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11 Tips for Living & Teaching Like a Rock Star in Venezuela

by Kristen K. Brown Secondary Coordinator/High School English Teacher International School of Monagas


Enjoy the “Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes.

There will never be another Fatima, Elli, or Patrick. No one can replace the way my H-Hall neighbor teachers in Texas made me feel. However, I now teach some new, wonderful Francescas, Javiers, and Jorges. I also work with some of the most innovative, energetic, fresh-minded people in Blocks 3 and 4. My two children get to enjoy their energy and enthusiasm for their classroom craft. Seeing their educational and social successes (with a mountain range as a backdrop) are worth David Bowie’s paycheck.

Discover “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

This could mean a sidewalk that’s unpaved and smells of security guard urine. It could, however, be a historic sidewalk that leads you to a church built more than a century ago. Taking in the richness of local architecture, history, and culture is worth the cost of getting lost in a downtown area. George Strait made a pun about “Where the sidewalk ends – you left a lot.” In the case of living in Venezuela, an expat may leave a little and take away a lot, if only for exploring new places.

“Hey Good-Lookin’” – it’s time to get cookin’.

Buy a Spanish language cookbook. Try some new recipes. Win-win: language acquisition, new food, encourages making the transition from own native food to local fare. Keep the cookbook as a souvenir should you ever decide to leave your little paradiso. Better yet, cook a homemade meal using this new cookbook while listening to the Spanish vocal stylings of Cristian Castro or Ricardo Arjona. Hank Williams wouldn’t mind one bit.

Maybe you hope “Papa Don’t Preach.”

Even still, seek (and heed) the advice of elders. The advice gleaned from more experienced educators will likely turn into priceless pearls of wisdom and part of one’s daily mantra. Before I brought two teenagers to Venezuela with me, I had to make sure we weren’t going to be living in a grass hut with no electricity. A Venezuelan-based elementary teacher and I Skyped one weekend before moving overseas, and he graciously walked his iPad around the apartment to show me what my accommodations would be. While my adventuresome son would’ve thought the novelty of living in a grass hut while tossing an American football outside was awesome, my prima donna princess who enjoys pricey mall-grade skin care products and listens to Broadway show tunes would have abandoned ship early on or else made moving to Venezuela a living hell for all of us. The apartment has satisfied our needs, and we even hear some cool Reggaeton blaring from a nearby restaurant on the weekends. Hello SoundHound and hello iTunes download! Even Madonna would like it here!

Remember it’s true that “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”

If I have learned anything thus far in my journey abroad, it’s that knowing there’s an eclectic air that surrounds international educators. Some are quite learned and professional. Others are young, inexperienced, and at times, not even licensed to teach. There are those who work well past their prime while others remain passionate about students and all it takes to be a teacher, day in and day out. If you’re new to this game, remember to always err on the side that enhances student achievement, no matter how petty adults (yes, even educators) can be at times. It’s a job, not a marriage. Most teachers commit to a one- or two-year contract. What this means is that no matter how long you want to stay some place, each new fall brings a freshness to the air and the school climate. Hang in there; the stinky ones don’t poison a campus for too long before Administration discovers who is truly a one hit wonder and won’t benefit the students any longer. That’s advice even the disagreeable Bret Michaels would find some truth in.

Go ahead and “JUMP!” on local deals.

There’s nothing more empowering on the planet than untangling the foreign tongue of pricing, conducting sales transactions for a bunch of bananas, and finding mega-steals at the farmers market or a mom & pop store early on a Saturday morning. It’s been a journey in itself seeing how far the U.S. dollar stretches here. Coming home and stocking the cabinets with new wares and foods with strange, nearly illegible labels can make one feel like the David Lee Roth of shopping sprees.

Since “Video Killed the Radio Star,” turn off CNN.

There’s such a slanted view of Venezuela presented. I have read all the State Department warnings and I even subscribe to Stratfor, so I get a picture of what the outside world must see, and it’s so incredibly incomplete. Yeah, crime happens, but as a former police officer, I can only say that crime happens, well, everywhere, anywhere, all the time, and it knows neither socioeconomic nor racial boundaries. My newest obsession is Twitter, and it’s there that I’m able to keep up-to-date on news that applies to my life. More appropriately, both of my North and South American lives, as well as the world-at-large. Everything else is just ancillary to me, for now anyway. Find that little box inside your brain that wants to watch the news, take it out and crush it like only the Buggles

Start a cache of takeaways as “Part of the Plan.”

More than the spoon collection left behind in the storage unit, this is a bank of “bringables.” These are those items that you keep as souvenirs when you leave, as well as items to which you will undoubtedly grow accustomed. Dan Fogelberg would be proud.

Tape “Part of the List” to the fridge.

NOW… You know The List: the one that you’ve been meaning to write that contains all the stuff you miss from back home. Yeah, that one. Write everything down that you feel are must-haves. Then, cut the list in half. Throw your revised list into your passport holder in June so that you can hit Wal-Mart, Target, Dillards, etc. a day or two after your plane touches down safely on a well-known runway and you’ve grown tired of hugging Mom. Here’s why you cut it in half: When I interviewed for a job in Thailand, the principal there said his most missed item was Skippy peanut butter from Costco. He also said that when he and his wife first moved from the States to Thailand with their children, they used to bring a ton of stuff back with them. After the first few trips doing this, they acclimated to inventory Thai stores offered and each just toted a backpack or single suitcase as carry-on. I, too, have acclimated to what stores here offer, the crazy long lines at Unicasa, and the insanity of waiting three weeks to accumulate what I need to make lasagna. You can too. Ne-Yo won’t mind if the list gets halved.

Don’t “Rock the Boat” – get out… and often.

Yeah, you’re working abroad, but God created weekends for going to Angel Falls, Colonia Tovar, Playa Medina, and catching a Tiburones/Leones beisbol game alongside a beer and tequeño-throwing crowd nestled in the heart of Caracas. And maybe catching some Dallas Cowboys football via Direct TV when plopping back down after satisfying your weekend wanderlust. The Hues Corporation toured all around in its heyday; you should too.

“Get Back.” This must happen in both body and spirit.

Skype Mom & Dad & BFFs once in a while as you venture into uncharted territory and explore vast oceans, food, peoples, and their cultures. Then, go back a couple of times a year to celebrate the holidays, to devour home- cooking like you remember it, and to shop where you know you can find everything and not have to present a fingerprint and photo ID simply to purchase toilet tissue. Then, whether you’re a Jojo or a Loretta, “Get back to where you once belonged.” You’ll find that place, no matter how rocky the ride. If John, Paul, George, & Ringo could each impart their wisdom today, I’d wager they would agree with me.


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