Travel!

Expatriating: Part 2

By Dave Fox
San Francisco 

 [Today’s bloggage is part two of yesterday’s post. You might want to read that before reading this or you will be very confused….]


Tuesday afternoon: Kattina has four back-to-back job interviews: Sri Lanka, mystery school, Singapore, and Colombia. Tomorrow, she has two more: China and Kuwait.

I hang out in the hotel room while she talks to school recruiters. I’ve been told I should be at the conference in case a school is interested in hiring her. They might want to check me out as well, to be sure I won’t freak out in a foreign land and demand we go home. So I sit in the room wearing far spiffier clothes than my usual scruffy freelance-wear. I have even managed to origami myself into a tie, which has taken approximately 327 attempts. I don’t wear ties much. Putting them on is not my forté.

I sit in the room and write. I sketch out lessons for some online writing classes I’m teaching. And I prowl the web for the latest gossip on Medellin’s drug violence and Sri Lanka’s recently-ended Civil War.

For two and a half hours, Kattina is gone. The phone never rings asking me to join her. My tie is beginning to itch.

Kattina’s in a good mood when she returns. She’s just finished three of the afternoon’s four interviews. She thinks Sri Lanka’s going to offer her a job.

Interviews with the schools in Singapore and the other country that shall remain nameless have gone okay, but there are problems with both. Singapore’s recruiters were great, Kattina says. But they’ve reiterated, they really need more male teachers. As a female teacher with a non-teaching partner, she’s at the bottom of their pecking order.

At the other school, in the nameless country, the woman who hates me has struck Kattina as condescending. She reminds Kattina of a former boss who was difficult to work with. I’m bummed about this for self-absorbed reasons. The school is in a place that sounds really cool. It’s a place I’d love to live. But I wouldn’t want to work with this lady. Kattina’s not sure she can either.

Beyond that, there’s no time to talk. Colombia is waiting.

Kattina returns from that interview an hour later. They’ve just offered her a job.

In 12 hours, life has changed radically – from a blank slate on a big planet to a probable choice between Colombia and Sri Lanka. Of tomorrow’s interviews – China and Kuwait – China’s not very interested in Kattina, and we’re not very interested in Kuwait. Paris has not gotten back to Kattina. We’ve given up on them.

*     *     *

I don’t sleep well that night. My mind ping-pongs between our likely choices. Colombia? Sri Lanka? Colombia? Sri Lanka? The next morning, we discuss our options.

After two years in Colombia, we’ll be speaking fluent Spanish. And according to that ultra-reliable source, Wikipedia, Medellin is much safer today than it used to be. The position’s a great fit for Kattina. She likes the guys from the school. And she likes its location – high in the mountains, outside the city.

Sri Lanka sounds fascinating and delightful, albeit about as long a flight from Seattle as anywhere in the world. Checking in with home will not be easy. Colombo, the capital, is peaceful now, according to the same aforementioned Internet source. A low cost of living, curry-soaked cuisine, and tropical beaches don’t hurt either. What Wikipedia does not say much about is the alleged ethnic cleansing that’s taken place within the last couple of years.

Colombia? Sri Lanka? Colombia? Sri Lanka?

We hear a buzzing in our room. Kattina’s cell phone is vibrating. But where’s the phone? Kattina rifles through her pockets. By the time she finds her phone, the buzzing has stopped. A voicemail arrives a minute later from the recruiter who does not like me. It’s urgent, she says, that Kattina contact her before 11.

Kattina calls back right away. She gets the recruiter’ s voicemail. She leaves a message, says she has a meeting at 10, but otherwise she’s around.

A few minutes later, her phone rings again. I can only hear one side of the conversation. She’s setting up a second interview – I assume with the woman who’s just called.

“She wants to talk to you again?” I ask after Kattina hangs up.

“That wasn’t her,” she says. “It was one of the guys from Singapore.”

At 10 a.m., we meet with the Colombia recruiters. The school is up at 7,000 feet above sea level, away from the city. Most of the teachers live in Medellin and commute upward each day. It sounds beautiful. We like the guys from the school. Pay is low though, with no benefits or transportation for non-teaching spouses. I’ll have to pay my own way there, and I won’t have many local work opportunities. Can we make that work? We’re not sure.

At 11:30, Kattina has not heard back from the lady who said it’s urgent they talk before 11. But we know where to find her. She’s about to give a presentation for school.

I get excited as we watch her slideshow. It’s a place I’d love to live. Kattina still seems open to the possibility. After the presentation, Kattina checks in with the woman outside the auditorium.

The woman is evasive. Yes, she did say she wanted to meet Kattina again. But she can’t schedule anything now because, ummm, she forgot her calendar in the auditorium. She can’t disturb the new presenter.

Kattina hangs around while the woman talks with other teachers. After 20 minutes, Kattina figures out what’s really going on. The woman has hired somebody else and she won’t just come out and say that. It’s less awkward for her to leave people dangling. In a way, Kattina’s relieved, and so am I. A great job offer, but with a boss who lacks basic communication skills, would be a tricky dilemma.

We head back to our room. Over the last 36 hours, the mood in the hotel elevator has changed. At the start of the conference, everyone was friendly and relaxed. Now, their body language is tense. People are  wringing their hands, forcing insecure smiles, clutching resumes the way frightened children wrap their arms around teddy bears. I do the math: Around 2,000 job-seekers, 60 or 70 schools with a handful of jobs each. A lot of people will go home disappointed. With one, probably two job offers, and a couple of other long shots still out there, Kattina’s not doing so bad.

Up next: China, followed by Kuwait, then interview number two with Singapore.

