Beginnings, culture, know thyself, parenting overseas, S-bee, vocation

Thar be dragons

It is December.  I am not in the Dutch Caribbean, there will be no returning there.

I couldn’t be more ok with this fact.

And so, I made the road by walking, and, in confidence, and unlike other ventures, this one lead us back home sooner than expected.  And there is not the ever so slightest crumb of remorse or regret.  Each decision was made with deliberation, with weighing and carefully considering all the real and potential;  the red flags, the “wow, that would be cool,” bonuses and the reality of what I woke and did every day, and how that would play out in the long run.


Most proud, I am, that I had the courage to make the hard choice of saying no to what I could see was a SNAFU situation.  In the past, I have not had that courage, and I have endured the unacceptable, I have persevered through that which left me forever different, but maybe not in the way that was best.  I could tell stories of harassment, toxic workplaces, unwanted advances and watching co-workers day-trade, sell and take drugs or steal on the job… and let it roll off (as best as I could).  It’s not even hard to think of ridiculous circumstances I have tolerated.  But this time, I said “No.”, and it was the right thing to do.

One of my favoritest and sweetest and most needing students wrote this the day I left. It says “Bye Ms. Heather,” with his Spanish native language phonetics.

Behind me are some wonderful people I met there, ones who saw what I walked into, ones who sussed my character and motivations, ones who knew the backstory and every day expressed concern.  Co-workers who wondered out loud what the decision-makers could have been thinking, who inquired if I was okay, who asked how it could ever work out and expressed concern for my handling of the case before me.  When I departed I was hugged and kissed and delivered to the airport with grief, understanding and mutual admiration.

This energetic, intelligent student wanted me to share his gymnastic feat so I got a picture of him to share with his mom.

Was there a failure of creative problem solving?  Yes, but not on my part.  Was there massaged truths and misrepresented circumstances?  Yes, and they were of the variety I have handled before.  Was there dear little children and families in the balance?  Yes, and they may be better off with the light shone on the mess after my departure. Was I brought in to be a savior to a situation that I had no impact to change?  Yes.  A situation of questionable management?  Yes.  Were there good actors, hard workers and amazing families?  So much yes.

It was speculated that our leave-taking was caused by the intensity of the sun, but any international teacher knows that one just decides to like the place before they even arrive. Whether the place is liked or not just can’t be left up to the whimsy of chance.

My motivation for the trip was professional.  My reason for leaving was also professional.  We had settled in with a lovely apartment, a pool, a car, begun the school year and for over a month, daily ended the day with an unrelenting stress having to do with a situation I did all I could to insure against, and ultimately curtail and turn around.  Were it only me on the trip, I would have very possibly kept at it, but with my children in tow, it had turned into the very situation I had most wanted to avoid because I recognized it to be beyond my place to change.

The degree of settling in I did revealed my every intent to stay and make the best of the situation– the mess of which left me not sure of where even to begin to de-escalate.

Teaching overseas will always bring challenge, it is part of the immediate excitement, particularly in the initial stages.  Sometimes, part of the challenge is being dropped into a role that simply no one else will do, either because it is futile or for a whole host of other reasons.  I have taken those roles previously, and endured.  My two year teaching stint in Russia was precisely this way, and while I may have daydreamed of other options, my feet were firmly planted and I wasn’t going anywhere.  Same in China, where I was asked to require more of the students I was given than any 7th grader should be asked.  I lost a bunch of weight, worked my behind off and got it done.  But now, mid-career-almost 20 years of teaching under my belt, with children coming along with me, to pretend there weren’t considerations beyond myself would be obtuse.

This little lady was a champ to end all champs. She saw that I was struggling and wrote me encouraging notes, hugged me and ate lunch with me in the middle of the day, and did the best I have ever seen in stretching herself and being brave in a new place. I am very proud of her.


I hear “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but families who follow into those situations causes one to question the old adage and how far its wisdom can go.  There may be unspoken judgements ascribing insufficiency to my capacity or character, but I know otherwise.  I am proud to have been courageous enough to evaluate the benefits and costs of persevering in the circumstance that I had been cornered into, and I am grateful that my partner stood behind me when I said “Not under these circumstances,”


Beginnings, know thyself, parenting overseas, vocation

Surfing, trails and hearts


Sometimes in life we make big, daring choices.  We dream big dreams.  We ride the very crest of our own learning curve, pushing ourselves and maybe those around us a little in the process.  Like a surfer balanced on the tip edge of a wave, using only luck, skill and practice to keep afloat and not get swallowed up, we lean into this gift we have to live.


