Teaching English in China

World mapA Glimpse of My Childhood 

A ship in a port is safe. But that’s not what ships are built for.” -Grace Murray Hopper, Admiral, US Navy

My mother loves to talk about bringing me home from the hospital.

“She was only three days old,” she tells people, “and she wriggled across my bed.” But for a while, that was the only traveling I did.

My grandparents went on package tours to places they couldn’t pronounce, and they posed for pictures sitting on camels or leaning against pyramids. My uncle brought back beautiful money from his business trips to Hong Kong.

My Camping in New York

And me? I went camping in exotic upstate New York. Where was the undulating desert or the sunset over the Ganges? The frenetic pace of a Turkish Bazaar? Not here.

So I read.

I stumbled through languages. I collected postcards, maps and travel brochures. But I wasn’t any closer to traveling. Junior year of college was my lift-off date; all previous attempts had been aborted.

Operation: Semester in London.

“It’s not going to be as good as you think,” everyone told me.

But it was better. I returned to Great Britain the following summer to work.

“It’s not going to be as good the second time,” I kept hearing. But it was better.

Joining a debate trip to Luxembourg, working in Dublin, sleeping in French train stations, choking on Black Forrest pollen, watching dolphins from Grecian ferries ? it just kept getting better.

But waiting tables and selling jeans was college travel. What about afterwards?

Teaching English

Teaching English was reasonably cerebral, and it offered a yearly, not an hourly, salary. But after two years in Korea and three years in China, people were still talking. My mother worried about money, and kept mentioning IRAs.

“You know, 30 turns into 40 so quickly,” she said.

My father’s confusion was more basic. “Why do you want to go to another country?”

Friends’ and relatives’ concerns ranged from the occupational, “Weren’t you planning to get a PhD?” to the traditional, “When are you getting married?”

Everyone seemed to be saying, “I really admire you. You’re living your life. Now, when are you coming home?”

How I Stop Worrying About Life 

And as I listened, I doubted. The other English teachers are either hard-drinking 20-somethings or severely dysfunctional 60-somethings.

Every other 33-year-old is at home with a mortgage and maybe a set of pitter-pattering little feet. That’s normal. What’s the matter with me?

Everyone has to find their one way of life. For me, home is great…for a while.

But eventually I start to feel institutionalized. My anxiety deepens into depression, then evolves into irrational fear.

I envision freak accidents, viruses attacking my brain, or violent deaths ? the detectives of the Law and Order TV-series zipping my body bag, calling me the “Vic.”

Worst of all, I start to fear traveling. But in a new country, I breathe easier. The challenges are exciting. The frustrations all make sense. And I learn something every day. I feel, well, normal.

So I stopped worrying and started reorganizing. I studied travel writing and travel photography.

I computerized my teaching files, for portability, and invested in good luggage. I stopped saying, “I’ll do this awhile, and then start my real life.” And I started saying, “This is my life.”

And now, they’re listening to me.

Janna Graber
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