A year away from working as a teacher gave me lots of time to not think about teaching, and then I came full-circle and had lots of time to think about it again. Sometime in 2012, whilst sitting in our flat in Budapest, it occurred to me that if we were going to go back overseas some time, and potentially apply for work in international schools, I’d better see what they want in a teacher.
Many require a Masters in Education, and others just pay more if you have post-grad qualifications. I’d been considering doing a Masters for some time but couldn’t decide what area to focus on or figure out how I would juggle work and study. Considering that every year I’d been teaching I’d also held a position of responsibility at the school, and taught senior classes, the juggling question was valid.
When I found the course I really wanted to do, somehow it became a priority, and being a year level coordinator was no longer what I wanted to do when I returned to my school in 2013. I decided to teach part time and study for my Masters.
When we returned from Europe in October, it felt surreal. Everything was the same. Somehow I thought things would change – the appearance of my city, my school, my friends, my family. The only thing that changed really was that my cat was skinnier (a long-overdue weight-loss regime implemented by my mum and sister in my absence).
What had really changed though, was us. We were different.
I knew, logically, that this would be the case. But driving back from the airport, I was baffled by the sameness of it all. The sweetness of familiarity was what I had craved more often than not, whilst away, yet here I was back again and a bit miffed that nothing exciting seemed to have happened.
The day after we returned, I began looking for a job to get me through the summer until school returned and I got a regular salary again. Initially, I was excited. I’m qualified, I’m enthusiastic, I’m a hard worker. I sold myself and got nowhere. I went to my first group interview. I was too honest. Too qualified.
That month of being unemployed in Melbourne was hard. I had no savings left. We had borrowed a car but couldn’t afford to drive it much. I used a credit card too frequently. I didn’t pay off my travel card. I watched TV series’ on my laptop and tried to make an effort to cook nice meals and clean the apartment. I was bored out of my mind, had no money and my friends were working.
Incredibly, the first job I applied for was the one I eventually got, but it took three weeks before I got a call, and another week before I could begin work. Even then, until Christmas, it was weekends only.
As I worked my way through the summer, in my Luna Park purple polyester uniform, I still felt as though I wasn’t in the real world. I was still experiencing something new.
A few emails trickled in from work, documents about Year 12 English and orientation information, about which I kept thinking, “I’ll get to those when I have a few days off”. I didn’t really have a few days off. I just worked and slept and ate. Rinse, repeat.
The first day of school arrived with no fanfare or cushioning for the thud I was about to experience. I got out of my parents’ 4WD in the school car park, lugged a bag of things into the staffroom and my stomach began to churn.
My friends at work are the main factor that keeps me there. I do love my job, and I love the kids I teach. Being there is the strongest tie I have ever had to any community. I feel like I belong there. Whilst I was away, I really did miss the interaction with so many people in a day.
Everyone asked, “how was it?!” Everyone wanted to know how I was feeling. I was welcomed back to the fold with open arms, new stationery, a new desk and a new timetable. And yet everything felt the same.
My focus has changed, admittedly. I’m not a coordinator any more, and I don’t miss it. I am super-keen to start my Masters and am finding my feet again with the curriculum I’m trying to learn before I teach it to the kids. Back to that old “one page ahead of the class” feeling, madly preparing something and hoping you’re on the right track.
One of the hardest things is knowing how to respond to, “how was it?” I don’t know how to encapsulate in a brief sentence my entire overseas experience. I simply say, “amazing! Thanks!” (because how much time do we have, really, between classes, or as you pass one another in the yard?) but I feel I’m not doing the year justice.
Admitting to some colleagues that I did struggle a bit overseas was interesting. I think most people assume I adapted easily and slotted in happily with Hungarian life. I know at times I kept up a brave face to my family on Skype, not wanting to crack and burst into tears whilst talking to them. At other times, I was so absorbed in living in the moment, being right there in Europe, amazed that we made it, we really did it, and we were happy. It’s true that it was amazing. It was eye-opening, life-affirming, hard work, fantastic, fun, and at times, even mundane. Washing still has to be done. Bills still have to be paid. You get blisters and spend a day with your feet up, or you get a cold and lie in bed all day. We had boring days. I think it’s hard to imagine how anyone would have boring days when they don’t have to work, they don’t have to worry about money and they are in Europe (when you’ve come all the way from Australia), but I assure you, we had a few boring days.
But when I think back to some of the highlights – my truly favourite trips – I wish I was back there. I think of Weissensee in Austria, with it’s clear blue water and enormous mountains. I think of driving through Italy in a Fiat, swimming in the Mediterranean in Barcelona, ice skating in Budapest and drinking wine and eating cheese with Sally for less than $10, or crunching through snow… I wish I was there.
And we knew this would happen. Well-travelled Sally and I agreed one day, as I fought back tears and declared that I was ready to go home, that I would get home and wish I was back there. Well, Sal, it happened!
But in the same way that when things were tough in Budapest, I had to tell myself to get over it, appreciate what I had before me and try to enjoy it, I have to do the same here.
This is my home. I love the familiarity. But in the same way that familiarity is sweet, adventure and the unknown is enticing.