Teaching Traveling: Ever wonder if the Peace Corps or another program for teaching abroad might be a good springboard for your teaching, traveling adventures?
Let’s get ideas and inspiration about this from the story of Charles McKinney. Charles, tell us about yourself!
Charles: I’m a humbly grateful global citizen who started on the journey of teaching and traveling just a year and some months after finishing college.
When I worked at a summer camp directly following college graduation, my colleagues talked about people they had known who had gone to teach English overseas, in South Korea, particularly. I thought to myself how cool that would be to do, but had no way of knowing how to pursue such a venture.
Through what I know to be divine intervention, I “randomly” received an e-mail from a recruiter a week or so after getting rejected from business school. The email was seeking college graduates to teach abroad in East Asia, Korea being the main country seeking bold souls willing to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
Bored and unfulfilled as an underemployed substitute teacher in my hometown almost a year after completing college, I decided to take a risk and to apply for a guest English teaching position. Three months later during a summer camp gig in Hong Kong, I received news that would completely alter the trajectory my professional path would take in subsequent years. Now 13 countries and counting later, the travel bug has permanently infected me!
TT: Oooh! Tell us more about this teaching, traveling trajectory!
C: So I started teaching in a traditional medium-sized city called An-dong, South Korea at a vocational high school with two Korean English co-teachers for the English Program in Korea (EPIK). EPIK is a government-sponsored initiative that sought to procure native English speakers worldwide to come and teach in the country’s public school system.
My Korean co-teachers became my dandy colleagues and friends, and made my one-year sojourn there so worthwhile. Ready for a new challenge, I had my sights set on China, after having visited both Beijing and Shanghai during a weeklong vacation for my winter break in Korea. Once I was hired for a new position in China, I had to earn my TEFL certificate to prepare for the more demanding role at a private language school.
The time came for me to move to Beijing, where I taught English to children and teenagers for a global education company called English First. A unique and challenging experience, life in the Middle Kingdom helped me to develop a tougher skin and to appreciate the diversity I bring to the table as an educated young African American man trying to find his place in the world all the while being a catalyst for positive change.
When I managed to relish the freedom and spontaneity of life as an escape from the stir-craziness of the megacity rat race, it was then that I could really treasure the beauty and richness of Chinese culture in every aspect. My Chinese friends showed me a good time in our travels, breaking bread together and seizing the opportunity for genuine cultural exchange. Having a Chinese roommate for the majority of my tenure there facilitated my language progress and provided cherished companionship in this brave new world.
TT: Really inspiring! So, how do you find your travel opportunities?
C: I usually find my travel opportunities through surfing the Web and, as aforementioned, through what I believe to be divine connections. Everything happens for a reason, and I believe that the path my life has taken up to this point has all been meant to be. Thus, I no longer fret about the “shoulda, coulda, wouldas” but choose to embrace, continually, the firm belief that the best is yet to come.
Through such positive affirmation, I continue to experience the best life has to offer me as a person of unwavering Christian faith. Early on in my teaching assignment in China, I made plans to apply to and to prepare for graduate studies abroad at Webster University Thailand in Bangkok. This opportunity materialized in the form of an advertisement I noticed on dictionary.com one day. A few months later, I had received my official acceptance letter package and was well on my way to anticipating a whole new wanderlust adventure in the economically booming region of Southeast Asia. Thailand proved to be a phenomenal journey, just as its predecessors had been.
I mustn’t fail to mention the power of LinkedIn for networking and locating viable teaching and traveling programs as well as writing and publishing opportunities for passionate wordsmiths like me who want to express through the valorous pen the enrichment said adventures afford.
TT: Love it! How do you fund your travel adventures?
C: Fortunately, most of my travels have been funded through my employers, as a foreign expatriate teaching English for a living. The positions I held in both Korea and China earned me a decent living wage, with the Guest English Teacher role in Korea being the more lucrative job. These employers covered my flight, health insurance and housing costs.
