down time with the boys at deep creek lake

August 13-20: The family’s packed into the van this Saturday morning, our border collie Bailey stuffed into a tight little barrel of a space between my two sons, Alex and Adam.  We’re on a 3-hour drive through Maryland, passing through towns with names like Accident, Friendsville, Bear Creek, Licking Creek and Big Pool.  We even pass a place called Negro Mountain and I’m mildly shocked because the name is so politically incorrect.  Yet.  There it is, for all the passing world to see.

Creekside Cove at Deep Creek Lake
Creekside Cove at Deep Creek Lake

The sky is overcast and dreary, but the earth is green and lush with rolling hills, mountains and pastures.  My knees are so creaky and stiff I can’t get comfortable.  I cross them, uncross them, stretch them out straight like a sliding board on the dashboard.  I sit cross-legged.

in the basement of the cabin with the pool table
in the basement of the cabin with the pool table

Early this morning, before leaving home, I turn down a job offer in Erbil, Kurdistan.  Friday afternoon, August 12, I sent every last document attesting to my past teaching positions to Oman.  There’s nothing else to send after this, so if their Ministry doesn’t approve me, I’ll be sadly without a job.  So far, I’ve turned down the Wall Street Institute in Ankara,Turkey, King Saud University in Riyadh, Westgate Corporation (universities) in Japan, and SABIS University in Kurdistan.  At this point, there’s nothing more for me to do but relax and enjoy my vacation with my boys.  If everything falls through, I’ll have to deal with it later.  My life will unfold as it will, like the undulating landscape around us.

Our cabin at the lake
Our cabin at the lake

Our cabin at Deep Creek Lake is 1544 Creekside Cove.  It perches high on a hill hemmed in by pines, oaks and maples.  Here in the mountains at this man-made lake in western Maryland, some of the leaves are already starting to change.  I see a smattering of yellow mottled leaves on the deck.  Down in the basement of the cabin is a pool table where we play a rousing game. Later, the boys take some cigars and Mike’s Lemonade and we all sit out in the hot tub, while they puff smoke rings into the air.

Adam in the hot tub
Adam in the hot tub

Sunday it is cool and raining off and on.  We walk along the lake shore to the dam that forms Deep Creek Lake and later take a drive around the lake where we encounter a tiny dog with a soup can stuck on his head.  He is trying like heck to get it off to no avail.  Mike stops the van and tugs viciously, lifting the poor little dog in the air, to pull it off.  After several tries, the can is off.  Had we not come along, we wonder if the little pup might have met an untimely death by tin can.

We eat dinner at the Santa Fe Grille where we have mediocre Mexican food, shrimp and steak kebabs, tilapia with a sickly sweet sauce and vegetable enchiladas.  After dinner, since it is still raining, we watch a cute movie called City Island. I love these kinds of movies with quirky characters and a surprising story.

I adore this cabin because I have the upstairs bedroom and outside my room is a nice airy area, overlooking the living room below, with a table where each morning I can write long overdue blog entries about my trip to India.  It’s always been my dream to write in the morning while drinking coffee at a lake cabin’s screened-in porch.  This cabin has no screened-in porch, but when I open the window to a cool breeze, it almost feels like a dream come true.

my little writing alcove
my little writing alcove

Monday, I wake up to an email on my BlackBerry from another teacher who has already been at the University of Nizwa for the last year.  We arrange to chat once I return home. Finally, I can get more information about life in Oman! Later in the morning, we rent a motorboat, but it’s still cool and overcast.  We take a spin around the lake, shivering and huddling in the boat.  We make a stop at the Lakeside Creamery, where I get a decadent chocolate milkshake and the boys get waffle cones with several scoops of homemade ice cream.  Later we play the game I got addicted to in Korea (by virtue of my friends Anna and Seth) Ticket to Ride, which Adam wins.

inside the Lakeside Creamery
inside the Lakeside Creamery

Finally on Tuesday the sun comes out, beaming through a dramatic sky full of bulging stacks of clouds, whipped-cream-like at top with gray gauzy underbellies.  The boys go wake-boarding all day and I ride in the boat enjoying their antics.  They’re so grown up now; it amazes me when I think of the little toddlers and boys they once were.  Adam full of confidence and bluster, Alex kind, shy, quieter and not so sure of himself.  It’s a beautiful day out on the lake. Tonight, after we eat a dinner of pasta with zucchini, peppers and pesto, we watch another movie we brought along, Barney’s Version,which I’m not that crazy about.

