This is a guest post by Georgina over at George Going Down for the ‘How do you slow travel?’ series. If you would like more information about this series or want to submit your own guest post, click here.
My family didn’t have much money growing up and as such our summer holiday every year was to a Butlins holiday camp with the £9.50 coupons out of The Sun. Surprisingly enough, those annual trips to Minehead didn’t really make me hunger for travel like I do now. In fact, until I received my AS level results (and realised that they were rather good) the only university I was going to apply for was Cardiff. My genuine belief was that Cardiff was the best city in the world. I was going to be born there, live there and eventually die there. I look back at 17 year old George and laugh; oh how things have changed.
Following my A levels, a friend set me up with a German exchange partner who I spent a month with the summer before University; 2 weeks in Wales followed by 2 weeks in Germany. This initial meeting was crucial for me because our friendship would take me on my first trips without a strict school or auntie-led itinerary. Our next two meet-ups saw us backpack up Britain (2 days in each city) and do various tours of cities around the south of Germany, where she lives. These 2-3 days per city rule seemed the perfect amount of time to explore a place, but that was before I became a slow traveller.
Since I was studying German, I was inevitably going to live in Germany for my year abroad. Much to my crushing disappointment I was not placed in the bustling city of Frankfurt like I had always dreamt of, but the small village of Rodenbach, population 9000, which lies 30 minutes away by train. I thought it was a disaster, but it’s funny how things end up being for the best.
Being in a village meant that I was the only English speaker, and I was forced to make friends with locals and to speak German constantly, which was wonderful for my language development. Apart from this, as the only non-native German speaker, everyone in the village knew who I was. I was warmly welcomed at the ice cream cafe, where I went almost every day after work, and I didn’t even have to bring my ID to the bank with me. I would enter and be greeted with “Hallo Miss Young”. I quickly got into a very comfortable routine. On Mondays I would have to work in the afternoon, so I would wander into the village in my lunch break, go to “Goldener Hirsch”, sit down at my usual table where the waitress would bring me a (small) beer, nod and say “bitte schön“. I was ready to give my order and all without a menu. I already knew all Pizzas were 3.50€ on Mondays and Tuesdays and which ones were my favourites. If I was feeling ill I would call the same restaurant and without giving my address (they knew my accent) they would drop round my favourite lentil curry (normally with a free bottle of coke.) The restaurant in fact knew me so well that when my mum came to visit (she was meeting me there after work) they ushered her inside to my table saying “mother mother”. Why else would there be an English speaking person in Rodey B (as I affectionately called it)?
The library on my first visit directed me to their English section where they had not one but 2 copies of Bill Bryson’s “Down Under”, which partly inspired my 3 months of travels around Australia the following summer. I had my own 1 bed flat (the first place I’ve rented all to myself) and I think about and miss Rodenbach almost every day.
But why was I offered a job in a tiny village in the middle of Europe? I was an Englischesprachassisstentin or English language assistant, and the choice to teach English was possibly one of the best decisions I have ever made.
If I had applied for an internship or university, I would inevitably have ended up in a huge city and my friends would have been other English native speakers. Teaching English not only gave me valuable work experience and life experience but it also made me realise that it was the perfect way to travel. English language teaching opportunities are available in almost every country in the world and although I used my position within Europe to take MANY weekends away in different cities and even countries (hello Ryanair), I was always comforted by the idea that I had a home to go back to. Every time the train arrived in Rodenbach station and I disembarked after a long journey I always had this sense of peace and happiness inside of me that almost moved me to tears (though I do cry about anything including the end of Hocus Pocus!). I felt I left Germany with a part of it inside of me even if that part is only the inability to make small talk or write short sentences (sorry).
Teaching is not only a stable job with plenty of breaks to go travelling in and a contract you can cancel at the end of every year (if wanderlust strikes again) but you also feel like you are making a real difference to the children (and I don’t just mean in their grades). I still keep in touch with some of the older girls and have the picture they gave me in my room. Teaching and travelling changed me and now I can’t see myself separating the two for very long. I even tutored German in Australia!
I have now applied to teach in Japan and let the slow travel continue. I wonder whether 26 year old George is looking back at me now and laughing at my crazy ideas or whether she still agrees that teaching and travelling is the best way of travelling.
George is a travel blogger and Gap Daemon travelling intern who not only lived in Germany for 9 months and travelled across Europe, but backpacked through Australia for 3 months which is where she started her blog georgegoingdown.blogspot.com. Her blog is a mix of her solo female travels throughout Australia as well as travel tips, flash backs from her year abroad, stories of her new adventures in Morocco and upcoming adventures in Ireland, Eastern Europe and Hitch-hiking to Croatia, as well as the move to Japan. Her aim is to encourage all girls to take the leap of faith and become solo female travellers too.
-Text by George, photos via Flickr creative commons, click on photos for attribution @ www.theartofslowtravel.com. All rights reserved.