Singapore Again

I’m alive.

I don’t know if I am well… but I’m trying to be.

I know that in life, when you face your hardest obstacles you find out who you are very quickly. Do you shy away from a hard conversation? Can you keep calm when you made a mistake? What do you crave when you hurt?

For me, my hardest obstacle is Singapore. It always has been this way for me, no matter how familiar I become with the customs, travel routes, currency exchanges, and social culture. I still find it rough against my soul. But here I am, and here I will stay until 2019.

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I moved here in June. It was my first move on my own. Though I had help from friends and family to adjust and change, I made the jump from one foreign country to another without touching the United States. From the move, I realized that I have a particular adjustment period:

  • I live in shock for a couple of weeks (not believing I made it)
  • Overlapping those weeks, I find enjoyment in many superficial and touristy things
  • Then I start to compare the country to everything I had see up until then, and sometimes criticizing
  • Finally I find some form of peace, usually in a cafe nook off the beaten path, and I begin to enjoy the smallest of things (like a child’s laughter or a starry night in the middle of the city)

This adjustment period is not uncommon. Most travelers experience a similar, if not exact, adjustment period. And yet we are not completely whole.

IMG_7036 Continue reading

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Breathe… It’s just University Applications

I am applying for Master’s programs… at least that’s what I keep telling myself. I have worked my way into a career corner and it’s kind of hard for me to work or even be happy with my accomplishments. So it’s time to step back and build a ladder because I want to grow. (That’s what I keep telling myself. *Repeat, repeat, repeat…*)

So I have looked at many schools and programs throughout the world: UK – PGCE programs, Germany – government teaching certificates (where you need to learn German), Canada – where Frozen really comes alive, Hong Kong, Japan, and finally… the U.S. I have fought for so long to stay out of the U.S. (It is my irrational fear of getting “stuck” in that country.) Which is why I have tried my best to research everything else in the world for Special Education Master’s programs, but it looks like the U.S. is my best bet for the most annoying reason: a visa.

I could go on and on about the complexities of visas in countries (or “boarders” regulated by governments to decide on what is safe enough for the people, who are human beings like the rest of us, blah blah blah) but the point of this blog post is getting into school.

Anyway… U.S. universities with Special Education Master’s programs. Here is the list of schools that I have looked at based on the website Masters in Special Education:

  • University of Arizona
  • Syracuse University
  • University of Illinois
  • Johns Hopkins
  • Penn State
  • University of Vermont
  • University of Missouri
  • Ohio State University
  • University of San Diego
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Washington
  • University of Texas Austin
  • Arizona State University
  • Boise State University
  • Boston University
  • George Mason University
  • University of Oregon Eugene
  • University of Kansas
  • Vanderbilt University

After all that research I have learned a lot about what I need to do in order to get into a program I like. Today I narrowed down my schools to two of them because I like the format program and the highlights (such as teacher training for the unexperienced, international education focus, and, of course, tuition). One thing that I would warn people about is the amount and kind of information on the universities’ websites. A lot of universities say that they have Special Educational Needs masters programs, but from the looks of their websites, and whatever else is floating on the internet, their programs are not forward thinking. You can’t be a Special Educator without being a forward thinker, it just causes more problems. Be careful of old-style thinking!

My next step is to take a GRE test (which I’m able to do in Romania!) and apply, apply, apply. Then pray that I make the cut off for tuition assistance… (Smh… the U.S. and their high-cost higher-education institutions…).

 

In Service

Today is the last day of my three week holiday. It’s snowing outside so I don’t want to do anything but prepare for the week ahead. I am always anxious right before I head back to work or school. And it make sense that I have that same anxiety when I think about returning to school for my graduate degree.

I was watching the 2016 United Nations Year in Review and it gave me a little bit of encouragement in a strange way. I have always been seeker of international information and history. I love the world around me and this is why I love to travel so much. Traveling gives me energy that nothing else can.

As I watched the video, seeing death and hardships as well as developments and successes, a tear welded in my eye when I saw the developments in the aid for disabled people. This was the only tear I shed during the video so I believe it has to mean something.

