You’re Doing What, Now?

“You’re crazy.”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“But what about Covid?”

“What happens if something happens to you and you’re all that way away?”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“Is it worth it?”

“It’s not going to happen.”

“But what about your PGCE?”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go.”

“I really don’t think it’s going to happen.”

These are just a few of the things that I’ve said to myself and others have said to me in the last three months or so. Because that has been how long my return to China has been “in progress.” Perhaps even longer.

I was expecting to leave for China in the middle of august. I knew I had a two-week quarantine to complete, and I wanted to have that finished before the school term started on the 1st September. So, I handed in my notice at the caring job I’d managed to get in the middle of July. That was my first step, and honestly, it was the easiest one.

At this stage, I wasn’t certain that we would make it out to China, again. I knew that I wanted to go back, although I couldn’t explain why to anyone who asked. And believe me, many people asked. I just felt, deep within my soul, that I hadn’t finished in China yet, that I was meant to go back. And as someone who believes science above all other things, and who has been flirting with atheism for many years, how could I explain something that has felt like the closest thing to fate that I could get to?

Especially as the process to get back has been so frustrating, so difficult, so bureaucratic, that it sometimes felt like it wasn’t meant to be. I have been through the whole range of emotions to end up back in this country that I can’t help but love.

I would say, my mum, and my newest friend, Jo, were the two biggest voices of caution. And I don’t blame either of them. In fact, I thank the both of them, from the bottom of my heart, because if it hadn’t had been for their concerns, I wouldn’t be so certain in my decision now.

In fact, my mum was so unsure of my actual ability to return, (as was I, if I’m being truly honest), that she encouraged me to apply to do my PGCE, starting this September, as that was to be my final aim, come September 2021 anyway. It took a few weeks of encouragement and some fights, but in the end, I had a personal statement I was happy with. Now all I had to do was somehow retrieve my degree certificate from a storage locker in China, and decide which universities I wanted to apply to.

This was not as easy as it sounds. I picked three universities, and by the time I had come to hit send on the application, except for the personal statement, two of them were full. So, I picked a couple more. They maybe weren’t as prestigious but they still had places available. And they weren’t bad universities. I would be very happy to attend them.

Except, when it came to filling in the personal statement part and actually hitting send, one of them was full. At this point, I was willing to put in any university that still had a place. I think I searched nearly every university whose name I had heard of for an early years PGCE. And I finally hit on one, and sent off my application.

The interviews came in very quick succession after that, and, of course, they happened during the two hottest days of the year, meaning, I near melted while trying to remember how to do maths, after nearly ten years of the most basic maths if it was ever required of me, and trying to remember how to structure an essay style question.

Luckily the heat didn’t seem to affect me too much, and I got offers. Which meant that I then had one of the most difficult decisions of my life. Do I give up on my dream of going back to China in favour of pressing forward with finally achieving a career or do I potentially submit myself to doing the same thing again in a year’s time, with all the stress and anxiety that goes with it?

It turned out that I didn’t need to do either, as Winchester University, my first choice, said that I could defer my entry by a year. Which, with the deepest and greatest joy in my heart, I did. I could still go back to China, and even better, I had a place at Winchester university lined up for me when I got home. Talk about having my cake and eating it too!

This came at just the right time for me, as by now, TeachTEFLinChina, the company that I work for in China, were badgering me to fill in the online portion of my new visa application. Despite still having a valid visa, until January 2021, I was required to apply for a new visa. This caused stress in and of itself, as it was one of the most in-depth applications I have ever filled out. They asked everything, including what I had for breakfast and for my first born.

