Monday, August 22, 2016

Do you even have friends, bro?

It’s been a little quiet in Teacher Bert’s Corner lately; mainly because I don’t have a job and bragging about that to the rest of the world isn’t a recommended practice. It has been a doozy of a summer that is slowly turning into fall. What’s next? Who knows but I read an article recently that has sparked some thought and I I've tried to assemble my thoughts into words that hopefully bring you a dash or two of insight. Let’s dive in.

How many friends do you have? How would we even measure this? Would anyone really glance at their Facebook profile and proclaim they have 1, 072 friends? Or are we looking over our Twitter and Instagram followers and doing some basic math to come up with a reasonable number? If you want to read an intelligent person’s take on this topic, this article sparked my thinking:

A few of the highlights from the article were:
-Friendship studies conducted have found that reciprocity rates in friendship vary from 34 to 54 per cent.
-Layers of friendship. First layer has one or two people (my mom is obviously #1 with nobody in sight at #2). The second layer has four spots then the tiers gradually deteriorate from there.
-Not having close friends can hurt your physical health and decrease life expectancy.

This second article spoke on how it’s hard to make friends after 30

-Three conditions for making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and open up.
-Seeking out specific friends might be easier than finding a new BFF. A book friend, workout friend, food friend, etc. (I’d like to find a lady friend who I could give back massages to and she laughs at my jokes but that friendship list is not trending in the right direction)

I also read somewhere that a person is truly blessed if they have 10 true friends in their lifetime. When I was younger, I used to make fun of my mom because she only had 3 friends. “Mom, one of your three friends called last night; you can probably guess which one.” I thought I was so cool because I imagined I had X times many more friends than her. She was the lucky one.

I tried to figure out a scenario of how to find out who your true friends are. I first thought of people you would call to bail you out of jail. But I thought it would be a pretty bold move for someone not to help you in that situation. Also, that is the primary reason we have families. Primary. I’m almost certain my brother’s first thought when I told him I booked a one way ticket to Thailand was that he was going to bear the weight of bailing me out of my almost certain demise.
People who would help you move is a great test. When my dad died, it meant a lot to me to have my close friends around at the same time knowing they had my back.

To me, I think my close friends aren’t necessarily people I speak to every day. I promise that some of them I wouldn’t want to talk to every day….I think moving outside of Canada, meeting more new people than I ever would have staying here has broadened my overall “friends list” but has also seen a few entries into the “close friends list”. Some people are great at staying in touch, calling, messaging or meeting up when you’re in the same area. Some people on my list are terrible at those things but I don’t hold that against them. People are great at some aspects of friendship and lacking on others but the vital element is when that person crosses your mind, how do they make you feel?

This summer has made me realize that it’s important to re-evaluate your friendship roster; not because you want to delete people from your Facebook feed or be petty but to focus your thoughts, time and love on the people who reciprocate it. As we get older, we make less new friends but grow closer to the ones we have. Grow close to the people who deserve it, make you feel loved and are there for you like when you are there for them. It’s okay that not everyone is a close friend, it’s just important to understand your tiers, manage expectations (of course!) and be open to letting new people into your life and seeing where it takes you. They say you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Who are you spending your time with?

“Two things you will never have to chase: True friends & true love.”  Mandy Hale

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Poland Report Card

Thailand and New Zealand have received their reports. It is now time to see how Poland stacks up.

Oh, I’m back in Canada and it is fantastic.

Food B-
 I don’t want to offend anyone here (which I feel will happen inadvertently) but I didn’t fall in love with Polish cuisine. To be fair, I don’t think Canadian cuisine, whatever it may be, is the best but Polish food didn’t really do it for me. They are in love with soups. Seriously. If you love soup, just move to Poland and you will never worry about anything again the rest of your life. They love their meats and vegetables. Nothing wrong with that. I just found it a bit bland and boring. I gave Thai food a B+ (I made a mistake in retrospect) so that leaves Poland in the B,B- area.

Price: A
Poland is cheap as. Not sure how much my rent was because it was so low. Metro tickets, eating out, clothes, all great deals. Keep it up Poland.

Location: A-
A few hour flight gets you anywhere in Europe and into Africa and the Middle East. Beautiful Ukraine and Germany are right there and Moscow is a stone’s throw is you want some cigarettes and bazookas.

Weather: B
Definite room for improvement on the whole cloud front and getting dark at 3pm in the winter. Conversely, nobody is complaining when the sun is rising at 3:30am during the spring. Winters aren’t terrible but the whole darkness situation is a deal breaker for me.

