Alyssa’s Expat Life—The Grinch Who Stole Childhood English Teaching

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Something happened when I gave my notice this week that I was leaving Always and China at the end of the semester in June. I’m not sure what it is, if it’s a combination of the fact that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel or that it was a holiday weekend here in China. But, I actually LIKE some of the children now. I can safely say I actually care whether a handful remember me and have learned something from me, even if it’s a funny story. I wonder what they’ll be like as adults. I’m not sure how this happened, or maybe it’s “I’m off for the next three days” euphoria talking.

My good friend Angie said the other day that she views children like adults—on a case-by-case basis. After some thought into that comment, I completely agree! I can no longer sit here and say “I don’t like children” anymore. Does this mean I don’t walk into almost every class with an overwhelming sense of dread and leave with an overwhelming sense of relief? No. However, some of the classes I actually really enjoy.

For instance, my Wednesday and Friday night Kindergarten classes. One class has four students, the other six. We have a blast singing and dancing and learning new words. They think everything I do is funny and we joke around. These are the only two classes where I know every students’ names, even the ones who have changed their English names mid-semester.

My Sticker 7 class (ages 7-9 I’d say) is great because I have The Enforcer. This is my largest class and one of the loudest, and he has become my right hand man. He’s part of the “cool” boys group, I can tell, and when he stands up and yells at the class to be quiet, man, they listen. I’m not sure if he likes to show his power or likes me as a teacher personally, but either way it’s great and he’s one of my favorite students. There’s a group of really smart girls in this class who sit at the same table in the front as well, and they know enough English were I can joke around with them as well. One of them also has the same birthday as I do, so we have a bond. I did notice that the “cool” boys group is hard on one boy in class, and I can’t tell if he’s ultra sensitive or being bullied. All I know is I’ve seen him cry twice and I’m keeping an eye on it. I don’t like seeing anyone’s feelings hurt no matter what the situation.

My two favorite classes have to be my Interchange class on Saturday afternoons and my Interchange class on Sunday afternoons, which happens to be my last class after a brutal 17 classes in two days marathon. These are approximately ages 12-13. Sherry and her friend (I need to get his name again, I’m so terrible with names) sit in the front and Mike sits in the back, but they are so smart. They are so great and engaging and fun that I am thinking about giving them my number at the end of all of this and telling them to look me up if they ever come to America. I want to know how they turn out, what they become, and I love knowing that I am a tiny, small part of that equation.

Lastly, I want to talk about Candy. Yes, her name in the United States would equate to something entirely different, however here in China, she’s my absolutely brightest student. She has mentioned her parents’ strict ways many times in class, almost to the point where I know she’s learning English for a way out. Her favorite day so far was when her incredibly strict mother took her to the mall to buy a new T-shirt. Her only one was old and she needed a new one. You could tell this was a rare occurrence and she was very happy. As someone who has never once been shopping with her mom besides embarrassing hand-me-down yard sales as a child, I felt Candy’s joy. She gave me a card for Working Women’s Day, a Chinese holiday. She will definitely get my number and words of absolute encouragement when I leave.

At first I was so angry with my school owner for lying to me about the age groups I was teaching. And, for the most part, I still am from time-to-time. However, it’s these stand-out students and Rachel, Miky and Eileen, my stand-out Chinese English Teachers, whom I have absolutely bonded with through the teaching war, that have made it all worthwhile so far. Every person has a unique quality and a gift. And, now that I’m halfway through teaching already, I am concentrating on cultivating those bonds and making my time here even more worthwhile.

Alyssa’s Expat Life—One is a Comforting Number Sometimes

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It’s a simple title, but this is going to be a long one, so I decided not to go too deep. After I left my last expat excursion in China, I moved to Chicago, which had been a dream of mine for more than 10 years, with a kick-ass job that allowed me to travel all over the world, my dog in tow and a new lease on life. I had never been more comfortable in my own skin, and for once—shockingly—I was content and happy with myself and my life on my own.

