The Welcome Party – a short story from Slovakia.

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In September 2002 I rocked up in Bratislava with a couple of bags and just enough cash to last until my first paycheck. And so unfolded one of the great years of my life…

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‘‘You see! Bratislava can be beautiful!!!’’ growled our guide, wagging her finger as she shot the group an admonishing look.

It was just my second day in Bratislava and I was enjoying a walking tour of Staré Mesto, the city’s pretty albeit tiny Old Town. Organized by my new employer, my colleagues and I were certainly being kept on our toes by the informative if slightly intimidating guide.

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Up on the Hill – a short story from Slovakia.

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In September 2002 I rocked up in Bratislava with a couple of bags and just enough cash to last until my first paycheck. And so unfolded one of the great years of my life…

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‘‘Slovakia!?’’ he cried with an arched eyebrow. ‘‘Get to ****, you’re not gonna go there!’’.

I was in a hostel in Copenhagen when I made the decision. Eyes closed, right hand making broad clockwise circles prior to my index finger landing firmly on the tatty wall map. ‘‘Come on… do it again!’’ snapped my Irish dormmate, visibly irked by how things had ended up. ‘‘Even with my eyes closed I could find Australia’’. Well so could I if it really came down to it. But the idea was to do it blind without manipulating the outcome in any way. Plus a deal was a deal, even if the pact had only been made with myself.

But how to actually go about finding a job in Slovakia? Back in England a few weeks later and I was stunned to immediately come across an advert on Dave’s ESL Café, the online mecca for TEFL jobs across the globe: Teachers needed in Bratislava!

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The Little Pronghorn – a short story from Qatar.

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In the summer of 2001 I boarded a near-empty Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Reuniting with my family who’d recently moved there for my father’s new job, it was my first time living abroad.

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It was the winter of 2001 and I’d just finished an uneventful evening’s classes at The Language Institute. Gathering up my books and more than ready to head home, I hadn’t noticed Mona shuffling over.

‘‘Mr Lie-ton… my husband would like to speak to you’’. 

‘‘Oh?’’ I replied, the last of my students trooping off towards a squadron of waiting jeeps. Surely I hadn’t said anything even vaguely flirty? Been culturally insensitive? Or perhaps I was in for a weekly lecture on the benefits of converting to Islam?

‘‘He is here. Will speak to you now’’.

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Like It Too Much – a short story from Qatar.

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In the summer of 2001 I boarded a near-empty Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Reuniting with my family who’d recently moved there for my father’s new job, it was my first time living abroad.

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My first English teaching job came at a run-down old school called The Language Institute. The facilities were basic, the materials outdated and dreary, while the students were a right bunch of characters who quickly helped me develop as a teacher.

2 With Level 1 classsmaller

My elementary circle – a right bunch of characters.

My all-male classes were incredibly challenging, albeit for very different reasons. First were my intermediate guys, a depressing combination of tardy, lazy, disinterested and unnecessarily wealthy. Then there was the elementary circle, a collection of sullen-looking men who behaved as if violence had been threatened against their loved ones should they ever attempt to produce an English sentence.

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Baptism of Fire – a short story from Qatar.

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In the summer of 2001 I boarded a near-empty Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Reuniting with my family who’d recently moved there for my father’s new job, it was my first time living abroad.

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‘‘This is your classroom’’ said Jamla, switching on the lights. They flickered dubiously for a bit before finally illuminating the room, revealing merely the latest in a long string of anticlimaxes.

About to head off for my first day of teaching.

About to head off for my first day of teaching.

Like everything else during my tour of The Language Institute, the room was less than inspiring. Dingy, run down and with a dank smell I couldn’t quite identify, I tried to picture it as a place my students could one day be excited about coming to. But it was a tough sell.

Faded posters advertising French coastal towns adorned the peeling walls. Three rows of elephantine wooden desks and chairs looked like they’d been transposed from a Dickensian orphanage. My own table, set in front of Planet Earth’s oldest blackboard, resembled a dusty old grand piano. I set my books down on it and the whole thing slid to one side with a dull thud.

‘‘Someone will fix’’ said Jamla sternly from behind her veil. ‘’I will be in my office Mr. Lie-ton. Enjoy your first day at T.L.I’’. Turning on her heels, she swished out of the room, her black abayha trailing behind her.

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