The Dutch Caribbean experience I embarked on was a little like this.  Challenging myself with Montessori curriculum and method I hadn’t previously used and was still learning,  taking on an age group in a way that I hadn’t previously, going to a new country, a new school, a new culture, a new job and bringing my amazing 9-year old along for the ride, leaving family and network of people and coping tools back home was the crest of the wave for me.  Even if everything went as smoothly as could be, it still would be a leading tip of the wave challenge.  I was ready, all in. A racehorse at the gate.  I understood each area that I would be learning.  The school, the staff, the kids, the families were all kind and supportive.  My daughter was brave and courageous every day.  My husband worked hard to support me in this foray, and my family too.  I knew it would be hard, I knew that it was a challenge up.

What could go wrong?


Using the metaphor of backpacking, I carried an unusually heavy pack of learning.  Additionally I had people following behind me, relying on my lead.  Understanding that, I was ready and met that challenge.  I had agreed to one high challenge experience, and was given an even more challenging one.  At my peak level of challenge, I was given a challenge I would never have chosen with a crew of 30 following behind… all while watching my support network slowly step backward.  I can give only this pixelated view because it is sensitive.  Each time I evaluate what happened, I come up only with no regrets for any of it, grief that the situation ended as it did, but not regrets.

The challenge had been chosen carefully, and I knew the limits of my own capacity.  At a certain point, it became clear that the additional weight I was handed was beyond reasonableness.  It wasn’t just me hitting the bumps on my tuccus, my husband would grow weary of being leaned on, my daughter would deal with me shutting down each evening or watching me struggle as I coped without my usual support networks, the children would receive a teacher that was unable to bring her best because so much of my energy would be spent dodging attacks or coping with trail slides.  I bit off as much as I could chew and then more was heaped on my plate.brown

It is no news to those who know me:  resilient yes, also a soft heart.  I have made choices that work with my strengths.  There are no regrets.

This morning I received tandem emails: one that slammed a door shut and another expressing encouragement, support and positivity.

For my choices, they were well-considered.  I have no regrets.






Beginnings, culture, Getting settled, vocation

Thank God for Frank conversations

Coming from Oregon, no one is going to have any sympathy for a person who is living and working in the Caribbean.  If they do, it is a stretch.  From Oregon, it all looks like an island oasis with beaches and fun for days and days.

a mental image of “the Caribbean”

The “grass is always greener” syndrome.

So, to speak to teachers here who acknowledge that all sun, no green, no trees, mountains, rivers or bracing Oregon Beaches where children wear parkas over their bathing suits… gets old.  It’s not home.  No one knows your heart.  No one knows to trust you.  Most all the familiars are elsewhere.  Only Ella Fitzgerald and ones own clothes are the same as before.  What is abundant are new challenges, overwhelming situations and patient, persistent problem solving.

A hoodie or a full on winter coat is pretty normal on home beaches in Oregon.

But like I said before:  no one is going to have any sympathy for a person who is living and working in the Caribbean.  So the one option remaining, as it always is:  get above it.

Teaching overseas is alternately an education like no other, an unforgettable life experience, an incredibly uncomfortable stretch that leaves one, at least at first, longing to return to the land of comfort and familiarity.  But it is also a bug that bites you and makes a great many other things seem mundane, ordinary and not quite as interesting.

Those who have lived and worked overseas know that even the most idyllic place will wear thin.   I was drawn to this because of the challenge it presented in ways I want to be challenged, but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t self-doubt, fatigue, wondering if or how challenges will be met.

the kids are often the reason at the end of the day, the most unforgettable part of working overseas.

But…no one is going to have sympathy for a person who is living and working in the Caribbean.

This week I might have been able to get above the a sense of having my back up against a wall.  Starting off irritated Monday, around Tuesday I realized that walking around feeling overwhelmed, exasperated or whatever other negative thoughts I had been entertaining for the past week would not create success and that I had to get over it–and get on top of it.

So that was this week.

Because…no one is going to have any sympathy for a person who is living and working in the Caribbean.

Beginnings, culture, Getting settled, island culture, montessori, vocation

300 sunsets

From my balcony of the rental, the bright disk named sun slowly lower itself down behind the exhausts of catalytic converters, and through more layers of atmosphere causing it to turn a variety of warm blushing shades.