Two years later I was feeling the itch again for something new, and then I went on a tour last May that would again change the course of my life. Sometime through Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia, something happened that I can’t explain. It brought everything I had searched for in my entire life into meaning. I’m laughing as I type this because I know most of you will, but I fell in love with my tour bus driver. I got on the plane at the end of the tour devastated, not only because I was unsure if I’d ever speak to or see him again (I was trying to be realistic), but because I felt like I was leaving home. Every time I’ve left Europe in my seven times here before now has been a tough flight; I took this as a sign that possibly this was meant to be home and that he was finally the person I was always supposed to end up with. I will leave the details of what happened over the course of the next few months out because that would make this blog much longer than it already is. Universal signs pulled me not only toward him, but back to Europe for a more permanent stay. Long story short, he asked me to move to Zagreb to be with him the very same week I was being drawn to another teaching job overseas.

His invitation swayed the pendulum of my decision, and since there isn’t a teaching market in Croatia and I had loved Budapest in my travels before, I chose a program in Hungary. I also wanted to have my own independence and not have my world wrapped up in a man, so I knew it was a smart move. We counted down the weeks together, got more and more excited, and then at the end of July, three weeks before my move, he was gone. He disappeared off the face of the earth except for a few emails, which would send me into a conspiracy theorist spiral that would last for months. He told me over email that he had a huge problem that he couldn’t tell me about, but he would be in touch as soon as it was resolved. And with that, he was gone.

I moved to Hungary at the end of August, determined to make as many friends as I could to move on and have a support system, which was something I didn’t do very well in China. You would think that would be another smart move, but my anger over what had happened didn’t present me in the best light. No one likes to be around an angry, negative person, and I made a lot of other mistakes along the way, including trusting people I shouldn’t have and forcing it with people I wasn’t meant to be friends with in the first place. As a result, friendships were lost and I have never been and felt more alone this year than ever in my personal life—and none of it had anything to do with living in a foreign country. With that being said, there were many good moments, and those I will choose to remember most.

Back to autumn, I was off to Ujpest to meet my contact teacher and my new home for the year. Virag Utca proved to be perfect for me (minus being adjacent to a kindergarten and across from another primary school), and the memories I’ve made in these walls are ones that I will never forget for the rest of my life. The emotions in this house have ranged from belly laughter to love to heartache to sobbing tears. It’s been such a gift to live here and I will never forget this space I’ve called home for a part of my life.

About a week after my birthday in November I met someone else and moved on, and sure enough the Croatian came back. In fact, they both friend requested me within a half an hour of each other—I took it as a door closing and a window opening. While he begged to see me for months, I was emotionally detached from him finally and very intrigued by this other person, especially after the holidays and the New Year. I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize my new interest, and I’m not one to juggle relationships, so I said no. While I did meet the Croatian again in March to get answers, I knew I was asking questions he would never give me answers to, even though he begged to see me for months. The trust was gone, I got my closure, and I was done.

The new person gave me a new lease on happiness, which I never thought I’d feel again, and if I’m being honest I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way about a person before. It was different; just like Europe, every time I was around him it felt like home. It was perfect timing, as by this time I had lost all of my clients that I had had in the States. Work has always been central to my life, but I found myself juggling my workload at school along with my off-campus responsibilities. I viewed it as a blessing in disguise to finally concentrate on my personal life more than I had in years and to also make school my No. 1 priority.

While I proceeded with my newfound man with extreme caution based on my history, I was hopeful because he was different than anyone I’ve ever dated. Throughout this time I was learning my students’ names, cranking out interesting discussions in class and wading through life as a teacher for the first time by myself in a classroom. The time over Christmas when I went to Iceland (even though I was extremely ill) was one of the best couple of weeks of my life and easily the best Christmas I’ve ever had. We talked for hours every day, he wanted to know everything about me (and for the first time I wasn’t bored by the “what is your favorite color” type of questions), I too wanted to know every detail about him, and we shared everything from religion, to family life, to fears, to yes, favorite colors. He took care of me when I was sick and we spent our New Year’s Eve together. At this point I was completely gone and the most taken I had ever been with someone in my entire life, all things that I kept to myself. I decided that I was going to take things slow and let him take the lead. I did not want to be the pushy American or do anything to jeopardize the course of where things were headed—or so he led me to believe.