People: A-
Now this is a tricky one. My friends: A+. My students while they aren’t in my class talking about snapchat, A. Absolutely random Polish person you might encounter on the street while they give me a dirty look for my unique laugh? Let’s say a conservative B. When I first arrived in Poland, my roommate told me that Polish people are a little harder to get to know and open up to you but once they let you into the group, you’re in. I came to realize this was true when I was let into the group of our fearless leader, Michael. They treated the three Canadians the same as their Polish friends even though they knew we wouldn’t be around forever. They were better friends to me than I was to them. The quote that stands out from saying goodbyes was, “You know how I know that you like us Bert? You don’t pretend to like us.” This might not sound endearing to me but he was trying to say that (hopefully) that I’m sincere and don’t fake wanting to talk about things I don’t want to talk about. I feel total happiness, joy and gratefulness for the friends I met in Poland. It’s what I’ve thought about since coming back. That and my bicycle.

Safety: A
I had zero safety concerns whilst living in Poland other than needing to be on the lookout for wild boars. There are police at the metro stops, police randomly around town and I never felt unsafe. The first night I wandered around Warsaw, I saw two mountain of men yelling and trying to fight each other. I thought I was in for some real trouble the next year but luckily, no issues.

Activities: A-
There are definitely things to do in Poland. Wakeboarding, snowboarding, lakes, forests, concerts, museums, Old Towns, partying, walking tours, bowling, paintball, etc. Standard big city and quirky small town things to do. One activity that I have yet to experience is a Polish wedding. Apparently, they are legit and might be the best Polish experience to take in. I’m hoping to cross this off next July.

Transportation: A
While my main mode of transportation was my favourite orange bicycle, Uber was a mainstay. We could get from our house to the centre of Warsaw in about 20ish minutes and it only cost $10. I’d rather not look through my Uber receipts from the last year. Metro is cheap and accessible along with buses and blah blah cars. Cheap airlines (check-in online and print your boarding pass first!!!) take you anywhere in Europe and trains that are insanely efficient, comfortable and affordable. Europe kills Canada in this department.

Beauty: B+
Poland has beautiful lakes, mountains and countryside. Not all that different from a Canadian landscape. I give the edge to Canada.

Nightlife: A
Poland knows what’s up in the partying department. No 2am closing times, no 8 hour LCBO times to deal with and limited, if any, cover charges. Polish people love their vodka, shot bars and jut overall going for it. My only advice would be to never, and I mean never, drink moonshine with a Pole. You’ve been warned.

Girls: A

Health Care: A-
I’m pretty stoked that I didn’t go to a hospital this entire year! I did get strep throat and went to a dentist once but my knowledge here is limited. If you got sick in Poland though, they’d take good care of you then try to feed you moonshine as a celebratory drink; don’t do it! You’re going to do it aren’t you?

Environment: C+
Recycling didn’t seem to be a huge priority while living in Warsaw and I didn’t feel a big push to be green. They do have some wind farms on the way up to Gdansk but overall, progress could be made.

Politics: D
Poland is a country that is becoming more divided by the day. They have a very right wing President and Prime Minister that don’t have the backing of the majority of Polish people. They aren’t overly inclusive to immigrants and the LBGTQ community. This is the biggest issue that Poland is facing and it doesn’t look the problem is in any way improving. Brexit might also have a negative effect as well as more refugees needing sanctuary. They do have a large Ukrainian population and Ukraine is incredible so it can’t be all bad.

Overall quality of life: B+
Safe, tons of travel, forests, rich history, resilient people, beer, gorgeous women that I never talked to, mild winters, Wroclaw and Magda Hoffman. Polish people love studying and most people have a great grasp of English so navigating life there is manageable.I never have or will regret my time in Poland. Being a little more environmentally friendly, being more inclusive and having a slightly smaller gap between rich and poor would be an overall plus. No doubt I will be visiting again before too long. Polish people all over the world should be proud to wear red and white, cheer on their Polish football club and drink every German they meet under the table.

Final grade: A-
Nothing wrong with Poland. People are always a little shocked and confused when I tell them I was living or have lived in Poland. The main question is: Why? I feel privileged to have called Poland my home and honestly feel more Polish than my half Irish, Scottish ancestry. I don’t care for their accents and more Polish people love me than Irish or Scottish people do so when people ask me my heritage, I will speak the truth but tell them my DNA might lean Irish and Scottish, but my heartbeats Polish.

“It has been said that Poland is dead, exhausted, enslaved, but here is the proof of her life and triumph.” 

