Riding The Emotional Rollercoaster

About 3 months left till the big move and I can’t quite describe how I feel. I suppose it depends on the day, but often I feel these strong waves of emotion all within the same moment.

I feel like it can’t come soon enough. Just get me to Tunisia and let me start my new life. I don’t care if I leave every possession behind. I’m ready to move on. I’m tired of waiting. I see pictures of our new house and I can’t wait to step inside. I talk to my future co-workers and I can’t wait to meet them in person. I dream about all the amazing trips we will go on.

At the same time, I feel heartbroken over the life I’m leaving behind. I love my friends and family and I can’t believe I’m choosing to move so far away from them. I am well aware that it will change the dynamics of my relationships. My children will see their grandparents less. The people I feel closest to will no longer be a quick drive and a hug away. I’m willingly letting go of a rock-solid support system.

I’ve been looking forward to this summer. I want it to be special. I want to prioritize relationships and spend time doing what’s important. Now that I feel that clock ticking, it’s easier not to take things for granted. I made a “Last Summer in Kansas Bucket List.” (Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, I may not be able to mark everything off my list, but I’ll try.) But here’s the thing. I could make every day count. I could spend every waking moment, living life to the fullest, eating Kansas City barbeque and laughing with friends and visiting my favorite places and planning outings and parties, but it will never be enough. I keep telling Justin I need this summer for closure, but I don’t think I’ll ever really get closure. It’s this unattainable idea in my head.

Of course the Corona Virus Pandemic has thrown a wrench in things, especially when it comes to the elusive “closure” I’m seeking. After Spring Break, I never went back to teaching in my classroom. It was sudden and unexpected. I have spent a decade in that building and without any goodbyes, it’s over. I don’t get the last field day, the last day of school with kids, the last work day with my teammates. It just feels anticlimactic. The summer may be very similar. I had envisioned going-away parties and making sure I see all of my extended family and coffee dates with old friends. Those plans may not be realistic in this climate. In some ways, it’s easier that way. Goodbyes are hard.

How can I feel so sad and so happy at the same time? I’ve had those bittersweet moments before. Everyone has come to those crossroads in life; those moments when you know everything is changing- graduations, new jobs, marriage. You have to leave something behind in order to move forward. It’s just part of life, and that growth is necessary in order to become the best version of yourself.

I know I’ve reached a point here where I am stagnant; in a rut. I have been for a while, even if it took me a long time to recognize it. It’s no longer an option for me to stay in Eudora, Kansas, in the same house, in the same job, doing the same things day after day. Trust me. I’ve tried. I know deep down that this adventure will be positive, even if it’s hard.

No matter how I may feel now or in August, the wheels have already been set in motion. Our house has been sold. Our possessions are slowly being sold off. My resignation letter was turned in months ago and the contract with our new school was signed. Besides the people I love, there’s not much left for me here. Moving forward is the only option. My life is going to change, and that’s a good thing. My hope is that this move will bring my husband and I closer. My children’s worldview will expand and their adaptability and tolerance towards others will increase. I really feel like this opportunity will push us to become better people, and that is a change worth making.

Tips, Advice, and General Hearsay

Beginning the journey towards international teaching feels a little like the journey of starting a family. There is a lot of excitement up front with finding out where you are going, making the big announcement to family and friends, and then lots of preparation before the big move. And just like having a baby, you can read every book, do your research and hear advice from veteran parents, but until you experience it for yourself, there is nothing that can truly prepare you for how your life will change. Even though we have little idea of what we are getting ourselves into, we are excited and we feel that this is going to be positive in so many ways.

With about 3 months left, our packing progress is starting to accumulate in the house.

Besides selling our belongings, packing, and keeping up with emails from the school, another thing we are trying to do is make connections with our future co-workers before we get there. I think it will be nice to see some familiar faces and have some new-formed friendships when we arrive. It is awesome to hear about others’ experiences and ask all the questions we’ve been wondering about. Everyone has a bit of a different perspective. Some people we’ve talked to are new to International teaching and others have taught in 5 different countries and seem to be these worldly, cultural and travel experts.