Adam on the wakeboard
Adam on the wakeboard

All week I’ve been writing my blogs, but I can’t post them to the internet because, alas, there is no WiFi in the cabin.  So on Wednesday, I go to a little coffee shop to post some of my blogs.  The internet connection is so bad, and everything takes so long, that I soon lose patience and give up.  Later, more wake-boarding and tubing for the boys, but Alex hurts his face and neck on a bad fall and swears off water sports for the rest of the day.  I go tubing as well, with Adam filming and making commentary. Later, at Brenda’s Pizzeria, Alex gets bent out of shape because Adam and I talk about how you can control the thoughts you think, and he disagrees and feels we are ganging up on him.  We eat our dinner of mussels, eggplant parmigiana, Rustico pizza and garden pesto pizza with a buzzing tension in the air. There is a deep-seated competition between the boys and it comes out tonight after too much together time.  I think we are all needing some space. We go back to the cabin and play a game of Scrabble which doesn’t ease the pressure at all.

Adam and Alex on the boat
Adam and Alex on the boat

On Thursday, Alex decides to stay alone in the cabin while Adam goes out for another day of wake-boarding.  Adam and Mike ski and the three of us eat sandwiches and shrimp cocktail and deviled eggs from the Arrowhead grocery while we motor back to the cabin.  I take a long hot bath while Mike and the boys return the boat ~ our rental period is over.  Mike takes the boys to the Lakeside Creamery again, but I pass because I’m feeling too fat.  I relax back at the cottage and read the book I brought along, Sister India.

hike at swallow falls
hike at swallow falls

With no boat on Friday, we take a lovely hike to Swallow Falls.  Adam does back flips into the swimming holes while Alex climbs up to the falls and stands underneath, getting soaked through.  We stop at a little general store for a lunch of chicken-and-grape salad sandwiches, chili dogs and fizzy orange sodas.  They drop me later at the State Park beach where I relax and read my book.  I am mesmerized by a family with young kids as they negotiate how best to make a little river which will flow from the sandy beach into the lake, by hauling buckets of water to a hole they dig and letting it flow down a shovel-dug trough.  It reminds me of when the boys were little and Mike spent hours building sand castles and burying each of the boys in the sand.

Adam, me and Alex
Adam, me and Alex

Alex is still feeling rather moody, so Adam, Mike and I go without him to the Black Bear Tavern where a singer plays guitar and belts out classic rock songs.  A couple of beers and crab cakes later, we go back to the cabin, where we all just hang out and relax.

Saturday morning, I wake up to find someone has commented on my Nizwa blog that she is coming from Taiwan to teach at the university.  It’s nice to find someone to correspond with who will also be going.  Also, my work visa comes from Oman!  I guess it looks like it’s really going to happen!  We pack up the van and return home past fields dotted with haystacks and bursting with alfalfa, riding the roller coaster of a highway across mountains, through Flintstone and Sideling Hill, a huge man-made notch in the mountains.

what a poser ~ I don't drive boats!
what a poser ~ I don’t drive boats!

I’ve been home all summer, 5 months now, but the boys were usually so busy, or I was so wrapped up in teaching my class, that we didn’t get to spend much time together.  It was wonderful to have this week where we could spend some quality time together before I go to far-away lands for another year.

Adam and his wakeboard
Adam and his wakeboard
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a fruitful job search and age discrimination in america

When I returned home to America after being abroad teaching English for a year in Korea, I went right to work applying for jobs. I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to try to stay in the U.S. or go abroad again so decided simply to apply all over the world.  Whichever place made me a decent job offer would determine my future and where I would go.

In May 2008, when I completed my Master’s degree in International Commerce & Policy, I applied for 250 jobs.  Most days, except weekends, I spent filling out long and tedious online applications or tailoring my cover letter to a particular position and company, or tweaking my resume, or researching new jobs to apply for.  I got exactly 4 job interviews.  One was with the Export-Import Bank, which tied in nicely with my Master’s and my past banking experience, but they called off the job search and changed what it was they were looking for.  That interview was my first, and then I went 4 long months before I had another.

I passed the initial phase of a phone interview with Freedom House for a job dealing with human rights and freedom of the press in Egypt.  After the phone interview, they called me in for a face-to-face interview.  The interview went very well, I thought.  At the end, my interviewer said, “You know, you’re kind of a hybrid.  You don’t have any experience in this field, but you’ve worked outside in banking for a long time.  We’re worried you might be bored in this kind of position.”  I answered that though I have experience in banking, my interest is in getting work in international development.  Since I have little experience (except my State Department internships!) in this area, I fully expect and want to start at the bottom, to learn everything there is to know.