And then, toward the end of January, it happened again. He retreated, changed and stopped reaching out. I asked him several times what had changed, why this happened after how close we had gotten, and I was met with resistance. How can someone want to know everything about you one day and then become a complete stranger the next—all the while refusing an explanation? Devastation again set in. I questioned myself constantly. What am I doing wrong that this has happened twice to me in the course of six months? I made a point to not pursue either one of them, they pursued me. And, as soon as I gave in and allowed myself to open up like everyone says is the healthy thing to do, the hammer fell. I chose differently this time; the two men could not have more different jobs, personalities and lifestyles. I asked myself, “Why doesn’t God just want me to finally have a normal, happy life with a partner and even (for the first time this year I said this) kids?” I’m a strong, smart, independent woman who has so much to offer—one student even told me what a great mother I would be, which is probably the best compliment I’d ever received in my life, even though I’ve never even been sure I want to be a mother. Traveling the world and living in a foreign country are wonderful, life-changing experiences; I will never regret any of those choices. But for the most part everything in this area of my life has been done completely solo. I was so happy to have someone to share this experience with on an intimate level, and while he is still kind to me and speaks to me sporadically, he never has given me an explanation. I didn’t want to blame myself, but the irony of both situations was uncanny. I was ready to stay here permanently, no question. I wasn’t pushy, I went with the flow and I still lost him for reasons that I will never know and will wonder about until the day I die. Without my dog, my friends being geographically somewhere else and almost no support system here outside of school, I sank into a pretty dark place of regret (for speaking to him in the first place), despair and hopelessness.

I was destroyed on a level like never before, but I loved this city and this country so much and didn’t know what in the world I could do to change my personal circumstances. Every day I went into my classroom was a blessing and a welcome distraction, even on days that discipline was an issue (and there were a large number of those). For some reason as I’m typing this I’m already smiling about those days, and also the really good ones like my food conversations with 8A and the time students would come into my class just to hang out; my demo classes that kicked ass, deep life conversations and field trips with 8B; my hugs from 7A when my aunt and uncle’s home was destroyed by a tornado (yeah, that happened too) along with the “would you rather” game that helped me get to know them more and the last day of school quiz; 7B making me laugh with their jokes like the time when I tried to explain glass half full/glass half empty and a student said something like, “I lost my glass;” and 7C who provided me with the most consistent work, caring smiles and inside jokes. Each class had its own personality and I can’t believe I learned all (I think 150?) of my students’ names, handwriting and individual personalities in such a short time. On day one I never thought that was possible.

I wish I could bottle all of the good times in class somewhere so I could remember them all. These days and the countless writing assignments to grade got me through all the grief (yup, some people also died), heartache, isolation and the personal issues that plagued me throughout this year. Writing assignments also let me into the personal lives of many of my students, and I feel like getting assigned to the older kids was a blessing, because I really feel like I got to know many of them on a personal level—a form of trust as 8A put it in their goodbye speech this week. Seventh and eighth grade are such unique grades to teach as the students are going through so many changes. Some are acting like young adults ready to take on high school while others are still teetering in a child’s world. I cared about each and every one of them beyond just teaching English, and I can’t wait to see what changes to the world they make as adults (thank you social media). As I was supposed to get grades 1-4 when I first came here, I’m so glad that I didn’t. The writing assignments, class discussions and level of English allowed me to connect with my students in a way that not only they needed—but so did I.

