I guess I should start with saying I’m terrible at blogging. I just checked my page a few moments ago and realized that I haven’t updated it in months; and things have drastically changed since then. Most of the things I said I wanted, I don’t. And most of the things I said I’d do, I won’t. I think I’m bipolar.
For the last year or so, my friends make fun of me when I tell them what my upcoming plans are because they constantly change. “So this is the December plan, Steph? Oook. We’ll wait to see what January brings.” We laugh, but, really, we all know they’re right. When I wrote that post from Perth, it was December, and January brought on a very new plan.
After I left Perth, I went back to my home away from home, Sydney. I saw all of my friends again and planned a last month-long hoorah before I left the country for what I thought was good. And as my departure date approached, I did more of the things I love and realized that I was devastated about leaving. Everything I wanted was in Sydney, so why was I leaving? If you had a chance to live your dream, would you give it up to live the life people expect you to live? I’m not sure if I was lonely in Perth or if it was just the pace of life that had me missing home, but the minute I got to Sydney I thought, “What was I thinking??” I planned my last trips with my best bud Simone to Tasmania, Thailand (again… why not?), and Bali. If I was going to go home, I was going to savor every single second I had left on the road. And the sunshine too. Definitely the sunshine.
Tasmania reminded me quite a bit of New Zealand. The scenery is quite untamed including its beautiful beaches, lakes, and mountains. We rented a car with our Canadian friend Jason who lives out there now, and we camped out ON a beach. It was paradise on earth. You know that moment when you’re camping, the first minute you gain consciousness the next morning when you’re waking up? It’s sweltering in your tent, your mouth tastes like ass, you’re stuck to your sleeping bag, and it smells like shit. Well, imagine being able to get out of the tent, strip down, and have your morning pee and shower in the ocean 20 steps away. Ah! It’s amazing. I refuse to camp any other way from now on (ok, maybe not, but it’s amazing).
After Tasi, I made my way back to Thailand. I was meeting my English friend Steph who was making her way back to England. And to be honest, it doesn’t take much to get me to Thailand. I’d had so much fun last year, I was thinking about it anyway for my second chance at Phi Phi and a tattoo. I spent the whole time I was in Thailand without shoes, a shirt, or a worry (and if I was wearing a shirt, I wasn’t wearing a bra). I was so relaxed, on top of the world, the best version of myself. To feel so unfettered is a luxury in life, and it wasn’t one I took for granted.
Lastly, I hopped over to Bali, which I had heard was a top destination for Aussie travelers. In fact, I think Balinese people are so accustomed to foreigners that they don’t bother getting to know us or treating us with any kind of regard. I felt like they just wanted my dollar. I kind of got that feeling when I was in India and Cambodia too, but here it was different. There was a kind of rudeness to it, I guess. I’m not saying all Balinese people treating us with contempt, but when it came to cab drivers or store clerks I felt hustled. I managed to have an amazing time because I was with Simone (the Italian stallion I met in Sydney). He is one of the many amazing friends I have made along my way, and our time spent traveling together added an element to our friendship. Although he and I are polar opposites in many ways, we somehow manage to get along, enjoy each other’s company, and love each other. We stayed in hotels with pools and restaurants to take advantage of the abroad lifestyle our Aussie dollar could provide us ($100 = 1 MILLION rupiahs), we rented a scooter on one of the islands and cruised along the narrow, roads and rickety bridges with no shirts on, and we jumped off a 42-foot cliff into the raging, warm ocean. And the sunsets. We watched the sunset every night, whether it was on the beach or at a restaurant. We took the time every day to watch another day end, reminding us that our time was limited and worth savoring.
