Friday, January 30, 2015

The Re-Patriation Chronicles, Part Two: English Teacher J

Here's another interview with somebody who lived and worked abroad for a while and then went back to America. This is a happier story than many, although there's an interesting look at the realities of marriage to a foreign woman.  

How long did you live abroad, and where? 

I lived and worked in Moscow, Russia from Summer 1997 until Spring 2004. I started at a locally run language school, then eventually got on with one of the big chain schools. I taught there, and eventually moved into a DoS position. I also travelled to franchise locations in other parts of Russia to train the local staff and new-hire foreign teachers in the organization’s curriculum and methodology.

What made you decide to go back to America? 

There wasn’t one overriding reason that led to my return home, but rather a number of factors that contributed to the decision. Primarily, though, for a while I had found that the grind of life in Russia wasn’t fun anymore and I was feeling burnt out. One day I was riding on the metro, and it just hit me, “Fuck it. I want to go home.” The next day I and my (now ex-) wife and I discussed it and started making plans to go to the US.

What were your experiences trying to find a job in the US? 

Finding a job was pretty straight forward, actually. When I arrived in the US in the Spring I began sending out resumes and within about 8 weeks I had found a position at a junior college teaching ESL, test prep, and remedial reading and writing starting in the summer semester. I taught there for several years, and since then I’ve moved on and got my state teaching certification in Art and Social Studies and teach at a high school. I work with a large number of kids who are English language learners so my ESL experiences come in very handy. I found that the overseas experience looks good on a resume and definitely gets potential employers’ attention. On a practical level, I’ve found that the adaptability and ability to think on your feet that comes with teaching in a situation where curricula, books, or even basic materials like chalk or dry erase markers may or may not be available has been invaluable.

What did you like / not like about America on returning?  

The first thing I loved was being able to just get out and drive. My ex-wife and I would just go out and drive, taking road trips just because to no particular destination. I hadn’t driven at all in Russia other than riding a sputtery old Izh motorcycle around my sister-in-law’s dacha community. It was fun to drive on good roads without the hassles of demolition-derby style traffic and predatory GAIshniki. I also appreciated the fact that most everything worked efficiently - from finding an apartment, to paying bills to having repairs done, to dealing with paperwork, and just generally getting things done, processes here are incredibly smooth compared to the business of daily life in Russia. Mostly though I enjoyed the feeling of freedom. As much as I loved Russia and my time there, I was always aware that as a foreigner, well, a non-wealthy foreigner, my life in Russia could be interrupted at any time by a capricious change in the visa regime, a change in official policy, or just a cop with a bad attitude. In short, being overseas for so long gave me a greater appreciation of the stability, personal security, freedom, and opportunity there is in the US.

There wasn’t anything in particular that I disliked. Readjusting to life back home took some time, and I found that my high school and college friends and I had grown apart. But there really wasn’t anything that got on my nerves.

What did your spouse think of America?  

My ex-wife began complaining almost as soon as the plane landed. She enjoyed the material benefits of living in the USA, being able to travel, and recognized that life was easier in many ways. She enjoyed seeing different parts of the state and country, and was particularly interested in our historical monuments and places.  On the other hand, she would complain bitterly about how something or the other is not like it is in Russia. One particular complaint was that people planned ahead and scheduled things too far in advance for her. For example, she couldn’t understand why friends would make plans well ahead of time to meet up rather than just dropping by unexpectedly. She really didn’t like the traditional American work habits and had a hard time adjusting to the fact that you have to arrive at work on time, not within a 5,10,15 minute window.

There is a large Russian community in my city and two Russian supermarkets, so she could get the products she missed, but oddly enough, she did not want to make friends with other Russians and in fact became quite standoffish with her fellow Russians. On the funny side, she would become quite irate when people assumed that she was a mail-order bride and would ask her about it (we had actually met at a party)

In the end, despite enjoying some aspects of life here, she was not happy in the US. In fact, as it turned out she was not a happy person at all. We split up eventually,and after a divorce that turned nasty I lost touch with her. I suppose she went back to Moscow as that is where she could be as happy as she would be anywhere.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m a few days away from my 44th birthday and taking stock of my life, I’m very content. I’m happily remarried to a wonderful woman, have two girls and share the house with a tribe of friendly cats. I enjoy my job and find it to be fulfilling career (most days, haha!), and have time to devote to my art. I spent a good chunk of my life traveling and was able to visit twelve countries and live, work, and study in Russia. At least for now I’ve hung up my traveling shoes and dufflebag and am happy to nest with my family and friends.