Each weekend I would go to the city center and just enjoy the city, something I wasn’t really able to do at this level in China. For the first time in my life I didn’t feel like an expat or like I didn’t belong somewhere. I felt completely at home. I love the lifestyle of Hungary—not having a car; not knowing what anyone around me is saying (there’s something pleasant about the detachment); the no open container laws; the csirke sandwich at Charlie’s; the ease of getting around this city (and Europe in general); drinking with the locals at Vezer and getting hit on constantly (hey, who doesn’t love harmless attention and free drinks?); the massages and amazing haircuts at A-list; my WestEnd excursions and talks with Szabi2; the intoxicating fragrance of the tree outside of my house and the most deep, blue skies I’ve ever seen in one year; all of the beautiful museums, bars, scenery, food—I could go on forever. I will also miss being able to hop on a train and travel to at least 10 different countries with ease. Along the way I visited Romania, Iceland, Bratislava and Serbia, making my country count 29 so far.

I had made the decision to stay another year, but then by spring break I went back to the States and started researching bringing Maddux here. The stress, expense, logistics, quality of life, my travel load, taking him away from everyone who loves him, just added up. And, with my friend count here plummeting and not being able to get over my last relationship, I made the hardest decision of my life to move back to the States. As I sit here editing and putting the final touches on this blog after an incredibly emotional last week day with my students, I’m honestly torn and not sure I haven’t made the biggest mistake of my life. I have to put on my big girl pants now, give myself some tough love, and look toward the future. It’s the first time in my life I haven’t been resolute about a decision that I’ve made.

What wasn’t a hard decision was accepting a wonderful job back there and focusing on my career, which hopefully will make my emotional transition a lot easier. I’ve always been great with sinking myself into work, and that’s what I plan on doing this next year and beyond. And, I will also admit that even down to the last day here I was hoping he would ask me to stay. False hope, I know, and I feel like a fool even mentioning it. But, all he had to do was ask. Funny how the people who care about me the least are the ones I strive to please the most.

Even though some of the weeks dragged by, now that I’m looking back I can’t believe that I’m leaving, that it’s over already, and how much has changed within the school walls since the beginning of the year. I promised myself I would not rush time along (life goes quickly enough as it is) and I would cherish the moments here, even the crappy ones. I still remember the first school assembly, and the people in my life who were standing there literally and figuratively are completely different than the ones today. People standing in that room who were strangers are people who I now know and who have changed my life forever.

This week my students said the most lovely things to me and gave me an overwhelming amount of beautiful, thoughtful gifts. I was reminded of my last day in China when Candy cried to me outside of the school out of fear she’d never make it to America or see me again (no FB there), when Eric and Rain gave me their notes, and when Fred asked me to take his photo to always remember him. I still do and always will. And I know today and the cherished moments of the past year will be etched into my mind just the same as my final bus ride leaving Always Learning Center and my final bus ride home on the 20E.

I came here for love and I leave Karinthy with a different kind of love, an outpouring in fact. Life rarely has given me what I’ve expected out of it, and it’s always kept me on my toes—this year more than ever before. I’ve lost so much this year, but hopefully I can look back in the future and only remember what I’ve gained. God blessed me with the best school, administration, co-teachers and students in all of the land. Perhaps I’m romanticizing because I was just showered with an abundance of gifts and praise all week, but I don’t think I am.

Thank you so very much to my students; my co-teachers, especially Eniko who was my rock and taught me so much; my amazing principal, Agi, who was always there with a helping, friendly face, and who was just as much of a boss as a motherly figure; Virag Utca (I’m writing this as I hear the familiar sounds of school letting out across the street and my walls banging and all I can do is laugh—and man this tree smells good); my countless bartenders and servers all over the city who have fed me; to my true friends who stuck by me through it all for better and for worse; and to you—while I have to force myself to move on because if I don’t I’ll never recover, as the song lyrics go from the last movie we watched together, I’m just trying to leave something behind. I hope I did.

