the backstage epiphany

where reality is so subjective it's entirely optional

Monthly Archives: March 2008

One chapter closed

Earlier this afternoon Oscar asked, “Why don’t you just stay on for the rest of your grace period?”

Why not, indeed?

Because I never took into account the possibility of getting attached to the people that I’ve met and the friends that I’ve made in Boston. Because I always thought that I’d just come here, do what I had to do and then move on. Because dear knows I never imagined that having my life revolve around the same place and the same people for four relentless weeks would make me want to stay on here as long as I can.

Gabriela, Elspeth and Flora: There are no words to say how grateful I am that I met all of you, how grateful I am for the circumstances that gave us the bond we have now . There are no words to say how much I appreciate what we’ve gone through in the past month, and how much I look forward to what we’re about to experience with what we’ve learned. This is definitely not the end of it.

Sheena: Thank you for taking care of me and supporting me when I needed it the most . Thank you for understanding where I was coming from and not judging me for it. Thank you for taking some of the cynicism out of me and helping me believe that I really could do this.

Cora (-san): HOLLAAAAA!!!  I’m so glad I met you and was able to have you as a friend as well as a teacher and mentor . Thank you for letting me be myself even while I was a teacher, and for recognizing that Asians don’t cry in public . – Love, Poo-chan

Oscar: My New York homeboy ! I’m so glad I met you, even though I didn’t really know you until this past weekend, and I’m only sorry that we never got a chance to hang out before that. Thanks for being there the one time that I couldn’t make it to a bathroom to cry.

Five weeks in Boston. And just like that, it’s over.


The belated epiphany

Better late than never

It happened during the walk to BAE yesterday morning. It might have been because of the thought of this being the last week of the TEFL program, and getting certified today. Or it might have been because of the impending return to Buffalo next Tuesday, and how fast time has gone by. Whatever the cause, it was completely unexpected, and yet quite unsurprising. Out of nowhere, the thought came to me: “I can’t wait to go home.”

Yes, I dreaded going home because the thought of being with my family was — and still is — inconceivable, but now I know it really doesn’t matter. Because like it or not, they’re my family, and come hell or high water I will deal with them just like I dealt with all my other problems. And now that the TEFL program is over, and I know there’s nothing left for me in this country, I’m ready to fly hell for leather out of here and actually do something with what I’ve gotten out of my time in the program, even if it means doing it back home.

I’ve finally learned how to let go.

Out of TEFL Town

“Hollaaaa Poo-chan!” – Cora

The last lap

Or is it?

TEFL is now 75% over. With only one week left, it’s mind-numbing to think about having even survived thus far, and what an impact the program has had on everyone. Flora is now possibly at risk of bronchitis, Gabriela has to try not to laugh (a damn near impossible feat in our class) because it makes her cough too much, Elspeth is becoming increasingly (and surprisingly) frazzled even though she’s probably doing the best out of everyone at the practice teaching sessions, and Benjamin has simply become impossible to deal with. And I? I have to shut down intermittently throughout the day so that I don’t end up screaming for silence or taking too many trips to the bathroom to cry.

You know you’ve felt the true extent of the misery of living with people when every (actual or potential) emotional meltdown has to take place in the bathroom.

Pain and addiction

One doesn’t exist without the other

They’re self-inflicted and self-developed. We put ourselves in a position where we’re vulnerable to everything, even though we know we’re likely to get hurt. And when that happens, we can’t complain about it or blame anyone but ourselves, because we made that choice, and somehow, it was never about us in the first place.

I could never tell you why

Today I taught the most frightening lesson thus far: grammar. The lesson went very well, because it was an advanced class and the students already knew the material, but because they are, after all, still students who want to learn English so badly that they skip their elective classes — elective classes they paid for — to attend free lessons given by teachers in training just so they can learn something even more than what their usual teachers have to offer, they will still feel the need to ask questions. And it’s when they ask questions that the panic sets in, because even though we know this is so and that is not, how do we explain why?

Why — the most difficult of the five W-questions to answer. Why are both the noun and verb spelt with a -ce when they are clearly in different forms? That being said, how do we explain why a noun is spelt with a -ce and the verb with an -se when they both sound exactly the same to certain people and completely different to others? The answers may make sense to some, but absolutely no sense to others.

The same can be said for why certain things in life are the way they are. Why does one person still try when the other person seems to have given up? Why do some people only try when it’s too late? Why does someone let themselves fall in love when the circumstances of it are so daunting? Again, the answers may make sense to some, but none to others. And yet, sometimes, there is no real answer. Sometimes, it’s just the way it is.

Old is the new new

I don’t really know if it’s just the Monday blues, or PMS (for real this time), but whatever it is, it’s not good. Sitting in the Grammar Conference this morning, fighting the urge to shout at Benjamin to just shut the fuck up, and willing the caffeine to kick in, I was suddenly overcome by the violent urge to go home. Not even Buffalo-home, but home home. Maybe it’s because in exactly three weeks I’ll be on a plane back to the other side of the world, and right now time is flying and yet not moving fast enough. Maybe it’s because just a few hours ago someone told me, “I think you’ll like being home.” Or maybe it’s because no matter how much I snipe and gripe about it, deep down I really could be ready to go home.

When people ask if I look forward to going home, I always say, “Yes and no,” because to only say either one would be lying through my teeth. No, I don’t want to go home because I would be giving up all my friends and the only life I’ve known and loved for the last four years, to go back to next to nothing and living with my parents and my insufferable grandmother. No, I don’t want to go home because I’m afraid I’ll wake up one morning with the urge to sell my soul for a way to come back to America. Yes, I want to go home because I miss my mom and after the heinously difficult year I’ve had I want to just sit down with her and bawl my eyes out. Yes, I want to go home because at this point even going home would be a step up, after hitting rock bottom. And yes, I want to go home and see if anything will have changed along with my newfound perception of life itself.


On the very first day of TEFL training, Sheena said, “For the next twenty-five days (yes, including weekends), your life will revolve around this program. When your training is over and you are certified, there is no possible way that you will leave this school without having been significantly changed in some way.” And even though the training is just barely half over, I can already see what she meant.

The last time I did any teaching was three years ago at Bennett High School in Buffalo, to kids who were there because they had to be and didn’t give a tinker’s damn whether or not they learned anything. I came to the Boston Academy of English knowing that on some level, teaching ESL would obviously be different from teaching English under the Buffalo Public School System, but the reality of it, though not very surprising, is that teaching ESL so much more than just being different. My year’s end review had me thinking that the circumstances in my life in the past year had made me grow up more quickly and profoundly than ever before — until I joined TEFL.

After days of preparing, worrying and panicking, and many hours of tearful breakdowns in bathrooms and to trainers Sheena and Cora, I survived my first week of teaching. It was the most difficult, and yet, in some strange, oxymoronic way, the most fun and fulfilling experience of my life, despite the occasional trips down the rabbit hole. The feelings of accountability and responsibility have never been bigger; to know that there are people who actually depend on you to teach them one way to survive in a foreign country is absolutely terrifying, but then to see them learn and actually put to use what you’ve given them is the most rewarding feeling in the world, even for a teacher in training.