I’m in a bit of a weird situation. Bear with me as I attempt to explain the unique circumstances of my year abroad existence. As a language assistant, you work to a timetable of a mere twelve hours a week organised by your mentor teacher. Your mentor should rewrite your timetable every half term so that you can help in as many English lessons as possible. This system operated fairly smoothly for the first four months of my year abroad.
Then one day my mentor decided to go on sabbatical leave to Australia until May. She was not replaced.
Initially, this did not pose a problem as I’d been in the school long enough to know what I was doing and continued going to the same lessons as before she had left. Then, after half term, some of the school timetable spontaneously changed so that a few of my lessons clashed with each other and, with no one there to reorganise my timetable, my hours subsequently withered to 7 a week. I was now in breach of my contract.
My situation forced me to take matters in to my own hands and so I asked all the English teachers I had previously worked with whether they had any other lessons I could help out in or take. I wrote an extensive list of tasks a language assistant can help out with, I offered to take lessons, I even suggested that I could start an English extra-curricular club. Whilst I now want to report that I am the shining beacon of the school, ambassador for England and woman of the people…no one responded to my email.
The issue is that I am working for the school, yet am being paid by the PAD (the German educational exchange service) which means that no one in school cares about taking advantage of me, and the people paying me have no idea of how many hours I am working. Eventually, one of the teachers expressed a vague interest in me and showed me when she has English lessons. After imposing myself on the three lessons I could make, my hours climbed to a staggering 10 a week.
At this point, I gave up trying to get more hours. Asking twelve year olds to repeat the word ‘pedestrian’ five times until it stops sounding like ‘pee-Austri-strain’ is hardly riveting stuff. In short, it’s not like I love the job. It’s fine for twelve (or ten) hours a week, but when no one acknowledges your presence in the staff room, when the deputy head tells you off for the third time to get out of the staff room and back to your lessons and when your best friends in the school are twelve years old, I’m hardly going to beg for more work.
Now I know what you’re thinking. What are you doing with your life when you work ten hours a week?? I know this because I think the exact same thing myself and I’m not entirely sure of the answer. All I know is there should be a channel 4 documentary made about my lifestyle (“Leaching off the educational exchange service: the truth about language assistants”).
The answer is not very much at all. I go to the gym every day which, for context, is the most extraordinarily out of character thing I have ever done. More likely would be for me to stand outside gyms and heckle the people who go inside. However, unlikely 99% of the world’s gymming population, I see regular exercise not as the chance to get in shape, but rather an opportunity to eat double. Between working, eating, exercising, cooking, eating, writing, eating, tutoring, Netflix, lesson planning, eating, socialising (eating) and eating, my days seem to fill up. (My body too.) But I don’t think that’s particularly interesting. I’d like to write about not what people with a lot of free time do, but rather their frame of mind.
An inevitable symptom of free time is over-indulging your own thoughts and lingering on ideas which, in the real world, would be too trivial to deserve headspace. I, for example, have devoted an unhealthy amount of time to thinking about sweetcorn. Hear me out on this, I am convinced that I have ground-breaking insight in to the flaws of said canned vegetable’s manufacturing process. If cans can’t be kept in the fridge and no amount of family-size cooking requires using up a whole can of sweetcorn, why do they continue to be stored so impractically?? (This has been plaguing by empty mind for weeks.) I was all set to make my millions on refridgerable packets, but apparently this already exists.
Another, slightly more morbid thought that has cropped up embarrassingly often is what I like to call the “year abroad game”. This entails estimating how long it would take any one to notice if I suddenly dropped dead. (When you live with strangers and work in an environment where no one is responsible for you, these thoughts crop up as frequently and as nonchalantly as deciding what I’m going to have for dinner.) My estimation sits at about four days. I think it would take my school about three months to alert someone if I stopped turning up and whilst my friends would find it bizarre that I wasn’t replying to messages, it would probably take them a few more days before they actually turned up unannounced at my flat or made further inquiries. Whilst this may sound depressing, I’m thrilled that the time frame has shorted; in September, at the beginning of my year abroad when my ‘friends’ were people I had known a few weeks, I estimated it would take 8 days until anyone noticed I was missing.
Free time has also nurtured my new found obsession with investigative murder documentaries such as Making a Murder and the podcast Serial. These programs both present real homicide trials and invite the audience to question whether the defendants are actually guilty, or whether their sentence is a result of spun evidence, a corrupt police force or a flawed justice system. Essentially, these programs elevate me from a lowly language assistant to a criminal detective. Whilst playing Sherlock is fun, it has also made me hyper paranoid that, on the slim chance anyone accuses me of murder, everything I do could be spun to look like I am morally bankrupt of psychologically unstable. This blog, for example, strongly supports both of those accusations. When my friend Kathryn, for example, told me about the questionable behaviour of her boss, I messaged that I was willing to kill him. A vision of me behind bars flashed before my eyes, with a Netflix voiceover of those words ringing in my ears. I have become paranoid that anything I say or do could be spun as evidence of my guilt in a hypothetical murder.
My minimal responsibilities at school have also made me hyper-paranoid that someone at school is going to arrest me or, at the very least, tell me off for working such few hours. Admittedly, my obsession with murder documentaries probably isn’t helping. For example, the headmistress approached me in the staff room the other week and just before I was about to spout the list of reasons why I had done all I could to fulfill my contract and that I refuse to be interrogated without a lawyer present, she invited me out for dinner with the English department. “You wouldn’t have to pay, this is an invitation”, she added. I work ten hours a week at this school and the headmistress has had a word with me not to give me more responsibility, but to pay for my dinner. (During said meal she told me that her students love my lessons and that I’m a valuable resource to the school.)
A completely unfounded compliment, of course, but it just goes to show that what goes on in your head has little bearing on reality.
Last year, when I was working at least five times as many hours a week as I currently am, I remember having ambitious thoughts about the things I would achieve, the person I would become and the tidiness of my room if I only had more time. If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that you’re the most free when you’re busiest. Next year, when I’m in the depths of finals, dreaming of the sixth pack that could have been if only I had more time, I hope I’ll remember that I once had multiple entrepreneurial thoughts about sweetcorn.