Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Run Around Rokko Island

Most people who live on Rokko Island have a love-hate relationship with it.

I love that my kids are safe and can move around pretty independently.  I love that we have used our bikes as our main mode of transportation for the past 7 years. I can get to the grocery store and to work within a 10 minute walk or 5 minute bike ride.

Rokko Island has seen our family grow.  Our babies have grown up here to be little people. At this point,  Rokko Island is home. We are closing a chapter on a big stage of our lives. A stage that wasn't always easy.  Raising two energetic kids as two full-time working parents is no short order, as many of you can attest to.

But, life "on-island" can be boring.  I can't easily get a gift or a new pair of shoes or buy a shirt a few hours before Maximo's concert because I realized he has outgrown everything since the last time he had to dress up. You often run into the same people on island and most days it doesn't feel very Japanese.

There are some decent restaurants on island.  But, we've eaten at all of them and you can only go back to Ritza so many times (their Salty Dogs will continue to draw me in with cool hand-chipped ice and fresh grapefruit juice).

When they were little, the kids were pretty happy just roaming to different playgrounds and hanging out at the River Mall.  While, they still are entertained with this, it's harder to fun tons of fun on island.

But, this post is about The Greenbelt. The greenbelt has been my unlikely oasis for the past 7 years. It often provides me with the only time I have for myself all week.  Sometimes it's only a 5k run once a week.  On a good week, in a good month, I'm lucky to double or triple my kilometers.

It's my sanity, my space, my time to meet with friends or rock out to my running mix and figure things out or just breathe.

I have made some of my best friends through running.  I am a much more consistent runner with a running buddy.  I love that so much can be shared on those runs or nothing at all.  I love that one of us could have the best run in years and the other maybe struggling to put one foot in front of the other, but we are all glad that we did it when we are done with our run and we are ready to start our day.

Today, I got out early for the first time in a long time, on a work day, which doesn't happen that much anymore.  I stopped to take pictures and enjoy my favorite views on my run because I will only run this loop a few more times. I may never run this path again after June 12th.

And I don't ever want to forget what it has given me.

Overgrown path - only scheduled mowings here, regardless of rain or season

Shipping cranes guarding the island

Palm trees!  Living somewhere with palm trees is always good for my soul.
Beautiful view of early morning on the South end of the Island

More Wild Cranes
Early Bird Bathroom Break
Our train stop (facing the opposite way due to the sun).
Usually my last sprint of my run.
Often the starting point to really fun nights out and adventures in Japan.

My cool down walk home
5K Greenbelt Loop on Rokko Island

So, I'll enjoy my last few runs on Rokko Island to keep my sanity and enjoy the beautiful weather over the next few weeks... And hope for a new running oasis in Beijing.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Respect Thy Neighbor

One of the things that I think I will miss most about Japan is respect.  In Japan, people are super respectful of space and others around them.

I love quiet!

I love considerate people!

A tradition in Japan is to bring neighbors gifts when you are moving into an apartment.  We were told this before we moved to Japan.  I got some cute little Peruvian knick-knack things to give to our future new neighbors in Japan.  Between the jetlag, starting a new job, trying to parent a crazy two year old and the massive language barrier, those little gifts remained in a closet for over a year and we never did formally introduce ourselves to our neighbors.

When we moved after about three years of living in Japan, I was more prepared and had a better understanding of the culture, so we brought cookies to our neighbor.  I wrangled the kids and sheepishly showed them a handwritten note (a friend graciously translated) to tell them who we were and to excuse our loud children.

Since then, we have had a few neighbors move in and out from around our apartment.  Tonight a new upstairs neighbor (note: we received a parting present from the neighbor who left a month ago) came by with her sons to deliver us a little gift with a note:
Between my broken Japanese and her broken English and with the help of introducing our similarly aged kids, we got through the formalities.

Unfortunately, I was unable to tell her we'll be moving out in a month... she'll figure it out when our shipping company commandeers the elevator or the teachers who are moving into our apartment in August awkwardly bring them a little gift.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

An Update to Our Photos

A photo posted by Julie (@loslemleys) on
Picasa is a thing of the past and all of our photos have been merged onto Google Photos, which I'm not so crazy about, so starting 2016, all our photos will be on Flickr (until that gets replaced by something).

We just finished Golden Week, and we traveled down to First Backpackers Inn to camp on Awaji Island.  It was a beautiful night on the beach with friends.