Henryk Sienkiewicz

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Seven days till Canada

A week from now, I will be on my way to Amsterdam for a 13 hour layover, then a little place people like to call home. It’s almost a wrap so instead of finishing my last grade of report cards, this is taking precedent. Funny enough, I just watched a TED talk about procrastination that spoke to me. This would be a better use of your time rather than reading what I think I need to say:

I’ve been asked what my plan is once I come home. Excellent question. I have a small handful of goals which I will share here:
1-My cousin Pat and MJ’s wedding. They aren’t both my cousins so it’s legit. They get married next Saturday and I arrive in Toronto next Friday so I’m extremely grateful to be getting to go to their wedding. I normally miss milestone events like this so the fact that I could swing it, brings me joy. Getting to see a big portion of that side of my family is another high selling point because once I’m semi settled in Toronto, my desire to travel back to Ottawa will be minimal.
2-See my family and friends as much as I can. I’m definitely ready to come home. I love travel just as much as the next person but I would be OK with toning it down this next year. Exploring new places is something I love but I also love my family and getting to do everyday things with them like Sky Zone dates, walks to get ice cream and anything niece or nephew related.

3-I’d like to try to start my own business and take a short break from teaching. I’m going to chill for the first two weeks then as usual, things will fall into place for me. Let’s pretend on the off chance things don’t work out, it will all end out working in my favour anyway. It always does but usually entails a few bumps in the road, last minute deadline application, being rushed in some manner or another then success. I’m prepared for that. So I will be a bit of a nomad so if you want some serious Bert time, I’m down to spend a few nights on your couch and make you instantly regret your decision. Be warned that I told my cousin after graduating university that I was only going to be there 2-3 months and I left 3 years later.
4-Find a wife? If you know of anyone that would like a semi-vagabond as a husband, will genetically bless their future children with one of a kind eyelashes and down to give weekly massages, send them over.

Poland is what's up and if I wasn’t anticipating coming home so much, I would probably miss it. One year has been enough but I will definitely miss biking through my forest, my roommates and being able to explore any European country I want (except Russia because they make Canadians get a visa; Ukraine is more my style anyway). I’d rate my teaching experience as a challenge, learning experience and exhausting. 
I visited Rome a few weeks ago and I’d like to think I will write a post about it, if not, believe the hype. Favourite country in Europe and there’s a reason people have real obsessions over it.
I’ve just about past my allotted time period for this post before finding a different activity in my house that distracts me from my actual priority. To sum up: I’m coming home. I’m excited. I’m open to any and all suggestions. Wife would be a bonus. Bert out.

Confidence Quote 15

“You can’t fall if you don’t climb. But there’s no joy of living your whole life on the ground.” Unknown

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Underrated Ukraine

A few weeks ago was Constitution Day in Poland so that meant a four day weekend so obviously when in Poland and faced with how to spend a free four days, you can’t resist the call of Ukraine. Are they currently at war with Russia? Sure but the term war gets thrown around a lot these days and it didn’t deter our group of 12. Getting to Ukraine is not as easy peasy as you might think so we needed a first stop in Zamosc before leaving for Lviv, Ukraine the next morning. What is Zamosc Poland like at the end of April? Superb!

Zamosc is a small Polish city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is built as an ideal town based on Italian theories that involve a fortress, a residence and an urban ensemble. 

We had some friends who let us stay at their place and we set off first thing in the morning for Ukraine. It was coincidentally Easter in Ukraine so tons of Ukrainians who are living in Poland, make the trip back for the long weekend which meant insane backup at the border. I mean insane. We were parked for about half an hour and hadn’t moved an inch. As we were waiting at a standstill and me pondering why I make certain life choices, a string of cars was driving on the wrong side of the road and essentially trying to cut the line. Sidebar: A classic move my dad would have certainly employed.


It didn’t take long for our group to decide that we could follow suit. We drove for a few minutes, passed the honking horns of increasingly angry Ukrainians. I’m under the impression that Ukrainians are almost always angry and multiply that when people in a 1988 Uno go flying passed them filled with obviously non-Ukrainian bearing passport holders. After driving past hundreds of cars and still no sight of this illusive border, some sense of order was restored when someone in a uniform and in the possession of a gun, told us to turn around.  Yes sir. Does this mean back to Zamosc for vodka and pierogis? Of course not! Let’s take a google maps direction through backroad forest Polish/Ukraine!

