San Antonio Sabbatical

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  • In: Preparation
  • Comments Off on Preparing for the Return Move

One week from today I leave beautiful San Antonio.  My courses are completed and my sabbatical semester is coming to an end.  I’ve been spending this week getting ready for my move, first to New York to spend Christmas and New Year’s Day with family and then back to Pennsylvania to resume my job for the Spring 2011 semester.

On Sunday afternoon, I made my first visit to North Star Mall.  No plans to buy anything; just wanted to look around and take a picture of those awesome Texas cowboy boots (a huge colorful eye-catching sculpture that sits by the I-410 highway at the mall’s entrance).  After snapping the desired photos, I made a planned stop at Luciano Ristorante, an authentic Italian restaurant (They also have an express version of their restaurant in the mall’s food court.  I ate at the large full-service restaurant).  Italian cuisine (minus the cheese) is one of my favorites and Luciano was no exception.  I sat in their mall seating area admiring the holiday decorations and shoppers while eating my lunch.  I ordered Spaghetti Bolognese and Iced Tea.  I was given a small complimentary bruschetta-like appetizer along with the usual basket of bread and butter.  The food (large portion of seasoned spaghetti that was attractively presented) was delicious and the service was very good.  I’m so glad I got to try the highly-recommended Luciano Ristorante.  This is a place I’d like to return to if I’m ever in San Antonio again.

Later that evening I signed my holiday cards and prepared them for mailing on Monday.  They’re already late for Hanukkah which came early this year.  Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to include my annual newsletter for my college friends (whom I’ve been keeping in touch with for over 20 years), so I’ll have to send it separately at a later date.  I spent a couple of days getting my San Antonio pictures developed at CVS.  They processed several rolls of film; I had put in 13 Kodak Fun Saver cameras — love them! — and requested single prints, CD and index print for each (I’m nearing the end of my 14th camera and will develop these photos after I move).  The pictures came out really well and I gave copies of a group photo to each member of my Spanish clinic team.  I’ve been saying goodbye to people as the semester has been winding down.

I have to say that moving back to Pennsylvania is a lot easier than my August move to San Antonio.  The first move required many more decisions and preparations since I had to plan for four months away from home.  The reverse process is familiar having been through this stress before.  I’ve returned all of my library books; gave my change of address (mail forward) to the post office and also mailed a box of items (since I can’t carry it on the plane); made my last trips to the hairdresser, grocery store, and bank; made an appointment to have my Internet service disconnected next week; ordered a book to review for NACADA over the semester break; and made my car shipping arrangements via Phoenix Auto Transport Services (located in Vancouver, WA), the same company I used in August.  My 1999 Toyota was picked up at 8:00 this morning.  Knowing that I would be carless for the final week of my stay here forced me to do several errands by early this week.

My stay in San Antonio has been relatively uneventful except for a tropical storm in September and two annoying things: (1) one of the boxes I mailed from Pennsylvania to Texas was lost by the United States Postal Service — the box was insured and I have 180 days in which to file a claim for reimbursement, which I will do once I return to Pennsylvania and can gather the receipts, and (2) the inability to continue receiving my allergy shots in Texas — my health insurance company approved of the out-of-network coverage, but doctors in Texas required that I undergo the allergy testing all over again and have a new mix created based on allergens in Texas (the insurance company had not authorized this extensive procedure and retesting and remixing my serum would have taken too long and not been practical since my stay in Texas is only temporary).  Fortunately, with the exception of a couple of bad days, my allergies presented no major problems here in San Antonio.  I figure that if these are the worst things that happened to me during my semester in San Antonio, then I’ve done really well.

A surprise for me was how cold San Antonio can get, especially at night.  This is something that I underestimated and wasn’t prepared for.  I brought with me only one casual long-sleeve sweater and four casual long-sleeve shirts.  I had to buy a pair of thicker pajamas once here.  But, I didn’t want to buy too much because I won’t have room for it on the plane.  Since I have a washer and dryer in my apartment, I’ve been doing laundry more often during cold weather.  I’m glad that my furnished apartment includes heat and warm bedding.  People warned me of the heat in Texas (and it can be brutal in the summer), but not the cold.  So, if you come to Texas in the fall and winter months, bring some heavier clothes.  You’ll need them.  My winter clothes are in New York waiting for me at my Dad’s house when I arrive there next Friday.

