Sunday, February 26, 2017

Long promised post: Teaching in Australia pt 2: the struggle to find work

After many months of struggles with getting registered to teach in Victoria, Tyler and I were finally able to put ourselves out to the schools and beg for jobs. I wasn't even looking for a full time job since I still had a semester left in my graduate studies; I would only be available for part time work, perfect for subbing. I went about the job search the only way I knew how: Hoof it around town with a stack of my resumes and introduce myself to some schools.

Yeah, that's not how things work here.

I had absolutely no leads from those days of walking around town and sweet talking receptionists. One or two principals humored me long enough to shake my hand and take my resume, but most schools just told me that they only get their substitute teachers through such-and-such agency.

So here is where the first difference between teaching in Australia popped up. I'm still not entirely sure how it is all structured here, but the system I am familiar with from home is that public schools are zoned into districts (usually bound by county lines) and are administered through a central office (usually located at the county seat). Each district is different, but usually there is a district pool of substitute teachers that have been vetted by central office and are made available to schools. Sometimes principals at home just keep a list of dependable subs that they contact when needed and once you've made a relationship with a school or registered with a district you can get work and are paid for your day's work.

Yeah, that's not how things work here.

There are no school districts or central offices. Schools enlist the help of one of a slew of agencies that have a database of VIT registered "teachers" and call the agency once they know about a teacher absence. I'm sure it makes a lot of sense for principals: all you have to do is call a number, say, "I need x-number of subs today," and someone else has to spend the next hour on the phone seeing who is available for the day. I get it.

What sucks about the agency set up is the fees the agencies charge. Each one is different, but they all pretty much involve skimming money off the fees paid to the substitute by the school and also charging the school a fee for their services. A solid business model, but some agencies charge the teachers a one-time registration fee ($250 or more) and then also take either a percentage (10% or more) or a flat fee (up to $50 a day no matter how many hours you work) from the fee paid to the teacher each day. In Victoria, substitute teachers get paid REALLY well...IF they can contract the work without the help of an agency. As previously mentioned, schools were not interested in eliminating the middle man, so my day's pre-tax pay of $293 for a full day's work ranges from $160-189 per day after taxes depending on which of the two agencies I'm linked with found the work for me. Doesn't sound like so much, but it's at least $250 a week if I'm able to work a full five days. That's a week's worth of groceries!

I digress.

I interview with a couple of agencies (the two I heard most frequently from schools on my days of schlepping around town) and was added to their databases. I was soon able to start subbing, and I got somewhat consistent work for two weeks...and then it was semester break and there was no school, therefore no work to be had.


The tides turned, however, the night before term break ended when I got a call from one of the agencies that they had a lead on a school in the West that had had a resignation and needed some help. This job might lead to a potential contract....

Stay tuned for how THAT adventure in teaching in Australia got started.

Vicariously yours,

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Long promised post: Teaching in Australia pt 1: the struggle to get registered

As previously mentioned, it was not cheap to get registered to teach in the state of Victoria. We had been out of work for months while trying to pay all these fees and such, but we didn't realize that was only the beginning.

There were all the background checks. The VIT requires a background check from all the countries in which you've lived for the last 10 years. Not difficult in theory, but Saudi Arabia straight up doesn't do background checks for people who have left the country. When I called the VIT about this issue, I was basically told, "Tough titties. You gotta figure something out.''


Except not ok because the Saudi embassy in Canberra recommended that I fly to Riyadh and apply for a background check in person.

After at least two more calls to the VIT explaining the situation and offering possible solutions only to be told I would out of luck, someone finally said, "If you can't get a background check you can submit a stat deck."

"I'm sorry, what is a stat deck?" Australia LOVES its acronyms and abbreviations, so people frequently use the abbreviation assuming everyone can keep track of all the nicknames.

"A statutory declaration," she answered, offering no explanation.

"What does that mean?"

Essentially it means that I could write a note that said I solemnly swear I was up to no bad in Saudi Arabia and get it the Australian equivalent of notarized.


So we got the Kuwait background check in no time and wrote up our "stat dec" in no time. It was time to wait for the FBI to come through for us.


When it finally came in, I called the VIT to see if they needed the original background checks or if I could send in notarized copies because, you know, they were expensive and if for some reason the VIT turned out to be undependable and lost them I'd be pissed.

"No, you need to send in the original copies."

