Today I began to really dig into my personal statement for grad school. I’m trying to look for an angle, develop a story and detail my experiences so that someone (Columbia University I’m talking to you) wants to accept me into their MA TESOL program. It’s a seriously daunting task, but it has forced me to reflect on what I’ve done over the last year, to acknowledge the various mistakes and triumphs, and to allow myself to feel proud of it all.
Vignette #1: The Blue Period
Almost exactly 1 year ago today I was sitting in the basement of Springboard Media at a job that I had somehow allowed to swallow my ambition. I felt sorry for myself, experienced little-to-no inspiration in my life and went home each night wondering when I would get the supreme honor of having a job that allowed me to feel like I’d accomplished something worthwhile at the end of the day.
That November I took to waking up extra early in the morning, picking up a cup of coffee and reading/writing in Rittenhouse Square before work. It was the only time in my day when I felt balanced, when I felt clear.
It was during one of these “clear mornings” that I made the decision to stop wondering and begin doing. It really was that simple.
I had been researching TEFL courses for months, heck, I had already been a volunteer TEFL teacher in the city. I knew where I wanted to apply and I knew that I had the skills and drive to be successful if I just tried. So, that morning I hit the “apply” button and sent my information to TEFL Paris.
A week later I received confirmation that I had been accepted and could begin my coursework in February 2011. For a few days I roamed around with the knowledge of my acceptance and tried to find an answer for the question of “Why not”. When I couldn’t seem to come up with any good ones, I put in my notice and began preparing for my life outside of the United States.
Vignette #2: An Education, in the French Countryside
In February I moved into a tiny picturesque cottage in Tournan-en-Brie, France. There, about 30 minutes outside Paris, I spent a tumultuous, exciting, tiring, stressful, fun, amazing, knowledge-packed four weeks with an incredible group of people. We had group dinners and solo teaching sessions. We spent late-nights writing papers and took early morning jogs. And by the first week of March 2011, we all had TEFL certificates in our hands and the next hurdle was waiting at our feet—finding jobs.
March was filled with uncertainty. First there was landing that important first job. Mine was with NACEL American Villages (AMVIL) in France. Then there was the high stress of being overseas and short on cash, but thankfully I have a very supportive family and there are plenty of amazing people willing to let a girl with a backpack sleep on their couch for free (shout out to my Euro friends and couchsurfing.org)!
Somewhere in the middle there was grief. Overwhelming. Unexpected. Grief. In April my grandfather suddenly passed away. I was in the middle of the Pyrenees Mountains and unable to fly home. I found solace, however, in the one thing that had landed me in the mountains in the first place, teaching. As a retired elementary school principal, I knew that my grandfather would be proud of the choices I had recently made.
May’s spring came, and with it the greening of the mountains and my growing love for TEFL. I’ll be the first to admit it, I was totally annoying. All I wanted to talk about were teaching ideas, creating new worksheets and finding the best ways to integrate English learning into everything my kids did at camp.
Then came the coveted long-term teaching contract offer. A one-year contract teaching in Surabaya, Indonesia! I was so excited!
Three weeks later I received the details of my travel which included “meet our agent at a McDonalds and give him your passport to get your visa.” My father said it sounded like the plot of a bad James Bond movie, the problem was that it wasn’t a movie, it was my life. So I gave up on Indonesia and extended my contract with AMVIL instead.
But like all good things, visas run out, and on May 31, 2010 I was on a plane back to the States. (Okay, so I was about 20 days over my visa limit but apparently the French weren’t counting…)
Vignette #3: Summer in the City that Never Sleeps
After a French spring came a New York City summer teaching with Ardmore Language Schools. There were more sleepless nights, a little heartache and plenty of troublemaking. It was a summer made up of equal parts hard work and hard play. I honed my approach to teaching teenagers and discovered a deep love for NYC. But before I knew it, summer was over, kids were dusting off their schoolbags and I was—about to be unemployed.
I didn’t know where I wanted to go and I wasn’t sure how I was going to land the next job but I did know one thing, that I wasn’t ready to stop. I just loved teaching TEFL too much to have it end after a mere six months…and obviously it didn’t. In a strange twist of fate I was offered my second long-term teaching contract in Indonesia. This offer was with an International Baccalaureate school catering to the students of workers at a paper and pulp mill on the island of Sumatra. This was no James Bond plot, this time things were definitely legit.
Vignette #4: Jungle Jam
So here I am in Indonesia, sitting in the offices of a school located in the middle of a palm jungle. I’m teaching two first grade classes, an adult ESL class and volunteering at a school for children with various physical and mental disabilities. I swing between being wildly excited and inspired and being painfully melancholy and bored.
This place makes you lonely for friends, family and social/cultural activities but it also has the distinct ability to force you to pay attention to the things that are otherwise pushed to the side in our busy American lives. I’ve taken on the challenge of exploring the world and the challenge of becoming an educator and now I’m taking on the challenge of turning inward and looking at myself.
What I’ve sorted out so far is this—I’ve learned more than I give myself credit for and now that I’ve started down the TEFL path it’s obvious that this is what I’m meant to be doing…
…and I’m just getting started.