Wednesday, November 19, 2003

More from Venice:

Sometimes my busy mind wanders onto the subject of what I’m going to do come the next academic year (or, more to the point, where I’m going to go).

My ‘plan’ (I put that in quotation marks because the idea of a plan in one’s life is something I still can’t quite take seriously. I’m getting accustomed to the idea but my youthful love of unknown adventure still exerts a strong hold. Certainly I still sneer at those crazed uber-ambitious fools who talk about their City careers in terms of the five-year-plan) is to go back to Uni in two or maybe three years and do a Master’s degree: Applied Linguistics or something similar (there’s a course at Edinburgh on The Evolution of Language and Cognition which looks fascinating; unfortuanately I’m not sure what I’d do with it afterwards if academia didn’t, after all, appeal).

Anyway, that’s someway down the line; I mention it only to highlight that I expect to only be doing this for a couple more years. So, given that, what of next year? I could remain in Italy – indeed, in Verona – but I feel I should take the opportunity these few years present to expose myself to different places and different cultures. So: where? There are two options at the top of the list: Spain and Japan (or possibly somewhere else in the far-East).

Yes, they seem very different but they both have their reasons:

• I can develop my Spanish into something really confident and solid. I hesitate to say fluent as that’s a much bigger acheivement than most people appreciate but certainly I could get close; this is a more valuable skill than the basic Japanese I’d learn with the other option. The fact that I already have a decent grasp of the language is also in Spain’s favour.
• I’ve already spent enough (non-holiday) time there to know I like and enjoy the way-of-life: the hours, the habits, the food and suchlike are all extremely aminable to me.
• It’s close enough to home to know that I’d be back at Christmas and that I’d receive visitors.
• It’s in Europe; I love Europe and I love being in and part of Europe. Simply being here (and I include the UK in my idea of Europe) makes me feel close to the centuries of innovations, thoughts and acheivements that have taken place on this little spot of the globe. Maybe that’s because I am European but I wouldn’t (indeed: don’t) feel the same elsewhere and whether I should or not isn’t the relevant point: I do and that – in an good and appreciated way – ties me to the place.

• It’s easier to find a job and it pays better. Much better. I thought of the idea in the first place whilst contemplating my present (relative) poverty: comparing my wages now to what I used to earn in London is horrifying. Anyhow, out-East a teacher’s salary goes a lot further than it does in the teacher-saturated lands of Southern Europe.
• I would develop more as a language teacher there. I've taught Spanish speakers before and - with the exception of a few Chinese students in Brighton once - I've only ever taught speakers of Latin-based languages. Japanese speakers would present a new challenge and make me think about my language and my teaching in ways that I won't in Europe.
• It makes an excellent base for exploring a part of the world – Asia, let alone Eastern-Asia – that I’ve never been to. And it’s a great excuse for an overland backpacking trip to get there: it’s been a few years since I backpacked and I’d quite like to do a little more.
• It’s new culture and another different experience; it’s fun and good to expose oneself to such experiences and I know that, as I get older, I’m less keen and less likely to do so. Maybe I should whilst I’m still open to the idea.

It feels as though Spain is the safe option but Japan the gamble. When thinking in such terms I’m reminded of one of my favourite poems: The Road Less Travelled by Robert Frost. I agree with its sentiments:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Indeed, I’ve always subscribed to those cliches about not regreting what you have done. On all these grounds I should choose the East. However I don’t feel as keen on the idea as I do with Spain; I’d be doing it more because I know it’s the healthy and challenging thing to do. I think this is a small sign of me getting that little bit older (or, I prefer, that little bit more mature...); I know better who I am and what I want now: I’m more settled in my mind than, say, five years ago (when there’d have been no question over choosing the big adventure). But maybe, recognising this, I should go for it whilst I’m still open to it as I probably won’t be in five or ten years time.

Ok, I’ve angsted (can I use that as a verb?) over this for long enough and it’s not a decision that needs to be taken anytime soon. In fact something – a new crazy idea maybe or, y’never know, love – could well change all this thinking. But there’s no harm in thinking it through anyway. What do you think?

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