Teaching Traveling: Welcome to Brooke Stover. Brooke, tell us about your background.
Brooke: I grew up on a small island near Seattle, Washington. My mother was a teacher when I was growing up and I think deep down I always knew I wanted to follow in her footsteps. However, I became addicted to travel after my first trip to Europe with my high school French teacher at the age of 15 and after that, I decided that I wanted to pursue something that involved living/working/traveling abroad.
After studying abroad in France and Iceland, I graduated from the University of Washington in 2003 with a BA in International Relations with intentions of working for the state department or a company with ties abroad. As someone in my early 20s, I didn’t really know what this looked like and decided just to live life and follow love. After graduating, I spent two years living abroad in Scandinavia. By volunteering and substituting at an international school in Norway, I learned that I could combine my passion for teaching with more of an international community. It was the perfect combination of experiencing the world while working with children. I knew that if I wanted to pursue this further, I would need to get my teaching degree. In 2005, I moved home to Seattle to pursue a Masters degree in Teaching and planned on getting a few years of experience before attempting to pursue a teaching career abroad.
It is now nine years later… where does the time go?! With a steady teaching job, husband, dog and mortgage, I’m itching to get out there and teach abroad, just like I always intended on doing. In the meantime, I try to make two or three international trips abroad each year to help “cure” my obsessive wanderlust! That has led me to traveling/living in over 35 countries; even with that, I still have a list a mile long of where I want to go next. I truly think it is a sickness; I am obsessed with seeing and experiencing the world.
As a 5th grade teacher in Bellevue, Washington, I integrate my travels into everything that I do. Pictures, artifacts and stories about Turkey, Africa, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, the Baltics and more fill my classroom. My students love learning about where I have been and the world around them. Many of them have lived and traveled abroad, therefore our experiences as a collective community enriches us all. Traveling and teaching children about the world outside of the confines of the United States is an incredible way to make them curious and respectful of other people, places and cultures. Ultimately, I believe my role as a teacher is to help raise global citizens, so that they are curious, prepared and engaged with the world around them. Teaching them to be interested, to be aware, to realize their immense power in making this world a better place by respecting it and seeking to understand it, is profoundly important. I find great joy in teaching my students about where I have been and the experiences I have learned from. Their faces light up when they get to hear about these places in class. It is a beautiful combination of my passions — traveling and teaching.
TT: Yes! Tell us more about your travels.
B: I have been incredibly fortunate and have traveled to many, many places over the years; each trip providing me with lessons and experiences that were life changing in some way. As a teacher, I usually try to take advantage of all of my breaks and make a few trips abroad each year. I feel very comfortable traveling alone and have done so many times; I think it has made me the strong, independent, compassionate woman I am today. For that courage and strength I have gathered over the years, I am thankful. With regards to my “interesting” travels, I would say that everything changed after the first time I went to Sierra Leone, West Africa…
TT: Wow! How did you find this travel opportunity?
B: Sierra Leone was not a country I knew a lot about when I started teaching in 2007. I knew it was in West Africa, but honestly, that was about all. During my first year teaching, I had a ten year girl join my class who had come to Seattle to receive medical treatment since there were no x-rays or MRIs in her home country. The girl was seen by a doctor and nurse from Seattle while they were there providing medical treatment for the victims of the devastating, decade long war in 2006. Her mother was denied a visa to travel with her to the U.S., so the little girl traveled alone to live for six months in Seattle. This was a girl who had never used a toilet, turned on a faucet or a light switch. I was inspired by her strength and resiliency after surviving a brutal and gruesome civil war in Sierra Leone. At the age of 10, she boarded a plane and traveled half way around the world, which takes incredible courage.
While in my class, I fell in love with this girl and her spirit. During her medical treatments in Seattle, she lived with the doctor-nurse (husband and wife) team who found her in Freetown. While taking care of this little girl, the couple was simultaneously putting together a team of doctors and nurses to send over to provide free medical treatment for amputees (Sierra Leone has the largest amputee population in the world), post-blood diamond war which ended in 2001. I wanted more than anything to get involved and to help and learn more about this incredible place.
At the end of the year, the little girl’s visa expired and was sent home to Sierra Leone with a clean bill of health. I continued to stay in touch with the local couple who were doing amazing work for the people of Sierra Leone. Over the next few years, my students and I organized donation drives for school supplies, sports equipment and building a community well at the clinic, as I wanted to stay connected with Sierra Leone in whatever ways that I could. A few years later, the president of the organization asked if I would start an education sponsorship program with a few teacher colleagues of mine. With this program, we had local families from our school community sponsoring students to go to school in Freetown and the outlying areas. I was honored and knew in my heart it was what I wanted to do.
Eventually, this led me to multiple trips to Sierra Leone where I was able to spend time organizing the program, checking in on our students, delivering school supplies, teaching our staff how to run the program from Freetown…the responsibilities were endless. I felt empowered, alive and in love with the country and people.
TT: What a story. How have your travels impacted you as a teacher?
B: Sierra Leone is still near and dear to my heart, but I have also expanded the ways in which my own students contribute to the world around them, both locally and internationally. Not only do I teach my students about Sierra Leone and my life-changing experiences there, I try to incorporate the ideas of helping others within my classroom and school on a monthly basis. Each month we do a fundraiser for a local or international charity; I am trying to instill in them that their world stretches far beyond the confines of the school building. Service learning is incredibly powerful for children and it teaches them that all of the small things we each do have the power to change the world. I am in charge of helping create global citizens and I believe it is our responsibility as educators to help incorporate our experiences in lessons to make learning more fun and engaging. My travels, work and connections with Sierra Leone and world, have made me a better teacher; one who values the importance of building community and helping one another.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?
B: Traveling and living abroad has ultimately made me a better person. I truly attribute everything I aspire to do to my travels and experiences in seeing other people, cultures and ways of life. Someday, I hope to live and possibly teach abroad, returning to my ‘original plan’ that I made back in 2005. For now, teaching here in the States and traveling as much as possible, is the thing that keeps me sane, alive and excited about this incredible world we get to call home.
Traveling has made me strong, curious, passionate and independent. It has attributed to my sense of self, confidence and success more than anything else in my life. For that, I am truly grateful. Traveling allows me to feel challenged and push my limits; it allows me to explore and discover what I am truly capable of. Travel allows me to experience difficulties, but more profoundly, the beauty in humanity. There is tremendous power in the smile, in helping a mother off the train with her stroller, in holding the door for a stranger, in an exchange of the eyes; experiences that aren’t defined nor divided by language or culture. I have witnessed and experienced signs of hope and love time and time again; this renews my faith in the world and the sense that we, an international community, are going to be all right.
TT: Thanks so much, Brooke! Readers, what questions or comments do you have? Do also check out Brooke’s travel blog.