* * *
So it's possible that contentment can lie at the end of the TEFL road. Who'd have thought it?  If you have expatriated and repatriated, drop me a line at englishteacherx(at)yahoo(dot)com and let's hear your story. I know they ain't all as happy as this one. But we're happy to let you vent or gloat, either one.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Requiem for the Goose

On paper, being a stripper looks like a pretty good job. (To a certain kind of eye, anyway.) Guys give you money just for looking at you. I mean, they look at you anyway, why not get paid for it? You can hang out all night, drink, party, meet a lot of frat boys and rappers and ballers and rich guys and so forth. Fat money for having fun, right?  

But of course, like English teaching, MMA fighting and being a PUA, that shit takes its toll on your mind and your body. 

The Goose circa 2007

Of all the Russian I knew, especially the crew that moved to America, I worried about the Goose the most. 

She was big, drunk, vulgar, slutty, and only on rare occasions the smartest person in the room. (Like for example, if she was alone.) 

But she had a kind heart, an affectionate heart. Reliable? Trustworthy? No. Kind, loving, gentle? Sure.

She was in her late 20s back in 2013 when I went down there to see her, and that's about when strippers reach their sell-by date, unless they take good care of themselves. (She didn't.) 

I wouldn't have imagined a good end for her, unfortunately. She was still illegal at that time, after more than 5 years in America. Plenty of drugs and alcohol. Making less money than she was spending. 


Well, recently on Facebook she posted that she had just gotten up at 6:00am, And everyone in the comments asked why. 

She responded: first day at Fort Lauderdale Cosmetology College. 

The Goose decided to go to Beauty School!

Recently she's also been going to church, and has posted a couple of things like "Remember that God loves us!" and "Pray for somebody you love today!"

Happy ending? 

We'll see, but it seems like the odds have improved, at least. 

So let's take a moment to remember her as she was: 

The Goose and Slappy's Wife, circa 2006

The Goose, shortly before I jumped into bed with her

Maybe if you're of that frame of mind, you can even say a little prayer for my big, formerly vulgar, formerly drunk, former stripper friend the Goose.

Read about the Goose and other Russians in America, as well as my
own middle-aged adventures. MORE INFO AND BUYING OPTIONS here. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Re-patriation Chronicles, Part One: Colin Post

Colin Post owns and operates the Expat Chronicles blog, which focuses on life in South America for expats. He is also the author (or co-author) of two books: the Lima Travel Guide and Mad Outta Me Head, the life story on an Irish drug smuggler, alcoholic, and English teacher who has lived in Colombia for 30 years. 

Colin recently returned to America for a spell and agreed to answer a few questions about his experiences.

How long did you live abroad? 

I lived in Peru and Colombia for just over five years by the time I went back to the United States.

What made you decide to go back to America? 

I had $10,000 in credit card debt and a pregnant wife. I wanted to earn some fast cash to pay off the credit cards, and in the process my son could be born in the United States.

What were your first impressions after arriving back in America? 

I had been making one- or two-week visits every year, but this time I had not been home for over two years. Each time feels a little strange for a few days or a week, but I think anybody quickly adjusts to being home. Except maybe my buddy Christopher, the subject of my latest book Mad Outta Me Head who has spent almost 30 years in Colombia without returning to Ireland. I think he has been gone so long that if he went back to Dublin, there would be no quick adjustment. He would be confused and depressed.

One impression that really stuck with me was how small St. Louis is. Buildings or commercial districts that, as a kid or a teenager, I used to see as big-city lights. Now it looks like a cow-town. "Cow town" might be a little harsh, but just a medium-sized, Midwestern manufacturing city.

I felt oddly at home with my friends and family. When you're an expat abroad, especially a gringo in Latin America, you inevitably meet and hang out with other expats. So you learn all kinds of slang and quirks about Brits, Irish, Canadians, and everything else. You feel more of a kinship with other Americans even if they are from faraway states or different backgrounds. Being back in suburban St. Louis was a strange wake-up call to who I am. The kind of guys in my social circles back home don't really go abroad. I had gone years without being around so many corn-fed white boys with thick forearms and deep voices. I worked on my cousin's lawncare crew after a tornado came to town. Hauling fallen trees out of yards - some were huge - reminded me how manual labor is a virtue in the heartland. In Latin America not at all. Before going expat I had developed an increasing disdain for St. Louis and Missouri. But when I went back, I felt more at home than ever before in all my life.

What experiences did you have trying to get a job?  