When people speak about the road less travelled, they were talking about this road. How it was on a map, I’m not completely certain. We were a convoy of two cars, one sort of made for off-roading, one meant to be put down in the early 2000’s. I was in the latter. We needed to take a small break to let the engine cool off and write any last words down for anyone to find and pass along to love ones if we didn’t make it out of this forest that is certainly used a passage way for human and drug smuggling. We eventually hit paved roads again, saw a glimpse of a border but nobody wanted to let us into the line because they thought we skipped the queue. We earned the right into that line but the anger had only increased with this second Ukrainian border we have tried to come into contact with. When trying to skips queues, always use your trump card: being Canadian. Our Polish friend casually strolled to the border agents, informed them that a small group of Canadians only had two days in their endearing country and we were allowed a not so speedy entry into Ukraine which certainly saved us hours upon hours in that line. Rumour has it that the first line we were in, it would have taken us 20 hours to get through. It takes about 15 minutes for them to process each car because obviously, Ukraine offers a better life than other European and North American countries.

Moments that stand out:

Disaster roads. Entering a time machine to see people plowing their fields with their bodies and tools from 60 years ago and without the aid of horses. Cheap. Ukrainian money I would later find out cannot be exchanged in Poland due to war which was a fun little timbit of information to acquire. Going to a country during a holiday lets you see traditions in public you would not normally see but it also means massive store/restaurant/everything being closed which puts an interesting twist on a weekend. Overall thoughts on Ukraine is that there was more of a difference between Poland and Ukraine than I had anticipated but was pleasantly surprised with its beauty and user friendliness. Would certainly explore and want to learn more about Ukraine if given the opportunity. When Ukraine calls, you always pick up.  


“Think continually about what you want, not about the things you fear.” Brian Tracy

Sunday, May 15, 2016

3 days till 30

That doesn’t sound right. He’s in his 30’s. Should I care? I don’t 100% care. I care about 20%. I don’t consider myself a classic adult in the traditional sense but I think I’m up for the challenge. I’ve been pondering what I want my 30’s to look like, what my 20’s have looked like and what the next 50-60 years may hold. Someone recently asked me what I’m proud of accomplishing the last thirty years. They asked for two things. My first answer was making a life outside of Canada and exploring frontiers previously unseen by this long eyelashed writer. My second? I couldn’t think of one. Going to school wasn’t a major struggle and tons of people do it so I don’t go to bed at night proud of it. Millions of people have saved lives, created jobs, raised kids, and invented products that help people with their everyday lives and countless other things to be proud of. How do you create a life that you are proud of?

A few years ago, I had a good friend, let’s call him Kenora, who jokingly but not so jokingly called me selfish. I was somewhat offended but possibly didn’t realize why I was offended because he was certainly right. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that Bert is looking out for Bert. I recently read a blog post about someone that was giving advice and sharing experiences about moving abroad and how it effects relationships with your friends and family. The post noted that while exploring and experiencing new things is a wonderful opportunity, it undoubtedly is a selfish choice. You do it for you. I didn’t move away to make someone else’s life better or enhance anyone else’s reality but my own. I haven’t gone to a developing country to help them with clean drinking water or improve their housing situation. I was just listening to a podcast with Tony Robbins and he said he wasn’t sure why he was struggling with his business and he realized that he was focusing on “me” instead of “we”.  He now serves over a hundred million meals a year. My 30’s need to be more “we” instead of “me” centred.

Another major thinking point in my brain has been wanting to find someone to travel and share these memories with. While it’s fun to think that I haven’t met this person yet and what that will be like, if I could take a pill to never contemplate this subject again, I would take it. I believe not only myself but most people need to live their lives like nobody is going to enter their life and save them. A stranger right now can’t make me happy. While having a wife and family might alleviate some of my issues/problems, I can only imagine new worries would consume my day-to-day thinking. My dream would be to come back to Canada, meet someone then see what happens and work out something that involves travel, semi normal living with an eye on eventually having cute kids who know things. However, I think these thoughts need to take a backseat to being a better Bert, being healthy, making cash money and helping other people in any way I can. I tell my students to be specific all the time so what does it mean to be a better Bert? A few words come to mind but if I had to pick a word to allow me to improve the next 10 years, it would be organization. I can’t live the next 30 years the way I’ve prepared, thought and executed my previous 30.  I’m almost 30 and just a few days ago, I went to the train station to buy my train ticked to Gdansk and I have zero idea where it is and had to buy a new one. One of my students mentioned that I’m not as organized as their teacher last year and I have sticky notes on my computer that would make someone with OCD completely lose hope in humanity. It’s shocking to me that I moved to Thailand and had relatively few hiccups.

One piece of advice that has stuck with me recently when people are asked to give advice on what they would tell their 30 year old self was Jamie Foxx saying that 40 comes quicker than you think. I can see how 40 could sneak up on someone then you are ten years from 50 and I can’t be losing my Math Makes Sense book or water bottle at 50. I just can’t. My game plan is to make a list each day, spend at least 5 minutes organizing my room, not be in a rush and think things through, think of ways things can go wrong then avoid those things, put important papers in a certain spot, grading work when the kids finish it and having a more positive attitude towards being a little more type A.  

