January 6, 2012

The trouble with Winter Break

Winter break is supposed to give you a little breathing room, some time away from the intellectual vacuum of grad school. I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to leave TESL alone for a few weeks. I brought a few readings home so that I could do a little prep work for teaching the ESL section of English Composition next semester.

Not only was I able to completely file away TESL since I left Flagstaff, but I also am experiencing a strange homesickness for Nebraska. “The Good Life” it seems has a particular charm that no amount of intellectual stimulation can compete with. It has been so nice to eat with my family, watch Law and Order, and talk about anything but TESL. I've written before about the appeal of Nebraskan simplicity. Life moves from birth to school to marriage to parenthood to grandparenthood almost invariably, and there is something deeply comforting in following the path. I suppose all my sentimental longings for Nebraska boil down to my family and boyfriend living good lives here. But in this romanticized brain of mine, the only logical solution appears to be quit school, move home, get married, ...wait, nope. That's a terrible idea. Since when do I prefer the well-trodden path?

Over a few cups of Barista's (best place in Kearney, NE) coffee, I talked this over with a former Writing Center colleague. Since Kearney, he has begun grad school in Riverside, California studying Political Science. California shows in his beard, trimmed-up physique, and general neo-hippie attitudes about the world. I can relate to the West Coast influences, as one of my resolutions is to eat a mostly plant-based diet (note: I didn't say vegetarian—that's a four-letter word in Nebraska). Our conversation began with how wonderful our new residences were, and how backward some Nebraskans can be, but as we got talking, our conversation nearly reversed itself. Nebraska is a great place to be from, we agreed, and we are much better prepared for the world because of our corn-fed roots. Although we plan to change the world (albeit in small ways), I think in our hearts we can't help but stay Nebraskan.

Even beyond my longing for my hometown, I remembered how untamed Nebraska can be. My boyfriend's family owns some land outside North Platte, NE. This isn't the typical Nebraskan landscape either. Nope, no cornfields in sight, and instead canyon-like formations with deep draws and well-worn cattle trails. If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you already know that I have the desire for adventure, but maybe not the courage (or proper footwear) to rough-it. Under the guise that hiking his parents' land would be no harder than the local park, I agreed to accompany him and his dad. As we bounced along the frozen mud in the pick-up, I realized that maybe I was in for something more challenging. Indeed, about two hours later, I found myself stuck halfway up the side of one of these mini limestone canyons, clinging to a tree trunk. Don't get me wrong, I love an adventure, especially when there is an element of danger (mountain lion, darkness, ice, ect.) involved, but I want a hot meal and shower when I get home—which is exactly what my boyfriend's mom cooked up!

I'm not too sure what that last anecdote had to do with my sudden longing for Nebraska. If it's adventure I seek, Flagstaff has some of the best hiking in the world. Spending time with my boyfriend and his family may have had more to do with my enjoyment than the icy draws we slid down.

So besides a break from the world of Applied Linguistics, winter break has reminded me of what I'm missing in Flagstaff. Family. My one-track (TESL) mind seems to sometimes forget how important these people are. I have been envisioning my career as an ESL teacher taking me around the world to faraway places with exotic food and low GDP's. During this winter break, I've started to wonder if the lifestyle of a wanderer can satisfy my need for family. Will I miss out on my brother growing up? What about my Grandparents? What am I giving up if I go? What about if I don't go?

I know that no job is forever and that things work out, no matter what I decide to do, but the decisions about work and life that I will have to make within the next two years are starting to seem more real than ever. Never mind a break from books and articles, this is just a way to make me second guess everything! Thanks, winter break.