My plan was to wait tables or bartend for fast cash and get right back to Peru. But I let my wife and parents talk me into going out for a corporate gig, to "use my degree" as they say. I sent out dozens of resumes and went to meet with headhunters and ad agencies. I got zero interviews. It went absolutely nowhere. Even without my scandalous blog, which I had thoroughly sanitized during this time of seeking a "real job", I generated zero interest whatsoever. I think when companies see somebody who has been doing his own thing for a long time, they know he isn't going to stick around. Or maybe I am too far out of the corporate mold. In which case they would've been right. But on the other hand I know I would have eventually been hired somewhere if I kept looking.

I eventually got a job waiting tables and bouncing at a bar, which I did for about eight months before retiring to tend my herbal supplement business from home.

What were your wife's impressions of America? 

We arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth airport, which is one of the country's nicer airports (American Airlines' headquarters). It has its own light-rail train just to take you around the different terminals. The size of the facilities, the cleanliness, the sparkling largesse, the lack of poverty. She asked why I would ever want to leave this country.

She loved the food. A lot of people are down on American food, including me before I ever had to suffer Colombian food. But if American is so bad then how do you explain why it dominates the restaurant scene throughout the world? My wife's favorite plate is BBQ ribs. Then Buffalo wings, then chili. She absolutely loved St. Louis-style pizza, which most out-of-towners hate. All bold-flavor meals. The variety in ethnic eateries is something you only get in the first world. She had never had Middle Eastern or Indian cuisine. I'm sure there is a place in Lima - maybe two - but she had never had either one.

The worst part of the United States for her was the need to have a car. She doesn't know how to drive. You can live without a car in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. But not in St. Louis. You can actually do it, and I did for two years, but it requires being in a lot of bad neighborhoods and I wasn't going to do that with a pregnant Peruvian wife. So we got a cheap apartment in a quiet suburb. And a used Buick which I put a Baby-on-Board sticker on.

What were the good parts of life in America for you?  

The best part was being around my family for more than a week. With a new baby it was even more important - he is my parents' first grandchild. Plus they only met my wife for the wedding in Peru. We must have spent at least half of my days off at my parents' house, me and dad drinking and everybody having fun. And wifey speaks pretty good English now. She can watch television with no subtitles and talk on the phone (however she bombed the TOEFL).

I liked eating the foods I missed, but that gets old in about a month. You can only eat ribs and wings and Imo's Pizza so many times before it loses its appeal. Then eating in the United States ultimately becomes what everybody complains about it for - processed and convenience foods. If you choose to eat well and have money (Whole Foods money), I don't know how many places offer better eating than the United States. But most people are hurried from stressed-out lifestyles, driving in rush-hour traffic to and from work. They end up eating frozen lasagna in a box or precooked frozen fish filets, or whatever food is already completely prepared but just needs heating up. The $5 hot-and-ready Little Caesar's pizza, the fast-food drive thru, and the microwaveable stuff is why American food gets the bad reputation. We did a lot more homecooking than most American families given my wife stayed at home, but it's impossible to escape the American garbage. It's too tempting. So the American food is a double-edged sword. It is the world's best in my opinion, but with the American lifestyle you end up eating a lot of shit. I am ecstatic to be eating in Peru again.

I like the sporting opportunities in the United States. Finding pickup basketball is rather difficult in Latin America. I found my way on to competitive league teams, but I prefer casual play over coaches and practices and that. I briefly got back into a boxing ring in St. Louis, which I would have liked to stick with. An old dream of mine was to fight professional just once. While it's a global sport and there are several hotbeds, the United States is the world's biggest boxing country. On the other hand, boxing is difficult to find in Peru. And then strength-training is easier in the US because there are gyms catering to people focused on performance - many more Olympic platforms than I've ever seen before, which I attribute to the popularity of CrossFit. At least half of the Latin American gyms would prohibit you from deadlifting. And in the ones that permit it, everybody will look at you funny. And you have to hold on for dear life to a gym that lets you clean or snatch.

What were the worst parts of life in America? 

The worst part about life in America is the reliance on a car and the suburban lifestyle. Again this is a choice, but it is not too cheap to live in Chicago or NYC. So we were not able to escape buying a car, getting insurance, filling it with gas, and generally spending a lot of time inside the car driving around every day. Aside from that being inherently annoying, it is also a problem for somebody who likes to drink. In the States they'll crucify you for driving drunk, and being the only one who can drive made it difficult for me to drink outside the home.

Everybody watches American movies, so I assumed my wife would know about the reliance on a car in the suburbs. But she had no idea. She never got over the fact that she could not walk from our apartment to run all the errands, or hail a taxi for a longer trip. She absolutely hated it. The neighborhood was very quiet, but we both want to live an urban lifestyle.

