Module 1-Part 1:
Building a Community of Inquiry
Here are my results from the World Abroad quizzes:
- International Skills & IQ-96%
- International Experience-100%
- Preparation for the International Job Search-96%
I think I should probably add a disclaimer to my answers. I am married to my husband who is in the military and I have an eleven year old son. Since the responses did not allow for me to write that I have additional responsibilities that would not allow me to take a job in a country other than the one I am in. In others words, I answered the questions as if I were an unmarried person without a child. I did in fact, pick up and leave Canada alone after university to teach English in Prague, Czech Republic for 18 months. I am now living in Kyiv, Ukraine.
One issue I thought about when teaching internationally, or really in any new community, is getting to know your surroundings. For example, when I taught in Prague, my student asked me for the name of these “terrible birds, with the terrible song.” I told him I needed more information, and could not answer his question. When he looked it up, I was surprised to see he meant pigeons. I would not think a pigeon has a terrible song, but since he mentioned them, I started to see pigeons everywhere. How could I not have noticed? I suppose that it is just so overwhelming to be in a new place, somethings get filtered out. A more serious mistake I once made was when I was teaching in an Indigenous Community. I was reading my students a story about a fair, and I asked if they had a fair in their community. One student told me “we are too rank to have a fair.” I didn’t quite know how to respond. I was new to the community and I should have found that information out before planning my questions. I was able to redirect my questions to asking them to tell me what sort of celebrations or fun activities happen here in the summer. The students were able to tell me about the round dances, pow wows and feasts that took place. I can be difficult to teach when you are new, as you are often learning more that your students. At my first in-school pow wow, the female teachers were told we had to wear long skirts or dresses. When waiting for the festivities to start, our Principal told us to sit with our class. I sat with my legs straight out in a long, fitted skirt. An Elder approached me and told me I wasn’t sitting like a lady. I was crushed. I was trying my best to fit in, to follow protocol and apparently I had failed at sitting correctly. That memory is hard to shake. I have since learned that women are expected to sit with their legs curled to the side. All of these cultural experiences I had however, were a real bonding experience for me and my students. They felt proud to be able to teach me how to behave, how to smudge, and educated me on many of the protocols.
Another aspect that took me a while to get accustomed to was how unfriendly people were in the Czech Republic in 1997-1998, and how unfriendly people are here in Ukraine. It is only when you get to know them, in both cases, that people are warm, friendly and helpful. In Prague, some people were down right hostile. I was often mistaken for a local, and when someone would ask me for the time or directions and I attempted to answer, they would sigh, get angry or quickly walk away. Here in Ukraine when I am asked for directions and try to help, they often apologize to me! I am in their country and they feel badly that they don’t speak English. I try to go out of my way to help if possible, because of the guilt I feel for not speaking Ukrainian/Russian. I did try to learn Ukrainian, but unfortunately I didn’t make much progress beyond greetings, and ordering food and drinks. I took lessons with my husband and solo lessons, but due to the legacy of Russian being spoken, it is especially hard to pick up any Ukrainian on the street. If you speak Ukrainian to someone, they likely will switch to Ukrainian, but not always. In Western Ukraine, Ukrainian is much more prevalent that in Kyiv or other regions of Ukraine. My students in both places, have gone out of their way to bring me treats, to help me get opera tickets, to invite me to special events and bring me flowers.
Module 1-Part 2:
When I was in university, I knew I want to teach English overseas, so I had to make a choice, either stay in Canada and get my teaching degree, or leave after my B.A. and wait to take my education degree when I came back. I decided I was ready for adventure and I starting looking into Japan and Korea. When I decided on Japan, they didn’t need me to start until June, and I had graduated in January. I was working at a restaurant all through my university years, and I could not handle working there full time until I had to leave. So, I started doing some research into Korea and I found a position, but they wanted me to send them my actual passport. That wasn’t going to work for me, so at try number three, I decided on Prague. I didn’t know much about Prague, but from what I had read and from people I had talked to, it sounded interesting. I moved in February and my life became a whirlwind. I booked a month long rental with an accommodation service, so I could get my bearings and figure out where I should stay after the first month. The accommodation service asked if I could work for them on weekends to help out with the English correspondence. I took that job as well as teaching full time at an English school. My schedule was from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. with the middle of the day free. It was a long day, but perfect for sightseeing in the middle of the day and still time for the after work drink with colleagues and students. This experience was exactly what I was looking for. I met friends from around the world, I got to teach the Prague Castle Administration staff and the meetings were held inside the castle, which is gorgeous and an amazing place to visit. I got to teach at private companies, I taught adults, children, intensive, individual lessons and summer group lessons. I fell in love with teaching, I honed my teaching skills, and knew for certain that I wanted to be a teacher. I gained independence, I traveled to a variety of new countries in Europe, I tried learning Czech, which was difficult, so I switched to German, as we were offered free lessons at school. I will never forget that experience and I always think about Prague and the Czech Republic fondly. I have since visited, and it has changed immensely. I used to think it was packed with tourists when I lived there. That was nothing compared to the wall of visitors that was there when I visited with my family. I used to be able to walk though Old Town Square in the morning on my way to work and be one of the only people there, now it is difficult to walk anywhere in the centre alone. On my last night, my friends and colleagues took me to the Charles Bridge, we had champagne, and my friend played her accordion for me, and we had a picnic. when I visited last year, it was difficult to stop on the bridge anywhere without people walking into you. I am so thankful for the time I got to spend there.
