When I left my most recent job in May, the Adult co-workers gave me a good-bye card, and the title of this entry, as well as the quote above, are both from what my boss wrote to me. I think about the first line of her good-bye message a lot. She was primarily referring to how I was about to go to South Africa, and then England, but I really do believe that she was alluding to “what comes next,” as in, whatever happens after New Paltz, immediately and in the long-run, is going to be an incredible journey.
That being said, when the time came to leave for England, I was a pile of stress, fear, tears, and excitement. Saying good-bye to everyone for a while and ending the lethargic routine I had developed this past summer was profoundly sad, but it still had an underlying sense of excitement to it.
I’ve reached a point in my traveling career where I go into a fugue, numb state on airplanes, which makes things like a seven hour flight feel like two hours tops. I feel like in general when long, mundane things are happening, like waiting in line for an hour in customs, as I softly dance to Carly Rae Jepsen, I kind of just zone and it’s over before I know it. The time from the plane, to Heathrow Airport, to customs, to my National Express bus (basically a British Megabus), was all a bit of a whirlwind. As I got off the British Megabus, before I was even able to soak in Luton, I was approached by two people.
The first was an elderly woman who was really friendly and waiting at the bus stop that I had got dropped off at. She ended up chatting me up, telling me about how she was about to go to the Lake District, which is a scenic place in the UK. She told me about how she was going there to hike a bunch of mountains and I responded with something along the lines of, “Wow, you’re putting me to shame,” because I planned to lie down all day. She told me all this as I casually unpacked my suitcase on the sidewalk to put on warmer clothes because I was unprepared for how breezy it was.
Moments after our short conversation, this middle-aged, kind of hot dude came up to both of us about his “situation,” which was that he went out Saturday night with his mates, who drove him here, and apparently just left his drunk ass here. ‘No wallet, no money,’ he tells us.
My default response to situations like this are “I don’t have any money,” which is usually true, but my new, elderly friend, we’ll call her “Mack” for all intensive purposes, [this blog is going to be like a tell-all novel, but I’m not going to name names] was not buying it. Mack told this dude he should go to the police and tell them his story because they have an obligation to provide a way for him to get home.
The guy told Mack, jokingly-ish, that if he went to the police they would arrest him, insinuating he’s some 30-something rebel who lives on the edge. Me, pretty much over the situation, just kind of watched this ordeal unfold and muse over the fact that this happened seconds after I got off the British Megabus.
Their back and forth went on for a few more minutes, in which Mack insisted he go to the police and this guy, realizing he wasn’t getting money from either of the British queens in front of him, fled.
After he left, Mack shadily tells me, “I think that law still exists, it did at one time, but you never know when someone comes and tells a story like that.”
“Haha, yeah.” – me
My first day in Luton consisted of me simply fighting off jetlag so I wouldn’t have a horrible sleep schedule. Didn’t pan out so well since I slept from 4pm to 9pm and then again from 4am to 8am.
As a means to fighting off jetlag, I decided to journey into Luton. Luton is an urban area about forty-five miles northwest of London (a thirty minute train ride). Discerning what the true nature of Luton is has been really interesting due to the super negative reputation it has. Why explain when I can show you through British dudes on Tinder:
And my personal favorite:
My take on Luton thus far, being that I have only been here a week, is this: like any urban area, Luton is pretty complicated. Yes, there are some unsafe and/or sex working areas after dark, but there are also so many families from various backgrounds that live here with small children. Post codes also work a bit differently here than in the States being that “Luton” actually consists of four different codes that cover a large area in England. My point being that to claim this entire place is one particular way is nothing short of ignorant.
I am in one of the ‘nicer’ post codes and am really, really enjoying it. Fifty feet from my house is this huge open, green park that, on any nice day, has people sun-bathing or children running around on the playground. I enjoy going to the park for runs because it’s so open and hill-y.
I am of course remaining vigilant, because I am a foreigner in a different country, but I am also choosing to be optimistic about Luton. This is where I am going to live for at least a year, so I don’t really see the value in looking for things to dislike and hate. I also keep having conversations with locals and, based on their accounts, I think I’ll be fine.
But back to the narrative: on Day 2, I was itching to Get Things Done, so I arranged a house viewing at 2pm, which was also the exact time I was being kicked out of my Airbnb. For this next story, I need you to really, REALLY visualize and imagine what it is like to carry three suitcases (and a backpack) of basically everything you own, with only two hands. Because I got the boot from my Airbnb, I had to lug around my 140lbs. of luggage with me until the people whose house I was staying at that night, returned home from work.
I show up to this house viewing with all my suitcases:
looking a little mental because ‘hey, this is only a viewing; you can’t just move in, psycho.’ As soon as I met the property agent, I was like, “Haha, I know, I’m not moving in, I just had to take my luggage with me, long story!!” She was fine with it, but I was a little sweaty because I was hauling around everything I needed to start a life in different country.
Spoiler alert: I take the place.
look at those quirky bedsheets #WhoIsShe
The process of securing the the house was not as cute as my room’s aesthetic, it was expensive as hell and fairly infuriating, but you’re looking at the newest tenant of this bad boy:
But back to the suitcases:
So after dealing with the whole “Not Being Homeless in Luton Anymore” process, I thought, “Hey, why not go to the post office 30 minutes away to get this visa-related thing?” I summon an Uber to take me to this post office and with my three suitcases (and a backpack) in tow, I’m off.
