Monthly Archives: October 2012

Budget Glam’s Home for International Kiddos

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I thought it might be helpful for me to outline how I got involved in international student homestay as well as pointing out the pros and the cons of the whole thing, in case there is an opportunity for you to do the same!

I live in a university town and work at a good sized public university.  The school also offers international English programs that are not exactly undergraduate degrees, but more like the sort of thing where a person comes over for six weeks, three months, a semester, a year in order to better their English communication and culture skills.  It’s not a degree.  Sort of like how we might go abroad to better learn a foreign language in a school situation but not necessarily get college credit for it.  The university tries to place these students in local homes (the regular foreign exchange students stay in the dorms) to try to speed up and improve their English culture and language learning.  The student pays a lump sum for the whole she-bang to the university; the university cuts me a check for my part.

And what is my part?  Room and limited board.  Many programs function similarly to mine; any student who stays with me needs to have his or her own bedroom.  They need some sort of work space within that bedroom (like a desk or table).  I have to provide either breakfast and dinner or food they can have access to.  (Lunch is on their own.)  So, if I make dinner, we all eat.  If not, I make sure that there are plenty of things a student can fix for himself.  I’m not required to provide a computer.  I do provide them my cell phone for local calls, though most of them tend to get a trac-phone, which is an excellent idea.  I have to either be on a bus route, within walking distance, or otherwise ensure that the student has access to transportation.  There are some people who live out in the country who drive their students in daily.  I wouldn’t want to be so transportation dependent, so I’m lucky that my students can both walk and take the bus, if necessary.  They have to be provided with a spare key.

What makes things go smoothly:  being patient, first and foremost.  I have a Japanese student right now who would never, ever tell me if something was going wrong.  So, I have to patiently figure that out.  You can usually (but not always) tell a few things from a student’s profile submitted by the university whether the two of you would be a good fit or a poor fit.  But these things aren’t foolproof, obviously.  Having good people skills is pretty important, too.  After all, most of these students are usually younger — 19 years old, sometimes.  They don’t always do things exactly the way you’d want them to.  They’re not always as clean as you might hope they would be.  So, when your standards aren’t met, you either have to pick your battles or be able to communicate your needs to them.

I would also add that in my opinion, it helps if the house is set up so that the student (and you) do not feel as though you’re in each others’ faces all the time.  My basement is completely finished, which makes this lovely little 725 square foot house really 1450 square feet.  There is a full bedroom and bath down here, as well as a communal work/entertainment space that I’ve worked to make functional, fun and creative.  The basement door lets out onto the back yard.  Eventually, I’ll have a simple but nice deck there as well.  My students stay down in that bedroom; they virtually have that bathroom also to themselves (though that is not a requirement).  So, we don’t bump into each other over the bathroom and we can be in completely different parts of the house (even though it is a small house, really) and not feel like we’re stepping on each other’s toes.  Them living here doesn’t keep me from working or playing.

What makes things go poorly.  When the student isn’t ready to travel abroad, it can be a miserable experience for them.  That’s not really something you have control of until they’re already in your home, of course.  The homestay program I am working with would still pay me the full amount if the student left early (because that would obviously prevent me from taking another student).  In many ways, your agreement should operate like a rental contract; having no protection can be a huge mistake.  After all, this person doesn’t even have a home address in your home country!  How will you fix something they break or collect for damages they may cause?  Poor communication can also wreck this experience, whether that is with your student or with the person running the program.  Test cases to follow!

How long does this last?  Programs vary.  Usually when the university is in regular session, most homestays last for one semester.  I have yet to see one offered for the whole 9 month school year.  During the summer, however, there are all kinds of other opportunities.  This is usually when business folks travel and you may get a student who is much older.  Those programs can be anywhere from 3 months to 4 weeks.  Choosing to do a 4 week program will get you a bit of money and let you dip your toe in the experience to see if it’s really for you.  My first homestay student only lasted 4 weeks, essentially for the month of July.  My current student is here for the whole semester.  Both of these experiences have been like night and day.  Well, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but the experiences were very different.

Jiani from Brazil:  She was my first homestay experience and she stayed for four weeks.  I think that was about 4 1/2 weeks longer than she wanted to stay.  Even though she was 21, there were many ways in which she seemed very immature.  She came as part of a university group and her English was labeled as “beginner.”  She knew exactly two words:  hello and thank you.  When she left, that’s still all she knew.  She was very homesick from the start and really didn’t embrace the idea of trying to speak English as often as possible.  I tried to engage her in conversation and she would just laugh and shrug.  After about a week and a half, she rarely talked to me.  I’d fix dinner and she’d wave it off.  So eventually, I stopped wasting the food, given that my son was visiting his father that summer and there really was just me in the house.  We also had a communication issue that went beyond English.  She frequently took group trips and upon return simply went somewhere else.  So, I’ve driven downtown to pick her up and I’m waiting…and waiting…and waiting…only to make a few frantic phone calls and find out that she lied to her supervisor and went off with her friends.  Boy, that made me mad.  My friends and I tried to take her places, such as the fireworks for the 4th of July, to neighboring states, etc.  There is nothing in the homestay contract that requires me to do that.  We were just trying to give her a good experience and we were already going anyway.  She didn’t seem to enjoy herself.  Oh well.  Travel is what you make of it.  Still, it was a mildly frustrating experience.

