The Hardest Word to Say

When I close a chapter in my life, even with a new one beginning, I struggle to find the right words or ways to express myself. It is no different this time. The end of my contract here at Idioma Internacional has me struggling to describe the feeling. I have known for a little over a month that I would be ending my contract and moving to a new phase of my educational career. However, preparing for departure is a task in and of itself. Mentally, I have had to think positively. I know how much this company has offered me. I believe in the over ten thousand words I have written in this blog that I have expressed a lot of truth and sincerity. The friendships I have made will stay with me, whether physically or emotionally, for the rest of my life. However, the reality of moving on doesn’t really set in until it is upon you.

Some of the most challenging aspects of leaving such a great part of my life were having to tell my students. Sometimes, however, it does go smoothly. A few of my classes were ready and aware of the way that it goes. These were fairly easy on the emotions. We all shook hands, wished the best for each other, and decided to stay in touch. I went to a lunch with one of my former classes and had an excellent time just bonding and hanging out as friends. It was nice to share some memories with these great students outside of the classroom. However, I know how much I already miss that group.

One of my classes really surprised me. It was one of the lower level classes that I taught. They are an amazing group of people with such varied backgrounds and experiences. When my last night as their teacher arrived, they surprised me with pizza at the end of class. This group always worked very hard and sometimes it was difficult for them to arrive focused for class. However, seeing their progress in just over five months was so motivating and impressive. They had advanced so much in such a short time. Their hard work paid off and many of them have improved so much that I believe they are above the level they are studying.

And just as beautiful as those classes were, with sad but well-handled goodbyes, there was one that brought a flood of emotions over me. This goodbye took my breath away. Literally. I had this class for almost my entire contract. This group was one of the colegios (high-schools). The final class began as normal. The students were taking their short break from regular school to this scholarship program that we teach. A few of the students expressed that it was sad that this was the final class. I knew it too. I felt it. But we all got the lesson going and moved into the routine. I feel close to this group because we have grown together as individuals and as a group. We have had to face some difficult challenges and we have had to make some adjustments throughout the program. However, as smooth as things were going at the beginning of this last class, it suddenly changed. The teacher who replaced me was leading a lesson as I sat in the back of the room. The realization that this was about to be the last time I taught them hit me. My eyes began to well up. I had to take a few deep breaths to keep from crying. One of the students noticed my demeanor and called me out, “not yet, teacher. Not yet.” I giggled, but that made it a little harder, so I busied myself with more instruction and correction. Then, with barely 5 minutes left to spare, I began to say my thanks to the students. They stopped me. They had a few surprises ready. They pulled out a handmade poster with our group picture in the middle and handwritten post-it notes all surrounding it. The waterfall began the moment I saw what it was. I couldn’t even see the words on the notes because I couldn’t stop the flood. I thanked them with every ounce of my being, but they were not done yet. Then, they presented me with a humongous bag of candy and a small figurine that will forever remind me of them. As we finally cleaned up the room and began to leave, many of the students took pictures with me. We exchanged high-fives, hugs, and at the end one final “everybody hands-in” huddle and cheer. I had nicknamed them Team Awesome. So, of course, it was “awesome on three.” I fought off the tears for the rest of the goodbyes, but it was incredibly difficult. I felt appreciated in a way that I have never felt before. Every struggle in my life was worth that feeling.

Before signing off, I want to make one thing clear: I appreciate every single person that has ever taken the time to read any of these posts. I am so thankful that I had the chance to write for this company. I love writing, even if I am not very good at it. I hope that these posts will continue and that the next author will be even better than me. Thank you. Each and every one of you. And as the title suggests, I hate saying this word: goodbye.

