Sunday, January 20, 2008

Summer Blues

Last summer I traveled to Australia with two other adults, chaperoning 27 middle school students. It was an amazing adventure, I did new things that I am still proud of (giant swing! milking a cow! wearing authentic rodeo cowboy gear! snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, for crying out loud!), I completely fell in love with the country.

However. (Isn't there always a however?)

It was not all sunshine and roses. Besides the learning and the fun and the beauty, there were the people. Now, the Australians were just as friendly and witty as you've heard; I loved talking to all of them, and not just because of their lovely accent. But the part where our group was walking around together, or standing and waiting, or riding in the bus for hours at a time (I believe we covered 1800 miles in the Queensland Outback loop alone, in eight or nine days' time). That was the part that sucked.

The other two leaders were nice enough women. I just didn't fit in, at all. There was no room for me. The main leader is very opinionated, loud, overly animated, gregarious and a bit self-centered. She's always talking, mostly about things she's done or seen or whatever. The other leader is much quieter and calmer, often napping during down time. The two of them were rather chummy, chatting a lot and having plenty in common.

I've never been a good small-talker, and there's just no way to fill all those hours with meaningful discussion. And I learned very early on there was just no need for me to talk. The one woman would just go on without any response from her audience, and the other, like I said, dozed often. So I sat and read, or stared out the window. The loud woman insisted that no one use their ipods, which I found ridiculous. The kids had plenty of time and interest in hanging out with and talking to each other. So I finally began sneaking music, because I just couldn't stand it. Sometimes there was loud music played on the bus that I desperately wanted to drown out, sometimes there were voices and snoring I desperately needed to not hear, and many times I just needed something for myself.

It was really sad and pathetic that I've never felt more isolated or not myself when surrounded by thirty other people at all times.

The preparations for this summer's trip are beginning, and I'm dreading it in so many ways. The leaders are the same (which means the same people dynamics, as well as that every other place we stay, I won't sleep well due to snoring), the food situation will be extremely difficult for me, and I will again have to shut down my personality for three weeks. I feel like this whole thing is just not a good idea for me this year. But I don't know how to back out. I don't know which is a bigger sacrifice--not seeing a beautiful new country or not enjoying myself while I'm there.


17 (really 15) more years said...

That's a tough call. It just goes to show that it's possible to be horribly lonely, even when you're not alone. I think that's probably one of the worst possible feelings.

I'm assuming all three of you were leaders- so why does one have any more say than the other? What sort of ridiculous rule is "no one uses an IPod" supposed to be? Why not, "as long as everyone is behaving responsibly and safely, please just enjoy yourselves"?

I don't know if I would be able to do it. Between not being able to be myself, and as you stated, the food situation (I'm neurotic about what I consume, so having to make do would make me crazy) - I would travel on my own, on my own terms, and forget about this particular trip.

Schoolgal said...

First of all, I am sure there is always a waiting list for people who would take your place in an instant.

You already went through the experience, so the pros and cons should be easy to figure out. If you like the idea of doing these kinds of trips, look into other organizations or maybe another destination.

But do not feel bad if you want to opt out this year. You are also at a crossroads with your feelings about teaching in NYC or at least your school, so you have other decisions to make this summer too.

Good luck with whatever to want to do. And if it's the trip, then just think about ways to overcome the bad parts you experienced.

East Coast Teacher said...

I'm not a super social person either, Jules...especially in situations like those.

I say go anyway. Don't let something like that keep you from enjoying a new place.

I've found that oftentimes, I'm happier putting on the iPod and enjoying the scenery on my own, anyway.

Just don't forget your camera!

Anonymous said...

I don't think there is any obligation here. It sounds like an uncomfortable trip... unless you are dying to go where they are going, why would you put yourself in that position?

Think of your primary obligation as making yourself happy, and then go with the decision that fits.