Welcome to Issue 14 of The Interiors Project.
Today, I am happy to introduce you to Heather Dowd and Doug Tindall. Like April, Pete & Ali, Sarah, Jay & Jenny, Carrie, and Brad, Heather was a friend and colleague at our school in Mexico. (I don’t know exactly what is in the Monterrey water but it results in totally cool, smarty-pants students and dynamic, risk-taking teachers!) Heather, also known as Heza, has moved from the classroom into the role of Educational Technology Coach which is such a cool fit for her. A decade ago, in Mexico, she was the first teacher to say, “Me, me!” when our school ran a pilot tablet project. Heather is a passionate educator and a really lovely person. She was genuinely excited for Damien and me when we were hired to work in Yokohama as she lived in Japan right after college and has a not-so-secret love affair with this country. She once told me that it was not possible to take a bad photograph in Japan. About a month ago, I felt the universe unfold as it should when Heather, Damien and I enjoyed a lovely evening together in Yokohama. As we walked home from the restaurant, it started to rain and Damien ran into Family Mart to buy Heather one of those famous transparent umbrellas for her walk back to her hotel. I miss her very much and wish that we still worked together. Re-connecting with friends and former colleagues and meeting new international educators has been one of the coolest parts of this project for me. I know that you’ll enjoy this tour of Singapore through the lenses of Heather and Doug, both of whom are amazing photographers.
Tell us about your home… how big is your place?
Roughly 160 Sq. meters which includes two outdoor patio spaces.
What is your favorite thing about your current space?
Doug and Heather: We really enjoy the decks and the multi-level part of our home. Most people live in apartments in Singapore and they can be very tiny. Ours is a fairly good size place, but what make it feel bigger are the large vaulted ceilings and the second story.
Spooky the cat: Spooky loves the large windows and sliding glass doors. He loves the big window ledges designed just for him. He also loves going outside on the deck and rolling around.
How do you define “home”?
Doug: I would define home as a place that represents the characteristics and values of your family. With that said, I want home to be comfortable, safe, relaxing, inviting and whatever you need it to be when you need it to be that thing. Of course, one place can’t be all things at once, but you can try…right?
Heather: What he said and… Home is where the people you love are including our kitty Spooky. We adopted Spooky from the animal shelter where he had spent much of his life. They gave him the name Spooky because many things spook him. It took him months before he was comfortable with us. Now he snuggles between our arms and lets us scratch him all over his belly, but as soon as a he hears a strange noise, he goes to a secret hiding place. Doug and Spooky make our apartment home.
Life as an international educator
In what countries have you lived?
Doug: USA, Germany, Afghanistan, and Singapore
Heather: USA, Australia, Japan, Mexico, and Singapore
Do you still feel homesick?
Heather: Yes, I still feel homesick sometimes. There are times when I’d like to just teleport home for the evening for dinner and to get a hug from my family. When? Random times. Why? I don’t know. Home home is still Illinois for me. Skype is a lovely substitute.
What do your friends and family members think/feel about you working overseas?
Heather: My family thinks I’m crazy. No, their opinion hasn’t changed. My sister is about to join me in this crazy life by taking her first overseas job in Vienna. At least I’m not alone.
Do you still experience culture shock?
Heather: I still experience culture shock, but not as bad as my first year in Japan. The first year in Japan was a roller coaster of feelings. I know I’m experiencing culture shock when I start to focus on the negative things in a new place, and I wonder if I’ve made the right decision. It has never been as pronounced in Mexico or Singapore as it was in Japan. Japan is also the country that I consider my second home. Maybe we bonded over the culture shock roller coaster. ☺
How has living overseas changed you?
Heather: It has opened my eyes and taught me as much about myself as about the place I’ve lived. Australia taught me how to look at my home country from a different perspective. Japan expanded my view of home and family. Mexico kissed me on the cheek and welcomed me with open arms. Singapore doesn’t kiss me, but it sure is efficient. I have seen first hand that even though we have different cultures and different languages, we are all people with similar dreams, hopes and fears. I believe that every single person in the world should have the opportunity to experience this.
When you move to a new country, what kinds of things do you do/find/purchase to make that place home?
Heather: I put up pictures of family and friends. Inviting new friends over and spending time making new memories makes a place feel more like home to me also.
What is your approach to packing?
Doug: I would say that I pack for functionality. I think about weather, what we will be doing, and where we are going. Weather is usually easy here in SE Asia. I bring shorts, T-shirts, underwear, flip-flops (shoes if you’re going to motorbike), deodorant, hairbrush and most importantly the camera gear. I’m pretty sure I spend more time packing my camera gear than clothes. Where we are going can be important and it’s always good to look into the religion and cultural norms of the country you’re going to. For instance, Malaysia is Muslim. So, pack a pair of pants and bring a hairbrush so you can go into the temples. Being prepared for other cultures means getting what you came to see and not feeling uncomfortable.
Heather: Pack the camera first. Beyond that, I am a horrible packer. I procrastinate until the very end and I can’t make decisions about what to bring. I have no advice, and I still don’t know how to pack light. Maybe I’ll get Doug to start packing for me.
What secrets have you learned to make your travels more enjoyable?
Doug: Get an iPad and don’t try to plan out things too much. Originally when the iPad first came out; I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I would want one. But after traveling to several countries, it has proved invaluable by storing all of our hotel, flight and travel arrangements. You can get Wifi just about anywhere these days. Lonely planet, despite being one of the worst interactive books for iPad, helps considerably when trying to find interesting things to do, but don’t forget to set that aside and spend time exploring! You never know what’s just around the corner that wasn’t there when they wrote the book.
Heather: Find a good travel partner who lets you play with your camera without rushing you to move on. I now have a partner who plays with his camera more than me. I am patient.
You as an educator
What makes you excited about being an educator?
Heather: I love learning. I love learning with other people. It is an exciting time to be an educator. There are so many new things on the horizon that have the capability to change learning for the better. Technology is getting easier and more universal. This will help spread knowledge everywhere and also help differentiate learning so that all students can be engaged in what they are doing. Connecting and collaborating is easier than ever. It is now possible to not only read about something in a social studies textbook but to go there via Skype and talk to other kids who live there.
What is the same about kids all over the world?
Heather: Kids don’t like being bored. They want to be engaged and they want to learn. If you present them with an activity that is real and that challenges them, they will take it and run with it.
You are most cordially invited to leave your love notes for Heather in the comments section below.