Sunday, January 30, 2011

The next move

Ok folks, here is an update, I know you have been dying to read one. Im not so sure how exciting this update is going to be, or how long, but here we go.

In the past few weeks I have been taking Spanish classes, teaching English at the hotel, and selling wine at Tobacos y Vinos. It hasn’t been a very lucrative time in my life, but I have vastly improved on my Spanish since I started taking lessons from a teacher I originally worked with at a Spanish school, and then hired him privately. Hiring him privately was great because I was able to make my own lesson hours, and he came to my house to tutor me. Literally, all I had to do was roll out of bed and go downstairs to the garden where I took my lessons in the early morning sun. Each day we tackled a different tense or set of grammatical rules, and then had an hour or so of conversation using it. Normally our conversations consisted of talking about Guatemala, my travels, cultural differences between the US and Central/Latin America, and of course the ever present ‘what did you do yesterday?’.

Working at the hotel was interesting—and I’d probably say it was exactly the same as it would have been to have been tutoring the service staff at any hotel in the states. That is, I was teaching a group of adults with little-to-no experience in English, and less in formal education. That being said, they were a nice group of people, ages ranging from 18 to the late 50s. Each day was essentially a matter of reviewing the material of the previous day and hopefully building on that to teach some new material. This proved to be a bit more of a challenge than expected because there was no accountability for my students. No grades or exams meant that nobody was checking on their progress. Any homework that I assigned was usually disregarded and forgotten about before the next class. As such, each day required a re-teaching of the last class. Had I more time or a plan to remain at that job in the long term, I would have written my own tests/quizzes and created a grading scheme of my own—if only to establish routine and build procedures for comparing the performance of the individual students over time. Alas, by the time I had acclimated to the class environment, I was already leaving. But more on that later…

My job at the wine shop has proven to be a rather disappointing investment (strictly monetarily speaking). After working here full-time for the past two weeks (and now that I am moving on) I have earned less than the equivalent of two hundred bucks. It’s good that I saved my earnings from working at the school last semester, that’s been enough to keep me afloat through my time in Antigua, and should easily get me through the next month or so I plan to be spending traveling. However, working here has been a positive experience—I learned a bit about cigars, even more about wine, and I now have a better understanding of the ins and outs of a business (well, a cash business). Tambien, working here was mad fun. Otherwise I would have just been sitting around at home all day with nothing to do. Unlike I had previously imagined, the shop is much busier here in the new location (that’s the reason I haven’t posted more—I anticipated more down time in the shop)—people stop in for single (or double, or triple) glasses of wine constantly, and when I’m not serving them I usually need to be washing the glasses, labeling bottles, reorganizing the shelves, taking inventory, counting cigars, or disposing of bottles—not to mention the occasional glass of wine I am forced to enjoy with a customer for far longer than I should. [the photo above is me in the entrance to the wine shop]

Anyway, all that is over now and I am on my way. A few days ago I quit my jobs, and informed my tutor and landlord that I would be leaving (good thing I only took a 2 week lease!). It’s a bit funny that I quit a job for the first time just three weeks ago, and now I have done it again, and again…I hope I’m not developing a taste for quitting! Toda via, everyone was fairly to extremely understanding, and I had no troubles squaring away my last hours and making my plans to move on.

So here’s the plan (or lack thereof): My friend who was my roommate here in Antigua last semester is flying down to Guate (today, actually) and joining me on one more epic adventure. We are not quite sure what the plan is. Originally, we were going to rent a car and drive it to Nicaragua through Salvador and back through Honduras, but upon further investigation, it seems as if I can only drive out of the country as far as one border away, and Nicaragua is one border too far. Furthermore, the rental prices are about the same as in the states, and that’s pretty high when paying in Quetzales. Regardless, we are going to sally onward, probably bussing or thumbing it down to Nica—I really want to see the volcanoes there which are said to be an entirely different breed of awesome than the ones we have here in Guate. I’m thinking that maybe we can rent a car in Honduras and drive only for the southern leg of our trip, that will cut down on rental and gas costs (esp. cause everything is a bit cheaper in Honduras) as well as ameliorate the one-border issue. It makes sense in my head.

This whole debacle should take no more than the next three and a half weeks—we need to be back in Guate by the 22nd for my friend to fly home to return to work. After that, I may fly home later that week, or stay until my planned fly-home-date in mid-March. If I stayed, those few extra weeks, it would give me the chance to go to Lake Atitlan and take more Spanish lessons in San Pedro—a town I have always wanted to plant myself for more than a few days—and consolidate what I have learned here since the beginning of January (or August, really). I haven’t decided this yet, and I have a feeling that it will be more of a last minute decision.

