Saturday, February 23, 2013

I am the Family Dog

I am the family dog.

After a period of reflection at dinnertime, while the family was chatting, I came to the conclusion that I basically am the family dog. Except, they already have a dog. So… I’m like the back up one. Or something.

This is Gypsy. Yes, she's licking my face. Yes, it's gross.
But she just kind jumps on you before you know what's happening

The following is how I have come to this conclusion. I’m not upset by it, but once you examine the facts you will see how I reached it.

When I showed up on Sunday, I understood about 0% of the conversation at the table. This wasn't surprising because I only know very few words. Now, nearly a week later, I’m up to maybe 5-10% of the conversation. Especially if the conversation revolves around food because I’ve been brushing up on my food words.

So I was sitting there, watching them eat cow intestines, (I didn’t have the stomach for that one…) while I ate soup and sausage when it occurred to me, I’m actually picking up on some of the stuff they are saying. I can recognize a few key words in the conversation, combine that with their tone and I can make a guess about what they’re talking about.

I was feeling pretty good about myself. I am learning words steadily and reading tone… just like…

just like.....

...Just like a dog does.

This is almost exactly what happens when you get a puppy. They do not understand what you are saying. But they learn.

In general, dogs know a few key words that pertain to their life: Their name, walk, leash, go, treat, etc… and the rest of the time they guess what’s happening based on how you’re talking.

I know a few key words: My name, wine, sweets, dinner, to eat, fork, “how do you say…?” and the rest I pick up from cognates and tone.

I had an English professor say that, if dogs were able to read, they would be the best readers of tone ever and would never miss when an author was being sarcastic/ironic.

When I can’t read the tone or someone’s speaking too quickly for me to distinguish many words (like when the Italian lady who lives next door yells at me from her window), I even do the human version of the dog’s confused look.

This dog does not know what you are saying.


This girl does not know what you are saying. 
Anyway. I am working on the learning Italian part of living in Italy. I’m getting better and I’ve gotten some apps and things to help me learn. Also the point of this experience is for the family to talk to me in English and learn so they are definitely getting a lot of practice doing that!

And I’m not suggesting the family doesn’t speak to me or only speak in Italian. They do a decent amount of translating, but there are times when the conversation is moving rapidly or not relevant to me, and they don’t bother.

Hopefully, I can soon report my language levels have progressed passed the level of the dog Gypsy. Until then, we’re in it together. And at least I'm not the cat. (The cat lives outside.)


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Scam Artists, Creepers and Lovers, Oh My"

I have conquered two days in Italy. I wasn’t sure I was going to survive my first trips to or in Milano, but somehow I managed. The following recounts my misadventures on Sunday and Monday. Fortunately I can laugh about all of it. Except for the man with red teeth. That will never be funny. But I’ll get to that.

Turate. A cute little town North of Milan. 

I arrived in Milan bright and early (6 am) Sunday morning after taking a train from Paris. The train was an interesting experience, not ideal but it was better than flying (and so much cheaper.) Getting to the station was the worst part. I have two suitcases, one is carry-on sized and the other is massive. I believe I mentioned in my other post that the wheel broke on it. And this time I didn’t have someone else to pawn my luggage on. I thought I was prepared. I am physically capable of moving and lifting the suitcase even though it’s difficult.
I was only a few steps out when someone didn’t get out of my way (sorry, I can only move this giant suitcase on a tiny sidewalk so far), and I ran over her toes. I wasn’t prepared for was how sore my forearms would be from rock climbing the day before. It was hard to grip my suitcase, let alone move it anywhere. What was already going to be a difficult task was turning impossible.

Toes run over: 2

            I stood at the top of the menacing stairs down to the subway and some nice guy offered to carry my heavy bag down the steps. I let him do so because I knew it would be almost physically impossible for him to run off with it. After getting through the turnstyle, I set off down two more flights of stairs. Then, I had to switch stations which meant I had to walk down even more stairs. And the only thing I could think was that I might never get back up all these steps. This just isn’t going to happen. But I got on the next train and prayed for the best.

Toes run over: 4

On the  next subway one boy looked geniunely frightened of how big my bag was. It could have been because he was standing next to it and was afraid it would topple and  crush him any moment.  It was heavier than him. I got off at the train station and almost cried. Escalators. The greatest gift straight from Jesus himself. (That’s probably blastphemous, so if it’s not the very best, it’s definitely up there.) If I wasn’t already so tired I might have done a celebratory dance.

