Tag Archives: USA

progress, not perfection

Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago

 

December is closing in, and the weather is unpredictable. There’s been one brief snowfall, some low temperatures, and now suddenly it’s sunny and in the low 50s. Kind of like my life, I started to think, but then reminded myself that I’ve done a pretty good job off adapting to my new environment in the space of five months.

I came back to this country with a pretty clear idea of what I was going to do: become a freelance tutor. I’m doing that, but as with any small freelance business, it requires not only shrewd planning but tons of patience. I have to learn how to market myself, a new skill I haven’t quite developed yet. Networking is another problem; there’s no association or centralized database of private tutors, except on dedicated for-profit websites. It’s a challenge.

In the meantime, I’m working part-time for Pearson – yes, that Pearson, the huge testing and education behemoth headquartered in the UK, that has about a 40% share of the standardized testing market in the USA. I’m a Test Administrator, which means that I invigilate candidates as they take computerized tests, for professional licensing, college admissions, and other purposes. It’s a way to pay the rent. I’m a sometimes-substitute teacher for a language academy in Chicago as well.

I’ve reached a plateau, of sorts, which gives me a bit of breathing room and a respite from my intense two-year job search. That process left me exhausted and dispirited, and taught me two lessons: that age discrimination is very real in the education field, and that the market for English for Academic Purposes (EAP) teachers is extremely limited.

In the meantime, I practice gratitude: I landed on my feet in Chicago, sort of; I had an 11-year career in China as a teacher, with its steep learning curve, professional development, and fascinating experiences; and finally, I’ve met each challenge as it presented itself, with self-assurance and relatively clear thinking. My dog and I have a comfortable place to live, and enough to sustain us for the moment. The realities of the shrinking job market, the “gig” economy, and difficulties of finding work after 60 will not defeat me; my survival and adaptive skills are pretty highly developed. Besides, there’s no alternative. It’s all about progress, not perfection, as they say in 12-step programs.

an end, and a beginning

After 11 years living and teaching in China, I’m calling it quits. My dog and I have a reservation on a flight from Hong Kong to Chicago on Friday, June 30. Yes, I’m returning to my home country – even with Trump in office, even with the unpredictable job market, even with all my misgivings about making the move. I’ve stayed on in China for an extra year, after mandatory retirement from my last teaching job, to give me time to reflect on what I really want from my life, and to research the international job market for teachers. It’s been a pleasant year, living in an isolated, semi-rural environment, making occasional weekend trips to Hong Kong, and working out religiously at a local gym. The end result: I’ve decided to re-invent myself. Again.

For a couple of months now I’ve felt stuck between two cultures. I’m in a no-man’s-land, neither fully in China nor in America. I’m returning to the USA with no job and no place to live. I’ve had second, and third, thoughts about spending my savings to start a new life rather than investing it in a retirement account. I vacillate between terror and optimism, thinking of the opportunities I will have in  my native culture but then enumerating the things I will miss about China.

I have always taken risks. At age 50, I began a new career as a teacher, after 25 years of working in nonprofit arts organizations. I moved to a country about which I knew virtually nothing, and learned to teach as I went along. I managed to pick up a second masters degree in teaching academic English, taught at three universities, worked for the British Council as an IELTS examiner, and did occasional private tutoring. Now, I feel as if I’m getting ready to jump off a new cliff.

I’ve been planning how to make the landing as soft as possible. First, the dog and I will need a home. Then, I’ll need work. My plan is to create my own job as a freelance private tutor in English and academic writing. I will look for other teaching jobs, and have one possibility as an advisor for Chinese students studying in Chicago.

I plan to work on my writing and photography skills. I hope to be able to take courses in bookbinding and papermaking, things I have wanted to pursue for about 20 years. I am even open to office jobs, or working in the nonprofit arts field again. The possibilities for a new life are numerous, but it also be the first time in 20 years that I’ve been unemployed. At age 61 that’s a frightening prospect.

I will continue this blog, although my writing will take new directions. I haven’t lived in Chicago since the early 1980s, so adjusting to the city and the American culture will be a handful. Wish me luck.

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Goodbye Chicago

Chicago Theater_opt

 Chicago Theater

 

It’s over. Three weeks of indulging in food fantasies, hanging out with my dear brother, exploring Chicago, went by very quickly. Oh, the clothes and shoes I bought. In China it’s virtually impossible to find “western” sizes, so I had a good excuse to go slightly mad in Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Old Navy, and an incredible shoe store called Altman’s, where they won’t let you leave the store unless the shoes fit perfectly. It was old-fashioned service, actually measuring both feet, bringing stacks of shoe boxes for inspection, and fitting my hard-to-fit feet.

 

 

Wabash Ave.

 Wabash Avenue, El steps, pigeons

 

I even took a stab at riding a bike along the lake front. In my college days, I could easily make the 25-mile round trip from Evanston south to McCormick Place, but this time I was winded after just 45 minutes or so. 8 years of China smog, lack of exercise, and laziness have caught up with me (OK, age has something to do with it too).

My brother and I visited the Art Institute on a (free) Thursday evening, to catch the Magritte exhibition. We explored Chicago neighborhoods I’d never visited before, and I experienced the reverse culture shock of returning to my home country only the second time in 8 years. Most surprising, I guess, was the friendliness of the people. I’m a native midwesterner, and lived in Chicago in my youth, but I simply didn’t remember this kind of friendliness. It was a completely different kind of social dynamic than I experienced in my 15 years in Los Angeles. Rather than sounding fake, however, the Chicago friendliness seemed completely genuine.

 

 

Snow Drop 1

 Snow Drop Lounge – now Gino’s North Pizza

 

One of the sentimental journeys my brother and I made was to the former Snow Drop Lounge [above], a beautiful 40s deco bar where we used to hang out in the early 80s. The place had an amazing jukebox, and we would always play the Les Brown/Doris Day version of Sentimental Journey. These days the place is called Gino’s East, and serves pizza. Except for a window wall on the street side, it’s exactly the same.

We met up with an old friend, Lorraine, and reminisced about wacky things we did in younger years, such as visiting a fortune teller, crawling on hands and knees up the steps of Holy Name Cathedral, trying to drive into a 7-11, and re-enacting Lorraine’s birth at 4:30 a.m. on her New Year’s Day birthday at the Orbit Room bar. Generally, all of this was done while insanely drunk. Expriencing Chicago now after 22 years of sobriety was, well, a sobering experience.

 

Chicago and Lake Michigan_opt

 Chicago skyline from Diversey Harbor

 

I’m now back in China, having gotten my working visa at the Chinese Consulate in Chicago, which was ostensibly my main reason for returning to the US. My biggest headache – the insanely difficult visa process – is now over, although I’m still experiencing jet lag, and waking up at ungodly hours. All my packing was done a couple of weeks before I left, so now I must make arrangements with a driver and vehicle to make the 2-day cross-China trip from Chengdu to Suzhou. My new job starts next Monday, at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, and I have an apartment to furnish. My dog and I will make the trip together, and soon we will start the next 2-year segment of our lives.

 

 

Goodbye to USA

Leaving the USA to return to China