motivation, I applied for about 30 jobs in one sitting. That sitting lasted me from about 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. the next day.

I slept for a few hours (I think) and woke up to the nonstop buzzing of my cellphone. Now, the smart thing to do in this situation would have been to respond to the offers, go to interviews, weigh the options, ask around to get a sense of things… You’ve probably already guessed that I did none of that. Within three days I signed a contract to a school that was seemingly a perfect match. This was Ellis-Koifman-meets-first-real-job syndrome.

Trial #2: The Classroom

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Having settled into a rather luxurious place with two super friendly roommates and an adorable shiba inu I was pretty happy…. with the apartment. With the job, not so much.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed the teaching; it was a really rewarding experience where I got to feel like I was making a real difference in kids’ lives. But therein also lied a problem: kids…. as in… more than one kid… as in spend half (read: 80%) of the class managing behaviour. In and of itself, this wasn’t a game-breaker, but the particular school I was at had a borderline “zero consequences” policy. Kid hits another kid? No real consequences. Kid repeatedly violent in class? No worries. Kid hits teacher? Not allowed to send them out of class. You get the idea.

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None of these rules has enforceable consequences.

This was already exhausting on its own, but then you add into the mix that the school demanded quite a hefty amount of paperwork. I can type pretty quickly (around professional speed), but even then I was struggling to finish everything. Between the paperwork exhaustion and the behaviour management problems I quickly found myself counting the days until each weekend and treasuring each of the (extremely limited) days off. Then I’d get sick once in a while and feel even more exhaustion as I struggled to keep up with everything.

On December 1st, 2017, I departed from my first teaching gig of 40 hours per week and retired to the comfy day-to-day of quickly dwindling funds and figuring out what the hell to do with my life as an expat in Taiwan.

Trial #3: The Apartment

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Living room and New Year’s feast (no, I don’t eat like this everyday).

I’ll be honest, up until recently (and even now to a lesser extent) I did a piss poor job of managing my personal finances and budgeting for the long term. As part of this youth-related stupidity, I signed a one-year contract for an expensive apartment, including a rather large deposit, about a week after getting the new job.

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The kitchen and its master.

Without a job, it became (admittedly slowly) apparent that it was a terrible budgeting decision. At the start of April, I’ll be moving across the city to a cheaper neighbourhood and an apartment that costs less than half of my current one. For now, it’s just a matter of hard lessons about budgeting hitting me like bricks.

Trial #4: The Future

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My online teaching backdrop.

After about a month of nothing I started doing one-on-one tutoring with an online company (which is why I was able to stay in Taiwan at all instead of just going home). This was a really nice change of pace from teaching in the classroom. It has given me a lot of autonomy and lets me cater each lesson to the individual student. Teaching online also gives time to develop my own teaching style and “classroom” decorations.

It’s taken me a long time to realize it, but this whole slow transition has been an opportunity for me to figure out where my strengths lie and what I value in life.

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#14: Teaching Abroad?

It should come as little surprise that foreign teacher’s rights are often abused and their responsibilities exploited. People go on midnight runs from horrible situations, never to return to the country in fear of prosecution. This is not a tale of such terrible circumstances, but rather how to avoid them. If you’re thinking of teaching abroad, these are some things you should consider.

Work Permit

The first words anyone hoping to teach abroad will read. Everyone starts off by reading into the legal processes – that’s good, at least then you know how it’s supposed to be, what your responsibilities are.

Soon after you start looking for a job or start working you will hear horror stories about teachers hiding in closets as government inspectors come through, abusive teachers, and more.

Do your research into the schools to which you’re applying to find out if they’re on anyone’s blacklist and, if so, why. If you’re coming to Taiwan, Forumosa is your new best friend. Otherwise there are plenty of Facebook groups out there should you need advice (just search “foreigners in [country]” and you should be good to go).

No Rest for the Travelled

Time off is scarce. It is typical to have no more than a week or so of national holidays and only five days personal leave. This isn’t worst case scenario, it’s just how it often is here. Combine that with working the occasional weekend and it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed and overworked.

Make sure you use your time off wisely. I’ve spent too many evenings and weekends just relaxing at home, rather than adding diversity to my life. But whenever I’ve pushed myself to go out and explore – no matter how much a solid recharge seemed to be in order – it has always been worth it.

Hourly or Salary?

This is a question that constantly comes up among foreign workers. While certainly not unique to Taiwan, these problems are often able to grow larger due to government oversights and loosely enforced policies.

Work hourly and you’ll find yourself able to have more time to yourself, but you’ll also find yourself doing the occasional unpaid overtime and lots of paperwork that cuts into your free time.