Apparently, this post office was not in a building by itself, like one would imagine, but instead it was a part of a three-story mall?? Me, being me, and not really bothered by looking manic in public, hauled my three suitcases across this mall in search of this mysterious mall post office. I had to stop every 50 yards or so because I was carrying 140 POUNDS OF LUGGAGE.
But anyway, I eventually find this damn post office and of course it’s attached to a pharmacy and of course, of course, the post office is another 50 yards in, buried in the back inside of this pharmacy/bookstore/who even knows what place.
I get to the line for the post office and I am just about over the suitcases, so I leave them, within eyesight, unattended because there was no way in hell I was maneuvering these three hellbags through an intricate, confided post office line.
The answer is they don’t, people were so unphased by this it was actually a little worrisome (TSA is probably having a fit reading this blog post).
I wait in line, while my travel companions loaf around with the discount books, only to be told that this stupid visa-related things isn’t even in?? Me, annoyed that I just spent $30 on a Uber and dealt with these damn bags just to hit a metaphorical brick wall, unlike that one time in college where I walked into an actual brick wall (http://tinyurl.com/zrlomm5), decided to try to turn these lemons into Lemonade™.
I tried to get a bank account, because in order to do anything here, you need a bank account, but me being a silly, foolish American [ass](u)[me]d wrong. Apparently, in the UK, any bank you go to requires that you make an appointment, weeks in advance, to open a basic checking account.
I was pretty much over the mall at this point, so I decided to get out of there and call my my second $30 Uber. Obviously, I exit this mall and end up on like a highway where an Uber would not be able to get me. So, I trudge on with my three suitcases until I am rescued from without.
A woman, probably in her 50’s, shows up, almost out of nowhere, to offer me help with my suitcases. I was at the point where I barely even pretended to be like, “Oh no, you don’t have to help, sis!!” I was like PLEASE/THANK YOU.
Honestly, I tried to do small talk with this woman, but she really was not giving me much. We’ll call her Susan (why not?). Susan had messy, white hair, some fanny-pack-esque bag wrapped around her waste and a heart of gold. She didn’t really understand what Uber is and insisted on taking me to a bus stop to be picked up at. Susan carried my biggest back for 15 minutes as I trailed behind unsure if this experience was real.
Sue eventually gets me to a bus stop and, she was right, it was an incredible spot to be picked up at, parts ways with me. I thank her and tell her she went above and beyond what was required of a decent person and she really, again, didn’t give much indication that she was bothered or happy to do so.
And then, as quickly as Susan entered my life, she left it.
Susan literally crosses the street only to disappear through a thicket of bushes like a nymph that helps you with hand luggage.
I begin manically laughing at the bus stop because I was in utter astonishment that this experience actually happened. This single experience made me think, “I need to blog about this,” which is why this page exists.
This was the one and only day I took the train to work because my ass is NOT walking a mile from the train station to work twice a day, every day, but cherish this selfie while it lasts.
There’s a lot I can say about my job, but I’m not going to get too explicit talking about it because a digital trail documenting my place of work probably isn’t the brightest idea. For starters, I want to say that I really, really love it. All my co-workers are incredibly welcoming and friendly, and so many of them are just absolute queens. This one woman will, at the drop of a hat, help me with anything I need because she is just that type of person. Another person has so many obligations, responsibilities, and just so much on their plate, but they keep rolling with it and laugh along the way, which I love and applaud.
What I can talk about is how differently schools are run in the UK vs. the US. I think a good place to start is that teachers don’t have to be full-time here? In America, from what I have seen, teachers have four to six classes, depending on how the school runs, and they’re there every day for five days a week. Here, you can do part-time, which I think is about half the load?
You might think, “Well, that’s kind of weird..” but think about it: any person who just had a child can do part-time, and go back to full-time when appropriate, and, more commonly, if you love teaching, but find yourself burnt out on the lesson planning, housekeeping, professional development, etc., you can draw back. I know there’s more layers to it than that, but that notion alone is reflective of how it seems that the UK system cares a bit more about its teachers than America does.
Honestly, days 3, 4, 5, and 6 were basically commute:school:commute:get small amount of work done:sleep, repeat. But some fun highlights are that the to kill time in class, I would do an open forum to my students where they ask me questions about America. Here are the few I remember:
- “Have you seen a celebrity walking in the streets?”
- “What is ‘hump day’?”
- “Have you seen gangs?”
I teach grades six through ten and I am really excited about it all, in fact, I should be planning instead of doing this blog, so let’s reach a final note here.
a tale for the ages
After that sweaty train-walk fiasco from Day 3, I figured out how the buses work and am a frequent bus goer now. Every morning, I take the front row of the second floor on the 24H double-decker bus because I am a tourist.
me, in front row, and the view from my throne
I love it so much. I get to just listen to my podcasts or music as I am chauffeured four minutes walking distance from my job. Every day, when I get on that return trip home, I am so happy that I took this opportunity and came to this country; I don’t think I have felt this way ever really. There is nothing in this country that is pulling me down, preventing me from doing what I want to do. Realistically, there never really was anything like that in America, but here it feels like I got a reboot where anything can happen.
Here’s to hoping weeks 2 to however long I stay here are as great as week 1.
P.S. Yesterday, Day 7/Saturday, as I was again trying to get a bank account, I saw the guy from Day 1 outside a bank (the kind of hot dude Mack went in on)!! I was able to distinguish him because he was wearing the same exact clothes as six days prior. So tl;dr his story was bogus and he may be homeless; I really do hope to encounter him again.