This week circumstances have encouraged me to turn my attention to cerebral preparation for the trip. I am now officially ‘unemployed’. Having made the symbolic and real move of resigning from my permanent employment back in July last year when the Trip idea crystallised into a plan, I was then fortunate to have steady contract work up until very recently. However, I am now officially ‘between jobs’ and have been looking for ‘a proper job’. I am torn between jobs that I am qualified for, which are too ‘serious’, and jobs that interest me for which, I have been told, I am over-qualified. This seems quite silly to me and economically unsound. Anyhow, this has given me a little time to think about the long term plan and ‘nut out’ what might be necessary in the up-skilling department.

If you look at the original plan – travel a bit, work a bit and then travel a bit – you’ll notice that there is a ‘work’ component. This is primarily to test out some of the possible next steps (steps 3 & 4 below) after the gap year. The gap year has several ‘exit option‘ that I can see:

  1. Come back to NZ and carry on as if nothing has happened
  2. Come back to NZ to work for a while and then go on other extended trips to different places
  3. Stay in Europe for a couple of years before coming back to NZ
  4. Stay in Europe permanently

These options also nest inside the bigger picture ‘relationship options‘:

  1. We get on famously
  2. We get divorced
  3. We kill each other – either through marital differences, excessive cycling or by a third party such as a large truck

This probably requires a flow diagramme to fully explain but essentially is goes like this:

  • if relationship (1) occurs, then all exit options are possible;
  • if relationship (2) occurs, then all exit options are possible in any combination for both the Husband and I separately;
  • if relationship (3) occurs, then all exit options (apart from the obvious) are irrelevant.

Then throw into the mix the practical component of language and you conclude that, since it has been 20 years since we lived in France and our French is now seriously rusty, the word ‘Europe’ will need to be exchanged for ‘Britain’ unless a certain amount of up-skilling is undertaken. Which brings me back to the original topic of this post.

Neither the Husband or I are particularly keen on Britain as the target for the ‘work’ phase. But for Europe, whether I am qualified or over qualified for any particular job is a mute point if I can’t speak the language. In my line of work speaking the native language is a must. The Husband is lucky in his line of work as he speaks the universal language of computers but things have changed over the last twenty years and even in IT at least two EU languages (English, French & German being the big three) are generally required. I did a small audit of our strengths and weaknesses, which didn’t take very long – English (tick), French (very rusty), and German (not a clue).

Given that learning a whole language from scratch generally takes a few years at least, we decided that brushing up the French is the way to go. I have downloaded a bunch of ‘learn French’ iPad apps, subscribed to several podcast channels, started following a few new bicycle blogs and borrowed a murder mystery novel from the library (all in French) as a start. Last night’s dinner conversation was conducted in French to try and blow out some of the cobwebs – it is actually quite surprising what lies dormant in your brain, ready for a quick dust off.

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We will of course require a smattering of various languages to get around Europe in our travel phase. Handily, Daughter No. 1 is very proficient at French and German having taken them to year 13 at school and does a passable job of Italian, which she studied at uni. Daughter No.2 is excellent at Spanish, again having taken this to year 13 level. They are very keen to help us to learn all 4 languages plus a variety of others, such as Danish, through their in-depth research on the internet. However, rather than a smattering of everything we have decided to focus on just one and hopefully do it passably well. In the other countries, this will leave us relying on a digital phrase book, Google and mime – but I’m pretty confidant the plan will work. I generally find that people are very helpful and accommodating as long as you make a big enough fool of yourself in an effort to communicate first – this usually brings out their impeccable English and the odd giggle. The upside of having a properly ‘school French’ taught daughter around is that schools are very particular about grammar. Whereas our French was obtained through the more organic process of survival in a foreign country. This tends to breed good speaking confidence and vocabulary but very little in the way of grammatical precision. Daughter No.1 is already taking great pleasure in correcting our grammar.

The second idea is to do a TEFL course to enable me to teach English as a foreign language. Weirdly enough it seems that even with a masters degree in education, I am not deemed capable of teaching my native language. Easily fixed though through a four week intensive course. The course is not cheap and from my research, the income potential of this line of work is not great but it has the overarching plus point of enabling me to work in a non-English speaking environment. This could be very useful for the gap year, and beyond.

So the two pronged attack we have decided on for cerebral up-skilling is:

  • Spend the next 12 months focusing just on learning a single language well – French, to increase the job options for both the Husband and I, and;
  • Expand my options for working in a foreign speaking country by doing an intensive TEFL course – the INTENSIVE part sounds a bit scary but also reasonably do-able given my present ‘job-free’ circumstances.
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