May This be the Best Year of Your Life
Have you often dreamed of picking up your life and heading overseas? Thought about the joys and challenges of teaching in another culture? Envisioned yourself making a change in yourself – and others? Educator Sandy Bornstein did just that – and has written a compelling, honest, and interesting glimpse into the life of an international teacher. In her new book, May This be the Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir, she shares difficult life decisions, intercultural differences, international teaching styles, students, fellow teachers, and, of course, the myriad of colors and emotions and experiences that is India.
May This be the Best Year of Your Life is also a story of life, love, and hope. While Bornstein ponders possible changes, she muses on her family life, and how change will impact it. When she and her husband move to India (where one son lives) for his job, she adapts to life there, and finds strength within to keep moving forward. When her husband’s job changes, she continues her journey in India alone, adjusting to bumps large and small in the road of life. Serious injuries and work difficulties present challenges that Bornstein works through beautifully, showing her grace in every moment. And some things she faces are extremely onerous – monkeys in the rooms, bugs, food issues, severe health problems, limited mobility, cultural misunderstandings, widely varying standards for education, and even worse, colleagues who seek to undermine educational excellence. She keeps her sense of humor – and more importantly, her sense of self – and teaches her students – and her self – that excellence and joie d’ vivre are possible, no matter how difficult the situation.
We caught up with Sandy Bornstein as part of her virtual book tour, and asked her about the backstory of the book, inspiration, teaching jobs in India, cross-cultural education, and more. Here’s what she had to say…
Please tell us about your book, May This Be the Best Year of your Life...
Life has a funny way of throwing curve balls. Such was the case when my husband decided to accept a job that required extensive international travel. What would happen to our marriage? Would I see more of him if I moved to India or if I remained in Colorado? What would it be like to teach at an international school? There were too many questions and far too few answers.
After considerable deliberation, I found myself on a plane bound for India. On my first trip, I interviewed at several international schools while I was trying to cope with cultural shock.
Getting a job offer was the first of many hurdles. Ultimately, I had to choose whether this new lifestyle was something that I could accept. The lure of teaching abroad was an amazing option. Would I regret this opportunity if I chose to decline it?
I went for it. Little did I know that my journey would become a solo endeavor. By stepping out of my comfort zone, my outlook on life was forever changed. I was more willing to take risks. The unexpected hiatus from my day-to-day life reaffirmed my belief that my family was the foundation of my existence.
What inspired you to write this memoir?
During my first trip to India, I started a travel blog. I wanted to share my unusual experiences with friends and relatives. The positive feedback they provided made me wonder whether I should take my writing a step further. I contemplated a memoir, but knew that my story had to be more than a travelogue.
Shortly after returning to the US, I abruptly stopped writing my blog. I was deeply moved by my husband’s horrific accident and overwhelmed by the choices that I was forced to make.
I lost the desire to write.
After returning to India, I was tempted to write again. I was confident that a blog about my international classroom would generate an audience, but I was reluctant to invade my students’ privacy.
After I returned to the US, I could not put the brakes on my writing. Lessons that I had learned from my adventure needed to be shared. I was compelled to write a memoir that chronicled my incredible teaching and traveling experiences.
I wanted to share useful information with fellow teachers who are considering working abroad and teachers who work with diverse learners. It is my sincere hope that my words will resonate with anyone facing unusual challenges and others who need encouragement to take a special journey.
Can anything prepare a first-time visitor for India?
Everyone will react to extraordinary situations in their own unique way. Some will embrace foreign environments while others will be less accepting. The movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, is a perfect example of how a person’s response to an unpredictable situation is dependent on his/her “personal baggage”, underlying goals, and the desire to be flexible. The characters who saw their experience as an adventure had an easier time adapting while those who remained aloof and stubborn were unhappy.
Keeping that in mind, I recommend trying to gather as much information as possible. This includes reading about the intended destination and taking time to talk with people who have traveled to those locations. Social media is a wonderful way to connect with people who have or still live abroad.
What suggestions do you have for teachers looking to work in India?
I learned first-hand that many international schools hire their teachers at job fairs or online. There also appears to be several companies that specialize in international school placements.
I had the unique opportunity to be interviewed at the schools. Due to the distance factor, most people do not see the school until they arrive for teacher orientation. They accept a job based on a website. However, pictures can be misleading.
My fellow expat teachers relied on the Internet for information. They did not fully understand the terms of their employment or their housing arrangements. A lack of communication between some expat teachers and the administration caused too many frustrating moments.
I would recommend that prospective international teachers be flexible since it is likely that they will encounter the unexpected. Living abroad is totally different than life in America. Becoming overly frazzled by unforeseen obstacles can inhibit one’s ability to enjoy a wonderful international teaching adventure. After all, some of the most engaging teaching experiences are a result of the unpredictable classroom moments you encounter along the way.
Is educational theory cultural? Do you think that the ways educators teach work in differing global environments for international schools?
Based on my one experience teaching abroad, I’m not sure I can answer decisively. At my school, the teachers were trained very differently than me. My Indian colleagues were not aware of any of the second language acquisition theories that are currently being taught in the US. Likewise, theories regarding differentiating instruction, building a community of learners, and setting goals and objectives before embarking on a unit were not practiced.
Obviously, their Indian teacher training focused on different topics. However, none of the teachers I talked with could describe the underpinnings of their educational philosophy.
I do not know how many graduated from a school of education. At least two were initially hired without any formal teacher training, but were asked to complete their training by a certain date.
Ideally the teacher training obtained in one country should be useable in another. However, if the basics are missing, a teacher will be shortchanged wherever they are employed.
Can education cross cultural divides, or is it part of it?
Education is the key to bridging cultural differences. Ignorance, misinformation and prejudices run rampant when people prefer to remain uneducated. When students and teachers are provided opportunities to explore cultural differences there are far less incidences of intolerant behavior. A lack of understanding can fuel inappropriate behavior.
One important thing to keep in mind is that the educational process will be stymied if the instructor teaches in a biased way and/or the students are not receptive to the new material. Respect is only possible when people are willing to accept one another’s differences.
What's up next for you?
Right now I am in the midst of promoting my book. I am planning a second virtual book tour and am simultaneously reaching out to my audience using various forms of social media. In the coming weeks, I plan to move on to the next level of my marketing plan.
After I have reached a comfort level with my marketing plan, I will begin researching potential topics for another book and possibly looking into short term teaching opportunities.
Thanks so much, Sandy! I love your book and highly recommend it!
Check out Sandy’s virtual book tour: http://www.sandrabornstein.com/events/#virtual-book-tour
And our Geography Awareness Editor, Lisa Niver Rajna, offers another review: