Saying Goodbye

It is hard to believe that a short two months ago, I sat at the Bangkok airport with all of my bags packed, getting ready to head back to the United States for the first time in two years. As for most people around the world, it had been an interesting two years, and I was excited to get back to see the people I loved. It was going to be a little different from other trips back home because the threat of the pandemic loomed large over everything everybody did, and I was also going to go through the process of moving to a new country at the same time.

Despite all of this fear that was plaguing the world, there was still hope. A vaccine had become available and people were starting to take off their masks to get life back to normal. We were a little worried when we first started looking at coming back that we would have a hard time finding a shot, but by the time we landed in Portland, Oregon, there was enough vaccine in the United States to where we could walk into a local Target and get a vaccine without an appointment. We also were able to leave Thailand just in time. The numbers have skyrocketed in that country for the first time ever with the latest numbers showing over 17,000 new cases just the other day, and it does not look like it is going to slow down anytime soon. I feel for all of the people I left behind in that country, and I worry about them as they struggle through another school year. I hope that they can get things under control soon, and find a place where they can start easing up the restrictions that I got to enjoy while I was living out there.

As I went through my stuff in storage, my sights switched over to Jordan to see how they were handling this crisis. The numbers there a lot lower, but there has been a new creep up that I will keep an eye on. I also look at those numbers for overall vaccination, and though Jordan is not in a place where America is at, they still steadily move in the right direction. It gives me hope for the next year that it will be closer to a normal school year as opposed to the last two, and I will also be going on a new adventure in a new country at the same time.

The summer was still a great time to catch up with friends and family, and meet new characters along the way. I always find myself falling into that comfortability that it means being an American in America. The old relationships feel like we pick them up right where we left them off, and the conveniences that we have come to crave while away are once again taken for granted.

But we were able to discover some new ways that America has evolved as well. I remember being excited about the movie, Chef, right before we started our overseas adventures, but thinking that the land of food trucks that it described was a little taken out of context. There might have been a couple of places where these existed, but there seemed to be more of them during our return visit. It almost seemed that this was the preferred way of dining out, but summertime and Covid might have had something to do with it as well.

That didn’t stop me from searching out the more traditional way of eating out. Of course, I hit my fair share of Mexican restaurants while in Colorado because I needed to get as much green chili as I could. This is my favorite of all food groups, and everybody I meet who has ever eaten green chili understands my love for it, yet I am still confused as to why it can still only be found in three of the four states connected with the four corners region. It makes coming home that much better because I get to have this food again. I still do not believe that I got enough on this trip out, but I still enjoyed what I had.

I also love being able to see the beauty of America every time I am home as well. I am really lucky to be associated with what I consider to be two of the more beautiful states, Oregon and Colorado. I love seeing the mountains and forests that both of these places have to offer. Though I have seen some beautiful and amazing sights all over the world, my heart always returns to the mountains and I don’t think of any place better than these two for me to connect back with them. I was able to spend a good amount of time in them in Oregon, and I wish I would have ventured beyond the foothills during my stay in Colorado.

I was still able to make it outside quite a bit and enjoy the majesty that is Colorado. Whether it was taking long walks in many of the green spaces that can be found in many of Colorado’s neighborhood, or going out to Chatfield Reservoir, I was able to spend a lot of time outside. This is not something that is as enjoyable in a more tropical climate, and there are times of the year where Colorado is better spent indoors, but I was out here during the summertime and this is the perfect time to be outside there.

I was even lucky enough to experience some of the wildlife during my trip. During the last couple of years, I had run into what many would consider exotic animals, with Thailand filled with many types of monkeys, tropical birds, and a variety of reptiles, and snakes. But this is only a matter of perspective. From the other side of the world, a herd of deer or elk is just as exotic as a monitor lizard is to the people of America. Being deprived of this view for so long has made it exciting once again, and I enjoyed it every time I came across the usual herds of animals that I grew up with.

Not everything ended up in taking me to the great outdoors. There were a couple of stops that showed me other great things that America had to offer, and they were not always Target stores. The greatest had to be the new U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs. It was nice to get out to museums once again, and though I had to spend my time in there wearing a mask, I have been doing it so much lately that it no longer bugs me. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon and a great way of celebrating the Olympics this year.

It has been great to get back to America, especially after two years away, but nobody can spend their whole life in rest and relaxation. Like an international school teacher under normal circumstances, I have to get back to the country where my work is, and I am complicating the process by changing schools and countries to Amman, Jordan. So I have packed up my bags, eaten those last meals, and given those last hugs to family and friends, and I have headed off the airport. I am confident that the world is moving in the right direction, and I will not be forced to stay away for as long this time around. So as I head off to a brand new adventure, I say goodbye to America, and guarantee I will be back soon.

The Eternal Guest

I slept in Sakari’s room.

Sakari is a big Alaskan malamute who owns my brother and sister-in-law. She is an easy going dog that likes nothing more than to be petted, long walks, and frozen green beans in her morning and nightly kibble. She usually sleeps in the room that my sister-in-law uses as an office because it is cool at night and nobody else is using it at the time. When guests are in town and are staying with them, they pull out the hideaway from the couch and it takes up the whole room. This means that Sakari needs to find a new place to sleep.

