In just a few weeks, I will have 30 hours of transit time under my belt. As my legs stretch out on the other side of the world, my body will be recovering from some serious, 18-hour time difference jet lag. The season will magically flip from winter to summertime, and, at long last, I’ll be settling into my home for the next year: Christchurch, New Zealand.
With the start of a new life season, I decided it was time for the ol’ blog to get a face lift. I made the semi-arduous, mainly just complicated conversion from Blogger to WordPress. I even took the “.com” plunge and bought my own domain name: now it’s simply www.walkingwithjessica.com. If you would like to keep up with me while I’m in New Zealand, I encourage you to sign up to follow by email on the left-hand side menu.
Back to New Zealand. I’m about to do a lot of flying…
…to study here.
For you skim readers, here’s a pretty standard one-sentence response to those obligatory backed-into-a-corner Christmas catch up conversations:
You’re going to New Zealand?! Wow, how wonderful! For what?
Grad school I’m going to get a Master of Teaching and Learning to be a high school English teacher.
Where in New Zealand?
Christchuch, on the South Island. I’m studying at the University of Canterbury.
How long will you be there?
The whole calendar year. At least. I’ve heard New Zealand has a way of making people never want to come back. [Coy smile]
Well when do you leave?
January 9. Coming up!
And then you’ll have a Master’s, just in a year?
Yeah, it’s an accelerated program, so we’ll be in university class some, but we jump into student teaching pretty fast.
So…why New Zealand, exactly? Can’t you get a Master’s in America?
No, but really, I got a Rotary scholarship that pays for a year of grad school abroad. And I really love the outdoors. So if I’m going abroad, New Zealand it is!
How will that transfer back to the U.S.?
I don’t really know. Or care. I want to learn to be a good teacher, and I will learn. The experience of living abroad is valuable enough in and of itself. [Adamant nods of approval, “Oh absolutely,” confirming “Mmmm, yes.”] I’ll deal with accreditation bureaucracy when I get back.
And you’re going to be all alone?
Actually, my sister Georgia is studying abroad for the semester this spring! I don’t know if we’re living together yet, but we’ll at least be in the same apartment complex. I think it’ll be really special sister time.
Do you know what’s after that?
I’m not really sure. I mean, ultimately, teaching. But I don’t know if that will be in New Zealand or the States or Southeast Asia. And I’m thinking while I’m over on that side of the world, I should probably backpack for a while. I’m just gonna go first and see how I like it. I’ll let life pan out for itself a little bit.
Well I am just so excited for you. That sounds like an incredible opportunity. So on and so forth, bla bla bla, wet lip-stick staining peck on the cheek, andddd I’m in the clear.
I exaggerate. I really do love catching up with people. This conversation has just occurred so many times that it’s becoming scripted.
August of 2014 – yeah, that’s right, two Augusts ago – I got that scholarship I mentioned above, which was just about the greatest gift a rising senior in college could receive. I headed back up to Roanoke a week early for the interview with Rotary District 7570, which covers Western Virginia and Northeastern Tennessee. I got a call that same night saying I had been selected, and all of a sudden, every senior’s nightmare – the looming question of “What the heck am I going to do come May?” – evaporated. Jessica the Planner was in her happy place. Not to mention the $30,000 in my back pocket to fund my future studies. That definitely didn’t hurt.
I had a massive head start, and it looks like everything has finally come together. But the whole process has dragged on. And on. And on. Initial applications, FBI background check, interview dates, being accepted, actually getting the grant money, living accommodation, student visa… my steadfast, patient Rotary point of contact and I have been towing this baby through thick, sludgy tar for a loooooong time.
I think it’s God’s way of letting me not get too ahead of myself. This is a good thing. I will let it work out. But who is in charge here Jessica? Remember, palms up; I am sovereign. A favorite professor and mentor of mine, Jenny, forwarded an email about the scholarship in the spring of 2014, back at the beginning of my IJM internship in DC, when I still thought I was going to be doing some kind of human rights justice work. The global grant only funds specific types of study under Rotary’s six areas of focus. The only category that seemed applicable for me was “Promoting Peace.” And I’m all about peace, my capstone senior project was developing a peace curriculm, after all. But I didn’t really want to pursue it in grad school. So though it seemed like an incredible opportunity for someone, that someone was obviously not me.
While I worked along intern row that very cold spring, I discovered that staring at a computer compiling email analytics was not for me. Nor was being stuck in an office, or social work, or criminal justice, or law, or any of the obvious ways to directly combat modern day slavery professionally. As I gave a presentation one day, my childhood dream of teaching was resurrecting itself. It felt right to be in the front, directing, guiding others, interacting. I know there are thousands of ways that I could apply that role in a job, but that old familiar calling to teach still seemed most fitting. I like directly impacting others. I like to nurture their strengths, challenge their weaknesses, and see them grow. I like school. I like English. When it comes down to it, I am a teacher. For several years of college, I turned away from that calling, but I couldn’t deny it any longer.
I didn’t think of the scholarship again until mid-May. Jenny sent me a heads up that she had just found out the deadline was in a week. Was I interested? Could I swing it and pull everything together in time? I agreed with everything Rotary and this grant stands for: to advance international understanding, goodwill, and peace through service; and ultimately to create positive, lasting change in our communities and around the world. In an audacious but practical sense, Rotary develops world changers. Could I, would I, be one of them? As I glanced through the scholarship areas of focus again, another jumped out that I had not even noticed back in January:
Basic Education and Literacy
They want teachers! I want to be a teacher! I applied. I got it.
And here I am, a year and a half later. The scholarship was for 2015, but since I’m studying in the southern hemisphere, my program didn’t begin until January of 2016. So much has changed since I first found out about this grant. I have been in and out of a great relationship; I survived Senior English Seminar; I made new, unexpected friends. I graduated, spent a summer in Colorado, got a job I really loved, and lived in a massive, depressingly hot and flat city.
But through the surprises of the last 18 months, two things have not changed. First, I still want to be a teacher. I don’t know if I want to teach for thirty years. I honestly don’t really see that. But I do want to start there. Roanoke provided a great foundation in literature, but I still want to learn the art of teaching. Second, the Lord has remained faithful, as He has always proven Himself to be. Among so many other answers to prayer, I’m blown away that this scholarship pretty much fell into my lap just as I came full circle to the idea of being a teacher.
And, like I said in that Christmas conversation, it’s New Zealand! If I’m going to go to grad school, I feel so fortunate to be able to do that in hobbit land. After four months in Houston, my mountain soul is suffering from serious nature deprivation. I’ve got my Lonely Planet book, and I cannot wait to explore as much of this outdoor enthusiast’s paradise in the coming year as I can.
New Zealand, I am so ready for you. I haven’t quite figured out how to narrow all my worldly possessions into 65 pounds; I have to pack for four seasons, and student teaching and hiking don’t exactly overlap wardrobe necessities. After two years of short-term living spurts, I have also begun to feel like a perpetual nomad. I’m pretty tired of uprooting myself and starting over; it’s exhausting, and I miss the comfort of long-established, familiar community. Despite all of my bopping around, it feels very time to turn another page. Once more, I find myself moving to a foreign place, digging in, and somehow making a new home again. But this time, I know I at least have a year, and I can settle in a bit longer. This time, it’s New Zealand. This time, I am ready for the adventure of a lifetime.