Work salary and you’ll find yourself with lower pay and more hours, but with a more easily accessible support system in place should you need any help with classes (which can be absolutely critical when you’re starting out).

Endgame

Chances are you’re not going to find the perfect job for you on your first try. Whether you’ve got the job before arriving or plan to find one once you get here, you’re bound to run into things that you love and things that you hate.

The best advice I can give here is to stay strong and keep talking to other teachers, both at your workplace and elsewhere. It helps form a frame of reference for what is normal and is the best source of information for making hard decisions.

Feature image by pexels

Eating for the Community

Community

The Inuits living in arctic Alaska believe in a subsistence lifestyle, where hunting isn’t just about putting food on the table for yourself or for your family, it’s about sharing with the whole community.

Excess consumption is a critical problem in today’s society. Red meat – something not necessary at all for the human diet – is eaten several times per week by many if not most people. Think of food chains that offer a quick burger to go so you can eat a hunk of meat for your meal without a second thought.

We’re completely disconnected from our food.

By no means do I consider myself a vegetarian or vegan. I eat fish and meat far more than I should. I indulge in chicken fingers from The Spoke at Western University and treat myself to the occasional steak cooked on my cast iron pan. I love going out for duck when I can and never say no to a delicious platter of assorted local meats.

Recently though, I’ve started to question my own indulgences and those of our society.

When we go to the supermarket to buy our weekly groceries, the chicken we purchase comes in a nice clean package – blood, skin and bones removed – with two or more lovely pieces ready to be cooked. We don’t think about it. We just add it to our cart and go on our merry way.

Across the world chickens are cooped up in masses and slaughtered in inhumane conditions. Being raised “organically” doesn’t make much of a difference to the consumer. You let yourself stop feeling guilty because it ate nicer food and lived a nicer life and maybe it’s healthier for you, but all the difference you really see is a slightly different label on the package of chicken from the supermarket. Your eating habits don’t actually change much.

The inuits living in arctic Alaska hunt for the needs of the whole community. They don’t have access to supermarkets that disconnect them from the rest of the world, meaning they aren’t disconnected from the process of hunting for food and preparing it. They understand everything as being connected (nature, animals, humans, climate).

On the flip side, urbanized societies around the world are completely disconnected. When you go to your favourite burger joint you aren’t thinking about how your hunger and your indulgences affect the needs of the community or its ability to access food. Sure, you’ll think of your family when shopping for the week’s groceries, but the buck stops there.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

A couple months back I proposed a scenario to as many friends as possible. Inspired by a Buzzfeed video, I asked people if they would be willing to go to a chicken farm and kill and cook their own chicken, following the common guidelines and with the direct instructions of a farmer (assuming of course the chicken was going to be killed and eaten anyway). Only one friend said yes out of over 30.

That friend grew up in a place where it was common to witness chickens being butchered – their blood running down the street into the drain – as he walked home from school or to see people buying live chickens to butcher and prepare at home. He, unlike most of us, wasn’t born into a society completely detached from the process.

The rest of the people I asked were taken aback, disgusted by the very notion of being so close to a process. Those who briefly considered it said if they did it, they wouldn’t be able to eat chicken ever again. One friend even called me insane for showing interest in doing such a thing.

We’re used to others doing our dirty work. Out of sight, out of mind. Movies that expose the industry for what it is are hard for us to watch. They make us face realities that we have an inkling about, but are too afraid to embrace. Why? It would ruin our enjoyment of our favourite meals.

Sustainability

Does all this matter really matter? Sure, it would be nice if people appreciated where their food came from, but would it really change anything other than adding a little educational note to our meals?

Definitely.

It’s about eating with the whole community in mind.

Cowspiracy, a movie exposing the impact of the meat industry, illustrates how just one burger takes about 660 gallons of water to produce.

One. Burger.

The average American uses about 80 gallons of water per day, meaning over eight days of water goes into that one burger.

According to Cowspiracy individuals eat about 9oz of meat and dairy per day; to be sustainable, that number would have to be about 2oz… Per week.

Who knows, maybe red meat will become the next tobacco and become shunned by the world at large, changing our environment and communities.

But I don’t think that’s going to happen (at least not anytime soon). Nor do I think the solution is to expect everyone to go vegan or vegetarian – an unrealistic expectation given the habits and stubbornness of our generation.

The key here is moderation.

This means instead of having a burger every time we feel like it to having one maybe once a week (or less if possible). It means considering where the meat is coming from (really coming from) and appreciating it as more than just a piece of raw food in a plastic and styrofoam package.

With education and moderation I think we can get a little bit closer to the subsistence lifestyle exemplified by the Inuits living in arctic Alaska.

If each person were to start eating for their community instead of just themselves, it could be another giant leap for mankind.

Images: Cowspiracy (1)