TeachingTraveling.com: Welcome, traveling Minnesota high school History teacher, Evan! Tell us a bit about your background.
Evan: I grew up in a small farm town, population 716, in Minnesota where the only thing that changes is the weather.
I took my first trip overseas to Europe as part of a class my sophomore year of college. The different languages, customs, and foods shocked my Midwestern root to the core. Traveling opened my eyes to all the world had to offer. I was hooked. I took a second tour of Europe that same year and began to look for other opportunities to travel.
By this time, I decided that I wanted to be a high school history teacher. Both of my parents were teachers, but neither had done much traveling. I didn’t know if my goals of traveling and teaching were compatible. Luckily, my college allowed education majors to student-teach in schools outside of the United States.
I was placed in a culturally and economically diverse secondary school in rural New Zealand. I used an online search to find the best deal on a hotel in Rotorua, a more inner island city of New Zealand but still in driving distance to where I would be teaching. The school was located on the Bay of Plenty on New Zealand’s North Island. Over half of students were Maori, the native people of New Zealand. I was nervous about making a connection with students from another culture. To help bridge this gap, I attended three-day leadership conference for students and staff of the school. The program was at a Maera, a spiritual center for Maori people. We lived the Maori way while getting to know each other. (Unfamiliar with the Maori culture? Check out the film Whale Rider). The experience helped me to grow as a person and educator, by placing me far outside of my comfort zone.
For the last eight years I have taught American History, coached mock trial, and advised student council at a high school about 45 minutes from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I love my job and the connections I make with students I teach. I am awed and impressed with teachers who can pull up their roots and move to teach in other countries. While my wife and I are intrigued by the adventure of moving overseas, the reality is that we love our work, family, and friends here in Minnesota too much to make the leap. However, for the last decade I have still found ways to work, travel, and teach across the United States and world.
TT: Fantastic! Explain some interesting travels you have undertaken during your time outside of your regular home-country classroom.
E: Knowing my passion for teaching and travel, a professor in college recommended that I apply to work at a summer program for gifted youth. Both Johns Hopkins University and Duke University sponsor gifted youth programs in various locations around the world. These programs allow gifted middle and high school students to study everything from astronomy to Shakespeare (and everything in-between) during the summer. During my first summer working at a gifted youth program I worked as an RA at a cross-curricular program in Bristol, Rhode Island. Since then, I have worked as a teaching assistant and, eventually, a program director at programs in California, Hawaii, North Carolina, and London. For most of these programs, my airfare and living expenses were completely paid on top of the salary! Getting paid to teach and travel, all while keeping my “day job” as a teacher in Minnesota? It’s been the best of both worlds.
TT: Well-said! How do you find the money to fund your travel?
E: I set aside earnings from summer work to fund other travel. During the past 8 years I’ve had the luxury of taking two summers off of work completely for traveling. One summer I backpacked across Australia. Another summer I toured New Zealand a second time. Every fall break, my wife and I take a trip to New York City. We are currently saving to travel to a new area of the world for us: Southeast Asia.
TT: Hooray! I just came back from there and LOVED it! Check out AroundTheWorldL.com for tips on Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam! Now, tell us one moment from your teaching in New Zealand that was funny or interesting.
E: I wish I could say that I changed the hearts and minds of each student in New Zealand, but who knows how many students I truly impacted. Like every other student teacher, I made countless mistakes that were compounded by the cultural differences. On my first day of teaching, I mistook a male student for a female, much to the amusement of the rest of the class. The student happened to be a transgender individual who was actually flattered by my mistake. I also learned not to turn red when asked for a “rubber” by students; it is slang for an eraser in New Zealand!
TT: Love it. How have your travels impacted you as a teacher?
E: I learn more from my students than they learn from me. When I taught Maori students in New Zealand, I had to learn about their culture and customs before I could begin to teach them anything. In the same way, my students in Minnesota teach me much about their own experiences and beliefs every day. Teaching is not a one-way flow of knowledge. It is shared between teachers and students. Of course, stories of my travels are interwoven into many of my lessons. Students love teachers that are good story tellers.
TT: Absolutely. How have your travels impacted you as a person?
E: Traveling has made me into a person more willing to take risks. Growing up, I always had my schedule figured out six months in advance. I also avoided anything involving speed or heights.
Much has changed since those cautious days of my youth. Since then, I have traveled across Europe, Australia, and New Zealand without an itinerary. For each trip, I picked my next destination at the train station or bus stop. I have been talked into skydiving (great), bungy-jumping (awful!), eating raw creepy crawlies (awful), and picked up the ability to surf and snowboard. Not bad for a kid from rural Minnesota.
TT: Wow! What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?
E: Be willing to travel without an itinerary. Be social and make friends on the road. My best experiences while traveling, and the best friends I have made, were not “part of the plan!” Most of all, take advantage of school breaks to work and travel abroad.
This past year, I began a blog to document my travels and offer advice to others. Please check out sensibletraveladvice.com or contact me at sensibletraveler @gmail.com if you have any questions.
TT: Thanks so much, Evan! Readers, chime in!