It’s mid-June and we’re down to the last week and half of school. Exams have started, teachers are getting ready to leave for the summer, and many are getting ready to move on entirely. We’re at that point in the cycle of the international teacher where we start to reflect on what the last few years have meant and what kinds of changes we’ll make when we start over again.
Next time, I’ll be more organized from the start; I’ll ask more questions; I’ll have more plants in my room and keep them alive; I’ll be more confident and worry less; I’ll go to more parties; be more social–next time.
It’s the cyclical life that makes international teaching so promising, so unique, and so experientially rich. It’s also what makes it so confrontational. Here’s what I mean: the international teacher has nine lives (maybe more) and each time we start a new life we’re invited to live a better life, to be better. For many of us, this means changing our habits, aspects of our practice, and perhaps aspects of our personalities. Otherwise, what’s the point–if we’re not willing to listen and learn and grow and change? The international life then, takes a lot of courage.
It takes courage to choose a path full of challenges, to be an outsider, to open up; it takes courage to be uncomfortable, to see our privileged upbringing from another’s eyes. It takes courage to attach ourselves to a community, even though we’ll leave it one day, and to detach ourselves from stuff, because we can’t take it with us. And it takes courage to work with the same types of people that trigger the qualities we like least in ourselves, and courage still to recognize that we are those people for others. It takes courage to choose a life that, despite its gifts, confronts us with what we want most, need most, fear most; and in the end, it takes courage to say goodbye–just goodbye–not see you soon, or be in touch, or I’ll come visit, because that’s probably not true. It took courage to leave our homes in the first place, and it will take the most courage, if the time ever comes, to go back.
So the international life is not easy, not entirely. It may afford us with a kind of luxury and adventure that we could never have back home, but we pay out, emotionally, at the end of each cycle when we begin negotiating with everything we own. We pay out in those last few weeks of panic, frustration, bitterness, laughter, sadness, gratitude. We pay out when we say goodbye.
And then the cycle begins again and we start a new life, shrinking our belongings down to a seed that we can put in our pockets and plant somewhere new.