TeachingTraveling.com: Great to meet you, Aaron! Tell us a bit about your background.
Aaron: I’m a teacher who has pursued many opportunities to visit many places across the United States. I was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. I left the Midwest to earn a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin, then I moved to Boston, Massachusetts to earn my Master’s degree from Tufts University. Immediately after graduating, I moved to New York City and resided in Queens for two years. I am now happy to make my home in Brooklyn.
For the past four years I have taught in New York City public schools. I currently teach 9th grade government at the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice (SLJ) in Brooklyn.
My family constantly stresses the importance of receiving a quality education, and of educating others. I have spent the past twenty-two years as either a student or a teacher in formal educational institutions. I am constantly looking for ways to expand my horizons and the horizons of my students. Traveling has allowed me do that.
So far, I have traveled across the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, France, Italy, and Egypt. I am currently dreaming about where I would like to go next.
TT: Fantastic! Tell us about your most recent voyage.
A: In August of 2010, I spent two weeks experiencing Egypt with an old friend from college. His career allows him to travel internationally, so we decided to visit Egypt because neither of us had been there strictly as tourists.
While there, we visited Alexandria and dined on fresh seafood. We visited Luxor and trekked through Karnak Temple, and the Valley of the Kings. We visited Hatshepsut’s tomb, Dahab and we climbed Mt. Sinai. We went to Cairo, and saw the Pyramids of Giza, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Nothing other travelers said prepared me for what I encountered in Egypt. From the heat to the constant demands for baksheesh (tips/donations) from the locals, to the beauty of the culture and history of the country, I was both overwhelmed and intrigued. We had to work to experience all that the country has to offer, but it was definitely worth all of the baksheesh to be able to talk with locals and hear their stories.
This was my first time in an Islamic country. As a US citizen, it is disheartening to hear the disparaging and ignorant comments that some of my fellow citizens make about Muslims and the Islamic faith. My experiences taught me that much of the propaganda we see in the US is false. I am definitely glad that I experienced this firsthand to help share this truth to my students, friends, and family.
TT: Fascinating! How did you find this travel opportunity?
A: My friend and I had to choose where we wanted to travel, and we decided on Egypt not only because neither of us had visited the country extensively before, but also because we hoped it would offer many unique historical and cultural opportunities.
TT: It sounds like it really did. How did you find the money to fund this travel?
A: I saved money for this trip. As for the future, I plan on applying for a grant opportunity for this upcoming summer to visit South Africa to research the effects of dismantling Apartheid on young people there. Many friends and colleagues have taken advantage of various grant opportunities for teachers to travel and have been able to visit places such as Vietnam and Kenya.
TT: Indeed, there are many funding sources out there, but it can be so hard to track them down. Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful or interesting.
A: The first time I flew on a trans-Atlantic flight was a big deal for me. Outside of my parents traveling to Jamaica and my brother studying in London for his graduate degree, my family has not traveled outside of this country. So for me to take this leap and just go was huge. I remember speaking with my mother while I was in Paris. She told me how proud she was of me, and that I was lucky to be afforded the opportunity to travel. She added that my Granny would have been incredibly proud of me, too. Even my parents remember a time before many black people had the opportunity to travel for pleasure. Being able to live out my family’s dreams of traveling to locations around the world has been an amazing experience so far.
I know the question asked for one moment, but I experienced so much while in Egypt. I would like to share one more story with you:
We traveled to Egypt knowing that we would be there during Ramadan. I did not know what to expect, but what I witnessed on a nightly basis was wonderful. Families and neighborhoods actually ate meals together. This was a marked contrast to our hectic western lifestyle. People broke bread during the nightly Iftar (evening meal to break the daily fast during Ramadan) and my friend and I were lucky enough to join.
We shared a meal with the local residents in Qena and they were more than happy to share their food with us, even though they had not eaten all day. This touched me in a profound way because of the actual human interaction we had sitting on the roadside conversing with them over a meal.
All in all, my travel teaches me that regardless of where one is in one’s own life, one can always learn something new and grow as a person from these experiences.
TT: So true! How have your travels impacted you as a teacher?
A: Traveling has impacted me as a teacher in many ways. I strive to convey the message to students and colleagues that travel is essential to being a learner of the world. As an educator, this is one of my main goals: to inspire young people to become life-long learners and citizens of the world.
I spoke with one student who traveled to Paris with our school’s French Club to hear his experiences as young man of color traveling outside of the country. Listening to how this trip impacted him makes my work in teaching worthwhile and fulfilling.
TT: Travel is truly life-changing for students and teachers alike. How have your travels impacted you as a person?
A: Traveling has made me a much more reflective person. As a structured way to document and reflect upon my travels, I blog about my experiences at Pack.Go.Live.
I think that one must explore who one is in order to realize how one fits into the world at large. Without experiencing different cultures and ideas, my life would be stagnant. I do not like to stay in one place for a lengthy amount of time. While some people might frown upon that, it has helped me to become the man I am today. Being able to reflect on my many experiences also helps me to constantly refine my practice as a teacher.
TT: Awesome! What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?
A: I recommend checking out Project Explorer’s site, ProjectExplorer.org. This site, created by Ms. Jenny Buccos, allows visitors to travel around the world without leaving the comfort of their home or classroom. Visitors are able to view online video blogs, which include everything from lessons on the Zulu language to tours of important international museums to interviews with important world figures. I have used their South African series in my class for the past four years. Additionally, for the past two years, I have integrated their Good Global Citizen series in my class as well. Students love it.
I encourage teachers to take advantage of travel opportunities, individually or with students, when the time is right. The experiences that teachers will be able to share with students, friends, and family are immeasurable. Not only that, teachers can become true learners and citizens of the world. And achieving that provides a great example for all.
TT: Thanks so much, Aaron! Readers, any questions or comments for this wonderful teacher-traveler?