I managed to get on the train and the guys I shared a compartment with were pros at packing luggage into the room. I settled into my bed and ate my yogurt. (I had asked for an apple at the store and even repeatedly said “pomme” but they still gave me pinapple yogurt.) I was exhausted from lugging that bag around for about 2 hours and fell straight asleep.

Final toe count: +6

The train was nicer than an airplane because I actually could lay down and fall asleep, but it was at least 85 degrees and we couldn’t get the heater to turn off. I also kept waking myself up because I wasn’t sure if anyone would wake me up in Milan or not. Not to mention the fact that I was concerned the security guard took my passport on the train. He took everyone’s and they didn’t seem too worried. So I figured I would get it back.  (I did, but he didn’t stamp it :( )

I met the father of the family I am living with at the station, and he took me home to Turate and showed me the house. This house rocks. I was going to consider myself lucky if I had a room to myself with a dresser. I most certainly do.

I also have a living room, kitchen and bathroom all to myself. It is awesome.

The family I live with is very very nice. From what they’ve said, they are a typically middle-class, northern Italian family. And they all speak English to some degree. The dad and the son, who is 19, are fluent. The mom and the daughter, who is 16, speak and understand the basics. They spend their days at work or at school, so I have the days to entertain myself.

Monday, I ventured into Milan, and it was a wholly an interesting, weird experience. Turate is a small town. There is a train station here, but my family told me taking the one in Saronno was better and that one leaves every 30 minutes. So in the morning, I was dropped off at the train station and they told me once my SIM card started working in my cell phone, I could call Nico for a ride home, as long as it was after school. I had all their numbers written down on a post-it note.

I went into the station, bought a ticket for Milan and back. Just as I bought my ticket, I saw a train pull up. I didn’t know where this train was going, but I knew another wasn’t coming for 30 minutes. I made the split second choice to get on and figure the rest out later. So I got on and found that the map was only a local one of Milan, and not at all helpful. At this point I figured I’d just see where I ended up. We made three stops that didn’t look very Milan-y. So I kept riding. We got to a fourth and everyone was getting out, so I did too.

They were doing a lot of construction on
the Palazzo. A lot of it need a facelift.
But it added to the character!
I started walking around the square outside the train station, looking for a place that sold maps or really gave any indication that I was in fact in Milan. I assumed I was, because it was a big city. But I wasn’t 100% sure. It took me a surprisingly long time to find a map, ( I was in Milan) but I did and found my first planned stop, Plazzo Sforzesco. After exploring there, I had been told to walk down Via Dante and make my way toward the Duomo and then the Galleria for some (window) shopping.

I managed to navigate without too much difficulty, but I did notice that scam artists and creepy people were a lot pushier to me now than they were in Paris. I don’t know if it’s because I’m alone now or if they act that way toward everyone, but I had to tell the guys at the Palazzo that “I DO NOT want your bracelet  I know it’s not free. Seriously GO AWAY.” Eventually I got away from them.

After the Galleria, I sat down to decide where I should go next, but some man thought I was lost. I wasn’t. But he was pointing out things on the map that I should see. It didn’t really bother me until he started holding my hand. He asked how old I was, and I said I’m 21. He told me he was 59 and said “Oh… I am too old for you. Unless... you think I’m not?” I told him he most definitely way was too old for me. Then he said he loved me and we could get married. I declined as politely as I could and walked away very quickly. I really can’t emphasize enough the near dead sprint I was in.
Duomo del Milano. They were doing construction on the top so didn't get one straight on.

The Galleria
Shopping Malls in America aren't this fancy.

Oh you didn't know Mercedes Benz also made clothing and luggage?
After that, I’d had enough of the city, and I decided to head back. I knew it might be a little early for anyone to be able to get me but I knew I would feel better going home. That’s when my cell phone, with 50% battery, decided it was actually dead and refused to turn on. Panic.

But there’s nothing I can do about it and I figured I deal with getting to Sarrono then worry about getting home. I got on the train and after many more stops than there were in the morning, I made it to Saronno and hopped off. I took one look around and realized this was not right. I then see the sign actually says:



Sud. That dang tiny word meant I was at the south station, not the main one. (Okay, it might not have been that small, but still.) I ponder my choices, wait 30 min for the next train to come or walk to the other station I can vaguely see down the tracks (no, I’m not about to tell you I walked on train tracks, don’t worry mom.) I decide I need to find a bathroom anyway and that, since I know the tracks move in a straight line, I could find the next station. So I began my epic odyssey through this foreign city where almost no one speaks English without a functional cell phone to figure out how to get to the station. And the best part is  I still don’t have a way home from the station.

