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A Director of Global Studies Gives Advice for Teachers

Kelly teaching at the Dandelion School, Daxing District, Beijing, China.
Kelly teaching at the Dandelion School, Daxing District, Beijing, China.

Teaching Traveling: Welcome to Kelly Neely! Kelly, tell us about your background.

Kelly: I am the Director of Global Studies at Brimmer and May in Chestnut Hill, MA. I grew up in New York and Maine and have lived in the Boston area since 2000.

As a child, I caught the travel bug from my dad and always knew I wanted to see as much of the world as possible. I got my first real opportunity in college when I studied for three months in Le Mans, France, and I loved seeing Europe and meeting people whose lifestyles were so different from my own.

When I became a teacher, I jumped at any opportunity for travel that came my way, be it domestically or internationally. After a few years of teaching, I started work on my master’s degree and ended up focusing my studies on Chinese history.

As I continued my professional development in global studies, I was able to create curriculum for my students that could make the world more accessible to them. Since becoming the Director of Global Studies in 2011, my job has given me even more opportunities for travel, which has enabled me to share my passion first-hand with my students.

TT: Amazing! Tell us more about your travels.

Kelly at the Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Kelly at the Taj Mahal, Agra, India.

K: In the past few years, I have traveled to China, India, Italy, and the Dominican Republic with other teachers. All of these trips were for professional development and lasted from four days to two weeks. When I went to India with other teachers, it was actually the second time I had traveled there (the first was four months earlier with students).

I had not been planning on going again, especially since my school had sent me earlier that year, but my boss told me that it would be a very different experience the second time around, which was absolutely true. Although we were in a different part of the country, I felt less of a culture shock this time because I had a sense of what to expect.

For me, India is one of those places that one cannot imagine unless one goes there, regardless of how many books or movies have been consumed ahead of time. It is a completely different place from any that I have previously encountered, and it is really difficult to give one answer to the question, “how was it?” because there are so many layers that make up the culture and society. One of my favorite experiences on that trip was seeing the Taj Mahal, which is truly one of the most beautiful structures on earth.

The Burren, County Clare, Ireland.
The Burren, County Clare, Ireland.

TT: I bet. How did you find this travel opportunity?

K: I was able to take this trip with Primary Source in Watertown, MA after having taken a seminar with them about India. There were about sixteen teachers on the trip, and we all shared a love for India and a desire to learn more about it.

TT: Great resource. How did you find the money to fund this travel?

Climbing Mount Taishan in Shandong Province, China.
Climbing Mount Taishan in Shandong Province, China.

K: I am fortunate to work in a school that encourages its faculty to take advantage of a myriad of professional development opportunities, and the school funded the trip for me.

TT: Great! Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.

K: One of the most profound experiences of my life was the first time I traveled to China and taught for four days in a middle school for migrant children in Beijing. We visited some of their homes and saw the deplorable conditions in which they lived.

Rather than show embarrassment about their homes, their families were so proud that they were getting an education, which is not often possible for migrant children. It was humbling to work with students who were so grateful for what little they had and who were determined to make something of themselves despite overwhelming odds.

TT: Amazing. How have your travels impacted you as a teacher?

K: My travels have impacted me as a teacher because I can teach with first-hand knowledge about the places I have seen. When I teach Indian and Chinese history, I show photos of the places I have been to, and my students are fascinated when they realize that I have taken them myself.

They always pepper me with questions about what it was like to go to the places I talk about, and they trust that I really know what I’m teaching them. I like to believe that it inspires them to travel to those places themselves someday. When I travel with students, it is a wonderful experience to show them the places that I have taught them about.

Recently I took three students and a teaching partner to China. I had taught two of the students Chinese history two years ago, and my colleague teaches Chinese literature in coordination with my history class. It was the first time any of them had gone to China, and I loved introducing it to them and witnessing their initial experience with the culture we’ve all studied together.

Cobh Heritage Centre, County Cork, Ireland.
Cobh Heritage Centre, County Cork, Ireland.

TT: Love it. How have your travels impacted you as a person?

K: I have a fascination with the world and a yearning to see as much of it as possible. My travels have given me the opportunity to engage with new people, connect with cultures, and see beauty in many forms.

Traveling has expanded my worldview and helped me to understand that the core values I was taught as a child remain the same throughout the world, regardless of social code, personal creed, or cultural background.

Learning about the diversity of humanity has helped me to become a more empathetic person and opened me up to wonderful experiences that I never thought I would encounter.

Teaching at the Dandelion School, Daxing District, Beijing, China.
Teaching at the Dandelion School, Daxing District, Beijing, China.

TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?

K: Take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, even though you might not think they will help you get to where you want to go. I have worked at the same school for fourteen years. In that time, my job has continuously evolved. I have led trips to Maine, Washington, D.C., and Quebec, run dances and other social activities, and gone to camp in the rain too many times to count.

I have also managed a staff of tutors, for whom I collected bills, coordinated schedules, and make sure people were paid for their hard work. All of these were in addition to teaching full time, and during much of that time I was also in graduate school.

Lingering Garden, Suzhou, China
The Lingering Garden, Suzhou, China.

The steps I took along the way helped me to be known as someone who can be relied upon to manage strong programs and develop new ones. As our school’s Director of Global Studies, I now manage our school’s Global Studies Diploma Program and our Winterim travel program, during which our entire Upper School travels to a variety of places around the world every other year. Being a team player helped me to earn a position where I can be proactive about where I want to go and what I want to do.

Two of my favorite organizations for educational travel are Primary Source, Inc. and EF Education First. I have worked with both for a number of years. Primary Source provides many programs throughout the school year and summer for educators, and one can apply to travel with them after having taken one of their global education seminars.

The organization is also a wonderful resource for teachers looking to develop curriculum. I have traveled with EF via Primary Source with other educators and on trips I’ve led for my students. They provide training tours for first-time group leaders and offer helpful resources for teachers looking to travel.

In addition to providing a variety of trips through their catalogue, they work with teachers to customize trips that complement curriculum, provide service learning opportunities, or enable language immersion experiences.

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland.
Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland.

TT: Thanks so much, Kelly! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?


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howard leeder

Tuesday 27th of May 2014

Kelly has been amazing teacher and role model for my oldest daughter for last 6 years. Plus Kelly is also what Brimmer and May teachers are all about for our children.


Monday 19th of May 2014

Travel truly is the best teacher ... Kelly's kids are much better off for her frequent journeys to other countries!

K. Renae P.

Sunday 18th of May 2014

What an inspiring story! Thanks for sharing information about Primary Source. I've never heard of them before. What a great nonprofit.

Kelly Neely

Monday 19th of May 2014

Thank you! Primary Source is a wonderful resource for teachers, and they have online curriculum available as well.

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