Saturday, August 23, 2014


I read a quote in my gloomy Norwegian book about how quickly a new foreign place or environment becomes your life---how in an absurdly small period of time all that seems bizarre, enchanting, exotic turns into life.  After being in Vientiane for almost two weeks, I have moved into a house, bought a bike, met people who became friends almost instantly, learned some rudimentary lao, and entered my very first teaching job.  Everything has moved so incredibly quickly.  My life in Uganda took what felt like 6 months to finally be set-up; heck I even had three months of language instruction and training.  Here, I just landed in Lao and then started figuring things out on my own and with the help of other friends.

It's nice feeling settled, albeit a little disconcerting how easily this came.  I have met some great people so far and have once again enjoyed the phenomenon of feeling like close friends with people I have known for less than a week.  Want to make friends?  Move to a foreign country!

The complete set of roommates:

 And our beautiful home:

We had to pay 6 months of rent upfront for this place and so basically it looks like we robbed a bank (which we nearly had to do) in order to afford it.

 The first week of training was relaxed.  We had several meetings with our departments but most of the time was spent making sure all the expat teachers were settling in and so we went off on a lot of errands.  The teachers and staff at the school are great.  A good mix of expat and Lao staff.  The school is undergoing a lot of change this year and they have hired this jolly Welsh man as the managing director with the goal of making PIS the best international school in Lao.  The expat teachers come from all over: China, Philippines, Canada, England, Ireland, and America.  There are about 7 returning expat teachers and the primary especially has seen a massive influx of new teachers this year.  The returning teachers have been really helpful in getting us settled too and making us feel at home in the school.  I think the school itself is a good mixture of laid-back and structured.  There are a few dodgy things like how we have one entire subject (Topic Studies) that we don't have ANY books or curriculum for, and simply have to decide what to teach(?), otherwise there are books and curriculum and a decent amount of supplies.  We all had to lead an extracurricular activity twice a week and I'll be leading Ultimate Frisbee and hopefully also coaching some soccer at some point during the year. 

My main concern now is getting my classroom set up.  If you know me in the slightest, you'll know that I'm not really a neat or crafty person (I probably failed arts and crafts as a child), both of which seem essential qualities for a primary school teacher.  I cringe whenever I imagine the comparison between my classroom and Erica's (the other fourth grade teacher)--who has already whipped up some delightful decorations and ideas for classroom layout.  I'm thinking a dinosaur theme?  Or the four elements as a theme?  Or maybe not a theme at all?  Anyway, this prep and making our classrooms beautiful is seriously much more nerve-wracking to me than the idea of teaching and lesson-planning.  On the side of all this, I'm reading a book called "The First Days of School," which will give me some tips about what to focus on when school starts next week.  I feel entirely unprepared but I'm sure the learning curve will be steep. 

Erica and I shopping for supplies:

Here is my desk space and a very distressing series of math books that are currently haunting me in my sleep:

Despite feeling a bit nervous for school to start next week, I'm riding a current of overwhelming positivity.  I am comfortable, (too)well-fed, surrounded by enthusiastic and caring people, and learning about a new culture.  I'm really glad I trusted my gut-instinct about taking this job; I think it'll be both challenging and rewarding.  I'm also really glad I trusted my instinct about Vientiane.  It really is this slow, dusty, special town and I'm just very excited about everything Lao: the food, the culture, the language.  In general, Lao people are very gentle and peaceful and relaxed.  Also, it's a very open-minded place.  A very common word here is "Bopenyang" which translates to "no worries" or "be easy" or something like this.  I don't feel the sense of judgment that I did in Uganda or even America.  Perhaps the Buddhism has to do with it.  Anyway, very excited to continue learning about this place and also explore the lovely countryside. 

In the meantime, back to my modest lifestyle of eating out every night.  (Indian food!  French food! Lao food! Turkish food! mmmm)

Love and Algorithms,

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