After a month on the road, it was time to go back to Oz, see my friends one more time, and pack my bags. Every day I was in Australia, I lived. I saw the wonderful people that I am blessed to call friends, did things I’d always put off doing like going to the zoo, went out till the sun came up, and barely slept. You can sleep when you’re dead! There were many moments when I considered missing that flight. Our last day in Bali, Simone proposed we miss our flight, buy a restaurant by the beach, and start a new life. Lost opportunity number one. My last week in Sydney, my best gal pal Nicole offered to quit her teaching job, so I could take it and stay. You can’t buy friendship like that. And on my last night, my friends offered to get me so drunk I’d miss my 8 a.m. shuttle to the airport. Despite the best of attempts, I made that flight. But not without a February plan brewing…
So where am I now? I’m in Boston. I got a teaching job and an apartment within a week of my return. When I have my mind made up, I’m pretty good at getting shit done. I’m on a mission. I’m taking time to see my family and friends who have long awaited my return, and I’m trying to keep my feet planted in the present. To me, it feels like no time has gone by, but to them I’ve been gone for two years. And two years to normal people is a long time. I’m not planning on sticking around very long. I’ve already decided – I decided before I got on that plane – that I’m going back to Sydney. I don’t know how yet logistically. I’m working on that. But every day I wake up, I have my hazelnut coffee, I go to work, and I know that I’m leaving. Little by little, I’m sorting it out, to live my dream. I’m looking at student visas because it’s the best I can do from here: sign up for a program that could somehow help my teaching career and teach part-time (the legal limit on the visa is 20 hours a week). My March plan is that I’ll be on a plane by September, before I have to bear, endure, suffer through another Boston winter. Of course, this is the March plan, so who knows what April will bring? But if you could live your life exactly as you wanted to, wouldn’t you?
I’ve been living in Perth (in Western Australia) since mid-August. I came here to get away from my not-so-healthy lifestyle in Sydney. Sydney was amazing, wild, and memorable. After three months of the best of times with the best of people, I felt quite lost. Not because of the people I was with, but because my life had been in ultra-drive since March 2011, and here I was stuck in neutral in Kings Cross. I quit my everyday, nothing-special job one week after I had my revelation that it was time to move on. I booked a one-way ticket to booming, mining-centric Perth, home to my sister from another mister and mother, Jill. I don’t coin the term “sister” lightly because I have one, and she’s god’s gift to my life, if I believe in god. But a select few of the girlfriends I’ve met in this lifetime come a close second to Delphine; Jill is one of those girls. Seeing as we haven’t lived on the same continent since 2007, it was an absolute must that I spend a stint of my Aussie experience living at her doorstep. So on August 14th I knocked on her and Ronan’s door and crashed on their sofa bed until I found a job.
At first, I thought I might get a farming job for 88 days to get a visa extension. But then I thought Perth might also be a good place to get some decent teaching experience. (With the mining industry booming out in WA, I thought there might be quite a few foreigners in the area trying to learn English before getting a piece of that Aussie dollar.) I figured I’d try for both and go from there, knowing full well that I was leaning towards teaching which is what I really wanted to do as opposed to sweating my ass off in a field picking fruit and living in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of nowhere (repetition intentional as, if you know anything about Australia, you know that the outback is bare as ****, like no one and nothing around for thousands of miles). Amazingly enough I found a substitute teaching gig at Kaplan in Perth - a five-minute walk from Jill’s place - my second week in town, and then another gig at another school the following week. On my fourth week in Perth, Kaplan offered me a contract to teach for them until the end of November. Everything came together so smoothly it was unreal. After staying with Jill and Ronan for two weeks, their extremely generous and equally awesome friends Jen and Mike offered me their spare room for three weeks for the pure cost of “paying it forward.” That’s the thing with living in Oz as an expat: we’re all in the same boat, we’ve all been there, and we’re all equally willing to one day return the favor. They didn’t have to, but someone had once helped them, and they were compelled to do me a solid for the sake of karma and the balance of the universe. Not only that, but I am now proud and stoked to call them friends of mine. As it should be… in the universe of balances and backpacking.
