Gretchen, tell us about your background.
Gretchen: I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, then had my first overseas teaching experience in Seoul, South Korea in 1995. After that I traveled a bit, then worked in a variety of education and travel-related positions, my favorite being Program Manager for an Expedition Travel company in Seattle, WA. I am now a writer, and have published my first memoir, I Have Iraq in My Shoe: Misadventures of a Soldier of Fashion, about the year I spent teaching English in Northern Iraq.
TT: Wow! Of all your teaching travels, which was the most interesting? (I think I know the answer already…)
G: The most outrageous was definitely the job in Iraq. I was there for a little over a year and I taught in both Sulaimani and Erbil.
TT: How did you find this travel opportunity teaching in Iraq???
G: A friend I had met while teaching in Seoul was working in Iraq and offered me the job. At first I said no, but then I saw how good the salary was, and remembered I had $39,000 in credit card debt.
TT: Tell us a few moments from your Iraq travels that were particularly powerful, interesting, or funny.
G: Both funny and disturbing moments include:
• The discovery of something called “Virginity Soap” being sold in the local stores. It claimed to tighten the “varginal muscel”.
• Falling for a handsome Muslim student fifteen years younger, who may or may not be my soul mate
• Avoiding a suicide bomber while drinking by the paddling pool in a friend’s backyard
• Paying almost $5,000 in oversized luggage fees
• Becoming a role model for my students, a self-proclaimed “less annoying version of Hannah Montana,” a position that I had never found myself in before.
TT: Those are memorable moments, all right! How have your travels impacted you as a person?
G: Travel really just opens your eyes to new and different experiences and cultures, while at the same time reminding you that people are the same everywhere.
TT: What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel or travelers dreaming of teaching?
G: Just do it. There are opportunities everywhere (just Google “teach overseas”).
Most of the Western European countries do require ESL certificates, or advanced degrees in teaching, but if you don’t mind starting out in one of the less-traveled destinations you could build up your experience, and have some fun while doing it!
TT: Thanks so much, Gretchen!
Readers, what comments or questions do you have for the brave author of I Have Iraq in my Shoe?