Things are winding down and I’m using these last few days to do some leisure reading.  Soon I will need to clean my apartment and pack my things.  First, I’m giving myself a couple of days to just relax.  Then, I’ll get busy.  On Sunday evening one of my clinic team members will be hosting an end-of-semester potluck dinner party for the team and I will be going (another team member has offered to give me a ride).  Other than this event, I have no major plans.  My sightseeing is over.  I’m tired, so I’m actually looking forward to some downtime now.  And I’m really looking forward to reducing my expenses (i.e., not paying twice for rent and utilities each month) and paying down my credit card bill.  This four-month excursion to San Antonio has been wonderful, but I think I’m ready to get back to my normal life.

  • In: Preparation
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The big move is less than two weeks away so things are really hectic right now.  This has been a busy week.  There are many details that need my attention.  At the beginning of the summer my university office was readied for my temporary replacement.  Earlier this week I put my car in the repair shop (it was rearended by a school bus while I was sitting in the toll lane at the Triboro Bridge in New York City), made a hair appointment, and purchased a plane ticket to San Antonio.  I also began saying goodbye to friends and relatives.  Next week I will begin packing.

Here are some things to consider when moving:

  • Healthcare

I have a good, but picky/restrictive, HMO plan that will only cover urgent and emergency care for the use of doctors and hospitals out of their network.  So, I’m still trying to get approval from them in order to continue payments for my allergy shots while I’m in Texas.  (Newsflash:  As I was writing this blog post, one of the health plan nurses called to say that the Medical Director gave his approval.  Yippee!)  Fortunately, my vision and dental plans are more flexible so even though I am a little behind in my check-ups I can get eye and tooth care in Texas if needed.  Earlier in the year I had my annual physical exam and associated tests and all is well.  Despite some minor medical issues, I’m a relatively healthy middle-aged woman.

  • Cell Phone

I’m not a gadget geek and did not get a cell phone until this past weekend.  I have a land line phone here and will have one in my Texas apartment.  So, what caused me to go to Walmart on Saturday and buy a prepaid TracFone?  Well, three days prior when I was driving back home from New York in the afternoon, I got a flat tire on Interstate 80 West and my spare tire was not operational.  I was 50 miles from home and didn’t have a cell phone so I needed to rely on the good nature of fellow drivers.  Once I pulled over, put my hazard lights on, and put my “Call Police” banner in the window, I didn’t think it would take long to get help.  I was wrong.  It took two hours before a nice gentleman stopped and allowed me to call AAA from his cell phone in order to get towed home.  (Note to self:  Upgrade AAA coverage so that towing costs are covered for more than three miles).  Lesson learned.  So, I now have a cell phone for travel emergencies.  My family and friends no longer have to worry about me out on the road. 

  • Mail

I had planned to have the post office hold my mail during my absence.  Since the “hold” lasts for only 30 days that would mean that I would need to return home periodically to collect my mail and issue a new “hold” request.  The regular free forwarding of mail wouldn’t work for me since only first-class mail is forwarded and I get several magazines and bulk mail items that I don’t want to lose.  (Given my short stay in Texas, a temporary “change of address” wouldn’t be very practical.)  Neighbors have offered to collect my mail for me but I didn’t want to impose.  However, thanks to an online writers’ forum to which I belong, I think I’ve found a solution to my problem.  The United States Postal Service offers a Premium Forwarding Service for a fee ($15 enrollment fee plus $13.95 per week for re-shipping mail) whereby all mail is forwarded on a weekly basis via Priority Mail.  They say, “It’s like taking your mailbox with you!”  I hadn’t heard of this service before but the freelance writer who has used it for the past three years has found it to be wonderful.  This service is convenient and would be cheaper for me than making multiple trips back to deal with my mail.  So glad I learned of this USPS Premium Forwarding Service.

  • Car Shipping

I certainly got an education in this area as I previously had no idea how the auto transport industry worked.  Essentially, it’s a broker business where car pick-ups are made by referral based on prices posted on a national dispatch board.  The truck drivers select the cars they wish to pick up based on dates, routes, and prices they will be paid.  If you bid too low, your car may never get picked up so it’s better to offer a fair price that is consistent with industry standards.  Broker competition for clients is keen — they want your business and their commission.  On Tuesday, I read a couple of online articles about car shipping and then did a Google search for companies.  I made inquiries via e-mail and requested quotes.  For the next two days I was inundated with over 50 e-mails (I read all of them) and 10 telephone calls from brokers, a few of whom reminded me of car salesmen when pitching their service.  I did my research and selected my top companies based on reputation, quality, and price.  Of primary concern to me was their Better Business Bureau rating.  Then I looked at customer reviews on www.transportreviews.com (be careful with this website as some of the customers were paid for their reviews; this would explain the great number of 5-star ratings).  Ultimately, I chose a company that is Better Business Bureau member with an “A” rating and has excellent customer reviews.  I placed my order yesterday and arranged for pick-up of my 1999 Toyota Corolla in 1-1/2 weeks.  So relieved that this major headache of a task is nearly done.