As a study abroad graduate student in Thailand, I managed to secure a reasonable scholarship that helped with tuition while federal student loans financed the bulk of not only my master’s level education, but also the admirably affordable living costs in Bangkok. Also, I managed to find a part-time job teaching English at an English language school in downtown Bangkok and landed a one-time children’s voice acting gig.
Now currently as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia (Eastern Europe), the United States government provides all volunteers worldwide with a monthly stipend that covers living expenses and housing. It arranges our flights and guarantees us world-class healthcare during our entire assignment in the country of service.
TT: Amazing! Tell us about a travel moment that was particularly powerful.
C: When I served as a camp counselor for the Young Men’s Leadership Project (YMLP) last summer as a rookie Peace Corps volunteer, it was a new experience that pushed me into what I deem the courage zone. I had never been camping before, and this outdoor camp for gifted Macedonian teenage male youth largely embodied a conventional camping trip.
As a minority volunteer in Macedonia, I was even more so at this summer camp and this fact presented its own challenges associated with being in situations where I am the sole ambassador for my racial group. Long story short, during our rough camp experience (in which as a counselor I was responsible for a group of seven guys in the deep forest from sunset to sunrise on the penultimate night of the camp) my campers all got to bond with each other and me more intimately. We discussed topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement, and common misconceptions often linked to my cultural group as a person of color.
Then my junior counselor, an enterprising and bright young man, made a statement that really made me feel like I was making a difference by being at YMLP. He mentioned how my presence there was breaking down stereotypes that Macedonian people have about African Americans. It was a humbling yet esteeming remark to hear. Not only did I reveal parts of my identity and idiosyncrasy to them, but also they did likewise as we sat around the night campfire listening intently to snippets of each other’s life story. It was one of my best moments in Macedonia. An atmosphere of trust and solidarity had been formed; and this was exactly the time and space needed to draw everyone closer together in what initially began as a socially awkward and reticent group of guys.
TT: Thank you for sharing that powerful and uplifting story! Now, how has travel changed you as a person?
C: One of my favorite travel maxims comes from St. Augustine when he wrote that “the world is a book and those that do not travel read only a page.” And as I’ve learned, the more you travel, the more you realize how much more there is to learn and discover about this beautiful, colorful world we are so blessed to inhabit. One recognizes the paradoxical concept of how large and yet small the world is simultaneously.
As an educator with a professional life I never before envisioned, traveling enriches me more than anything else, and enables me to bring the breadth and depth of my experiences to the classroom setting for the service and benefit of my students. I truly love this about working in the global education sector.
I could write a book about how traveling has impacted me as a person, but one of the greatest lessons I have learned is humility. It takes a humble spirit to adapt culturally to a new way of living with and relating to the local people. Levelheadedness and kindness have been my biggest weapons in the fight against ethnocentrism and parochial behaviors that often characterize the “Ugly American” stigma. Traveling has forever changed me for the better and for that I’m so grateful.
TT: Beautifully said. What advice would you give to teachers yearning to travel, or travelers longing to teach?
C: Just go for it! With the World Wide Web at our fingertips in its various forms, our generation is quite privileged to access a plethora of information and knowledge within seconds.
Use the power of your network, be it LinkedIn, college alumni community, or current occupational contacts (which in my case is the universal Peace Corps network). Aclipse (the recruiting entity) helped me to turn over a new leaf, being the springboard for an enhanced quality of life in ways I haven’t fully fathomed in the past seven years of my teaching and traveling lifestyle.
Peace Corps is a phenomenal organization worth considering for international volunteer service in countries that really need the capacity-building and character-developing skills that trained, multifaceted American individuals can contribute to the global society. It is truly “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”
Finally, travel, inspire and pay it forward, all while mindfully absorbing every precious moment!
TT: Thanks so much, Charles! I love your writing voice and your way of living life to the fullest! Readers, what questions or comments do you have for this remarkable Teacher-Traveler?