Teaching Traveling: Not sure if teaching abroad is right for you?
Meet Shannon, a Philadelphia native who tried teaching ESL in Asia, and realized it wasn’t a match for her, but used it as a useful springboard to begin a new career as a writer and digital marketer.
Shannon, tell us about your background.
Shannon: Hey! I’m Shannon, and I’m from Philadelphia, U.S.A. I’m 28 years old, and before I started teaching, I was a college student and a waitress. I fell in love with traveling when I was 17, and spent most of my college years taking short trips on the weekends and on school breaks.
After college, I realized that I wanted to travel long-term and to more exotic destinations. I had backpacked through Europe, road tripped the U.S.A, and taken a trip to Israel, but I wanted a lifestyle that would allow me to travel all of the time.
To this goal, I got TESOL certification and became an English teacher in China for a year, then taught ESL in Vietnam and Thailand, before starting my blog, Lives Abroad to help others make the leap into travel. I am now back in Philadelphia, transitioning from teacher to writer and digital marketer, and planning to get out and travel again soon.
TT: Interesting! What was your most memorable travel experience?
S: Japan was one of my favorite trips. It was the first one that I took as a completely solo traveler. Being alone gave it a whole new dynamic. I could truly do whatever I wanted without having to talk it over with anyone or make any compromises. It also forced me to plan and do things that I wasn’t confident in (like navigating public transit and following a map).
My Japan trip was eight days long, and I spent time in Kyoto and Osaka. I even did an overnight stay in a Buddhist temple on Mt. Koyasan. I wore a kimono, drank sake, went to a guided meditation, and took a traditional, Japanese bath.
I ate sushi off a conveyor belt, wandered through The Bamboo Forest, and finally visited the Alice in Wonderland restaurant. I shopped for vintage robes, got lost, and listened to live jazz while drinking sake in a dimly lit bar. It was a trip that was truly my own.
TT: Very cool. How do you find your travel opportunities?
S: I find travel opportunities by starting with my interests. Usually, a country’s culture will interest me enough to do further research and start planning. However, I do find travel opportunities in the places where my friends are from.
While living and working abroad, I have made friends from all over the world. So, I often end up visiting them. A good friend of mine was living in Medellin, Colombia, so I made sure to visit her there.
TT: Smart. How do you fund your travels?
S: I’ve always just saved for travel. Since college, I’ve kept a separate travel fund to pay for trips. However, I got a job teaching ESL in Asia to fund a lot of my travels over there. I’ve also started freelance writing so that I can earn money and travel at the same time. And, I always look for ways to make travel cheaper, like staying with friends, using frequent flyer miles, and cooking instead of eating out.
The moment that I arrived in China for the first time was really powerful. Cars were driving on the sidewalk, toddlers were running around in the streets, and people were staring at me like an alien. Everything looked different, smelled different, and sounded strange. I knew in that moment that life was about to get really strange and wonderful.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person, and in your career?
My travels have impacted me as a person in more ways than I can describe. But, what I would like to focus on is how travel has drastically affected my career. I learned a whole new skill set by moving to China to teach English, even though I realized that teaching wasn’t for me.
The whole experience helped me launch a new career in writing and digital marketing. I picked up those skills out of necessity when I was living in Bali and New Zealand and had no way to make money. Since I’ve always enjoyed writing, I figured I could use it to make money. Since moving home, I’ve been able to get internships and a job in my field.
TT: Fabulous! What advice do you have for teachers looking to travel, or travelers looking to teach?
S: My advice? Stop dreaming and start doing. Whatever barriers you think exist, you should question them. Travel has given me so much, and I wouldn’t have the job, the inspiration, the personality, or the friends I have without it.
If adding more travel to your life seems scary or impossible, just start by taking some small steps. Plan a weekend trip and go from there.
TT: Thanks so much, Shannon! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?
The author, Lillie Marshall, is National Board Certified Teacher from Boston who has been a full-time public school educator since 2003. She launched Teaching Traveling in 2010 to share expert global education resources, and over 1.6 million readers have visited over the past decade. Lillie also runs Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog, and DrawingsOf.com for educational cartoons. Do stay in touch via subscribing to her monthly newsletter, and following on social media with the links below!