It’s my pleasure to introduce Brad Brandvold whom I have known since we worked together in Monterrey, Mexico ten years ago. Brad is an excellent teacher who demands the best from his students. He also knows how to joke with them and maintain amazing relationships long after they have graduated. Brad has never forgotten what it was like to be a teenager. He kept these great lists of his students’ best and funniest quotations in his classroom and I would sometimes pop by to check out the latest additions. I have really loved putting together Brad’s issue of The Interiors Project; I laughed aloud several times and wished that I could hang out with him again. (Also… I’m pretty sure that he’s the only person to use the word “boob” in his issue of Interiors.) I know that you will enjoy the tour!
Life is good… at “The Perch”
I call my home The Perch, because of it being situated on the edge of a ravine and elevated to the treetops where the birds are. This is only my name for the house, no one else would call it this. My best guess for the size of the house is about a total of 1600 square feet on three floors (about 200 square meters). The first floor has the kitchen, bathroom and a large open dining/living room with floor to ceiling windows and a balcony. The second floor has the projection room (TV room), a common bathroom, the secondary bedroom and my master bedroom with ensuite and walk-in closet. The third floor is open patio space with a small Jacuzzi, fire pit, patio suite and full bar/BBQ workspace.
What is your favourite thing about your house?
The view!!! As I mentioned before house is perched on the edge of a ravine which borders a university campus. I have a simply stunning view of the ravine, the campus fields, the city and the mountains and the all floors have massive windows to highlight it. I come home to a view that most people would pay for… to stay for a vacation. My favourite thing to do is to wake up very early, make breakfast and sit on the balcony listening to the birds while I drink my coffee. The balcony is uniquely situated at “tree level” so I am treated to a variety of bird song. I have become an avid bird watcher as of late and spend my time trying to figure out what birds are nesting in the ravine. What is really fun is when some of the more exotic birds show up, such as parrots, cardinals, humming birds and peacocks. I find myself almost daily, sitting at the window or on the balcony, watching the different birds flitter around. In late October or early November the Monarch butterflies migrate through Monterrey on their way down to Michoacán and for those few weeks, I wake up to see tens of thousands of Monarchs overnighting in my little ravine. Currently, a small yellow butterfly seems to be doing something similar but on a smaller scale.
How do you define “home”?
Somewhere comfortable I can relax and escape my working life. It must be filled with things, which fulfill one need or another. As well, I am a big supporter of the different holiday traditions I bought with me from Canada and love to host social gatherings to celebrate them. I love Christmas and Thanksgiving the most and organize large dinners with all of the trimmings and appropriate decorations. I even host a tree trimming dinner party to bring together friends to decorate my home (I am not very artistic) while I cook them a gourmet dinner… something I suppose I am noted for.
Life as as an international educator
Do you consider yourself a risk-taker?
Would I consider myself a risk taker? No, not really, but if you posed this question to my friends back home, they would probably respond with a resounding yes. I think this question is really relative to your comfort level and societal norms. Most Canadians I know are perfectly happy with a prepackaged “McDonalds” lifestyle filled with blandness and safety, sort of the beige colour of life. I prefer the spicier side of things and want a little more of the full spectrum of the colour wheel. I think this is probably part of the international teacher’s mindset from the beginning. No matter why you decided to travel abroad and work in another country, you must be willing to give up the “safety” of home to experience more of the world. Risk taking is essentially doing something that may have dire consequence and thus it is outside of the normal operating range of the population. Another way to state this, is to say it is statistically outside of the average and I cannot say I have ever strove to be average… who wants that?
What do your friends and family members think/feel about you working overseas?
At first, my family and friends feelings were a little mixed about me moving away. Most were perplexed at why I would leave Canada to live in a developing nation. I think they stayed that way for quite a few years, until they decided to either visit me at my new home of Monterrey, or in one of the resort cities Mexico has to offer. By coming here, they were able to picture my life/lifestyle and the really great benefits of learning a new language to experience more of Mexico. Having been gone for about fourteen years now, I rarely have to entertain the question anymore as they have realized I am not going to be moving back to Canada any time in the near future.
How has living overseas changed you?
