Life has changed fundamentally and unrecognizeably since I last wrote.
I am now a master’s candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Education. When I graduate in May I will have an Ed.M and an initial teacher’s certification for secondary English. That means that I’m completing my course work concurrently with my student teaching. It’s a whirlwind of a year. I’m teaching 12th grade English in Boston Publich School District.
My boyfriend and I also moved in together for the first time. We’ve been lving together for almost two months now. That’s an intense change! It’s a huge step in our relationship, and I’m loving it so far. Yes, there are definitely hard parts (and I’ll write more about those later) but the benefits of living with someone you love so far outweigh the challenges, even for a person as opinionated, unyielding, and fussy as I am.
It’s nice to be back in the United States, although I’ll admit, I came back in May, and I’m already starting to get itchy to leave again! I’m looking forward to my trip back to Dallas for Christmas, but I doubt that that will really quench my thirst for exploration.
In the mean time, I’m exploring Cambridge, the North-east of the United States, and graduate school life in general!
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my cousin got engaged. All reports say this is a good thing: he’s been living with his girlfriend, they’ve been together for over a year, she’s supposedly wonderful and will be a great addition to the family. Everyone I talk to is excited, and I know I should be too, but for some reason I wasn’t.
It’s a classic for a reason. Hand-turkeys with my special education class. Here’s my turkey, because photos of students online is a cardinal taboo.
How do you celebrate Thanksgiving when you live on the other side of the planet? When you’ve finished your dinner before your loved ones at home have even started cooking it? When most people around you don’t even know the word for “turkey” in their language? (Hint: shichimencho, or 7 faced bird, if you’re in Japan).
With such a family oriented holiday, it’s easy to get swept up in homesickness and forget all the things that we do have to be thankful living abroad. So, here are my tips for getting through Thanksgiving when you’re the only one celebrating it.
1. Start early! This past week has been completely Thanksgiving oriented, with Thanksgiving classes at school and a themed bulletin board. If you’re cooking, you’re going to have to start more than a week early, though. Start planning out the menu and looking for ingredients at least a month ahead because there’s a good chance you’ll have to be ordering some if you want to duplicate your home spread.
2. Spread the word! All of my students have been making hand turkeys and I’ve been talking it up with my friends and coworkers. Celebrating a holiday alone can be really lonely, so it’s important to make sure that people around you know about it, so at the very least they’ll understand why you’re leaving work a few minutes early to go get the turkey in the oven.
3. Get others involved! I like to bake an extra pumpkin pie a day early and bring it in for my coworkers. Most of them have never had traditional American pumpkin pie, and they enjoy trying it and sharing my culture with me. It also starts my holiday early and guarantees that I’ll be getting a lot of “Happy Thanksgivings!” throughout the work day.
4. Find the other expats! This one is pretty predictable, but even if you’re deeply immersed in your own community, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to connect with the other foreigners in your area. Besides, it’s much less work making one dish than ten!
So how am I celebrating? All my other JET Programme friends and I are heading out to a huge traditional Thanksgiving dinner! As a devoted food lover, I can tell you that I’ve been looking forward to this meal for at least a month. I’d promise pictures, but realistically the food will be in my stomach long before I remember to take my camera out!
Coral washed up on the beach.
Sea Urchin on the beach, after the typhoon.
Man and Dog walking on the beach after the typhoon.
Last weekend, typhoon Vongfong parked itself over Okinawa. The wind howled through the cracks in my windows like a person crying out in pain. Every now and then I’d hear a metallic thud as something left unsecured was flung into something unmovable, like a trashcan into a tree or a car into a building. Water flooded the streets and seeped into my apartment every way it could: the vent in my bathroom, the vent in my air conditioner, the crack in a bathroom window, door jambs and window ledges. Power on the island flickered on and off; I made it through Saturday, but sometime in the night it died, and I spent the next 24 hours eating canned soup and thanking my lucky stars that at least I still had water and gas.
Normally, the first trip to the beach after a typhoon is a bit depressing. The pristine sands are covered in trash and debris thrown up on shore–old washing machines and worn out jeans wrapped around downed branches. A few days ago I took my book and went out to survey the damage. I can only imagine that with the season drawing to an end, the currents have begun to shift, because this time, instead of rubbish, the beach was covered with bleached white coral, pristine shells, and sea urchins. I spread my mat on the sand, and played with the hermit crabs pinching at my toes as the sun set.
Filed under glimpses, photos
My time in Vietnam ended in Ho Chi Minh City, or as the locals prefer, Saigon. It was hot and sticky, and I was for once glad to have packed shorts. The city felt more modern then the rest of the country, more metropolitan, and more like the rest of SE Asia. The traffic was indescribable, the shops were bustling, and western companies were around every corner. The country’s first McDonald’s was under construction when I visited. Beautiful monuments and official buildings cluster in upscale districts, wedged between designer malls for wealthy tourists. In the less pristine areas, taxi drivers harassed tourists for fares, something unheard of in the rest of the country. In some ways, even this was refreshing. In the northern parts of Vietnam, there is a stiffness. In Saigon, it feels like the city has collectively decided to breathe.
I just think it’s good to have your luggage stolen every once in a while. What would you do if your passport was inside? Say you don’t have lodging for a night. You’re renting an apartment and you don’t have hot water so you have to go and talk to your landlord, but the guy doesn’t speak Japanese. Those experiences build character. When face with a challenge, you’re struck with the feeling of conquering the world. You feel like you can do anything, like a new seed has sprung up inside you. You seen afraid of things you can’t do, like speaking a different language. Your little comfort zone break down, and you begin to think before you act so you won’t wind up doing something foolish. You stop panicking as much. It’s a good thing.
Amrita, by Yoshimoto Banana (214)