To teach or not to teach?

+++These last few days have been trying. A few weeks ago I was bright, idealistic, and had no idea what I was signing up for when I enrolled in the Oxford Seminar TEFL course. I knew it would an intensive three weeks, but I trusted that I would get through whatever the course hurled my way. What I had not imagined:

1- There was no way I was going to be able to get all the reading done, especially in the last week during the lesson planning.

2- I was going to over-think all my lesson plans and try to cram too much in one lesson, just so I could get my creative fix.

3- The idea of failure, and the differing critiques almost prevented me from going through with the lesson plan.

+++Not fun. Didn’t I say I was ready to accept failure, to embrace the unknown? Didn’t I say school was done and over, I had moved on, the old me was gone and here, here was a brand new me?

+++And all the important questions came flooding. Did I even want to become a teacher, to force students to listen to the rules, to learn things they didn’t want to, to feel bad about themselves? Did I want to run into impossible people, and have my lesson plans torn apart again and again? Did I want to put my entire life aside just to put together one plan? I’ve only been in this course for three weeks and my apartment was already in shambles- dishes not done, turnip scraps on the counter and posters strewn across the floor? Had my place fallen apart already, after clearing it up place three weeks ago? It was like I did not even know myself.

+++I faced my fear of failure, and wrote my posters. It could be the world’s worst lesson plan and it did not matter, I had to perform. I paid for this class and I was going to present whether I failed or not.

+++Today I face a new dilemma. I passed. After having these intense revelations. Now knowing that I can in fact finish the grammar part of my certificate and really teach abroad, dare I? As exciting as the prospects may be, can I force myself to go through a year of the same emotional trials? Or have I proven to myself that I can do this, that I can survive?


When it’s time to go, time tastes sweet

+++Often I get so wrapped up in the mundane that I tend to forget how beautiful, unique and amazing the place is that I’m living. It’s not until I realize I have to leave, down to the last few months, that I really start to treasure a place and take advantage of it for all that it is. If I haven’t been making an effort to do so already!
+++Studying abroad in Barcelona, I especially appreciated even the rainiest, emotionally turbulent days. If I was downtrodden- at least I was in Barcelona. Hard to believe at times, but I knew it was true. After six months of living life to the fullest, what else was left to do? The last three weeks were eternal, dragged slower than a turtle’s tail, even until the last day. But eventually I would get there, and I vowed to cherish every moment. I resolved first to jog every day to the beach, buy Moroccan treats as often as the fancy struck me, stop once more by all my favorite haunts—el MACBA (the modern art museum) that doubled as a skate park, the shisha bar, the gothic quarter—all those small moments that made living in Barcelona the experience that it was. I even had some misadventures trying to see places I hadn’t seen yet—climbing the Tibidabo without so much as a map like a misguided hitchhiker sweating it in thick black tights and boots, experiencing a more serene type of magic with a friend in the Laberinto de Huerta (the garden labyrinth).
    This was the way I should be living every day, I realized, no matter where I live. Seeing the world with wonder, through a blogger’s eyes. On my return to the States I managed to keep up this perspective for a few weeks, in the small town of Galesburg, Illinois. Life centered around the Amtrak station, old town shops, and its historic relevance as the great site of the Lincoln Douglas debate. Our campus bubble had the immense pride and impressive power of creating its own magic reality. I was welcomed to a wild writer’s parade for senior seminar, the famed professor dressed in robe and wielding a shaman’s staff as he played pied piper. Boy poets tagged along with ukuleles and banjoes in hand, impromptu bluegrass song and odes to the train station while the rest of us wore ridiculous hats and clothes, clapping and chanting like madmen on our way to the fame house of Carl Sandburg’s birth.
+++His home became a gallery of picture frames, old typewriters and gadgets cased in glass. We progressed naturally to the backyard, a path of stones engraved with the legacy of his words. The ceremony ended with tea and a poetry reading by Kwame Dawes- a testimony of art through the dead and the living, from all cultures and walks of life. Though Galesburg lacked Spanish cathedrals and ancient maze-like streets, there was a tight knit community that created its own fair share of artists, drew us in like magnets, and I was glad to steep in the experience of my last three months as a senior, knowing graduation would go just as fast as Spain.
+++I lost my spirit on my return back home. What could possibly be interesting about home sweet Homewood, where the hottest thing in town was a new Mom and Pop shop, a Jewish rummage sale, and the latest gossip at the neighborhood block party. My commute to Chicago on the other hand—I could not believe how much I took this city for granted. I really had to enjoy my last summer, to do everything I’ve never done but always wanted to. For the first time I combined my city savvy with new born traveler’s eyes. What was I thinking? I had to invite my friends for lunch at the Tribune Tower sky deck, floor twenty two, with a grand view of the Islamic inspired tower to our left, the airscape of French influenced skyscrapers surrounding us. I lived in the swirl of art fairs and music fests scattered across neighborhoods interconnected by the loop. Wicker Park, French boulangeries, farmer’s markets, Boystown, a summer’s view of Lake Shore Drive lined with trees, the water and the sky beyond it. I dated a boat captain and got a free architectural boat tour, enhanced by my love of the river. Glistening buildings greeted our tour group at every curve and corner, making me realize this was a city built along the river. I wished I could live at that vantage point every day, become a fisherwoman.
+++At the end of my stay, even my childhood home with the bright flower bush became dear, the crack in the porch from which foxes and baby bunnies emerged. I recalled days when the backyard was a magic realm, when I played along the clotheslines we used to hang the laundry on the sundeck, and the great willow tree. The starry night sky, the planes flying overhead, and the fire bugs glowing in the safety of that cul-de-sac space. I had been filled with such desperation to leave, but when the time came I wanted nothing more but to linger eternally, in the last of those moments. This experience too, was worthwhile

