Teaching Traveling: Welcome, Whitney!
Tell us about your background.
Whitney: When I was younger, I traveled so much, but only in my imagination. My favorite books growing up were set in other countries and other time periods. For example, when I read about Sherlock Holmes, I so badly wished to be in London, in the Victorian era (I love how much a geek I am!).
I longed to be part of an adventure that would take me away from my hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia!
At first, I found a way to “travel” through history by being costumed historic interpreter in several museums and historic sites throughout Virginia. I enjoyed it, learned a lot, and connected with so many people; yet, the restlessness was always there. I wanted more!
In 2006, which began a period of stagnation and poor decisions, I was surfing the Internet and found opportunities for teaching English abroad. I was stoked! I was passionate about education, even though my experience was not formal classroom teaching, and I wanted to see the world. But I hesitated at the time, because the opportunities I saw were looking for TEFL/TESL/TESOL certification, and after struggling to pay rent, bills, and daily needs, I couldn’t afford to take the classes. However, he seed was planted, and over the next three years, I kept revisiting the thought, “You know, you could try teaching English overseas…” I mean, I had traveled to the British Virgin Islands while in college for an archaeological dig, and I spent a year in Philadelphia on my own for graduate school. Maybe I could do this….
Finally, in 2009, I just decided to go for it. I had the support of my family and friends, and I found a TEFL certification program that was affordable and online. I found a great TEFL recruiter, and by May, I was off to Korea! Currently, I’ve been living in Taiwan since 2010, where I continue to teach English, write, and take care of my amazing one-year-old son.
TT: Wow! Tell us more about your travels!
W: Some people think that I am traveling, but in reality, I am just living day-to-day in another country. I like to think of Taiwan as my “home away from where my home will actually be one of these days!” My husband, my son, and I still have opportunities to travel at least twice a year. My son has traveled back and forth between Taiwan and the United States twice since he was 3 months old (and about to go again in July!). July 2011, my husband Chris and I decided to take our overdue honeymoon to Europe. I was beyond ecstatic, because our destinations were Paris and Capri, Italy! We left our son Preston for some massive spoiling time with his grandmother and friends in the States. Even though it was only for a week, it was a slice of heaven. Paris is truly a magical city, more special than tourists realize, if you peel past the great landmarks and just take your time to fall in love. Capri’s landscape is incredible, and the scope of history there is a tangible force of nature.
TT: Tell us a particularly powerful moment from your travels.
W: It’s difficult for me to choose out of so many incredible moments since I embarked on my teaching travels. If I had to choose just one, it has to be when Chris and I went to Pompeii.
I had always been fascinated by the story of Pompeii, and at last I was there walking through those ancient forums, homes, and public baths, frozen in time. This place was meaningful for me in a very personal way because about four years before, my parents went to Pompeii and my mother took a very haunting photograph of my father standing in an alley with Mount Vesuvius looming in the background. Not a single soul was around; my father was standing alone. My father died suddenly a couple of months before I left for Korea in 2009.
When Chris and I got to Pompeii, I had a copy of the picture of my father because I wanted to emulate it as much as possible. I showed it to our private guide, and he knew exactly where to go! I stood exactly where my father stood, and I knew he would have been thrilled that I finally got to Europe and that my dreams were coming true.
TT: How has travel changed you as a teacher?
W: Teaching and traveling have taken me beyond all that I thought possible. Many people testify that teaching abroad gives someone global experience, independence, adaptability, among other stellar qualities. All true in my case! Yet, I must consider how much of a difference I have really made with my students and colleagues, just by being present and caring about what I teach. No matter where one lives in the world, teaching is hard work, and sometimes pressure builds with every little frustration. But I am learning that I can thrive as a teacher and deal with cultural prejudices, language barriers, and different organization styles. When I lived in Korea, my favorite parts of my job were my students and being able to create whole classes based on my passions and experiences, including classes in United States History and Interview Skills.
Here in Taiwan, my colleagues give me free rein to create meaningful lessons as I will, which has led me to develop lessons involving anti-bullying. I feel great being able to create and implement ideas not only related to language development, but also that are relevant in the world. Again, I love my students, who are equal parts driven and big-hearted!
I feel that traveling as a teacher gives me all the experiences that I can use in the classroom to share with my students and to bring lessons to life for them. I’ve learned that language, information, and communication are universal.
TT: How has travel affected you as a person?
W: I talk to my mother via Skype quite often; I’m very close to her and she loves watching her grandson in action. She commented that she has never seen me so happy and contented with my life. Teaching and traveling has truly made my dreams come true. I’m doing something I love and want to develop. I’m surrounded by wonderful people and beautiful scenery. Coming abroad has helped my confidence grow. As I work on learning different languages (i.e. French, Spanish, and Chinese), I learn more about patience and persistence. I learn to be grateful for any help and kindness that people show me and try to pass it on. I count my blessings, because never has my life been so rich!
Most important to my personal life, I met Chris while in Korea and we have been happily married for about three years. We get to work at the same school; how great is it to work with your spouse! We both love being out in the world. We believe this is an important legacy to instill in our son, who was actually born in Taiwan and is soaking up Chinese as we speak.
What a great opportunity for Preston, for us, to be more than just travelers, but citizens of the world!
TT: What tips do you have for aspiring teacher-travelers?
W: Do your research, plan well, and when you see an opportunity, don’t let anything stop you. I think fear can hold you back from so many wonderful adventures. Don’t always force your travel adventures into possible lesson plans; sometimes pleasure and relaxation is all you need. Keep it all in perspective, because sometimes things just happen that are beyond your control, and people are people no matter where you go. Sometimes, you just have to laugh or cry! Above all, follow your joy!
So on that note, here are some helpful links:
- Reach to Teach Recruiting: www.reachtoteachrecruiting.com (They used to have teaching opportunities in Asia only, but now they are extending out to Eastern Europe and Chile)
- Bridge TEFL Online: www.teflonline.com (I used this program for my TEFL certification)
- Travel Store: www.travelstoreusa.com (We used this company for our trip to Paris and Capri. If you live outside the U.S., they’ll even work with you via Skype!)
TT: Thanks so much, Whitney! Readers, what comments or questions do you have for this great teacher-traveler?