Friday, January 23, 2015

Now What?!?!?

Many of you have inquired as to my recent whereabouts and my life post The Loong Way Home so I thought I'd post an update. Life post-cycle trip has been somewhat of a struggle, although I hesitate to say that. I realize how fortunate I am to have embarked on such an experience, and I truly appreciated and enjoyed my adventure, but the aftermath left me dazed, confused, and out of place.....talking with other cyclists, this is a common occurrence, known as the post-trip blues.  I won't go into details but it is not a pleasant experience.

It's a huge shock on the body and mind to go from pedaling day-in and day-out with an end goal in mind, although every day you fly by the “saddle of your pants” sort to say. As is tour cycling, you never know where you are going to sleep each night, how long it will take to pedal to the next town, or who you will meet along the way. Sadly, you will most likely never see the people who kept you company the previous evening or graciously hosted you the night before. When your trip comes to an end, all of a sudden you wake up in your bed every morning. There is a fridge full of food at your finger tips, anything you crave, basically, any time of day, and you have company galore, living with your retired parents. Indeed I was looking forward to my arrival in Eugene and visiting with family and friends, but it wasn't that easy to transition from a life on the road back into a more conventional lifestyle. I managed to stall returning to a normal life extending my travels by running the New York City marathon in November and visiting friends and family back east. But after that, reality set in, as the winter months approached and the rain poured down outside making me feel somewhat trapped, anxious, and out of sorts with myself.

Prior to my trip, I was told by friends, “Melissa, don't plan so much, live in the moment!” When you are bike touring, well, you can't be any more present in the moment. Will I make it up this climb? How long until the next town? Where will I sleep tonight? These questions were the furthest in advance in the future that I was capable of think on my bike, and frequently they were suddenly interrupted by my immediate surrounding-stunning views, random acts of kindness,....another puncture!

If I would have planned ahead, ideally I should have applied to attend a January job fair for international teachers in Bangkok, one of the biggest and most promising fairs to find work, way back in September.  In September, my body and soul were far from Bangkok, collecting reference letters, writing personal statements, and filling out applications. I was pedaling like crazy to make it to Alaska before winter arrived, so I could catch one of the last ferries down south to mainland Canada. Thoughts of being eaten by a bear and staying warm were at the forefront on my mind.

In the back of my mind, however, I had a list of places I could see myself living after my trip. Yes, I could return to Barcelona, don't get me wrong, I love Barcelona and I consider it home! It is the place where I have my beloved social network, where I started cycling, where I can stroll the streets aimlessly for hours upon hours, day-after-day, week-after-week, and year after year and never get bored! Therefore seeing myself somewhere else was hard.  But after living there for 11 years and working at the same school for 7, I was itching for a change, both professionally and personally.  I am one curious individual and during my trip, I couldn't help ponder living different places. At the top of my list were Switzerland and Hong Kong. The latter being a place I would love to use as a home base to explore Asia in depth, but deep down inside, I knew I wasn't ready to depart Europe.

The French part of  Switzerland
There was something so appealing to Switzerland; the proximity to the mountains, taking up winter sports like snowshoeing and cross country skiing which I've always wanted to improve, and of course the language. There is German Switzerland, Italian Switzerland, and the French part, which is where I was interested in being located.  I used to be quite good at French, before I learned Catalan. With my solid Catalan skills now, I should be easier to tackle French without confusing the two languges, or at least I hope.

When I day dream of Switzerland, this is what comes to mind......

After competing in the NY marathon and visiting friends and family out east, I started the dreaded job hunt. What a shock! Here I'd been pedaling and pedaling endless hours a day without a worry or responsibility in the world and now I was consumed with revising my resume, drafting cover letters, and searching for jobs all over the globe. Each day blended into the next: wake up, sit at the counter with my computer, edit, search, edit, research, apply, print, send, go for a run, edit, research.......

