Little by Little

I’m almost two months away from a flight to Shanghai!

While I will be in Arizona for the majority of my remaining time in the States, working at a summer camp, it seems like I’m mentally halfway into China because of all the preparations I need to make for the move. They say it’s the little things in life that matter – well, that’s definitely true in moving. Every time I cross something off my to-do list, I have about three or four more tasks that pop up. I guess I’ll never feel fully prepared. How can you feel thoroughly prepared to move alone to a different country?

I’m currently trying to prepare for an inspection of my Jeep, which I leased two years ago and will need to return to a dealership within the next three weeks. This is the last big task I need to knock off my list, and one of the big moments that reminds me what I’m doing. The work visa, the flight ticket, the returned Jeep – three giant leaps on the path to leaving Arizona.

Time feels both oddly compressed and simultaneously stretched out. Now that I’m not really teaching at the moment, I have the time and energy to see friends, go to events, read all the books I want – time stretches out, and summer feels like it will never end. But the constant focus on China (and more frequent “oh, shit, what am I doing” moments) compresses my time, making me feel like I’m leaving tomorrow completely underprepared. I think there is no escaping that feeling, and maybe I don’t want to escape it; I have time to enjoy with people I care about, and I have enough to do that I’m not just dwelling in anxiety for two months.

Little by little, I’m making moves. By the time I’m on the plane, I’m sure it will feel as though it all happened in a second. I’m just trying to focus on the little steps for now – the big step will come soon enough.

Enchanted: Las Cruces, New Mexico

I’m sitting on my couch, writing this post as I watch another nature documentary (when not outdoors, watch the outdoors, am I right?). I’ve just come back from Las Cruces, New Mexico. I took the trip in order to run a half marathon with a friend and, luckily, we had time to explore. What a wonderful final break before the final stretch of the school year. Although I did not have much time in this city, I loved what I saw: blue skies, friendly people, beautiful architecture and color, local art, good food.

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Because we were very, very hungry after our run, my friend and I found ourselves at Cafe de Mesilla due entirely to Internet searches involving what was closest to us. (Delicious. I recommend the omelettes.) We spoke for a bit with the owner, who pointed us in the direction of Old Mesilla Village. If you visit Las Cruces, definitely make a stop to Old Mesilla Village. It is a small plaza, easily walkable, and filled with shops of local art and other unique products. It was a beautiful, breezy day, and we explored almost every store while we were there.

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The architecture is clearly quite old, and likely restored with original materials embedded in certain areas of the buildings. When in Old Mesilla Village, it is easy to picture the days of horse buggies and no air conditioning. Of course, I’m not wishing for those days – I love my Jeep too much – but it is always fun to be able to feel the history in an area, like in Las Cruces.

848f5641-7d53-4943-9340-b42eba124fd4Something I loved the most about Las Cruces was how brightly colored the city is. Although I live in Southern Arizona, with similar traditional architecture, Tucson is too large to have such consistencies in the look of buildings and decoration. I saw these bright blue doors everywhere in Las Cruces, often surrounded by some pastel color or blinding white, like the one in this photo. It’s worth it to walk around just to see such colors, and I cannot understand why every city in the U.S. doesn’t look like this.

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I did not spend enough time in Las Cruces to really give recommendations of what to explore, eat, or do while there. I can only recommend that you go. I will certainly be going back if I have the opportunity. New Mexico, I think, was aptly named: the land of enchantment.

An Easier Way: Work Visa

I did not go to Los Angeles over spring break for my visa. I found an easier way, one which I hope every expat teacher learns about far sooner than I did: an agency that is located in Los Angeles, taking my papers to the Consulate for me.

Although I am still waiting for my documents to be mailed back to me, there is already a palpable sense of relief. This has been a series of fiery hoops to jump through, and I’ve yet to feel as if I’m doing it quite right: such tiny things, like handwriting an application rather than typing and printing it out, can get you turned away from the Consulate to try again.

