Five months ago, my mother died, and I broke off my engagement with my fiancé. About a month later, I decided to quit international teaching and move back to the US. At the time, my Head of School asked me, ‘Do you really want to do this? ’ He cited some famous psych study that lists the most stressful [not physically violent] things a person can experience, and puts ‘death of a family member’ at the top, followed closely by ‘change in relationship status’ and ‘move’. I said yes.
Yes, living abroad is an adventure. Yes, I feel incredibly privileged and thrilled that i’ve been able to have had this experience, in two countries and two regions of the world, over the past six years. Yes, it’s financially very lucrative compared with public or private school teaching at home in the States (um, my school pays my rent, for starters– eat that, Park Slope). Yes, I’ve seen wonders of the world (Jersualem! Cairo! Petra! Mountains and deserts in South America!) and made amazing friends and had incredible conversations, and learned much about myself and my own culture in the process.
But i haven’t been *home*. Yes, I’ve visited twice a year for six years, but those short tours no longer suffice.
I am tired of living a temporary existence. At age 38, as my father astutely observed, I am interested in finally ‘settling down’. I want to both build, and to deepen. I have 10- and 15-year old friendships in New England that I want to cultivate. I have interests in teaching and history and psychology and the arts that I want to explore. Instead of running away from the political mess that is the United States right now, I want to re-engage and see how I can play a small role in highlighting the positive, encouraging the youth, and doing annoying performance art in front of the White House as often as I can stand it.
I just don’t think it’s very viable to do all that while living overseas. Schools overseas too often overlook pedagogy in favor of pedigree (some schools in the US do this also). And expats overseas often seek short-term pleasures instead of long-term lives. We live outside our normal society, so we outfit ourselves with different morals. We aren’t fully a part of the place where we live, so we hold ourselves apart. This is what I want to get away from. I want to have roots.
I learned from my disabled mother that taking responsibility isn’t a bad thing, despite what the zeitgeist says. Even though I did sometimes resent the fact that I was her primary care-giver for the better part of ten years, over that time, I grew to accept it. I didn’t expect her to remember my friends’ names, but I still told her about them. I knew she wouldn’t stay awake for the new Muppet movie, but I took her anyway. I bought her clothes and scheduled her appointments and plucked her chin hairs and played Scrabble. It doesn’t matter if I thought some of it was boring. This is what life is.
I don’t need to always be seeking the highest mountain in South America or the most remote and secluded beach in Brazil. I want to also be content with the view of the trees at a local park and the taste of a toasted bagel with butter from a close-by cafe. My adventures will be eavesdropping on passers-by and chatting with taxi drivers about the weather, finding a lecture series at a nearby bookstore, going to hear live music in a bar the size of a closet, bringing a friend ingredients for soup and making it at her house, inventing new words with her 1-year old child. I can still enjoy new and fast and loud, but I resolve to also relish the small, and slow, and quiet, and sweet.