Never had such a view all to my own.  The retiring sun skips off rooftops and outlines hotels and is in no particular rush as it departs, but still it moves almost imperceptibly scurrying itself away to a sunrise somewhere else.  Each night the clouds smudge and glow and create a new piece of creation artwork.

In this place that gives me the contrary experience of feeling perspiration slowly making its way down my back on a daily basis without having to do any strenuous labor, making my face shine like a glazed donut and frizzing my hair so that I even more resemble a muppet, counting the best moments and letting the others go is simply part of what is required to complete the task at hand.

The task at hand is 26 people aged six to nine: their education and their childhood.  Just wanting it to be good isn’t enough.  Just being patient isn’t enough.  Just caring a lot isn’t enough.  There is more involved.

Ms. Montessori was a stickler for detail and had some very spot on ideas.  But like all great ideas, there are parts of it that may not translate well to every place and time.

Instead of counting the days till going home, daily survival requires active appreciation of the things I actually really do like here.

  • People in traffic stop in order to let cross traffic cross. Just because.
  • Strangers greet each other as a matter of culture and courtesy.
  • Even the smallest most humble amount of use of the home language here brings genuine smiles.
  • Party busses with buckets of candy just laying around for children (from the 9 year old).
  • People adopt street dogs, spay them, foster them and contribute to try to make things better for these poor canines.
  • People visit donkey sanctuaries, ostrich farms and sell you chicken nuggets that don’t actually exist.
  • The kids are SOOOOO excited to do ceramics.
  • People actually hang out with new people here–and they have parties.  Coming from the PNW, I found (along with many other visitors) that it was common to receive a warm welcome and to be held at arms length.  This always confused me, but I learned that many folk have their ways–ones which are protective and private because of how ready others are to judge and gossip.  Unfortunate.
  • It is not unusual to hang out in the bedroom (where the only air conditioner is) all day long.  There is such a thing as too much sun every day.
I went and found out why they are called asses, though this pic makes them look lovable.


Finally, I am going to have to actually step up my game.  Figuring out how to humbly step out in confidence to do what I know how to do, regardless of the support of my immediate peers.  Because moving to a new country, teaching a different curriculum/method in a new students with different community specifics, resettling with a dependent to care for in a new school– that’s peanuts (apparently).  I’d just be happy to find some beach chairs, but no, the call is to be different.  It is the opportunity and the challenge I may have wanted and felt ready for, but now the rubber hits the road.

I will be trying to get above the bummers and live into the good things.

Wish me luck!










Beginnings, Getting settled, photography, S-bee


Today was a good day.  It was sad to say goodbye to some close family, but in return, I got a lovely apartment confirmed to move into this weekend, I was handed a brand spanking new Macbook Pro and I started the first day with all the colleagues.  We’ve been invited to so many friends houses here.  I am feeling super positive about the school I am working and the fit in this role, which is pretty huge.

In fact, I never realized how important.  I think all one has to do is have a toxic workplace to realize that not all places of profession are created equal.

I’m also happy that my dognose will be reunited with family and that the trip with family was successful… and financial details are worked out!

Hopefully we will celebrate tonight–I have no idea how that will look?


Butterfly farm–new friend.


Beginnings, culture, Getting settled, language acquisition, papiamento

Where speaking 4 languages is normal.


a Spanish Creole language with mixtures of Portuguese and Dutch, spoken on the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao.

With my whole family here, finishing up part one of Montessori training (the final submission will be about 100 pages long, questions and answers–close to 500 of them), getting a car and an apartment and trying to make my family love the island, I haven’t completed a single one of the half a dozen posts I have half written.

And then there is island time.

found in a market here.

One of the things that was most of a draw for me in making decisions about bringing the family here had to do with the languages of this little island.



The official language is a creole called Papiamento (pronounced poppy-mento).  It is a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and native languages with a little bit of French and a couple other languages mixed in for good measure.  If one speaks Spanish, they will understand the lion’s share of Papiamento, but there will be words in Dutch (which is also, like English, a Germanic language– so words are often not so difficult to guess) and it has a Portuguese flavor that is unmistakable.  Words are often shortened (ayo=adios, ta=esta=is) or change one letter to another that sounds very similar (por fabor=por favor).  Sometimes words are straightforward phonetic (awa=agua=water)


The government, however, is Dutch speaking along with Papiamento and schools educate the students in Dutch, which from my understanding, creates a genuine need for the GED program that is run out of the school where I work.  There is something in the works to have kids in school start out in Papiamento and introduce Dutch slowly, but the teaching materials in Papiamento are scarce.

