Category Archives: looking back

Halftime Recap

What I wouldn't give to hear Don Cherry and Ron Maclean hash out the plays and players of my last semester. Also, I realize that hockey has intermissions and not halves...

I can’t possibly recount everything I did last semester in under a thousand words, but I think in order to move forward I’ll need to give some indication of how far I’ve come already. Bear with me as I whiz through the last six months, without giving everything away. I want to revisit some of these events in more detail later, so let’s just use this as a timeline for now.

August

  • I arrived in Manaus on August 11, with absolutely no idea of where I would live, what my schedule would be like, or who exactly had employed me in the first place. Greeted by two administrative staff members at the airport, I was soon told I would be working Saturdays in Manaus, and four days a week in distant, isolated Itacoatiara. I would live at the school in Itacoatiara, and with a host family during the weekends in Manaus. Exhausted from my long journey, I just nodded my consent and allowed myself to be led wherever they would take me. I stayed the first weekend with Maria, a receptionist at one of the schools.
  • That first weekend, my orientation consisted mostly of sitting around at the school, or observing other teachers give introductory classes. I had little instruction on what was expected of me inside the classroom (fortunately I wasn’t new to teaching), and zero instruction on administrative matters. Most of my learning was through observation, not knowing what questions I should ask. I also met a lot of people connected with the school, including the other intern, Allan, who is from the US. I quickly realized that are goals and interests for the year, as well as our comportment, was completely different.
  • I spent my first week in Itacoatiara, and met my new roommate Eli. I started my first week of classes, and got to know the staff and students at the small school, as well as the simple ways of the city. I also learned how to ride (or at least sit on) a motorcycle!

September

  • The first week of September was a mini-holiday for me, as there were two days off in the middle of the week, so I just stayed in Manaus. I got to see some more of the city and surrounding area, but most of the time I was left alone and a little bored. I really like teaching, and I missed my students! Also, everyone else was back at work or school.
  • I began feeling the exhaustion of travelling back and forth all the time. I also had problems registering with the Federal Police, which caused me undue stress. I was able to combat this with some great nights out with friends, but felt that I was lacking the stability of being in one place.
  • I was asked by administration to help organize a fashion show for a big graduation/Halloween party at the end of October. This would include managing a group of up to 40 students, and choreographing and teaching a dance. The time commitment was an extra couple of hours on my already long Saturday, but I couldn’t really say no – my contract stipulates that I should “participate in culture-sharing activities,” so I had a duty to step up!
  • The very last week in September saw a huge change for me and the rest of the school in Itacoatiara. This is at least a blog post in itself, but in short, Eli left the school abruptly, and I was suddenly without a roommate and the immediate support he provided. The very next day, there was a “Welcome” party for the students, one of the chief goals of which was to introduce me as the main attraction to the school. I had a hard time showing a good face after the earlier events of that week, but managed to hold it together – at least externally.

October

  • A lot of the stress factors from September continued into October, and I really felt myself getting worn down. It took another few weeks to get my approval from the Polícia Federal; rehearsals for the fashion show continued for the rest of the month; and I had to learn how to do for myself all the things that Eli had previously done for me in Itacoatiara.
  • Yet another stress-inducer came into my life in the form of Eli’s replacement, the new receptionist for Itacoatiara. This woman would be a daily thorn in my side. It became harder and harder to say that the problems I was having could be contributed to “culture shock” alone.
  • The greater part of my classroom activities for October consisted of preparing for, giving, and returning mid-term tests. I learned a lot – most of it through trial and error – about the paperwork side of my job (the students get report cards? Who knew?!)
  • Finally, the day arrived – the October 29th Fisk Flashback Party, including my pet project, the Gato e Gata runway show. The show went extremely well, the party afterwards was great, and I spent the rest of the night de-stressing by dancing like mad to the retro grooves of Banda Orion.

November

  • Officially halfway through the semester, I felt that I was in pretty good control of my classes. I made schedules to carry them through the end of the term, and teaching became more relaxed and less of a race to cram in curriculum items, as it was just before the first tests.
  • I was still up and down with my culture shock. Problems with the new receptionist started heating up when it became clear she was having troubles with other staff members as well. A plot hatched to get rid of her…the follow-through was deliciously dramatic, but fortunately effective. Again, there will be a blog post devoted to this topic alone!
  • Toward the end of the month (after said horrible receptionist was gone for good), I started feeling more settled and in control. I took the opportunity to make plans for my upcoming vacation in January, and spent a good amount of personal time playing travel agent (as you may know, planning things is one of my favourite pastimes!)

