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Funded Educator Travel: From NEH Grants to Fulbright TGC in Colombia

Some of the best professional development for teachers is free and hands-on!

Let’s hear from an expert on educator travel grants about which programs she recommends.

Teaching Traveling: Please welcome Tara Thomas. Tara, tell us a bit about your background. 

Church at Monserrate in Bogota, Colombia.
Tara in front of the church at Monserrate in Bogota, Colombia.

Tara: Hello! I am a professional educator starting my 21st year. I taught 4th and 5th grade students for 10 years in public school, 2 years as a computer instructor for students in various grades at private schools.

I am starting my 9th year at Hutchison School, a private school for girls in Memphis, Tennessee, as a school library media specialist for students in Pre-K to 4th grades.

Tara teaching in Colombia about her school in Memphis
Tara teaching in Colombia about her school in Memphis

TT: What a great career! Now, which funded educator travel programs do you recommend?

T: I started professional development travel eight years ago. I attended several library focused conferences including American Library Association (ALA) conferences in Anaheim and Chicago, and the School Library Journal Day of Dialog in Chicago.

My most inspiring travels of all were through the NEH: National Endowment for the Humanities. I attended Rochester Reform Trail: Women’s Rights, Religion and Abolition on the Genesee River and the Erie Canal for 7 days.

I loved these NEH opportunities because they were a good mix of lectures and field experiences. I also made great connections with educators who shared with me other professional groups to join and invited me to the “Scholarships, Grants and Summer Institutes for Teachers” Facebook Group.

Most recently, I am nearing the end of my year-long professional development through the Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC) Program. It is a fully funded program.

For TGC, I completed a 10 week online course, attended a conference in Washington, DC, and completed my International Field Experience in Colombia in July.

Welcome at the airport in Bogota Colombia with the Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Program.
Welcome at the airport in Bogota Colombia with the Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Program.

The focus of this experience in Colombia educated us on global education, validated the work that many of us were already doing, and encouraged us to grow as educators and grow our PLN (professional learning network).

I am still processing all of the conversations, teaching experiences, and cultural travel this opportunity involved. I am currently finishing up work on my Capstone Project which is a website about my growth as an educator through the Fulbright TGC Program.

Although I love being a librarian and love books, I always had a fascination with history. I think having the opportunity to choose a professional development based on my interest is why I’ve enjoyed the NEH opportunities so much.

Also, both NEH experiences helped me to get out of my surroundings and my comfort zone while making me feel at home with other educators who were interested in history and wanted to become better at their professions.

Host school in Colombia
Jennifer Day (in the back towards the white board) who was Tara’s travel teacher, with students at the host school (Damaso Zapata in Bucaramanga in Colombia).

TT: So great! Now, how do you find your funded travel opportunities? 

T: I am a member of ALA, so a lot of library-focused conferences are sent to me through email.

I have found out about the NEH conferences and the Fulbright TGC Program through the “Scholarships, Grants and Summer Institutes for Teachers” Facebook Group. I have also find out about travel opportunities on Twitter and Instagram.

Murals in the La Candelaria, Colombia neighborhood
One of the beautiful murals in the La Candelaria neighborhood.

TT: Nice. How did you find the money to fund your travel?

T: When I realized that I truly enjoyed educational travel, I started putting aside money in a special account for professional development summer opportunities.

I also ask my school for financial assistance, at least for registration. If assistance is offered through a program, I apply early to those opportunities. I’m learning to always ask, even though I have been told no several times. When you get a yes, it’s worth all of the other rejections.

A cultural dance in Bogota performed by students.
A cultural dance in Bogota performed by students.

TT: Excellent point. Now, tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.

T: When I was in Colombia teaching classes and having class discussions, the two questions that I got in every class were: “What music do you like to listen to?” and, “What are your favorite foods?”

I found those questions interesting because it confirmed for me how powerful music and food are to all cultures. Also, they were more interested in my life in the U.S. than anything academic lesson that I could teach them.

In front of the church at Monserrate in Bogota, Colombia
Tara at Fulbright Colombia.

TT: Very true. So, how have your travels impacted you in your career, and as a person?

T: My travels have impacted my career specifically as a school librarian in me purchasing books with a greater and more accurate focus on diverse characters, historical events, and figures.

It has validated my feeling that it is important to be a life-long learner, especially in the field of education where we are challenged to prepare students for an ever-changing future.

As a person, it has made me feel connected to other educators with similar interests, allowed me the opportunity to challenge personal prejudices and biases about places and people.

At La Bruja (The Witch) restaurant in the La Candelaria neighborhood of Bogota.
At La Bruja (The Witch) restaurant in the La Candelaria neighborhood of Bogota.

TT: Yes! What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel?

T: I would say to educators dreaming of travel to make those dreams known to others. It could be other educators or leaders in your school or greater community. People are looking to invest in educators. If you are willing to put some work in or have an interesting view on education, they just might invest in you.

I would also say to ask questions on social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have been great ways for me to find out about educational travel opportunities.

Educator travel
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Also, join local educational associations. I am currently a member of the Tennessee Geographical Alliance and just signed up to join the Tennessee Historical Society. Joining local organizations are often free or inexpensive. They offer opportunities to travel to other parts of your state, present at conferences, and travel to national conferences in other parts of the country.

Let your passion lead you. If you do, you’ll enjoy the learning experience more, be around more like-minded people, and become recharged as an educator and a person. Many Thanks!

Stuffed bananas in Colombia
Tara’s host teacher, Diego Mantilla, some wonderful students, and Tara at one of the cultural presentations with delicious stuffed bananas.

TT: Thanks for this inspiring interview, Tara! Readers, what questions or comments do you have about educator travel?


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Tuesday 3rd of September 2019

Inspiring story! I'm curious to know the thoughts and opinions of students being taught by teachers from other countries as well. Seems like they are very welcoming to teachers coming from abroad.

Tara Thomas

Thursday 22nd of August 2019

I just want to say thank you to you, Lillie! A lot of us in education do some good things but don't get to or know how to share. I am honored that you invited other educators and me to share our experiences. I hope that other educators are inspired to find ways to stay motivated and positive. Educational travel has been a great positive motivator for me.

Lillie Marshall

Friday 23rd of August 2019

Love your story, Tara! You will inspire many!

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