Educators, check out this tale from Michael to learn of an organization, GEEO, that takes teachers on fabulous adventures on their school vacations! Take it away, Michael!
My name is Michael Baldwin and I am currently in my third year as a teacher. I teach Social Studies at a middle school in Sumter, South Carolina, and I am a career changer. My previous jobs include working for a 9-1-1 emergency center, and being a news director for a radio station in Georgia. To change careers meant I had to go back to school. I have a Master’s Degree from Winthrop University in South Carolina and I am currently working on my Doctorate Degree in Teacher Leadership.
I have always wanted to travel internationally, but never had the opportunity to go, nor anyone to travel with. During the winter of my first year teaching, I knew what my spring break plans were, but needed something to do for the summer. That is when an email was forwarded to me from my district office about teachers traveling internationally with an organization called GEEO (Global Exploration for Educators Organization). I usually ignore these types of emails, but decided to read this one. I checked out their website (geeo.org) to see what trips they had, and how much they were. I was very skeptical about giving my money to a travel group that I had never heard of. Then I noticed a trip they offered that I was interested in, to Tunisia in northern Africa. I called Jesse Weisz, GEEO’s director, to find out about this trip and this organization.
In the end, I did travel to Tunisia with GEEO in the summer of 2009. Jesse told me while we were on that trip that when I called him that night, he was at a party. He also said he could hear the skepticism in my voice and stayed on the phone with me to help ease that away.
The trip to Tunisia was so wonderful, that over the Christmas break of 2009, I made my second trip with GEEO to Panama. While we were in Panama, Jesse was telling the group of the trips GEEO was planning for the summer of 2010. Now hooked on traveling with GEEO, it was just a matter of which of those trips I would choose. I was interested in China, but hearing of 23 days touring four countries in southern Africa really got my attention… especially when I heard it was 23 days of mostly camping! I don’t camp. This hurt because the activities on this trip would fulfill a lot of things I had always wanted to do. I decided that if I could survive showering with a monster scorpion in Panama, I could survive the camping.
The trip to southern Africa included South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. A few of the GEEO alumni went a week early so we could also include Swaziland. People are always asking what my favorite part of this trip was and I have to break it into 3 categories.
First, is the favorite adventure. Without a doubt, my favorite adventure was bungee jumping off a perfectly good bridge at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe! I have always wanted to bungee jump, so I figured, if I am going to ever do it, I should do it from the third highest bungee site in the world (at 333 feet!) and at one of the most beautiful places in the world. One would think that jumping once would be enough, but no. Anne, another teacher on the trip, and I did a tandem jump off that perfectly good bridge, plunging feet first towards the river below. I have video from the jump company, but I also duct-taped a camera in my hand and videoed from my perspective… including all the words that went with it!
My second favorite part of this trip has to involve the animals. Specifically, walking with and petting REAL lions at Antelope Park in Zimbabwe. If you have not figured it out yet, yes I am crazy!
The purpose of the park is to help increase the decreasing lion population in Africa. I got to walk with three lions that were 8 months old. They accepted the humans as part of their pride and off we went for a morning walk. They were in control of where we went and when they wanted to just sit. It was when they sat down that we had the opportunity to pet them.
At one point of the walk, one of the females came right up next to me and brushed my leg and just walked right there with me. This is the only place in the world you can do this, and it was just unreal that I was walking with lions.
The final favorite part of my trip to southern Africa involves the children.
GEEO tries to include visits with local schools as part of all the trips they offer. Happily, we did have the opportunity to visit schools on our trip.
It was amazing, but visiting with orphans and other children who are HIV positive was inspiring, but also heartbreaking. The HIV infection rate in this region of Africa is one of the highest in the world. It has greatly decreased, but still has a long way to go.
The children were excited to see us, and the gifts we purposefully brought for them. Though I teach in a high poverty level school in America, my students truly do not understand how good their lives are compared to what I saw in Africa. I have shared pictures with my students, but often American students have trouble really understanding the extent of their own relative privilege.
The children we got to spend some time with were very excited to see us, and even with the language barrier, we still found a way to communicate.
I found it very difficult to keep myself together while with the HIV-positive children, because I know what their future will be. It is when you finish with your time with them that you can let your emotions out.
With all my trips with GEEO, each has impacted my life in its own special way. I will talk about these trips all year in my classes. For so many of my students in America, my description of my travels will be the only exposure they will have to other countries and other ways of life.
Many students don’t watch the news, and many will never leave this county. That is the life for many of the students in my district. However, any time I can reference back to one of my adventures, it introduces my students to the world, and makes them begin to see what else is possible beyond the expected.
Thanks so much, Michael! Readers, what questions, comments, or stories do you have for our great Teacher-Traveler?