There is nothing I hate more than trying to sell myself in a resume or cover letter.  Here I'd been offered jobs while visiting schools on my trip, had newspaper articles published in the local papers, couldn't I just use that or my website, rather rewrite my resume?I hate hate resume and cover letter writing with a passion.  I wanted to tell the schools, look at my warmshower feedback, have a look at my website, come for a bike ride with me! All of these would be better ways to get to know me than reading my history on two pages of paper.  It was hard to get my head around the fact that I had bonded so easily with random strangers who stopped to chat on the road during my trip and my hosts who were with me for an evening.  Within a matter of minutes, these unknown people understood who I was, my motivation, passion, and drive, without laying eyes on a resume or cover letter!

I honestly thought that a year out of the classroom, two to be precise, would be a set back professionally when I sought a job for the 2015-16 school year. Taking a year off to pedal the globe, doesn't really fit well under the title “professional experience” nor is it a valid part of my “educational experience”. I was worried about how this would look when I did re-enter the professional world, but not enough to let it impede in my travels. Uncharacteristic of my personality, I was overcome with frustration, anxiety, and despair when I sent off my first few resumes, one to France to cover a long term substitution for a maternity leave, one to Switzerland, and another to Hong Kong both for the 2015-16 school year.  To my surprise, within days I had positive responses immediately to all three! WOW!!! YIKES!!! Time to prepare for an interview.

All the educational lingo, the concepts and theories that had driven me so as a teacher seemed to have gotten lost while I was pedaling. I quickly started studying up and looking through my old teaching units. What kind of teacher was it that I aspired to be?  What was my classroom management style? My approach to literacy? Really, Melissa, you didn't think about any of this on your bike,.....?  I used to know all the answers to these questions and I was confident about my outlook on education.  But all that changed during my trip, and that is exactly what every administrator wanted to know when they interviewed me, that and why I took on such an endeavor.

The first interview went so well, with nothing to loose applying for a substitution, I asked my parents if they'd treat me to sushi to celebrate if I got the job. Three days later we were dipping our rolls in soy sauce! If only I kept that deal for the upcoming interviews!

This was not our only sushi dinner, I do admit it was one of many while at home with my parents.

I waited a bit longer and underwent a series of other interviews, but eventually the offer came through for Switzerland and I was delighted, more like disbelief. I had said to myself for many months, “Oh how I'd love to live and work in Switzerland at an IB school!” Sometimes I think the more you repetitively say something, the more likely it is to come true, which is why I back-up the belief that it is important to be positive and optimistic. Or maybe the saying goes, "Good things come for those who pedal 34,000 kilometers!"  I was intrigued by inquiry-based learning before my trip and visited so many IB schools on the road.  Therefore, it was one of the main criteria for my future teaching post, a school with the IB program at the primary level.  

My exact location starting September

A topographical map does it new backyard!

I lucked out with both the International School of Lyon and GEMS World Academy-Etoy being IB schools and willing to train me in the PYP, Primary Years Program.

So there you have it, the short version, with the censorship of a lot of anticipation, stress, and break downs. In March, I will head to Barcelona to pick up some basic belongings, drive to Lyon with my loyal and faithful Tres Amics, Nuri, get settled in Lyon, France and work through the end of the school year as a grade three teacher, then enjoy the summer months, and head over to Etoy, Switzerland (located between Geneva and Lausanne) at the end of August to start the school year as the elementary art teacher at the recently opened GEMS World Academy. I will be joining one of my favorite teaching colleagues from Barcelona, Pat Moore, who I worked with my last year at BFIS. I couldn't be happier.

Pat Moore, one of the world's best teachers and I get to work with her yet again!  Aren't I lucky?!?

With jobs lined up, and soon to receive my first pay check in years and excited to return to the profession that I love, well, I just couldn't sit still any longer. Let's just say I'm not in Oregon anymore.......the bike, the road, the life of a tour cyclist, I couldn't resist the temptation; it was calling me. Before I start, I went for one last little bike trip: The Shoort Way Home! My exact location will soon be disclosed, promise!

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