Keeping a Healthy Balance

Last year while working in Mexico, I had to tutor after work 4 out of 5 days to make extra money for my student loans. I would often get out of work around 6pm and go home to crash then repeat. When I moved to Germany I made a mental plan that I would not have to do that due to my increased salary and would therefore leave work earlier and explore more. I joined a gym and increased my entertainment budget (yes I budget!). At the beginning my mental plan failed miserably! Having my own classroom and having never taught in my own room before, many late afternoons and evenings, as well as weekends, were spent at school. After the Christmas holidays I had enough! I got severally sick with flu and sinus infections and vowed that I would change everything when I was well enough. By March I made it my plan to be at gym everyday except when I had German class, clean up my diet, go into work slightly earlier so I could leave as soon as I dismissed the kids, and altered my budget plan so I could go away more often. I have stuck to this quiet closely and have seen some fantastic new places, my health has never been better, my body has never felt fitter, my brain is not as foggy, my debt is being repaired quicker, and my teaching has grown. As teachers we often complain our lives are all about work, but we need to make the conscious effort to make time for ourselves. It is harder at certain times of the year, but it benefits everyone around us including ourselves, when we make the time to do what makes us happy! Additionally, we teach abroad to explore and experience new things... it is a necessity to create time!!

- Highlighter

6 Stationary Hacks as a Rotary Teacher

At my current school, I am what they call a “rotary teacher”, where I visit each of my classes in their own classrooms, rather than having my own. As such, I teach around 100 students, and have the potential to leave my things everywhere leaving me in a disorganized kerfuffle. I have come up with a couple of strategies to keep me sane, and here they are!

1. WASHI-Taping my stationary supplies. 

Remember when you lived with (or are still living with) more than 2 or 3 housemates? The constant battle with me was not wanting to touch my housemates’ food that was in the fridge. “Is that my banana or yours? Better not touch it just incase…” was the internal conversation I would be having in my head, and then the banana would turn brown and juicy and be disgusting. Turns out, my housemates would be having the same confusion about who’s banana it was. 

Fast-forward to the workplace. “Are those my scissors?” “Is this my whiteboard marker?” “WHERE’S MY STAPLER!?” are now the questions that I ask myself. Sometimes, I would accidentally strut out of the classroom with the core teacher’s whiteboard marker in my basket, without even thinking about it (because I had no idea if it was mine or theirs). Eventually, I found a solution. I put WASHI tape on EVERYTHING I owned. It’s less passive-aggressive than writing my name on everything, and it’s a reminder of “this is not your whiteboard marker, so put it back”. 

2. KanBan Chart

This strategy is usually used in a work place where collaboration is key, and that everyone can see the progress made on an event or project. For me, I just use it personally to visualize what I have to get done! 

On the TO DO side, are sticky notes of all the things that are supposed to be done. 
IN PROGRESS is what is currently being done. 
DONE is… done! 

The important thing here is to make sure you don’t have too many tasks in the IN PROGRESS section, or else you will spread yourself thin and won’t be as focussed on doing a good job on your tasks. One thing at a time! 

3. Labelling Binder Clips

I’ve taken to labelling my binder clips with various different titles. To Be Marked vs. Marked is a nice one to keep track of all of my piles. Also, 7A, 7B, and 7C keep all of my grade 7 science sections separate so that they don’t become a big pile and can stay neat and tidy! 

4. Document Trays

I live and breathe for these things. I have 4 different document trays across my desk to keep track of loose paper that gets tossed on my desk. We are [sadly] a paper-heavy school, so schedules, lists, forms… you name it… gets printed and photocopied and passed to everyone’s desk. I prefer the electronic form, personally. HOWEVER, I must organize it in such a way in case I need to get that piece of paper back from the depths of despair of my desk. Hence, beautiful document trays. 

It is also a nice place to keep piles of G.O.O.S. (Good On One Side) paper, graph paper, or documents that I always keep needing to refer to. 

5. Colour-Coding the Grade Book

This was a hack I stole from my colleague. It really let’s me see how my students are doing with one glance. At the beginning of the year, especially, I can get a sense of who’s doing well, who’s doing poorly, who’s not handing things in on time, and who’s not handing things in period. With that many students, it’s nice to have this as a quick-look!

