Exactly 6 months ago, on an unusually hot and humid day, I saw the twisting, stunning Ligurian Coast from the airplane and landed in Genoa, Italy with several new colleagues. It was the culmination of a whirlwind of planning that commenced around this time last year, as I started paperwork and the long process of packing up my wonderful, comfortable life in NYC for the adventure I always dreamed about.
I had been plotting and scheming a way to do this for so many years, even as a high school junior, contemplating attending college at the American University in Paris. Studying abroad in England, with weekends all over the country and the continent, ignited the travel bug; the summer after that study abroad experience, I had the fever big time.
I was heading back to England for my flight home after three weeks solo backpacking around Europe post graduation from college. I was sitting on my overstuffed backpack at the Bruges train station when a woman started talking to me, explaining that if I was a teacher, it would be easy to live abroad. “I don’t want to leave Belgium” I had told her. “I love it here.”
“There are jobs in Belgium and all over Europe at US Military Bases,” she explained. That stuck in my mind, and a fantasy began exploding, but honestly, I had no intention of becoming a high school teacher, with dreams of a Masters and eventually PhD in English on my mind. A tanned, happy girl in low pig tails, a dreamer.
We parted ways, and I kept that dream in the back of my mind but thought it would probably be something else that brought me to Europe. One day, one day. Maybe grad school. Maybe working at a hostel, I dunno. But I had to come back. And LIVE here.
Eventually, after backpacking around Australia and many other fun post-grad adventures, I started my MA program in English at Fordham University, then wanted to get a PhD but took time off to sort things out, get on my feet financially, and figure out my whole deal. I got a job as an adjunct professor at Iona College in 2004, when I had just turned 24 years old. That was so much fun, and I knew I loved teaching. A few years later, very happy but pretty darned broke, it was time to reevaluate — and I saw a poster in the NYC Subway: “You remember your teacher’s name. Who will remember yours?” It was an ad for the NYC Teaching Fellows. I realized I loved teaching, wanted to give high school a try and wanted to help the community I had been living in for many years as I lived by Fordham University, which happened to be located in one of the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the city. I applied after the deadline was extended, after I stopped hemming and hawwing, and before I knew it, I was in an overwhelmingly intensive summer training program. Instead of sunny days on the beach at my lifeguarding gig, I was in an overheated un-airconditioned classroom with 60 kids. Yes, 60 “Don’t worry, many will drop out,” said a supervisor as I watched kids sit on the windowsill and floor.
That fall, September 2007, I began teaching at a high school right by my apartment, and met wonderful colleagues and amazing students that I am still in touch with today. It was one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life. Although I only had a 2 year commitment, I stayed 5 years, 3 additional years after completing my Education Masters at City College. Then it was time to reevaluate again. Time was ticking, life was slipping away and I thought: hey, I’m not married, have no kids, no property, and no serious strings. Remember that dream? Remember it? GO FOR IT!
So, how did I figure all this out? I thought, ok, I want to work at an international school. I looked into the military schools, but you have less options to choose where you work. Even still, I did apply. But after studying in Norway on a fellowship in Summer 2010, I learned about international schools and how great they are. I thought, ok, what are some of the best schools? Looked them up, and then looked up who accredits them. CIS. Ok, so I applied to be a candidate for CIS, the Council for International Schools. I also entered my information, got recommendations from my principal and other supervisors, put together an application package, and I was in the system. I paid for some of my own International Baccalaureate training (IB) to distinguish myself from the heaps of other English teachers, trying to give myself that competitive edge and a school the incentive to hire a non-EU teacher. Although they tell you to be open-minded, my heart was set on Europe. I was coming from one of the greatest cities in the world, and I wasn’t going to leave it for anything other than my dream.
January 2012, I flew to London for a huge fair, and was overwhelmed by the response of notes in my email and my mailbox in the candidates lounge. A day and several interviews later, I had narrowed it down to four exciting prospects. But Genoa was number one in my mind. Let’s be honest: I saw the salary online and didn’t even contact the school, thinking, “Oh no way can I make that work.” I did not know Italy had a special tax exempt status for two years. But still . . .
So, one of my emails was from my boss in Genoa. He seemed so positive, and I was curious. I went to google maps, knowing Genoa was in the North, the food belt . . . but where exactly? And then “OMG, it’s on the water!!! Oh, right on the sea!” I enjoyed the interview and there was just something so unique about the school community that came across in the director’s presentation. He showed us pictures of Salty Cats Day, and I thought “This place is special.” So, I had options at other schools that were amazing but when the Genoa offer came in, I knew I had to take it. But not before I had one of the most sleepless agonizing nights ever as I tried to decide. I woke up, and after checking my email, I discovered my dad had worked out my financials to show me that it would be possible. And that . . . they would help. (It is in a very large thanks to them that I have a little travel budget!!) My mom, who was originally against my coming said, “Who could you be if you followed your dream?” It was simple and short. And I knew what she meant. I walked over to accept my position.
When I told my other prospects I had accepted another offer, one man said, “It is a good decision. It’s how I started my own international career . . . in Italy. You won’t get rich, but you’ll live richly.” It’s true. I may not be paid a fortune, but I’m paid a fortune in beauty. La Vita e Bella!
Flying home, I was walking on air. I ended up getting a taxi ride all the way to the airport for the same price as if I had transferred to the train (nice cabbie), and then when I flew out of London, I flew right over Central London, with a sparkling view of the London Eye, Tower of London, all bright and glimmering in the sunshine. I had never flown this way in all my years of flying to England. Everything magically fell into place.
When I came home, I was so ecstatic, I couldn’t contain my excitement, as I called everyone and then eventually broke the news on facebook for 86 likes and a bunch of comments and well wishes. “This is pretty much a combination of everything you love,” somebody wrote.
Everything was dreamy after that. I had a glow that just didn’t wear off. Oh, and then I received a message from the US Department of Defense to come down to DC for an interview for positions for the 2012-2013 school year. Ahh, but I already had my job! But still, so nice to be invited. 🙂 With departure on my mind, my life had a new trajectory and spark, and I began to carpe diem and savor every sweet, delcious, awesome moment of the life I was leaving behind . . .for now. It was half a year of celebrating and partying which was revved up in the summer for The Grand Farewell Tour, one of the best summers of my entire life.
I was elated and exhausted when I finally landed in Genoa. While I do miss home, especially everyone I love, I also am savoring every moment here because although I can stay international as long as I want, I know this particular experience, given many factors, can’t last. But oh, it is so so beautiful and it has changed me and my career forever. Whether I return to the NYC school system (They have Public IB Schools) or continue at an international school or seek another private school, I know I will always stay with the IB and that I will always have this experience tucked away in my heart, soul, and . . . the very fabric that is me.
Grazie Mille to my former self for giving me this great gift! Grateful for everyone in my life for all their support during this process. I have never smiled so much.
Today, I am in Dublin for my annual visit with my mother (who just got her IRISH passport!) and my Great Aunt Minnie. Instead of flying from JFK with them, I just met them here. I will certainly have a Guinness in celebration. CHEERS!
I’ll leave you with this video which is like my theme song while living this good life here: One Republic “Good Life” 🙂