The finish line was crossed; the journey complete, the mountain conquered.
And with the conclusion reached, I could only ask, “Now what?”
After ten years of travel, I took a job (two, actually), ostensibly as an editor of marketing materials and business proposals, but more generally as a catch all for anything that needs to be done that other employees with more defined roles shouldn’t or won’t do. Now, I sit at an office desk from 9 to 5. My mind wanders.
Last winter, depressed and listless, I impulsively booked a weekend trip to England to visit a friend. It was my first time leaving the country. I flew out Friday morning and returned Monday afternoon, missing a couple days of work to tour York with my friend, with Saturday devoted to sightseeing London. Except, I woke up Saturday morning with a severe case of food poisoning and spent most of the day crawling between the bed and the toilet instead of seeing Big Ben or the Thames.
I returned to New York, still depressed. My first trip abroad had been a flop; now returned the grind.
A couple months passed in a fog. I went on some dates just to occupy my time but otherwise I was living in isolation. I didn’t talk at work, didn’t acknowledge my roommates. I existed, just barely. In April, realizing this form of living was unsustainable, I sat on my bed and Googled, “Cheap ways to travel Europe.” A blog post directed me to Diverbo’s Pueblo Ingles.
I’ve already written about my experience of the program in Spain. Unlike my previous European jaunt, I returned from this September trip re-energized and motivated. Over the next few weeks, I researched teaching English abroad. The week at Pueblo Ingles had reminded me how much I enjoyed talking language, how exhilarating it can be to help someone communicate.
I found the International TEFL Academy. There are numerous outlets for TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification, both online and in physical classrooms. I chose ITA because it fits around my schedule. Their website and alumni pages are also a fount of useful information for people looking to teach abroad.
My two and a half months of online classes will begin in a couple weeks. By April, I will be trained and certified to teach English, and then the search for a job begins. I haven’t made a firm decision on which city I’ll move to, as that will depend largely on where I can find work, but Madrid seems the frontrunner at the moment. I’m happy to live in uncertainty for the time being; it’s familiar.
There is no shortage of people around the world looking to learn English. I could go to a new country every year for the rest of my life – I won’t, but I could (well, I probably won’t…).
I don’t know why it took so long for me to saddle up to this plan. I’ve had friends teach English abroad. I’ve heard about these opportunities for years. I have a Bachelor’s in English for chrissake, I’m pretty much already trained to do the job. But that’s why I initially resisted the idea: It was a job, and I didn’t want to conform my life’s direction to an occupation. When I was doing 10 Cities/10 Years, the travel was always the first concern, with work always secondary.
Pueblo Ingles helped change my perception. For that week when we Anglos were helping the Spaniards develop their conversational English, it never felt like work. It could be tiring, for sure, and some conversations came more naturally than others, but it was always about genuine human interaction first and foremost. As the week progressed, seeing the transformation of the Spaniards’ English ability, from tentative and uncertain to confident and relaxed, was a revelation.
I know teaching in a classroom won’t be the same experience. It will be a job, and there will be days where it will feel like it. I have no illusions that the experience won’t be trying. I expect it. I relish it.
For a decade, my life was a constant challenge. Now, it’s not. Living a simple life is hard.
I’m returning to a life on the road because I crave the struggle, the roadblocks and detours. I love not knowing what will happen next year, and the year after that. I miss uncertainty. There are a thousand ways to live a life. This is mine.
Having a purpose to augment my travels is also highly motivating. To provide a service, to be able to help someone learn, I think that could be fulfilling in a way few things are for me. In a world that is increasingly focusing on walls, both literal and figurative, to separate us, it’s a nice thought that I can help build ladders.
These are my plans for 2017. Beyond that, who knows? Maybe I’ll spend a year in Spain, maybe two, or three. Perhaps I’ll follow it up with travels in Asia, South America, Africa. Maybe I’ll never set foot in the United States again; just as plausible, I could return to New York in a couple years. I know only one thing at this moment: I want a life up in the air and out on the road.