As soon as we received an offer from our school (as well as another one in Jordan), we had 48 hours to make a huge, life-changing decision. I wanted to talk to someone from the school and ask a million questions before signing anything. Luckily, the international teaching community is amazingly welcoming and everyone is happy to help. They often think back to those who helped them when they started out and reassure us that they are glad to pay it forward. The school gave us the names of teachers we could talk to and within hours we were on Skype talking to our possible future colleagues.

We asked questions about living in Tunisia, the food, the weather, the housing. We asked about the most difficult parts of this lifestyle and mistakes they wish they could have avoided. We asked about the school, the students, the work load, and the social opportunities. After an hour, Justin and I had made our decision. I am someone who makes decisions with my gut. I could have asked them anything. It wouldn’t have mattered. What I was really looking for was, “Do I get a good vibe? Are these our kind of people? Can I imagine myself there?”

Penelope is very excited about her new pink suitcase!

After we accepted the jobs, we continued sending messages to each other, every time we thought of a new question.

Can we get picture frames there?

Do you use Netflix?

What’s the best neighborhood to live in?

Can we find a doctor that speaks English?

Should we bring our own pillows, standard measuring cups, vitamins, birthday candles? (That list could go on and on!)

After a while, we started reaching out to more of our future co-workers. With every video chat, I had more to be excited about, more to think about, more questions, and an ever-growing spreadsheet of what to bring and not to bring. Although I’ve never been to Tunisia, through these conversations, I feel like I’m starting to get a glimpse of what it’s like. Here’s a few of the things we’ve learned:

There are many products we should just bring from the States because they will either be hard to find in Tunisia, too expensive, or the quality will be cheaper. Here’s a few of the items we’ve learned to bring our own:

  • Vitamins
  • Children’s medicine like Tylenol
  • Razors for shaving (apparently waxing is more common there.)
  • Tampons (hard to find there due to religious reasons)
  • Bedding (the quality isn’t as great there.)
  • Garlic salt (and a few other spices that are hard to find)
  • Notebooks (apparently theirs are all grid paper)
  • Halloween costumes and other American holiday items
  • Birthday gifts for our kids (quality toys and books are hard to find)
  • Tupperware and other plastic items
  • Crayola art supplies
  • Kids shoes (and a size up for later in the year)
  • Slippers (our house is almost all marble floors- cold on the feet)
  • Cake mix and Gluten-free pasta
  • Children’s books and games in English (of course the school has a great library, but it’s nice to have your own too.)
Justin stocking up on Gluten-free items to bring.

We also like to ask “What is the hardest part about living in Tunisia?” For the most part, people are very positive and we know there are difficulties in every country. No place is perfect, but it’s nice to have a head’s up on what to expect so it lessens the shock when we arrive. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Driving in Tunis is crazy. There are a lot of aggressive, speedy drivers and the traffic laws as well as the traffic lanes feel like more of a suggestion.
  • There’s litter and stray dogs and cats around in many places.
  • It’s a more laid-back culture. You have to relax and be a bit more patient. Things don’t always start on time. Things don’t get done quickly. There is little sense of urgency. (Honestly this one is a positive for me. I’m looking forward to getting out of the go, go, go American mentality!)
  • Sending and receiving mail is iffy. Sending packages is expensive and mail may take a month or two to get to its destination.
  • It may be difficult to find people who speak English compared to some other European countries. (Justin and I are currently using the DuoLingo app to learn French.)