The company I hired to help me is China Visa Service Center. They have locations in cities other than LA, but because I am currently a resident in Arizona, the LA Chinese Consulate is the location I need to send my documents for authentication. With all costs for individual documents, what the Consulate will charge, and shipping fees to get my documents back home, it is less than half the price of a hotel in LA; that’s not including the money I’d have to pay for driving out to California, food and putzing around in the city for a week to wait for my documents to be authenticated.

I’d say that’s pretty good.

After I get these documents authenticated (for me, a teacher, I need a criminal background check and my teaching Master’s degree – both notarized and certified by the state of Arizona), I need to scan and send them back to my school in China. They will then fill out an application for me that will be sent back to me, and I will have to take that application back to the Chinese Consulate a second time to apply officially for my work visa. I am hoping that, if this agency is as effective as I want them to be, then I will be able to hire them a second time for my work visa.

China Update: The Visa Process

Next week is spring break for the school I currently teach at. I will be driving to Los Angeles, which is the closest Chinese Consulate to me, so I can hopefully begin the process of getting a work visa in China.

It is a complex, specific process, and I am very focused on not getting it wrong. The first time I drove to L.A., it came with a two-day break and I planned poorly enough that I couldn’t submit my documents because I didn’t have enough time to stay in L.A. and wait for the documents to be processed.

Basically, the work visa process for teachers is a two-step process: you need to first get documents authenticated by the Chinese Consulate, before completing the application and taking said application back to apply for the official visa. If I can authenticate my documents (first step) I will hopefully be able to get the official visa (second step) soon after my school year ends, so that I can have it ready to go far before I fly out to Shanghai.

While I’m in Los Angeles and waiting for the documents, I’m going to be as much of a tourist as possible. If you have any ideas about what I absolutely need to check out in L.A., definitely let me know!

My Next Adventure

I’m moving to Shanghai, China!

This upcoming fall, I will be leaving the States to teach at a middle school in Shanghai. For the first semester of this school year, I have been applying to various international schools and interviewing via Skype at odd hours. It’s been an interesting process, to say the least, but I’m glad that I’ve chosen this path.

This is something I have planned to do long before I’d even decided to be a teacher. My family and I moved around quite a bit, and I lived internationally as a kid; in a way, this feels like the natural next step forward for me.

Even though this is something that I’d wanted to do for so long, it was a surprisingly difficult decision for me at the start of the school year. I’ll miss the school I’m at now. I’ll miss my English team, all of the teachers, and my admin. Of course I’ll miss the kids. I’m in a good place now, and that’s difficult to give up. But this move is definitely right for me, and it comes at the right time in my life.

I’m incredibly excited about this next adventure, and I will be sharing different parts of the process for teachers who may want to consider a similar path. There is, I am sure, a long list of adventures and challenges ahead, and I’m looking forward to them all.

The Good Thing: Sweetwater Trails

Today was an awful day. Like, a really bad, no good, awful day. There was far too much discipline involved, because far too much discipline was needed, and so much of that discipline felt ineffective. Students were snarky and mean and totally apathetic. By the end of the day, holding in my frustration at defiant and disrespectful students (who were being that way while my principal observed me), I was shaking when the bell rang for dismissal.

I’d planned to go on a run after school, and all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and not move. My friend, another teacher at the school, came by my classroom after school ended. We’d planned to run together, and after slightly exploding with frustration during our conversation, I grumbled that maybe I shouldn’t go on a run.

“Yeah, you should,” he said. “I had a crappy day too. We’ll feel better after the run.”

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He was right. We went to Sweetwater Preserve, which is on the backside of Saguaro National Park, for a short run. It wasn’t my best run, and it wasn’t my longest, but I felt like something had washed clean from my mind when I finished.

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Sweetwater Preserve contains a winding, continuously mixing series of trails and loops, and we took several of them to add up the distance. It was right on the brink of raining the entire run (which, in my opinion, makes the desert look just right).

Most of my day was frustrating and filled with pent-up tension. Less than an hour changed that. Note to self: Do the good thing. Whatever that good thing is for yourself, do that. Do the healthy thing for yourself. Especially when you’re mad, and always when you don’t feel like it.

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