by Tiger Lilly
This has been a long time coming.
Sometime in the middle of the death march that was my college years, I was probably in the middle of an angst-session with my mother about what I was going to do after graduation when she said, “You should go overseas. You’re young and unattached, now is the perfect time to get that kind of experience that you can’t get anywhere else.”
Sure, traveling sounded great, I’ve always wanted to travel. Not to mention I was one of those strange people who didn’t blanch at the thought of taking the advice of their parents. It was pretty much a pipe dream at that point, though—I had no serious job, I was slogging my way through textbook after textbook, and let’s not forget I’d made the grave error of pursuing a degree in what I loved (English and writing) rather than what was useful.
Still, the wishful part of me did a small amount of research. I found a site that compared the cost of living between cities and started typing in cities from every country I’ve ever visited or wanted to visit. Edinburgh, Dublin, Inverness, London, and most places in Italy went right out the window pretty quickly, along with most of my hazy, romantic visions of renting an attic flat at the top of some ancient-but-still-trendy-and-somehow-affordable building in the middle of some cosmopolitan Euro hub. You know, the typical coming-of-age story that Hollywood had always promised me. I’d play the perky and naïve protagonist out to “find herself,” make friends with the local fauna (even though I’m not a Disney princess), have a smoke out on my balcony in the evenings (even though I don’t smoke), and pursue a career in which I’d briefly struggle before my brilliance caught the eye of the senior editor/art director/photographer/bagel-muncher and from there it’d be a straight shot to the top. There’d probably be a tall, handsome stranger involved at some point.
Okay, so I didn’t really think that any of that was going to happen, but it was fun to think about. Point being, I was sitting there trying to think of any other city I wouldn’t mind living in that wouldn’t also smack me upside the head with financial worries. All the big names seemed to be out of the running. Then, what’s that place with the cool clock?
Judge me if you want, but I think that Prague’s astronomical clock by itself is a perfectly good reason to want to visit.
Anyway, Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, czeched out (I’m so sorry). Much lower cost of living, large community of American ex-pats, cheap beer in a place famous for its beer, what could be better? There was the teeny-tiny problem of Czech being one of the hardest languages to learn and I’d never done more linguistically than a deeper look at my native language and one semester of French, but I blew that off. In fact, that gave me an idea for how I could gainfully employ myself! Everyone wants to learn English, right?
As it turns out, in the Czech Republic, the answer is yes. A brief Google search told me that there was a huge need for English teachers there, and suddenly my pipe dream was becoming a little more solid. But what’s this? “Certification?” Damn those bureaucrats, always getting in the way of a girl’s need for adventure and—oh, here’s a program that will give me TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification and guarantee me a job with them once I’m certified?
This was getting to be a little too good to be true. I suspiciously surveyed the area for either flittering songbirds for me to befriend, or someone hiding in the bushes, waiting until my hopes were sufficiently raised to jump out and yell “PSYCH!”
Why yes, the world does revolve around me, why do you ask?
Anyway, if I couldn’t befriend wildlife, I was at least befriending Google, who told me that this certification program wasn’t a scam, and they probably wouldn’t kidnap me and sell my kidneys on the black market.
After a few days of mulling all this over, it was time to get a second opinion. No, not God, I was a little too absorbed with myself and my ideas to check for divine approval at that point. I ran it past Mom first, who said something along the lines of “what do you mean you’re leaving me?”
Talk about mixed signals.
Well, whatever this looked like then, it was too soon to be focusing too much energy on it; I was drowning in essays and I would need a degree to make my application to this program look nice and shiny anyway, so it was back to the educational grind. Still, as the months wore on and I packed on the credits, the need for an after-college plan was becoming more apparent.
I went and found more information on the TEFL program—how much it cost, how much money I’d need to support myself while taking the four-week certification program, plane tickets, all that jazz. I figured out a number: $6000 to cover the tuition and plane ticket and have enough money left over to not feel like I needed to have a financial freak-out while unemployed. I had some savings already, but not nearly enough at that point, of course.