I do eventually get there after about 30 minutes of walking (Saronno is a very cute town.) I felt very empowered because I’d never actually had to do anything like that alone before.

So I started looking for people who would let me use their cell phone. I asked the legit looking people, but none of them spoke enough English to understand what I was asking. As per my luck, the creepiest guy so far (his teeth were circles with red fillings (??) in the middle. I’m dead serious. It was terrifying) offered to let me use his phone. But no one answered. Mr. Creepster then asked, “What’s your name” Me: “Kathleen” (I either tell who people I don’t want to know my name I’m Kathleen or Shelby. Don’t ask, I just like the name. My name is entirely too easy to trace.)
Creepy: “So you have a phone number?” (Me *in my head: “Obviously not, otherwise I wouldn’t have to use yours.  DUH*) Me: No. Creepy: So how am I going to call you? Me: You’re not. Creepy: Where are you going? Me: Turate. Creepy: I’ll give you a ride there. Me: Absolutely not.

At this point, I’m getting pretty good at spriting away from creepy people.

After maybe 20 minutes of wandering and asking random shop vendors, I found a nice guy who let me use his phone and made it home. All told, my adventure home took at least 2 hours.

Anyways, that’s been my life. I’m heading into Milan again tomorrow and Monday I am going to check out a climbing gym in Milan. If you stuck with this long post, thank you. One day I will channel my inner Hemmingway, but it might take me a while. Ciao!  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

J'adore Paris

As my Paris traveling partner Kevin might say, "Paris doesn't suck"

Well my time in Paris is up. Or almost up. I am spending my last remaining hours sitting at a café writing and people watching. Doesn’t that sound romantic?

Okay that's a lie.

It’s not a café; it’s the lobby of my hotel. Okay and so across the street is a McDonalds.  So it’s not as romantic.

But let's imagine it the first way.

This post may get long, so I am going to break it into sections so you can read what interests you. The categories are as follows:

·      Things I have learned
·      First impressions/experiences
·      The food
·      The sites

Things I’ve learned:

One of my goals while traveling is to learn about different people and cultures. I want to see what makes us different and what makes us the same. I am trying to keep track of what I learn. These aren’t going to be deep life philosophies as much as general observations about the world. Here’s what I’ve learned/seen so far.

  • ·     The “OH MY GOSH” noise you make when you almost drop your iPhone but miraculously catch it is the same in any language.
  • ·      Crepes are better than pancakes.
  • ·      A 80 or 90 year old woman can have a beer and cigarette for breakfast and you can’t judge her for it.
  • ·      French people aren’t rude. Nearly everyone was friendly, willing to translate and accommodate the fact we can’t speak French.
  • ·      I am really grateful I can speak English for several reasons: It’s so hard to learn but it’s so useful. Most people here could speak “just a little bit” of English.
  • ·      There aren’t fat people here. At least not by American standards. (I’ll explain this more in the “food” section.
  • ·      If you rock climb in France, they take your word for it that you know how to not injure yourself instead of making you pass tests and sign waivers.
  • ·      When you aren’t looking for a baguette or crepes, they are everywhere. When you want either, the closest store is a mile away.

First Impressions:
As I was flying into France over the country side I was struck by just how much it looked like Kansas. It was patchwork-quilt-like farms peppered with barns, and towns of varying sizes. As we got lower to the ground I could see more differences but farms are farms no matter where you go.
After getting out of the airport and into the city, I was mesmerized by city. It was awesome. I spent the entire walk to the hotel looking up at the buildings. I actually spent most of the trip doing this. Thus, I tripped, a lot. I am actually surprised I didn’t get hurt.
Almost immediately one of the wheels on my 50 lbs suitcase more or less gave up. This meant I was basically dragging my suitcase until I got too tired and Kevin kindly stepped in.
After getting settled we walked around Montmartre, where we were staying. Some of it was full of tourist trap shops selling almost anything you could dream of buying. Some of it was so quaint and beautifully Parisian, I felt like I was in a part of Epcot.

The food:

Finding different places to eat was always a fun experience. Holding to Kevin and my favorite food group, we ate a lot of Chinese food. French Chinese food is pretty similar to American Chinese food but less fried and probably less MSG-y. It was a good stand by if we couldn’t find anything else to eat.

For breakfast we tended to stop a different restaurants where we got the classic French breakfast: a big piece of bread with butter or jam, a croissant, orange juice and a “hot drink.” Normal adults order coffee; I always got hot chocolate.

