With IATEFL fever upon us I pause to reflect on my career in ELT.
It is an exciting time to be part of the Irish ELT scene. For various reasons we have had to look over the pond to our UK counterparts for the past few years for TD events, opportunities and inspiration. The tide is turning and thanks in large to the inception of ELT Ireland two years ago, as well as a gang of dedicated and passionate professionals raising their voices for quality and development here in Ireland. ELT is an exciting, thriving and worthy industry to be involved in if you are willing to give something back.
As I look forward to attending IATEFL with the Irish crew, I look back to the fun and sort of related life experiences I would have missed out on had I not setbout in this field in 2002. And, as this blog is also partially inspired by the 11 things blog I started out with I will therefore nominate people to share their own 10 things!
1. Rodelbahn in the Zillertal
In Germany I worked for a language school with lots of lovely people. Our front line manager moved to the Zillertal with her forester husband around the time I also moved to Austria. As the Zillertal wasn’t far from where I as living (Innsbruck) and as I love mountains, I would visit her often. Getting to the tiny village where she was stationed was tricky as the only road was a single one through a rather big and imposing mountain. It was open for half an hour one way and half an hour the other way, so you were stuck if you tried to get there at the wrong time!
One night in winter we hiked up the very steep mountain behind the forester cottage, which took about two hours in the deep snow. At the top, thanks to being with the forester, we were allowed in the hospitality lodge where we warmed ourselves and got ready for the journey down. We grabbed wooden toboggans and sledged down – which took 45 minutes not including the times we fell off! The air and the silence of the mountains, the stillness of the forest, the stars against the inky blue sky – it was incredible.
When you travel you you get to see some amazing places. When you teach English and live somewhere, you really get to experience them.
2. Meeting the press secretary of a senior member of the royal family.
There was a bus strike in Venice. I used to fly in and out of Venice as it was the most economical way to get back to the UK from Bolzano, where I lived for a couple of years. (It meant taking the most extraordinarily breathtaking train journey imaginable – more about trains later).
So, I arrived in Venice and there were no buses to the airport from the usual Piazzale Roma. As various tourists wondered around I did the typical British thing; I found another British person and we resolved to solve this problem together. The retired gentleman I got chatting to suggested we share a taxi to the airport and we had a great chat on the way and at coffee after.
Turns out this man had been press secretary to a senior royal family member for many years and was a etiquette expert! And worked with a charity which addressed the needs of children in care, a cause close to my heart. He shared many wonderful insights. I dined out on that story for a good long while!
3. Spending most afternoons hiking or snowboarding
The timetable of an English language teacher/lecturer can sometimes be a bit annoying. You teach in the morning, and then nothing all afternoon, and then often have an evening lesson.
Determined to make the best of that, and always living more or less directly opposite a mountain, I would pack a lunch in the warmer months and hike up somewhere immediately after teaching. I always had a good book with me and so spent a lot of my time reading in the most beautiful meadows or enjoying stunning mountain vistas imaginable.
In the winter months I would attempt snowboarding! Being at the top of a mountain, surrounded by snow and black pine trees and quietness (despite lots of people) is a magical experience. You feel like you are flying and it’s very disappointing when your day has finished. You take off the snowboard and walking just feels so dull!
4. The students!
In what other job, tell me please, can you meet such incredible people? There isn’t one, I’m sure! You get to work with some extraordinary people who, truth be told, teach you far more about life than you end up teaching them about English. My students have had me in tears of both laughter and sadness, have celebrated birthdays with me, have shared life’s most important moments, have visited me when I moved countries, have showed me sides to the town I lived in that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, have inspired me with stories of the incredible hardship they have faced + overcome, and have kept me on my toes, reminding me always that they are what this is all about. Thank you!
5. Getting a train from the North of Italy.
This hardly needs further comment. Anyone who has ever stepped into a train station in the North of Italy knows what I’m on about here.
First of all, you are surrounded by mountains. Second, you can take a train to ANYWHERE. From the north of Italy you can jump on a train and be in a country completely culturally and linguistically different to where you started within one train ride. Third, you don’t need to take a book, any entertainment or talk to your travel companion. That view! That view is all you need!
I once took a train with a refugee family hoping to make it to Germany. She was 8 months pregnant, he was an educator and they had one little boy. My daughter shared her toys with him, gifting many of them. We communicated via Google translate. He saved us all with lightening quick reflexes when my heavy luggage almost fell on us as the train jerked to a stop.
I once missed my connection in Bolzano and was annoyed to have to wait for the next regional train to the village I was travelling to. Minutes later the Orient Express pulled up! For ten glorious minutes I stood open mouthed! What a sight!
6. Tour of the Porsche production line.
I used to live and work in Stuttgart. One of my in-company students worked in either marketing or HR (I can’t remember which) at Posrche HQ. I persuaded her we should have a lesson which involved a tour of the production line, so I could make sure she had the necessary English at the ready should she have to give a tour to business contacts…!
It was fascinating. Each Porsche really is custom made, with the specs for
each travelling along the production line to be read and followed at each service point. The production line starts on one side of a busy autobahn. It ends on the other. To get there the production line lifts up and raises the cars across the autobahn via a glass tunnel! The cars are then dropped down and brought to completion. It’s pretty cool to watch that from outside the factory late at night with the lights from factory and the road whizzing by.
7. Summer camps!
Ah, the summer camp. Most of the teachers at the school where I worked looked at the summer camp as a necessary evil. Taking kids to the mountains for weeks on end while the school was closed – great money but not fun.
I loved it! The journey up the Mendelpass, watching the roads close in as we left civilisation, arriving at our very sparse accommodation, starting with an adventure in the woods. Each day was filled with talent shows, horse riding, woodland adventure and English lessons. When we ate each day we were properly hungry!
On the last night we hiked deep into the Nonstal and stayed in a hut with no electricity, no running water and no bathroom. Or proper beds! We all pitched in to cook our food around a BBQ and told ghost stories! Brilliant!
It may be a coincidence but everywhere I lived + taught English has a huge tradition of the Volksfest. Be it the Oktoberfest, smaller village fests, Christmas markets or the delightful tradition of the Almabtrieb whereby you celebrate bringing the cows back from pasture (the whole village turns out and the cows are dressed up all fancy).
They are great fun. Warm, friendly, full of the gloriously untranslatable gemütlichkeit, not generally based around beer despite the photo below! Good fun and a great way to chat to the locals.
In each place I have lived I am fortunate to have had a group of friends around me who I met either directly through ELT or through living in the place where I was teaching. Verena, Laura, Barbara, Annabell, Marlene, Birgit, Izzy, Carol, Janice to name but a few…very lucky to have them in my life!
Growing up I never thought in a million years I would ever speak another language. The gratitude that I can do that (two languages apart from my mother tongue! two!) has never left me nor lessened. I still can’t believe that! I know it’s the norm all over the world, but it wasn’t ever the norm in my world. And living in the places where those languages were spoken mean I have lived + breathed them and won’t ever forget them.
I can still speak German and Italian well enough to do anything I want to do when I visit the places where they are spoken. Wow!