  • Money

I’ve been budgeting for this move for over a year.  I had to determine my expenses and figure out how to do my banking in Texas (I prefer not to do online banking and bill paying).  Bills will need to be paid, and extra money will be needed for food, gas, textbooks, and miscellaneous purchases.  I made a couple of money transfers between my banks so that I can rely on one main bank account while in Texas; I’ll also have to open up a local bank account as well once I am there.  In addition, I will have my two major credit cards with me.  Access to money is important, and having more than one access route is smart.

As you can see, there are many things that need to be taken care of prior to your move.  These will vary depending on your situation (e.g., job, location, family, length of time away, etc.).  Two books that really helped me and that I highly recommend are:

 Gotta go take care of more details now.

 

I can speak some Spanish, but I’m not yet fluent.  Even after several years of study.  Speaking and understanding are the most difficult tasks for me; reading and writing are a bit easier.  My sabbatical courses will give me more practice and practical application with the Spanish language.

How much Spanish does it take to do a sabbatical project such as this?  For me, it took 7-1/2 years of intermittent language study to reach the required intermediate level for OLLU’s PSSSP courses.  Granted, if I had studied Spanish continuously and had spent a semester or year studying abroad while in college (which I really wanted to do but could not afford), then I would have reached this level a lot sooner and would probably be nearly fluent by now.  Despite my struggles with language — which are partly due to my relatively weak auditory sense (I’m a very visual person) — I enjoy learning Spanish.

To get a better idea of my experiences with Spanish and readiness for this sabbatical project, see the summary of my preparation below:

Preliminary study:   3 years of Spanish in high school plus 1 year of Intermediate Spanish in college

Recent study (after a break of almost twenty years):

Bloomsburg University courses: 

  •  12-209: Spanish for Social Services (Spring 2006)
  •  12-203: Spanish 3 (Fall 2006)
  •  12-207: Spanish Conversation and Composition 1 (Spring 2007)
  •  12-204: Spanish 4 (Fall 2007)
  •  12-206: Structure of the Spanish Language (Spring 2008)
  •  12-214: Hispanic Culture and Civilization (Fall 2008)
  •  12-402: Advanced Conversation (Spring 2010)

Study abroad (language immersion programs):

  • Summer 2005 – Sevilla and Barcelona, Spain (4 weeks) – CLIC and Enforex  [Transitions Abroad article]
  • Summer 2006 – Cuernavaca and Buenavista de Cuellar, Mexico (2 weeks) – Cemanahuac
  • Summer 2008 – Guanajuato, Mexico (2 weeks, “Medical Spanish” course) – don Quijote
  • Summer 2010 – Salamanca and Valencia, Spain (4 weeks) – don Quijote

Volunteer abroad:

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) rating:

  • Intermediate Mid-Spanish  (based on an Oral Proficiency Interview in 2008)

In my opinion, nothing beats face-to-face language learning (e.g., in a classroom, study group, etc.), but other materials — texts, audiotapes, videos, computer software — can be a good supplement to formal classroom study.  I purchased the Rosetta Stone computer software (Latin American Spanish, Version 3) and completed Levels 4 and 5, the two highest levels, this year which took about 50 hours of study time.  As a visual learner, I found Rosetta Stone to be an excellent match for my needs.  Since it’s based on immersion in the target language, there are no translations or explanations.  While this might frustrate a pure beginner, my prior knowledge of Spanish helped a lot in knowing what was going on with respect to various verb tenses, irregularities, and phrasings.  The Rosetta Stone software, though expensive, was easy to use.  I liked how the lessons were broken down into manageable chunks with time estimates for completion of each section provided.  And, there’s a lot of repetition to solidify the learning.  I also liked the picture quality.  For example, the food pictures were so crisp and mouth-watering that I wanted to eat them.  Rosetta Stone is a great program and I can recommend it with confidence.  It aims to make people conversational in their desired language and it does this through the use of many fun, interactive, and challenging activities.  It’s important to keep in mind that there are many different language programs available and while Rosetta Stone helped me, it may not be right for everyone.  You need to assess your own learning style and goals and do your research.  For the record, I received no payment or special privileges from Rosetta Stone for writing this review.