I am disabled, although not visibly disabled, but maybe that’s why I relate so much to the positive developments for disabled people. I am with that group of people. Or maybe I feel a bond to these successes because I want so badly to help. I want to show the world that disabilities are not problems, but different forms of living.

I want to help.

In the 200th episode of one of my favorite shows (How I Met Your Mother), a friend said to one of the key characters when she was feeling down on her luck:

“Let me save you a few years. Even if it sounds completely crazy what is it you want to do with your life?

I want to end poverty.

Great. Then every decision you make from here on out should be in service of that.”

And that’s what she did. Sounds simple enough to do, right?

So what do I want to do with my life? Help disabled people live a life they want to live.

Now, lets make it happen…

New Year wishes and my non-pretentious Spirit Animal

When I was a young girl, my mother told me that I had “spider fingers” – long, bony fingers that seemed to dance along the page, or piano, or keyboard. I still find it funny how my fingers magically type along the computer keyboard, (practice from one LOOONNNGGG typing class, and many years of reports).

Today, while I was doing yoga and meditation, (essential practices during long breaks from school), I realized that my spirit “animal” is a spider. At least that’s what I think it is for now. Yes… a Sp-e-ider! 2m6vg4h

Spirit animals are very… pretentious, if you use it in the wrong context.

“OMG, the psychic just told me that my spirit animal is a unicorn!”

For me, I actually hate the idea of a spirit animal. However, when I need something to connect to, an idea that brings me back to reality, a spirit animal is quite useful to remind me how I can adapt to the world.

Since I am aiming to return to school for my masters in the coming year, I need to take stock of my strengths and weaknesses, as well as my fears. Relating to an “animal” (or arachnid in my case), calms me, makes me more aware of who I am, and shows me that I am not the only one struggling in this world.

For example, I no longer call the US my home, and Romania is fading from my mind as well. However, I have many connections and ties to parts of the world so my “web” is well secured. But like any web, it is fragile and sometimes unnoticeable, even to me. I need to make sure I re-enforce those ties every once in a while, then my “home” will be safe.

There are several other connections I have to the spider, but that is for my personal journal.

For you, my dear reader, I wish you a wonderful new year. If you are a US citizen, or connected to the US in anyway, I wish you a safe and loving year. The next 4 years might be painful and dreadfully sad, but I highly suggest that you know your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your passion. This will give you the power you need to survive the coming year.

Challenge your strength, be mindful of your weakness, and feed your passion.

With love,

The Serendipitous Learner

Why I prefer teaching curious little creatures

Last night I went to a craft beer festival with my friends. It was the first one of it’s kind in Bucharest so you know all the hipsters were there. They brought their friends, their dogs, their children… There were a lot of cute children there. Some of them had on the most adorable clothes. I watched two toddlers play on this hay bale while others talked around me. I was sniffling a lot and trying to enjoy myself and the cold cider, (made with elderflower and had an alcohol content of 7%). However, my allergies were too much. I think it was the hay bales that triggered my decline.

This morning I think I’m going to stay inside and nurse my possible cold. My noes is still running and I’m feeling achy.

I saw that Netflix added more movies today. A lot of them I’ve already seen but I’ll watch them again because I’m bored. I chose Definitely, Maybe this morning. It makes me happy. Not the love relationship thing, but the fact that the daughter is so curious. She asked about sex education, she listened to closely to the details of her father’s story, she presented her thoughts, and she gave an excellent interpretation of a penguin. She would be a perfect student.

I know you might be thinking to yourself “That’s just a movie. The characters you see in movies are perfect creatures that have compiled the best of human life.” But I disagree. I believe there are young women and men who are perfectly amazing at being curious creatures with remarkable minds. I work with many of them. Even the children who you constantly see punished for behavior, they tend to have the most amazing minds because they choose to think outside the box and then… proceed to press your buttons.

I think curiosity and imagination is truly the best thing to foster in children, especially in primary school. After primary school children start to see that they can be “wrong.” It’s a dark place that no one likes to feel in adulthood. And being wrong can lead to depression or a collapse of the comfort zone. So children, in their innocence, do not see anything “wrong,” they just see the world.

