Teaching Traveling: Interested in transitioning to teaching abroad? Meet Kate Dana, who has been teaching abroad since 2012! Kate, tell us a bit about your background.
Kate: I grew up in Charleston, SC, the youngest of six children with parents who were both teachers. I was taught to always keep looking and learning: life is about having room to grow. My first experience teaching was with the Samuel L. Jones Boys and Girls Club summer program in Atlanta, GA, instructing art to kids ages 6 to 14. We learned techniques, visited museums, and enjoyed the safe atmosphere of the club, which is still very active today in the East Lake community. My second experience was with the Baltimore (MD) City Teaching Residency Program in 2001; I taught art in an inner-city public school to 6th, 7th and 8th grade: a very challenging and unique experience. After Baltimore, I moved to California and worked for in the San Francisco (CA) Bay Area doing Graphic Design and Web Content Management. In 2003, I moved to Sacramento, and worked in Information Technology and Publication Design with the State government. I began studying Spanish in 2010 at the age of 41, and took several vacations, including travel to México, Spain and the Dominican Republic. From these trips grew the personal goals of traveling to all 21 Spanish-speaking countries, teaching abroad, and breaking free of the 8-to-5 daily grind.
In order to fulfill my goals, and give back to others, I switched careers in 2012, first earning a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) from the International Teacher Training Organization in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. I began teaching English in Tlaquepaque before moving on to Puerto Vallarta to work as a teacher of Informática. When my year ended in México, I returned to the United States briefly and was accepted into the WorldTeach Colombia 2014 program. With the program, I volunteered in an unpaid position for a year, teaching English to 4th and 5th grade girls in a public school in Barranquilla, Atlántico, Colombia. After a successful year with WorldTeach, I received a paid teaching offer in Cartagena de Indias, Bolivar where I currently live and work, teaching 9th, 10th and 11th grade English literature and creative writing.
TT: Wow! Tell us more about your travels!
K: I traveled to many places last year along the gorgeous Colombian coast including towns like Santa Marta, Cartagena de Indias and Palomino. I ventured to the beautiful cities of Guayaquil, Ecuador and fulfilled a lifelong dream of seeing Lima Perú; but the place I fell in love with was Isla San Andrés in Colombia, where I visited in October 2014. This small, seahorse-shaped island in the Caribbean lies closer to Nicaragua than
Colombia, and boasts the “mar de siete colores,” the “sea of seven colors,” as well as a laid-back lifestyle, delicious food, breathtaking scenery and smiling locals. Isla San Andrés captured my heart with its incredible cays, friendly people and delicious food like rondon (a coconut-milk based seafood soup). This vacation came at a perfect time, when school felt unbearable and the sizzling heat of Barranquilla had subsided into torrential rainstorms that turn the streets to rushing rivers.
TT: How did you find this travel opportunity?
K: Para Usted San Andrés, a large hardback photo book at the George Washington Library of the Centro Cultural Colombo-Americano in Barranquilla piqued my interest in the picturesque Colombian island. Having lived on the Caribbean island of Antigua as a young girl, I felt an affinity to the photos of smiling people in brightly-colored clothes and bushels of fresh seafood being hauled off tiny fishing vessels, plus the idea of listening to reggae music on a white sand beach with crystal blue water as the sun sets on another gorgeous day. The nostalgia – as well as the desire for something tropical in Colombia on a volunteer’s budget – drove me to explore the diverse culture and history of Isla San Andrés.
TT: How did you find the money to fund this travel?
K: I used to have an apartment filled with wonderful vintage and mid-century modern households and furniture. I owned a truck and two vintage Vespa Italian motor scooters. I had stylish clothes, tons of shoes, elegant purses and jewelry. In 2012 before I left for México, I sold a lot of my personal items, most of my furniture and both my Vespas. After returning from México to Sacramento, in preparation for leaving with WorldTeach, I sold nearly everything else, keeping only my original and diverse art collection. I had yard sales and online auctions, and got a Square account so I could accept credit cards at events like Sacramento’s Second Saturday. Some of my money also came from fundraising. I set up a campaign on IndieGoGo.com, offering incentives like unique artwork and handmade stationery to donors. I posted information on my personal website and created a newsletter printed on glossy paper, which I mailed to over 100 business, family members and friends. While many people thought I was crazy for moving to Colombia, or implied that it was rude to ask for money for this effort (of volunteering to teach underprivileged kids), I still received an outpouring of donations ranging from $5.00 to $500.00! I am forever grateful and touched even today by people’s generosity; friends from long ago as well as people I had just met all supported by efforts, helping me to meet my goal of $5,500.