Natives who work in the tourist sector which brings in over a million people a year to this small island nation of about 100,000 people must speak 4 languages fluently to have a chance to work with tourists.  All people in tourism speak Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamento, which Papiamento being the home language.

Cruise ships at port in Oranjestad stand enormous offshore with their enormity of size and cash inflow to Aruba.

It’s difficult for me to not draw comparisons to my home country.  I have been told before only the smartest kids could learn a foreign language in the U.S., but it seems that is more a function of the way foreign language as taught, as an academic subject much of the time.  It’s also tempting to speculate that the knowledge of a foreign language (or not) says something both about the way we educate: who is fortunate enough to receive an education that comprehensively includes foreign language from the earliest years, and the rest of us who haven’t received that education.

On the street here in Aruba, all the language diversity gets equal representation.  Signs are either in English, Spanish, Dutch or Papiamento.  In the Northern part of the island, it is not hard to get by speaking just English because the area is dominated by wealthy homes, high rise hotels and the white sand and clear sea salt turquoise waters.  The East side of the island, the windward side, is mostly undeveloped and is home to Arikok Park which is a reserve that takes up a good 1/4 of the island.

A sign in Arikok park demonstrating the linguistic diversity of Aruba.

What are the reasons you believe that the US is known to be a monolingual country?  Is it really because we believe that other countries all speak English, so we don’t have to learn other languages?  Why is the US one of only a handful of countries in the world that is persistently monolingual?


Beginnings, vocation

Making the road by walking

brown-couch-beforeSurrounded by several large books sitting on a ratty couch next to the large windows of a studio apartment sat a young woman. The studio was student housing of a university. She could be described as being unsure of herself and slightly anxious about this fact.  She didn’t know she was intelligent, she didn’t know she was hard working and she didn’t know she might actually make it out of everything ok.  She sat on that damn couch for so long she thought she would grow roots out of her back side.  The task at hand was translating antique words from Olde Spanish texts from the late 1800s and before in order to hope to grasp at the meaning the author intended through so many years.


Hours upon hours for a great many classes in Spanish Lit, the young woman estimated that she absorbed perhaps 40 percent of the texts after translating 8 to 10 words per page, and perhaps 40 percent of what the teacher lectured in Spanish in class.  The whole process required a desperation for something better than what life may look like if she didn’t push forward.


One day with a new class and a new text, the student almost fell off of her couch entirely after reading something that not only made sense to her, but struck her as being Very Important.  It seemed improbable, at that point, that anything she was reading might be important or even mostly comprehensible.

Through the course of twenty five years, the poem has followed her in her pocket where she kept important various sundry things.  Because the Spanish contains all the nostalgia and echo of the culture from which it came (scroll down for English)…

Caminante no hay camino

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.

and in translation…

Traveler, there is no road

Traveler, your footprints are

the road and nothing more;

traveler, there is no road

the road is made by going along

By going the path is made

And in turning to see what is behind you, 

it’s clear that the trail will never 

return to be tread.

Traveler, there is no road;

Only wake-trails on the waters.


Especially as one graduates college, finding footsteps to follow helps to know what to do next.  But sometimes, there is not a path that is clear to follow, or maybe the path hasn’t yet been tread.  Young people, as they step out of college, as they are trying to figure out what they want to do with their own lives are in the middle of this.

“Vocation at its deepest level is, “This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.”
― Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Ending up in this place has whispers of this.  A dream that even as I gave it up, couldn’t forget.  I couldn’t let it go.  When all the questions were answered about how this would impact those around me, the answer was still, “Go”.

“Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” —Frederick Buechner.

Anytime one follows their own relentless inner call they will have to make their own road.  Anyone who is remembered for being a voice of change had to make their own road.  Our own small lives might not make it into history books, but nonetheless, we all still need to make our own paths.  We have but one gift of life, and an endless number of ways to spend it.

Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? (said Mary Oliver)

This collection of observations, learnings and found wisdom tells of an experience I am sure others have done in parts and pieces, but I am not sure has been done before by someone like me and with my own set of circumstances and ways of looking at my surrounds.  So I will make the path by going.  In writing about it, I hope that I will be able to embolden others.  To travel to invent to do art to write…

“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”
― Parker J. PalmerLet Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation