Teaching Traveling: Welcome to Robyn Donaldson who completed law school in the U.S. but now teaches English and yoga in Indonesia! Robyn, tell us about your background.
Robyn: I grew up in the midwest in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. My parents and I traveled quite a bit around the U.S. and Caribbean. However, I did not start traveling overseas until after I graduated college and started law school. I had opportunities to study abroad in London and Cape Town, South Africa.
When I officially caught the overseas travel bug, going abroad became my main focus, I was obsessed! LOL! I have traveled around France, the Netherlands, Brazil, Italy, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, China and now SE Asia.
I thought about teaching English overseas after I graduated law school, but then I chickened out. I ended up working jobs in law and politics for several years after that, but the interest in this experience was still coming up for me. I became certified in teaching English as a Second Language.
Then, one of my good friends from law school passed away in a tragic accident and that incident really reminded me of how precious life is and how nothing is guaranteed, so I let go of the idea of waiting for the “perfect time” to do it. I accepted a job and moved within 2.5 months after I completed my certification. I sold my stuff, gave away things and took the plunge. I didn’t look back.
Presently, I live in Jakarta, Indonesia where I teach English and yoga. I have spent some time traveling around Bali, which is SUCH a magical place on earth, especially Ubud. Then, since Indonesia is so centrally located in SE Asia, I’ve been able to visit Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
TT: Amazing! Tell us more about your travels.
R: Bali, specifically, Ubud, has been one of my favorite excursions since living in Indonesia. Bali is predominantly Hindu so there is this cool fusion of cultures of Indian, Hindu, Balinese, Indonesian and Dutch influences, as well as this international flair since so many people from around the world visit and sometimes expatriate to the island.
Also, Ubud is a place where I feel so connected to nature and spirituality, it is palpable. There are beautiful oceans, mountains, lakes and jungles around the island. Each morning and evening, I would hear a different chorus of music from monkeys, frogs, roosters, birds and owls in the distance, it was so peaceful, calming and healing to spend that time in Ubud. It is much different from the hectic nature of Jakarta, a city of nearly 9 million people!
I’m teaching yoga, so I enjoyed Ubud’s vibrant yoga community. Balinese food is delicious (very spicy), the people are so kind, always willing to help you and are so patient with tourists. The Balinese are willing to let tourists peek into their devotional and spiritual practices as they make their daily offerings to their deities, pray and celebrate their religious festivals. It is a special, special place on Earth.
TT: How exactly did you find your present job?
R: I found my present job on Facebook! One night, I joined a bunch of Facebook ESL and overseas teaching groups. Within a week, there was a job post for Indonesia, the country I was interested in going to, and I applied for the position. I was very close to landing it, but I accepted another job through a contact from my ESL class.
Unfortunately, I came to Indonesia and that opportunity did not work out. It just was not a good fit. So, I was at a crossroads, I could give up and go back to the U.S. or go to Plan B. I contacted the first job that I found on Facebook and they still had openings. It all worked out for the best. I landed that position and started teaching a few weeks later.
TT: Love it! How did you fund your travel?
R: I funded my travel through securing my job, some savings and selling my belongings before I moved.
TT: Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
R: One funny, interesting and sometimes slightly annoying moment is when people never guess that I am American, even after hearing my American accent. People will guess I am from Africa, South America, Mexico, England, France and even Indonesia, before they guess that I am from the U.S.
I mean, I understand on one hand because I don’t think many African-American women are traveling to Indonesia, therefore, people may have never met someone that looks like me. But, even after I say I am from the U.S., it is like some people STILL want to believe I am from Africa, no matter what I say or how far back I trace my ancestry in America.
But, I just use that as an opportunity to enlighten people and represent a positive view of African-American people, since most of the times around the world there is a very limited view of black Americans in movies, TV and other forms of media.
TT: Thank you for sharing this with us! So how have your travels impacted you as a person?
R: Travel has taught me important lessons about trusting my gut, understanding how powerful I am and be flexible. One of the reasons I love travel is because it is an excellent practice in trusting my intuition. Sometimes I’m in a situation where I am not speaking the language or I’m way far out of my comfort zone, so I must tap into that little voice inside me and make decisions based on my gut.
It feels very empowering and inspiring when I follow my heart. Also, travel reminds me of how connected we all are throughout the world and that our actions, thoughts, dreams do affect other people in the world. Travel teaches me about awareness. It is so important that humanity works together to solve problems in the world and that women are involved in this process.
TT: Absolutely. What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
R: My advice is take a risk and take the plunge! The first thing I did was make the decision that I was moving overseas. Then, I set a date as to when I definitely wanted to be out the country. Even if you do not move right away, start trimming down your life, meaning stop buying “stuff” that you do not need.
I started thinking in terms that I’m moving, so I stopped taking on more responsibility and investing in my U.S. lifestyle. Otherwise, those things you do or add t your life will keep you tied down to your home country.
Also, I recommend to start saving some money, even if it is just a few hundred dollars. Even if you have a job when you leave your home country, it is nice to have a little bit of a nest egg for when you first arrive to the new country. I changed my lifestyle.
I started thinking in terms that I would not be in the U.S. too much longer, so everything I bought or did was shaped by that belief that I would be moving very soon. I recommend taking an ESL certification course, whether in person or online.
I believe it is important to invest in your skills, learn some tips about teaching overseas and network with other like-minded people who are interested in the same opportunities. The teachers and classmates I met were a great strength of support and offered valuable resources during my relocation.
The internet has a wealth of resources available too, so research the countries, and schools and read blogs about teacher’s experiences in different countries. The more informed I was, the better I felt about making life changing decisions.