6. My New Bullet Journal

This is my saviour. I came across bullet journals on this Buzzfeed article, and fell in love with notepads that had dots on them instead of lines or blank paper. When I was perusing the mall (as you’ll find, that is what one does while they live in Malaysia because it’s too hot to be outside), I found myself walking into the cutest Japanese store called “MUJI”. Guess what they had? DOTTED NOTEBOOKS. So I impulse-bought it, along with 3 cute pens. 

I spent the rest of my evening on Pinterest and at the Bullet Journal website, learning about the whole idea behind them for productivity, and thought I would try using it for that as well as their cuteness. 

This ends up being a bit of a combo between the important tasks at work that I cannot forget, and the little personal things I need to make sure that I do throughout the month and on a daily basis. I love the freedom and creativity that it allows for, and it also has kept me organized and productive, ticking off my to-do list items. Plus, it is just so darn cute. 

Happy Stationary-ing!

Sticky Note

SPOTLIGHT: Contract Packages (Part 2)

I have had two drastically different experiences with the contracts that I have signed so far. In Sweden the contract was one page. There wasn't much detail beyond my salary and working hours. The promises of a phone plan, money for a gym membership etc. were said on Skype but not in writing. This puts you in a bit of a tricky position where you don't have a lot of power if your employer doesn't make good on their promises. 

In Bahrain the contract is a novel. It outlines every detail you could think of! In addition I have loved the opportunity to work at a school that pays you for the extra work that teachers often do for free. I am paid to cover lessons, coach and run clubs, which has been a very pleasant and unexpected aspect of my job. 

A few more thoughts I had to add based on my experience:

What do you do if your sister (or other important person) decides to get married mid school year?

By the time I finish my second year at my current school, two of my three sisters will have gotten married...both in October...smack dab in the middle of the semester. My boyfriend headed home for his sister's wedding from Sweden and had to take unpaid days off of work. I was fortunate to have three days of contingency leave to play with in Bahrain. Sounds great...but when the flight is 24hrs each way, and your weekend is Friday-Saturday in the Middle East things get a bit complicated. I opted to not take any unpaid days for the first sister's wedding, and honestly I regret it. I was only home for about 48hrs...most of which I was jet lagged beyond recognition. I also waited until my leave was approved before booking my flight, which with the lack of flexibility in my dates made the flight quite pricey. For sister's wedding round 2 I'm going home for a week and a half. My contingency leave is not yet approved but I'm optimistic. I also have a two day holiday in there as a bonus so I'm only taking 3 days unpaid leave (which is fabulous considering I'm getting home for so long!). It's essential for me to remember that the time is totally worth it, and the money I'm saving watching flight prices and booking so far in advance is almost $1000! If you even have folks on the verge of potential marriage that this might come up, it's important to ask what would happen and get a sense of how accommodating the school would be! The same is true for a death in the family. Some contracts have specific information regarding compassionate leave, which is best to know before you need to know!

What's your health coverage like is an ESSENTIAL question. Memoirs of a person who had her first surgery in the Middle East. 

Don't worry y'all I'm back to 100% now. I recently underwent vein stripping to treat extremely painful varicose veins that have been effecting me for a while now. I was very fortunate to have exceptional medical coverage that paid fully for the surgery and for a private room in the hospital (which significantly decreased my anxiety about the whole thing). I also have a friend that had a bike accident and has had to undergo over ten surgeries during the recovery process. It makes a huge deal to not have to stress about bills in addition to an already very stressful situation. These questions might not feel essential right now, but ask about details of what exactly is covered!

Also....does your coverage include when you're travelling? One of the obvious perks of international teaching is travel, but are you going to need to buy travellers health insurance every time you jet off on a weekend away? What about when you come back to Canada for the summer?

**HELPFUL HINT:

Your OHIP can be extended for up to 5 years if you provide proof to service Canada that you are working full time internationally. This is a great option if your health coverage isn't great and you are working in a country that has a tax treaty with Canada. Not so great though if you are going to try to be deemed a non-resident when you go to file your taxes. 