I was unaware of all of this as I got ready for bed. After reading a little bit to get myself sleepy, I decided to go to the bathroom one last time before I slept. This is when I found the place that Sakari had found to sleep for the night. If I was going to take over her room, she would take a different important place in the house, the spot right in front of the toilet, and she wasn’t going to move for any reason.

I get it. Try to explain houseguests to a dog, and they will look at you sideways and wonder who will be taking them on their next walk. They will not understand the delicate balance that takes place as soon as a stranger walks into the house and takes over a little corner of it. They don’t know how long they will be there for, or even why they are there in the first place.

As hard as it is for the dog, it is also difficult for me as the houseguest. I want to make myself at home, but as long as I am there, I know that it will never be my home. I am always stumbling on the routines, and trying to find my place in it, knowing that I will only be there for a short time and will never have a chance of figuring it out. I know that I will never be able to feel completely at home while I am a visitor. There is only one place where you feel completely at home, and that is at home.

I know that as I write this, members of my family will read this, and they will think that I am saying that I am not comfortable in their presence. And this is not what I am saying. I love the summertime as an international teacher because it gives me the opportunity to go home and see my family and spend time with them. I would even say that I have gotten to know them better by moving half way around the world because when I do see them, I get to witness those intimate routines that they have in life, and I get to be a part of them. When I lived in Colorado and got to see them on a regular basis, it was only for celebrations and family gatherings, and there is a small facade that you have to work through because we are always trying to put on the best that are homes have to offer at that time. When you become a houseguest, that facade gets broken down quicker because we can’t and don’t always want to break from the routines that we have created to make us feel comfortable in our own homes.

This makes things a little difficult when you are a houseguest. I feel a little off when I am staying at other people’s places. I want to be polite and respect their routines, but I also can’t just give up mine. It is always a tightrope wire act trying to balance spending time with the people that you are there to see, but not get in their way when they need that downtime that everybody needs to recharge themselves. It feels like everybody is on all the time when there is a houseguest.

Being an international teacher builds on this feeling as well. One of the perks of taking one of these jobs is that the school will purchase a round trip airline ticket for you once a year, so you can go back and visit family. Most people take advantage of this during the summer because they will have lots of time to catch up with family and friends. This means that you will be a houseguest for a long time. This summer is a great example of this. I got two months off to go visit friends and family, and I love to have this opportunity. We get to spend a lot of quality time together and catch up with what has happened over the last year. This time was even more exciting because it had been two years since we had seen each other, and there was a lot of catching up to do. But staying at somebody’s place is a lot different than staying at a hotel room. Even though you are given space in both places, it is never completely your space when you are a houseguest.

This is okay when it only last for a couple of days to a week, but once it starts to extend into time beyond this then things start to become a little bit of an imposition for those whose house you are staying at, and it starts to become a chore living out of a suitcase for that long.

I have loved seeing my family again, and being able to spend time with them, and I know that as soon as I leave, it will only be a short time before I miss them again. But it has come to that time that I need to move on, and get back to my own life. I am pretty sure that the people whose houses I have stayed at are looking forward to getting their space back as well. I know that Sakari was happy to have her room back.

It will be a bittersweet moment when I have to leave in a couple of days, but at the same time it will make it that much better when I get to see everybody again. I will be that guest again, and I look forward to that time, but I also need my own space again as well.

The International Community – Siam Summer

It may hard for me to admit it right now not being able to go back home to America, but one of the best decisions I made in my life was joining the international teaching community. There are the obvious advantages such as traveling opportunities, experiencing different cultures by living in them, great work environments, and being able to work with some of the brightest young minds out there right now. But I think the things I enjoy the most is the community that comes with working international. You would think that it is huge and there would be no way to know all the people that work in this field in all of the different countries that have international schools, but this is not the case. The more I work in international teaching, the more I realize how small of a community it actually is.

Earlier this year I was talking with a friend I made out in Thailand, and he was telling me this story of his friend John and a camping experience he had in Alaska with a bear. I sat there listening to the story, and I could have sworn that I had heard it before, and I asked him if the John he was talking about was the same John I was friends with back in Korea. We found out that we had a mutual friend, and these are not the only cases. My principal right now worked with other friends of mine in Columbia. The car I bought in Thailand I bought from the same person that I bought my car from in Korea. There is a network of friends that I have all over the place in the world. I know people all over Asia, Europe, and even Africa that I could go visit at the drop of a hat. If I pick any person at the school I am currently working at, we could probably six degrees of separation and find out that we have acquaintances with other people somewhere else in this community. Even though we are spread all over the world, we still have created a small community within that world.

This is probably my favorite thing about teaching internationally. It makes me feel like I belong to something bigger, yet still feel comfortable enough with the people that I encounter to feel like it is still intimate. As I start to prepare for my sixth year overseas, I look forward to the new connections I will make this year and renewing the older ones that I have already encountered. It is one of the factors that people who are considering this field should consider because the friendships I have made through this experience will last a lifetime, and I believe you would find the same thing as well.