Now, we have four full weeks of school left and less than 6 weeks until we leave Japan.

Flickr Photostream

Friday, April 01, 2016

A Trip to Koyosan

Many of our friends have travelled to Koyasan, and we've tried to book the easy two hour trip away, but we've always tried to do it last minute, and failed to book our stay at the Koyasan Guesthouse Kokuu.

First, before I go further with our visit to Koyasan, this little guesthouse deserve some props.  It is the first time we've stayed in a hostel like place since 2000 when John and I backpacked around Europe.  Koyasan Guesthouse is simple, but super well designed for visitors.  We stayed in "capsule" style rooms (one of us each with a kid).  There were also 3 family rooms.  They had a good, fresh breakfast of eggs, fresh bread, yogurt and fruit.  They also had a bar where we able to have a couple drinks before dinner.  They had curry for dinner every night, but we opted to eat at a local restaurant (Shunsai Kameya - 100 meters to the left of the hotel), which was really good!

Now, let me share our opinion of Koyosan with kids.  I would say that I wouldn't go with kids any younger than ours (8 &5 ), although we've had friends that did and survived.  There was a lot of walking for the kids and not a lot of exciting things for them to do.  (When asked what their favorite parts of the trip were - they both answered, staying in the capsule room).

They were troopers as we took long walks through the town and the cemetary and even did a night cemetary walk with us.

Koyosan was serene and a quaint town.  We stayed less than 24 hours there, so we did miss a few things.  Many people go and stay at the temples to learn more about the buddhist culture and experience shojin ryori cuisine.

Our favorite part was walking through Okunoin cemetery with over 200,000 memorials.  It was beautiful and so peaceful.  Moss and tree roots actively reclaiming some of the older markers and memorials.
Jizo - Protector of Children

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Laos - Best Trip Ever with Kids

As we were having a beer watching the sun set over the Mekong River, I looked over to John and said,
I think this is our best vacation, ever, with kids
And it was.  Laos is an amazing country, but also on top of that, our kids are now at an age, where we are not lugging strollers or diapers or special snacks or worrying about naptime or finding food that they can eat.  And it was glorious.

We started our trip in Vientiane.

Well, actually let me back up a bit... this trip seemed like it was doomed the week before we left. Five days before we were to fly, Lola got a big case of the chicken pox.  They had just crusted over, so we were able to fly, with our polka-dotted girl:

Then, the night before we left, I realized that I didn't have my AR (Alien Registration) card which I need to get in and out of the country, and am supposed to have on hand all the time.  Luckily, 3000¥ ($27USD) later, and a dozen "Gomenasei" (sorrys), I was released from the immigration office and able to join the rest of the Lemley crew to get on our flight.

Back to Vientiane...  as soon as we arrived at the airport, time slowed down.  The airport was small and calm.  No one was yelling "taxi" or really paying any attention to us at all.  We got taxis to the Ibis Hotel  - where we luckily scored a family room which was perfect - queen for us and bunkbeds in a joining room for the kids.

Vientiane was great - we stayed right on the strip, so we could easily walk to many cafes and restaurants.  And we could walk to the night market and Mekong River within minutes.

We headed off to the Buddha Park for a morning with the kids which was great and our other highlight of Vientiane was meeting up with a friend who teaches there.  It was great to catch up and she took us to a fantastic restaurant Lao Kitchen, which we wouldn't have found on our own, and our love for LAAB began.
We ate it many times in Lao, but was always too excited
 and forgot to take pictures when it came to the table.
Image Credit:

After two nights in Vientiane, we rented a van and headed up to Vang Vieng.  It was lovely!  We stayed at Riverside Boutique Resort and had a lovely view.  The hotel wasn't the most child friendly place - we felt like we had to keep the kids quiet at the pool, but it was central and nice.

They arranged two kayaking trips for us, which were fantastic.  Our friends also arranged a ziplining day with their older kids and they said it was amazing. The food was great in Vang Vieng with cheap, delicious street food and many western options as well - we had falafel and hummus (which is not always easy to find in Kobe) twice and Mexican (Amigos) to mix it up one night.

After a few days in Vang Vieng, we headed up to Luang Prabang.  We stayed out of the city at Villa Santi Resort & Spa, (they also had a hotel in the city) which was good for the kids, because we could spend the afternoon at the pool.

