Category Archives: At Home

Conversations with the International Educator in Your Life

This is the second in a series of posts for and about international educators. The first one is here.

When I’m back in Canada for long vacations it often happens that people don’t ask me many questions about my life. That’s weird, right? And I know I’m not the only one who has felt that way as I’ve heard this comment from many other international educators. Perhaps part of it is that I keep asking questions about their life/work/family and people don’t necessarily notice that we’re not talking about my life at all. It could also be that people feel awkward asking about something they’re not familiar with… or they don’t want to be “nosy”… or they might feel a bit envious about a life they perceive to be more glamorous than their own.

Whatever the reason, most international teachers would love to engage with people at home in yummier two-way conversations about our lives. As Ram Dass said, “We’re all just walking each other home.”

To that end, here are some questions you could ask the international educator in your life:

  1. Do you have some photographs of your school and your apartment and home? I’d love to see them.
  2. What’s a habit or ritual from the country where you live that you think people living in your home country would benefit from?
  3. What has been the biggest challenge of living in this country?
  4. What are you really proud of in your teaching practice?
  5. Tell me about your boss.
  6. Is there a book you recommend I read so that I can better understand the country where you’re living?
  7. How was the process of settling in to your apartment and this job? Did anything surprise you?
  8. What’s your favourite meal right now? Is that something you cook yourself or is that a meal at a restaurant?
  9. Tell me about a student you admire.
  10. When you moved abroad, did you feel ready? Tell me about that.
  11. What are you reading right now?
  12. What can you buy with the equivalent of ten Canadian (fill in your own currency) dollars?
  13. What’s a good metaphor for teaching internationally?
  14. What’s the loveliest thing you’ve ever witnessed on a flight?
  15. What do you now notice or understand about your home country as a result of having been away from it?
  16. How is the school you teach at like the schools we attended as students? In what ways is it different?
  17. What’s a cool lesson you’ve taught recently?
  18. What are some of the less glamorous aspects of living internationally?
  19. How do you get to work? What’s your favourite part of the journey?
  20. How has living abroad affected your fashion sense and the way that you dress?
  21. What’s the view from your home? (If you are talking on Skype, your international educator could just show you!)
  22. What food/meal have you recently encountered that you’d never had before?
  23. How have you changed because you lived and worked outside your country?
  24. If you could give one piece of advice to your twenty-five year old self, what would it be?
  25. How do you define home?

Pro Tip: If you feel tempted to ask the international educator in your life when they are moving home, you could tell them, instead, that you love them.

In the comments below, please add a question that might spark an interesting conversation with an international educator. When writing this list, I let my curiosity and respect for other people and cultures guide me.

Japanese slang for lovey-dovey


Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 4.43.49 AM

We had lunch with a friend
who had just spent some time
with a lovely couple we know.

He is amazed by them.

Perhaps you know
{or are in}
a relationship
like this.

When they look
at each other
a shy sweetness
something golden
and fills all the spaces
between them.

Their love
does not exclude.
It’s big.
It wraps its arms around us.

Magical campfire gazing.
Shadows of purple-orange flames
transform faces
known forever
into Queens,
slayers of dragons.

It’s love-love.

They say it in Japanese too. Love-love.
{Young people mostly.}

To hear these words
pronounced in Japanese
makes my heart
as soft
as buffalo mozzarella.


Love, Yokohama: Dessislava Veltcheva

Love, Yokohama is my photographic love letter to the city we have called home for the past three years. The concept is a simple one. From time to time, I’ll ask a student, colleague or friend to meet me at their favourite place in Yokohama… and I’ll take their photograph. These visual love letters are posted on Fridays.

Photographed on Monday 22 September 2014
in America-Yama Park

Dessy 2


At Motomachi Chukagai Station,
you emerge from an elevator
into a park.

It’s like something a little kid
dreamed up
and drew with crayons.

Metal doors slide open.
A stone path leads
by a rose garden,
vines heavy with pink
that blooms
much of the year.

Three benches nestle
against a brick wall.
Mothers cuddle
with small children
while old people

In the mornings
and afternoons
the park is filled
with kids,
most in uniforms,
headed to schools
on the bluff.

Among them,
running and laughing,
the plaid and blazer-free kids
from our school.

When they were still
in high school
Dessy and her friends
used to hang out here
in the afternoons,
walk under
the ivy-covered trellis
and make wishes
for the future.

Fingers crossed.




Dessy has just completed her first term at the University of York in England where she studies Bioarchaeology. Originally from Bulgaria, Dessy lived most of her life in Japan. She is one of the happiest people I know.