I fell in love with their town, Subiaco, only a 20 or so minute walk to my new job - and Jill’s apartment - and decided to find an apartment in that area. I found a sublet with a 25-year-old Tasmanian who goes by the name “Jono” (super Aussie). It’s in a gorgeous complex with a pool. Needless to say, after a few weeks of calm and comfort, I rediscovered an affection for a stable and predictable life, and I started missing home. Dun dun duuun.
But before I get to that let me tell you a little bit about a day in the life here in WA. I can’t express how grateful I am to James (see my NZ post) for getting me into teaching. I love it so much! These days I teach an afternoon class every day of the week and one at night two to three times a week. I have students that range between the ages of 15 and 50-something from Korea, Brazil, Colombia, Japan, Czech Republic, China, and many more. Their English levels range from zero to proficient depending on which class I’m teaching (elementary to intermediate). Our common point: we’re all expats. I travel distances via my students’ experiences, I learn about their cultures, and I make wacky jokes and presentations to make it fun for all of us (at least I think so). Every day is a new adventure, and I’m so glad for the opportunity. So yeah… life is awesome!
To give you an idea of what makes my job so fun, allow me to illustrate with some of my top moments:
- when teaching the pronunciation of “horror,” after asking the class to repeat after me, I heard a loud echo of “whore.” After a brief but unsuccessfully restrained giggle, I had to take it back a notch, reteach the pronunciation, and explain why their first attempt wasn’t going to slide. I also mentioned an alternative to “horror”: “scary.” Maybe that’ll work better.
- after teaching the word “funny,” one of my students asked if it was the same as “fanny” as she spelled it out for me in her notebook. The poor girl was horrified to discover that she’d been Facebook chatting and using the word with an Aussie, to whom a fanny is a vagina.
- teaching TLC (tender loving care), singing “Waterfalls” by TLC only to find out none of my students knew the band. They called me old. Even the ones that were older than me.
- my discovery that I am a terrible whiteboard artist… Upon trying to draw an electric guitar with spiky ends, a student interrupted me saying “Ooooh. Teacher….” I looked at my drawing and realized that I had drawn an electric penis. Quick, quick! Where’s the eraser?
This may not be funny to you, but this cracks me up and warms my heart. I’m a grammar nerd, let’s face it. It’s one of the many reasons why this is a perfect job for me.
Anyway, while loving my job and taming my lifestyle to put my best forward every day in the classroom, I realized that I miss working towards a stable future, and I know that I don’t want that in Australia. I miss my family and friends, and I want to be closer. So I’ve made up my mind. I’m coming home. For good. I think I got the travel bug out of my system, and if not I know I can get my favorite things about travel out of teaching ESL (English as a Second Language). So you see, the adventure continues. Still following my dream, but to a place closer to home.
My plan as of now is to stay in Perth until my contract runs out and then to spend the holidays in Sydney to reunite with my friends out there. Come January I’ll do a little more bouncing around. Since I’m all the way over here, I might as well get the most out of it. And to avoid spending all of my hard-earned money, I’ll head back to the US of A in February (NY to visit, Boston to live) to get the next chapter of my life started. And maybe, who knows, I’ll put it all in a book some day. Until then, thanks for reading. I’ll see you on the other side. x
My initial “plan” - and I use the term lightly because there is no such thing really when you’re backpacking around the world - was to move to Melbourne because I prefer it to Sydney. And that’s kind of how it is over here; you either prefer the one or the other (kind of like Boston and New York, if you ask me). Melbourne feels artsy-hipster and is spotted with European-esque architecture and narrow back alleys leading to hidden gems. Sydney is metropolitan and lacks charm, besides the Opera House and Darling Harbour.
I ended up moving to Sydney though. In terms of the “plan,” it made more sense: Sydney had more opportunities for my new career in teaching English as a Second Language, and I already had friends living out there, so I thought it would be a smoother transition.