Luang Prabang was great - there were many excursions outside of the city (Waterfall trips, Elephant Sanctuary), but we had already done a lot of outside adventures in Vang Vieng, so we stuck to the city and did shopping, eating, and templing.  The highlights of Luang Prabang was Living Land Farm, which was an interactive experience where we went through the process of rice.

John and the guys went on a day motorcycle excursion with MotoLao and they had a fantastic time. The night market was fantastic (much better than the one in Vientiane) as well as the artisan and small boutique shops on the main street.

Laos is a beautiful country.  The Lao people we interacted with were kind and welcoming.  We always felt safe in Lao and never felt taken advantage of and bargaining was minimal.  We were rarely hassled or asked to buy anything.  The food was fantastic (although in Luang Prabang we didn't find as many gems as we did in Vang Vieng and Vientiane).

Laos is a country we definitely want to explore again!

Kop Chai Deu

Kop Chai Lai Lai

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Recruiting Teacher - the last stage... the job fair

As many of you know, we accepted positions in Beijing next year.  We are very excited about our new jobs and new adventure.  The responses we get when we tell people we are moving to Beijing are interesting.  We are truly happy and can't wait.  All jobs have pros and cons.  The obvious cons being pollution and the cold winters (for me) but the perks are huge: a great school community for both us and the kids, a LARGE diverse city, and our jobs are perfect (which is tricky when recruiting as a couple).

We accepted positions at the end of November, so we did not have to attend the SEARCH Bangkok Job Fair. We still planned to be in Bangkok at the time, so we were there right in the middle of it, but got to watch it from afar.  It's a strange occurrence: hundreds of international teachers within a three block radius in Bangkok either looking for employees or looking for an employer.  We must have saw twenty people that we new from the past ten years of working abroad.

We were able to meet our new headmaster, HR director, principal (who we actually worked with before) and a student from our new school.  It was great.  We had amazing street food close from the hotel and got to know each other better, which was really nice.  It got us even more excited about going to work at our new school.

Back to the job fair...  once you walk into the hotel where the fair takes place, you can immediately feel the tension in the air and see the wild eyes in teachers looking for jobs.  First off, potential employees and employers are labelled - one with a red lanyard and one with a blue lanyard, so you can clear identify who is who.

There is a set time where the doors open in a large conference room and schools all have tables with their job openings listed behind them. You queue up in lines that have openings for you (and usually split to do this as a couple) hand your resume and give your best smile and 1 minute pitch and hope for an interview.   So then, you have interview sign-ups for later in the day and the next day.

You have these interviews in hotel rooms of the administrators.  It is a bit weird.  As a couple, you possible interview together - which is, um, interesting, or  you interview separately with different principals or administrators.

Then, you hopefully nail something good - get a good reference check and then are offered a contract. We had a lot of friends recruiting this year and we are all going to different places all over the world. Recruiting season is super stressful, but it is an exciting time where you usually end up in a place you never considered (Beijing, Japan and Peru, all fit in this category) for another amazing, unique experience.

However, this is changing with the ease of interviewing over Skype.  It'll be interesting to see what happens with the job fairs over the next few years.  It's an expensive event for both teachers and schools to go to Bangkok, and sometimes, London, Boston, etc.  I'm thinking there will be less fairs and maybe more for teachers just getting into the international school circuit, but who knows.

Now we are on to another big job as we finish out our contract in Japan... getting all the pieces together for our Chinese visa!  Whoa!

Sunday, November 08, 2015

A Silent Time During International School Recruiting

Image Credit: silence by Rebecca Barray via Flickr CC

I was going to try to document our recruiting process a bit better, but right now, while I have so much to say, there's nothing I want to say publicly.

There is a long period of waiting as jobs get posted and as we apply... but there's nothing to report, although there are many ups and downs to our days - checking the job postings, finding or not finding positions at schools you want to work at and waiting for replies.

To sum-up our last few weeks, we've felt both anxiety and excitement. We've lost sleep, our (well, mine more than John's) brains are often running in a million directions, we constantly research schools and countries, and we fantasize about many "what-if" scenarios.

We have been lucky enough to have a couple of interviews.  It's still early in the process and this is not necessarily the norm.  However, Skyping to try to sell yourself to a stranger in a 60 minute interview (after a full day of work and getting the kids settled in for the night) is HARD!

In our thoughts and conversations, we have gone from Prague to Bangkok to Johannesburg to Buenos Aires to Vientiane to Luanda to Singapore to Sao Paolo and back again many times.  This is both exciting and exhausting!