IMG_4874Sometimes I wonder why I have been very focused on little ones lately – their clothes, their habits, their cries – and I guess it’s because I am trying to be like them again. Seeing the world for what it is, and simultaneously being comfortable with whatever others deem “wrong.”

Or it could be my biological clock getting louder… who knows.

Signs of struggle

This morning I arrived at my apartment where I will be staying for the next 4 weeks. The school where I will be training for my Certificate for English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) is right across the street and the mall is behind the apartment complex. Everything is very convenient. However, what isn’t convenient is the set up of my apartment.

I arrived at the apartment with the sheets and bedding strewn all over the living area, the bathroom sink was clogged and smelly, and every inch of the apartment floor had dust and garbage thrown about. It looked like the apartment hadn’t been used in months. The driver who had helped me into the building took a look at the apartment and looked at me with sympathy. But he left me almost immediately after, and I was left to my own devices.

I had to take a breath and collect myself. What was I going to do? I didn’t know if it was expected that I clean up the space myself or that I came too early before the room was cleaned. I decided to go see the landlord. He wasn’t there. Instead of pouting and making a fuss I got to work cleaning. It didn’t matter if I was suppose to clean the apartment or someone else, but the apartment was going to be cleaned!

After about 45 minutes of cleaning I heard someone come into the apartment. It was my landlord. He was a tall, solid looking man and he wore linen pants with Velcro sandals. He’s not really shocked that I’m cleaning, but he still apologizes for the room not being ready I told him it was ok, however I was completely relieved that the cleaning wasn’t suppose to be my job. With his broken English he managed to tell me that he had a lot of rooms to take care of and that the bathroom was in between repairs, which was why the bathroom smelled. He called the CELTA coordinator and we managed to sort out all the details over the phone.

My landlord is a sweet man and he even helped me get my phone card and found me a café to have lunch, however I am starting to feel homesick. I miss my own bed filled with pillows. I miss my dishes and my clothes. I miss my plants and my Romanian style food. I miss my cafes and friends. I miss the hot Bucharest weather. I think my brave mask is starting to fall…

For the CELTA, I doubt that I will be able to keep up with my journaling. I am trying to take a break from my pre-course writing assignment, (which seems to be endless), but I know this is a sign of struggle. I’m hoping that I will find other ways to stay grounded and comfortable. Many people in this area don’t speak English, like they do in Romania, so I am thrown off guard. There are no bohemian shops that I typically find in the city center so there is very little to give me pleasure. However, I must remind myself that I will be eating, sleeping, teaching, and studying non-stop – there is no room for exploration and entertainment. I will leave the exploration and entertainment for after the course… when I get to Germany.

I am really starting to miss my little chair.


Now I’ll eat a little food and then make my way to the supermarket. I hope their fruits and vegetables are fresh…

Into the proverbial Rabbit Hole…

I’ve been very delinquent on writing in this blog. But actually there is a GOOD reason why I haven’t written in a while: I didn’t want to tell the public the craziness I have been through with my student… and tutees. All of the work that I have done with my students is enough to write a book but that is all confidential.


Now I have news that I can actually share: I am going back to school! Well… I’m going to be taking a course in teaching English to adults. It’s called the CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults). It’s run by Cambridge University so it is based on a British system – and I think I am going to need to study a lot beforehand because I know NOTHING about the British terms for the English language. After talking with a friend of mine at the British Council I really think the British methods of learning English is a different language! (Yay. One more language that I have to learn… I’m learning Romanian, by the way, and it is not as easy as Spanish!!!)

The CELTA is typically a 4-week intensive program where they highly suggest that you put aside everything that could possibly disrupt your learning behavior. (So I will say good-bye to Facebook before I start. :-D) The course I plan on taking is in the summer and I haven’t decided on which school to go to, but it won’t be here in Romania. That means I get to travel [finally!], but because of the intensity of the work I doubt I’ll have any time to tour the host country. This summer will not be leisurely – it’s going to be all about the PROGRESS!

