TeachingTraveling.com: Welcome, Abbie! Please tell us about your background.
Abbie: I live in Southern California, where I have been with my boyfriend for the last 5 years. We moved here from the east coast, and I think that’s what really started my love for travel and new adventures. I have been a Preschool Special Education teacher since we moved to California, and I earned my Master’s degree in Special Education in 2008.
TT: Nice! Please give us an overview of some of your memorable travels.
A: In July 2009, I traveled to Cambodia with the non-profit, United Planet, to volunteer at an orphanage and teach at an English school for 10 days. I had no idea what to expect, and found a wonderful country with wonderful people.
It was really interesting to see how Cambodian teachers taught and what their expectations were vs. teachers in the United States and their methods and expectations. For example, my classroom is very hands-on based, while in Cambodia it’s very much sit there and repeat after the teacher.
My most memorable non-teaching trip would have to be in November 2008 when I went to Greece and ran the original marathon. We went to the city of Marathon and ran through the countryside and into the city of Athens, finishing in the modern Olympic stadium. It was the most amazing experience, both as a runner and as a traveler.
TT: So cool! How did you find these two travel opportunities?
A: The trip to Cambodia was with the non-profit called United Planet, and I found it after doing a ton of research on the Internet to find a reputable group that I could volunteer with.
I went to Greece with Apostolos Greek Tours, which I also found online. I usually don’t travel with tour groups, but because I was running the marathon, I did a short tour with them and then spent the rest of the time on my own. The logistics of a marathon can be tricky to figure out even when it’s in your own city, much less a city halfway across the world!
TT: I bet! How did you pay for these travel experiences?
A: Because United Planet is a non-profit, I fundraised about half of it, and then paid for the other half out of pocket.
The trip to Greece was fully out of pocket.
TT: Tell us a moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
A: In Cambodia, one of the other volunteers and I were talking to Phaly, the man who runs the English school. He explained to us that he is so committed to his people learning English because it will open many doors for them, and that knowing a common language can help create universal understanding. Phaly’s father was killed during the regime of the Khmer Rouge, and he believes in fighting “with words, not with bullets.”
Hearing his story and learning about his commitment to the children in the community (he was running the English school partially out of his house and completely on his property) was so moving, and really inspiring.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a teacher?
A: As a teacher, I find it really interested to explore the role of education in other countries. If I can learn something and take it back to my classroom, that’s great, but even if I am just able to connect with another person because we are both teachers, I think that is amazing.
Traveling and teaching in another country has allowed me to both appreciate what I have as a teacher (even though it’s hard to remember that when the budgets are continuously cut), and wish that educators had the same role in American society that it does in other countries as far as how they are valued in other countries versus the U.S.
TT: Amen! How have your travels impacted you as a person?
A: My travels have made me a completely different person. I have a better understanding of the world and how we really are one huge community. I have realized that “our” way in the United States is not only not the “only way”, but not always the best way. I have gained an appreciation for the differences among people and countries instead of being afraid of differences.
TT: Yes! What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?
A: As teachers, we are so lucky to have the vacation time that we have – use it! Save throughout the school year so that your summer vacation can be spent abroad!
TT: I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks for your wise words and useful tips, Abbie, and have a great school year!