The joys and concerns of a tax-free salary

It is easy to get swept up in the numbers, and be simply overjoyed when that monthly salary isn't reduced by paying lots of taxes. In Sweden we paid 30% taxes. Quite the essential detail when you're told your monthly pay, because 30% certainly takes a big bite out of things. In the Middle East many enjoy a tax free salary, but yee be warned..the Canadian Government might try to take a big bite out of that one. The biggest nightmare has been trying to figure out what on Earth to do. I honestly think that no one really wants you to know what to do. I suggest everyone do their own research on this one, but the general info I have to share is that if you work in a country without a tax treaty with Canada you may want to consider filing as a non-resident. I have been told to AVOID filling in the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) form that claims to be for residency determination. It is my understanding that this form is not required but will be used against you to argue that you are in fact a resident. Non-residency should be a whole post in itself so I'll get right on that!

The moral of all of this is to read the fine print and ASK! Wouldn't hurt to have another trusted individual give the fine print a read with you, so that they can critically evaluate things. This might be a bit hard for you to do if you're feeling the joy of your dream job!

Never be afraid to ask questions and make sure you'll be well taken care of!

Happy signing :)

- Smart Board

International Reunions

Throughout the last two years, I've had the opportunity to meet some wonderful people internationally - some who would be in my life for only a flash, and some who would be there for a bit longer. Some who make for great company, and some who make for lifelong friendships. I've been at my current school for less than two years, and I've seen people come and go. I can only imagine how hard it must be to be here for 5 or 7 or 10 years to experience the revolving door. These people speak of apathy as new teachers come in - resisting to make new friendships only to have another loved one leave eventually. 

Sometimes though, these friendships have no borders. I've been so fortunate and thankful in the places I've lived to build lasting, supportive, wonderful friendships. The most exciting part about this is the opportunity to visit these people once more, whether it is in Canada, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Cambodia, England, or somewhere in between. 

Last year in September, I went to Cambodia and stayed with a friend of a best friend from home - only to reciprocate the favour when this new friend came to Malaysia for a long weekend and we could hit up the town! 

My friend and I visiting Batu Caves (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia).

My friend and I visiting Batu Caves (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia).

My friends from my internship in Hong Kong were hosting me this weekend - I've been receiving photo and video updates on how their son has been growing and it is so nice to be with them again in person. This couple is so kind and so genuine. They've provided encouragement and advice when I've needed it most and kept me kickin' when I was feeling low! These people are an inspiring young family that demonstrate that it's totally possible to raise a child abroad, which although I don't foresee this event happening in the immediate future, it's always nice to know that this is an option.

Day-dreaming on the Dragon's Back (Hong Kong).

Day-dreaming on the Dragon's Back (Hong Kong).

I'm interested to see what may happen with keeping in touch with my Malaysia friends when I leave in July to my next destination. With the Internet these days, it's very easy to keep in touch with Facebook, FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp.... And even letters! What's even better is the opportunity to meet up in person, whether it's a travel adventure together, or a coffee date on a layover or on Christmas holidays in our hometowns. Heck, maybe they'll end up working in the same city as me one day! 

I have a feeling some of the friendships I've made here will last for a long, long time. Perhaps there will be some more international reunions in the near future :)

- Sticky Note

Snapshot: Sierra de Perija, Venezuela

For the last long weekend of the school year, I enjoyed the luxury of hiking, walking, touring, and appreciating the breathtaking landscapes of Sierra de Perija. I took photos, but so did another traveller named David. His are absolutely stunning, so here are a few that show some spectacular parts of this country. 

Hot Glue

Appreciating Travel

"Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering." - Charles Dickens  

For me, traveling has been both easy and hard. I have seen beautiful places, harsh realities and incredible souls. I have found joy in small things and cried hard tears at the misfortune I have glimpsed. Travel has the power to awaken my love for the unknown and at the same time has the ability to spark a yearning for the familiarity of home. Being away has allowed me to see what I have always seen but with new eyes. I miss my family and my home and I am incredibly grateful for the way in which travel has let me see the wonders of where I grew up. 

Photo Credit: John Burgess

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