Thank you again,

The Author

 

Reflections on a Full Year

The Arrival

He stayed up most of the night packing. His bags were heavy, but his heart was light. The room cleaned out, he felt the impact of the decision he had made and worked so hard for. It had been 4 years in the making, but I could argue that it had actually been 32 years in the making. The ride to the airport with his mother and brother was full of fond memories and good jokes. His brother has always had a way of waiting until the last minute to crack some jokes. However, this time, the brother had one more piece to add. “Tons of people thought that you couldn’t do this. You worked your absolute *$# off in order to make it. I am proud of you. Go change the world.” The tears welled up in our characters eyes. He has always been close to his brother, but these words changed him. It was the first time that he felt such pride. The goodbyes were said, and he knew he had to go on from here alone.

The walk through the airport was quick. It didn’t seem to be overly crowded. NSA check point went smoothly. Now he had a few hours to kill. Always the over-punctual one. Better too early than missing this most important of flights though. He drank a beer to calm the nerves, although the actuality of this new adventure had yet to set in.

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Fast forward to the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica. He walked out of the airport and into the throng of cab drivers trying to take bags and make money. The humidity change had him sweating like an iced-tea in a Louisiana summer. He kept his cool and pressed forward to await his Uber. Once in the car, he attempted to speak some Spanish. Fail. However, his driver knew how to get him to his new home. After the 40 or so minutes through backroads, traffic, and incredible views of his new city, he arrived at the home-stay. The place was beautiful, different than any place he had been in the US but somehow felt like his first time at the university.

He got to his new room and arranged his belongings. Trying to unpack and feel at home, he sat on the bed and took his first deep and calming breath. It was true. He had made it. He ventured into a new country with no friends, no family, no idea about how to do most everything. He then took a short tour of the neighborhood and found a place to eat and have a coffee. The owner of the place had to come and help with the translation, because the waitress spoke no English, and the newbie spoke no Spanish. However, the waitress was sweet, patient, and very polite. He was so thankful that he left a bigger tip than he knew. He returned to his new home and listened to a hockey game online while trying to adjust. He slept with trepidation and awoke many times.

The start of his new career was upon him and he of course became lost immediately. He took the wrong bus on the first day. He made it to the office, sweating, panicking, and on-time. The first few weeks, he had almost no idea how he was going to ever get the hang of it. However, with patience, support from his coworkers, and his strength of will, he slowly started to adjust to the amazing opportunity that he was given. Now he was hooked.

Getting the Feel for It

Eventually he found the rhythm. His days became easier and less confusing. The support of his mentor sent him on the path of finding the best and fastest ways to get through his planning. He was off to see the figurative wizard.

He found that his rhythm was getting better also because of the challenges he set for himself. It is amazing what one can become accustomed to when they possess the correct mentality. At this point, he had really begun to enjoy himself. His classes filled him with joy as he pressed on every day. His new companions and he were really starting to have some fun. The company had begun to feel like his new family. He could count on them for any questions he still had, which were many.

One night, he went with a good crew for a night of dancing and merriment. After a few bars that felt like all the other clubs he had never cared for, they found a place with a view, good drinks, great vibes, and the right kind of music. They had added some random strangers to their entourage and took the entire party to the next level. He and his new companions danced until the bar closed. His morning was spent sharing metaphysical discussions until the sun came up. He found the groove.

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Friends in all the Right Places

He had moved to a new apartment with his best friend in the new country. The excitement of having more space, more privacy, and more companionship enticed him to making the jump to the next level. He and his bestie would work through the motions of the day and then return home to each other’s comfort, and conversation. On the weekends they would stay up late, sharing music, beers, and stories. It is friendships like these that can change lives.

Throughout this time, he built his friendships to levels that hold for as long as both people are interested. Many times, he would laugh into the night with nothing but happiness in his heart. He knew that some of them are what I call “lifers.” Meaning, these friends will last a lifetime.