Of course, the most intriguing conversations are when we ask people what they love about living and teaching in Tunisia! From everyone we’ve talked to the pros far out way the cons, not only about Tunisia but about international teaching in general. Many people say they could never go back to teach in the US after experiencing these amazing schools. Here’s a few of the things we have to look forward to:

  • It is a tight-knit community. Everyone is willing to help you out. People are away from their families so you tend to bond quickly with the people you work with out of necessity. (I have definitely found this to be true so far even though I’m not there yet. People bend over backwards to help you and the vibe is so warm and welcoming.)
  • The weather is amazing.
  • The produce, especially the fruit, is the best in the world. (We heard this from a couple who has lived in many countries.)
  • We will be living 10 minutes away from a beach!
  • The Roman Ruins in Tunisia are very similar to the ones you find in Italy, but they are more well preserved, less expensive to see, and when you go you don’t have to battle lines and crowds. There are lots of other historic sites to see and unique places to visit, all a quick distance from our house. One teacher said they found and dug up a Roman Ruin in their backyard- part of a column!
  • Tunisian people are friendly and welcoming. Everyone I’ve talked to said they feel safe there (I suppose excluding the driving!).
  • The cost of living is very low. Our money will go a long way in Tunisia. Food and gas are cheaper. Plus, the school is paying for our housing so we get to pocket most of our salary. Most teachers have a housekeeper/ cook/ nanny or some combination of the three. I hear statements like, “Since moving here, I’ve never done a load of laundry or dishes. My house is spotless and I never clean. Dinner is waiting when we get home.” Having these services is very common, affordable, and helps provide jobs in their economy. (This one I can’t even wrap my brain around! I never thought in a million years, I would have this lifestyle, but since I’ve never been “Miss Suzie Homemaker” I am very much looking forward to this added perk!)
  • The travel opportunities are amazing! Tunisia is so close to Europe. Flights are quick and cheap. People go to Rome for the weekend or Spain or France during short school breaks. We will have the means and proximity to see so many places I’ve only dreamed of!
  • The School is great. My kids will be getting a world class education with opportunities like taking French, swimming, taekwondo, cooking, art, gardening, and more. The campus is beautiful, and as a teacher, the working environment sounds too good to be true. I’ll be sharing a Teacher Assistant with my 5th Grade teacher colleague. Our TA can help with copies, grading papers, putting up bulletin boards, translating when needed, and of course helping students. The class sizes are small. Apparently the upcoming 5th Grade class is especially small and I will probably only have 12 to 15 students! And the kids sound great. From what I’ve heard behavior issues are extremely rare and the kids are used to turnover so they tend to be very inclusive and welcoming of new students. I have only heard wonderful things about the principals and superintendent. There is a strong community feel and they often have American events for the students like a Halloween parade with trick-or-treating. The Sunshine Committee at the school plans outings and events. Recently they visited an olive oil farm to learn how olive oil is made. Fun!
Justin and I having a conversation about the things we are most looking forward to when we move.

So, here’s a shout out to our new friends in Tunisia! Thank you for providing your wisdom and enthusiasm. I appreciate your honesty and willingness to connect. I can’t wait to meet you in person!

And to anyone considering the path of international teaching. I don’t have much advice yet, but I will say, don’t just read the blogs and articles and research the school websites. Talk with as many people as you can. You can learn more in one conversation than you could find anywhere on the internet! Don’t be afraid to ask the silliest, smallest questions. The group of people that make up this community seem to be some of the friendliest most helpful people. You’ll be glad you reached out.

Disclaimer: The advice and descriptions in this post are relayed from others. We are the secondary source. We are excited to see it for ourselves in August! Stay tuned!

Ditch the Road Map

I have recently been thinking about the idea of goals. We are taught from a young age that goals are good. Goals are how you get ahead in life and become successful, but what if having a detailed roadmap of your life is just getting in the way? Having specific goals can be limiting, especially when we are subconsciously influenced by our past, society, and social norms. My new theory (assisted by authors Martha Beck and Wayne Dyer) is that life becomes more peaceful, more “on-purpose” and more efficient when we let go, trust the universe (or God, or whatever you relate to) and follow our instincts.

Never in a million years would I have come up with the goal: “Move to Tunisia.” It’s not something I always wanted to do. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever really heard of that country and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to find it on a map!

But that’s where I’m going and I couldn’t be more excited. It just feels right. Sometimes it’s fun to think about how I got there- the emotional, spiritual journey that lead me to where I am now. (A journey that by no means is complete or ever will be!)

