Meet Adriana James: Bringing Energy and Enthusiasm to her Passion for Education
Alright, well Adriana thank you for joining us. Did you ever think you were going to end up in Mexico?
You know, my initial hope was that I would end up somewhere in Latin America. Anywhere in Latin America. I was looking at Ecuador specifically, because I’ve always wanted to go to the Galapagos Islands because I’m a scuba diver. So, I’ve always wanted to scuba the Galapagos. But, when I interviewed with ASF in Mexico City, I was so really impressed with the program and I was really impressed with Juan, who interviewed me, and I was just stoked when I found out. It was unexpected, but it was so welcome, so cool!
I would have gone anywhere anybody would take me. But specifically, Latin America because I’ve always felt like speaking Spanish in California is like the most important thing that you can have. Being bilingual to me is such a mark of intelligence, such a mark of a well-rounded person… and Spanish is ideally what you would learn if you’re in California. So, I’ve spent the last three years in the school that I’m in sort of struggling to communicate with parents in my beginner’s Spanish, like it’s very sad, so I’m really looking forward to learning to speak it in Mexico.
How did you find out about teaching abroad?
Well it was kind of a journey. I started looking at the Peace Corps because I’ve always felt that in order to be a really well-rounded person, you need to know what it’s like to live elsewhere. Growing up in your bubble and living in your bubble your whole life doesn’t make for an empathetic, worldly human. So, I’ve always wanted to live abroad. I wasn’t able to do a study abroad program in college, and then, I chose a major that I liked (Sociology), which the Peace Corps didn’t really want.
One of my coworkers in California had taught in Korea and I looked at some of those programs, but I didn’t want to teach English. I love teaching science and math and with the Common Core coming in, it speaks to me in a way because everything is interconnected. So, it was sort of dumb luck that I stumbled on ISS, actually. I did a google search for teaching abroad and I looked through a couple of different placement agencies and ISS sounded like the most reputable and they seemed like they had a really good program so I was like “Yeah, let’s do it! Let’s go!”
So, it was a Google search for teaching abroad that started it all?
Yeah. Well because I had looked at the government programs for teaching English and none of them really spoke to me. But the freedom of an international school sounded so appealing.
So, what did you think when you first came to the ISS website?
I was so overwhelmed! My first overall feeling was “Ok, this is real. This is how I can get where I need to go”. And then I started signing up and everything and I was like “Oh no, $195, I don’t know!” But I read reviews and it seemed like a really good place to be. So, I followed up and then, as I started getting into the whole program more, the support was incredible. I sort of got mired down in how overwhelming it was sometimes, because, you have to get recommendations from your principal, which is kind of scary because it’s like “I’m thinking about leaving. Like I love you, but please write me a letter”. So that was kind of intense. But it was good. Everybody was so accommodating and so helpful. I actually had a problem where I only had two administrators and we needed three recommendations. But I was able to talk to Megan [Skrobacz] and we were able to figure it out and my master teacher wrote me a recommendation. It was like a dream. This whole thing has been just warm fuzzies everywhere. Once my profile went active, it was super cool because I’m kind of a data nerd. There’s a little graph, like how many views your profiles have had, and it was cool to watch my views go up and up and up as the as the job fair got closer. And I could see who viewed my profile and send out my applications to people that I knew were going to be at the job fair. So, that was that was awesome. And the communication—I cannot stress how great the communication was. Being able to just talk to somebody who knew what they were doing at any time. You know, you guys would get back to me so fast. It was so cool.
I’m so glad to hear all that! What made you decide to go to the San Francisco conference?
You know, it was a recommendation from the website. I got an e-mail, or maybe there was a notification or something. And I knew that I was running late, as far as my application was concerned, because I didn’t get it all done until late December. I was going through some personal stuff and, I was kind of worried that I wouldn’t get any serious offers because it was late in the year and then I saw the job fair in San Francisco. I live two hours away from San Francisco but I can get there no problem! So, I signed up for it and I had to work on Friday because I was having terrible guilt about taking days off. So, I got to the job fair just in time for the orientation. Like screeching in, parallel parking across the street in San Francisco, praying that the parking gods don’t ticket me and I realize that all day Friday schools were giving presentations. So, I felt very dumb, but that’s okay.
I got there just in time to hear the orientation. This room was just packed with hundreds of people and they all looked really nice and I looked like I just taught sixth grade in an elementary school for six hours and then drove two hours to the city. And I sat down and I immediately felt like I was surrounded by people who had the same goals I did. And like, I was completely at home and yet totally outclassed, at the same time.
It was just so cool to see these people who had made this their life. So, I’m listening to these speeches and listening and I was like “Thank god, I got there!”, but I realized everybody had these packets that I did not have, because, you know, I had arrived at the very last minute. And as soon as the whole speeches were over, I walked up to the first person that looks official, they had a badge, and was just like “Hi! I’m late and I don’t have that folder and I feel like I should have that folder so… where do I go?”And, honestly, this is what made me believe in the whole process more than anything. She said, “Okay, sure! Let me get Megan for you.” And she brings Megan over and the first thing Megan said was “Oh my gosh, I know who you are! We’ve been emailing!” And I was like, how does this person, who’s only seen my picture on the website, know who I am? And we talked about the problems I had been having with the administrator, the administrator problem that she had helped fix, and she knew exactly who I was and she gave me a little mini orientation and I just, oh my gosh, I felt like I was ready. I was so nervous and so excited but I was just like “Yes. let’s do this!” And I spent the next like hour writing little letters and little notes of intent and sticking my resumes in the school boxes that I had decided on. And then I went home and had a very, very not restful sleep.
