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May This Be the Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir

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After stepping out of her comfort zone of American suburbia, Sandra Bornstein found herself in a life altering experience that made her question the meaning of marital bliss. Living alone in a three-hundred-square-foot dorm room, she taught fifth grade at a renowned international boarding school in Bangalore. This compelling, honest, and edifying memoir shares everything she learned about perseverance, travel, education, faith, and family. Had Sandra never resided in India, she would have missed out on an experience that ultimately enhanced her resiliency, confidence, and passion for life.

314 pages, Paperback

First published December 3, 2012

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About the author

Sandra Bornstein

2 books18 followers
Sandra Bornstein, an international educator and writer, has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses at the University of Colorado and Front Range Community College. Sandra holds two master’s degrees- one in education from the University of Colorado and another in Jewish Studies from Spertus College. While in graduate school she wrote biographical essays about American Jewish women. The essays are on the Jewish Women’s Archives website.

In 2010, her husband’s international job created a unique opportunity to live abroad. In India, she fulfilled three passions – a desire to travel, a zeal for writing, and a love of teaching. May This Be the Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir chronicles the lessons Bornstein learned from her Indian teaching adventure.

Finalist for the Travel/Travel Guide category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards
Finalist for the Travel Essay category for the 2013 International Book Awards
Finalist for the Travel category for the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards

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Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews
190 reviews10 followers
June 24, 2013
I received this book directly from the author, in exchange for writing an honest review. The description of this book intrigued me because I lived in India in the 1970s, as a teenager. I've also lived overseas as an expat wife for more than 10 years, so I opened the book feeling some kinship with what I know were the author's struggles.

Sandra Bornstein's story begins with her husband, Ira, accepting a job for an Indian company, which will require him to be gone from home for long periods of time. She struggles between wanting to accompany her husband now that the kids are grown, and staying in her comfortable home in Colorado. Eventually she decides to go with Ira and to find a job teaching in Bangalore.

A skiing accident while on vacation requires Ira to stay in the USA to recuperate, while Sandra grudgingly returns to Bangalore to honor her teaching commitment. What follows is a story of adventure, friendship, illness, loneliness, culture shock, soul searching, and then the eventual decision that being with her husband was her first priority - "home" is where your family is.

I really enjoyed this book from the perspective of traveling, exploring and learning - few Americans have the opportunity to experience other countries and cultures as expats. The author's descriptions of book shops, sari makers, rickshaw drivers, rampaging wild monkeys and ancient temples brought back (mostly) fond memories of my time in India.

I was slightly taken aback at times because the author expected Indians to speak English, although I completely understand her feeling of helplessness when she was sick and unable to communicate. I was surprised that the author didn't fill some of her lonely hours with some language lessons or more involvement in the International Women's Club. I know from painful experience that the key to happiness in another country is being able to communicate and having supportive friends.

I enjoyed reading about the Jewish traditions she practices and how she adapted them while far from family and traditional foods. Our family has also had some interesting adaptations of Christmas trees, Easter baskets and Thanksgiving dinners while living overseas. Our children went to International schools, and we enjoyed sharing our celebrations with other cultures, and learning about their celebrations, too. The author took the time to teach her class about Yom Kippur, and even planned an all-school presentation about Jewish holidays.

Overall this is an interesting and honest book that gives the reader a glimpse into an exotic country and the struggles the author faced while separated from family and everything familiar.
Profile Image for Fiona  Linday.
23 reviews6 followers
February 11, 2013
The cover was interesting, with great colours! I was attracted to the 'looking up' part of the woman.
What worked for me was around the empowerment of women, the empty-nest link, faith and general commitment to family. I could empathise on all these accounts and they kept me turning the pages. Sandra’s journey was indeed a labour of love and I admired her guts! The ‘same old’ balance of family life came up against personal sacrifices to do with her choices. I was intrigued to find out about the rich Indian culture, as I particularly enjoyed the elephant encounters.
Her privileged position had a mixture of blessings and hurdles, which I attempted to relate to. As a tutor, I was happy to be directed to practical writing exercises but as a woman approaching middle age, I particularly honed into how she coped with change. The author wears her heart on her sleeve, allowing her to experience vulnerable situations. It’s a story about adjusting to life with some adversity. Writing the memoirs probably had huge cathartic value for the author. I was happy to go outside my comfort zone with her.
Profile Image for Jessie.
Author 6 books16 followers
January 14, 2013
Have you often dreamed of picking up your life and heading overseas? Thought about the joys and challenges of teaching in another culture? Envisioned yourself making a change in yourself – and others? Educator Sandy Bornstein did just that – and has written a compelling, honest, and interesting glimpse into the life of an international teacher. In her new book, May This be the Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir, she shares difficult life decisions, intercultural differences, international teaching styles, students, fellow teachers, and, of course, the myriad of colors and emotions and experiences that is India.