Alyssa’s Expat Life—Unexpected vs. the Expected

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They say the pen is mightier than the sword. I must say my “pen” has been a bit stifled this week after learning that some of the expats here were talking about the negative points of my blog. Every person on earth has talked about someone else behind his or her backs at one point or another in life. What bothers me, I think, is that my blog is sort of a diary, and to write it down is not only cathartic, but will allow me to look back one day on my thoughts, opinions, etc. in a point in time in my life while living abroad. It’s also for my friends and family at home who care to read it.

And the fact that people that I barely know or, more importantly, barely know me are talking behind my back, which led to make me hesitate in my writing, made me feel weak. That, I don’t like. I do like the fact that people ask questions, want to know more and value a person’s opinion. That is the aspect that I will try to continue to facilitate in a positive approach more than the negative. With that being said, I will always have my own opinion and my own voice. That’s what truly being free is all about.

My boss Keith asked me today what I have found that I liked about China that I didn’t expect to like. I really couldn’t answer him in that moment. I had to take the day to think about it, because my knee jerk reaction was to say, “Not a whole hell of a lot.” There truly are only a handful of things I can say I like about this country so far. Today I took the time to really think about my top 10 unexpected likeable moments about life in Jinan.

Making friends. Throughout my entire adult life, I’ve never had a problem making friends. I thought the same would be said for coming abroad, since I am close with everyone I’ve ever been on a tour group with for the most part. This isn’t a vacation, however, so the small amount of friends I’ve made I cherish more than I normally would, since it’s much harder to make friends here than any place I’ve ever been. Perhaps that’s due to my blog, my sarcastic personality, the location of where I live, etc. Whatever the reason, I’m thankful for those who invite me to things, noticing that I’m here completely on my own. Thank you.
Walking home. Walking the mile home at night after a long weekend of classes is a relief like none other. Each night I have either successfully managed 18 classes in two days, navigated my way through Jinan or relished in seeing the rare stars. It’s a wonderful time to reflect, breathe and think about my time here and why I came in the first place.
My Chinese English teachers. I had no idea when I came here how much I truly would rely on them, especially with the little kids. They help me come up with games, run around, and we laugh more than I expected to. And, they help me outside of class with questions, my first time at the ATM and in writing down addresses to places I should/need to see in the city. I can honestly say I will miss Micky, Eileen, Ruby and Rachel a ton. It’s been a pleasure working with them already in just four short weeks.
My apartment. My apartment is my safe haven in the crazytown of Jinan. I absolutely love it. It’s huge! I spend more time there than I expected due to the location of my suburb and the lack of funds in the first month. It has a toilet, refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven, a large room to hang my wet clothes and the best chopping knife I’ve ever had. These may seem like little things in America, but here they are luxuries to me.
The value of appreciating the smallest of things. I don’t even know where to begin here, so I’ll use one example. Just to get to, say, a bar. The first night we had to remember to bring our home address in Chinese to show the cab driver, or else we couldn’t get home unless we knew which bus to take. Then, you have to get the bar address in Chinese. Then you’re there once the cab drops you off, right? No! All of the buildings are in Chinese! So, unless it looks blatantly like a bar, you are left playing charades in the street to find the exact building the bar is in. It takes a lot of patience, and I’m glad there was actual Bacardi waiting for me at the end of that rainbow. (There may be rum elsewhere, but I can’t read the liquor labels at the Unimart, so I’ve started a drinking process of elimination.)
It’s freaking cheap. Holy hell it’s cheap here. It’s about $6 U.S. to an RMB, yuan, quay, whatever you want to call it here. I get paid $8000 RMB a month. I can live off of about $500 RMB a week. Do the math on how much I can bring back to the states at the end of this. It’s wonderful and makes all the classes worth it when you see the dollar signs in your eyes.
Some of my classes. To my surprise, I actually enjoy some of my classes. The teachers help, but a lot of my students are just plain fun. As stated in a previous Alyssa’s Expat Life, I have my favorites, but as the weeks go on, they are gaining in numbers. We’re becoming more familiar and having more fun. I try to think more like a kid and try to make my classes as less-boring as possible. Those poor things have to work all day at school, do homework and come to classes at Always. I would hate all of that pressure. So, within the confines of the lessons, I do games as much as possible and try to act crazy so they like me. I want them to have a good experience. Some of the smart asses and the ones who scream or roll around on the ground I still want to punch, though.
My celebrity status. I worked at a public school this morning, and holy cow, I was like Britney Spears or something. I signed about 50 autographs and was bum rushed at the door with photos and questions. I seriously thought TMZ was going to come running around the corner. I’m glad my hair is brunette, because if I was a blonde here I’d never survive. I get stared at on the street, not bad, but enough. I couldn’t imagine what that hair would do to these people. I’m like an alien!
The comfort of having freelance work. My work at The Arland Group and Vape News Magazine have kept me sane in this time of total surrealness. It’s comforting to do what you love and what you know in a time where everything else is upended. I’m truly enjoying the work that I do in my “spare” time. And, it’s reassuring to know my bills at home are being paid, because even though I have fewer of them, they don’t stop just because I’m in China!
Fast food delivery. KFC and McDonald’s deliver. This is completely unexpected and a joy like none other, when only one restaurant in your suburb has photos on the menu. The local food choices consist of that restaurant, fruits, vegetables, mystery meat and the glorified Walgreens known as Unimart. After a month I’m seeking variation, and this will definitely do the trick! I can’t wait for April so I can venture out more to different food places, but for now I will look to my school to call and get that delivery started!