My friend from the British Council is taking the DELTA (the next level up from the CELTA and it is considered an equivalent to a Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language). She schooled me on what I really don’t know about teaching English and it was eye-opening! Let me be clear: I LOVE TEACHING, but I STRONGLY DISLIKE THE METHODOLOGY OF TEACHING. I probably am only saying that because I am just learning it right now, and I am suddenly transported back to my days of art class where I hated hearing my teacher that I didn’t use enough “value” in my final project. It’s one thing to do the work and it’s another thing to learn the reason for how you are doing the work. But this is why we tell the children in math class “Show your work!” It’s vital that we learn where we might have messed up on the application of our teaching habits.

So here we go… into the rabbit hole of teaching English…

A school application letter – My Low GPA

I am applying to schools this year. I either need to get my master’s in education or I need an international teaching certificate. I’m not sure what I should do first! But this is my goal this year: to take the next big step in my career.

I’m scared as hell.

So I need some help. Below is my application essay. I just wrote it in an hour and I don’t know if it is any good. But if anyone has any suggestions or tips or comments PLEASE LET ME KNOW. Thank you thank you!


You might see in my application that I didn’t reach a 3.0 GPA. I am not going to cover this up nor am I going to add bells and whistles to it. However, if you notice I ended up at 2.9, so there is indication that I tried. Looking back at my past, maybe I didn’t push myself hard enough, maybe there were distractions, or maybe I didn’t get the right kind of teacher attention. Whatever the reason for my low GPA, I can tell you that my goal was always to reach a 3.0 and I came very close to my goal.

In my two years of working with Special Educational Needs (SEN) students I realize that these students don’t reach the mark most of the time. Some of them will never reach the average grade because they do not have what society deems necessary to move to the next level. However, these students aren’t “retarded” – a word that is still used in many countries, like Romania where I had worked for those two years. These students have potential, but as teachers we need to help them “bridging the gap,” as my supervisor would say. The gap ranges from writing ability to social behaviors, from reading habits to sensatory sensitivity. I worked with many elements and it made me understand why a student struggles.

I hear of many stories where a teacher gets frustrated with a student who understands one thing and then the next moment they forget everything. Sometimes the student pushes back at the teacher and it leads to a bigger confrontation. Both scenarios are caused by a lack of information, either by the student not receiving the information or the teacher not being able to understand what the student is trying to communicate. Listening to these stories I know I want to be the communication facilitator because I don’t want these scenarios to be the basis of any SEN student’s life.

I myself was a SEN student. I know the frustration and the struggles – it’s what makes me be able to connect to the students. When students get upset at their writing assignment I take a moment and remember my frustration with writing. I was told that I am not a good “communicator,” but look at my writing now! There is hope. So I give the student a different way of looking at the assignment. Once I see that the student has become interested in the assignment I let them show me what they can do. I don’t want to hold their hand through every step because I believe that every person has their own way of thinking, but sometimes they need a facilitator.

With my low GPA I know that I will not be accepted to most programs. Most schools base the ability of a student on numbers, and not effort. Effort is not easily measured unless you are face to face with that person, seeing their struggles and watching them accomplish the small goals. You will not see my struggles or small accomplishments on this application, but I can communicate to you that I have the ability and the drive to get my Master’s in education. I’ve accomplished my small goal of writing this letter, now it’s your turn as a teacher. Do you want to see how far I can go?

The George Enescu Festival – An incredible experience

On Friday my friend, who’s a music teacher, invited me out to a concert at the George Enescu festival. The festival is dedicated to Romania’s most famous composer, George Enescu, and it brings orchestras, musicians, and artists from all over the world to Bucharest in one classical music festival. I know that classical music is not everyone’s preference but for me it’s like a direct link to my soul. Classical and folk music tends to resonate with me than any other musical genre so Friday’s concert was a real treat for me.

My friend and I saw the St. Petersburg philharmonic orchestra. Some of the pieces played were familiar and the solo violinist, a Ukrainian named Vailery Sokolov, was “jamming” it out like he was a rock star (he definitely looked like it to me). And then there was another piece that I could not keep my eyes open for [as in I was falling asleep], however, a famous Russian composer almost lost his life for it (cause the Soviets were very paranoid). I can’t tell you the names of the songs, but I can tell you life felt much better after that moment.