However, with the good always comes the bad. During this time of seeming bliss, he was given some bad news from the motherland. It doesn’t help our story to go into details, but this bad news was the type that makes someone long for the comfort of family. He fell into a depressive state. He struggled to find quality sleep. He fought off the mood during the days, while in his classrooms and at the office, but at night, he was haunted by the facts. He woke frequently in the middle of the night. He had many nightmares. And he eventually ruined a good relationship because of his inability to convey his true feelings. Even through this though, his best friend had his back. He let him have those long moments of sadness without pressuring him to “feel better.” In fact, the two of them went through similar problems at the same time. It was as if the universe knew they needed to be around each other at this place in history. Eventually, they were both able to break the cycle and return to the bliss. The mountains in view sure didn’t hurt the healing process either.

At times such as those, the reality of being away from the closest people in one’s life really takes its toll. But when we have the friendships that these two were able to formulate, the richness of life returns stronger than ever.

Becoming the Teacher

When starting at Idioma Internacional, he found that the learning curve was rather steep. There is a lot of information to absorb and he was a sponge. He soaked it all up as best he could, but at times he felt that he wasn’t doing enough. He wasn’t sure if he was making an impact on the students. Didn’t know if he was delivering the lessons correctly. Had no idea what it meant to be a teacher.

He adhered to the lesson plans with the grip of epoxy. He tried his best to memorize the better part of the information for each class, reviewing and reviewing. Sometimes he felt that the class went great, excellently, fantastically. Others he wished he would have given more thought to this or that, practiced the grammar more, tried out the directions with a wall. However, through all of his doubts, there were always ways to get excellent critical feedback. Also, part of the company’s many aspects of developing the teacher, were the evaluations by administrators. These helped him focus on his teaching abilities that needed some polishing.

After some of these feedback sessions, he would reflect and find a new style, new practice, or new method. As he told himself and occasionally needed reminding about, failure is part of the learning process. He failed. He learned. He succeeded. With time, patience, and amazing support, he eventually found that his methods improved. His classes were not only fun, but very informative. He was often complimented by his students and sometimes by the fellow teachers. Realizing this change, gave him great comfort and confidence. He had become the teacher.

Adventures Abound

During all of the trials and errors, the friendship building, the growth of the professional teacher, there was still some time to take on the unlimited amount of adventures in Costa Rica. He went to several beautiful beaches, the mountains, rivers, fresh springs, waterfalls, hikes. The list went on.

On his first visit to a beach, he was told by the local populace and many of the other teachers that the beach he would be seeing was “the worst beach in Costa Rica.” He was sure that he didn’t care. The bus was crowded and hot on the way out. He brought only the essentials with him, but that was enough. When he and his 3 friends arrived at this beach and he walked upon it, he said to himself, “worst beach? This is the most beautiful beach I have ever visited.” Apparently however, this was the “worst” beach. To this day it still makes him laugh. The thought that the worst is better than most will ever see in a lifetime is a testament to what can be found in this amazing country.

Another aspect that he found about adventuring in Costa Rica, was that sometimes, oftentimes, the adventures find you. Sometimes you go to find a new restaurant or bar and end up on an urban adventure. He found that the ways to best enjoy these adventures is with the same sense of wonder that brought him here in the first place. Stay positive, be patient, and everything will work out. So far, it has worked every time.

The final aspect of adventure was found in the realm of mentality. Multiple occasions, he found that his life would take an unexpected turn, but he thrived through those. He learned from each and every situation. His mind broadened. His heart grew. His adaptability increased.

Full Circle

He remembers everything, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the failures and successes. He could not be who he is now without the friendships and support he gained in this year. He knows that he will take everything with him for the rest of his life, where ever that leads him. He learned so many valuable lessons in the short year. What a year it was. He has too many people to thank for everything they have done for him. So now, as he prepares to leave, he becomes pensive, writes at his table and hopes that someone will read this. If you are reading it and know me, thank you. I couldn’t be here without you. I will strive to bring all of these lessons with me everywhere I go. I am sad to leave this company, but I am excited to see what will happen next. Again, thank you. You have no idea how much you mean to me.

