I graduated with a degree in English from Ball State in December 2007, and now I live in a small village in rural Hertfordshire, England. The Beckham’s have an estate down the river, and sometimes my son and I walk over there and feed their horses. On those days, and the ones when we take the train into London to visit the museums, I wonder, how did I manage this?
My upbringing was, let’s say, not cosmopolitan, but I read a lot as a kid and knew pretty early on that I needed to see those places in the books. When college graduation began to loom as a young adult, getting out of the country anyway I could became the priority. The great thing about a degree in English is that it’s both very flexible, and also makes you pretty damn good at research. My husband, who is also a Ball State grad and who is a very good sport and generally keen on trying anything once, completely went along with it when I enthusiastically told him that I’d found us jobs teaching English as a Second Language in South Korea. After completing a mountain of paperwork (a detail that people tend to omit when writing about travel because it’s not sexy in the least), and living with various family members whilst waiting for visas to be issued, we moved to Paju, South Korea in the spring of 2008.
Teaching English in a foreign country is an experience that I cannot recommend highly enough. In fact, every time I meet someone who is at any kind of impasse in life (just graduated, lost a job, etc.), I give them the name of the Canadian recruiting company who we worked with for this move. As a foreigner on a Korean E2 teaching visa, you work on yearly contracts, and a year is a fantastic amount of time to figure what you should do next. Another thing that teaching in Korea, specifically, has going for it, is that your work contract includes a return flight to your country of origin and free housing. (Obviously, one has to be careful when signing a contract to make sure that the employer is on the up and up, but here is where those research skills will once more come in handy.)
About six months into our yearlong contract, I began to think about applying to grad schools for further English study. As the job in Korea had enabled us to pay off undergrad debts (seriously everyone, it’s a great deal), we felt that we had enough freedom for me to apply to schools abroad.
I’ve always been an Anglophile, but a class that I took at Ball State entitled Black British Literature played a large role in pushing me towards studying in London. Among other things, we talked about immigrants in London and read accounts of foreigners living in this ancient, beautiful, and often brutal, city. I was hooked, and applied to King’s College London, where I was given a place in the MA Modern Literature course for the next fall.
We spent a few months back in the states while completing the bureaucratic nightmare that is the tier 4 student visa application, and my partner made good use of the time by miraculously finding, applying for, and being offered a position as a math teacher in an English secondary school. By late August of 2009, we were living in London, and I was studying in the heart of the city while he taught 30 minutes north of it.
A glorious year later, during which I had more fun in the city I’d been dreaming of my entire life than I thought possible, I graduated and we moved to Chicago so we could catch up with family and friends, and also catch our breath. A lot happened in the 3 years we lived in Chicago, including visiting South America, our having a baby, and me having my first “grown up” job with the large technology company, Rosetta Stone.
My initial position with Rosetta was as a part-time, online ESL teacher (or coach, as they are called by the company). My students were mostly taking lessons from their homes or schools in the far East, and I taught, overnight, on a webcam from my bustling Lincoln Park apartment. However, several months into the job, two full-time, remote positions became available in the “hub” city of Chicago, and I nabbed one of them. For a little over a year and a half, I directly managed around 100 ESL coaches, all of whom worked from their homes in either Chicago or New York, and most of whom taught overnight. I was also the point of contact for the Korean and Japanese Rosetta offices during working Asian hours-otherwise known as 10PM to 6 AM Chicago time.
Supervising coaches for Rosetta was an amazing and extremely unique first job. Due to my previous experience teaching ESL in Asia, I was flown to the Korean Rosetta offices to help out with a product launch and also to film for the Korean version of the Home Shopping Network (so if you’re ever, for some reason, watching infomercials in Korea, look out for yours truly). I became more proficient in technology than I’d ever thought possible because, when there is a system error at 2AM, you do your best to fix it before calling and waking up the developers. I also learned how to sleep during the day when the mid-rise next door was having new fire escapes installed outside our windows.
Halfway through my pregnancy, the long, overnight work hours became a little too challenging, and I went back to coaching on my webcam. But the yearning to explore and live abroad continued unabated. (I’ve occasionally used the word dromomania, tongue in cheek of course, to explain why we move so much.) When our son was 5 months old, my partner and I had a very memorable conversation during which we concluded that it would be an amazing experience for us as a family to live abroad and, if we could make it happen, we’d move back to England. We made it happen.
This time, we are here on my husband’s Tier 2 work visa, the Holy Grail of the UKBA tiered visa system. Being granted a work visa to the UK is not at all easy, as any expat here will tell you, and involves quite a lot of hoop jumping. Once the hoops had been successfully cleared, I regretfully gave up my coaching position with Rosetta- though with hopes that one day I may be able to talk my way into a position in the London offices. We are a one income family at the moment, while my partner works his way up through the secondary school teaching hierarchy, and tries to remember that here he teaches “maths”, not “math”. I am, for now, a lady of comparative leisure while my son is small- reacquainting myself with this country that feels at once familiar and unfamiliar, negotiating the baffling ease of the NHS and enjoying the question “So where are you from, then?” every time someone hears my accent.
I guess the moral of my story (or my story so far, anyway) is this. If you want to travel, do it. Don’t let people tell you that you’re being naïve or impractical, and don’t be surprised by how many copies of your birth certificate government officials will request. Be organized to the point of seeming obsessive, try to save money when you can because visa applications are expensive, and most importantly, be brave. The world is big, and you are not- and sometimes this fact seems very, very real.
However, memento mori, yeah? And travel is the best way to get ahead of that quarter life crisis.