Teaching Traveling: Welcome to Robyn Donaldson who completed law school in the U.S. but now teaches English and yoga in Indonesia! Robyn, tell us about your background.
Robyn: I grew up in the midwest in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. My parents and I traveled quite a bit around the U.S. and Caribbean. However, I did not start traveling overseas until after I graduated college and started law school. I had opportunities to study abroad in London and Cape Town, South Africa. When I officially caught the overseas travel bug, going abroad became my main focus, I was obsessed! LOL! I have traveled around France, the Netherlands, Brazil, Italy, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, China and now SE Asia.
I thought about teaching English overseas after I graduated law school, but then I chickened out. I ended up working jobs in law and politics for several years after that, but the interest in this experience was still coming up for me. I became certified in teaching English as a Second Language. Then, one of my good friends from law school passed away in a tragic accident and that incident really reminded me of how precious life is and how nothing is guaranteed, so I let go of the idea of waiting for the “perfect time” to do it. I accepted a job and moved within 2.5 months after I completed my certification. I sold my stuff, gave away things and took the plunge. I didn’t look back.
Presently, I live in Jakarta, Indonesia where I teach English and yoga. I have spent some time traveling around Bali, which is SUCH a magical place on earth, especially Ubud. Then, since Indonesia is so centrally located in SE Asia, I’ve been able to visit Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
TT: Amazing! Tell us more about your travels.
R: Bali, specifically, Ubud, has been one of my favorite excursions since living in Indonesia. Bali is predominantly Hindu so there is this cool fusion of cultures of Indian, Hindu, Balinese, Indonesian and Dutch influences, as well as this international flare since so many people from around the world visit and sometimes expatriate to the island. Also, Ubud is a place where I feel so connected to nature and spirituality, it is palpable. There are beautiful oceans, mountains, lakes and jungles around the island. Each morning and evening, I would hear a different chorus of music from monkeys, frogs, roosters, birds and owls in the distance, it was so peaceful, calming and healing to spend that time in Ubud. It is much different from the hectic nature of Jakarta, a city of nearly 9 million people! I teach and practice yoga, so I enjoyed Ubud’s vibrant yoga community. Balinese food is delicious (very spicy), the people are so kind, always willing to help you and are so patient with tourists. The Balinese are willing to let tourists peek into their devotional and spiritual practices as they make their daily offerings to their deities, pray and celebrate their religious festivals. It is a special, special place on Earth.
TT: How exactly did you find your present job?
R: I found my present job on Facebook! One night, I joined a bunch of Facebook ESL and overseas teaching groups. Within a week, there was a job post for Indonesia, the country I was interested in going to, and I applied for the position. I was very close to landing it, but I accepted another job through a contact from my ESL class. Unfortunately, I came to Indonesia and that opportunity did not work out. It just was not a good fit. So, I was at a crossroads, I could give up and go back to the U.S. or go to Plan B. I contacted the first job that I found on Facebook and they still had openings. It all worked out for the best. I landed that position and started teaching a few weeks later.
TT: Love it! How did you fund your travel?
R: I funded my travel through securing my job, some savings and selling my belongings before I moved.
TT: Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
R: One funny, interesting and sometimes slightly annoying moment is when people never guess that I am American, even after hearing my American accent. People will guess I am from Africa, South America, Mexico, England, France and even Indonesia, before they guess that I am from the U.S. I mean, I understand on one hand because I don’t think many African-American women are traveling to Indonesia, therefore, people may have never met someone that looks like me. But, even after I say I am from the U.S., it is like some people STILL want to believe I am from Africa, no matter what I say or how far back I trace my ancestry in America. But, I just use that as an opportunity to enlighten people and represent a positive view of African-American people, since most of the times around the world there is a very limited view of black Americans in movies, TV and other forms of media.
TT: Thank you for sharing this with us! So how have your travels impacted you as a person?
R: Travel has taught me important lessons about trusting my gut, understanding how powerful I am and be flexible. One of the reasons I love travel is because it is an excellent practice in trusting my intuition. Sometimes I’m in a situation where I am not speaking the language or I’m way far out of my comfort zone, so I must tap into that little voice inside me and make decisions based on my gut. It feels very empowering and inspiring when I follow my heart. Also, travel reminds me of how connected we all are throughout the world and that our actions, thoughts, dreams do affect other people in the world. Travel teaches me about awareness. It is so important that humanity works together to solve problems in the world and that women are involved in this process.
TT: Absolutely. What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
R: My advice is take a risk and take the plunge! The first thing I did was make the decision that I was moving overseas. Then, I set a date as to when I definitely wanted to be out the country. Even if you do not move right away, start trimming down your life, meaning stop buying “stuff” that you do not need. I started thinking in terms that I’m moving, so I stopped taking on more responsibility and investing in my U.S. lifestyle. Otherwise, those things you do or add t your life will keep you tied down to your home country.
Also, I recommend to start saving some money, even if it is just a few hundred dollars. Even if you have a job when you leave your home country, it is nice to have a little bit of a nest egg for when you first arrive to the new country. I changed my lifestyle. I started thinking in terms that I would not be in the U.S. too much longer, so everything I bought or did was shaped by that belief that I would be moving very soon. I recommend taking an ESL certification course, whether in person or online. I believe it is important to invest in your skills, learn some tips about teaching overseas and network with other like-minded people who are interested in the same opportunities. The teachers and classmates I met were a great strength of support and offered valuable resources during my relocation. The internet has a wealth of resources available too, so research the countries, and schools and read blogs about teacher’s experiences in different countries. The more informed I was, the better I felt about making life changing decisions. It is important to feel good about your choices and feel confident about your move because everyone around you will not always understand your desire to uproot your life for the unknown. This is why I believe it is important to develop a supportive network of travel addicts, expats and adventurous souls, THEY will totally “get you” and your desire to see the world.