Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ten Minutes

I'm at dinner the other night with my friends Justin and Karianne. They're a teaching couple here at NIS, and came in with me in the same crew three years ago. We'd just sat down to a fine Indian dinner (ala our favorite local haunt, Fulbari) and were chatting about a recent interview they had with the headmaster of The International School of Manilla back in October. I was incredibly interested to find out that the principal who interviewed them only had one interview question:

'Tell me about yourself.'

He doesn't ask questions such as,
'Tell me about your teaching career.'
'What defines you as a teacher?'
or the ever-dreaded,
'Tell me about a time where you overcome difficulties in the classroom.'

Instead, he simply says, 'Tell me about yourself,' and rumor also has it that if you finish before you've talked for 10 minutes, he'll say, 'Tell me more...'.

This got me thinking, if I had to respond to this question in an interview, what might I say? I guess I think most people would probably start at the beginning, and tell all of the expected parts, such as where they grew up, where they went to school, and about their teaching experiences thus far. But my thinking is that this stuff is pretty much on your resume, and probably a bit obvious. So, I thought to myself, why not shake it up? What if, when asked such a question, you just replied with brutal and random honesty. I mean, if he wanted to know about your teaching experience, he'd ask, right? If he wanted to know how you've dealt with challenging administrators, he'd ask, right? But to unexpectedly get to know about you, really-and-truly you, for ten whole minutes of honest revelation - wouldn't that be great?

As I bathed, I thought about this more, and immediately recognized that the first things I would say would indeed be the random (and sometimes mundane) things that define me as a person. To me, it's the perfect kind of answer, and the kind of unique response I hope would make me a memorable candidate. So I went ahead and jotted down the first things that came to my mind (or as Ricco would say, 'first thought best thought'), and the following is what I came up with. If you care to visualize, I imagine that between each separate thought would be a big, dramatic, thought-provoking-looking pause, which would serve as the transition between all of the things you might hear if you sat down with me in an interview with me and said, 'tell me about yourself...':


'Well, first of all, thank you so much for the chance to really and truly tell you about me. I intend to be nothing but honest as I acquaint you with the everyday person that is Wendy.

I have come to love the Japanese onsen experience. There is something so freeing about stepping into a public bath with perfect strangers and being comfortable about it. It's the perfect relaxer for muscles after a long day of skiing, and it's a casually intimate thing between friends. Aside from being one of my favorite thing to do, it's one of those things, like many, that one becomes accustomed to when living in foreign lands, and the kinds of cultures and customs that, although initially scoffed at, become increasingly acceptable. I guess my thinking is that this kind of small experience can be one that can not only become one that you enjoy, but one which eventually opens the door for further experiences outside of your own comfort zone.

(dramatic breath-pause, repeat between each paragraph/thought)

I have these smile lines on each side of my mouth. One is more prominent than the other because of a slight imperfection of my facial make-up. Up until a few months ago, I used to slather on cream to try to diminish the wrinkles, but have lately come to accept them as proof that I live a happy (and often funny) life.

Recently, I have begun to read, and completely enjoy the work of author Jhumpa Lahiri. I used be wearied by intercontinental travel, dreading 13 long and often sleepless hours on a plane, until I started treating myself to a new book before each flight. The third of Ms. Lahidri's books was one of my most recent choices before embarking on an aforementioned flight, and was a book that I finished within the many hours between take-off and landing. Upon my arrival in Japan, I immediately checked out and dove into her other two works, enjoying each one just as much. There is something so remarkable to me about any author who writes well enough to inspires me to be a voracious reader, which is the kind of reader that I love to inspire my students to be. Plus, for me, there's nothing better than falling in love with a good story, and not wanting to put it down. In my mind, that's the trade of a brilliant author.

I have one of the most enormous closets of clothes you've ever seen. It's like my clothes are procreating in my closet. And yet, each day, I can't find anything to wear. Do you ever feel like that?

I live most days in one of two ways: inexcusably lazy, or over-productively active. The best part is that both feel incredibly good.

One thing I am not is smart. I am not terribly bright about economics or politics, or even what is going on in the world each day. I watch the news every morning, but have a bad habit of not attaching anything to my schema. My world geography is abysmal, and once I've traveled somewhere, I rarely can recall the individual places I've visited there. I am, though, a willing researcher, and constantly use online and material resources to find out what it is that I am curious to know at that moment.

Along that line, I only have one regret from my time as a classroom teacher, and that is my vocabulary. I feel that 6 hours a day of conversing with 7 years old has really taken a toll on the amount of verbal words I can use. Consequently, I feel much more comfortable doing most things in writing, as in this venue, I have time to think about and perfect the words I can use. It is also within this venue that I share my world, as I am a blogger. Started as a journal of my first life overseas, it has now turned into a random free-for-all about my life. I have a loyal following of about 8 people whom I feel are truly happy reading what I write. And I very much enjoy sharing my everyday with them.