A Day at a Time

A Random Wednesday, 2018

4:50 AM: My nemesis begins to chime, bringing in the new day. As I am not a morning person, I immediately begin to cringe. I always set obnoxious alarms, because the peaceful ones don’t do the trick. I step out of the bed with the same labored sighs as every day. However, once showered and dressed, I walk out to the balcony to put on my shoes and the morning mountains makes the sarcasm bubble forth, “well… it’s not so bad really.” I pop in the headphones and choose today’s playlist: Funky Soul Delicious. Well-crafted for the toe-tapping bus ride.

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6:40 AM: I step off the bus near my first class. The sun is beaming rays of golden heat to melt away the rest of my sluggish start. My hair catches in the breeze over the bridge, soft like a lover’s caress. I finish my walk with a smile and a wait patiently for my student to come and take me to the offices. She and I always exchange our pleasantries and discuss our weekend. We take the elevator up to the office and she lets me into our classroom. She goes to gather her things and returns with the final part of my morning medicine: coffee. She no longer asks. She knows the answer. Class has us both laughing and the time flies like it is moving at double-tempo.

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9:30 AM: The office is warm as I enter, but the AC kicks on and feels nice. I bring with me my daily dose of Tico Wheaties: gallo pinto. Time for some class prep, more coffee, emails, catching up on the news and some fraternizing with the other teachers and administration. There always seems to be something to discuss that inevitably gets the whole gang laughing. We joke on one another. It is fun.

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11:00 AM: A brief walk through the beautiful park across the street from the office. Headphones returned to keep the soundtrack pulsing. This bus ride is my favorite. Not for any particular reason other than the freedom to allow my thoughts to take over. I do most of my self-reflection on buses. It seems to work well since there are plenty of buses in this country. My mind wandering through the rest of the day, I dwell upon the mysteries of the universe. Well, sometimes I just wonder about my next meal. Either way, it sets me up for the rest of my day.

11:40 AM: I arrive at the giant offices where again I wait for a student to escort me to our room. This class is always such fun. The students love to debate and get into friendly arguments. One of their preferred lines, “in my humble opinion…” prefaces some not-so-humble statements. I laugh every time I hear this phrase. An odd sense of comfort overwhelms this group as we have been together for a long time. Again, all feelings lift when I spend time with the students. I love this job.

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2:40 PM: After a brief lunch, I return to the office with a full stomach and renewed need for coffee. I think this company knows that without coffee, we would never get anything done. So, it is available the entire time the office is open. More jokes are enjoyed by the staff. Sometimes it is high-fives and hugs. We really help each other with the day by day procedures. It does feel like a family, with less arguing.

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3:00 PM: I wait for the bus to my final class. More reflections of the day and now, being Wednesday, also some thoughts about the weekend. Will it be a socializing weekend or a Netflix binge? Hard to tell at most times. On the bus, the afternoon heat and clouds begin to dull my senses and I do the awkward sleeping-not-sleeping head bob. As I approach my stop, I begin to perk back up. This is my favorite class after all. (I know. We are not supposed to have favorites. But we all do. Truth.) This afternoon I will be teaching at one of the colegios (high-schools). This scholarship program is incredible and gives such amazing opportunities for these youths. I get off the bus and walk along with my chicken friends, greet the cows, and make my way into the school. I am met by the most genial of security guards. The students welcome me also with our own created handshakes. It makes me so happy. These students are all unbelievably wonderful, even when they are having bad days. We have great interactions, that both my supervisor and I call ‘guided chaos.’ I love teaching these kids and I love the energy they make me exert. It keeps me younger. I think.

7:00 PM: I finally return to my apartment. Exhausted? Yes. Sore feet? Yes. Feeling of completion? Most definitely. I cook a simple dinner, chat with my roommate, and she goes off to sleep. She acts like an old lady with her sleep. It is actually impressive. I stay awake for a few more hours, check emails, look over material, and scroll the social media. Eventually my eyes are no longer wanting to be open, so I brush my teeth and lay down with the satisfaction and gratitude I have felt in no other occupation. Today was a good day.

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