We interviewed Sandy Bornstein about her book and I was so very impressed with both her backstory and her compassion. This is a book to be treasured, for the author's grace in the face of intercultural joys and challenges. Inspiring!!
Profile Image for Liralen.
2,755 reviews161 followers
May 28, 2017
I don't usually start with the blurb (or include it at all), but in this case I think it might be useful context in terms of my experience reading the book. This is what GR had (though it's not the same as the back-cover copy):
After stepping out of her comfort zone of American suburbia, Sandra Bornstein found herself in a life altering experience that made her question the meaning of marital bliss. Living alone in a three-hundred-square-foot dorm room, she taught fifth grade at a renowned international boarding school in Bangalore. This compelling, honest, and edifying memoir shares everything she learned about perseverance, travel, education, faith, and family. Had Sandra never resided in India, she would have missed out on an experience that ultimately enhanced her resiliency, confidence, and passion for life.
In retrospect, that's pretty vague, and—together with the cover—led me to believe I'd be getting something very different from the book than it was actually offering. It's two things, I think. First, I didn't realise that Bornstein was (relatively speaking) older, with children who were grown or very nearly grown. She was not (contrary to what I assumed from the cover) a twenty-something who stuffed her worldly possessions into a battered backpack and went off to see the world. Not that there's the slightest thing wrong with that, of course (if anything, good for those who do the extra-unexpected)...just not what I expected.

But second...the blurb makes it sound like a good thing. It makes it sound as though Bornstein enjoyed her time in India. And that wasn't the impression I got from the book at all. Rather, I got the impression that she compared it unfavourably to everything she knew in the States.

To be clear...I've not been to India, but much of what she says here is not new: that the streets are dirty and Westerners are often targeted for money-making schemes; that the medical and education systems lag behind where one would hope they'd be; that corruption is not unusual. I expect that there are many things that I would find difficult if I moved to India (or to many other places). But I also think: There must have been good stuff too, or Bornstein wouldn't have stuck it out. We see little bits here and there, most often when she goes off with family to do touristy things. I would not be surprised (though I have no way of knowing) if, when she talks about the experience now, some years out, it's with frustration but also love and pride. But gosh...I wish I'd seen more balance in the book.

I don't know. I'm reminded a little of Silent Tears, in which the author seemed to believe that she should be able to implement whatever changes she wanted in a Chinese orphanage because she was American and therefore knew better. Bornstein at least has education training to fuel her dismay at the way things were organised at the school where she taught, but at times in the book it read to me as though she couldn't accept India as a different country with its own history (and colonisation) and norms and regulations and difficulties (and also beauties and wonders and so on).

I kept waiting for the positive side of things, but it just didn't come and didn't come and didn't come, other than Bornstein getting some satisfaction from her students. Late in the book, she describes her family (sons, husband, and a son's partner) coming to visit, and they do nothing but whinge:
"I missed everyone so much," I said with tears streaming down my cheeks.
"We missed you, too," the boys said in unison.
"Rachel, you're a trouper. How's your back?"
Instead of answering my question, Adam and Rachel merely blurted, "India sucks!"
"What happened?" I asked.
"The guard wouldn't let the bus through the gate. We schlepped our luggage here," Adam complained. (231)

"Mom, does everyone look through you all the time?" Adam asked.
"Yes, people do stare at me."
"Mom, Dad, the garbage...it's pathetic. Why doesn't anyone clean up?" Adam asked.
"Do you ever feel safe? Crazy maniac drivers," Jordan said.
"Take it easy, guys," Ira said.
"Mom, do you wear goggles or a mask when you shower? I'm closing my eyes and my mouth when I shower so that none of the water gets in," Jordan said with a smirk on his face.
That got a rise out of everyone and we all laughed. "Jordan, that's pretty funny. But, guys, you know the answer to all of these questions. Please don't harp in front of Rachael or her family," I said. (233)