One of my new loves is cooking. I absolutely adore spending a Sunday trying new recipes and making things out of things I never knew I could make things out of. My winter obsession is soups and muffins. I love to be resourceful in the kitchen as well. At the end of one day, for example, after making muffins out of the fresh and fibrous pulp from my morning carrot/pineapple/orange juice, I was regretting the choice I had earlier made to buy a load of turnips. Within an hour, though, I had looked up and made a delicious and completely healthy mashed turnip dish with just a few basic ingredients. I also adore feeding my friends, none of whom can cook worth a lick (in their defense, cooking for one, especially in Japan, is a bit of a mission - and an expensive one to boot), and I feel that enjoying a freshly-made meal in the company of friends and laughter (and some red wine), is one of the best ways to spend time.

Nothing moves me more than great music. My first and true musical love was (and still is) the Beatles. And I love to sing. But only in the car, or the shower. The best purchase I ever made was a portable Bose sound-dock, which I carry with me all over the house and everywhere I go. Music is the background for my ever moving (although sometimes lazy) life.

(big dramatic, long-lasting, suspense-filled pause)

Lastly, at this moment, and every moment I have lived before this one, I am exceptionally happy. I am in complete awe of my amazing friends and family, and when I look back to my personal experiences, there has rarely been a decision or situation that did not somehow work in my favor. I have the world and all of it's wonder to be thankful for, and each day I truly and completely, without reserve, am so.

So, in the end, thank you, again, for the opportunity to speak with you today. I appreciate the chance to tell you a bit about myself. Of course, I also look forward to the idea of being a working and valuable member of your learning community..."


Now, an afternote. Justin and Karianne (Cook), fortunately, were prepared for this interview question by an insider, a friend who encouraged them to reply. The Cooks are fantastic, fantastic teachers, and answered readily and honestly. They were offered positions there, and sadly will be leaving us at the end of this year.

But I wonder, having read my response to the same interview question, would you have hired me??

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The promise of a new year

As I flew into Nagoya this evening, it was a bit of a surprise to feel so nostalgic. But, as I do each time I return, it feels like I'm back to an old familiar again. As Nags is a fairly lackluster town, and from the air (and especially at night), there is nothing to distinguish this city from any other. There are no immediately recognizable landmarks, just featureless streets, resembling so many in other places, only with tiny little lanes and tiny little cars. Regardless, flying into a city any time, and just knowing it is yours, knowing that you are home (and about ready to unload 140 pounds of new stuff!) feels good.

During this flight, my plane chased the sun. Each time this happens, I am always hopeful that well catch it, but am secretly glad that we don't, as falling behind the sun means dark skies and good sleeping. I sat next to two very nice English speaking Filipinos who crossed themselves at every opportunity: take-off, landing, before each meal, and during turbulence. I recognized this immediately as a sign of their devout Catholicism, per my connection with Mike, who is also Filipino and devoutly Catholic. Either way, this time I especially knew our plane was going to be all right (whether we caught the sun or not!), as they said enough Hail Marys for all of us.

I have decided that each flight home deserves the gift of a new book, as reading more books than last year serves as one of my new year's resolutions. On my way to America, I polished of two quick books before even setting foot in Des Moines. On the way back, I picked up and finished another, enjoying it immensely. Although the first two don't count, I did finish two other books I was half-way through, after the new year, bringing my total already by this day to 3.

During the initial descent over Japan, when I first recognized the northern peaks of Sendai and Aomori-ken, I struck me how amazing it is that once or twice a year I can hop on an industrial metal machine and fly (literally) halfway across the world to see family and friends. From door to door, it's 24 hours of travel time, with luggage stress and weight paining each leg of the journey. This time, the stress was in bringing back things for others. During my flight I had silently remarked to myself how any gifts I brought back, for teaching friends, Japanese teachers, baby presents, and a full workout kit for Ricco. A box of cereal, requested by my friend Karianne was the only one my suitcase could afford, ironic that in all the room I made for others, nary was a box of cereal for myself.

I anticipate 2010 to be a good year. Two years ago, December and January found me learning how to live and travel on my own. Last year at this time, I was nursing a failing relationship. This year, I intend on moving forward with what I have learned from those years past. I understand that old adages are true for a reason, and that time heals all wounds. What doesn't kill us does indeed make us stronger, wiser, and better prepared for the newer circumstances. And often, good things fall apart so that better things fall together. May it be a year of continued growth for me, and for all whose lives I am directly connected to. As I do for myself, I wish you the best as well.

Finally, in closing, I offer one of the more profound moments of my return: As I disembarked the plane, a well-dressed Japanese ariport employee headed down towards the aircraft. Ready to speak my (mother) tongue again, I politely offered 'Konbanwa' (good evening). He ignored me completely.

That's how I knew I was home.