After leaving the restaurant, I was greeted by the hustle and bustle of a cold night and busy street filled with new and exciting sights and smells, though I didn’t notice any of this as I was too busy chatting away to my new colleagues. We had all just met and were excited to spend what was to become an interesting and eventful month together. As we reached the end of the street there was a sudden feeling of space and light, the conversation stopped. I looked up and saw a huge boulevard lined with old Victorian style buildings on one side and a promenade that followed a large river on the other. Across the river there was a huge wall of light where enormous skyscrapers dominated the night sky. I looked at my colleagues who were gazing around in awe and wonder, someone exclaimed, ‘We are so lucky, we get paid for this!’ I was on the Bund, the most fashionable street in Shanghai, and feeling very lucky indeed.
As a freelance teacher trainer I never tire of seeing new and exciting places when I travel for my work. We all love to travel, but when you get paid to be somewhere so exciting and new it seems to make the feeling just that little bit sweeter. Teaching gives you the added bonus of working closely with local people, learning about their lives, loves and families. In fact this is where you realise how similar people from all over the world can be, from my retired Chinese students in Shanghai who live to travel and experience new things to my fashionable young students in Saudi Arabia who obsess about Facebook and technology. I could relate so well with my Russian students who talk so knowledgeably about European history and culture, it’s only when they moan about how they had to go skiing every day in the winter when they were at school or about the occasional close encounters with a bear outside their University that you realise that you are from different countries and have had very distinct upbringings.
Another time when this hit home was when I was outside my school in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and was approached by a completely veiled lady. I had no idea who this person was, so when she started chatting away enthusiastically and asking me about her lesson that day, it came as a bit of a shock. It was one of my particularly lively and boisterous students who I had only seen before without her abaya (long black garment) and veil inside the women’s centre of the school. This is when I smile to myself, enjoying the fact that I feel so comfortable with these people yet we have come from very different places and live in very different worlds.
I would never have thought 18 years ago when I saw that advert in the newspaper saying ‘ Want to Travel? Learn to Teach English!’, that that moment was the turning point in my life. There was no Internet in those days, so I had to make a telephone call from the UK to Spain just to get the information, but within days I was booked on to the next CELTA course available in Spain. It was the best decision I ever made and means I have been able to enjoy the ‘Great wall of China’, turtles laying eggs on a lonely beach in Oman, wild animals in their natural habitat in South Africa, travelling from Europe to Siberia on the trans Siberian railway, reaching the top of mount Etna on a cold Sicilian afternoon, rafting past beautiful old villages in the Czech Republic and finally living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Seville, Spain.
Oh and of course, having that awe-inspiring moment in Shanghai when seeing my first glimpse of the bund at night.