As the weeks of summer continue to pass by, my excitement and anxiety continue to grow.  OMG!  What have I gotten myself into?  While I have moved a few times in my life, both for school and for work, my last move was over a decade ago.  Like many people, I do not enjoy the process of moving.  However, once I’m settled in I’m fine.  On the positive side, this move to Texas is only temporary (four months) so I won’t have to endure a total packing.  Nevertheless, it’s still stressful.

I still don’t have a place to live.  The ad I placed in my college’s alumnae magazine resulted in zero replies.  Speaking to colleagues and friends about my plans and hearing their suggestions has been helpful.  I’ve been browsing the ads on Craigslist — and trying to weed out the perverts — and found a couple of possibilities that seem promising.  Hopefully this will all come together next week when I make a visit to San Antonio for the purpose of finding a furnished room or apartment to rent for the semester.  I plan to check out the newspaper classifieds, visit real estate offices, and follow up on Internet listings so that I can view in person the advertised accommodations.  Wish me luck!

Another part of this process involves making preparations for my current apartment — mail, newspaper, security, etc.  There are many details to which I must attend if I want my sabbatical to go smoothly.  Some of these — for example, budget, location, and language ability — I already considered at the time of my application as I had to secure the necessary approvals for this paid leave of absence.

It took me a few years to find a sabbatical activity that was interesting, appropriate, and reasonable to complete within one semester.  I also had to connect it to my job and show how my sabbatical would benefit the university and its students.  After all, this is a professional academic endeavor which I have earned and not a luxury vacation.

Here’s the abstract from my sabbatical application:

The attached sabbatical proposal falls within the “Continuing Scholarly Growth” area on which faculty members are evaluated, and would also enhance the fulfillment of my “Counseling Responsibilities”.  Given the increasing diversity of the United States’ population, and of Bloomsburg University students, it is important for psychologists to have an understanding of many cultural variables and to be well versed in a variety of effective counseling techniques.  The purpose of my sabbatical is to gain more knowledge about how to provide appropriate and effective counseling services to Hispanic/Latino populations.  I would enroll in two on-site graduate-level courses (i.e., either two lecture courses or one lecture and one practicum), at least one of which would be taught in Spanish, that is offered by Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas.  These courses are part of their Psychological Services for Spanish-Speaking Populations (PSSSP) certificate curriculum.

To this application I attached supporting materials to show my years of Spanish study as well as my level.  I was certified at the Intermediate-Mid level of oral Spanish proficiency by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.  This ACTFL rating is a requirement I had to meet in order for OLLU to grant me permission to take their PSSSP courses.

One of my favorite subscriptions is that to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the weekly newspaper about colleges and universities and their students and employees.  Over the years there have been stories about faculty sabbaticals from which I gathered ideas, resources, and solutions.

Two sabbatical books that I have found helpful and that I highly recommend are:

(1) Sabbaticals 101: A Practical Guide for Academics & Their Families by Nancy Matthews (New Forums Press, Inc., 2008)

(2) Six Months Off: How to Plan, Negotiate, and Take the Break You Need Without Burning Bridges or Going Broke by Hope Dlugozima, James Scott, and David Sharp (Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1996).

So this is the “setting the stage” post that provides some background on what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.  I should mention that this blog is not part of my official sabbatical project.  It is my own independent undertaking.  I’m a nonfiction writer so I want to write.  However, I never thought I’d be a blogger.  But times have changed, and so has the world of publishing, and blogging is the popular online medium for communication.  Please be patient with me as I explore this new arena.

Feel free to LINK to this blog.  Request my permission if you wish to publish any or all of it in any format.  Copyright laws apply.

Finally, a slightly off-topic note:  Congratulations to Spain for winning its first World Cup soccer title!!!  This just happened a few minutes ago in South Africa as I was watching their game against the Netherlands on television while typing this blog post.  A week ago I returned from Spain (where I completed another month of language study) and while there got to witness the joy and pride that fans showed for their team.  This championship title is a great victory for Spain and I share in their happiness.  Felicitaciones!!!


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