Turns out arriving there in May was bad timing and the slow season for schools, so after two weeks of walking the city CV in hand and blistering the bottoms of my feet, literally, I settled for a job in a call center for Carnival Cruise Lines, its P&O branch to be precise. It was a steady, full-time job that paid $21 an hour, which was more than I was earning in America at a job I’d had for four years. It wasn’t very exciting, but it was pretty easy when people weren’t yelling at me for things I had no control over, which happened at least twice a day.
By night, I was living full-time in a hostel in the raunchy, fiery red-light district Kings Cross and working as co-entertainment manager with my newfound bud Simone, the Italian stallion, for the cost of rent. What does an entertainment manager do, you ask? Well, you organize the nightly activities in the hostel which mainly entails convincing patrons to stop drinking in the hostel common room after 10 p.m. and to join you at a bar for at least one free drink, so they don’t annoy and/or wake up the other guests. They get one free drink, I get at least five. It was quite the balancing act working a boring desk job during the day and coming home to be the “face of the hostel,” hosting the daily welcome meetings and peer pressuring people into going out when what I really wanted to do was put my pajamas on and crash. To be fair, there were definitely nights when my job at the hostel was nothing like a job but more like a typical night out with friends, only I didn’t have to pay for any drinks which was sweeeeeet. I made some amazing friends, and I wouldn’t take it back for the world. I didn’t want to have the kind of life where I worked all day and slept all night. I’m in AUSTRALIA, and you only live once. I wanted to party, have fun, and I got to do it with my favorite people on this side of the world. I saved a lot of money (or should I say “heaps”?) on rent, and I spent every day living my life to the fullest and forging memories. As you can imagine though, eventually the wild lifestyle took its toll, and I started getting tired. I was tired of working a mindless job and tired of doing the same things every night, every week. I didn’t travel halfway across the world to have a routine that I was only kind of, sometimes enjoying. And there was still Jill to go see on the other side of Australia. So one day I decided - and it was really as abrupt as I’ve written it - I was moving to Perth to be closer to Jill and to try to find a teaching job over there, and short of that a farming job to extend my visa for another year. Another year??? That was the plan anyway, but, like I said, those don’t exist out here. At least they didn’t until now…
Hey there, friends!
I’m sorry I’ve left you hangin’ for all this time. I dove back into the life of school and have just resurfaced. Funny how as an adult you can easily invest 100% of yourself in school without a second thought or any regret for the late night bingers you’ll miss out on. Maybe it’s because you’re there because you want to be and hopefully you’re studying something you enjoy. At least, that was the case for me.
Ladies and gents, you are looking at a Trinity-certified TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) teacher. I spent five weeks in an intensive program and got my first taste of teaching. I must say I was pleasantly surprised at how naturally teaching came to me and how much I enjoy it. I say “so far” because I have commitment issues these days and am hard to please when it comes to the whole career thing. One thing I learned last year is “life is like a box of chocolates…” so don’t resist it.
I’m one of those people who has never known what I want to be when I grow up. I used to torture myself about it and wrack my brain about what my calling could possibly be. Now though, I’m okay with not knowing what is it I am meant to do, and I’m also okay with the idea that maybe I won’t have just one career; maybe I’ll have lots of them. I’m driven and hard-working at everything I do (no, this is not a cover letter), so why not do everything? My trip abroad opened so many possibilities for me that it’s really hard to choose just one thing. Why must I only have one when I can have them all? Clearly, my trip abroad has also warped my self-esteem. Regardless… I am Steph. Hear me roar!
New Zealand has been a dream and a home away from home. I lived on Elspeth and James’s couch for 2 months, and they quickly made me feel at home, as well as their warm, wacky friends. I didn’t do much trekking or exploring while I was here (one, I’d done it last time I was in NZ, and, two, I was knee deep in books and schoolwork), but I still managed to have some lovely times with the Auckland crew, and I am so grateful for their welcoming embrace. I will sincerely miss them (see you at Elp’s and James’s wedding next year!).