Yuya from Japan:  Yuya was a very different experience right from the outset.  He was only 19 years old, but he emailed me early on to get a sense of what we liked and what he would need to do when he first arrived.  He was definitely ready to be here, but then maybe students who pick the long stay treat it more seriously.  His English is also very advanced, compared to the previous student.  He is also not very clean.  But then, he’s a teenage boy.  So, periodically I just throw his damn bedsheets in the washer and be done with it, lol.  He is not picky at all and is very polite — which has its downfalls when it comes to things he probably should complain about (such as when he might need something or feel sick).  I found out he’s a big fan of American wrestling, so WWE Smackdown is on the TV at certain times.  I try to help him have opportunities for American cultural experiences.  I try to have dinner conversation with him at least, but he treats being a student as he does going to a job, so he’s gone a lot and sometimes comes home and falls asleep after supper (which is fine).  He is very independent and self-directed, which is GREAT.

Parting notes:  Cultural differences can be important and easy to overlook.  For example, Jiani came from a place where you put the toilet paper in the garbage instead of flushing it down the toilet.  That’s not something I even considered telling her.  Yuya continues to put laundry detergent in the fabric softener slot in the washing machine and wonders why it works differently, though we’ve had this conversation numerous times.  LOL.  Wal-Mart seems to be a universal hit in the first few days of visiting America.  They want to see it for themselves and can spend hours there.  Let them do it.  It can be instructive and then you can walk the aisles together and talk about the different categories of words for stuff like food and clothing and car parts and insane people.

Search your local university’s website for English programs.  My bet is, they have a homestay program that could use a few more families!

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I’m Not Paid Enough to Deal With This…

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One of my pet peeves in life right now is my coworker.  Read plenty enough about it here.  The latest thing he is doing to bug the everloving literature out of me is the phrase, “I’m not paid enough to do that.”

This irritating burr of a statement seems to follow anything that resembles a request for work.  I will begrudgingly acknowledge that in academia most people are woefully not paid enough to do…that.  I will further acknowledge that we are not paid to industry standard because we work in a poor state.  I only admit it “begrudgingly” because I have always felt that he borrows on other people’s real problems to make his seem comparable.  Compared to the adjuncts, for example, we’re living like kings.  We have a retirement plan and health insurance and a decent wage.  We don’t work in the summer (which is a blessing and a curse).

BUT.  Giant red, baboon-sized monkey-BUTs…

I’ve always felt that there are some things you should buck up on and refuse to do and some things you should just put on your big girl panties and get done.  For example, I bucked up on working for free during the summer to develop this course.  It was a brand new, never been seen before offering that she wanted to pilot as soon as possible.  There is no existing model for it.  It’s not like I’m just adapting a previous syllabus and taking course goals and assignments that were previously all thought out.  This was 100% from scratch.  That’s a lot of work.  And doing that for free is definitely not fair.  But when my co-whiner says, for example, “I’m not paid enough to figure out the fair use requirements so we can take a few selections from this book.”  Or, “I’m not paid enough to figure out how to make that marketing flier any fancier.”  Well, I disagree.

I think most jobs require that you have a little ambition about you and that you figure out how to acquire skills for yourself that you might not have.  Whether I’m making up a new course or not, I have a fair amount of control over my reading selections for my courses.  Shouldn’t fair use be something I know about anyway?  Wouldn’t it behoove me to figure out how to better use technology to gussy up my marketing materials?

I think what irritates me most is the unanswered question that hangs in the air after he bleats out his statement.  OK, if it’s not your job, then whose job is it?!  Who does get paid enough to …what?…spoon feed you the information about fair use rules?  I’m certainly not paid enough to deal with his heel-dragging on virtually everything we’re trying to accomplish, nor am I paid enough to listen to the whining about his working conditions (which are the same as mine) or his pay (which is the same as mine).

I don’t know.  Maybe I’m too much of a work horse and willing to do too much for free.  I’ve always seen many smaller tasks like learning new tech, for example, as personal and professional development and enrichment.  I don’t have to be paid to do them because I see greater value in taking on that task and learning a new skill.  What do you think?  Where is the line between what you’re paid to do and what you “volunteer” to do on your own?

Glimmer of Summer Funding/Perchance, to Dream

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So, Her Deanliness has dropped in conversation the possibility that there might be more summer funding for further expansion of this new course I’m set to pilot in the Spring.  Wah-hoo!