"Sandy, I'm happy we missed lunch. The food sucks."
"The cafeteria offers more choices."
"Most of that food looks like diarrhea. It's disgusting," Ira responded.
"That's Southern Indian cuisine. I don't care for it, either."
"Between the water and the food, no wonder you lost weight." (264)
I suspect more reflection would have helped. Anyone who's travelled has had those cranky moments when all you want to do is go home or eat familiar food, moments when you think your home is better. But these anecdotes just end there, and I'm left wondering whether Bornstein's perspective has changed since she left India. Was that just a moment of hurray-there's-someone-from-my-world, or was that Bornstein's lasting impression? Or when she's in an Indian OR and demands to know why the entire room isn't speaking English...years later, is she still indignant, or is she laughing at herself for being that kind of foreigner? Because there's not really any analysis, the way Bornstein writes about it feels really uncomfortably negative to me.

I don't know. I respect Bornstein's determination in going outside her comfort zone, but my overall impression throughout the book was that she was still bitter about the whole experience. I hope she has as many good memories as bad, and that time continues to blur the bad ones.
Profile Image for Sandra Stiles.
Author 1 book69 followers
July 4, 2014
I would love to be as adventurous as the author of this book is. I see her as not only a creative person, but a very brave soul. As I read her book I kept thinking, I would not have the courage to go to another country and function at times on my own. It didn’t matter that part of that time she was with her husband or her son. When her husband as a terrible accident back in the states she is finally offered a teaching position in India. She bravely takes the job. I understand why. As terrifying as it is, there is a part of her that knows if she doesn’t do this she will always regret not trying. Her time there with her husband helped prepare her somewhat. A lot of what she had to do had to be faced by herself. I loved the depiction of the Indian people and their culture. I am lucky in that my school has a very large Indian population. Many of my Indian students take extended periods of time to go back to their country during the summer or holidays. Some of them return for weddings. Their parents have come in and held festivals at our school to teach our other students about their culture. It helps that I teach at and IB (International Baccalaureate) school which encourages the learning of diverse cultures. I feel there is so much I can learn from my students as I try to teach them. The most fascinating thing I have learned is that you can’t lump them all together into one “Indian pot”. There country and cultures are as diverse as ours here in America. The author has done an excellent job of showing that. She has shown the hardships and inequity faced by so many when it comes to education. It makes me glad I live here in the United States. I have heard some of these kinds of stories from my Indian students. Some of them came here because of relatives moving here. Most came here because of the educational and economical opportunities. It irritates me when I hear people put my Indian students down. I was in charge of the spelling bee at my school a few years back. When we went to the county competition the two people who ended up competing for first and second place were both Indians. A man sitting behind me said to his wife, “Of course it would be one of the Indian’s, they don’t have a life outside of studying.” At that point I wanted to turn and blast the man. I kept thinking, if our students and their families have had the opportunity to see the life some of them have seen without education then they would understand the importance of education. I believe that is one of our downfalls here in America. We take everything for granted. There are so many things to be learned, not only about the Indian culture and lifestyle from this author. By bravely telling us her story she makes us take a good hard look at love, family and life in general. It is written with pride and joy and with her whole heart thrown in for just the right emotional mix. This is a book that I whole heartedly recommend to my friends. It is one I will be taking back to school with me in the fall to share with my fellow teachers.

I received a copy from the author in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Gayle Swift.
Author 2 books13 followers
June 1, 2014
A Leap of Faith that Challenges Self, Family, Religion and Culture
Stories of women adventuring beyond a staid American life intrigue and perplex me. How do these writer/adventurers muster the courage to veer off the easy path of an American middle-class life, forsake the safety and security for the possibility of the transformational experience of a lifetime?
May This Be the Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir by Sandra Bornstein provides a peek into one woman’s journey. Many factors converge to influence Sandra’s decision to follow her husband to India—professional opportunity for both her husband and herself, pressure in the American economy, a chance to build a relationship with her future daughter-in-law and the call of the exotic life as an ex-pat.
Sandra tackles many issues facing women: balancing love, family and career; choosing to embrace challenging opportunities that require a blind leap of faith; prioritizing health care issues with the inclination to power through pain and discomfort; resisting the preference for American standards to fully embrace a cultural experience.