We also almost always ended up in the McDonalds across the street so Kevin could get coffee and no matter how busy it was, I noticed that everyone in there was relatively skinny. The mostly overweight people I saw the entire time I was here I would describe as “portly.” I’m sure there are cultural reasons why this is the case (smaller serving sizes, more activity, etc…) but it was interesting to see.

Lunch tended to be our big meal of the day, since prices were better. Some of my favorite meals include the croque-monsieur, duck, chocolate/Nutella crepes, mulled wine, a picnic by the Eiffel Tower and our fancy meal on the last night. The escargot was quite good as well.

Croque-monsiuer is a French staple. Typically, it’s a fancy grilled cheese with ham. At one restaurant (where we ate OUTSIDE while it was actively SNOWING!! brrr) it actually came with Salmon and berries. It was fantastic. Maybe my favorite meal of the entire trip. At the same restaurant, we ate escargot. It was tasty. It reminded me of muscles mainly.

I was in the middle of chewing at that exact moment. 

Croque-Monsieur and salad.  
Kevin and I often stopped in little cafes for a break during the day and ordered mulled wine. I’d never had it before and it was fabulous.

Mulled Wine. Kevin's Pic

On one of the few sunny, warmish days we walked by the Eiffel tower and had a cheese, bread and fruit picnic. That was quite wonderful.

Our last night, we had a fancy steak dinner complete with drinks and cheese plate appetizers. Even though we didn’t get home until midnight because of it, it was still enjoyable. 

The Sights:

Since we spent about 8 days in Paris, we were able to see nearly all the touristy things we wanted without killing ourselves every day.

We ended up doing several things that Nomadic Matt recommended.

We followed his first day walking from The l'Arc de Triomphe. to Notre Dame, stopping everywhere in between like the Pantheon, the Latin Quarter and many other places.

We saw almost everything and since you probably know about almost all of these sites, I won’t bother to explain them to you; I just have a few reactions to them: 

Sacre Coeur: Beautiful church in Montmatre with an awesome view of the whole city. Definitely worth a visit. Be ware of scam artists.  I went to Ash Wednesday Mass here in French. I spent the whole time wondering if it really counted as church since I didn’t understand almost anything.

Sacre Coeur 

Louvre: Awesome art. Duh.  The building is a work of art in and of itself. The Mona Lisa is underwhelming but still worth seeing. Parts of it smelled like a huge fart. Seriously. It smelled really bad in some parts.

Lover’s Lock Bridge: A newer attraction where couples write their name on a lock, lock it to the bridge and throw the key into the Seine. It’s cute and funny to see people who used bike locks and gigantic master locks tongue-in-cheek.

Musee D’Orsay: I really enjoyed seeing Monet’s impressionism. No picture or replica can properly convey just how thick and textured his paintings are. I just wanted to touch them!
They don't let you take pictures there, so they don't want you to have your camera on you. But they make you check your bags and don't want you to leave your camera in your bag. It's an impossible situation

Versailles: Definitely my favorite attraction. But it was more for what Versailles had been than what it is today. We bought the passport that let you go to the Palace, Gardens (which are free during the week anyway), the Grand Trianon, le Petite Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s cottage.

Under chandeliers 

In reality, the gardens of Versailles were a tad gloomy. It’s February and they’re doing construction, so it was understandable but still somewhat disappointing. I had fun imagining the conversations of scandal, treason, war, love and lust that had once take place in those very gardens.

Inside the Palace was breathtaking. There were so many rooms I didn’t bother taking pictures of because the pictures couldn’t do them justice. I could spend days and days there and still be unable to take it all in.

Again, you have to kind of imagine it in all its grandeur. Because in reality it was packed with maybe 1,000 Asian tourists.**

** This is not an exaggeration. Seriously.  

If you ever need a “go to Versailles” buddy, I’m your girl. I already know I have to go back and see it in the summer. Even though it will be busier, it will be worth it.

Eiffel Tower: We went 3 separate times: Once for the picnic, once to go up and once to see it at night. If you can only go once, GO AT NIGHT. It was a least X100 better at night. It’s great during the day, but it’s stunning at night.

Catacombs: A really neat experience seeing thousands of bones. I definitely recommend going unless you are claustrophobic, don’t like walking 83 steps underground or don’t like human remains.  

All in all, going to Paris in February has its pros and cons. Everything is cheaper and less crowded but it’s not as pretty. It was rainy and overcast the entire time we were there. It’s definitely manageable; we just had to use our few hours of sunlight well. (For the record, was never accurate about what the weather was going to be like.)