I spent months reflecting, looking inward, and pursuing whatever “felt right.” I sometimes wished I had a crystal ball. I would get frustrated at the far-away, haziness of my future. I knew I needed to make a change, but I had no clue what it was. I looked down many avenues, applied to many jobs, and ended up with many dead-ends. I could never put my finger on a specific goal but I just kept telling myself, “If it’s meant to be, it will be.” Although it was discouraging at times, every rejection just narrowed down my path. I continued to put my trust in the universe and my instincts.

Anything that sounded interesting or fun- I’d explore it. And that wasn’t just in the narrow scope of careers. I auditioned for plays, took dance classes, read books, went on a retreat, and more. I was opening myself up to the universe. I never quite felt in charge- more of a collaborator in my life. I learned to relax and listen and let myself be guided.

The times I tried to be logical and strategic- tried to force my brain into “figuring out” my life- was always unsuccessful. Meditating, sitting in silence, talking with people I love, and trying my best to live in the moment brought me more break-throughs than cold-hard logic ever did. When I followed my gut and made decisions based on how I felt, making an effort to say yes to life as much as possible, I started getting somewhere. I had no idea where I’d end up, but little by little, the haziness started to subside and my future started to fall into place.

My “change” bracelet. A nice little daily reminder that “change is good!”

So I’m going to teach in Tunisia and meet new people and travel and say yes to life, even when it’s scary. If it feels “shackles off”- feels like fun and freedom, I’m doing it! I am ready to live my life to the fullest.

When people ask me how many years we will stay in Tunis, I just smile because I have no idea and a year ago that would have stressed me out, but now it doesn’t. I don’t need or want specific goals. I’m ditching the detailed road map in exchange for going with the flow and waiting to see where the universe takes me. As Wayne Dyer wrote, “You don’t have to know where you are going to get there.” If I’ve learned anything, the universe has grander, more interesting plans than anything I could come up with.

The Recruitment Process

By Guest Writer: Justin Peavey

When my wife agreed that moving overseas would be the best bet to re-energize our personal and professional selves, I immediately began researching.  I always begin with a simple “how to” search in Google and start my journey down the rabbit-hole. The journey took me through blog posts, how-to guides, and various companies trying to make a profit at our expense.  Two common threads kept popping up. Either A) you research and contact schools on your own or B) you use a reputable recruiting agency.  

As beginners in the world of international teaching, April and I agreed that going through an agency was the way to go.  But, which one? I came across a plethora of agencies claiming to offer the best teaching gigs in the nicest of locales. Most of these looked unprofessional at best and truly sketchy at worst.  Blog posts helped in navigating our way to an agency. A common thread came up several times from former international teachers: if you can afford it, use one of the better agencies such as ISS or Search Associates.  We landed on the latter.  

The first thing that surprised us about Search Associates was the level of vetting that the company goes through before showing you any of their goods.  We had to have a background check, full online resume with a personal narrative, 5 references, and the list goes on! On top of this was the fee. Search Associates charges $225 a teacher to use their platform.  For April and I, that was $450. While that is a manageable fee, it definitely made us pause and have the conversation of “Are we sure about doing all this?” We also had a recruiter assigned to us from our geographical area that helped to answer any of our early questions and make sure that we got everything in before we received access to the full site.  “Captain Bob” was an invaluable resource to us during the process. Once all the vetting was complete and the fees were paid, we finally gained full access to the site.

The second thing to note here is that Search Associates is not a typical “recruiting agency.”  Your assigned recruiter is not going to go find you a job and place you somewhere. What SA offers you is the ability to research schools, view postings that may not be visible by the public, contact the schools directly using the SA platform, and to look more reputable to the schools.  Remember, Search Associates has already done the vetting, so the schools do not have to do as much. They give you the access, you do the work.  

