My 2018 Heroine’s Journey…

I’m reading a book called You Are a Heroine, A Retelling of the Hero’s Journey, written by  Susanna Liller (a friend). In it she describes the journeys we all take throughout our lives. She names the steps along the way, provides practical exercises to help women hear “the Call,” and provides encouragement with her own real-life stories of heroines who are traveling this time-honored path. It’s a good way to think about my 2018, which has indeed been a journey.

It started with a swim in the warm pool right outside my apartment in Vientiane, Laos, where I was living. It finished with a dip in a hot tub surrounded by snow in the mountains of Maryland. In between January 1st and December 31st, I traveled to 10 countries, attended a wedding, a funeral, and a family reunion. I lay in a hospital bed, alone, in Thailand for five days, where I recovered from a bone infection. In the jargon of the book, I traveled through the Belly of the Whale, I met some Mentors, became a Mentor, and had to deal with some Dragons (women don’t slay their dragons; they invite them out for tea). I have crossed the Return Threshold and am trying to figure out what it all means and how to share what I’ve learned with others.

Several friends and family members traveled to Laos to visit me during my 10-month Fellowship with the U.S. Department of State.  I became a tour guide, a culture broker, and a companion for my visitors. I shared photos of exotic places on Facebook, and friends back home loved my captions. I felt an obligation to teach about the country where I was living. I accepted new Lao friends on social media – something I never would have done two years ago. My public profile and my private life are intermingled now in a way I’ve grown to cherish. Laos is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, and I’ve been getting wonderful Happy New Year messages for a couple of days. To imagine someone across the world thinking about me, carefully choosing a little gif in English, and sending it to me is a gift I would not have appreciated before I took a risk and moved overseas by myself.

Winter Break is a time for teachers to rest, renew, and recharge. For me, it’s a time to reconnect with my higher purpose. I love my job, but why did I take a year off to live abroad if not to share what I’ve learned with others? During this break, I’ve had a chance to reflect on what I did in 2018 and what I want to do in 2019. I want to continue rowing and staying physically fit. I’m lucky to be part of a welcoming rowing community. However, I feel pulled to travel again, to write about my experiences. Maybe I’ll try a long bike trip next year. I’ve recently connected with fellow writers through social media, and done a couple of manuscript exchanges. We’re all writing about faraway countries. Maybe I’ll get published in 2019.

In 2018 I made a presentation at a professional TESOL conference that connected me back to the English Language Fellow program, exposed me to new opportunities, and helped me connect with international English teachers. I now have Twitter followers whose names I can’t even read because they’re in a language whose script I don’t understand! Some of my teacher friends have retired this year. I’m not quite ready for that, but I long to teach in a quieter way – without bells ringing every 50 minutes. We’ll see where summer 2019 will take me.

I have finished one heroine’s journey and I feel only marginally clearer, more focused, and more powerful. According to You Are a Heroine, self-reflection is a key component of  claiming one’s true identity. The Milestones I’ve reached this year were the results of micro-decisions that helped me widen my view of what is possible. On January 1st I will make some New Year’s Resolutions that will guide me toward the next Call. Thank you for sharing this journey with me!

fullsizeoutput_4e5a Sunset on the Mekong River, Luang Prabang, Laos. March 2018.

 

Eleven days

They say that for getting over jet lag it takes the same number of days as there are hours of time difference in the new place. In other words, if you travel from New York to Los Angeles, it takes three days to get over jet lag because there’s a three-hour time difference. I’m now eleven days into my new life in Laos, a time zone with an eleven-hour difference from Eastern Standard Time. I should feel right with the world, but I am still actively adjusting to a new culture where very few people speak English, it smells funny, and I don’t have a car.

Riding a bike home to my little apartment surrounded by tuk-tuks, SUVs, and motorcycles without getting run off the road was a major accomplishment. Then I figured out where the little supermarket was and how to load up groceries into my backpack. Water is really heavy. Yesterday I met with Ministry of Education officials and didn’t understand 99% of what was being said. I need to learn Lao. But I looked good in a long traditional silk skirt that I borrowed from another American woman and had ironed by the lady who cleans the apartments. She also helped me figure out how to put it on. I’m pretty good at speaking via gestures – what would you expect from a lifelong English language teacher?

A surge of self-confidence wells up in my head as I cross each new challenge off the “firsts” list. Find a place to live, tell the taxi how to get there in the dark, find the bicycle that M. left me, pay for a meal, get the Embassy badge in just the right color, and talk to the little boy who lives in my building – hey he speaks English! I can’t complain: I’ve got air-conditioning, CNN, and a swimming pool. Who cares if I’m a little too far from the American Center to walk?

My job is a little slow to get started but that’s okay. A woman who’s been here for years told me that P.D.R. does not stand for People’s Democratic Republic – it stands for Please Don’t Rush. I’m happy to pace myself, recognizing that I am privileged to work in this amazing country and eager not to be a pushy American.