TT: Wow! Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly interesting or funny.
K: The past three years have included both fantastic and questionable journeys. While visiting Isla San Andrés, a man invited me to his home and served his mother’s “tasty island soup,” which I still think was mondongo (tripe). Being vegetarian but also polite, I ate around the cow stomach and thanked them graciously for the food. I learned that sometimes being polite, especially as a guest in someone’s home, is an idea to apply no matter where you visit. This “tasty” experience hasn’t discouraged me from sampling local cuisine while traveling… nor has it changed my love for foreign adventure!
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your career?
K: As a teacher, my travels have taught me more patience and less stress. I have learned not to worry if a student is late to class because the bus was stuck three feet deep in an arroyo, because she did come to school. I have learned to focus on positive thoughts like asking my students how their weekend was and what they did, instead of diving head-on into a lesson plan on Monday. Most of all, I have learned to appreciate things and make good memories, because we never know when the journey will end. During my year in Barranquilla, a 4th grade student named Alicia died from an aneurism my second month at the school. Though I hadn’t spent much time as her teacher, I was devastated by the tragedy of this lovely girl being taken from the world at such a young age. Watching several dozen 4th grade girls grieve for their classmate was heartbreaking; it reminded me that time is fleeting, and we are all in this together. Sometimes, when I start to lose my cool, I see Alicia’s pretty face smiling from the back of the class. I count to ten and let it go. There will always be more time to do homework. There won’t always be more Alicia’s.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?
K: As a person, my travels have taught me to appreciate more and anticipate less. If a hostel where I was staying on a volunteer’s budget had soft sheets and a clean shower, it’s like I’d checked into a five-star hotel. If the last large boat to the mainland had already left and my only choice for return was a bumpy lancha filled with hotel-workers, their children, and buckets of fish and onions, I felt grateful to have a seat on the way back. Finally, if a group of Argentines invited me to go with them to the beach all day, then expected me to stay up all night drinking Fernet-Branca out of a blender-sized, shared cup, I felt fine saying goodnight instead, without any regrets. Travel has impacted me in the most positive, life-evolving, fluid ways that I never once dreamed it would.
TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
K: As a high school English teacher, I am constantly using memes in class and encouraging my students to find one or two quotes that holds personal meaning for them or impact their life. For me, these quotes are “Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true,” said by Ralph Waldo Emerson and “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” said by Winston Churchill. The first quote is because, whatever it is you want to do, just start doing it. It’s a lot easier than you think. Make a plan, set a goal, create a timeline and set things in motion, then look forward to it all happening. It may not be easy, but when we focus our energy on what we can do versus what we can’t, the Universe conspires towards change for the better, and moves us closer to what we want. The second quote is because giving back has no comparative. Helping others, especially those in need, is humbling, rewarding, inspiring and contagious. People often ask me how I could afford to take a year off financially to volunteer without pay. The truth is, I couldn’t afford it, but the bigger truth is that I did it. The past year, with all of it’s cultural challenges, life-changing experiences and immeasurable rewards, has been incomparable. So while I am now focused on building back my finances and moving forward in my teaching career, I also have the motivation of believing I made a difference in someone else’s life and possibly even helped them to move towards their goals.
Try these websites for more information:
Worldteach.org – Non-profit organization placing teachers in underdeveloped countries worldwide
Luciac.com – Visioning? Coach, author and motivational speaker
StudentUniverse.com – great discounts on travel and flights
AroundTheWorldL.com – Lillie’s awesome blog and stories of teaching and traveling
Anethicalisland.wordpress.com – How to Teach Without a Lecture and other fun
TeflCertificateCourse.com – International Teacher Training Course with more than 40 years experience
InternationalLiving.com – helping people retire overseas (with pretty pictures and fun stories)
LaurenTheTravelingTeacher.blogspot.mx – sometimes just the photos here are enough!
Read my blog for tips on travel and living abroad www.katedana.com and my visit teaching website KateDanaTeaches.com
And of course, don’t miss TeachingTraveling.com: Here we are! Love, Kate Dana.
TT: Thanks so much, Kate! Reader, what questions or comments do you have?