After that, they kept giving me the run-around: they were still interviewing, it was the Christmas holiday, blah, blah, blah.  Ultimately of course I didn’t get the job.

I honestly believe the reason I wasn’t considered for all these jobs, the reason I was REJECTED, was because of a combination of age discrimination and motherhood.  I believe no one wants to hire someone over 50 for an entry level position, even if that person has a plethora of experience to bring to the table, just completed a Master’s degree in the appropriate subject, and is willing to start at the bottom and move progressively up the career ladder.  I also think it’s ridiculous that 15 years of motherhood should count for nothing, since motherhood requires too many applicable skills to count.

Management Systems International ~ where I had a 9 month internship
Management Systems International ~ where I had a 9 month internship

Finally, after all my efforts, I got an internship with MSI, which lasted 9 months and never turned into a permanent position, though no one could or would tell me why.  I figured they just wanted to keep a person with an M.A. for the cheap salary and no benefits they were giving me.

One of my co-workers at MSI applied to teach in Korea, and since my job search in America was so fruitless, I applied to teach in Korea as well.  They hired me almost immediately and off I went.  I am forever grateful that when no one in America would hire me, despite my experience matching word-for-word hundreds of job descriptions, the Korean government gave me a job.

Teaching English in Korea ~ not where I intended to go
Teaching English in Korea ~ not where I intended to go

This year in Korea has led me on a different path than what I intended.  My dream was to work on international economic development, human rights, freedom of the press, or democracy-building in the Middle East.  Teaching English in Korea was never my goal.  I saw it possibly as an end to the goal of working abroad, as it would give me one year of experience living and working abroad.  However, it would fall short in giving me any international development experience.  And being in Korea would not lead me to the Middle East.

When I returned home in March, 2011, I ended up applying for 31 jobs.  In America, I applied at ICF International, to whom I’ve applied multiple times with never any response, InterAction, CSIS, Abt Associates, University Research Company, IFES, and Northern Virginia Community College.  I got an adjunct position as an ESL teacher at NOVA for the 10-week summer semester.  Finally, the program coordinator at NOVA saw things in my resume that no one else wanted to look deep enough to see.  I guess all it takes is one person who is open-minded and smart enough to see how someone’s breadth and depth of experience could be applied to the particular position desired.

Abroad, I applied for jobs in Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Japan, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Kurdistan in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman.  I got immediate requests for interviews with Berlitz and the Wall Street Institute, in Turkey.  I found the Istanbul Berlitz mentioned numerous times on the TEFL Blacklist as a horrible place to work.  And when I asked the Wall Street Institute about their pay, I found they paid half the salary I got in Korea, only paid part of my housing, and didn’t even cover my plane fare! I didn’t even follow through with the interview.  Turkey was the #1 place I wanted to work, but I couldn’t afford to work there.

I had a phone interview with Al Khaleej, a training institute in Saudi Arabia.  They made me an offer right away.  I talked with my friend Ed from the State Department, who worked for a year in the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia,  and he told me to ask them if they hold your passport because there have been problems where there have been labor disputes and the employer won’t return the passport.  I asked and they said, yes, they hold their employees passports.  I wrote to the embassy in Riyadh and they told me that yes, in fact, they have had problems with Al Khaleej.  They said “the problems U.S. citizens had with this company resulted from labor disputes which further developed to ban of travel.  However, retention of passport and potential ban of travel is not unique to this company.”   I saw this in essence to be slave labor, and I backed out of the offer I had accepted.

the University of Nizwa
the University of Nizwa

Later I started getting decent job offers, the first one being from University of Nizwa in Oman.  The fact that it was in the Middle East and at university level made me want to accept initially.  Later, as I have read about Oman and heard about the country from others, it has turned out to be my first choice.  However, once they made the offer, their Ministry had to approve me.  So, in the meantime, I kept my other channels open and got 3 more very nice job offers.  I got a high-paying job offer at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but ultimately I wasn’t sure I could handle the living conditions there.  I got an offer from Westgate Corporation for universities in Japan, but it was only a 3 month contract and thus would have no tax benefits.  I love Japan but it wasn’t the Middle East, where my heart was pulling.  Finally, I got a good offer from SABIS University in Erbil, Kurdistan, which I would have been happy to take had I not already accepted Oman.

So, once again, here I am, going abroad again.  It seems no one in America ever wants to hire me, yet foreign countries are happy to have me.  Thank goodness for that.  Right now, I don’t see much benefit to being an American unless I’m going abroad.