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

Trending Alternatives

Vegetarianism

In the month or so since my last post I’ve started following a pescetarian diet. Turns out watching Cowspiracy and doing extensive research into the meat and dairy industry affected me a fair bit.

One of the biggest things I’ve noticed about following this diet (and having a vegan cookbook) is that everything is REALLY cheap. I’m talking spending $30 or less a week while making delicious home-cooked meals kind of cheap. If I had known this when I was in my early years of university I would have adopted a pseudo-vegan diet much earlier on.

Getting sick of eating too many ramen noodle cups might be part of the student experience, but once you get to that stage (it happens pretty damn quickly) you should definitely check out some vegan recipes. I’m not saying go 100% vegan – especially because this would ruin your ability to enjoy pizza (the other big university food), but have one here and there and add some chicken if you feel like it.

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Find a few recipes you really like (the cookbook I linked earlier, Thug Kitchen, is fantastic), go to the bulk food store, pick up most of the ingredients for a ridiculously low price, and enjoy an awesome meal that doesn’t involve dried noodles, flavour packets and a lifetime supply of MSG.

This brings me to the topic of this post (and often the topic of this blog): eating cheaply during and after university. Even if you’re incredibly lazy with food, chances are you’re not willing to spend a ton of money to get that convenience (you’d rather use that excess money to pay back the saddening amount of student debt, or you know, do something fun).

If you look at a couple of the vegan recipes in Thug Kitchen Cookbook or elsewhere you may notice that there can be a ton of ingredients. Don’t get scared away! For the most part when you look more closely it basically says to take all these (easy to prepare/ready-to-cook) ingredients, toss them into a bowl/pan and mix.

At this point you probably want me to stop ranting on and on about vegan recipes, so I will (aren’t you lucky!).

Soylent 2.0

Those of you who know me in person, or who checked out the video I linked on the Facebook page a while back, know that I did a five-day Soylent challenge a while back (or rather attempted one and failed miserably) along with two of my co-editors at the Western Gazette. Soylent is a meal replacement (not to be confused with “meal supplement”) that comes in both powder and liquid form. It is essentially 20% of all your nutritional needs (based on a 2,000 calorie diet) all in a convenient bag/bottle.

When I attempted to switch to Soylent for five days it went downhill pretty quick. The powdered version – Soylent 1.5 – I found to be lumpy, grainy, poor tasting and just generally a terrible experience. But I still liked the idea, even if I had given up on the challenge after two days.

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A couple weeks later I ordered some Soylent 2.0, which differs from its powdered counterpart by being factory-mixed (meaning no grainy/lumpy texture), flavoured with a hint of strawberry (which really just makes it taste like slightly sweet milk) and bottled into convenient.. err.. bottles.

Over the course of about a month I had a bottle of Soylent 2.0 every morning for breakfast and occasionally for lunch or dinner if I was in a rush to go out. The convenience I had hoped for with 1.5 was present with the slightly more expensive 2.0.

Soylent 2.0 is a student’s dream meal when it comes to cost and convenience. Each 400-calorie bottle costs about $3 US including shipping and tax. For those of you who NEED a morning coffee, they recently came out with Coffiest, which kills two birds with one stone by giving you a cheap meal and your morning coffee in one bottle (though I can’t speak to how it tastes as I have yet to try it).

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Whether you’re needing a healthy snack while at the library (that doesn’t involve crunching lettuce on the silent floor), rushing to a morning class, out for a long walk or up late and not wanting to spend time prepping a meal, Soylent 2.0 is the best thing I’ve had. So please put away those ramen noodles once in a while and replace it with one of these (or a vegan/vegetarian meal if that’s your fancy and you’ve got the time).

There are a lot of ways to eat more cheaply but these options allow you to do so while still maintaining a healthy diet. While they may not be the most popular options around that doesn’t mean they aren’t good ones. When it comes to future eating it’s all about looking out for new and upcoming trends and in a few years time (or less), chances are these options will be far more popular than they are today.

Images: Pexels (1), soylent.com (1)

Introducing: School

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Super Cheesy Bacon French Toast, Black ‘N’ Blue Flapjacks, Grilled Local Breakfast Sausages

School restaurant is a unique brunch experience in downtown Toronto that will leave you stuffed.

Sticking to its name it has two large TVs playing shows about schools and has a wall of clocks reminiscent of those you see in classrooms.

As the time ticks by you may find yourself waiting for up to an hour to get your table. But fret not! You can download the “NoWait” app to get yourself on the waitlist and they will text you when your table is ready- but you must be there in five minutes, otherwise you get detention.. er.. your table will be given away.

Food ranges from waffles with chicken, to breakfast poutine with hash browns to French toast with a cheesecake filling. Each dish is presented beautifully.

There are plenty of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to choose from including specialty “school” themed cocktails, lattés and teas.

Unlike the schools we all know, School will always leave you wanting to try another course on your next visit.

http://www.schooltoronto.com/
70 Fraser Avenue (Liberty Village)