I sometimes feel more like a citizen of the world than one particular place.We talked about this for almost an hour and a half. The students even stayed several minutes after class, they were so involved in the conversation. I loved it. That's what makes teaching here so enriching.
It started out fine. I woke up early. I enjoyed my morning pot of coffee, got ready, and headed up the hill. That's when I got the feeling that things were going to take a turn for the worse. A bus was taking off as I got close to my stop. It was mine. I'd missed it. So I waited. A few busses came and went, but none for the route I needed. Then, in the distance, I saw the right bus. I hailed. He was packed, so I just kept on going. So I waited. Soon, instead of being early, I was going to just be on time. A driver finally picked me up.
Once in San Jose, I bolted for the Heredia bus stop. When I got there, the bus was still waiting for passengers. It was about 10 minutes before we had enough people to take off. I tried not to look at my watch. No sense in worrying about it, I told myself. We hit a ton a traffic. Now I was moving from "on time" into "late."
Sure enough, by the time I made it to my school, I was about 2 minutes late for the start of class. That's fine by Tico time, but I had things I needed to prepare. I rushed around, trying to talk to my students while making copies and getting ready. I was frustrated, but couldn't complain to the group. I just apologized and dove into the lesson. As fate would have it, one of my first activities involved a poem entitled, "A Very Bad Day."
As I was covering a grammar point, one of the administrators came into the room and passed out a class (and teacher) evaluation to the students. This further frustrated me for several reasons. First, this evaluation was supposed to be given out after the third week, not at the start of the second week. The students haven't had enough classes to properly evaluate anything at this point! Second, it should've been given out at the end of the class, not the beginning. This was a major disruption. They kept working on it while I was trying to get them to focus on my activities. And finally, it was obviously a bad day for me, personally. I wasn't giving my best performance as a teacher. But of course, since they were filling out the form today, it would be fresh in their minds. Fan-tas-tic. Grrr.
After class, I had to go to the bank to open an account so I could get direct deposit set up. Given my minimal grasp of Spanish, I wasn't looking forward to attempting this. My need to get paid overpowered my fear. I walked to the bank and saw that it didn't open until 1pm, so I had to kill an hour. I decided to go to the park. I figured that'd be a good place to relax, read, and work on my lesson plans. Not today. Today, a beggar decided to screw with me. I ignored him, but then another one came and sat down right next to me. They both spoke English. Why do the bums speak English? I got up to leave since it was time to stand in line at the bank anyways. As I was walking by, the first bum yelled at me, "Whatsa matter, can't give a few coins to help some poor Costa Ricans?!" Ugh. I didn't need that crap. Not today.
At the bank, I walked upstairs as I was instructed to do. Another teacher had given me a couple of names of bank employees I should talk to. But I ended up in the credit card application area. I was led back downstairs where I was told to wait in another line. Aha. There was a sign in this area that I figured out meant "new accounts." My informants at the school were apparently misinformed. When my number came up, I sat down and immediately launched into my gringo introduction: "Buenas tardes. Hablo un poquito espanol. Necesito una nueva cuenta bancaria." Then I handed her the letter of sponsorship from the school. You see, it's not easy for a non-resident to get a bank account. I needed an employer to vouch for me. I think the letter did more to explain my situation than my pathetic attempt at Spanish did. Either way, we started filling out forms. I handed over my passport and a utility bill. You need to show a utility bill for nearly everything. Another teacher said he had to have a copy even to get a membership at a video rental shop. The nice lady asked me a few questions. Each time, I had to lean closer, not because I didn't understand, but because she spoke too softly. But each time, she followed up with English. So it all worked out. Eventually, after signing my name a few dozen times, I was given my account number and told to come back in two days to get my ATM card.
The worst of my day was over. I went home, ready to put it all behind me. And now that I've written about it, I can.
My Saturday morning class turned out to be six guys that do pretty much what I used to do in the states. They work at a company that represents IBM in Costa Rica. They handle internal customers, helping them get online to the corporate VPN and fixing various problems the employees encounter. They're computer geeks. They're the Tico version of me - 3 months ago.
I was given topics for conversation for them. But of course, since they all work at the same place, they eventually started talking about their jobs. I heard things about VPNs and Cisco and the CCNA and other technical topics that were a part of my former life. They got off on a tangent about LANs and video games. They play a lot of the same games I used to play with my friends back in Ohio, like Age of Mythology, Empires, and Mortal Kombat. I couldn't help but think about my old LAN party buddies. They had the same social habits.
It's funny to think that I've traveled all this way to end up teaching English to guys that are so similar to the guys I was friends with in the US.
It's even more funny to think that these guys that are learning English from me could end up in the US in one of my old jobs.
I've been offered my first regular teaching job! The school is kind of far away (especially by bus), but they really need teachers. I think I'll take it. It's 8 hours a week, which isn't much for a normal job, but is a good start for a teacher. 20-25 hours a week is considered full time for most teachers. They have more teachers leaving in the next month, so I could probably get more hours soon. They're mostly advanced students. The school specializes in training them for call center and technical support jobs. That's right up my alley, given my past work experience. The classes I've observed so far have been really great. The students are motivated. There's a heavy focus on conversation and pronunciation, which are the fun parts of teaching English (as opposed to vocabulary and grammar).
I go back tomorrow to observe another class and do a little teaching. If all goes well, I'd have my first solo class on Monday morning.
I'm supposed to hear back from another (closer) school by then, too. So I may have a decision to make. It's not a bad situation to be in, though. You might think the answer is simple: work for both schools. But the language schools here require contracts. To work for one, you need to promise a certain amount of availability for 6-12 months. I'd really rather not split my time between two schools that are far apart. If they were closer, it'd be easier. But to minimize travel time, it'd be better (I think) to choose one or another. I could get a "full" schedule right away working for both, but I'd spend a lot of time on the bus. I think it might be worth the gamble to choose one or another and hope for more hours later on.
I'm discovering that the market for teachers in Costa Rica is something like the market was for tech workers when I first went to Ohio. Teachers are essentially treated like contractors and many of the schools I've visited are essentially temp agencies. There is no promise for steady work. They can only offer what the market demands. As there are more students, then there is a greater demand for teachers. Many teachers work for several different schools/agencies in order to build a livable schedule of 20-25 hours a week. And, since many of these "schools" actually send teachers out to business locations for their classes, this means a lot of traveling. I'm starting to get used to the idea that I won't have a regular job.I'm also getting more comfortable with San Jose. I'm starting to learn my way around, and actually took the bus all by myself finally. The city is growing on me. While it is rather dirty and crowded, it also has an interesting vibe. It's full of life. I think I'll try to find work in the greater San Jose area for now, rather than move out to the suburbs. I feel like I need to experience the capital city for awhile.
I did visit a couple of schools in Heredia, which is a college town northwest of San Jose. It's much cleaner and nicer. The streets are filled with students, and I'm sure it has the active nightlife that goes along with college kids. But it's too far to commute from my current housing. I'd have to find a (cheap) place closer. I'm still considering it as an option. Maybe after 4-6 months, I'll give it a shot.
Unless, of course, I somehow manage to land that elusive dreamjob of teaching at the beach.