I have serious concerns about my future. Ever since G-Day, more than a decade ago, I’ve been drifting from one job to the next, never staying in one place for more than two years. My CV looks like once of those old patchwork quilts and I don’t have any professional qualifications, apart from a TEFL certificate. Most jobs I’ve done were temporary, whilst others I quit because I felt trapped, lonely and miserable. Granted, I have some very good references, especially from my last position. I worked as an administrator for a prestigious organisation, but the demanding workload took a lot out of me and I finished last Christmas. I told everyone I knew that I planned on going to China to teach English. With those hasty words in their ears, my colleagues bade me a fond farewell, wishing me all the best of luck in my future endeavour. It sounded like such a good idea at the time and everyone was so impressed when I told them. I felt like I could get away from tedious office work and make a name for myself at last!
As winter gave way to spring, the demob-happy euphoria turned to boredom, uncertainty and fear. I finally got my act together and started searching for teaching positions. In doing so, I came across some very sinister organisations and plenty of horror stories from those unfortunates who ended up working in unacceptable conditions for little pay. Agencies like Sunny’s English School, Chinateach and English First were mentioned with alarming regularity. This caper was starting to look like a huge gamble. It’s one thing having a crummy job in a nearby town, but to be in that situation thousands of miles from home, with no support network, is the sort of thing that would drive me to suicide. No word of a lie.
You see, I have a history of depression, having spent most of my twenties on citalopram hydrobromide. When I’m outside my comfort zone (it’s called that for a reason, boys and girls), I have an unfortunate tendency to get very moody and suffer nervous breakdowns. As a little boy, I was very shy and even now, it takes me a fair while to open up to strangers. Moving to China for a year is a significant undertaking for anyone; for me, it’s a step of Brobdingagian proportions and one which, given my track record, could be doomed to failure. So why did I decide to do it? Well, I think it was because I wanted to escape my usual work routine, to get away from Shitsville and my nosey relatives. Most of all, I wanted to do it because I needed to be admired. My cousins all have careers and families now. My old friends are doing well and have moved on. I bumped into one of them the other day in Tesco. Good old Smithers! We had some fun times together. Now with a wife and daughter, the gangling oik seemed reluctant to talk to me. Perhaps he’s dissatisfied with his own life, or perhaps he never truly like me, after all. Nevertheless, I look at my Facebook contacts and see a catalogue of success, while I have nothing but emptiness. So I told all and sundry that I would travel to China, pull a magic wand out of my arse and everything would be hunky-dory. Or words to that effect. The admiring gleam in their eyes blinded me to the reality of the situation. Now that I have actually thought about this, it’s starting to look like a bad idea.
What if I do decide to go abroad and teach? Reading the testimonials from those who’ve done it, the entry-level positions sound like glorified babysitting jobs. Is that something I’d be comfortable doing for an entire year? Singing nursery rhymes and playing silly games five days a week? All that touchy-feely crap would most likely frustrate me. I need to be be able to talk to like-minded individuals (‘nerds’, if you will). If I find myself in China’s equivalent of the Mickey Mouse Club, surrounded by the sort of bouncing, cheery young things you see in the brochures, I’m going to go stir-crazy. Many who have taught in foreign lands will tell you it has turned out to be the best, most rewarding, choice they’ve ever made. So why do so many of them return to their country of origin? What’s the use in doing it for a year or two? What then? I have to think of my future, of my retirement, of my love life.
My girlfriend left me in February. We went for a stroll in the park on a cold, overcast morning while she geared up for the ‘dear John’. It duly arrived and I took it like a man, then she left me there on the frosty lawn, promising to keep in touch as she did so. She has done nothing of the sort. Perhaps she might have stayed with me if I hadn’t told her about the travel plans; then again, she might not have. Regardless, I’m alone once again and I can’t commit to another relationship here in England, even though I met a delightful Polish woman in the pub the other night who thought everything I said was really interesting. I doubt I’d have the time to form any kind of relationship in China.
On the other hand, if I give up on the idea, what will people think of me? They’ll want answers, for sure. What will I do instead? I wouldn’t mind getting an easy job while I get a new qualification, perhaps in programming or a new language. At least then, I’d still be doing something with my life and I’d finally be able to buy an X-Box 360. But would this be the coward’s option? What if, in this wretched economic climate, I cannot even get a low-level job? By my age, most people have achieved at least something. If I chicken out of the travel plan, will I effectively seal my own fate? Or are my misgivings a sign that my destiny lies elsewhere?
This is so very complicated.