Four years this week I was just back from teaching a six week summer program in London. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
I had injured my knee forty-eight hours before my flight from Detroit, and the surgeon said I’d be okay with a knee brace and Aleve, but would need surgery as soon as I got home. So I went because I didn’t want to disappoint the students, or myself. teaching abroad had been a dream of mine for a very long time.
Now, I’d never taken Aleve before and it kept me from sleeping. Ditto the pain when the Aleve wore off and I couldn’t take more. I was also besieged by the unexpected 90-degree heat in London, which didn’t feel any better no matter how many times people told me the weather was unusual.
To my horror, the flat that had been rented for me was a duplex, which meant I had to limp up and down the stairs there countless times a day, even though the surgeon advised me to avoid stairs. My phone or tablet always seemed to be on whichever floor I wasn’t on.
My flat was at the top of the building and got so hot by late afternoon that it shut down my iPhone. The classroom I taught in at Regent’s College wasn’t air conditioned and the inscrutable powers-that-be would only give us a fan for one day. I had to teach while I was in pain, sleepless, and stressed by the heat. It was brutal.
To truly add insult to injury, one night I tripped over the wild fringe on one rug, smacked my hand on an oak table on the way down. It swelled up grotesquely and I was soon in an emergency room where I passed out because the pain in my hand was so bad. I ended up with a cast which my students signed, hoping that I would survive till the end of the program.
But my students–! They were amazing. In my many years of teaching, I’d never had a group so dedicated, funny, talented, and compassionate. No matter how I felt on any given day, spending time with them was joyful. I felt as if everything I’d ever learned about how to work with student writing and how to approach reading literature was focused with the intensity of a laser beam. Watching their writing blossom was one of the grandest experiences I’ve ever had as a teacher. And unlike the regular classes I taught back home with twenty-five students, I had only fifteen in each one, which made getting to know them and their work much easier.
As I finally got my insomnia and pain under control, I was able to fully enjoy museums, plays, and relish the good food and drink at local restaurants and pubs. A friend from Germany came to spend the weekend nearby and we had great, intimate, sometimes uproarious meals together. I loved staying in Pimlico on a quiet square, and though London has never been my favorite city in Western Europe, right now, I miss being there.
Lev Raphael is the author of twenty-five books in many genres and teaches creative writing at www.writewithoutborders.com.