We have not been offered any contracts.  It is still early.  Most schools do not have all their "definite" job openings yet. We would like to try to sign contracts before the end of November and we'd really like to not have to attend the job fair in Bangkok in January, but we've made reservations to go there, just in case.

While we feel extremely lucky to be able to move to another country to another amazing school, it is stressful.

There are A LOT of teachers in the international circuit and teachers in their home countries trying to get into the international schools circuit.  Our small school alone gets many applications EVERY day. I can't imagine how many applicants some of the large big-name schools must get for their positions. There are many qualified applicants for the same jobs.

In my opinion, it really comes down to this:

1 - Who you know
 *** Extra perk if they have hiring power ***
Since administrators receive CVs from so many qualified applicants (and really anyone can look good on a CV these days), it is good if the administrator knows you/has worked with you before.  (Or someone who has some serious weight is a close connection to both you and the person hiring.) Beyond how great a teacher you are, schools are looking for teachers/families that fit in well with the culture and need at their school.

2 - The puzzle piece of the jobs that are open for that year at schools
Right now there are 35 positions open for me on SEARCH Associates. I could add another 15 looking at the Middle School English jobs open right now, too.  Now I would easily narrow that down to about 10 schools where we would actually work.  Next, you match up jobs that I want coupled with John's position as a Secondary Librarian....  drum roll please...  we are down to 4 - FOUR - schools!  Now, they are four FANTASTIC schools, that we'd love to work in, but eesh.

For me, the scariest part of this is that you may not be hired, even though you are the best person for the job! If there is another couple that fits better, for example a Physics teacher and a Librarian, because the Physics position is trickier to fill than say a middle school teacher position, then they'll get that Library job, and we.are.out! *sob*

3 - LUCK!

Luck and timing are everything. I realize this is true in all parts of life.

So, we continue to hustle.  We can't catch the fish if we don't put our line in the water.  We are applying, talking to friends all over the world and we continue to wait (and try to be patient).

So the silence for us will continue a bit longer.  We don't know where the cards will fall.  I'm always a little wary of "jinxing" something that seems good and exciting, because you never know.  Last time we recruiting, we made it through the second round of interviews at a school and then didn't get it.

Hopefully we'll have exciting news to share soon, but until then.  I'll try to sleep and keep my excessive email checking to a minimum.

Monday, October 19, 2015

International Teaching: We Are All in the Same Place

I distinctly remember when John and I were about the head to Peru and thinking... this is going to be weird, working together.

Now, not working together seems even stranger.  There are so many perks of being all at the same place.  Once and a while, John and I have lunch together which is a nice treat.

But best of all, we get to participate in the kids' activities.  Last week John got to go to Kande Farms with Maximo as a part of their Farm to Table and Systems Unit and I was lucky enough to make bread with 36 second graders.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

So What DO we want?

Image Credit:

Searching for the perfect school and finding the perfect match is tricky.  We have decided this is our year to recruit... there is no going back. We have put our notice in.  But, now we are at the mercy of what positions open up at schools that we want to work at.  John and I have pretty specialized jobs, so that right there narrows down our opportunities.

There are so many factors that go into choosing the right place.  These are our thoughts...

First and for most, we want to be safe, happy and we want our kids to flourish.
No place is perfect.  BUT, there are a lot of great places out there that we would be very happy moving to.  When positions pop up, it's definitely a conversation of positions, school and country.

If we were going to make a criteria of what we are looking for kind of in order, this is what it look like:

1. Bigger school (like 850-1500 Pre-K - 12)
2. Strong, established school with vibrant curriculum and programs
3. Library position for John
4. Safe country
5. Interesting city/country
6. Warm climate

Extra perks:

  • Being able to communicate better (either a language we already speak =: English or Spanish OR I language easier to learn than Japanese, preferably with a phonetic writing system).
  • Cool living space with a bit more room.  Extras:  an outdoor area, grill, pool?

We have been talking about moving a lot with the kids, so they aren't freaked out about it.  Luckily they have seen a lot of friends come and go, so it isn't as foreign as it would have been to me as a child.  When we asking them things about moving, some really funny conversations come up.  This is what the kids want in our next home:

Maximo's Wishes
1. Two bathrooms in our home
2. To be near a beach
3. A pet

Lola's Wishes
1. To move to Legoland
2. A pet

Part 1 of Our Process of Recruiting as International Teachers