A lifetime ago – well, mid-June – I left Tokyo, where I'd been teaching English for almost six years. The time was well-overdue to leave and armed with the knowledge that I had my next two jobs sorted out, I trotted back to London for a summer of campus life teaching English to foreign teenagers.
This is an extremely quick overview of the summer – before I head to Libya tomorrow.
I found London life pretty overwhelming to start with, having only been back for six days over the whole period I'd been out, and I suffered from major sensory overload at first, exaggerated by sleeping, eating and teaching on the same site all week and not really seeing the outside world.
One of the things I loved about Tokyo was the ease and ability to tune out what was going on around me. I didn't understand people, and so they didn't bother me or distract it. It was simple really.
In London though, I did kind of understand people – although it did take a while to get my head around some English accents which was strange and involved a lot of concentration and an annoying inability to tune out what people were saying. If I was at a pub, I found it hard to listen to what people were saying as I was so distracted by conversations around me.
I also found that because I wasn't spending much money (I didn't have the time to),every time I opened my wallet I got confused by the coins. For quite a few weeks! I found them a funny size and weight and I'm sure they've all changed design and / or weight and / or colour in the last few years.
London is not built on the idea of convenience. At all. If you don't have the exact money for a machine, forget it. Or you have to hunt around for a shop that can help you. Vending machines? You must be kidding! If you can find them, can you actually trust they'll do what you want them to? Namely, take your money (exact change only in many cases, remember?) not keep it and actually give you a drink back in return.
Train stations? I found them understaffed, bloody expensive, and with machines that only sometimes worked – and often wanted exact money only. Dirty, smelly, messy, no aircon on the trains...
I basically enjoyed myself though and time flew by. The days were hot constantly at the beginning and the evenings seemed to stay light forever, which I found really hard to get used to again as Tokyo gets dark so early. In London, it was still light around 10pm for part of the summer.
I taught teenagers at a summer school on London's largest university campus. Most of the teachers, and all of the students lived on site, and there was a canal alongside the campus, which was lovely to sit by, chatting to the other teachers or drinking chilled wine. It would have been a shame to not have taken advantage of the weather.
The teaching was very different to what I'd been used to. In Tokyo, on the whole, books were involved and syllabus and pacing dictated to us. In London we had rolling enrollment. Students came for one to three weeks and then left. Every week classes would have members joining or leaving – and there were no texts to follow - just 90 minute slots to fill.
Some of the students were lovely. They generally came in large groups, mainly from Italy, Russia, Greece, Slovakia and the Ukraine. There were also Jordanians, Kazahks, Germans, French..... It was certainly interesting to learn about their cultures and to see who was the best behaved, had the most 'attitude', and so on. And, as far as teaching went, it was challenging. Although quite exhausting by the end of the summer.
The social side of things was reasonably limited. As teachers, we always went out (to the same pub) on a Friday night and the rest of the week didn't really do that much.
For me though, this wasn't a problem. The teaching was tiring and I found being around the same environment and same people all the time to be exhausting. When I wasn't teaching or prepping, I didn't want to be wasting money in the pub – I prefered to just chill out in my room.
And of course, a summer in London meant being able to catch up with and spend time with the friends I'd been missing whilst I'd been away. And that, to me, was the best thing. The weekends spent hanging out with my old London friends. Enjoying them and enjoying London.
Summer school drew to an end. In the final week teaching went down to mornings only and teachers led activities in the afternoons and at weekends. This involved having to wear a lovely orange t-shirt but, the less said about that the better! Highlights of this week included going to Stratford-upon-Avon (bloody awesome) and seeing both 'Wicked' and 'Grease' (musicals) for free. Awesome!
As everyone packed up and left, I was in the position to have two weeks holiday available before Libya so I packed up and went off. Luckily the visa I'd been waiting 3.5months for came through just days before I was due to hop on a plane and fly off into the sunset – er, Glasgow.
Why Glasgow? Why not. I wanted to see the lovely Nix and hadn't ever spent more than a half day in Glasgow before. Although the trip started off rather cold and wet, the weather, thankfully, cleared up somewhat and was nice and hot and sunny, which made going out so much more inviting and it was lovely hanging out with Nix, mooching around and seeing things in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh – including a few things at the Fringe Festival.
After that I went off for a few days in Oban and Mull by myself – which were breathtakingly beautiful and very peaceful – and just what I needed in the build up to the new job.
Next stop was Paris to catch up with Jen, Jan and the adorable twins. Two days were spent just hanging out at Jen's and near the house – which was fine – it was the main reason I went there. I've lived in Paris before so sightseeing wasn't that high on the agenda. Saying that though, I did have a lovely day of walking my feet off with Elise on my final day. The weather also behaved impeccably and I fell for Paris all over again!
So, now I'm back in London and off to my new adventure tomorrow.
People keep asking me: why Tripoli? Why on earth am I going to Libya? Well... it really comes down to timing. I was desparate to leave Japan but my timing was wrong. I got persuaded summer school was a good idea. (It was). But that left me back in February knowing I had a summer job and knowing I'd need something for September - and not many jobs get advertised so far in advance. I also knew which employer I wanted to target and, well, things just kind of came together and thus... Libya.
I'm excited. A little nervous, but mainly just excited. I've armed myself with as much information as I can, but still don't know the reality will match the expectation in any way.
Come back to the blog to follow me on this adventure...