Anyway, once I get home in March (or whatever) I will hopefully be able to start teaching in the states (in NY, back in Rochacha). I heard that there may be an opening in the ESOL department in the Rochester City Schools and I have submitted my application to them. If I have any luck, I will be able to work the rest of the year in Rochester (spring up there is beautiful), and either continue working in NY or choose another international destination in which to teach for the following year. Everyone tells me that now is the time, and I couldn’t agree more—I just wish that deciding to keep traveling was more of an easy decision for me. Well, regardless of all that, I will probably be returning to Italy to teach around the boot for the summer again—that’s always a blast, and it’ll be good to have some Euros in my pocket again.

Well I think that about wraps it up for this post, keep reading and please comment!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

la luna

tonight, the moon is so bright that my fingernails are glowing bright white...

A New Year in Antigua

Ok folks-

So yes, this is the first blog post that I have written in FOREVER, I realize that. But you know me, super important, super busy, doing all the important and busy making awesome things that you wish you could be doing…that’s not to say that you aren’t awesome as well—if you weren’t awesome, you wouldn’t be reading such an awesome blog.

Anyway, to get to the point…I have returned to Antigua, Guatemala and will be staying here for at least a couple of weeks. The first thing I did when I got here was to quit my job at Colegio Boston. The atmosphere was crappy, the pay was insulting, and honestly I got little reward out of the day until I left. After only one day back at school, I decided that this most certainly was not the place for me. So on day two, I walked into the director’s office and told her so. I also told her that I was willing to give her two weeks’ notice so that she could find an adequate replacement and have me train him or her for the tumult they were about to endure…unfortunately, by the end of the day, they had found a replacement—no joke, the literally (not figuratively) hired the first guy to walk in off the street. He walked in off the street about two hours after I gave my notice. Because they are so unabashedly cheap in blatant disregard for the interests of their students and the parents who pay thousands of dollars (x8 in quetzales) to send their students to “the best bilingual school in Antigua” (read: “the most expensive and therefore most prestigious school with a front as a bilingual school in Antigua”), they decided that they didn’t want to pay me for those two weeks if they had another teacher in the classroom, green though he may be. Whatever, no big deal, I hated that place anyway, and two weeks less of that torture is no skin off my back.

Anyway, the quitting process itself was great. Seconds after I told the director that I was not going to be staying on for the year, the owner if the school walked in and began to commend me for my excellent teaching the previous year, cvelling about how pleased she was that I had returned, and about how she only expected the best from me and my students in the commencing year. The director tried to interrupt her several times, but the owner ignored her so that she could continue her rant. Finally, the director cut in (quite rudely, I might add, as I was enjoying the owner’s endless stream of complements) and informed the director that I intended on staying for only two more weeks. The director lost the ability to speak for just a moment, and then asked me if I was staying in Antigua. I told her that I had planned to and she immediately offered me a job as an English tutor for the staff at a hotel she had a share in…the swankiest and most expensive hotel in town. Of course I accepted, much to the chagrin of the director, who I am sure at this point would have been happy to feed me to the wolves. This new job pays per hour over four times what my job at the school paid.

Anyway, since then, I have been tutoring at the hotel, which has been a challenge, because the students are adults, and rather uneducated and lacking in a lot of the school culture I have come to take for granted in secondary school classrooms. Yesterday, I spent two hours teaching and re-teaching, “Hello, how are you? My name is…” It’s not the easiest group to teach, but that’s part of the challenge of being a teacher.

I have also picked up hours at the wine and cigar shop that I worked at in the fall. As I am writing this, I am on my first shift since returning and quite a few things have changed. Firstly, the entire operation has moved across the street into a different location. It is smaller, but it is now within the domain of a restaurant (I’m not really sure how the lease works) and they are able to sell wine by the glass, so now there are more people around, and it functions kind of like a wine bar…except there are no tips for the quality servers. Also, I make a fifth per hour what I make tutoring, so in the five hours that I will have worked by the end of the day today, I will have made half as much as I earned in the two hours I worked yesterday. C’est ca.

I have also been taking Spanish lessons with a private tutor for the past week and have really noticed a marked improvement in both my understanding, as well as my ability to speak with ease and accuracy. After just a few intensive lessons (they are one-on-one) I have learned and put to use quite a bit or grammar as well as vocabulary. I think most importantly, however, is the fact that these lessons force me to speak in Spanish for three straight hours every day which has made me much more comfortable with my ability. Also, I have really good teacher which is always important.

Ok, well I have two and a half more hours of wine to sell. Keep checking in on this blog, I should be writing plenty more as it’s a good way to use my time at the shop.