I, of course, have latched onto this news like a man lost in the desert chasing an oasis mirage.  Money…MONEY!!  If this is true, it means I can develop that course over the summer and have an international student — and almost cover my full costs for summer on paychecks alone.  This will enable me to put saved money earmarked for summer toward something else, speeding me along my goals for debt destruction even sooner.

Of course, I proceed as though that will never happen so that I am not both massively disappointed and caught unawares with my financial panties down.

But how much mileage do we enjoy from a little glimpse of a good prospect?  Mmmm  🙂

Hurt Me, Hurt Me!

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Well, the first of the international student housing checks has rolled in and that has fulfilled the little $1000 emergency fund and allowed me to press onward to summer money savings.

To that end, I’m saving ’til it hurts.

And boy, does it hurt!

What I do is first calculate my bills for that pay period.  I calculate my expenses I know I have to incur after that (for example, birthday presents or car repair).  Then I look at what is left over and I transfer money to the point where it makes me feel uncomfortable into savings.  I know that many people preach pay yourself first, and I sort of do that, too.  I have retirement money direct deposited into my account rather than relying on myself to do it.  But as a single mama, my expenses often vary, so for savings, I do have to look at second rather than first.  So I look at the amount remaining and pinch out of it until I squeal.  And you know what?  It’s working.  I leave myself a pittance for coffee and lunch out, things I cannot seem to do without. But I have to make those dollahs stretch like a yoga beginner!

I realized that if I didn’t feel pinched, I probably wasn’t saving enough.  And so I took a good, hard look at just how much I was saving and whether I could afford to do more.

The obvious upshot of this is, duh, I save more money.

But the unintended upshot of this plan is that it makes my situation feel very real to me.  I effectively make myself live as though I’m broke (or rather, very close to broke) for the whole pay period after the first couple of days post-paycheck.

Now, I’m not broke.  Most of my disposable money went into my online savings account.  But it takes several days for that money to transfer back into my checking account.  So, effectively, I am without funds to just randomly blow on sushi.  It creates in me the mentality that I am broke, and so I act as though I am.  I don’t use the credit card and I make any pennies I do have really stretch.  It just puts me in a whole ‘nother frame of mind.  I pay more attention to where the money goes, because it’s a royal pain to get more of it.  I might have Burger King for lunch, but I’m ordering from the dollar menu instead of the already frugal Junior Whopper meal.

And because I have to actively log on and move money, I don’t do so unless I absolutely have to.  And sushi, apparently, is not a “have to.”  Sad that I have to play psychological warfare with myself.  But hey, whatever gets you to save that dollah, right??

Working in the Trenches Pays Off (Or At Least A Little More…)

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I’m apparently in feast-or-famine mode when it comes to blogging.  I’ll have ideas for half a dozen posts and then just stare at the site for a couple of weeks.  Anyhoo…

It can be hard to do smaller jobs that seem “beneath” us.  But sometimes when we are in debt or (and?) trying to build up a professional reputation, we get in our own way if we don’t make these small and tedious efforts.

I try to impress this on my students.  They are annoyingly optimistic millennials, so they assume they’ll graduate college and walk into a job automatically making about $75,000.  The reality is often much lower.  I try to tell them one of the biggest mistakes they can make is being “too good” for that get-your-foot-in-the-door job.  Sometimes we are victims of an unfortunate series of events that keep us broke and in debt; but in many cases, hard work does pay off for those willing to put in what it takes to get there.

As a small example, back in the summer I started taking on some copywork to make ends meet.  It wasn’t a lot of money.  My first job was actually probably a negative wage, given how badly I screwed it up and the time it took to redo it.  But once I figured out how the work best got done, my writing-time-to-compensation value started to rise.  After all, if someone gives you, say, $7 for 400 words and it takes you an hour to bang them out — yuck.  But if you can do it effectively in 30  minutes, your wage is essentially $14/hour.  It’s a matter of getting fast at it.  This work paid a few bills for me, bought a few groceries and a few treats.  It was not reliable income and it still isn’t.  But it was something I could do when I had time off anyway.  I can sit on my ass for nothing, or I can sit on my ass for 30 minutes and make a little cash.

I took jobs that did not pay well and that were not very interesting.  I wrote about industrial sunscreen and window tinting in Arizona or personal injury lawyers for bicycling accidents in California or even bed bug exterminators in Missouri.  I wrote articles about a prominent diet product.  I did these things because I wanted to establish a work ethic with my copywriting bosses.  And it worked.

I just found out that one of this firm’s big clients wants me as their exclusive copywriter for their ‘net content.  This is especially fortunate since other boring and lesser paid work has all but dried up over the past six weeks.  In exchange, this client will pay me nearly 90% more than what I normally make to bang out a blog post or article.  It’s not yet money with which you can plan your Bermuda retirement.  And it probably will never be.  But it’s definitely money you can stick in the bank and watch it grow 90% faster than your previous wage!

Sometimes money just happens and you get an unexpected windfall.  Many times, though, money happens because you make it happen through diligence and elbow grease.