Kattina decides to cancel the Kuwait meeting.

She goes to her interview with the school in China. They’ve found someone with more recent elementary teaching experience. Scratch China off the list.

On the way back from that interview, Kattina gets a formal offer from the school in Sri Lanka.

Now that there are two official options, we weigh the possibilities. Both schools have their merits. Sri Lanka seems a better choice financially, but we’re still undecided. We agree we shouldn’t make up our minds until we’re 100 percent sure of all options. Maybe Kattina can somehow convince Singapore she’s a man.

As she leaves for her final interview, I hang out in the room again, all dressed up and no place to go. My tie feels like a noose. I’m dying to ditch it, but I’m afraid if I take it off and I’m wanted on short notice, I’ll be too flustered to get it back on.

I try to write but I’m too distracted. I read more about Sri Lanka and Colombia online. I read about Singapore too. It starts to sink in that for my own career, Singapore is by far the best option. English is the main language of business and education. There’s a local market for English-language freelancing – and probably teaching and public speaking too. I even know editors there.

I need to reel in my hopes. Some things you can fake in a job interview, but these guys are on to the fact that Kattina is female.

I lay down and close my eyes. “In a few hours, this will all be over,” I tell myself. I try to rest. I can’t rest.

Thirty minutes pass. Forty minutes. An hour and 20 minutes. Where the hell is Kattina? If she’s taking this long, either her interview is going well, or she’s gone someplace to ponder the Colombia – Sri Lanka question, someplace where I won’t bug her with my neurotic rambling.

Can I please at least take off this damn tie? It’s purple and all, but still….

After an hour and a half, Kattina finally returns.

The other two times she’s walked through the door with new job offers, I’ve seen it in her face immediately. She’s had a big smile. This time, she’s not smiling.

“How’d it go?” I ask.

“They say I’m one of their top choices now, but they’re doing second interviews with a bunch of people. Apparently, none of the men they talked to were going to work. They’ve got one last interview this evening with another woman.”

At this moment, my biggest dream in life shifts. At this moment, my biggest dream in life is to begin drinking heavily. I can’t take this stress anymore. However, heavy alcohol consumption is not recommended when you may have important meetings occurring on a moment’ s notice.

Still, I’m starting to lose it. If this goes on much longer, I’m going to hyperventilate.

I take off my tie.

And my freshly polished shoes.

And my pants.

Boxer shorts. All job interviews should happen in boxer shorts and nothing more.

We wait 45 minutes. The phone rings. Again, I hear only one side of the conversation. I’m trying to read Kattina’s face, her tone of voice.

“Okay,” she says. “Yes. I understand.”

She’s not smiling.

“Sure,” she says. “That’s fine. It’s just that I have two other job offers and I promised to let them know tonight.”

[Pause.]

“Well, I really feel like I need to keep the commitment I made to them.”

[Pause.]

“Okay. That would be fine.”

She hangs up.

They’re down to two candidates. She’s one of them. They want to let us know in the morning. But Kattina tells them she’s promised the other schools an answer tonight and she doesn’t want to go back on her commitment.

Five minutes later, the phone rings again.

She smiles. She gives me a thumbs up.

Colombia? Sri Lanka? Singapore?

It’s still undecided.

I do my best to subdue my excitement. Kattina’s the one getting the job. In the end, if we disagree, it’s only fair to go with her choice.

I have to put my pants back on. And my shoes. There’s no time to worry about my tie. We have to go to a meeting right away.

Two floors up, in the principal’s hotel room, we meet with the principal and the school director. They’re careful not to be presumptuous. They know Kattina has two other offers and she’s interested in both.

“We know you’ll need to talk about this,” the school director says. “But if you could let us know tonight, we’d appreciate it. There’s someone else we want to hire if you don’t take the job.”

We tell the recruiters we can let them know in an hour.

One hour. This will all be over in an hour.

We go out into the hallway.

“Do we even need to discuss this?” Kattina says.

“You want to go with Singapore?”

“Let’s do it.”

Our hour to decide takes just 20 seconds.

It’s a tougher decision that it sounds like. Singapore, for a variety of reasons, is the right place for both of us. But we’ve spent the last 24 hours pondering life in two other potentially fascinating places. Kattina’s bonded with the recruiters from those schools as well. In making Singapore a reality, we both feel pangs of sadness as she turns down the other two jobs. We have to let go of both of those fantasies.

But hey, we’re moving to Singapore! There’s just one catch. The school needs us to leave Seattle 36 hours after our wedding.

That’s okay though. As you can see, when it comes to extreme stress, I am an unflinching pillar of emotional stability.

Several months ago, we scheduled our wedding for July 16, assuming we’d need to leave for whatever job came along in early to mid-August. But the Singapore school wants new teachers there early. They need us to leave Seattle on July 18 in order to begin their new-teacher orientation the morning of July 20.

So we’re rolling with things. We’ve planned a romantic honeymoon for July 19: a two-hour layover in Tokyo at the Narita Airport sake bar.

Kattina has told me not to worry. It’s okay if I don’t wear a tie.

Part 3: So Now What?

Published on Friday, February 25, 2011

3 Responses to “Expatriating: Part 2”

  1. Lisa
    February 26, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    Thank you so much for sharing the long form version of your story. I’m excited for you and Kattina’s adventures in marriage and expat living!

  2. Nancy
    February 26, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    That is wonderful and exciting!! What an incredible adventure it will be for the both of you!

  3. Rena Georger
    February 26, 2011 at 6:01 PM

    The job fair thing is so crazy. You described it to a tee. Gary felt the same way as you while he was waiting in the hotel room while I was on interviews.

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