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Tuesday, 21 May 2013

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

When I was a little girl I used to love playing the "globe game". I can remember countless times saying to my mom and dad "Watch me!" as I would place my finger on the globe and let it spin beneath my fingertip. When the globe eventually stopped rotating, my finger would be left pointing at a random part of the Earth. "This is where I'm going to live someday" I would eagerly tell my parents. I often think back to my six year old self and remember the little girl who loved looking at the globe and playing geography trivia with my dad during supper time. I wonder if I had any idea that my life would turn into a real version of the "globe game"?

Being able to not only visit a country as a tourist but spend time living in it, diving into the culture, and living day to day life in a place that is so vastly different from anything I know at home is possibly one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences I could ask for at this point in my life.
As a child I would start preparing for the first day back to school pretty much right after the last day of school. Shopping for school supplies and picking out the perfect new backpack every year (sorry mom) were major priorities in my childhood. I had to make sure all of my markers and pencil crayons fit perfectly into my shiny new pencil case. The notebooks had to be just the right colour and my lunchbox had to have that perfect new plastic, back to school smell. The first day of school was so exciting. I loved the feeling of entering a new classroom, meeting my new teacher, finding new friends and breaking in my new scented markers. 

As you get older the excitement of something new and unfamiliar starts to fade away. The first day of a new job is much like the first day of a new school year  - full of unknowns. I love those kind of days! But, after you graduate and begin your career, how many more times in your life do you really have those days? This is one of my main reasons I absolutely love moving and traveling. Walking into the unknown, anxiously awaiting to meet new friends and explore new places brings me back to the excitement of bravely walking into my Grade 1 classroom for the first time. 

One of the really great things about my career is the fact that it is so portable. I am able to live wherever I can find a good school that will hire me. I can create a life where I have those first day experiences quite often, as I travel to new places and meet new people. The best thing about teaching in other countries is that you get such an authentic feel for the culture as you learn through your students and their families. Each time I travel to a new place I meet amazing people who are warm and welcoming.
My children in the Bahamas probably taught me more than I taught them. Life in the Bahamas was my first real experience of living away from home (if you don't count University years). These bright eyed, smiling, dancing children taught me that I could find a home away from home. I went to school every day feeling loved because of twenty three amazing six year olds. The children emerged me right into their culture from day one. Learning that pencils and desks actually make the best drum kits, singing is acceptable (even during tests), and words like "thingum" and "mudda sick" are totally normal to use in everyday conversations. These kids became my life - from my little body guard boys who would protect me from the bugs that ventured into our classroom to the little girls who constantly wanted to braid my hair and to the parents that made sure I was always well fed by sending in traditional Bahamian dishes. Much like my Indonesian children right now who have taught me that a knife is not needed when eating lunch as everything fits on your spoon, Bahasa IS easy to learn if I focus, and a hug and smile from an eight year old can make feeling homesick disappear.

Living far away from home and experiencing life in a way different to your life at home certainly makes you reflect on what it is you have left behind. While traveling and living abroad you meet other expats who have chosen a similar life - they have chosen to leave behind what is familiar and try a life that is so different. One thing I've noticed we all have in common is how much we talk about home when we are together. We compare our home countries, our foods, our sports and our home towns. We brag about our families and our childhoods. We compare notes on the weather back home (and I assure them we do actually get summer in Canada) and we become curious about how the other celebrates holidays like Christmas. As wonderful as it is to meet the locals in your host country, it can sometimes be just as exciting to meet a fellow expat and feel that connection to home or learn about their home country. You learn that the expat you've just met who you may have considered to be culturally very different form yourself at one time, actually feels like family as you come to see your values are so similar in comparison to the values in your current host country.

As you travel and move you meet friends from all around the globe. You meet people you would never have the opportunity to meet in your small town back home. You meet people you may not normally be friends with in "normal" circumstances, but find out that they may quickly become your closest friend in this foreign place. Being alone in a new culture forces you to be both independent and forward. Meeting friends in foreign cities can be a challenge at times and can revert you back to your primary school days where walking up to someone and saying "Can I be your friend?" is totally acceptable (and welcomed!).

Through my time traveling and living abroad I've gained such a greater appreciation for my home, my country and my upbringing. I feel so lucky to have been raised in a beautiful country that celebrates diversity and differences and values all types of lifestyles. I respect the cultures I visit, but I also often reflect on the differences and am proud to be from Canada. As I sit in my somewhat tiny apartment in the heart of the fourth most populated city in the world, listening to prayer call from the local mosque, where I am surrounded by makeshift houses, rivers overflowing with garbage and streets crawling with ojeks and cars, I begin to prepare to pack up my life once again. Everything I need fits into two pieces of luggage. This luggage, like my yearly childhood back to school backpack is filled with all of the tools I need to start another new and exciting adventure!

My year in Jakarta has quickly come to an end. It's been full of adventure, unfamiliar experiences and some challenges. It's been a roller coaster ride that I'm glad I hopped on, but I am definitely ready and excited to begin a new ride and live that "first day of school" feeling all over again.

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