As soon as I was finished, I told the company, and they told me that I would probably be going to London on 14th September to the visa office and to hand in my passport. I told the Care company, as I had indefinitely extended my notice, because I needed the monies, and gave my last day. This was on a Saturday in early September. On the Thursday the company contacted me and asked me how I was doing with my visa. I very nearly head-desked and sent them the same information I had sent them at the weekend, and then I asked them when I would definitely be going to London. A week later; the 21st. I wasn’t exactly happy but, in the end, it couldn’t be changed, even though I had wanted to have been in China for a month by this point. But this is how things work. Apparently. I contacted the caring company and got a week’s more work. of course, by the time I’d gone to London twice, once to drop off the passport and once to pick it up, I was told that I didn’t need to have done that, as the new regulations meant I could have got in on my old passport. So all that stress of finding the cheapest and easiest way to get to London, making sure I got there and got on the various trains on time, trying to eat and drink while wearing a mask (the second trip I had half a bottle of Fanta and two Pringles all day), desperately hoping that I had the right paperwork as the three people in front of me were turned away for not having it, not to mention the added stress of travel during Covid Times, was for nothing. Gotta love bureaucracy.

Then comes the most frustrating part of the whole experience. The booking of the plane tickets.

It was a nightmare. Literally, figuratively and metaphorically. I couldn’t escape by sleeping, because I was also having nightmares about it.

I looked for flights that were a) less than £1000, b) didn’t criss-cross the entire world, and c) didn’t involve “self-transfer”. The worst hyphenated word in existence. If you’ve never come across it, you’re lucky. Now, surely, these criteria are not too difficult to apply, right?

You’d think. What actually happened was that I found flights that would go to Hong Kong, have you hanging around in the airport for a mere 18 hours before going on to Shanghai. I booked the tickets twice, spending nearly £1000 each time, through one of these intermediary sites that supposedly finds the best flights and prices for you. A few hours later, I’d get an email telling me that they’d been unable to book the tickets for that price, but if I gave them another £1500, they might be able to do it. Or I could request a refund that would take up to five days to process.

I requested the refund. I got a loan from my parents. I tried again. I cried. I got the same message. I cried a little more. After all this effort that I’d gone through to get this far, would I really be denied at the last hurdle?

I’d been trying for a flight in the first week in October, and it seemed impossible. Spoiler alert: it was.

I contacted the company to tell them the trouble I’d been having. They got back to me to tell me that someone else had found a flight to a city called Zhengzhou, via Helsinki on 12th October. And even better? The layover was only five hours. Small fry compared to the prospective 18 I’d been gearing myself up for.

And, success, at last. I booked the tickets. Not that I could relax though. Relax? Don’t know her.

I still had to get a negative test result within 3 days of my second flight, which wasn’t as bad as it had been at first with the whole 18 hours thing. Both my flights were at least on the same day. But guess what had been in the news for the whole month of September?

Don’t be silly; I know you know. Who hasn’t been aware of the news for the past 8 months? It was the lack of tests and delays in the results, of course! So, I stressed about when to get the test, my mum stressed about when to get the test, the company stressed about when to get the test.

I had to get it in enough time to get the results to email to the Embassy and get their reply (oh, you didn’t think it was just about the result, did you? My sweet summer child!), but also have it within 3 days of the flight. And the Embassy “work at the weekends, but don’t expect any answer from them during Saturday or Sunday”. My flight, was predictably Monday morning. My results could take anything from 24 to 48 hours to come back. I would have to contact them at the weekend.

Honestly, I don’t think my heart is ever going to recover. This process may well have cost me years of my life.

I took the test late on Thursday evening. Trying to book it through signal gaps while deep in Devon didn’t help, but I got it eventually. I got the result about midday Saturday. The Embassy sent me the Certificate of Health around midday on Sunday. And sigh.

All my ducks were finally in a row. My suitcase was a little heavy, full of food that I couldn’t get in China. I was ready.

The flights themselves were fine. Fun fact: I was on the inaugural first flight between Helsinki and Zhengzhou, which was exciting. Another fun fact: all the crew, except for the pilots wore hazmat suits. I had my temperature checked four times before getting on the flight. Once again when we were on the descent.

The crew in the background, chilling in their hazmat suits…

And finally, we touched down. I was in China. I had made it. This was it. I could relax, right?

Oh, if only that had been the case…

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