One year later
Trip Start Aug 08, 2008
43Trip End Oct 12, 2008
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It's been a little over a year since I last posted, and according to the counter this blog is still garnering about two hits per day. I don't know how many of those are unique visitors, but my mom swears up and down it's not her. Maybe TravelPod lies to its users to make them feel important (or, more likely, to make them view their platform as valuable), or maybe people are actually reading this. On the off chance it's the latter, I feel awed and touched, and compelled to update. Just once.
When I got back to Boston, I returned to my restaurant job and my volunteer ESL teaching gig. I also registered for a TEFL certificate program that ran Saturdays from January to April. After I completed the program, I found a part-time teaching job at a small English language school, where I've been working ever since. I'm still hanging on to the restaurant job, though, for the health insurance. I found a cheap apartment with three awesome roommates (four if you count the cat) in Somerville, close to my job and my boyfriend's place. Now I'm slowly digging myself out of the hole I created when I chose to go to Costa Rica despite the fact that the recession had halved my income and kept me from saving up as much as I'd intended for the trip.
It sounds so dull when I tell it like that.
What I want to convey, and keep backspacing because it sounds so trite, is what a profound difference those six weeks had on my life.
During the trip, I read Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. It's a brief history of the Easter Islanders, the Mayans, the Greenland Norse, and various other ancient societies that fell apart, and a look at modern societies that are currently in decline or might someday collapse, from Rwanda to Australia. The book makes a compelling argument that all of human civilization is now part of an integrated society that could fail or succeed as a unit, and that, furthermore, as a unit, we are probably fucked.
That last part probably has more to do with my perspective than Diamond's research. But real or perceived, doom has an odd way of making idle existential dilemmas seem urgent. I was twenty-five years old and couldn't wait any longer to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. In the back of my mind I've since been dimly aware of this burning need to settle things once and for all, and occasionally worried that I'd been too hasty to latch on to teaching as a result. I'm only twenty-six now, so I can hardly lean back in my easy chair, stroke my beard, and declare with inarguable sagacity that I chose the right path. But in the last fifteen months, my enthusiasm for teaching English has only grown.
I did resolve my earlier quandary about why it is correct to say, "the treasure must have been hidden," rather than "must has been hidden," even though "treasure" is not plural. (If you're curious, it's because modals, also known as auxiliary or "helping" verbs, take the conjugation and leave the main verb--in this case, "have"--in the base form; however, "must" doesn't change form for different subjects.) But the questions keep coming. What's the difference between "will" and "shall"? (Answer: historically, and to some extent today in Great Britain, "shall" is used to imply obligation, while "will" indicates desire, though many people use them interchangeably. Here in the U.S., "shall" is only used if you are trying to sound poetic or old-fashioned, and are also a) pompous or b) joking.) Why does "a nice big house" sound better than "a big nice house" when the grammar textbook says the adjectives "big" and "small" should precede adjectives describing an opinion or quality, such as "nice," and is reinforced by such cases as "big, beautiful women" and "a small, friendly cat"? (Answer: "Nice" functions almost like an adverb in this instance. It is used to amplify "big," and to indicate that this quality is desirable. How about a nice, tall glass of EAT MY SHORTS, FOCUS ON GRAMMAR SERIES! BOOYEAH!) Why do we say, "I'm on the bus," when in fact you are in the bus? (I still haven't figured this out, but I'm researching a hunch that it has something to do with the phrase "on board.") My students are surprisingly willing to take my word that X is correct and Y is not, even when I can't for the life of me explain why. I always promise to look it up and get back to them, and I keep that promise. I love the challenge of being stumped by my students, and the thrill of discovering and revealing the answers.
I don't know what's next for me. I'd like to find a teaching job with health insurance so I can do that exclusively. I'm thinking about going back to school, maybe getting a Master's in Applied Linguistics, partly to improve my chances of getting a good job and partly because this stuff just fascinates me. John and I have been batting around the idea of moving to San Diego. It would be nice to be close to my folks, the surf, and the Mexican markets, and I could surely teach English just as well there. But it would mean giving up my awesome neighborhood, which is so diverse that Union Square alone has about a dozen beauty salons each catering to a different ethnicity. It would mean giving up my car-free lifestyle, and the smirking superiority I get to carry around as a result. It would mean never waking up after tuning out the weather reports and being stunned to encounter a whitewashed world, silent and glittering in the morning sun.
It's a trade-off, no question.
For anyone who stumbled upon this blog in hopes of getting a preview of his or her upcoming CCS Costa Rica volunteer experience, let me say, I can't believe you're still with me. But here's my advice.
Wake up early with the sun. Wear Crocs. Keep your schedule and your expectations flexible. Nap with the rain in the afternoon if you must. Keep a log and take lots of pictures, but don't try to do too much. Take time to think. Take time to not think.
Don't drink the water if you can't vouch for its safety. Don't eat any fruits you didn't peel yourself. Understand that these precautions may still not protect you from a case of the runs, or worse. Learn the proper Spanish terms for embarrassing medical conditions, so you won't have to describe it if you come down with one. Don't argue with Tica nurses. Slather yourself in DEET if you must, but be prepared to get bitten anyway. Don't argue with locals who give you lame advice on how not to get bitten.
Stay in hostels. Befriend strange dogs and stray people. Join in when they're being silly. Use whatever broken bits and pieces of other languages you possess. Ninety-nine percent of people won't laugh at you for bungling their language, and the other one percent are assholes anyway. Eat new foods. Ask questions. If you can't get a hot shower, check the circuit breaker. Clean up after yourself.
Don't expect to change the world, but let the experience change you. Question your assumptions. Violate your own boundaries. Un-eat the forbidden fruit. Get a little sloppy with someone you trust.
Do good work. Protect yourself at all times. Drink some really good coffee.