I could relate to Rubina’s story. The Prague that people visit now, was not the Prague of 1997. Like Rabina, I was not prepared for what I was getting into. I left my winter coat at security in Calgary and had to go back. I had a nine hour flight, followed by a four hour lay-over in Frankfurt, followed by a 40 minute flight. I felt sick, I was tired and I was served a sandwich with some sort of meat I did not know. When I arrived I was taken to a dark apartment in the very centre. I was scared at how dark and old it was. I was picked up at the airport by the accommodation service and all I did was sleep at first. Once I got adjusted, I tried to buy some food, but nothing looked familiar or good to my eyes. I eventually found good food, and the grocery stores in my area.
Since the collapse of Communism, people were just getting used to a new way of life. The service industry was nearly non-existent. One commonality between everyone I met, was the complaints about customer service. Service staff sighed when you walked into a restaurant, as they did not seem to want to be there. If you wanted a table for six, for example, they would simply tell you no, and to go somewhere else. I found keeping my work schedule difficult, as it was in the 24 hour clock and it changed due to people cancelling and the Director switching lessons. I once left work thinking I had to be back for 5:30, but it was actually 15:30, which of course was 3:30. Which led our Director to yell, “why is a 24 hour clock that difficult for you North Americans!” I don’t know why I find it so difficult. Even now, all these years later, I prefer to use a 12 hour clock. I also had a difficult time getting to all of my lessons. I had to travel to teach at a variety of companies and there was no readily available GPS, so I had to map it out and find the metro or tram to take me there and then follow the directions. When I arrived at the company, more often than not, the staff would tell me they were too busy for a lesson and I simply had to leave. I would still get paid for the travel time, but not the lesson.
Rubina’s story captures cultural complexity and personal growth completely. Moving alone to a new country was one of the hardest things I had ever done, but in the end, it is one of my most treasured memories. There are so many things I wanted to change about Prague and so many things I missed about Canada. The moment I was back in Canada, all I did was think about Prague. It was like living in two worlds. A book that reminds me of that experience is: My Grandfather’s Journey, by Allen Say. The grandfather cannot decide if he loves his homeland of Japan or his new home in San Francisco, and spends time in each longing for the other.
Rubina’s personal growth seemed more profound than mine. I met fellow Canadians and Americans and we could go to a bar and watch two episodes of the Simpson’s in English on Fridays and go to 80’s night at a club on Saturdays. Bars were open until 3:00 A.M. and we could go to the movies with subtitles. Unlike Rubina, I had a lot of time to myself and with friends. I definitely would say I achieved a level of personal growth, but I found Rubina’s experience to be more meaningful in terms of the impact she had on her Director and her students. She was very brave and selflessly gave of her time and experience, especially since she wasn’t even getting paid.
When I arrived in Prague, I was very naive, and there were experiences I didn’t know how to deal to with. I was grabbed in a pubic washroom by an attendant and had to fight my way free. I had a women steal my phone card (1997) and I stole it back from her with a ferocity I didn’t know I had. I would regularly fall asleep on the night tram, since all the seats are individually heated and have to walk by to my apartment at the end of the line. All of these experiences cause you to either embrace life or retreat into your bubble. I was always open to new experiences and I said yes to bike trips to a castle by train, invitations to dinner parties and weekend stays at the dacha of one of my students. I learned that I am adventurous, I can travel alone and I can easily make friends. I would spend all of the money I made, and couldn’t wait until pay day, like most of my colleagues. I did have friends, however, that would stay at home, and save every penny, so they could travel. I did not miss an opportunity to do something interesting whenever possible. I was very good at my job and I was always requested back after having a lesson. It felt good to know I was making a difference and helping people learn English. I felt so badly for older Czechs that had to initially learn Russian with the occupation by the Soviet Union. After the fall of Communism, the business language in Europe was considered German, and so the Czechs learned German, only for the business language to switch to English. They are a resilient people and I learned so much from their resilience.
One other way in which I benefitted from leaving Canada, is my appreciation for it when I returned. I think it is only by leaving your own country that it can truly be appreciated. I notice this especially now in Ukraine. Since so many Ukrainians live in Canada, when I mention I’m from Canada, people just light up. They tell me of their travels to Canada, or about their relatives who lives there, or they ask me if I can help them get a visa. I have been fortunate to have two great experiences, and soon, I will be off to Singapore, having a whole new experience.