Alyssa’s Expat Life—An Explanation of Thoughts

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Tonight I got into a lovely clichéd Facebook war of words with someone I barely know, who took it upon himself to say that I “rant” and that I’m not embracing the food or culture of China. That I signed up for this adventure, so now I have to live with it. Let me provide a small disclaimer; I come from the Webb school of negativity. I was raised to be negative, to have all negative thoughts and to think the worst of every situation. It’s something, along with my depression and bipolar II diagnosis, that I am very keenly aware of and struggle with daily.

I find myself beating myself up over it. “Am I being too negative in this conversation?” “Have I talked too much and have I asked the person enough about their day?” And, it’s because of this that I think about what I say about China on a daily basis. I try to mix the positive posts with the negative. People ask me every day what it’s like here, and I try to give my honest opinion. Whether it’s too negative, I can’t tell—I wasn’t raised to be a positive person so it’s hard for me to seriously gauge.

I will say this: I did NOT sign up for an adventure. I have no idea where people who know me are getting this. I left to become an expat because I simply can’t sit still. I was afraid of being normal and having a “normal” life, whatever that is. I wanted something different, yes, but an adventure? I wouldn’t go that far. Over the past year or so I have tried to steer clear of risk taking behavior, as that is a sure sign of my mental illness. My counselor and I even discussed if this whole thing was just another risky trip.

I’m not as brave as everyone says I am in coming here. I don’t feel brave or strong at all. If I were, I would’ve picked a country that had no comforts and no hand holding. China provides a furnished apartment, Visa assistance and a school that pretty much guides you through every little detail. Even my normal travels are done within the confines of a tour group. I am not an adventurous person, and in my mind I was thinking, OK, I’ll be near the Wal-Mart and the McDonald’s.

So, it’s been tough for me to find out I’m not teaching what I trained to teach or want to teach. I feel cheated, especially with all the money I have put into this. I do believe in fate though, so something brought me to this place whether I like it or not. With that being said, I am going into my classes 100% and giving the kids an education and hopefully what their parents are paying for.

It’s also tough to be dropped into a suburb that has nothing, including minimal food options. It’s hard for me to be adventurous and to go out on my own to find things in a country that doesn’t speak any English. It gets lonely, and the cab ride alone is taxing for my over-anxiety mind, but soon I will be forced to do so if I am to have any sort of life here. The other teachers all are in one building together in the heart of the city. So again, I feel kind of cheated.

