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Cover October 19, 1998

The Long Road Home
By Mike Callahan

"Home is where the Heart is" and "there's no place like home" were phrases that increasingly came to our minds as we neared the end of four years teaching overseas. Yes, it was time for my wife and I to come back home to the U.K. after spending two years teaching in Tunisia, N. Africa and two years in the remoteness of Irian Jaya, Indonesia. There's no doubt that we had a good time and spent our holidays travelling to see parts of the world that we could never have got to if we had stayed in the U.K.

So, in the summer of 1997 we headed back to the U.K. looking forward to all the things we'd missed and settling down to a civilised and happy life with our wonderful memories to look back on...if only it was that simple.

On arriving back in the U.K. we didn't actually have anywhere to stay. Family had been kind and offered us a bed, but in the long run it is difficult living in one room with a suitcase. (Our belongings were in boxes half way around the world somewhere.) So we set about looking for a house to buy. We spent many a day in the first couple of months travelling to various parts of the U.K. looking for "that" house. After a couple of months, we found a house that was acceptable, maybe partly out of desperation. The legal system in the U.K. being what it is meant that we had to stay another 7 weeks with our suitcases in a room in my parents.

At this point we still weren't working, as we weren't sure where we'd be living, so financially we had to be very careful. We soon noticed the difference in prices for goods in the U.K. compared to less affluent areas of the world. We had the choice of shopping malls and goods, but we had to pay the price. It was a massive culture shock visiting the shopping malls. We had a choice of bread...thin sliced, medium sliced, thick sliced, white, brown, granary, wholemeal! We were like kids in a candy store as we were used to being happy just to be able to buy a loaf of bread! There was a vast array of vegetables and fruit all prepackaged and prepared no matter what the season. We were used to oranges being available for a few weeks, then bananas for a few weeks, depending on the weather! However, these overpriced vegetables from the malls didn't seem to taste as good as the ones we'd bartered to buy from our friends at the fruit and veg stalls in Tunisia for a few pence. It took us a long time to get used to the choice available of a certain type of goods. For example, in both countries where we worked you had one type of shower gel available, one type of washing powder and so on. Now we were faced with shower gel for sensitive skin, shower gel with deodorant, shower gel for hair and body..and the list could go on. A good thing? I'll let you make you're own mind up about that. I know I still appreciate being able to go and buy a newspaper or the latest CD when I want to, or a new book form the best seller list. Once you've been overseas, the experience stays with you and at times you can stop, take a step back and just put things in perspective.

After finding an area to live we started applying for teaching jobs in the area convinced that we were now better teachers after our overseas experiences and assumed that we'd be "snapped up." Not so. Four years is a long time in education and new initiatives meant that we were somewhat out of date in terms of teaching in the U.K. During the year we gradually worked our way back into the system by doing substitute teaching in various schools. The classes of 10 -15 pupils seemed merely a dream, as we had to deal with up to 35 pupils in a class. Resources were certainly no where as plentiful either; after having a computer lab and 5 or so of the latest computers in a classroom, it was somewhat of a culture shock to have to get used to having one five year old computer shared between 30 plus children.

I suppose the greatest difficulty we have had to come to terms with is people's attitudes and ideas. Four years in two different cultures with much different values to that of the western world was always going to change us. We became much more open minded, adaptable, and conducive to change. We met people from the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, Africa, and the jungles of Irian Jaya. What better an education! We certainly felt we had moved on; but on coming back a lot of friends were the same as before, same bar at the same time on a Friday night and with the same conversation; not a criticism, just an observation! We have to be very sensitive and not talk incessantly of our "adventures" and bore people with our photographs of markets in Tangiers, Amungme tribesmen in the highlands of Irian Jaya, or a glacier located at the equator. It has been a very gradual, and at times difficult, experience fitting in again.

We look back on our travels with fond memories, it was exciting and people gave us lots of advice about what to take to these countries and what not to take. When we came back there was no such advice; it has taken us well over a year to get back into the swing of things here. We have no regrets about coming back. It was fantastic to see snow again and to experience a freezing cold Christmas in front of the fire (the Christmas before we sat on a beach in Australia!) and to buy a daily newspaper that is not a week old and I could go on and on and on. Just take into account when making the plunge to go overseas that one day you will probably want to repatriate, and that is quite a big step too; and the longer you leave it the bigger the step!

  Mr. Callahan would appreciate any responses to his article be sent to .

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