As much as I love my Auckland friends - old and new (Facebook official means REAL) - NZ is a place I’d have trouble living in full time. Kiwis (that’s New Zealanders for the newbies) have crazy accents, drive on the wrong side of the road, walk around barefoot EVERYWHERE (restaurants, supermarkets, the streets), and have an all around islander vibe which is great, but also incomprehensible for a native New Yorker like me. Yes, New York City terrifies me now, yes I’ve developed a phobia of responsibility and being rushed, but I still can’t let go of my ingrained anxiety and fear of everything that makes me an American. What do you mean I can grill in this public park? What do you mean I am free to roam and take my dog wherever I want? And don’t get me started on the cost of living. Granted the exchange rate is $1 NZ = $0.75 US, but what is this about $14 NZ breakfasts and $2 NZ candy bars. Don’t get me wrong. NZ has a lot to offer: mountains, lakes, beauty, nature, views that’ll burn your eyeballs, but it gets small, and a city girl like me just isn’t cut for it. I need to be able to go shopping at 8 p.m. if the desire to buy lavish, unnecessary things tickled me, and cities need to take WEEKS to get around by foot (NZ towns are so cute and quaint, but, really, with my American ADD, I need more. I need chaos. I need noise). Now that I’ve written it all down I hate myself a little bit. There is absolute nothing wrong with NZ. There is something wrong with me. So I’m moving on.
I head out to Sydney on Monday where I hope to get a job teaching English (to the foreigners, not the Aussies) and eventually find an apartment or room to rent out. I’ll be staying in a hostel until further notice. As James likes to say as he overtly tries to convince me to stay in Auckland, I’m off to the land of ALL murderous animal species: spiders, sharks, crocodiles, you name it. I will sleep with one eye open, and I will love every minute of it. Why? So I can tell you everything that’s wrong with it when I decide it’s time to move on.
Seriously though. I love it every day.
Hello, hello. Writing to y’all from the tropical city of… Mamaroneck, New York. Actually, it’s snowing out right now, and I can sincerely affirm that, no, I didn’t miss the winter. Some people enjoy the snow and like to retreat to the couch, by the fireplace, with a good book and hot cocoa in hand. I’m not one of those people. I don’t really see anything good about cold weather, wet clothes, and white streets. What I like is white sand, hot rays of sunshine, and cold, wild waves. To each his own.
So what am I up to these days? What is it like to be back, you ask?
I’ve been Stateside now for a month. I’ve seen my much-missed family and friends, and I’ve shared my tales and pictures with those curious - and patient - enough to ask. The novelty of my return has faded, and now it’s back to the closest thing to “normal” I can get to. My friends all work 9 to 5, Monday through Friday jobs, and they all live all over the place, some in Manhattan, some in Boston, and others a Greyhound trek or flight away. So what do I do now? As any other useful citizen would, I look for a job to make some money to live my dream. Thing is though, one of the reasons I’m going back to Australia is that there aren’t any jobs here and that minimum wage is something around $8 an hour. So I deal with the ups and downs of submitting resumes, going to interviews, and making peanuts, only to sit on the fact that I’m leaving again in a month’s time. Then again, I can’t very well sit on my hands for that long either, wasting away, watching the walls grow, while the rest of the world goes round.
I had my fair share of battles upon my return, convincing nay-sayers and conventionalists why moving to the other side of the world isn’t such a nutty decision after all. I’m 27, and yet I find myself still justifying my decisions and having to prove something to my friends and family. I’m not crazy, I swear. And to me, this all makes sense, so hopefully one day it will to you too. Truth is I’m living outside of the box, and anyone inside will see my plan as escapism. I wasn’t always unconventional, but that’s what got me on that around-the-world plane ticket in the first place: my breaking point. Like I said, I’m 27, and I’ve decided to live my life the way I want to, not the way I should based on what other people expect, which to some, in itself, is nutty. I’m taking this one day at a time, and I’m going to make the best of it because, really, you only get one chance at life.