Lastly, I will not get used to the level of cleanliness here. That is not a negative expression, it’s a fact. I get sick enough in the states. We’re talking about my health, and I don’t take that lightly. I could easily contract something very serious with the absolute utter lack of personal hygiene in China. So, when someone tells me to get used to people pooping in the streets and having no toilets, it’s not going to happen. If I would’ve known about this, China would not have been a country I would’ve even considered.

But, I’m here. And I am making the most of the situation I was dealt, I promise. Most of the crap I say is sarcastic anyway, and I am settling into life OK. Am I having the time of my life? Of course not. Am I miserable? Not even close. I am doing my best to enjoy my classes and my time here, while it lasts. Even though I did not seek out an adventure per se, the adventure has surely found me.

Alyssa’s Expat Life Chapter 3

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After a lot of online searching for a reputable school that would certify me as a teacher, I came across the International TEFL Academy, based out of Chicago. After speaking with my adviser Shay on the phone, I felt very comfortable with my decision to go with this institution over others. He answered my questions and was always there to alleviate my fears. The online class schedule worked with my crazy schedule (assignments were due on Sunday nights, which was great).

My class began and I was so excited to begin! Little things along the way solidified my choice. After the first day of class, we already got a job posting from a school in Vietnam. I did not wish to go to this destination, but it was exciting to already hear from a school that was looking for teachers.

I found myself saying goodbye to little things in St. Louis along the way. After almost 10 years back here I feel like I’ve done everything I can do and am in a comfort zone that has triggered this whole process. Some people feel that comfort is OK, and in some cases it very much is. But, when I think about it, I could be doing the exact same things—watching movies, going to the same bars, rinse and repeat—10 years or more from now.  And, I don’t want to look back 25 years from now and not have grown at all.

The first chat with my teacher, Mariam, and fellow students went well, and I got an A on my first assignment. Even though it was an online course, I was happy with the thorough way the class was taught and the accessibility to the teacher. Before I knew it, I was looking further into which countries had what I was looking for. I knew I wanted somewhere that I could have a furnished apartment with Internet access, someone to pick me up at the airport and somewhere I wouldn’t starve to death. (I’m a picky eater.) Europe was my first choice since I had been to many countries there and knew more of what to expect, however, their teaching structure was one where you had to pack up, live in a hostel and knock on doors until a school hired you. I did not want that much uncertainly going into living in a foreign country. Along the way I found that Asia and Russia were the only viable options, which didn’t excite me very much. Was my dream about to come to an end before it even began?

Change is hard. And I knew I was about to make the biggest one of my life. I was essentially preparing to leave my life. I remember back in 2002 my ex-husband and I had a choice—Chicago or Arizona. At the time Arizona was the easy choice. Bigger house for more money, he had friends there, etc. And, it turned out to be a disaster. I didn’t want to go for the easy choice again because I don’t think in the end that it will change anything. So, here I was, wondering where in the world, literally, I was going to be.

I loved my TEFL class. By week three of 11 the work was fun and different. Student affairs sent me a note including a 215 page manual about all of the countries, comparing and contrasting, and all of the things I would have to do to interview and secure a teaching job overseas. It was very overwhelming, like picking a place to vacation times 100. This was a country choice that I would have to live with for an entire year, and coming from someone who isn’t a great decision maker, I went back and forth every day among country choices.

Add to that, I really was learning to be comfortable in my own skin and being my own best friend. I was able to go to movies, restaurants and bars by myself and not feel weird. Sure, there were twinges of loneliness, but for the most part I knew that I had the confidence to move on. For the first time I wasn’t running away from life, I was running toward the person I wanted to be and always, really inside, had been. I was still stuck on leaving my dog. I knew I was leaving him in great hands, but he is my best friend and I know that I will have a much harder time than he will. Summer was almost to an end and I hadn’t made any decisions on where to go, so I decided to focus on school and work and see where fate would take me.