Remember that for later. Obvious foreshadowing is obvious.

So the background checks were frustrating. Then there was the confusion surrounding our personal references. We had to have a reference from someone who had known us for more than 2 years....of which there were zero in Australia. Luckily our high school friend Matt was visiting and wrote one for Tyler and I sent our friend-from-Kuwait Austin a reference to fill out and email back to us.

Of course the VIT wouldn't process my application because the personal reference had to be the original handwritten copy rather than a scanned copy. Was there any indication of the need for the original copy anywhere on their website or mention of it in any of the phone calls I made?

Of course Austin doesn't live in Australia, he lives in China now. Thankfully he is amazing and went to the effort to mail the original copy to us. So after months of waiting, we were ready to submit Tyler's application (we submitted mine first because we couldn't afford to pay two registration fees at a time), so we walked his paperwork and Austin's reference to the VIT office to hand it in in person and have a living human look through his paperwork to make sure everything was acceptable.

1. Everything looked great in Tyler's paperwork packet. The receptionist was really confused as to why we would go to the effort of bringing it down in person. So cute.

2. While flipping through his paperwork, she separated out his background checks AND PHOTOCOPIED THEM AND HANDED BACK THE ORIGINALS! What. the. hell?! I had clarified exactly that detail with one of her colleagues a few months back! "WHY DID SHE NOT KEEP THE ORIGINALS!?" I screamed in my head but asked politely in a normal tone out loud.

"Oh we don't need the originals, just notarized copies. You might want to hold on to these for later so we leave the originals with you."

3. When we had cleared that infuriating detail up, I handed over Austin's personal reference. She looked up the status of my application to make sure there was nothing else needed and got a confused look on her face.

"Sorry, why did you need to bring this in?" she asked.

"Because one of your colleagues told me I needed to submit it so my application could be approved."

"Huh. Well your application was approved two weeks ago so we don't really need it."

What. the. hell?!? WHY DID WE PAY SO MUCH MONEY FOR THE APPLICATION FEE IF NO ONE IN THAT DING DANG OFFICE SEEMS TO KNOW HOW THE APPLICATION PROCESS WORKS?!?! Also if my application had been approved two weeks ago, why hadn't I been notified?

"That is strange. You should get a notice in the mail soon," she said with a smile. 

Thanks. You're just. The best. 

But whatever. I was finally registered. No need to rage on the woman. Now it was time to get out there and convince schools that I was the teacher they needed. 

Stay tuned for how THAT went. 

Vicariously yours, 

PS. Remember those original copies of the background check I told you about? Fast forward to a month ago when we find out we need to get - you guessed it- background checks for our immigration visas for Korea. So I contact the VIT and say, "hey guys, remember those background checks? Can I have those back now please? You only need photocopies, right?"

They responded: WE DESTROYED THEM!


Needless to say I am not a huge fan of the VIT. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Big Reveal(s)

In this age of viral pregnancy reveals and gender reveal parties and such, some folks have been asking if we had any cutesy ways to tell our family that we are pregnant. By the time I popped positive on the at-home test, even I was convinced (and, to be honest, hoping) that we would never have children, so no one was expecting us to be expecting. We knew this would be a fun opportunity to surprise everyone, and holidays were landing right around that crucial 12 week mark. We were especially careful about not dropping the baby bomb too early after losing our first pregnancy. All of our family knows at this point, but I have to admit that it was fun to have a little secret between the two of us for about 12 weeks. 

It was equally fun, though, to reveal the news over the course of the Christmas holiday. My parents were visiting us (a trip that was planned months before I got pregnant), and their trip was perfectly timed for my 12 week ultrasound, so we told them we were going to the mall to get me a swimsuit before our jaunt to the Great Barrier Reef. We actually took them to the OBYN's office, and while they were surprised, they had had their suspicions. The sonographer was very nice about 3 people crowding into the exam room with me so my parents could see our first look at all the fingers and toes. My dad is not going to be able to meet the kid until its first birthday, so I'm glad he got to share in this special moment. 

They then had to keep the secret for a week and a half until Christmas when the news was revealed to my sister and brother, who were with my sister's family for Christmas morning. We FaceTimed them as my niece opened her gift from Tyler and me: A puzzle made out of this photo:

Tyler's reading a parenting book and I'm trying to put a pacifier in Kitty's mouth. She was NOT a willing participant in this little project. 

