Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New job

Life in the U.S. feels more familiar. The foods we eat, our daily routines, the smell of pot in public places, it's all an expectation rather than a surprise. Days will go by when I hardly think of Ukraine until suddenly, some piece of news will present itself and the country will again materialize in front of us. Last week this stunning piece of art on an old building made me smile. Sunday's news of an explosion in a pub in downtown Kharkiv did not.

At the sight of anything blue and yellow- even an IKEA store...

It's hard to find any news on Ukraine at all now locally, which can falsely lull a person into thinking the situation there is calmer. Fortunately a neighbor started leaving his copy of the Wall Street Journal out for us and it's often possible to find an update or two in there. Friends in Ukraine keep in touch but they rarely add anything to their emails about politics, negotiations, or troop movements. Who would?

As for life in general, both D and I lucked out when it came to finding jobs quickly. He's now programming at a company downtown and is happy to be able to walk to work (although some might consider the walk a bit long). The company's work culture includes hitting up Portland's famous food carts for lunch: Thai, Greek, Hawaiian, and Mexican leftovers have all made an appearance in our fridge. I work in a much less glamorous part of town. Nearby attractions include a freeway, a homeless shelter, and an automobile repair shop. Lunch involves a microwave and tupperware ; )

My feelings about work have yet to crystallize into anything solid. The best part of the job so far is coordinating and teaching U.S. citizenship classes- it's fun to meet so many people from different countries- but other parts of the position have been a real challenge. For example, it's common to end up in a not-so-great part of town at night. One night a guy followed me to the train stop. Another night there was a fight on the train platform. The most unsettling thing about that fight was that not a single person stepped in to help.

It was a rainy night and the traffic was a roar that covered almost all other noise. It sounded like a woman was screaming nearby... or was it just the approaching train? It was a woman. She appeared at a run, a man staggering after her with blood on his forehead, bellowing something at her. This scene sounds so dramatic as I write it, but in real life it just fizzled out. She hid behind a staircase. He continued to yell in the distance for a few minutes, then she walked silently through the handful of commuters to retrieve a book and headed off in the direction the man had gone. I didn't know what to do; as a fellow woman I wanted to ask her if she was okay, but the guy had freaked me out and I didn't want to become a target too. It still bothers me to this day, not having offered her any assistance that evening. The other troublesome idea: why did no one else on the platform approach her either? The other commuters were mainly men so while perhaps they stayed quiet out of fear, I pray it wasn't just indifference. What would you have done if you had been there?

Because of situations like that one, and because my work responsibilities will require some travel, we'll need to get a car. Those six words strike a note of dread into my heart. A car is a big commitment, something that gives a person freedom to travel "here" but limits traveling "there". Or am I the only American who feels this way? It seems like a senseless trade off- work at a job... that requires a car... to earn money... to pay for the car?

D's mom came to visit this weekend. Get-a-car-have-a-kid has been her mantra for years now so you can imagine how she received the car news.

Excitement level: Apocalypse.

All weekend she pointed out cars on the street to us, asking if we liked this one or that one, or offering her opinion on which ones best suited our personalities (apparently she thinks I'm boxy). I understand where she's coming from, since she spent most of her life in a place where songs have lyrics like "если есть машина значит ты мужчина / real men have cars". Although I used to have a commercial driver's license and drive tours buses and fork lifts, it turns out I'm pretty simple, much more like that other song that starts with the words "если есть"-

Но если есть в кармане пачка сигарет,
Значит все не так уж плохо на сегодняшний день.
И билет на самолет с серебристым крылом,
Что, взлетая, оставляет земле лишь тень.

If you have pack of cigarettes in your pocket,
then life's not so bad
and a ticket for a plane with silver wings
that takes off and leaves only a shadow on the ground.

If I felt more sure about the job in general then this car business might not be so grim. This job was something I felt sure about at the time I accepted it (and it was made clear then that a car would be needed). The position itself is actually an experiment, a step up for me. Instead of just working year after year after year as a teacher, I wanted to take on more responsibilities, oversee not just students but teachers and volunteers, and get involved in academic testing. It's still an exciting idea but the reality of it has turned out extremely daunting. Some days are good, other days the workload is so overwhelmingly massive I'm not sure I can pull it off.

On the other hand, language exposure at work is excellent. Most of the students speak Spanish, several women in the office speak Russian, and a colleague has been teaching me a few words of her native Armenian. Really, though, it all comes down to Spanish. I hadn't realized how much Spanish is spoken in this city. Wander through some neighborhoods and you'd find it hard to believe you're not in Mexico! Some days I experiment with my Spanish at work. In short, it's a mad fumble to try to find the right word in time and I usually fall flat on my face, especially when it comes to citizenship-related themes. How to say "Have you ever participated in illegal gambling or prostitution?" or "Do you now have, or did you ever have, a hereditary title or an order of nobility in any foreign country?" in Spanish? Ugh :p I'm working on memorizing the phrases first, then I'll need to practice not being awkward with questions like "Are you a habitual drunkard?". In case you're a newbie to citizenship, this is the 21 page form that a person must fill out- and understand!- when applying to become a U.S. citizen.

One additional work concept both D and I are trying on for size is the idea of paid holidays. I've had a ton of jobs but never one that let me stay home on a holiday and still get a salary. It's really a nice idea and part of what keeps me hanging on at work. I'm at home today, on this lovely Veterans' Day (thank you, veterans!), watching the wind rip leaves off the trees. If we started with 1,000 yellow leaves in the vicinity this morning, the number has dropped to probably half of that now. It's truly a savage November day, ideal for catching up on laundry and blogging and breaking open the hot chocolate.

To end with a few sweeping generalizations, I am happy to be here (anywhere, really) with D and Кит. Car or no car, it's a blessing to have been offered jobs so quickly. Our families have been wonderful and generous in helping us get established in the area. I'm going to just keep waking up and giving this new life my best shot every day and see what happens.


  1. Yikes, that scene of public violence sounded terrible. Hopefully the woman is doing better.

    Glad to hear that both you and D have jobs! Even if your current job doesn't end up being right for you, the important thing is that you are pushing into new directions. How will you know if you're good at these other tasks without trying them? Change can be so difficult--good for you for trying!

    Best of luck with finding a car! I can see how the realization of "we're-really-doing-here" even more challenging than the actual purchase--hope it goes well.

  2. Back in the '80's I intervened in a central London street fight between two drug addicts, who then joined forces to try to beat me up, thankfully they failed! Always a hard one to make the correct decision, but I think I would still try to help.

    As for job and car, well in UK, due to cuts in public transport, I am in the same situation, not my preference, but I will rent-a-wreck to ensure my solvency!

    Did you get CELTA qualifications K? I am thinking this may be my route back to an expat life :-)

    1. Whoa, scary- glad you escaped, Rupert!

      No, I haven't yet. In fact, aside from a few certifications here and there, I haven't even done the TEFL. Recently I was going back and forth, weighing the benefits and costs of pursuing one of those courses. I decided against either one since their main worth seems to be- like you mentioned- outside of the country. For the time being, I just went with a usual job and paycheck. But there are TEFL courses offered nearby so I may do that at some point while we're here.

      This blogger has been writing about her experiences with the CELTA course (, for example)... honestly, I found her stories of the lessons a bit intimidating. I enjoy teaching and learning, but learning about learning is a whole other thing, quite intense. Anyway, please keep me posted on your plans!