The next week is Green School which is a 5 day field trip in a Polish forest where the students are learning mostly in Polish and I’m there more as a chaperone than an educator. Am I thrilled about turning 30 in a forest with no internet with 100+ kids? Not necessarily but life tends to go that way at times and I haven’t been lacking in the pre-birthday Bert presents and might have one or two in mind for my first weekend as a 30 year old so clear skies ahead. My brother and his wife celebrated their 5th wedding anniversary this past Saturday so that means it has been five years since I boarded my flight to Bangkok. Here’s to the next 5 years that are hopefully filled with travel, silly stories, love and helpfulness. 

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t want for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”

Brack Obama

Thursday, April 14, 2016

How you do anything is how you do everything

"How you do anything is how you do everything" I heard this on a podcast this week and it made me think. Is this true? Is how I do any one thing the way I do everything? This can’t be true…right? Is the way I studied for a Math test in high school the same way I would have prepared for my driver’s license test? My motivation for passing my Math test was zero while being able to drive around in my mom’s Hyundai Sonata was high. Is the way I prepared a dinner for myself compared to in an imaginary world where I made meals for girls? I don’t think so Tim…

While these are extremes, I do think the heart of the saying is correct. How I clean my room, create my gym routine, write my blog posts, plan my meals, think about money and the clothes I’m going to wear are all very last minute. I can’t think of one area of my life that is well thought out or well executed. I taught my grade 5’s the word improvisation this week. I should have put my picture next to the word instead of the definition I created. Why do I do this? I could think of maybe twenty reasons but then that would cause some serious self-reflection that I’m not prepared to do as a last minute action kind of guy but the main reason is because I’ve gotten away with it for this long and life has gone to a level that I’m satisfied keeping it at. The way I prepare for dates doesn’t drastically change from girl to girl. The way I prepared for my first teaching job and my last teaching interview wasn’t noticeably different. The way I approach thinking about the future 1, 3, 5 years from now is not much different than the way I looked at in when I was 18. (that's got to be bad right?)

There are tons of articles and quotes (which I love) that tackle this topic head on but I refrained from reading them because I didn’t want it to cloud my judgement. To this point, I think it’s true for the most part and also that I have a low amount of discipline and I could develop better habits. Discipline is a potential blog post topic because apparently it is a muscle that can be exercised and developed. I’ve heard that we only have x amount of discipline to use each day and once we have used our amount for the day, it’s gone so we need to be careful what we are most disciplined about. Now for what I’ve learned:
You know when you have done something at 100% of your ability. You know when you have given 80%, 60% and even 20%. How does that make you feel? If you are okay with it then you should continue giving that amount of effort. However, giving 95% one day can turn in 85% the next then you could be in a tailspin of effort, confidence and general life satisfaction. I’m confident that at some point my dad tried to preach this lesson to me but I needed a podcast twenty years later for it to enter my consciousness.

From “It may seem like you're just skimping on the unimportant stuff, or saving energy for your big tasks, but repetition makes a habit. Eventually, you get yourself used to the idea that doing most of something is okay, and one day that mentality can cross over into the things you do care about. You'll wonder why success eludes you, but the answer is in your process. If you do one thing lazily, you'll do everything lazily.
Doing everything 100% seems exhausting and daunting but would most certainly make me a better human. Do you give a 100% at everything?

From “I had accepted mediocrity as an option in my life and that’s exactly what I ended up with. If you have accepted mediocre in one area of your life, you have accepted mediocre. Full stop. The cure for this is to not allow mediocre to be an option in your life. If you don’t accept it, it’s impossible to end up with it.
This also has to be true and I have certainly been feeling mediocre as of late. So giving 100% would change this feeling I have?
One area of our lives affects the others. If our car is dirty and filled with garbage, we probably aren’t sitting at a desk that is completely organized or a closet that is being optimally used. Staying up late watching the OJ Simpson series will make you tired the next day which will make you crankier at work and with your friends.           (may be a real life example) Understanding that all areas of our life directly influence each other and how forming positive habits that make us feel like we are giving are all are important elements in these other articles.

Advice they give seems to be to start immediately. Clean your room for an hour, get three things done you’ve been putting off or a complete a task that will take a weight off your shoulders and do it 100%. That 100% will feed into the other areas of your life. Not leaving room for mediocrity to seep into our lives seems to be the best way to guard against it.

Entrepreneurship Quote 13

“Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy.” Jimmy Spithill