Teaching Traveling: Welcome to unbelievably inspiring long-term world traveler and international teacher, Barry O’Leary, also known as Baz!
Baz, tell us a bit about your background.
Baz: I was born in Kingston, London, but I grew up in North-West London in a really exciting place called Eastcote. After getting an Economics degree at Southampton University I worked in sales in London for three years. During that time I grew to despise working in an office environment where everything was centred round targets and profits.
I’d always desired to travel so I saved up some money, did a TEFL course, and set off round the world teaching and travelling for almost two years. I’ve been teaching English in Seville, Spain, for nearly seven years and I’ve just got married to a Sevillana (who used to be my student).
TT: What a story! Love it! Tell us more about your travels.
B: My most exciting and memorable trip lasted almost two years. After partying in Mexico for two months I went to Quito, Ecuador, where I almost got mugged on my first night. Despite being shaken I stayed and found three different jobs teaching English. When I realised how much fun teaching my own language was I became hooked.
After three months I travelled through Peru, Bolivia, and some of Brazil until I got to Rio de Janeiro. I had a great couple of days in one of the most exciting cities in the world, but then I got robbed. I lost my diary, camera, and photos from my trip.
Although I was downbeat on arrival to Salvador, I fell in love with the pretty town by the sea and the carnival build-up atmosphere. I stayed there for four months and really became a TEFL teacher.
Sydney was next on my list. I had fun teaching a mix of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Brazilian, and Eastern European students. However I found Australia too similar to England. I craved more adventure so after four months I got a new job in Bangkok.
As I’d got the job beforehand on Tefl.com, I couldn’t chose my new boss; a strict catholic nun. My seven months in Thailand was a bit of a rollercoaster. I loved teaching Thai kids, they were so much fun and enthusiastic, but the school system was unbearable at times. After almost getting caught up in the Tsunami in Phuket I decided it was time to head home. I finished my contract and in May and left Bangkok, but the adventure continued.
I travelled overland through Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China up to Beijing where I caught the Trans-Mongolian to Moscow. That six-week trip was amazing, especially the six-day train trip over a third of the world. When I got back to London I was a changed man; a TEFL teacher and traveller. So it wasn’t surprising that after two months I was off again, to Seville, Spain, where I’ve been for almost seven years.
TT: Unbelievably inspiriting story!! How did you plan these epic travels?
B: I planned the whole trip myself. I spent a long time reading up about which countries I wanted to work in and travel round and I guess I got lucky with the jobs. I’ve found all my jobs, apart from the one in Thailand, by walking round to different academies and schools and being in the right place at the right time.
A lot of times I had to pester school directors for an interview and keep chasing them up. The six-week trip overland was the most complicated to organise because of the visas, but that was all part of the fun.
TT: Wow! How did you find the money to fund this travel?
B: When I left England I had about $3,000 in the bank, and I spent half of that in Mexico. From then I had to scrimp by and use the money I saved from teaching to fund my next trip. By the end of South America I only had about $300, but in Australia I managed to save up a couple of thousand again. In Thailand I saved up about $1,000 which I blew on my trip home. When I got back to England I was about $50 in debt; not bad for a two-year trip round the world.
TT: I’ll say! Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
B: One of my most powerful memories was a relationship I had with my boss in Thailand; Sister Leonora. After a week working for her I realised she was a hard-nosed, strict boss and liked to run a tight ship. The students were scared of her as were most of the teachers. I got on with her but most of the time I stayed out of her way.
She’d promised me two weeks off at Christmas. My uncle was living in Phuket so I planned to spend the holidays with him. About a week before, she announced that external visitors were coming into the school and we had to work. Our Christmas was cancelled and I was furious, but perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.
A week later a Tsunami struck the world and wiped out much of Thailand’s coast, including my uncle’s business. Being in Thailand and seeing the faces of my students and teachers when we went back to work really made the event hit home. I was grateful that I hadn’t been down there. Maybe the Sister had saved my life.
The most powerful part was that a lot of teachers discussed going down to the south of Thailand to help out, but no one did. The Sister, however, did volunteer. When she returned she was still the strict Sister, but I began to realize her mission; she was just a lonely old woman who wanted to make a difference to the world. I still think of her when I have to be strict with my students, I don’t like doing it but I know it will help them in the long run.
TT: Such a powerful story. How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your current career?
B: My travels have taught me to be patient. I always dreamt of travelling the world and living abroad, but it took time and a lot of work. This helps me when I’m teaching because I try to explain to my students that learning English is not easy. They won’t learn our complex language in a year or two. To really master it takes time, effort, and patience.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?
B: After travelling on my own I’m much more confident. I used to be quite shy and lack conversational skills but now I feel I have more to speak about and have the confidence to deal with difficult situations. I spent a lot of time alone during those two years, but the best moments were those I shared with other travellers and friends.
I have always been optimistic about life, but now I am more so. After seeing the world and seeing how some people live I appreciate what I have and try to use my time in helping others; one of the great advantages of teaching English.
TT: What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers who are dreaming of teaching internationally?
B: Just get out there. The world is massive so I’d get some sort of plan together before you head off. I spent about two years while I was working in London reading Lonely Planet guides from the library and tons of travel books.
I never imagined being a teacher, but it is great fun and I still get job satisfaction after 9 years. Do a TEFL course to get an insight into whether you want to be a teacher, find a place you’d like to go, and get moving. You never know, you might meet your future wife (or husband) through teaching like I did.
TT: Love it! Thanks so much, Baz! Readers, if feel free to leave a comment for this wonderful teacher-traveler.* So far, this article has been read by ... fans. Share it around! *