Sunday, August 28, 2011

Becoming An English Teacher

If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that I have only posted a couple of stories this past month. I've even had two people email me asking what's up since I normally write something here every couple of days. Well, I've been going to become an English teacher! Here I am in action at the front of class (believe it or not!):

Getting trained as an English teacher's something that I've been kicking around for a couple of years but I really got hooked when Diana and I were in Tibet and I had a chance to sit in one day at an English class there. Since I had to leave Spain for my required 90 days and Diana stayed behind to work on her thesis, this was the perfect opportunity. I registered at the International House in San Diego to get the CELTA certification and began classes four weeks ago.

The class was way more intense than I expected it to be even though they are careful to tell you in advance that it's intense. But, how hard could it be, right? Umm...yeah. I went to school from 9am to 530pm five days a week and did on average four-to-five hours of homework per day. You have classroom training in the morning and are teaching in the afternoon. I taught on my third day! During the course, there were a few times where I didn't get more than two-or-three hours of sleep per night for several nights in a row. They are basically taking a random person off the street and training them in four weeks to be an English teacher. We learned about classroom management, lesson planning, grammar analysis, how to structure a lesson, and how to create activities that would engage the students regardless of their learning style. I can't believe how much I learned in such a short period of time.

It wasn't all nose-to-the-grindstone though, we did have a bunch of fun too. Here's a couple of photos from some activities that we did one day where we were learning to use music in the classroom:


International House did an amazing job getting us ready to be in front of the classroom and I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought that I would. Really what did it though was the quality of the trainers and the amazing, amazing group of students that I was part of. To be in a group of 12 people who all speak at least two languages (we counted at least 10 languages spoken fluently between us) and the majority who've lived overseas for some part of their lives was pretty impressive. I left the class bummed that I probably wouldn't see most of them ever again but exceptionally happy for having gotten to know them. Can I say one more time, WOW, what a group:

And what would school be like without talking about the students? Our students were mostly made up of recent immigrants (in some cases, less than a month) to the United States. We had three main groups: Haitians and folks from Thailand and Myanmar (or Burma if you prefer). Others came from Iraq, the former Soviet Union, and a few other countries. To say that I was amazed at how far they came in their abilities and confidence in four weeks would be an understatement. I think that the process will become addictive. The more people that I work with and the more success I see, the more I'll want to do it. Here's half the student group and some of the teacher trainees on the last day of class:

Like I mentioned, passing the course makes you a CELTA-certified ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. The CELTA is controlled and administered by Cambridge University and is considered the gold-standard for ESL-teacher certification. I'm looking forward to teaching, whether it becomes my full-time gig or something that I do on the side. It'll really depend on my experience with it, how much work I can get, where Diana and I decide to live, and whether or not I end up back in my same field again. In other words, the excitement never ends! This is me getting my certificate with my beyond-awesome teachers, Emily (from Liverpool, England) and Tony (from Sydney, Australia):

Thanks to Chris, Sarah, and Karen at International House San Diego for your work making our course a success. A super-so-big thank you to Tony and Emily for helping me along the path to becoming a great English teacher. I have so much more confidence now compared to when I walked in that door four weeks ago and it's all due to you guys. And finally, a huger-than-huge thank you to my fellow classmates without whom I would have crashed and burned. The awe that I have for who each one of you is, the quality of people that you are, and for your commitment to making the world a better place is inspirational. I look forward to following your (without-a-doubt) successful careers where ever you end up. I'll miss you all. Thanks!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Vince's Annual Tacky Party

Every year my friend Vince throws a party that's a must-attend event. I'm not sure where the original idea for the party came from but every year it continues to get better. The theme of the party is that everything about it needs to be tacky. People wear some pretty crazy outfits and this year was not a disappointment:

In case English is your second language and your English teacher never told you, tacky is an adjective that means "in bad taste". The goal of the party then is the celebration of all that is in bad taste. I love it!

I know, the idea of a party where everything is tacky is kinda' strange but it works. Think about how hard it is to come up with ideas for clothing and pot-luck items that are tacky without using the old stand-bys of arriving late or drunk, not bringing anything, or bringing a bunch of uninvited guests (all of which have been done already). I can't believe how the competition gets more intense every year.