Looking for Naoko Nishizawa

Leaning girl

For the past six weeks, I’ve been writing the first draft of a novel set in Tokyo. Two teenage girls discover the journal of a woman named Naoko Nishizawa and decide to track her down so they can return the journal to her. It’s more than a decision. It’s a mission. In the meantime, however, they read every delicious word of her journal. The 38 Impossible Loves of Naoko Nishizawa.

A few weeks ago, I asked my friends on Facebook where Naoko should live. I was looking for a lovely Tokyo neighbourhood with a park nearby. A place with restaurants and cafes. A neigbourhood a young artist would choose.

“Hiro-o!” wrote my friend James.

And so it is. Hiro-o. Which sounds, of course, like the English word hero and that makes me happy. It is also the Tokyo neighbourhood I know best and visit the most often. Last weekend I went to Hiro-o for lunch and took some photographs.

I keep looking for Naoko Nishizawa.







A Gratitude List


For the faces
of Japanese children.

For freedom.

That my school day starts
at 8:30 a.m.

The chocolate wafer cookies
from Family Mart.

For gentle courtesy
and clear umbrellas,
school kids in bright yellow hats
and hard leather backpacks.

For blue skies after the typhoon
(the second in a week).

That people can change
if they want to.

For my work
and our small school.

Red shoes.
The films Amelie
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
Live Music.
My iPod.
My Beats.

in October.

Elizabeth Gilbert
Brene Brown
Sarah Selecky.

Rie Kono and her decadent balloons
at the Ikeda Museum of 20th Century Art.
Our painting of Margo.
Our art-gallery apartment.

Tap water I can drink,
Kirkland Cheddar from Cost Co,
Kalamata olives,
Maison Kayser bread
and pumpkin soup.

Gentle vacations in

Megan, Laurie, Mom and Dad
and the concentric rings
of family and friends
that grow outward.

The man with the orange backpack.

The ability to create.

Jeans and black sweaters.
Anne of Green Gables.
The golden light in Italy.
Japanese toilets.
Silk scarves.
Cafe latte.
The Internet.



*Canadian Thanksgiving was Monday 13 October, 2014 and we dined on Kentucky Fried Chicken, not turkey. Sometimes, when you live far away from your home, it is challenging to honour your traditions. But I am grateful for many things and this is list is a way to give thanks.

What’s on your list?

Typhoon Doppelgängers


The afternoon
that Typhoon 19
arrived in Yokohama
we’d been urged
by school admin
to go directly home
but there were
a few more
emails to send
and a student
with a last minute
and so it was
after five
when we left
the building.

Darkness fell
like a net
and the afternoon mist
to its job as rain.
A colleague splashed
down the sidewalk
in pursuit of a taxi.

As we walked
through the park,
our clear
Family Mart
of the other
umbrella people
as they scuttled
for the dry
of the metro station

At the intersection
near our apartment
a young couple
held hands
waited for green.
The man in a black coat
and the woman in cream
leaned into each other
under a canopy
of merged umbrellas.
Beyond them,
the wets streets glistened
in puddles of light.

In that moment
what I felt
to be true
was that
we were this pair,
DP and me.
We may not look
like this
on the outside


it feels
to be us.


Photographing Japan


“Everybody’s face tells you about the society they live in, and what they’re feeling inside. Faces are maps.” ~ Sue Ford.

People ask why
I photographs strangers:
train people,
school kids
and people on the street.

I don’t think of them as strangers.
These faces are Japan.

The Japanese live by a code of conduct
held in place by a spiders web of obligations.

Whether saying hello or good-bye,
most greetings are a version of I’m sorry.

When moving into a new home
you buys gifts for your new neighbours.
The gift itself is unimportant.
Only the message matters:
“Hello. We’ll do our best to be quiet,
to respect you. To live harmoniously beside you.”

When asking someone to a gathering you realize
that even though they’ve said yes, they actually mean no,
you must begin the gentle cutting
of the invitation thread.

Regardless of how crazy or drunk another person is,
you do not comment or call attention to this behaviour.
You act as though this violation of the rules
is not happening. You look the other way.

We foreigners learn to observe these rules
but it’s not natural, not written in our DNA.
We lack centuries of this story shaping us.

When living here is hard work, my face shows it.

With the Japanese,
mostly their faces
are calm
like water
but sometimes the sorrow
or joy
gets through.
Ripples appear.

When I photograph them,
I photograph Japan.