Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Letter to My Brother

Dear Bro,

Can you believe we are adults? I can't. And can you believe we're teachers? I can't. It seems like only yesterday that we were sitting in sharks and riding dinosaurs... 

I also can't believe you are moving to Taiwan! I am so excited for you. It is going to be an amazing year.

You'll meet new people, see new places, try new food, and learn so much about yourself.

I've been thinking about you a lot since you've decided to go, and since I've been in the same boat and I'm your big sister, I feel entitled to share some advice. Of course you can decide to take it or leave it. It's up to you.

Before you go, hit up Dollarama. Canadian stickers, pencils, small treats or prizes, and a deck of cards will come in handy. Also some dice. You can use them to bribe reward and motivate your students, and it's always nice to have small Canadian gifts to give to colleagues and new friends (check to see if Town Hall still gives out pins).

Go to the doctor. Get a checkup, and pack yourself a first aid kit that includes anything you like when you feel ill. You never know what foreign cough drops will taste like. No one wants to be sucking on a crab-flavoured lozenge. Shampoo is shampoo, but pack face cream you're used to.

Make a photo album with pictures of you with family and friends, and also pictures of typical sites. You can pop in a few of you playing different sports, out at a restaurant, our house (here in Spain, people are very interested to know I "own a lot of grass" in Canada. They're also interested in the "movie wedding" pictures, which I give you permission to share), seasonal pictures, the beach where we go in the summer... you get the picture. This serves two purposes - you can flip through when you feel homesick (you will, and that's just fine), and you can show it to your students.

Read up on the city, and read literature by native authors or others that have set the story in Taiwan. Check out movies. Read blogs. Introduce yourself to the culture ahead of time, but don't stop once you get there.
we're too cool for skiing in the mall. not!
Pack conservatively. The school likely has a dress code, but if it doesn't, make one for yourself. Everyone in your neighbourhood will be watching you, so flip flops may not be the best idea. My commute to work is an hour and a half of getting openly stared at. Every day.

I will let you go to Starbucks once in your first week (yes, I looked it up and I know you did, too). Hold out until you're really craving something "from home". Then order a coffee and a muffin. It will taste like heaven. However, reserve it for desperate moments of homesickness. A far better idea is to scout out your neighbourhood and find "your" place - a café or a restaurant. A neighbour gave me that tip before I came to Spain the first time, and it is one of the best pieces of advice I have received. You'll be proud of yourself for finding a place and have somewhere to go with new friends.

Make all kinds of friends! Don't discount older and younger people. Some of my dearest friends here are under 5 and over 50. Start friendships with anyone you feel a connection with, even if they are moving home in the next week. Talk to strangers. Volunteer. You never know who you'll meet.Keep your old friends and call your family. Just don't call home every day. You may want to, but you need to get integrated and give this stage of your life a chance.

Keep an open mind (don't judge, or at least not out loud), and don't take judgement of yourself or Canada to heart. You are no better or worse than the people you meet, only different. Sometimes things just are the way they are, and it's better to move on. I could freak out every day on the train (see "staring" above), but that would just tire me and attract more stares. If you don't like the done thing, suck it up - you have been permitted to enter a new country to work, not to colonize. You don't have to agree; just be respectful even if you sometimes all you want to do is give someone a high five. In the face.
bro: santa!!! me: whatever...

Keep a journal (and/or a blog). And keep a log of your teaching. Sometimes you'll feel like you've done nothing. This is when you flip through your journal and remember that you have actually been growing professionally and personally.

To get you started teaching, my new series is dedicated to you. In the coming weeks I will post tips and techniques under the heading The Tall Girl Teaches.

I guess that's all for now. I'm not worried about you. You'll figure it out and do just fine. And no matter what time it is, you have my number.

Love always,

Your Big Sister


  1. Awwww Jessica. That's so sweet! Made me a little watery eyed to read! Thanks so much for posting that and thanks for having so much confidence in me I'll try not to high five too many people in the Lots of great tips that I'm going to follow up on! Can't wait to read your next series. Love yah big sis!

  2. There is no advice more valuable than that coming from the voice of experience. Well written and good, solid advice.
    I do like the idea of a blog. It's good for you, for friends and family as they can keep up with what you're doing and it's good for those who will follow you in Taiwan and at your school
    I also am not worried.

  3. Great advice to your brother. Looking forward to more!