Well, I decided to end my stay in Burkina Faso at the end of this school year. I could have blogged throughout the entire process, and I suppose for many there would have been value in that, but the process of changing schools has just become so gut-wrenching and vulnerable and insecure that I don’t think it would have made for light reading. And probably a little more self-disclosive than I wanted to be while immersed in the process.
But the process is over, I’ve signed a contract at a new school, and so now I can talk about it. And there is still plenty of soul-searching and adjusting to go through, which is very much a real part of this lifestyle. So stay tuned.
Deciding to leave Burkina was not an easy choice. In many ways this is exactly the kind of place where I should feel right at home…and at this point in my career, I’m looking for a home and a school to stay at for a while. Not too developed, not at all materialistic, affordable, the people are the absolutely the most friendly and gentle people in the world, an interesting culture, and my skills can make a real contribution here. However, the big drawback for me is the heat and dust, and how that makes me feel isolated and withdrawn.
It’s hard to express just how hot and dusty it gets, and the funny part is that the job hunting process takes place during the most cool, hospitable time of year. But it doesn’t last; starting about a month ago and continuing on through the end of October, it just gets HOT. Days get up above 110F (43C) and until the rainy season comes in late May, the ground gets drier and drier. Everything get covered with a deep orange dusty layer….enough that just overnight you cannot see out your car windshield, and when the wind blows or there is an inversion layer, you cannot even see the sun…just a hazy yellow spot overhead. For this guy who loves water, rivers, camping, fishing and greenery….it’s brutal.
During the hot, dry season I just hide in my air-conditioned office until 7 or 8 pm, then go home to my air-conditioned living room. It’s too uncomfortable to go out, and everything out there just looks the same to me anyway…dusty, barren and dilapidated. So I often spend the entire weekend in my oasis, not talking to another human, no visitors and not visiting anyone. Just hours on Facebook, laying on the couch. It’s pathetic, I’ll admit it, and other people have learned to develop survival skills, but my own coping strategies (boating, fishing, walks in the woods) are not available here. And one of my weaknesses is that I get withdrawn and lost in my shell when I just lay low….and doing that for half the year has become unbearable.
Then there is the coup and terror attack. I didn’t mind them, and I never feared for my safety, but if there are more, the protocol is for expats to stay in their homes. I was newly arrived last time so staying at home was a bit of an adventure, but now that I’m used to the novelty, I can think of nothing more torturous than having to stay locked up in my home for a week or ten days if something ever happened here again.
So I need to go to a place where the weather does not make me feel so isolated. It’s a personal thing.
Of course, this also touches on one of the biggest shortcomings of my career; International Teachers don’t really need to have resilience. I know people back in the US who have difficulty with some aspect of their job….they hate their new boss, their funding has been cut and they can’t make ends meet, the business moved and now they have a long commute…but they learn to accommodate these things and soldier on, as their lives and pensions are invested in learning to overcome these difficulties. I think that’s an important survival skill and makes them a better person, more able to find inner strength and able to cope with challenges. But in my profession, I am required only to fulfill my two-year contract, and I can always wash my hands of whatever is making me uncomfortable and no one, not one person, will think anything of it at all. It’s the nature of the business. In fact, I get a relocation allowance, airfare, a great recommendation and a lot of support to move on any time I decide to do so.
But of course, you can lose a lot of years pursuing the greener grass. An entire lifetime, if you’re not careful…ask me how I know. So it’s a double-edged sword, and a trap.
In any case, I made my decision back in October, reactivated my resume and references on Search Associates (one of several organizations that help international teachers connect with schools), and started sending out queries.
I have several qualifications, and am not committed to staying as a Tech Director, so my strategy was to spend November-January looking at TD jobs, then in Feb I’d open it up to include Tech Coach positions. And if that didn’t pan out, in March I’d open it up to include HS Math. There are ALWAYS math jobs.
By the end of January, it was getting clear that Tech Director jobs were not going to come my way. I have a certain niche…there is a lot I am still learning about managing systems, so I’m really not ready for the big Tier One schools (Taipei American, Shanghai International, even Cairo American and the International School of Tanzania…all of whom were hiring), and even though I did get offered a very lucrative contract for an emergent school of 750 in Taiwan, there were too many issues that would have pushed my skills too far too fast, so I turned it down. Sort of horrifying, as I then went through a long dry spell with no callbacks or leads.
In Feb, as planned, I expanded my search to include Tech Coach jobs. Got some leads, not many, and had some close calls with Zurich and Kazakstan. But then I got contacted by the Carol Morgan School in the Dominican Republic. My first thought was to pass it by, as I had once heard some things about it being a bit of a troublesome place to work, but after some research I saw that things had changed there and it looked pretty good. They were very interested in developing their tech program and had made some wise decisions about staffing, etc. So I interviewed and there was a very intense mutual attraction right off the bat: I expressed interest to the HS Principal Friday morning, had my first Skype interview Friday night (with the Principal and Tech Director), had my second interview with the Head of School on Saturday morning, had my third interview with the head of HR on Saturday afternoon, and had a contract in hand by Saturday night. I guess they were as desperate as I was.
So anyway, next year I’ll be a HS Tech teacher and coach in the DR. The weather and climate tick my required boxes…not too hot (all year, the temps range between low 70s and high 80s), not dry at all (rainforest, with the occasional hurricane), and interesting things to do (beaches, drives in the hills). Its also close enough to the US that I can hope for some visitors, and close enough to Central and South America that I can do some exploring. I hope this turns out to be a great place, as I am still ready to stay somewhere for a half dozen years or more, until I can retire.
I’ll reflect more on this process later, but I just wanted to catch my millions of followers up on developments.