The car was the main focus of our distaste for American culture. But in addition, the people are cold. People from America's bigger cities pride themselves on being cold, for being "tough", for not caring about others. In Latin America people are friendly. Even in the biggest capitals, people will say hello in the street. Store vendors ask where you're from. You can make a new best friend while out drinking and it's just a nicer way to live. Many Americans have little sense of humor. The country as a whole produces great comedies, but it's not a great place for somebody who always wants to have a laugh. Latin America is better for that, a true clown's paradise.

What are your plans for the future?  

Raise children in Lima. 

Before we came back to Peru we spent a weekend in New York, my favorite American city. It was immediately my wife's favorite too. So we are now entertaining the idea of, after the children are out of the house, moving to New York as empty-nesters. But that would be at least 20 years down the line and I would have to have earned a ton of cash in the meantime.

* * *

I intend to do more Re-patriation Chronicles, but I've had a few other interviewees flake on me. So if you'd like to do an interview about your experiences returning to your home country after some time abroad -- it can even be a short time -- drop me a line at englishteacherx(at)yahoo(dot)com.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Interview with Christopher Kavanagh, AKA The Mick

Very pleased today to offer you an interview about English teaching with Christopher Kavanagh, AKA "The Mick," a prominent character on Colin Post's Expat Chronicles website and the subject of the new book, MAD OUTTA ME HEAD.

You see, after a fairly criminal and abuse-laden upbringing in Ireland, Christopher went to Colombia in the 1980s in hopes of smuggling some cocaine back. He served four years in jail in Colombia, and when he got out, he embarked on a life of hardcore partying, alcoholism, and English teaching in what was certainly one of the most dangerous places on earth at that time, Bogota, Colombia.  

(This interview was transcribed from Skype and some attempt has been made to retain the flavor of Christopher's spoken English.)

How long have you been teaching, and where?

I've been teachin now 28 years. I started in an English language institute here in Bogota, Colombia called LIFE, Language Institute For English. All the rest of the teachers were completely crap. They hadn't a clue. I became really good at teachin English. With that company, I started teachin at a television company. Small TV company that made commercials. I was very successful in that sector, the television people.

Then one day the woman boss, she explained that she wasn't payin the institute anymore. She wouldn't go back to LIFE, and she contracted me. She explained how it was. So I didn't feel I was robbing a client. She did it.

I didn't stay with LIFE very long. I got the ropes of how to teach really quick, ye know? For some strange reason, I'm really good at what I do.

I've been independent for 27 years, completely independent. My students get me by word of mouth. They recommend me to others. Most of my clients over the years have been hotels.

What do you like / not like about teaching?

I get a great sense of satisfaction when they come back from their trips, all smiles and everything went OK, and they were able to hire their car and do whatever in English, ye know? It was a great compliment when one woman just came back recently, and she says, "How ye doin?" Not "HAU are JEW doing?" She actually saluted me in a proper way.

I can be of great cultural assistance to these people. The Colombians have an insecure feeling, of being second-class citizens to the United States and Europeans, and I help eliminate that. I love it when they go abroad and come back with a little present for me. And that happens often.

The punctuality down here is not so good. That end of the situation is not too pleasant.

Another thing that I don't like is that they don't study. The only time they'll study is when they have a trip in the next coupla days or weeks. When they're gonna be in New York soon, they'll study. I give all these people flash cards just to revise it in their heads. They don't have to study, just go over em. And they won't do it. That annoys me.

Who have been the most venal / incompetent employers? 

I don't really know the institutes or schools. I've been independent for 27 years. I only went to those places when I went looking for a teacher, somebody to help me.

At LIFE, they would say to me to go and teach such-and-such a class. I would ask what level or whatever, and they would tell me to just make up something. I got good at making up things. They had absolutely no direction whatsoever, and I've heard that's how all the institutes are.

I had Diner's Club as a client. I had all the employees. There were too many of them, I was exhausted. So I introduced em to LIFE long after I had left. I was fed up with the students. The whole lot of em wouldn't study, there was no progress. Nobody was traveling. They were all middle managers goin nowhere. So I'd just get rid of em. They had to take English classes, they were forced by Diner's. And that's not a good situation. When they pay for it, it's OK. But when the company's payin for it, the people definitely won't study. That's no good.

So to get rid of em, I brought in Louie Ballser from LIFE, a guy from Saint Louie as a matter of fact. And LIFE institute sent two crackhead teachers -- Colombian crackheads. They woulda been the deported kinda Colombians. They came on Monday morning and told all the people they couldn't teach Tuesday morning unless they brought 50,000 pesos each for a set of books, there were over 30 students when they collected it. They bought books at the bookstore with a fake check and kept the money. They never gave the students the books either, I assume they sold em. LIFE lost the contract. The Colombian crackheads took the money and ran. As far as I know they went to Manizales or somewhere.