And so I went to work!  The SA search features make it exceedingly easy to find schools that meet all of our wants and needs.  I could search for jobs that match both April and my expertise in areas that we approve of. For example, we could easily search for schools on a particular continent that had an open position for an Elementary Art teacher and a High School Special Education teacher. Obviously, April and I are a package deal. We couldn’t consider any schools that only had openings for one of us.The school profiles gave you more information than you could dream of. This included average salaries with savings potential and benefits to the number of students in the building and start dates for the academic year. You also can contact the schools directly through the site with an email directly from Search Associates.  Within the first month, I had contacted roughly 40 schools that met our criteria, had responses back from around half of them, and had interviews set up with around 6 of them.  

We started the process the second week of September (which I was told was a fantastic time to start the process, FYI).  By the end of September, we were thoroughly vetted and gained access to the site. Through October and the beginning of November, we searched and applied to schools.  We had multiple interviews through November. Finally, we settled on a school and signed a contract with the American Cooperative School of Tunis the first week of December.  If we would have continued the process and did not receive offers, we would have gone to the San Francisco Search Associates Job Fair in February. Fortunately (or unfortunately as we wanted to see what the job fair’s were like) we didn’t have to!

I am a fan of Search Associates.  Again, this is a service where you get out of it what you put into it.  They’ve done a lot of the work for you. You just have to present the best version of yourself! That $450 fee will more than pay for itself. I really don’t think contacting schools individually, on our own would have given us the credibility to land such great jobs.  In the future, if we want to go to another country and teach at a different school, I would definitely use their services again.

We’re Hired!

Here’s the announcement video we made to share our news.

Well, that escalated quickly! Justin and I have been applying for jobs at International schools around the world since October. We applied to over 30 schools and we were fortunate enough to land quite a few interviews from schools in Indonisia, Dubai, Mozambique, Jordan, and Tunisia. Today is December 20th, and I am sitting here with contract signed, news shared, and a feeling of nerves and excitement. I can’t believe this happened so fast!

A couple Sundays ago, we received offers from 2 schools, and here’s the kicker- we had 48 hours to make our decision! I went into full-blown panic mode, making pro/con lists, pacing the floor, researching, and reaching out to family for advice. 48 hours is not enough time to make a life-altering decision like this! It was between Amman, Jordan and Tunis, Tunisia. I really clicked with the people in Amman, and they offered me a job teaching art which was my preference. Tunisia was offering a 5th Grade classroom position and the area was beautiful. The money and benefits were great in both locations. Both schools are well-established, top-rate places to teach. I went back and forth in my mind a hundred times.

On Sunday afternoon, we Skyped with a couple currently teaching at The American Cooperative School of Tunis. It was their first international gig and they moved from the States a couple of years ago. I had a million questions for them- Do your kids like the food? Do we need a car? How often do you take vacations? Do you like your principal? What’s the school schedule like? What do you do for fun? Do you feel safe? What’s the best neighborhood? What do you wish you would have known before you made this decision? The list goes on and on… We talked for an hour and after our conversation, I started feeling pulled towards Tunisia.

Going to bed Sunday night, I still didn’t feel certain, but I knew I would get there. I felt relaxed and I was ready for a good night’s sleep. I hoped I would have an epiphany in the middle of the night or maybe a dream that would speak to me about the right choice, but it wasn’t like that. Instead it felt like a cloud of dust had been kicked up Sunday morning and as time passed, and as the dust slowly drifted away, my vision became a little more clear. By Monday night, I knew my answer. Justin suggested we count to 3 and then both say what we are thinking at the same time. 1…2….3…. “Tunisia,” we said in unison. It just felt right. And that’s how it was for us. Not a logical decision, breaking down savings and researching every aspect of the school. It was something I just had to feel. We technically had until Tuesday to reply to our offers, but we had already made up our minds. We hugged. We wrote an email to the Superintendent at the Tunisian school and we called our parents and told our kids.

In August, we will teach at The American Cooperative School of Tunis and our kids will attend as well. We have 8 months left in Kansas to enjoy time with the friends and family we will miss so dearly, sell our house and most of our belongings, and mentally prepare for this big move.

