Teaching Traveling: Celebrity alert! Today we have esteemed travel blogger Chris Walker-Bush, creator of “Aussie on the Road” and teaching abroad fanatic.
Chris, tell us about yourself.
Chris: G’day, I’m Chris; a 28 year old Australian theatre graduate who has been teaching ESL abroad since 2007. I got into the travel gig back in late 2007 when I started on a 2.5 year teaching tour in South Korea, and have continued that here in China over the past few months. I would never have said that teaching was what I was put onto this earth to do, but I’ve taken to it like a fish to water and found that very few things give me more pleasure than sharing my knowledge with students eager to learn.
TT: Excellent! Tell us more about your traveling and teaching.
C: Perhaps the highlight of my teaching experience was the two day trip to Shuanggou in northern Jiangsu, China that I took earlier this year. A co-worker and I volunteered to visit a disadvantaged school and found it to be a wonderfully fulfilling and rewarding experience.
Over the course of two days we taught classes of 50+ eager students who were clambering to see their first ever native English speaker. It wasn’t just a classroom experience – we explored a quiet corner of China, befriended the locals, and saw life as it is for the natives rather than as it is presented to foreigners. It was a terrific way to see Chinese life as it truly is.
TT: What an amazing opportunity! How did you get into teaching abroad in the first place?
C: My first introduction to teaching abroad happened almost entirely by chance. A friend of a friend put my name forward for a job teaching in Korea and asked me if I’d be keen. I’d had a horrible day at my day job as a sales assistant and applied after entirely too many beverages.
Three months later I was standing in an apartment in Gwangju, South Korea and struggling to come to terms with the enormity of my decision. It was a challenging and confronting time in my life, but I emerged unscathed out the other side and grew tremendously as a person as a result. In my eyes, going abroad to teach is still the best decision I ever made.
TT: So cool! How did you fund this?
C: I didn’t get much help in the process. I used what little money I had in savings and coupled that with the money my parents were generous enough to share. The past two times I’ve traveled to teach abroad, it’s been entirely on my own back. It’s not a terribly expensive step to come abroad if you know what is necessary and what isn’t.
TT: Describe a powerful moment from your teaching abroad.
C: Tough question! I think it’s arriving in Shuanggou, China that will forever stand out. 3000+ kids flooded out from every classroom to crowd playgrounds, balconies, and doorways for their first ever glimpse of a white person.
It was something else entirely to have kids clamouring to touch you or take a photo of you with their cellphones. There came a point when 10+ kids grabbed my arm and tried to drag me farther into the seething sea of eager kids. You don’t realize how crucial to a kid’s future English is until he or she literally drags you into a crowd to get better access to the precious gift you possess. It’s perverse, really.
TT: Wow. WOW. How have your travels impacted you in your career?
C: It’s rare that a day on the road passes without me learning a little about myself. To be honest, I’ve learned more about the English language since hitting the road than I did in my years studying the language in Australia. How often do gerunds, uncountable nouns, and the like come up in an Aussie classroom?
More than any one rule of English, it’s patience and understanding I’ve learned living abroad. It’s hard to be upset with a student for not getting a complex English concept when you spent a good chunk of your weekend trying to explain to a pizza delivery guy that you didn’t order chicken on your pizza. Expat life puts you in a position where you can see your own linguistic inadequacies, and it’s a sobering lead in to your planning when it comes to sharing your knowledge of English with students.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?
C: I struggle to recognise the Chris that left Australia in late 2007. He was a painfully shy and socially awkward kid. I look at myself now and I struggle to associate that kid with the man I am today. Going out and making new friends is almost second nature to me after my time on the road, but I still nurture memories of a shy kid who had trouble stringing words together in the presence of pretty girls.
Travel has enriched my life more than I could ever adequately express. My battle with depression would have been a much more one-sided affair had I not had travel to instill strength in my bones.
TT: Powerful point! Now, what advice do you have for teachers dreaming of travel or travelers of teaching?
C: When considering how best to teach a class, think of the teachers who inspired you and see what you can take from them. Your students are no less willful or frustrated than you were as a student. Plan your lessons for teenagers thirsty for knowledge rather than for robots eager to digest more information.
As long as you treat your students as human beings rather than receptacles for knowledge, you’ll hold their admiration and their respect.
TT: Wise words, Chris! Readers, what questions or comments do you have for Mr. Aussie on the Road?