The British Council are all mad outta their heads on coke. The whole lot of em are drunk every night. I also notice that they put themselves a cut above the student, they keep the student well below them. We're British and don't forget it, that kinda stuff. A complete lack of respect for the student. In the British Council, I saw that.

What are your favorite ways to kill ten minutes in class? 

BOMBARD the student. Bombarding is asking whatever he's been doing the last coupla days. Bombardin em with that -- short quick questions and answers. Speed and simplicity.

Which students are the most difficult and thankless to teach? 

Usually the ones that the company are payin for. If the company is payin 100% for a student to learn English, they will not fuckin do it. These days I insist the company pay only 50% maximum, and make the student pay 50%. And if they're not showin good progress, make the student pay 100%. Or I drop em.

Then ye get the ones sayin, "Spanish is the better language, Spanish is the more beautiful language." When ye get that kinda carryon, they're difficult students. Those ones never learn to speak.

I prefer women students. They fall in love with me and become loyal clients, plus lifelong friends. Top executive lady friends who think the world of me, I have loads of them.

Salespeople are the best students. They know they have to do it and they will study. People who work in sales.

What kind of qualifications do you have?

I wouldn't give two shits about that.

From the book:
Christopher developed a method of teaching English based on the way he learned Spanish in prison. He had no textbooks and he never conjugated the verb, "to be." In prison he had to learn how to ask for food, the bathroom, and other necessities. He had to learn numbers in order to pay for things. He contrasted his successful learning of Spanish with his unsuccessful learning of Irish, also known as Gaelic, which is mandated in Irish schools. This experience informed the development of teaching practical English, which found an immediate market in high-end hotels and restaurants with large staffs that needed to communicate with foreign tourists.

What would you say to someone considering a career in TEFL?

Ye have to have a dedication. Ye can't just show up sayin, "I'm a teacher." Some people cannot fuckin teach. I've taught many people how to drive, how to play the guitar, how to play backgammon. But some people cannot learn how to teach.

I keep it simple. Learn how to keep it simple. Keep it basic. Don't go complicatin it.

What is your current standard of living like?

I make around $1500 - $2000 per month.

My missus is a chef. I'm pretty good in the kitchen. So we cook every day. Otherwise I eat at a cheap gourmet restaurant in the 7 de agosto area.

I live in what could be considered a slum area. They're the people I can understand and relate to. It's downright dangerous, the police do not go in there.

What are your plans for the future? 

I have no plans for the future. Just live every day as I can. I'll have to see Ireland before I die, ye know?

Now that I'm not a drunk anymore, maybe I can save a few quid to get to Ireland. Before I just couldn't, it was impossible.

* * * 
So! God knows I've known a few fuckups and outlaws in my day, but I don't believe I've ever known (nor interviewed) anybody who has broken the 6th commandment.

Read about The Mick on Expat Chronicles:

Monday, January 05, 2015

Not the Age but the Mileage

Just sitting here in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic with the Girlfriend, our first day of taking the waters here in the ancient spa town, and I sat down to do some figuring:

Using the website I calculated the distances I have traveled in the last five months, since I left the Kingdom, including:
  • The Kingdom to Saigon, Vietnam
  • Vietnam to Las Vegas, USA
  • My home city to Utah (and back)
  • The usual three states worth of driving required to see my friends and family in America
  • Dirty Southern City to Marmaris, Turkey (and back)
  • Dirty Southern City to Lima, Peru 
  • Lima to Arequipa and Cusco, Peru and then through various points and on up to Guayaquil, Ecuador
  • Guayaquil, Ecuador to the Golopogas Islands (and back)
  • Guayaquil and various points south down to Lima, Peru, and then back to America
  • Dirty Southern City to Prague, Czech Republic

The total I got? 

71,220 km, or 44,253 miles. Rounded off for convenience and only an estimate within a few hundred or so. 

If we figure it's been about five months since I left the Kindom, that means about 150 days. With 24 hours a day, that means it's been about 3600 hours. 

44,253 miles divided by 3600 hours, means that my average speed in the last five months has been about 12 miles per hour. 

"Sometimes the fun is in overdoing it." -- David Letterman, circa 1982

I realize my blog content has been a tad wispy in the last few months but I have some good stuff coming up for 2015, including a couple of great interviews, a gross sex story, and I'll eventually get around to writing some more-than-basic impressions of the stuff I've seen recently. Plus more editions of BOOKS ABOUT DRINKING FUCKING AND TRAVELING. And cartoons cartoons cartoons, of course.