The funny part is that our niece had zero interest in the puzzle, which we predicted. Hard to get excited about a blank white box (the company packaged it that way to aid in the surprise) when you're surrounded by Santa's haul. Thankfully, as predicted, the white box piqued my brother-in-law's interest and he put the puzzle together real quick. I screenshotted some of my sister's reaction when she was called over to see the finished product. 

So that was my family covered. 

The next day, while we were on a train in New Zealand, it was Tyler's family's turn to learn the big news. I should pause at this point to tell you that Tyler went home for a quick visit in October, right after we found out I was pregnant. I love my husband dearly, but he is REALLY bad at keeping secrets, and with just the slightest bit of nudging from a bottle of wine, he let slip to his brother that I was With Child. I wasn't upset, in fact it came in handy because we had co-conspirators in our little plot to tell his family. 

I will pause again to say that Tyler's brother and sister-in-law had just had a baby, the first grandchild, so everyone was out at their house for Christmas and all the talk was about The New Baby. We knew that any of the typical, "The best parents get promoted to grandparents" t-shirts/photo frames or baby booties in a box with a note like, "hold on to this until I come visit" type of gifts would be assumed to be about The New Baby, so we had to get creative. 

Well...we didn't get all that creative. We found a seller on etsy who does the pregnancy reveal wine labels that are so popular, but she let me customize it a little bit. 

I thought the koala was a solid hint that this baby was going to be in Australia and the whole summer baby part should be a tip off that it wasn't The New Baby we were talking about, but a Whole Other Baby.

As predicted, though, the grandparents didn't get it. Seriously, NO ONE was expecting us to ever get pregnant. 

What I love about this whole reveal is how sweet my in-laws are. Even though they totally don't get a). why we would send them wine all the way from Australia when they were in the middle of California's wine country and b). what the wine label is all about, they are polite and fake it with their signature, "That is so sweet!" and "This is great!" lines they give when they don't want to seem ungrateful but they also just want to move on so they can stop being the center of attention. 

As predicted, Tyler's sister puts all the clues together and gets it first. A few minutes after this video was taken we got a tearful FaceTime call from Tyler's mom who apparently cried for the rest of the afternoon because she was so surprised and happy for us. 

Shout out to my sister-in-law's sister (my sister-in-law-in-law?) for filming the whole thing and coming in clutch with the Croatian explanation of what was going on to someone off camera so as not to ruin the surprise. You're awesome, Val! 

Once all the parents and siblings were informed, we sent a quick message to my aunt who was at my grandparents' house with the rest of my extended family celebrating my grandfather's birthday and all those branches were taken care of. 

While most people take that as the signal to put some big reveal on facebook, we didn't feel any rush to call attention to our little secret at all. Even though the average age for a first child in America is climbing, we feel like we are late to this little party since our facebook feeds have been filled with big pregnancy reveals for years. We also have several friends who are struggling with infertility, so we want to be sensitive to their feelings because we know it is not easy to see all the ultrasound photos when all you want in the world is to have some of your own. 

So we will keep all the baby talk on this blog. If you want to hear the news and see the photos, be sure to follow us. I'll do my best to keep everyone updated. I remind you, though, the purpose of this blog is to give readers a vicarious international experience, so I will be focusing on our vacations, new adventures and every now and then my struggles with becoming a mom in a foreign country. With all that is going on in America right now, I can't promise that I won't get a little political. I can promise, however, that I am not going to be a Mom Blogger who reviews products or chronicles her kids' every moves. I know every mom will roll her eyes when I make the sweeping declaration that I will not be the kind of mom whose entire world becomes centered around her children, but those moms also don't know me and my stubbornness very well. When I set a goal I meet it, and I intend not to lose myself by gaining an extra person in my house. I will talk about being a parent, but I will talk about being a parent in Korea, or China, or Mozambique...or where ever we end up. 

Go ahead, put in your bets for how long it'll take me to become completely obsessed with this little parasite growing inside me, just keep those kinds of predictions and comments to yourself. They only fuel my intent to stick to my Sweeping Declaration. 

In the meantime, enjoy this ride with us folks. We're so excited to try this whole parenting thing while overseas. We have-no exaggeration- talked about raising globally-minded well-travelled kids overseas since our first days of dating all the way back in high school. Let's see how these dreams shape up.

