I just got back from an event in DC that was about as information-heavy as its title – the East Asia Pacific (EAP) English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Pre-Departure Orientation (PDO). It was a great five days, jam-packed with information and networking, all during an incredibly historic time in our country.
The first half of the orientation was focused on regional information about East Asia Pacific, including cultural aspects that we should consider when working there. This half was for researchers and scholars in addition to ETAs. It began with a bunch of speeches from the State Department and affiliated organizations, which was interesting, but very heavy on China and the TPP. The regional breakouts helped detail the cultural context in which we will be teaching and gave us advice on how to pack (which sounds minor, but is a daunting prospect!). We also got a chance to talk to our contacts at the US Embassy in Vientiane and learn more about our orientation in-country, which will last for the first month and a half or so. The second half was only ETAs, and we workshopped different learning and teaching styles. We ended by teaching sample lessons, where I got to make half of my group act out the plot of Dr. Seuss’s “The Sneetches.”
The best part of the PDO was meeting the rest of the Fulbrighters, both those who will be stuck with me in Laos and those headed elsewhere in the EAP region. I met some other really cool folks headed to Mongolia and Indonesia and Vietnam, but obviously, the Laos cohort is the best. Our handy guide for the weekend was Megan, a Laos ETA from 2013-2014. She was one of the first ETAs in Savannakhet, so it was especially useful for me to have her around. Generally, Megan was incredibly helpful and patiently answered all of the silly questions we flung at her. The rest of the crew is as follows: Courtney, Danielle, Tassos, Will (who will all be in Vientiane), and Theresa (my housemate in Savan, woohoo). We hung out a ton at orientation as well as in our free time, including at a great live blues bar on Saturday night. Before this week I was definitely anxious, but after meeting these cool cats I am nothing but excited. We all hit it off pretty well and it’s great to know that amongst all of the challenges that we will confront throughout the next year, there will be an awesome group of people right there to face them with. Saying goodbye after just a few days was already tough – can’t wait to get to know everyone better soon.
The week was also excellently timed. Friday was particularly memorable. The declaration of marriage equality was truly a striking moment and the whole city was electrified by the good news. That evening, I had the chance to see a live show of one of my favorite podcasts – Stuff You Should Know. It sounds silly going to listen to two guys sit at a desk and talk, but the show was great. I was also able to get dinner with my cousin and his wife and lunch with a former boss from a high school job – both excellent conversations that I was thankful to be able to fit in our schedules.
Overall, the PDO was an incredibly helpful event. Beyond just learning more about the history of Fulbright and details about my grant, talking to fellow Fulbrighters and experienced educators really helped reaffirm why I’m doing this. Before this week I had certain ideas beyond “it sounds cool,” but I didn’t quite know how to articulate them accurately. Obviously, I love to travel and my desire to explore a new part of the world is a consideration, but beyond that, I’m looking forward to having an impact in the community I’ll be working in. I know what I do and teach will have a direct impact on my students. I relish the opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone and to learn to communicate and build meaningful relationships more effectively with those around me. There is tremendous value in being able to teach others, and even if my future career doesn’t have a formal teaching aspect, it is a skill that is crucial in successfully interacting with coworkers, clients, and friends.
The countdown clock is ticking fast… just over 2 weeks from departure!