Travel Disaster: How I learned to love Katy Perry’s “Roar”

By Zoe Hatton

Prior to this trip, the Katy Perry song “Roar” did not mean much to me. It was one of those annoying pop songs that came on the radio I had to tolerate until I reached a stoplight to switch the dial. By the end of my trip I would feel differently.



It was August 27th, the big day of departure. After three years, I would be returning to Spain, to celebrate my birthday at La Tomatina, the Tomato Fest, no less. It was a day you got to splat everyone with tomatoes in the small town of Buñol, Spain—something I had wanted to do desperately before I went abroad to study in Barcelona three years ago. Rumor has it the tradition started in 1945, although no one knows the exact story – a food fight among friends, the rubbishing of a musician, throwing tomatoes during a parade. The tomato fest was banned during much of the Franco years for having no religious significance, but was revived during the ‘70s. Today a crowd of 20-50k people come from around the world to celebrate, although now they offer a finite amount of tickets per year.

So how did I end up here? In 2010 I decided to spend New Year’s in Sicily with a friend who was studying in Besançon, France at the same time I was in Barcelona. But it had been a lifelong dream to see Rome and some major sites first. I was only going to stay in Rome for two days before moving on to Sicily, but tickets for the night train were sold out until 4 days in, forcing me to prolong my stay. What resulted was meeting Imogen, an open-faced Australian with a broad striped shirt, smiling and making friends with an Argentinian family who taught her some Spanish. For the first time, I felt compelled to break out of my shell and introduce myself to her and the family. We became an odd quintet—Australian, Chicana, Argentinian mother and two sons about our age. Imogen was about to study pastry making in Paris, but dropped by in Rome first. I spent the next day with her and Jennifer, her longtime friend who was staying in another hostel. And so a travel friendship formed, and they agreed to meet me again in Barcelona, where they would visit in two months. Since then, I friended Imogen on Facebook, and every once in a while I would ask where she was living or going next- for she was always moving between Canada, Thailand, South America, etc. By 2013 I caught up with her again, three weeks before la Tomatina.

“I’m going to the Tomato fest to celebrate my birthday, you should come!”

One thing I love about Imogen is that she always invites me to go somewhere as though if I just said yes, I could get whisked away to any one of those places. My birthday was also coming up – six days after hers as I discovered, and I had been thinking of doing the same thing! It was fate, I decided. I requested time off and bought a ticket at three week notice. It was a hassle—she worked at a Canadian airline so I waited to get a hold of her to buy tickets to Spain and for the Busabout Tomato Fest tour. The tour went through on my card, but the bank bounced my flight tickets since it was through a Canadian agency. I ended up shelling out 200-300 extra bucks to buy a round trip, then if I had just got them on my own in the first place.

            When I made it to the airport, I felt strange, surreal—would it be that easy to hop a flight to reenter Barcelona life? Could I really take off whenever I wanted and come live here? I wanted to cry at the pain and ease which I now felt. But the worst wasn’t over—I realized I couldn’t go to Valencia straight from the airport- a serious dent in my time cushion. I would have to go to the main train center first- Sans Estacio. I tried not to panic, since missing the train to Valencia would force me to wait another three hours for the next one. I went to a small café where old men read newspapers. In awe of this magic space, I bought an overpriced bottle of pineapple juice priced three euros. I smiled and did not care, I was using euros again. At last the train to Sans arrived. At this point I stopped staring at my useless American cell—it was out of my hands now, all up to fate.