I'll be sure to post more pictures on Facebook in the coming days!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Job Hunting

The following is an account of my entire weekend at the University of Northern Iowa international career fair. And a preview of where I will be moving in June.

I wrote this post in "real time" so these are my (slightly edited) thoughts about the entire experience as it is happening to me. 

The Night Before:

This is a BAD IDEA. This process is so stressful. I don't know if I should accept a likely offer from a school in Taiwan or interview and see what happens. (I could get a job in an awesome place or I could end up without a job.) The prospect of finding a job is a lot more intimidating than thinking about actually leaving the country. That doesn't bother me right now. But I just have several prospects  that are very up in the air. Right now I am waffleing between a boarding school in Taiwan and a school in Thailand. They both sound great for complete different reasons. I don't know what I'm going to do.

What was I thinking?

I'm going to take a very long bath and curl my hair.

If I don't make it and you find this unfinished blog, post it as a chronical of my final moments of sanity.

How I feel:

After Interview Sign Ups. PreInterviews:

I remember what it's like to breathe (kinda). I had forgotten for a few hours.

Here is the first universal truth I have noticed at this fair. Whether you are 21 or 51 your mom (or dad/aunt/brother/grandma, but mostly your mom)  is going to be worried about where you are going.

During the panel of people who had been teaching abroad, even the season administrators told stories about calling their moms telling they were moving to this country to the other. Everyone I met and talked to had a "oh my mom told me I couldn't go there" or "oh my mom told me I had to be by the beach!" story.

I just finished signing up for interviews: The experience is about 600 candidates in an exhibition hall, milling around tables, signing up for interviews. A few of the schools I went to looked at me with sad puppy eyes: "Oh, you don't have any prior teaching experience? And no masters degree? Well, we'll hold on to your resume."

"HAHAHAHAHA. Go away."

Most schools were more receptive. In the end, I signed up for three interviews. It doesn't seem like very many, but unless I blow my interview with the school in Taiwan, they've said they're going to offer me a job. And that is very reassuring. They even bribed me with chocolate. I didn't hate that.

I signed up for a second interview (having already done one over Skype) with the school in Thailand, and I set up one for a school in Indonesia.

Almost all of the interviewers here are very jet lagged. It makes for some very interesting conversations with them.

Interviewer: "Okay, I will see you in room 1300 for the interview... or is it 1030? Grumble Grumble Grumble. Just show up on the 1000s, and I will find you."
Me: "Okay! Is that in this building or the Ramada"
Interviewer: "Yes, see you then"
Me: walks away confused*.

**don't worry, I asked someone else and figured it out.

I'm not certain where I will work, but at the very least, I will end up some place warm. Fun Fact: It was -30 degrees here this morning with wind chill. Without the wind it was -11. I am surviving this winter by repeating my mantra: "Last Winter. Last Winter. Last Winter." It doens't make me warmer, but it makes me feel a tiny bit better.

Post Interviews:


The job offer I got was for a school in Indonesia. They have several campuses on Java. I would be teaching 7th, 8th and/or 9th grade. I turned down Taiwan because it didn't seem like it was the best fit for me. 


My thoughts: 

Oh HOLY CRAP."  repeat

Wow, what an experience. The conference was great and overwhelming. But I am so glad I went. I made a few friends at the conference, including a couple who also accepted a job in Indonesia, so I know 2 people on the whole island!

 I ended up accepting the job at the Bina Bangsa school in Indonesia. They have four campuses all across Java, and I don't know which city I will be in yet. But the biggest school is in Jakarta. The school is expanding rapidly, so there are a ton of job openings.

I only know the basics of the school right now. I will detail more information about the school once I know where I am going to be a what I am going to teach. And if you are the worrying sort, I have done research; it is just as safe as anywhere in the world is. No where is perfect. 

Right now I am just content with being really excited. So so excited. 

And thank you (yes you, reading this) for being supportive and wonderful. I certainly couldn't do it without you. 

Fun Fact: There is no word in Indonesian for "privacy." The entire concept does not exist there. That will certainly keep my life interesting.  

My next post will finally be from Europe. I leave Thursday to spend 9 days in Paris before heading to Italy. 

I told my friend Alex, who I talked about in a previous post, I would share his blog. He's teaching at the school where I student taught and is doing a bunch of cool teaching related stuff online. I am shamelessly promoting his work: Check it out for cool stuff on Social Studies for high school!

Until then, here are some pictures of Indonesia: 

I think I can deal with this.

Jakarta Skyline