Baz with a monk in Ankor Wat, Cambodia.

Baz with a monk in Ankor Wat, Cambodia.

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).

Baz's favorite class from his time teaching in Asia.

Baz's favorite class from his time teaching in Asia.

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.

Baz Teaching in Oz (Australia).

Baz Teaching in Oz (Australia).

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 www.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.

Fun (wet!) hiking in China!

Fun (wet!) hiking in China!

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.

Posing with a crocodile during his travels. Dramatic photo!

Posing with a crocodile during his travels. Dramatic photo!

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.

In a beautiful Wat (temple)... with a guitar!

In a beautiful Wat (temple)... with a guitar!

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.

Delighted to be at the Great Wall of China!

Delighted to be at the Great Wall of China!

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.

Baz being silly with other teachers. Teachers are fun!

Baz being silly with other teachers. Teachers are fun!

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! Teaders, if feel free to leave a comment for this wonderful teacher-traveler, and also check out his blog for new and experienced international teachers, Teaching English in a Foreign Land. Also, Baz has written a travel book about his adventures and is in the process of finding a publisher!

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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.

11 Comments

  1. AMAZING! Well done, Buz!
    I’m also moving to Thailand to teach English soon. I’m nervous, but stories like yours always make me reassured that I’m doing the right thing!

    Reply

  2. Hey guys,

    Just to let you know my non fiction travel book is out now. Have a look at my blog here:

    http://teachingenglishinaforeignland.blogspot.com.es/2012/08/teaching-english-in-foreign-land-book.html

    Thanks Lillie

    Reply

  3. Wow, you’ve had some many amazing experiences Baz!

    We are currently running a supported jobs programme to recruit 200 graduates to teach in Thailand and China. Obviously it’s a bit of a nerve-wracking experience, can you offer any advice for when they first touch down in the respective countries?

    Thanks

    Reply

    1. Hi Charlotte,

      Thanks for writing. Yeah, it’s been fun so far. 200 graduates? Sounds mad. If you want I can write a blog for you guys, do you have a website? Let me know and I’ll write something for your newbies…

      Thanks

      Barry

      Reply

  4. Sorry for the late reply Ian.

    My wife told me the other day that she read an article about a woman who was 105 and was still working, in the states somewhere. Funny thing was that she started work when her husband died, she was 60. So goes to show what you can do in this crazy world. TEFL is a flexible industry and I think you’d find work, as Lillie said, as long as you get some training. Your life experience will help you a lot with employers and also with the students. Give it a go, you’ve got nothing too lose.

    Good luck

    Baz

    Reply

  5. Hi, I am looking into setting off once again, my kids are grown and I am single. I am 59, what are the chances of work if I get TEFL certification. I have a four year degree.
    I have crossed the Atlantic on small sailboats 3 times, lived through out the Caribbean, been ship wrecked, and lived i n the Comoroes for sometime.
    Originally from South Africa, Last 20 in the USA.
    Cheers.

    Reply

    1. I’ll be curious what Baz, Samuel, and others say, but my take is that you can ALWAYS find English teaching work in SOME part of the world, TEFL certification or not. TEFL training will help you have more options and be more prepared, but there are even jobs that will hire you without it or train you themselves.
      Very exciting that you are ready to set out! Keep us posted!

      Reply

    2. Hi Ian,

      To add on… If you’ve been ship wrecked then I’m sure you could handle TEFL. I’d recommend doing a TEFL cert, probably the CELTA is your best bet, and then choose where you want to go. The fact that you mentioned you were 59 I’m guessing your wondering if people will take you on? Don’t see why not, TEFL is quite a flexible world, a lot of the teachers I work with are in their 50’s so age doesn’t really come into it,in my eyes anyway. Where are you thinking of heading?

      Thanks for writing.

      Baz

      Reply

  6. Thanks for your comment Samuel. Yeah thinking about it my money did go a long way, was hard going at times though and managed to save up money in every country I worked in. Where are you based? Are you a TEFL teacher?

    Reply

  7. Great advice for aspiring teachers looking to work overseas. I’m impressed you were able to stretch out your budget as well as you did for a 2 year trip.

    Reply

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