My Hopes and Dreams: Putting it out in the Universe (Or at least out on the Internet)

I was supposed to be a movie star. I was pretty adamant about it my whole life. Being a teacher was not the plan. Living in Eudora, Kansas was definitely not the plan. I actually doubted whether I’d ever settle down and get married and have kids….. But….

Here I am. My name is April Peavey. I have been an Elementary Teacher for 10 years now. I live and teach in Eudora, Kansas. I have an amazing, handsome, loving husband, and two wild, entertaining, adorable children. Teddy is seven years old and Penelope is four years old.

When I look around, I can see, “I’ve got it good!” I have the house, the husband, the kids, the cars, friends, a supportive family, and more. We live comfortably. No, we aren’t jet-setting around the world on extravagant vacations, and no, I can’t afford to buy what I want when I walk into an Anthropologie store, but we’re fine.

So…. Why do I feel so blah? Why am I drained? Why do I crave more out of life? I suppose we all feel that way, right?

What are we making for dinner?

Who’s picking up Penny from preschool this afternoon?

Are these dishes clean?

Do you have homework?

Did you switch over the laundry?

Anything interesting to watch on Netflix tonight?

Sound familiar?

My social media accounts look picturesque. My kids are smiling. We are out and about…. But….. It doesn’t feel satisfying. My life feels monotonous most days. I’m just not happy because I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something missing.

Alright… lets rewind for a moment, so I don’t sound like a completely privileged, first-world-problems, take-my-my-life-for-granted, white girl….

Although this was not the life I’d envisioned, I was comfortable AND happy… for a long time actually. The beginning years of teaching and starting our family were exhilarating. I was stressed out and sleep deprived but it all felt “right.”

But over the last couple years, it started to feel less “right.” This feeling started slowly; just a nagging voice telling me this wasn’t the life I wanted, but I pushed through. I justified my choices.

  • Being a teacher isn’t perfect, but you can’t beat the schedule!
  • I live close to my parents who have been a great support system to us.
  • Eudora is a great place to raise a family.
  • I’ve already invested so much into this job and community. People know me here.

I would never dream of giving up those comforts! I may not be happy, but I am logical and disciplined. I know the grass is not always greener on the other side. I know in my mind that my life is fine, so my heart can just shut up now!

And then, I woke up. All of a sudden, comfort was no longer a factor I wanted to consider when making life choices. I only have one life to live, damnit- Let’s go live it! Screw comfort!

Great! I knew I needed a change- so empowering! But…. I had NO IDEA what I wanted to do- so frustrating. I started going to counseling, reading self-help books, meditating, journaling, etc. etc. I was going to figure my shit out, by golly! And as I sit here, flipping through my journal, here, for your amusement and mine: My top 10 list of career changes I’ve considered in the past 4 months:

10. Actress

9. Corporate Trainer

8. Social Media Associate

7. Real estate agent

6. Founder of My Own Commune

5. Professional Public Speaker

4. Travel Agent

3. Children’s Book Author

2. Host of my Own Children’s TV Show

1. Artist

And that about brings you up to speed. (I swear I’m not a flaky, indecisive person. I’ve been in the same job for 10 years and been married for 11. I still have clothes I wore in High School.)

Anyways, after a lot of reflection, research, coffee, wine, tears, laughter, and conversations with people who know me well and people I don’t know at all, I think I’ve finally figured it out. So now, drum roll please…… My current career aspiration- my hopes and dreams:

I want to teach over-seas! I want to sell everything and move across the world with my little family. I want to jump way out of my comfort-zone and meet new people and see new things. I want adventure, and the thought of this is the first thing that’s felt “right” in a long time.

The purpose of this blog will be to chronicle this process and hopefully our soon-to-be travel experiences. I hope you’ll send good vibes our way and stay tuned for our journey’s stories. Fingers crossed that next year at this time, I’ll be writing this blog from Singapore or Dubai or Brazil or Germany. Time will tell.