OOOPS!! The Departure and Arrival
Misadventures of an International Teacher

Many of you have recently left your home in the United States to teach abroad. Some of you may have your worldly possessions now in storage or in your childhood bedroom at your parents’ house. Others have closed up your own home or prepared it for renters or house sitters.

This year we were not on the move, but I can’t help but think back over some of our previous departure adventures and misadventures. During the twenty years we have been in the international teaching market, we have been the happy owners of a 260 year old country home. We knew early on that we wanted it as our home base not only for us but also for our children so that they would always have a sense of belonging and stability. 

In the dozen or so times we have left our home to teach internationally, we have streamlined our pre-departure routines and perhaps have learned a few things as a result of previous mishaps, but there are some things that are just out of one’s control and always seem to occur when one’s life-changing, stressful, exciting departure is imminent, which leads to:

» A flooded basement on the morning of your departure (details I will leave to your imagination)

» You realize that you are going to have to take some last minute preventative measures against your pipes freezing during the winter. This entails a trip to the closest hardware store (15 miles away) for the needed supplies, crawling under the porch to wrap the pipes with heat tape, and finally unpacking one of the bags to find other appropriate traveling clothes as the others are now covered with dirt and grease.

» A quick trip to the local emergency room (again about 15 miles away) to address the allergic reaction to a bee sting while completing the last minute yard work.

» You almost cut your thumb off, cutting the last bagel you’ll have for the next ten months and have to travel with it all bandaged up.

» A stray cat has a litter of kittens in a near-impossible-to-reach crawlspace below the kitchen and you are about to close up your house for the next ten months. The local “humane” society is cranky about taking on a litter of six newborn kittens but threatens to call the police on you if you leave them in a box out on the porch. They finally agree to take them in exchange for a donation which of course we can easily afford since, in their view, we are embarking on an irresponsible and luxurious “vacation” down in South America.

» After setting off the highly toxic “bomb” (to kill off bugs and spiders etc… inside the house – not very environmentally friendly but helps when you are leaving a very old house uninhabited for months) and have everyone and their luggage out of the house, you realize you forgot something inside. Next, you find out the country you are headed to has been invaded and you realize you are not leaving home after all.

Once you are actually on your way to the airport, you might think you can relax a bit, however …

»You run out of gas on the way to the airport (good one, huh?) We were actually selling our car at the bus station and so had to drive it there, sign over the car, transfer all our baggage to the bus which took us to another bus that we took to the airport.

» Getting to the airport (four hours away), waiting in the check-in line with all your baggage (did we really need to bring all this stuff??) only to be told that someone had cancelled your reservation. The airline could get us as far as London but then we would have to be on standby for the next leg of the journey. Hmmm. Not an auspicious start. Yes, we threw caution to the wind and headed for London (with our house rented and our car sold, it seemed like the thing to do). And, yes, we did eventually make it on to our final destination following a few unexpected days in London. 

Once you are airborne, you are sure that all is well, all details of home and departure have been taken care of but…

» You realize at 3,000 feet that you forgot to turn on the dishwasher after getting all those last minute dishes into it. (yuck!)

» Did we put the garbage out?

» I thought you cancelled the newspaper subscription!

» With about 12 more in-flight hours to go, you come to the unfortunate conclusion that your two year old daughter is the one in a million exception to the “Benedryl will help your child sleep on the airplane” rule, as you walk with her (while also holding your sleeping one year old) up and down the aisles of the plane.

And, once you safely reach your destination, you’re ready to just get into your new school- provided housing and crash, but…

» Your school contact hands you a fax from your realtor saying that your renters have backed out of the lease agreement.

» You are informed that you will have a half an hour to “settle in” and then you are to meet your fellow new colleagues back at the school for an informational meeting..

» Wow, this ought to be fun, with two exhausted children too young to be left alone in their new apartment. On the flip side, in another country, we were picked up at the airport, driven to our apartment which was fully stocked with every food and household item you could think of (except the much needed cold beer), given a substantial amount of cash and told that someone would come back for us in three days after we had had time to rest!

» Your new school’s health insurance plan that you so carefully researched prior to accepting your new position has been altered to specifically exclude the specific coverage you were counting on.

» You discover, much to your chagrin, that the school site blueprints that you were shown during your interview have not been realized in actuality and that you will be teaching out of the other half of your residential duplex which also isn’t fully constructed upon your arrival.

Yes! Every international departure and every arrival is full of adventures and surprises. While they can seem overwhelming at the time, they can also lead to a lot of laughs down the road. Things usually work out one way or another and can tend to bring people together in ways that just don’t seem to happen back home. Perhaps this is one of the reasons, many of us just keep coming back for more.