Often, life works out just as it’s supposed to.
When I left Japan, I didn’t have a concrete reason for doing so. It just felt like time. So when I got back to the United States, I didn’t have a plan for what was next. The plan was to allow myself some space to figure it out.
Pretty quickly I determined that I wanted to stay in education. Teaching has been pretty great for me. It’s the right blend of challenging and rewarding, I’m good at it, and it’s offered me the stability and the opportunity to pursue and practice my other interests at the same time. Basically, it’s given me the balance that I crave. No, I’m not chasing any passions with this job, but that also means I won’t burn out on it and I’m not working just some dumb job to support my dreams. Everything is in equilibrium.
So I knew that I wanted to keep teaching. But did I want to go back abroad or stay and teach here? At first, I found both equally appealing. While I love the adventure of immersing myself in other places and getting to know other cultures, there are certain aspects of expat life that are tiring. Important, stressful things, like visas and taxes, matters that are much easier if you are in your home country. Plus, a lot of my friends in the US are middle and high school teachers, and from observing their experiences it seemed like this career path had a lot to offer.
With either option (teaching domestically or abroad), it became clear pretty quickly that I’d need to get a master’s degree. While I wouldn’t need one at the outset to teach on my home turf, it’s something I’d need to do to stay in the field, as well as getting a credential to teach in whatever state I chose. If I went abroad however, well, I could keep going as I had been doing the past six years with the same kinds of jobs and the same pay, but if I really wanted better opportunities and more money, then I needed to get a Master’s in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.) With this degree, I would be able to teach at foreign universities, go into curriculum development, or get top positions at private language schools, and also have better opportunities in that field should I return to the US at a later point.
With these two possible futures in mind, I started exploring both simultaneously. On the one hand, I was exploring degree programs for the Master’s in TESOL, and finding courses at diverse universities such as USC, NYU, and Stirling University in Scotland. At the same time, I started preparing to become a substitute teacher with the Los Angeles school district, thinking that would be a good way to test the waters to see if I wanted to go that route.
Y’all, if I had known it would take so long to become a substitute teacher, I would have started the minute I arrived in August. First I had to pass a basic skills test, the CBEST, which wasn’t difficult but did require some study and preparation on my part. Then I needed to have a doctor’s exam and get my fingerprints taken (this is working with kids, after all!). But the longest part of the process was being stuck in the wheels that are the school district. I applied in December, and it wasn’t until the end of March that my onboarding was finished and I was deemed ready to get in the classroom. Since I’ve started subbing, I’ve heard that three months is nothing for LA Unified, they’ve been known to take up to six months to process subs. And I thought immigration in Japan was slow!
After all of this waiting, I was excited yet nervous to finally get an idea of what teaching here would be like. I’d spent six months in limbo, with no real shape to my plan for the future. This could be the answer!
I told myself to not make any quick judgments, and give it some time, but it took only three weeks for me to know that this wasn’t for me. I just couldn’t see myself in the public school environment long term. I felt it in my bones.
By this time, it was mid-April, and all of the universities that I was interested in for the Master’s degree had closed their application periods for fall 2022. I resigned myself to staying in LA and subbing for another year, but I wasn’t really happy with the idea. While I’d get a chance to save some money for grad school, it felt like I’d be stuck here, killing time. But since I didn’t see a better option for the moment, I was prepared to do it.
But as I said, everything has a way of working out.
It was a minimum day at the middle school where I was subbing. For the students, this was great, as they got to go home early, but teachers and staff stick around later for meetings and such. I’d been put in the counseling office to do some filing, and I got to chatting with a young man that worked there. I told him my story, and he said that he’d also pursued the same career at one time, and had gotten his certificate to teach English abroad at California State University Northridge, the local public university.
“They’ve got a Master’s program as well, you know,” he mentioned.
“They do?!? I haven’t seen it online!” I exclaimed.
As soon as I got home, I looked it up, and sure enough, CSUN does have such a program. It’s in the linguistics department, not education as were many of the other programs I’d found, and it’s filed under the somewhat outdated designation of Teaching English as a Second Language, but it’s exact the same program. Besides being down the street from where I’m living, it also happens to be the most affordable degree I could possibly get, as it’s a public university in the state where I am a resident. The cost of higher education varies wildly in the US, and your best bet is to go public and local. Best of all, they were still accepting applications for fall 2022.
But was it actually a good program, and would it enable me to achieve the goals that I had? I scheduled a Zoom meeting with the graduate student advisor to find out. And. . . oh gosh it looked perfect. Every answer I got was exactly what I’d been looking for. The courses looked great, very academic and linguistics-heavy, which is what I need to really level up, as I have so much practical experience at this point. I’d also need to take a foreign language, do a practicum, and submit a final research project to graduate, making it a pretty well-rounded program.
I filled out the world’s simplest application – another bonus for applying to a public state school – and just this week, found out that I have been accepted! As of this coming fall, I will officially be a grad student, and I’m so excited. I can’t wait to learn again, to have a big goal in mind that I’m working for, and to make this time in California really count for something.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d be living in the valley, an area that I equated with boredom growing up, and attending California State University Northridge, a college that I considered my safety school when applying for my bachelor’s degree. Now I recognize that CSUN is a wonderful university where I can get a great education, and just happens to be convenient and affordable as well. I’m confident that this is the right decision, and that I’ve landed in the right place at the right time.
I feel it in my bones.
Safe and Happy Travels,