December

  • On December 1st, Fisk hosted yet another party for me in Itacoatiara, this time to say goodbye. It had been confirmed that I would work only in Manaus for the second semester, as my schedule had been too hard to maintain with sanity (as was clear to anyone with any sensitivity who knew me). Despite everything, in the end I was quite sad to see my time there wind down. I had made some great friends and truly enjoyed my classes.
  • In my final two weeks, it really felt like everything had fallen into place right at the last minute. We finally got a capable receptionist whom everyone liked, and who turned into my very first Portuguese-only friend. My confidence in my linguistic abilities soared, and my social calendar filled up with “just one more night out.” My classes took their tests in due time, and I finished up my duties with some regret at saying goodbye to that place. At the same time, I was incredibly excited to go home to friends, family, and the comforts of North America.
  • I flew out of Manaus on December 18th, and arrived in Toronto on the 19th. I spent two days there staying at my sister’s, visiting friends, and soaking up my favourite Canadian city. Then I went back to my hometown for a little more than a week of blissful Christmas feasting, lounging, socializing, and generally doing everything and nothing – all the things I had missed the most about home.
  • On December 29th, I flew from Toronto to Rio, to start my fabulous vacation!

And that I will leave for subsequent blog posts, as there are far too many places and ideas to sort out in just a few bullet points J If you have any questions about events or their order, leave a comment and I will follow up, maybe with another post. All this is just to give a general idea of last semester, so there is definitely more to come!

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Filed under Brazil, friends, looking back

Time Flies, So Why Can’t I?

Here I am, sitting in Coffee Lodge during the last full week of school, procrastinating (naturally) and attempting to mark writing assessments. It seems like just last month I started my job, but it’s already been 5 months since my last assessment-marking marathon. I can hardly believe that this time next week I’ll have said goodbye to my students and handed out the report cards, and all I’ll have left to do is write my June report and clean out my desk!

I’ve learned so much this year, and I’ve grown to love my students even more. I’m so proud of the work they do. In fact, we’ve even started a class blog as a sort of memorabilia, and as a way for me to show off how awesome they all are. We’re going to enter it into a province-wide contest, but the real motivator for everyone is to have something they’ve written in their second language published for others to read. Most have kept their real (or Canadian) names, while others are posting under pseudonyms, and we’ve even found some creative ways of posting class pictures without divulging certain identities. We even have a fan: a creative writing teacher and author from Australia, who has thrilled my students with questions and encouragement under their posts. I encourage you to check it out, and comment, too!

As of July 1, I am free and clear of my current teaching obligations, sad though I may be to leave. What comes next? Well, Brazil is the plan, as you know. However I am STILL waiting for a package with my visa application documents to arrive from Brazil! This is probably the most frustrating waiting period of my life: I need the documents to apply for the trainee visa, and I need the trainee visa to get further instructions from the internship organization and to book my flight.

Meanwhile, Canada Post is on strike. I informed IICA of this a few days before the strike began, asking them to send out a new package via courier, and was assured this would be done. A week and a half later, I received another email asking if I’d received the package yet – nope. Emailed them back, reminding them they should have sent out two packages already. Received a reply basically implying the second package never went out, and they’d send a new one the next business day (this was Friday, so it wouldn’t go out until Monday), and it would take 7 business days to arrive. Well, that was 8 business days ago and counting, and still no package! So I’ve lost an entire month in visa processing time and potential for airfare advance purchase sales.

I was so excited to finish school and then take off for my awesome Brazilian vacation, but now I have no idea when I’ll leave! And I have to admit, I’m beginning to doubt this IICA thing is even going to happen. It’s scary, because I really don’t know what I will do if it falls through. I’ve saved up money for a short (1-2 month) vacation, and although I haven’t officially quit my job, I turned down summer school. Also it would be really embarrassing to tell EVERYONE that I’m only going on vacation now, not moving there. And I probably couldn’t handle living with my parents for another year, although it’s generally been good, since my sister and I are currently sharing a room.

Basically this is the first year ever that I’m not particularly excited for school to end and summer to begin. And it should have been the most exciting time. It’s such a shame! It just proves the whole “best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” line true once again.

So I’ll just keep going forward with my short-term arrangements until I know what’s up. Right now these include Sunday and Wednesday soccer, running when I feel like, visiting friends and family in Toronto, and maybe picking up the yoga again. I can get 8 hours of sleep and try to eat better (thus improving my chances of a respectable appearance in the dreaded Brazilian bikini), and research places I want to visit on a shortened itinerary. I can study Portuguese, which I haven’t even glanced at in weeks! Alright, there are lots of things to do to keep myself busy, even if they don’t include hang-gliding over the bay of Rio de Janeiro onto Copacabana beach. And I guess you can look forward to hearing a bit more from me here, as I won’t have any excuse not to post more regularly. J

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Filed under Brazil, Canada, IICA internship, insecurities, looking back, looking forward