The other day, I drove north out of Delaware and through the city of Philadelphia by twilight. For me, this drive wasn’t out of the ordinary. I had driven between Delaware and New Jersey regularly throughout the past three years and at least twice a week during the previous school year. However, this drive felt charged with energy.
It was the evening after the first day of school at the high school where I had worked for the past three years. For the past three years, I had welcomed new students to the institution, leaning against a wall like a sullen teenager during the opening assembly, wrenching students out of their summer vacation relaxation through longwinded speeches in the stifling classrooms where inevitably a student would wonder aloud why such an expensive private school lacked air conditioning, and laying out my expectations with fresh markers on the wipe boards, knowing that I would be struggling only weeks later to squeeze some color out of the drying markers to draw the plot outline or literary definitions.
I like my life events infused with meaning, perhaps a result of those years teaching literature, and I could not help but remember a similar drive through Philadelphia three years earlier. This drive was later at night and in the opposite direction. It was nearly a month after I had begun teaching. I came back to the USA after two years of living in Germany and moved to an area where I knew no one. I felt a bit adrift and alone; I wondered if I would ever be able to create a home in the United States. I had returned in order to be close to my family and attempt to establish myself somewhere, put down roots, create community, but I was still maneuvering through those difficult first weeks in a new area. As a fairly young woman in her first job, I was also struggling against the restrictive hours of working full time and the difficulty of considering myself an “adult” when I was much closer in age to my students than many of my colleagues.
Three years earlier, I had spent an evening with an old friend eating pasta and sipping coffee and talking. For the first time, I had an in-depth conversation with someone about my time in Germany. Normally, conversations about my life abroad followed this pattern:
“How was Germany?”
“It was good.”
Then the conversation would shift into other topics, probably as a result of my desire not to appear like a snob or my awkwardness in encapsulating this amazing period in my life into an easy conversation. But, for the first time, I had an intense conversation about my two years abroad, what I had learned, what the culture was like, how I had changed. And, as I drove back from the town north of Philadelphia to my home in Delaware, the CD I was playing shifted.
As I stared at the city in the darkness, illuminated and full of so much potential, “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow” blared from the car’s speakers. In that moment, in my first days of “real” young adulthood and my first real job, I clung to the message of this song. I would persevere. I would succeed. I would make friends. It was going to be amazing.
It was and it wasn’t, as it turns out so much of life can be. I would meet some fantastic people, grow as a teacher, experience my first real love, but I would also get involved in relationships that would tear my life apart, struggle to find a place to belong in a pretty small place, and wonder—really? Is this it?
A few days ago, as I drove through Philadelphia heading north, I thought about that prior drive. I wished that “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” would blare from my radio again.
I quit my job in June. I spent the summer reconnecting with my family. I decided to spend a month in Germany and Eastern Europe visiting the amazing people I had met and taking some time for myself before beginning the next big adventure: working as an ESL teacher in South Korea.
Bookends. I left for Germany on August 21, 2005. I would spend a year working as an au pair and teaching English and another year earning my Masters. I returned to the USA on August 1, 2007.
I visited Germany twice during my time as a teacher, and each of these trips was an important event in my young adult life. I spent “Spring Break 2009” in Germany, and this trip pulled me out of some destructive events in my life and reminded me who I really was. I brought my boyfriend John to Germany for Christmas and New Year’s 2009/2010, and as I marked the coming of a new decade, I wondered what this year would bring and where I would celebrate the next New Year.
This final trip marks the end of my years as a high school teacher in Delaware and the beginning of a new life.
Here we go!