Oh yeah, I said "tacky food":

I really appreciate the creativity of the food items that people bring. I know that some folks that show up have been planning for a whole year and can't wait to spring their creation on the world. In the photo above, there's half-baked cake, a fish loaf made from meat, German-chocolate Ding-Dong cake, and a bunch of others. Probably my favorite this year was the Jellied Tuna Salad Loaf that was green:

Keep in mind that all the food items are edible and meant to be (sometimes) quite good. I enjoyed the build-them-yourself BLTs that someone brought this time. Yummy bacon! I give my own award this year for creative naming to this pile of Twinkies and cupcakes. Meet Foamhenge:

No summertime party would be complete without a barbecue. Vince has a monster-sized BBQ wagon that his uncle made for him a bunch of years ago. Dave, the guy on the left with the hat, cleaned out the freezer in his garage and brought all his older-than-two-years meat to barbecue for everyone. I, unfortunately, didn't partake in the lovely repast he created but it didn't look half-bad. Oh, and that's Vince, the creative genius behind the party, with his arms up:

Vince does a lot of work each year planning for the party. He not only sends out invites, makes sure that everyone is coming, and arranges for a live band to play, but he also puts together a whole pile of parting gifts for his guests. For what must be months, Vince collects all kinds of stuff. This year I left with a lovely coffee mug and a photo. Not just any photo though! Vince creates an annual self portrait that's a work of art. What could be more tacky than giving someone a photo of yourself, right? Anyway, I have a whole collection of Vince self portraits that I know will be financially lucrative one day very soon. For now, I can treasure this year's piece de resistance:

It's been a few years since I was able to attend the Tacky Party but I was here in California and couldn't miss it for sure. I'm glad I had a chance to go and can't wait for the next one. I'm even thinking of licensing the idea and translating it into Spanish for when I get back to Barcelona. I'm already thinking about my self portrait even though I can never challenge the master.

Thanks for the great time Vince! See you next year.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Today was a big day!!!

Not really but I did get my hair cut. Here's the before self-portrait, which I'm sure you'll recognize, as I walked in the door of the hair-cut shop:

If you don't know, I've had longish hair a few times in my life. I had long hair as a senior in high school, again in college through grad school, and most recently for about the last five years. I've been kicking around getting it cut short for the last six months or so as I am was getting tired of it.

I went to see Koko, who's been cutting my hair for the last few years, today with the intention to get it all cut off...pretty much a #2 crew cut. When I got there I told her that I would leave it up to her but I did add that my mom liked it when my hair was first growing in this most recent time. I'm guessing that it was like six inches long at the time (if you stretched out the curls). Koko said that cutting it really short might be a bit extreme and that I may not like it. She suggested that we do something in between and if I didn't like it I could always come back and do the rest.

Well, here's what I ended up with:

...and side view...

It's probably about five-to-six inches long all over with the idea that I'll stick some goo in it to keep it from being a full-on afro. I'm actually pretty happy with it and am glad that I listened to Koko rather than just getting the clippers out and doing it myself.

Thanks Koko!

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Worship The Dryer

If you've ever spent any extended time outside the United States (and Canada), you've may have had to adapt to washing your clothes differently than the way that you're used to. The first six months I lived in Mexico, for example, I had to wash my clothes in a bathroom sink and leave them to dry all over the place I was staying because there were no laundry facilities. I've also hand washed on my trips to Peru, Guatemala, and China (and I'm sure others that I can't remember). Hand washing is just one of those travel experiences that's hard to get away from.

Living overseas in Spain, Japan, and Colombia, I didn't have to hand wash my clothes because there was a washing machine in each place. Now that I'm in the U.S. though, I've realized that I'm getting spoiled again...see...we have washers AND dryers here:

When you're overseas and your chones are dirty, before you start a load, you need to consider things like the time of day, the weather, and if there's enough space outside to hang everything. I forgot how nice it is to be able to decide pretty much at any time that I want to wash some clothes. I have had the "but-dryers-are-wasteful" conversation while in Spain, which I partially agree with, but it's so hard not to worship the magic that is the clothes dryer. All hail the great and powerful dryer! I'll be right back, I'm gonna' throw a load in...