            In the time it took to get there, I had forgotten another caveat—there was a long line to buy a ride to Valencia. By the time I reached the counter I still had twenty minutes to catch the train—but the tickets were sold out. I had to wait three hours at the train station. Fortunately this gave me the time to lock away my Barcelona bag, and keep my camping bag on hand. I would be spending two nights at the Busabout tour camp site during festivities. I was comforted by the fact that there were others, mostly British youth with camping gear also headed to the fest. It was disheartening to see the train I wanted fill up and leave. When at last ours came I felt sweet relief—once again it was out of my hands. I took a nap, woke a few hours later and I had no idea what the stop would look like, or how I would know if we passed it. I frantically glanced around and asked the conductor if we already passed it. He told me what time we would arrive. I resolved to stop napping and stay alert. I’m glad I did, because there were no obvious signs, just a few passengers gathered in the car. He slid open the door. At last I embraced the golden light of day, the fresh air whipping past my face as the train came to a halt. I stepped out into a vast station with high ceilings, and I could not help but feel a tingle of magic, that this could even be a Harry Potter station. The magic soon faded when I realized a) I did not have a map, and b) I had no idea where I was going. I tried asking other tourists who likewise had no idea. I asked customer service. Eventually they realized my company bus was a separate service than the city metro. I cursed myself for being so unprepared for having that “I’ll figure it out” attitude with no responsibility to back it. Why wasn’t I more like Dad or any of my mature and organized friends? If I had been on time I could have been picked up by a hostel and dropped off at the camp site like everyone else.

            After wondering the station searching for maps in vain, gave up, and stepped out boldly to determine my surroundings. I reread my printed instructions which made less sense than I hoped and walked over to a bus stop to examine the map route. I stared until I got a good feel for the street names and do what I always do when I’m not sure which direction is which—walk around in a big circle and look at every street sign. None of them matched the street I needed- Gran Vía- our equivalent of Main Street. Amazingly, none of the passersby, even people who appeared to be locals, could point me out in the right direction. After half an hour of frustration I realized I needed to go purely by landmarks—the street I needed seemed to be along the left side of the big train station. The man at the train station also said I needed to go by the bull arena, which was across the street. My final confirmation was with the bus company itself, once it dawned on me that I could actually use the phone I just purchased to confirm what streets I needed. So, I walked eerily by the side of the station, where my only company was the long expansive tracks that crossed another to a ghost like path. I had only my mind’s eye and a cell phone to clutch in my hand for confirmation. She said. He said. I have no choice but to run into the street if I follow this shady road. A construction worker about half way down the road—finally a human presence—I realized I better talk to him because he would probably be the only official help I would get. He confirmed that yes, this was Gran Vía- in fact the road changed names HALF WAY DOWN to Gran Vía so I had been on it all along. I sighed with relief. Finally I had some confirmation. I found the street corners indicated on my printed instructions right away but saw no bus stop sign. Another form of help arrived and some local boys my age tried to help out since they said I looked lost. They were not familiar with the bus company but knew that the yellow buses that passed by belonged to the city. They thought I could ask a bus driver for the right one.

Across the street I noticed a lively group of British teens that could not stop talking about the Tomato Fest. I thought I could maybe ask them if they were taking the same bus, and feel less on edge, maybe even feel some of that infectious excitement again if I stood near them. A pretty Indian girl laughed and seemed approachable enough. She was not familiar with the company bus and was staying the night in Valencia, but they were going to the Tomato Fest. Finally in an hour elder locals began to gather around what I realized was a small post for the bus stop. I took advantage of my Spanish fluency to see if they knew more. An old man with a kind smile showed me what bus he was taking, the route it would follow and did not know the price because he had a card but I should let him know. My eyes saw the name on the stop, the destination was the same, and it clicked—this was it! I had been standing here all along for the last hour. The bus pulled up not five minutes later, and I was charged the glorious price of 1.5 euros. I had been praying for 9 or less, since that’s all I had in cash. True to my word I let the man know, and he was grateful for the information. I finally relaxed in my seat—it took a full on day but I was here, I was safe, I was on my way. At that moment a powerful song came on: “I’ve got the eye of the tiger, a fighter! Dancing through the fire! ‘Cause I am a champion, and you’re going to hear me rooooar!” Never before I had I felt so euphoric, and yes I was a champion, me. Yes it was a struggle, yes it was chaos and I had flung myself straight into hell on earth without thinking twice. But I got myself out of it. I made it safely, and now I was about to go on the greatest adventure of my life.