[Being there]

Dear Donagh,

I came across your website by chance and I thought I'd ask you something…. I'm holed up here in [….] with my parents and I feel totally stuck.  I teach primary school but I'm finding it impossible to get the kind of job I want – anything that would involve travelling.  I'd love to be a flight attendant, that would be my dream job, but I'm not having any success.   People suggest teaching English abroad or doing au pair work, but neither of these would appeal to me.  I know I should be happy to have a job – that's what my parents keep telling me.  But I want to get away.  Sometimes I think I'm mad – that's the one thing my father would agree with!  Have you any suggestions?  Emma

Dear Emma,

Hmm…. Itchy feet…. Yes, that's a painful condition, and you are asking me to prescribe a remedy.  My first prescription is to go somewhere you will be happy to come home from.  That's the most effective way to treat this condition.  I studied and worked in a great many countries, and I enjoyed all of them, but I'm happy to be home now.  I suppose that has something to do with being in my 70s, and doesn't say much to someone in her 20s.  When my niece was a teenager she had the same urge to get away.  “I’m stuck here in the middle of nowhere!” she used to mutter.  “At least you’re in the middle of it,” said her father, trying to be helpful.  “You could have been in the back of beyond.” 

Let your mind run…. Foreign correspondent, Aid worker, the Peace Corps, or a translator, or something on a cruise ship, or a freelance travel writer…. It’s an intimidating list, and I would lack the courage needed for most of them.  So I'm not able to give you any advice there. 

But here’s my second prescription.  It has a slightly bitter taste, so I’ll let someone else say it!  “I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world.  In the particular is contained the universal.”  That was James Joyce.  He was no stay-at-home himself, but his mind moved forever on Dublin.  The universal is contained in the particular, he said: in other words, if you can be at home in one place, you can be at home no matter where you are.  And conversely if you can’t be at home when you are at home, you will never be at home anywhere.  That is strong medicine… but it can be diluted of course.  

Could you satisfy your wanderlust in the Summer months when you have long holidays from school?  Teachers have longer holidays than anyone.  The thought of the coming Summer would pacify your mind, possibly, when you are feeling restless.  You would have something of both then: home and away.  How would you find that? 

It doesn't appear to me that you enjoy teaching.  You would have said so if you did.  Could it be that this restlessness is preventing from going right into it – almost in the way that an addiction would?  If you could pacify this restlessness you might find delight in teaching children.  You are opening their minds to new worlds; you are their travel guide; to them you are the wide world – wider than their homes.  If you can engage their imaginations, you will see in their eyes the wonder of discovery.  And every year when you return from your travels you will have wonderful stories to tell them, and photographs, and PowerPoint presentations….

And to finish, Emma, it’s only right to remember that there are downsides to being far from home.  I have often cowered in sweltering heat, brooding to myself: “At home we have a country that is air-conditioned from coast to coast!”  When temperatures soar above 40 Celsius you begin to feel like the man in the parable: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in this fire!”  In some places you have more to fear from the hospitals than from any diseases you contract there.  In the Central African Republic I got malaria, and hepatitis in Pakistan – despite precautions.  From the other twenty+ countries where I worked for a month or a few months at a time, I escaped without any long-lasting souvenirs.

But I don’t want to end on a negative note.  The world is full of wonders, and when you are young you have the energy to go and see them.  But what I'm suggesting is that there is no need to uproot yourself to do that.  Take it a little at a time; otherwise you can get overwhelmed.

I hope your curiosity will never grow less, Emma, but that it will never leave you uprooted from yourself. 


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