I have a much more global outlook on events, politics and life in general now. I am far less focused on amassing material things as well. It’s not that I don’t get pleasure from buying something new; I just prefer to buy them while I am travelling. I have also stopped watching mindless television shows and limit my viewing to either just sports or movies. I read more books and spend time learning new things, whether that is academic, cooking or improving my language skills. If I were back in Canada, I know I would spend much of the winter in front of the television, whether there was something good on or not. That kind of “tuning out” for such long periods of time must have some sort of numbing cumulative effect. I can honestly say I have dwindled down the number of friends I have in Canada to the few people that I believe are “alive inside”, all the while increasing the number of friends I have living all over the world. Now, I relish the opportunity to go somewhere new and experience things first hand instead of watching it on National Geographic on the boob tube.
What kinds of resources and services have made it easier for you to live overseas?
When I moved to Mexico, I came with only one trunk with my clothes and a few teaching resources. Now I have an entire household of furniture and electronics I chose to buy to make my life resemble what I wanted it to be like back home. Why did I choose to fill my house with furniture and accouterments that remind me of Canada? The reason is actually quite simple. While working a summer job in college in the oilfields of Alberta, I met a ex-army colonel who gave a little advice while I was literally digging a ditch. He said “wherever you are, make it home… you never know how long you will have to be there, so get comfortable”. I took that wisdom to heart and it has always served me well. Now I know he was talking about “living in the trenches” of wherever he was sent during his career, but it seemed to ring true for me wherever I went as well. It is worth the effort to make whatever living accommodations you currently have, your home. Paint a wall, buy some art… whatever makes you feel “at home” will give you that sense of familiarity we all seem to need.
What do you like to buy when you are travelling?
I always try to purchase something small as a memento of my travels that I can place in my home and see it often. I’ve done this because I am not one to make photo albums or to pull up my pictures on my computer very often. In fact, I still have several undeveloped rolls of film from at least 15 years ago, sitting in my desk drawer right now. I have no idea what is on them anymore. It will be a nice surprise when I finally get around to sending them in I guess. To my credit, I am currently working on a large picture array of all those people and places that have helped me along my own path. I am hoping to complete that project this and fill my living room walls with these images.
What secrets have you learned to make your travels more enjoyable?
1. Always book more time for things than you think it will take.
2. Pack less and have them cleaned wherever you go. Exception, always pack more underwear and socks than you think you need.
3. If you travel somewhere, avoid going to places to be able to say you’ve been there. I have found it to be much more enjoyable to experience fewer places but to really take the time to get to know them than to race off to the next place for your photo album.
4. Stroll; don’t rush. You’re on vacation… act like it!
Please describe the most amazing meal that you have eaten overseas.
I recently went to Argentina and took the time to taste the best beef they could offer. You have to understand, Argentina and Alberta are possibly the two best places to eat beef in the world. I grew up in Alberta, so I had to try the “competition”. I found a restaurant that wasn’t in the tourist books but was recommended by an Argentinian friend. As a gentleman’s agreement, I had to promise not to promote the name of the restaurant, lest it become a tourist trap, so I am sorry for not publishing it here. I purposefully waited until the last day of my trip to go there and have my own version of “the last supper”. All I can say is amazing… simply amazing!
Has living overseas changed your eating habits or food preferences?
I was honestly worried about coming to Mexico because of the food. I was quite ignorant as to what Mexican food was like and my only examples in Alberta were Taco Bell and Taco Time… both of which I hated. Imagine my surprise when I realized what real Mexican food was. You cannot live in Mexico and not love the food. I have learned there is more than one kind of chili pepper and they do all taste differently. I would mention, many dishes here took me a long time to try, simply because they looked so foreign to me it took me a while to come around but now, I wouldn’t eat eggs without salsa verde (green sauce). I love the spice of the Mexican cuisine and of course, late night tacos after some sort of social drinking affair is an absolute tradition.
You as an educator
What is the same about kids all over the world?
Kids are kids, the world over. The same is true of people but kids really are not much different everywhere. They may have a few different social conventions from what you grew up with, but boys will be boys and girls will be girls. The issues I dealt with as a teenager are played out awkwardly on a daily basis in my classroom. The boys try to find someway to get the girls attention and the girls try to look as though they are not paying attention to the boys. It seems almost ritualistic in some sort of warped hormonally driven way.
You are invited to leave your love notes for Brad in the comments section below.