I know I am one of the few young people who actually care about the beauty, composition, and talent that goes into classical and folk music. Both genres are traditional [aka outdated] and good for the mind [aka boring], but I find a wonderful harmony when I listen to them. I’m not saying modern music (i.e. pop, hip-hop, R&B, indie) is bad, but maybe when you get to a certain point in your life you start to cherish the value of the sound in classical and/or folk music. Your heart vibrates pleasantly with the tune.

As I listened to the orchestra, my back was straight, my eyes were focused, and I could not help but think how wonderful this moment was. I was seated in a forest of intellectuals, witnessing a flock of talent, and breathing in time I will always cherish. A flash of thought crossed my mind as the second piece began to play and it almost made me cry. If I was somewhere else in the world, in Asia or back in America, I would have missed this event. Maybe I would have gone through life not knowing, and thus not caring for the missed opportunity, but it was a sad thought.

For the past year I have been incredibly thankful for the blessings the universe has brought me – it’s like a theme for this chapter in my life. So when I say that missing out on the George Enescu festival would be sad, I mean that… life really is too short to pass up on opportunity. It is the opportunity to be the best, have the greatest, and live without regret.

The one draw back to writing these words about my incredible experience at the George Enescu festival is that you, my amazing reader, will not experience the same feeling. I realize that I am unique to my experiences alone. You will not be able to replicate the same passion for a classical symphony as I do (vibrating heart strings and all), but will stress that you do not allow yourself to miss opportunity. You will never feel passion, love, or life if you just allow yourself the minimum, the easiest route, or the given.

George Enescu may not have been internationally known as Beethoven or Mozart or Tchaikovsky, but his legacy, in my books, will go down as the man who brought me to life’s sweet opportunities.

The Motivating Chill of Autumn – A new school year

The rain has finally stopped and now it is cold outside. It feels like the rain had washed away the summer and left us with the chill of autumn. The long break is finally over and it’s time to return to school.

This week I had been asked to watch a friend’s dogs. One is still a puppy with a lot of energy and the other is having breathing trouble so he needs to be fed medicine every day. I usually just take the puppy out for a walk in the afternoon, but since it was Saturday I had the whole day to relax. I ended up taking her out in the morning to stroll around the park. We are close to Cișmigiu Gardens, located in the heart of Bucharest, so that is the main part of the walk. People go to the gardens as often as they can. There are performances, concerts, festivals, play areas, and dog meet-ups all in this [comparatively] small park. It’s quite amazing. And on this Saturday, after the rain had stopped, Hazel (the dog) and I walked blissfully around the gardens. Few people were there and the air was still fresh and dewy from the rain. There was a chill in the air too, but that didn’t bother me. I realized during our hour-long walk that I like this weather a lot. The aftermath of a storm in the autumn season reminds me of so many motivating events in my life, and then I forget that I hate the cold.

As of Monday summer break will be officially over and I will start working with a new student in elementary school. I’m nervous and I can compare it to the feeling I had before I started my LIFT position back in January. At that time I didn’t know what a LIFT was or what my student would be like. I hadn’t been formally trained in special education and this would be the first time I had ever worked in a school. I didn’t even know how much support I would get, but I still took that step into the unknown. Why? I guess I was determined to make a difference.

I’ve been warned several times that this job isn’t easy (but what teaching job is ever easy???). Most of the LIFTs at the school aren’t trained in special education. We don’t know what is expected of the learning disabled child, academically and/or socially. In some cases the child’s learning disability could cause the child to freak out and create behavior disorders. We, as LIFTs, are expected to learn how to calm the child on the job and bring them back into the academic focus. But here is the funny thing about the situation: even if we are fed loads of information on the type of learning disability our student has, there is no way that we can be completely prepared for the challenges that will follow. As a learning institution, school is exciting and completely scary at the same time, so we are pushed to find our own motivating factor to stay in school. For some it might be social, financial, or moralistic. I already know my reason to return to school: to make a difference.

So on Monday, I’ll get to school early in the morning. The air will be chilly and the morning dew will be fresh. I’ll step into a new classroom that I barely know. I realize how much a challenge this year will be but, hopefully, I will make a difference in a child’s life.

Good luck with the new school year, everyone!