Part 4: Time to Go Abroad Again
The trips and time away had made reintegrating a bit easier, and I didn't feel the same overwhelming feeling of reverse culture shock. But, I knew I wasn't entirely done yet with traveling. Some people call it the Travel Bug..., and I had it.
Once I got home, I decided to continue learning about teaching abroad and enrolled in a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program in Seville, Spain. I left shortly before the course started to travel through Europe a bit before the course, stopping in Amsterdam, Netherlands, meeting up with another friend, and taking a train to Paris, France, and then to Heidelberg, Germany. The train was a great way to get around; officials checked passports as you crossed into each country.
After a few days in each city, we traveled to Frankfurt, Germany where my friend and I parted ways and I was on a flight to Barcelona, Spain to finally take one last train to Seville, Spain.
In the train station, I met a very well-dressed businessman who had lost his wallet and couldn't get ahold of his secretary. Instinctively, I was very hesitant to help out but this guy chatted me up for nearly an hour while we waited for our trains. So many things were going through my mind, wondering what my next steps should be; walk away, or continue listening. He needed some money so that he could stay at a hotel and would wire me the money as soon as he got to his bank and replaced his cards. Well, I finally had to help. It wasn't much, but I couldn't leave him stranded. We exchanged numbers and I boarded my night train to Seville, looking forward to reconnecting with the man in a few days.
On board the train, I met two Iranians who I was to share my sleeping car with. We chatted for a bit as it was nearly 11 pm and they talked to me in broken English about their Islamic faith. I was tired from a long day of travel but was fascinated to know more about a religion I knew little about. They let me hold their Quran (the Holy Book or the Scriptures of Muslims), however, I had to have a cloth draped over my hands so my skin wasn't in direct contact with the document. After our conversation, I went to bed in preparation to get to my new class in Seville the next morning.
After exploring a bit I found my favorite building.
Fast forward to 3 days later, this businessman who I'd met at the train station had kept in touch the whole time and had planned to meet me in Seville to give me my money back in a few days. As the day rolled around, and the next, I never heard from him again. Oh, well. That was my first time meeting a professional con artist. If he really did need the money, though, I knew I had to help. The best part of traveling is all the people you get to meet and keep in touch with...and all the experiences you get to learn from along the way.
The 3-week course in Seville was eye-opening. I met a wonderful group of strong and amazing women. We experienced a new culture together while learning so many skills and laughed so much along the way.
We also happened to be in Seville during Semana Santa (Holy Week) which is the annual tribute of the Passion of Jesus Christ celebrated by Catholic religious brotherhoods and fraternities that perform penance processions on the streets during the week immediately before Easter. These processions include large lifelike painted wooden sculptures that can weigh over a metric ton and are carried on the shoulders of 24 to 48 of the volunteer church members. Some of the images are artistic masterworks of great antiquity.
Here's one video of the procession and one of the sculptures being carried slowly down the street at night. These processions happened all day and all night.
After graduating and saying goodbye to some of the other students, it was time to find a job. I worked at an English school in Seville as a substitute teacher for a couple of months but then decided to move to Madrid, Spain, to find a long-term full-time job. Staying in a hostel for a couple of weeks, I interviewed at a few companies and ended up working for a private school called Club Ivy. I lived and worked in Madrid for all but the summers (as they were over 40 degrees Celsius and people left the city for nearby beaches to cool off). I taught English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and exam preparation courses (including TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GED, and TEFL). My main focus at the school was in GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) for entrance to an MBA (Master of Business Administration). I was the only one who taught the course at my school and this meant I was the only one who got to work 6 days a week, with classes on Saturday from 10 am to 3 pm. I enjoyed every minute of my teaching experience, though. It was so satisfying to teach tips and tricks for students to use and then come back to me to tell me their success stories.
Regardless of the long hours and packed work weeks, I was able to get away a few times and explore more of Europe. The first trip I took was to Athens, Greece with a friend from Madrid. We visited the Acropolis where the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, and many ancient sites still remain today.
We then rented a car and traveled around Greece, visiting Corinth, Olympia, Epidavros, Patras, Delphi, Lamia, and Thermopylae (Thermopyles).
We also enjoyed many Greeks salads, olives and a few rounds of Ouzo (which I was surprised that I enjoyed as I don't like black licorice). Every place was a living museum and you couldn't go anywhere without stumbling upon a piece of Greek history. Also, Greece has cats EVERYWHERE!
And more cats.
One of the most interesting places was in Thermopylae, where the famous battle between 300 Spartans & 700 Thespians fought against the ~1,700,000 Persians in 480 BC.
My second big trip out of Spain was to Rome, Italy just after New Years' 2009. We were only there for 5 days but attempted to see as much of the city as possible. From the Tomb of the Unknown Solider to the Colosseum, and to Vatican City and Trevi Fountain. We found there were so many tourists even in January. I decided on my birthday, January 5th, to stay in the hotel rather than visit the Sistine Chapel. It'd seen enough of it on TV, movies, and just didn't want to fight my way through the throngs of people. Maybe I should have, but it was a nice day to unwind as well.
On our last day in our hotel, we were woken at 6 am by a magnitude 6.7 earthquake. It forced us out of bed, and immediately I looked out the window to see the water in the pool below moving and the earth rippling visibly. Birds were flying around in the sky. This had been the largest quake I had experienced, and although I have always been enthralled by them, living through it was panic-inducing. It only lasted a few seconds, but it was quite a way to start the day. We were in a well-constructed and new hotel, but all I could think is about all the ancient monuments that likely had sustained damage. I don't remember hearing of any serious problems or injuries at the time though, as I looked through the news articles.
Apart from these larger trips, I did get back home for the summers and got to spend time with family and friends until the summer heat of Spain eased and I made it back in the fall. It was always nice to get a chance to give everyone a hug and share some of my adventures and hear about what had been happening while I was away. Video chats just aren't the same as in person get-togethers. After these last few years in Zoom world, I'm sure I'm not alone.
It was amazing how much I was able to pack within a few years of living in Europe. So much so that I want to take a breather and give you one as well. There is just too much to share in one post, including more adventures and time with family. I need to give it the time and energy that it rightfully deserves. Having these photos and videos to recount my adventures has been a great way to ensure my story can be shared. It feels like a lifetime ago yet at the same time just yesterday. Time is so strange...
This is another part of my journey and I hope you're enjoying the experience as well.
Stay tuned for more in Part 5: Final Adventures Abroad