So, tell me about interview sign-up.
Oh wow. Yeah, that was nuts. I got there at 7:30, because you are supposed to get there early, and I was one of the first four people there. And then the little waiting area just filled and filled and filled! It was insane and it was like a cattle call and we lined up at the doors and they opened like whoosh and I am… yeah. I had not written back to e-mails on the website. I didn’t realize that when someone said “Hey, we want you to come interview!” that you had to write back.
I just sort of toddled around and took in all of these tables and all these jobs and because I hadn’t been there on Friday, there was no way I could have gone through all of the information from all of the schools, but I had done my best to try and figure it out. And so, I got to the schools I wanted to and the school that I ended up getting the job in was not one of the schools I had originally planned on applying for. But I was in line at another school’s table and the line was really long and and I looked at ASF, and the line was much shorter and they had a position that I was interested in and I was like “Y’know, I’m going to wait until this line dies down and then I’m going to go over here.” And I ended up really liking the program that they had and I talked to Monty and got signed up and I think I ended up doing, gosh, seven interviews that day.
It was back to back. I was running around like a crazy person. I scheduled a little time for lunch, so I did eat. I get very cranky when I don’t eat (laughter) so I made sure that I had food some food in me. But yeah, that was it was a tour de force. It was crazy and everybody was super nice. All of the interviews I did were really, really great. I did two for China, two for Saudi Arabia, one in Aruba and two in Mexico.
And you got the one that you wanted?
I did. I did. Actually, I ended up not going to my final interview because I was staying with a friend in the city and my plan was to leave, go home to change, go to my final interview, and then go to the social. But my last interview lasted like an hour and a half, it was insane. And they didn’t offer me the job, incidentally. And I was like “An hour and a half! Really? Really?” But yeah, so I ended up going “Okay, it’s all right. I can make it!” And then, of course it ended up taking us like 45 minutes to get to his house. And there was no way to get back. So, I e-mailed my last interview and I felt really bad, but there was no way I could get back.
I ended up going back for the social and hanging out with the super cool teachers, some of whom I had met at the at the cattle call at the beginning.
But all of them had more interviews scheduled or had gotten offers at the interview, or post interview. And I’m not used to having a smart phone and being able to check email on the run. So, all of them are going “I have an interview or I have an offer from Shenzhen. I have an offer from Dongguan. I have an offer from Saudi Arabia. I’m going to Nepal.” And I said “Nobody loves me! No job offers for Adriana, no no no.”
And so, I get home, gently depressed that this didn’t work. And I’m like “Okay, it’s going to be okay.” And I checked my email at two o’clock in the morning and I have an e-mail saying… I’ve had it waiting in my inbox since four. This whole time I’ve been sad. And so, I wrote him back right away. And I was like “Yes yes yes! Do want, I want this thing! Please!” And like I said, it’s 2:30 in the morning at this point. So, I set my alarm for seven because I knew I had to check my e-mail to see when he wanted me there to sign the contract.
So, I checked it at seven and sure enough Juan had written me back and said, “Could you be here at 9:00?” And I was like “Yes, I could do that. I can be conscious and presentable.” I got no sleep, but I was so amped and so excited that it had happened. I swear, as I was driving to sign that contract, every light was green. Every light on the road was green and I got to the hotel and I met him in the lobby and I signed the contract and it was just like— I had signed something giving me my freedom. You know, it was so good.
So, what’d your family say?
Everybody is stoked. They’re over the moon, ecstatic for me. They’ve known it’s something I’ve wanted to do forever. So, it’s really good. My friends are starting to be upset with me for leaving. For my birthday, my sister put this huge surprise party together. She even managed to convince me that it’d be a good idea to show up at my mom’s house in disco clothes! So, we went shopping all day for disco outfits. I It’s really easy to get me to dress up in weird outfits, like any excuse will do. So, my sister convinced me to dress in a disco outfit, show up at my mom’s house and like twenty-five friends are just waiting there to wish me farewell and good luck and happy birthday. And it was super-duper cool. I was surprised at how many people knew that this is something I wanted to do and how many people were so supportive of it. It was really cool.
Cool! How are you looking forward to the future? How are you feeling about all this?
Oh, I’m terrified! I am more excited about this than I have been about anything ever. But I am also so scared. Not about the big things. I’m excited about living somewhere else and experiencing the new culture and learning the language and all of that. But I don’t know what I’m going to do about my cellphone and I’ve never set up Internet myself. I know it’s stupid, but it’s the little things are like, I don’t know, there’s got to be difference, right? But I’m sure I’ll be just fine.
I would love to keep this conversation going. Adriana, they’re lucky to have you. I love your enthusiasm, they’re really going to tap into that. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you so much! Thank you for giving me this opportunity and ISS rocks!
It was great to get to know you better Adriana, we wish you the best of luck on your adventures in as an educator abroad!
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