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, February 5, 2017

"We need to tell the internet so many things"

It seems like this once somewhat looked-after blog is becoming a semi-annual affair where I give a quick check in and make lots of promises for future posts that never come. Sorry about that, likely-only-reader-that-is-left. I won't promise to do better because we've all seen how well I keep my blog promises.

With the obligatory niceties out of the way, I'll go ahead and blurt out the Big News:

We're pregnant!
Yep! I am almost 20 weeks along at this point, and here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions so far:

1. We don't know the gender and will not find out the gender until the kid pops out mid-year. It's one of the last few remaining true surprises in life, and it's fun not to put gender expectations on a fetus. The conversations surrounding how we will raise our child have just been centered around making him or her a good person, not about what sports he/she will be signed up for or which scout troop to join. Plus, not knowing the gender means that any gifts we get before the kid is born will have to be gender neutral and practical, a must for people like us who are moving every couple of years and plan to have another kid eventually. I'm not packing up and moving stuff that might not be usable for the second kid! 

2. I don't care what gender the kid is, we still have to take it home with us no matter what is between the legs. Tyler is pulling for a boy, but of course will be happy with anything as long as the baby is healthy and loved. 

3. The baby will be born in Australia. We have insurance here, and there is no way we could afford a birth in America. I guess technically that means the kid could be an Australian citizen, but in my cursory google search, it looks like it can only be a citizen if at least one parent is an Australian citizen or permanent resident at the time of birth. Sorry, kid, that's proof enough for me that we don't have to do more paperwork than what is already going to be required to make you an American. 

4. We have some names in mind, but for some reason we're guarding them. A couple years ago before I miscarried we had made a list of names and talked about them with family. That list has stayed the same, but we so far we haven't been telling anyone else the names we have in mind. Hey, guys, it's a big deal that we are telling the internet about this kid in the first place! We seriously considered just posting a photo of a goopy newborn in a few months with the caption, "Surprise!" 

And now I'll go ahead and blurt out the Other Big News: 

Bonus points if you can identify the country flag without having to google it. 

Yep! The Mister (aka the Baby Daddy) snagged a contract with a school in South Korea, so we're moving in July!

Yes. I said July. 

Yes. I am also having a baby in July. 

Here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions so far:

1. Tyler has to report for work in late July, so hopefully the kid will arrive on time (I'm due June 30/July 1) so he can have about 3 weeks with us before taking the cat and most of our worldly possessions and flying to our new home. 

2. I will stay behind to wait for the kid's American passport to come through and wade through the mess of getting a Korean visa for a newborn. Plus I want to get some vaccines into the kid before we get onto a disease tube that'll hurtle us through the air to meet up with Baby Daddy in late August. I have to be out of Australia by August 31 when my visa expires. I probably could get a visa extension know...brand new baby, but I have the sneaking suspicion I will be DONE with filing government paperwork by the time this kid arrives and will just want to be reunited with my husband (and, let's me honest, my cat) as soon as possible.

3. I will not be here all by my lonesome for the month that Tyler will be in South Korea. I have an adopted Australian family that I'm sure will make sure that I'm not sitting in the apartment alone with a newborn. My mom has generously offered to come stay for a couple weeks after Tyler leaves, then my sister-in-law will come to help me navigate my first international flight postpartum. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law will be in Korea with Baby Daddy to help him set up a nursery and help me with finding a pediatrician after the Baby Train arrives in its new home. 

4. I will not be teaching for the 2017-2018 school year. Thankfully the school in Korea agreed with me that trying to deal with a brand new baby, new country, and new job all at the same time would not be a smart idea, so I'm taking a year to wrap my head around keeping a human alive. They have agreed to let me come in the second semester as a sub, which is really awesome because I'm sure by the 6 month mark I will be desperate for some classroom time. 

5. The school is in a semi-rural area in the southern part of South Korea, not Seoul, which Tyler and I think will be really helpful to our transition into parenthood. There are a lot of young families on staff, and I think the lack of hustle and bustle will be good for us not feeling like we are missing out on happy hour or fun times with new childless friends. One major draw to this school is the fact that some former colleagues from Kuwait, including Tyler's old teaching partner, are already at this school and have just had a new baby themselves. We are really looking forward to learning about this whole expat parenting thing alongside them.

Now that the word is Internet official, I'm hoping to be a better blogger since I have all kinds of things I have learned about prenatal care in a foreign country. Until then, I remain

Vicariously yours,