It is important to feel good about your choices and feel confident about your move because everyone around you will not always understand your desire to uproot your life for the unknown. This is why I believe it is important to develop a supportive network of travel addicts, expats and adventurous souls, THEY will totally “get you” and your desire to see the world.
TT: Thanks so much, Robyn! Readers, what questions or comments do you have for this wonderful world traveler? And do check out her youtube.com/mawuangels.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English from Boston who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share expert global education resources, and over 1.6 million readers have visited over the past decade. Lillie also runs AroundTheWorld L.com Travel and Life Blog, and DrawingsOf.com for educational art. Do stay in touch via subscribing to her monthly newsletter, and following @WorldLillie on social media!
Thursday 24th of March 2016
Hi Robyn; Perhaps you may remember me, we were in communication about two years ago via social media regarding an article you wrote about yoga and domestic violence. I'm writing to you here because I just happened to stumble across this page in searching for yoga teaching opportunities abroad and recognized your name. I think it is so awesome that you have traveled to Bali and other countries to teach and deepen your yoga practice. I don't know why I keep coming across your work but once again, I am in great admiration of what you are doing. Bali is one of the places I have always wanted to go and hope someday in the near future I will be able to visit and deepen my own practice there.
God Bless & Much Success! Connie
Monday 1st of June 2015
Hi Robyn, I can hear your excitement through you words! I have a question for you. How saturated is Bali with Yoga Teachers now? I am a teacher myself and would like to move to indonesia to teach,tourists and locals. But im worried there maybe too much going on there now since Eat Pray Love! What is your experience with this and have you seen anywhere in Indonesia thats a little quieter on the yoga front? Thank you for any help you can give me. You look very happy :) Leonie x
Tuesday 2nd of June 2015
I am back in the states now, but yes, Bali, particularly Ubud was incredible and brought immense happiness to me. While in Indonesia, I taught yoga to some private clients when I lived in Jakarta, however, when I went to Bali I was mostly there as a student of yoga. I bumped into a person who introduced me to another person who introduced me to another person that led me to my yoga teacher, Kadek. We studied yoga every morning at his house in a local village near Monkey Forest. If you go there, I may be able to put you in touch with him. Anyway, I am not sure as far as yoga teachers go if there is a demand, you'd probably have to reach out to some people in the area to find out. I know a lot of yoga instructors tend to host retreats there, plus there are many yoga festivals. There are so many tourists and resorts, I am sure it is possible to get some work, but I am really not sure about that, I really do not know what to tell you because when I was there it was for relaxation, to explore and study yoga with my teacher. I do think the area changed after EPL, but I couldn't really sense Bali being overly commercial, some parts but Ubud has an elegant dance between the past, present and another world. If you are into yoga and drawn to Bali, I do feel like it is one of those places you must experience as a yogi, like a pilgrimage to India, on that level...once in a lifetime! If you want to find out about teaching yoga there, you may need to browse the internet, reach out to people via social media/email and see if you can find message boards or posts questions in yoga teacher traveling groups. I hope this helps! If you go to Ubud, let me know so I can connect you with some associates who have amazing tours in the villages, etc. Cheers!
Thursday 28th of May 2015
Hi, I am wondering, teaching English abroad doesn't make much money. Do you sometimes worry about your long term career goals? I am guessing you don't want to teach English abroad forever, ignore this comment if that is your goal and congratulations on finding your calling! I live a life of travel, but worry about my career as a whole, because jobs like teaching English just can't sustain my life forever, especially if I want money to grow old with and to invest with. What are your thoughts related to your career and how to plan to implement them? Do you have a plan to work in law at some point? Or just go with the wind?
Thursday 28th of May 2015
No, I don't foresee myself working in law. My business is built around health and wellness (yoga, Ayurveda and Thai Massage). Over time, I took my interests (yoga, teaching and travel) and parlayed them into a career. It took time, but things are coming together. I get to travel for work and have a profession that I can use anywhere in the world and work with people from around the world. I would have never known that had I not taken the risks to travel and follow my heart. I would not have met the people I did, gone the places I've gone, etc...We don't know what the future will hold, so yes, it can be good to plan for your future in some respects but in another respects you don't know what will happen tomorrow, so you have to focus on what your heart wants today. Not everyone feels called to see the world and have these experiences, so if you DO, trust it! There may be a lesson or experience you need to have now, which will answer your questions about your future. This is the best I can tell you based on my experiences. Follow your heart, trust it!
Tuesday 3rd of September 2013
I love how you said that "One of the reasons I love travel is because it is an excellent practice in trusting my intuition." It seems that you have a wandering spirit that remains grounded through travel. Much continued success to you!
Thursday 15th of August 2013
Very good article. Ubud on my list of places to see so was interested about hearing more. I like Robyn's quote "even after I say I am from the U.S., it is like some people STILL want to believe I am from Africa, no matter what I say or how far back I trace my ancestry in America". Lissette (my wife) is a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent and she gets the same thing. "Oh, you're not a real American, you're Latina". She doesn't mind hearing that when we're in a Latin country, they see her as one of them. But it REALLY bothers her when she hears it in the US or Canada because it makes her feel like a 2nd class citizen. We all have ancestry going back somewhere but when you're a person of colour the ancestry seems to precede citizenship. All to say I found it an interesting article :) Frank (bbqboy)
Tuesday 3rd of September 2013
Thank you Frank, Ubud is definitely worth the trek around the world. If you go, please let me know @mawuangels.com or robynshealthyliving.com. I have some great contacts there who will be happy to show you around and introduce you to villagers for a more authentic Balinese experience! Thanks for reading and the comment!