Sandra and her family faced many obstacles during this year. In addition to the typical—and expected—like issues with food preferences, sanitation & health care, the unanticipated challenges of awkward professional relationships, corporate culture that reneged on promises, unanticipated illness and accidents. Sandra and her family struggle to overcome the fear, discomfort, and cultural gaps to enjoy what their India experience could offer. Her Jewish faith provides a steadying comfort across time, geography and culture.
The story is well-written, emotionally honest and fascinating. I couldn’t put it down. As I read along I found myself wondering how I would have reacted under the same circumstances. What decisions would I have made? Would my commitment to making a difference have been as strong? Could I have persisted as long and as well? What lessons might I learn vicariously through Sandra’s story?
Read May This Be the Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir to find out for yourself. Anyone who enjoyed “Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman would like this book as well. Similarly fans of Sandra’s book will thoroughly enjoy Tales of a Female Nomad.

Profile Image for The Styling Librarian.
2,170 reviews193 followers
November 30, 2013
May This Be The Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir by Sandra Bornstein - Adult – Really enjoyed this story, ideas about living as an expat in India and finding your own way… Terribly honest at times… I was curious to complete this book as it began with a chapter that then led you through the book to get back to that event. This book made me appreciate being an expat in Hong Kong. I have elevators that work, electricity that doesn’t go out, hot water without an issue, I can purchase things at the store that are healthy to eat, and I can easily travel around without feeling restricted for not having a car… Fascinating experience for a year in India, the medical conditions that popped up within her family and in her body reminded me that you just never know what is coming next…
Little quotes that caught my attention in the book:
“I was becoming increasingly annoyed with anyone who was the least bit unsupportive.” p. 27
“I was thrilled to again use a simple device like the vacuum instead of one of those wispy, handmade Indian brooms; and I was relieved that bugs were not daily visitors.” p. 75
“That first Indian experience made me realize how lucky I was to be born an American. My lifestyle and opportunities were dramatically affected by this simple fact. I cherished each and every one of the modern conveniences that were part of my life, and was appreciative that my sons had had an American upbringing and education.” p. 75
“Patience became my companion.” p. 80
“As a united group, the time had come to cherish and revel in each and every precious moment together.” p. 88
Profile Image for My Book Addiction and More MBA.
1,958 reviews63 followers
February 18, 2013
MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE: A MEMOIR by Sandra Bornstein is an interesting memoir. It is the story of this author's journey through another country,a foreign country,India, to be exact. Her struggles,her patience,learning another language,the social challenges,and the professional challenges she faced. She has chronicled her adventure through journals. With her faith,her passion for life,her desire to educate,and her confidence,which may faltered just a little,but brought her through her life-altering experience in India. When her husband,Ira, accepted a job, Sandra at his side,faced the most difficult time of her life. Sandra is a educator.She has written her story with vivid descriptions and intriguing details. A not to miss memoir! You feel you are on this trip with Sandra as you read her story. A wonderful story! Received for an honest review from the author.
REVIEWED BY: AprilR, My Book Addiction and More/My Book Addiction Reviews
Profile Image for Sara Dimerman.
Author 11 books2 followers
January 27, 2013

Stepping outside of our comfort zone and deciding to take an unknown path towards a strange new world is never easy. As I lived vicariously alongside Sandra by reading her memoir, I found myself inspired by a woman whose love of family and desire to join her husband in a foreign country, triumphed over fear and uncertainty about taking on a life so different to what she had known. Ultimately, despite challenges and obstacles, Sandra's experiences were enriching and positively life altering. Her story is written from the heart - genuine, compelling and interesting.
4 reviews
February 16, 2013
I applaud Sandra Bornstein on this personal, poignant biographical account of self discovery when journeying to India in unchartered waters to resume her teaching career. Sandra marries her love and appreciation of her religion and culture as a Jewess and her intense love for her family along with her passion for being a primary school teacher. She paints a very descriptive picture of her challenges and triumphs as she travels through India as well as her internal emotional pain at being separated from her family and friends in the USA. A very worthwhile read. I couldn't put it down
Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews

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