There was a time in my life when I was travelling more than I was staying put, and at one point I had lived in five countries in the space of a year. There was Hong Kong, followed shortly after by Italy, followed again by England, briefly, then Warsaw, Poland and then followed again, after that, by Seoul, Korea.
It was from September 2007 – September 2008, and it was a time in my life when I felt the most uncertain travelling. Because being an EFL teacher is one of the most transient jobs around. People take a yearly contract, stay in one country for a year and then move off again to somewhere new, and you rarely meet them again. It was hard to forge relationships that lasted, and I am really not one for easily forging long lasting relationships in the first place, anyway.
I was twenty five at the time, way too skinny, had really short hair and (in hindsight) very questionable fashion sense. I was fed up with living in Asia in the polluted frenzy of Hong Kong and wanted to rest for a year in the history and culture of Europe. But I never really found a job that suited me well, and after a brief stint in Italy I went back to England for Christmas. But not before eating copious amounts of take-out pizza, drinking sangria in bars by the sea and watching the ferries come and go with tourists and cargo. So it wasn’t all bad.
(However, I was actually living very close to the city of Perugia where the now infamous Kercher murder took place, and was going through my own flatmate troubles at the time too, so I feel like the entire decision to leave was wholly right.)
But it was okay in the end, as I briefly bonded with another co-worker and we conspired to leave in the middle of the night and make a brief trip to Rome before we headed back to the UK for Christmas. And things could be much worse than a midnight escape through sleepy Italian streets and a weekend in the capital to cap it off with.
After that, and again after the brief stint in England, I made my way to Warsaw for almost six months. It was, at this point in my EFL career, that I really realised teaching had become less of a joy to travel and more of a means to an end. It was my job, I needed a new contract, and Warsaw was the only place hiring.
Warsaw was a lonely city for me though and I never really felt comfortable there. Maybe if I’d been paid more and maybe if I’d felt more comfortable in my own skin, then I would have stayed there longer. Warsaw for me was wandering through the old town, shopping in the little boutiques for bohemian inspired clothing and wandering up to the Palace of Culture & Science (built because of Stalin, I believe) and shopping at the H&M opposite. It was trips on an empty bus to outskirts of the city to teach a single, creepy CEO above a derelict shopping centre. It was an imperfect job in an otherwise interesting city, and in any other situation I would have stayed.
(This was before Facebook had really taken off in a big way and long before Instagram, so I have very few pictures of my time during this year and the ones I do have are not my best work.)
But as it was I lasted out my contract until the beginning of Summer and then returned home to see my nephew being born, before heading off back to Asia again; and that was when I immediately realised where I truly belonged.
That year was my hardest, travelling wise. I never really found my place, was searching for it in Europe and at home in England, but eventually came to the realisation that Asia had captured my heart. I had a blast during my first year in Korea, and whilst that kind of lifestyle can never (and should never) last long term, I am entirely happy for my journey getting here.
Saying goodbye to that first job in Italy was easy, going home was hard, heading to Warsaw was a slog and making the decision to head to Korea was a piece of cake. It took me three more years to meet my husband, and certainly it wasn’t all plane sailing getting there, but if it weren’t for that year of upheaval and uncertainty then I wouldn’t be completely sure that I am in the right place now.
I am a firm believer that you have to live in a lot of wrong places to know when you’ve found the right one; and after a long time searching I have finally found it.