Treen on an elelephant!

Are you ready for a giantly awesome tale? Let’s hand it over to Treen to read the story of the first 34 years of her teaching traveling life!

My name is Katrina and I come from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. I escaped from the suburbs as quickly as I could. One year into my Bachelor of Arts degree, I bought my dream car, a Combi Volkswagon pop top camper, and with $200 to my name set off around Australia.

This journey of odd jobs (packing meat, picking fruit, cleaning rooms, receptionist, etc.) and beautiful places lasted a few years before heading off for my first backpacking adventure overseas, to the madness of India and then to England (with $200 in my pocket again) for another journey of odd jobs and budget trips through different places in Europe.

Once I returned to Australia, I decided to go back to University to settle down to finish my Arts Degree, almost 10 years after I first began, majoring in Anthropology and Sociology at Latrobe in Melbourne.

I loved every minute of it. I loved being a “mature aged student,” sitting up the front of lectures, lapping it up, reading everything I could get my hands on, researching and learning. It broadened my horizons and gave shape and history to my confused mind about the state of the world and of my own culture.

At this stage, I really didn’t want to become another Arts student who ended up as a teacher; my mind was too full of ideas to go back to the classroom. But after a 6 month wait to start my Honours, I worked in a government office with many pale and mildly depressed post-graduates. No wonder, as it was the “Social Security Appeals Tribunal” where destitute people would come to my desk and say, “Help me, they cut off my payments and I don’t know how to feed my family!” and my only response was allowed to be, “Fill in this form and in 2 to 3 weeks someone can help you.” Not a great position.

Working in an Aboriginal community in rural Australia.

So I reevaluated my life and decided, half-heartedly (or less than that – maybe one-eighth-heartedly) to do my “Dip Ed” to be a high school teacher. I figured that if I decided to become a teacher I could travel around the world, have lots of holidays and make better money than working as a temp.

There is no other way to put it except to say that that year stunk. I hated the idea of becoming a teacher, I was a hopeless teacher on my teaching rounds as I hated talking in public, and it was just difficult to go back to school.

Luckily I had the opportunity to do my final teaching rounds in Alice Springs, in the middle of the desert in Central Australia, as I had always wanted to work with Aboriginal people. I ended up staying there to finish my degree and got a full time position at the school where I worked for 3 years. To say the job was challenging is an understatement, especially as a new teacher, but even for the more experienced.

A gorgeous vista from the desert in Australia.

As time went on, the most rewarding thing about the job was the students; once you had gained their trust, they were just the sweetest and wildest little people struggling through life and it was an honour to be a part of their lives.

During these years, I had the opportunity, during school holidays, to do a bit of traveling: Vietnam, back to the UK, Barcelona, Paris, New York and finally to the most amazing country that totally blew my mind, Morocco. After returning from that trip, I didn’t want to live in a little town in the desert anymore; I wanted more. So I resigned from my job and applied for jobs all around the world: Africa, South America, South East Asia and Europe.

My bags were packed and I was waiting for a reply. The first and only job offer came from my application to the Australia School in Bali as a high school teacher. The response went something like, “Unfortunately, all of the positions have been filled, but would you be interested in working as an Early Childhood teacher in Jakarta?”

Relaxing in the Sahara desert!

I thought of all of the stereotypes I held about Early Childhood teachers, and primary school teachers for that matter, looked at my packed bags, crossed my fingers and went, “What the heck.”

Two weeks later I found myself living in a small room at the back of the school, working as the sole native English speaker with a bunch of amazing Indonesian teachers, wondering, “Oh my God, what am I doing?”

It was a big jump to go from teaching Aboriginal teenagers in Australia to preschoolers (from 2.5 years to almost 5) and to live alone in this mad city. But after the shock wore off and I could look properly at where I was (and this took some time) I felt a little buzzing feeling growing inside me, something like, “Oh wow, this is my life. How exciting!”

What about money? Never in my life have I been able to save money. If I have it, I spend it, and if I try and save it, I find that I receive a big bill for some random thing that takes up all the money, but somehow I have managed to have a lot of adventures. Actually if you looked at my credit card statements you would get a better understanding of how I managed to cruise to different countries around the world: More of a “buy now, pay later” attitude, which may not be “healthy,” but it’s the only way that works for me!

What a stunning image from Treen’s travels! Can you identify where it’s from?

It’s hard to choose any moment from my travels that I could say was a highlight. Every journey I have been on has created a new pocket in my mind to hold the wonders of the world.

When I first started traveling, particularly to places like India which are so different from home, I was scared of the difference; I had been told it wasn’t safe and I carried a feeling of “be careful, you are in danger” around with me.

As I began to have so many experiences which made me feel so free, particularly in comparison to the sometimes confining nature of living in a rule-ridden country such as Australia, I started to have that feeling that anything is possible. I loved riding on the rooftops of buses, walking through deserts, climbing mountains, visiting places you only see on postcards, shaking a thousand hands, posing for a thousand photos, receiving hospitality that makes you want to weep with joy, and learning about how different people view the world and create their lives.

Treen and her students in Indonesia, celebrating a birthday.

And then there are those moments when you find yourself in an iconic place and you can’t believe it: the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, looking at Big Ben in London or Gaudi architecture, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, or riding a camel through the Sahara, climbing a fence to sneak into Glastonbury, watching (not “running with”) the bulls in Pamplona, having a Singapore sling at Raffles or crawling through the Viet Cong tunnels, giving an orangutang a banana in the jungles of Sumatra or standing awestruck before Borobudur temple near Jogyajakarta. Those are moments when life is just so sweet and you feel deeply how lucky you are.

All of my adventures have shaped my identity, have switched the lens through which I view the world, have shaped the way I teach, how I relate to people and in turn have given me the confidence to appreciate myself and to enjoy the beauty of being different.

With “Super Kids” school staff in Indonesia.

My time in Indonesian is a whole new experience. To live and work in a place, rather than to travel through it, is to bring all of the lessons of travel to a whole new level. When you travel from place to place you are only able to understand a little of what shapes the lives of the people from each country, like a little taste test, before moving on to the next counter.

As I am working as the only expat in the school I am in, and a lot of the people don’t speak any English, this added to my passion for culture, and I have been on a mission to learn as much as I can about Indonesia.

As well as traveling throughout the country at every opportunity I have, getting language lessons, reading history books and Indonesian literature, trying to find as much information as I can to survive, learn and understand the place I am living in as an outsider, I have made so many great Indonesian friends to share the journey with me.

So many times in Indonesia, in my everyday life, as well as my holiday time, I feel like I am living the traveller’s dream.

Such a sweet photo of Treen with students in Indonesia!

I get to work in a place that is so different than where I come from; when I go for a walk down the street with people waving and smiling and see new sights every day, when I ride my funny bike around the streets and stop in for a drink of iced tea at a little street side stall, when I catch a funny local bus around the city or walk down the alleyways avoiding potholes and rats, or have a drunken guitar sing-a-long with some friends,

I think that being able to work as a teacher in Indonesia is to realize all of my dreams. Working with preschoolers is just like a dream now, too; you get a million hugs a day and a million belly laughs a day.

The overall life here is challenging and rewarding. There is never a day here that I don’t feel like I am on a great adventure.

And that’s my story. So far.

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Posted by Lillie

Lillie started TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share the infinite ways to combine education and world exploration. Lillie has been a Boston teacher since 2003, and chronicles her own travels at AroundTheWorldL.com.