a story about bad grammar and non-existent punctuation and my TEFL adventures
If anyone has ever asked me what I do, I say I’m an English teacher. Even for the last year or so when I’ve spent more time behind my computer writing, I’ve still maintained that I’m an English teacher. Because that’s what I am. I consider myself to be extremely lucky, in that the very first career I managed to find myself involved with happened to be the one I will always be involved with in some way or other.
I don’t think many people can say that at 21 they found their passion and their talent and it was also their job and their way of earning money, and I can. To say I fell madly in love with TEFL at that ripe old age, when I found myself in a sweaty little town in Thailand would be a euphemism of the highest order. Just like any relationship, there have been ups and downs and moments of love and hate, but I know my relationship with TEFL will always stand the test of time. No matter where I am, TEFL will be there.
And therein lies the rub. TEFL is not your average job. You are not confined to a windowless office sitting behind a computer for 8 hours of your day. TEFL is different. It can take you places and no two days are ever the same.
In fact, TEFL has taken me to 15 countries, and this, I imagine, is a large part of the love affair. From the wet-blanket heat of Bangkok to the monsoons of Hong Kong, from the punts on the river Cam to the sangrias on the streets of Barcelona, TEFL introduced me to a way of life I never thought possible, and it changed me. I will never be the same again.
But where does that leave home? For a long time I did not know where to consider home, and a part of me hoped I would settle down in some exotic little village somewhere. Somewhere with good coffee, good wine and good weather. Italy, maybe. (In my dreams there are no visa restrictions, obviously.) I happily bounced from place to place for almost ten years, until I started to feel the obligation of going home to be near family. So that’s what I did.
Working in TEFL in Cape Town after working in places like Cambridge and Shanghai, is kinda like asking a chef to work at McDonald’s: the pay is terrible, the working conditions are not great, the field is completely underdeveloped and the worst part is, you know what’s out there and where you could be. I got so disillusioned I even had to take a break from TEFL for a couple of years.
5 years passed and I was still in Cape Town, and feeling more and more itchy by the day. When an opportunity came up to come here, to the big sandpit they call Doha, I jumped at the chance. My Cape Town friends were all shocked that I could make this decision so quickly, that I would want to come here by myself, leaving behind an amazing relationship, my family and basically my life. They didn’t understand, perhaps even couldn’t. My TEFL friends all understood, though, as only TEFLers can. For me, this was my last solo escapade before I embark on what I hope to be the biggest adventure of them all: marriage.
In truth, this trip has turned out to be everything I hoped it would be. I am working for a world-famous organisation, my colleagues are some of the most qualified in the industry, I am able to have geeky linguistic conversations and not feel like the weird kid, and I get to experience a part of the world I never thought I’d see. I have been reminded of the harshness of culture shock, the importance of cultural considerations and I have been challenged professionally and linguistically. This is what I have been dreaming of for 5 years and I have thrived, albeit sweatily.
But for me, the best part of the whole experience (besides the inexhaustible supply of chicken tikka masala) is that it really proved to me what I wanted it to prove to me. I needed this time to come to terms with the fact that I would most likely be saying goodbye to the international globe-trotting side of TEFL, and instead be resigning myself to spending the rest of my career in a place that is not exactly the centre of the TEFL world. These last two months have given me the chance to do exactly that, to say goodbye.
And this is what I’ve realised: By going home, and staying home, I am not giving up anything. I am not losing anything or missing out on anything. On the contrary, I am gaining a whole lot more than my previous TEFL life was ever able to give me.There was a time and a place for my TEFL adventures, and that is now over. Not because it has to be, but because I want it to be.
Instead of taking selfies on the Great Wall of China or drinking lassies in Goa, I’d rather be at home with my soon-to-be-husband, in our little house in Cape Town.