Now, if there’s one thing I truly hate with every fiber of my being, it’s the idea of going to the same place every day to do the same thing over and over for years on end.
If there are two things I truly hate, the second one is customer service.
These mindsets are what had contributed to the initial angst-session with my therap—I mean, mother, way back at the beginning of this post. How could I ever find employment to fund this trip? I had worked a couple different jobs while in school, including a political campaign and as a chocolatier at Godiva (way less fun than it sounds, but that’s another story). Towards the end of school and after my graduation, I’d taken a few jobs as a freelance editor/proofreader for college students who wanted some shine on their papers before submitting them for grading, but I was doing that at extremely low rates (college students always want to pay in bottle caps and old homework) for very few people. It’d take me decades to earn enough money!
That’s where my church family came in. On the one hand, jewelry making is my hobby, I’ve been doing it for 10 years and I’m not too shabby at it, so I got to set up a small stand in the church bookstore and sell my accumulated inventory there for several weeks. On the other hand, my church is a very tight-knit and supportive community, and anyone can ask for help with anything at any time. I told the church what I was planning and hey, if anyone has any odd jobs that need doing, I’m available!
So there were a few brief engagements, things like helping people move or dog- and house-sitting. The most notable one was a friend who called and said she had a friend who needed a nanny for her three-month-old son, and so I nannied for her for nine months (even though I’m an experienced baby-sitter and my sister has four children ages five and under, I learned a lot more than I ever wanted to know about child care and myself during that time). Between all of these sources, I managed to pay for my plane ticket and the course’s tuition, with a couple thousand extra.
Somewhere along the line, I got to thinking. I had been planning all of this on my mother’s advice and my own whim. Had I ever actually said to God, “Hey man, was this Your idea or mine (or my mother’s)?” And then I got really nervous. Here I’d been telling people what I was planning, and I’d completely neglected the first and most important step. What if I asked Him and He said I needed to stop? It’d be so embarrassing! (Never mind how embarrassing it would be if I never asked and everything went belly-up later.) And I’d already spent all this non-refundable money on a plane ticket and tuition.
So it took me a few days to scrape up the courage to do what I was supposed to. I mean, on one level of course I knew that I needed to find out ASAP, since if it wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing then it’s better to find out sooner rather than later (nobody wants a repeat of the Jonah incident), but hey, pride is a thing that I have, believe it or not. Well, I finally got around to it, and the answer was nearly immediate, and I imagine He said it with a roll of His eyes: “You’re good.” (Paraphrased.)
Well, that was a relief! And His will in this became more and more apparent as I was given more and more opportunities to make money, or money was just flat-out given to me. I sold my car quickly and easily. My grandmother gave all her grandchildren a generous, surprise sort-of-nest-egg. My church family and friends sowed “seed money” into my life. Before I knew it, I had more than I thought I needed: $6000, after paying the tuition and the ticket fee!
So now the time has come upon me, and I’ve run the gamut of every emotion known to man. Excitement, nervousness, dread, disbelief, “how can I be doing this? How can I be leaving everything I know and love behind?” That last one has become especially prevalent with all the goodbyes I’ve said lately, to close friends and closer family. Sometimes it feels like I am exiling myself, and sometimes I (ridiculously unfairly, I know) wish that the world would pause while I’m away so that I don’t miss anything here.
The tumultuous situation in Europe is no consolation, either. The refugee crisis, the suicide bombers in Lebanon, terrorist attacks in Paris, and now I want to move to the heart of Europe? But here’s the thing: It’s not just me that wants to go. God wants me to go. What am I going to do, say no? (I mean, the alternative is probably going to be something along the lines of getting eaten by a giant fish.)
And under the layers of fear and doubt, I do want to go. Of course I want to go. I’ve always wanted to have adventures, and while I sense there’ll be a distinct lack of dragon slaying, stepping off into the wide (and far, so very far) blue yonder with just my faith and my suitcase sure sounds like one anyway. I’m a perennial traveler and a perpetual student, and there are things to be learned out there.