TeachingTraveling.com: Welcome to my friend Alex Uzgin, the traveling, teacher-resource mastermind behind the new homework management website, HomeworkHamlet.com!
Alex, tell us about yourself.
Alex: I live in Boston, Mass, but I was born in Kazan, Russia. I am currently 32 years old and I have travelled 90 thousand miles to 8 countries and 32 cities (based on my TripIt account). I love to travel! I am a business executive with 8 years of experience, and I recently launched a new web-site, HomeworkHamlet.com, the “World’s easiest homework manager” for teachers.
TT: Fantastic! Please explain one interesting travel adventure you have had.
A: After I received my master’s degree from Boston College, I decided to take on a volunteer teaching opportunity in Buriram, Thailand. This was a 2 week trip to a very rural part of Thailand on the border with Cambodia.
TT: How did you find this travel opportunity?
A: I researched different volunteer opportunities and ended up going through an organization called Volunteers for Peace. In turn, VFP went through an organization called Greenway, which essentially served to put me in touch with a host family in Thailand (http://www.mynitaya.com/).
In retrospect, it is much cheaper to contact Nitaya directly, without VFP.
I learned a lot from Nitaya and her family. We truly felt at home. There were eight of us: volunteers from all around the world. We all stayed together in the same house and became great friends.
TT: Beautiful image. How did you find the money to fund this travel?
A: This trip was self-funded. The tickets to get there were expensive (over $1,000), but once you are in Thailand, everything is SUPER cheap. I paid a couple of hundred dollars to my host family to cover all my housing and food, and as I mentioned before, you can save money by contacting Nitaya directly, without going through the over-arching organizations (which never really did anything, anyway!). My Thailand trip ended up being less expensive than many other travels I or others have done, and it was for a good cause!
TT: Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful or interesting.
A: The kids were amazing, and not having any prior teaching experience, at times it was also challenging. Thankfully I had great support and I never felt overwhelmed. Through my time in Thailand, I grew tremendously as an individual.
On the last day, the kids sang us songs, and every one of them (there were 300) asked us to sign their school shirts with permanent markers. I’ve never given so many autographs!
Needless to say, the whole time staying in this village we felt like celebrities. The town-folk knew us and would stop on the street to offer rides and invite us over for dinner. This was interesting and fascinating, since none of us spoke Thai!
TT: I bet! How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your current career?
A: I learned to be patient, to have a clear lesson-plan and to have a variety of activities in case the kids got bored. While teaching English, one of the games we played was “What’s in Alex’s Backpack?” Every day, I would bring a different set of items from home, pull them out one by one and tell kids the English word for the item. It’s amazing how much you can fit in a backpack. The kids loved it.
TT: What a great activity! How have your travels impacted you as a person?
A: Seeing the kids and adults living in poverty makes you appreciate what you have.
TT: What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of
A: For the kids in Thailand, knowing English is often the way out of poverty, since they can get higher paying jobs in the hospitality industry. Readers, you should consider sharing your knowledge abroad to help others. I would love to go back and do it again.
Traveling always reminds me of how small our world really is. Each one of us can contribute. This volunteer trip was a fantastic teaching opportunity and a very fulfilling vacation that I will remember forever. Definitely check out http://www.mynitaya.com/ and consider it during your next trip to South East Asia!
TT: Thanks so much for your advice, Alex!
Readers, when you have a moment, check out Alex’s very useful and neat new site, HomeworkHamlet.com, which allows teachers to create and distribute cool web-based homework assignments which can include audio, video, and graphics. All the goodies on the site are FREE for those who join now! HomeworkHamlet collects, checks for plagiarism, and auto-grades responses from students. In addition, students can interact in private online post-lesson discussions.
Alex is looking for pioneer teachers to test out and give feedback on the site, so if you’re interested, contact Alex at: AlexUzgin@HomeworkHamlet.com .
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