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Teaching in Iraq after Korea Leads to a Book Deal

"I Have Iraq in My Shoe"

The cover of Gretchen’s memoir about Iraq.

Teaching Traveling: We have a celebrity guest today! Gretchen Berg is the author of the new memoir, I Have Iraq in My Shoe, detailing her year teaching in Iraq.

Gretchen, tell us about your background.

Gretchen: I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, then had my first overseas teaching experience in Seoul, South Korea in 1995. After that I traveled a bit, then worked in a variety of education and travel-related positions, my favorite being Program Manager for an Expedition Travel company in Seattle, WA.

I am now a writer, and have published my first memoir, I Have Iraq in My Shoe: Misadventures of a Soldier of Fashion, about the year I spent teaching English in Northern Iraq.

TT: Wow! Of all your teaching travels, which was the most interesting? (I think I know the answer already…)

G: The most outrageous was definitely the job in Iraq. I was there for a little over a year and I taught in both Sulaimani and Erbil.

TT: How did you find this travel opportunity teaching in Iraq???

G: A friend I had met while teaching in Seoul was working in Iraq and offered me the job. At first I said no, but then I saw how good the salary was, and remembered I had $39,000 in credit card debt.

TT: Tell us a few moments from your Iraq travels that were particularly powerful, interesting, or funny.

with a camel friend in Oman.

Gretchen with a camel friend in Oman.

G: Both funny and disturbing moments include:

• The discovery of something called “Virginity Soap” being sold in the local stores. It claimed to tighten the “varginal muscel”.

• Falling for a handsome Muslim student fifteen years younger, who may or may not be my soul mate

• Avoiding a suicide bomber while drinking by the paddling pool in a friend’s backyard

• Paying almost $5,000 in oversized luggage fees

• Becoming a role model for my students, a self-proclaimed “less annoying version of Hannah Montana,” a position that I had never found myself in before.

Gretchen, smiling through Iraq teaching intensity.

Gretchen, smiling through Iraq teaching intensity.

TT: Those are memorable moments, all right! How have your travels impacted you as a person?

G: Travel really just opens your eyes to new and different experiences and cultures, while at the same time reminding you that people are the same everywhere.

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

G: Just do it. There are opportunities everywhere (just Google “teach overseas”).

Most of the Western European countries do require ESL certificates, or advanced degrees in teaching, but if you don’t mind starting out in one of the less-traveled destinations you could build up your experience, and have some fun while doing it!

TT: Thanks so much, Gretchen!

Readers, what comments or questions do you have for the brave author of I Have Iraq in my Shoe?

Abraham Lincoln Profile Mountain in Northern Iraq. Will YOUR road lead you to Iraq like Gretchen?

Abraham Lincoln Profile Mountain in Northern Iraq. Will YOUR road lead you to Iraq like Gretchen?

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Empty Rucksack

Sunday 16th of February 2014

An year in Iraq...I thought the country was off reach for travelers.

Lillie of TeachingTraveling.com

Sunday 16th of February 2014

Apparently not!

Jonny Blair

Thursday 9th of January 2014

This is a brilliant story Lillie - love it and will check out the book! By coincidence I'm currently in Iraq backpacking. There is definitely a need for English teachers here but I'd say it will be a few years before things change a bit in this wonderful country. Safe travels. Jonny

Alexa Hart

Thursday 13th of December 2012

What an interesting story! Gonna buy the Kindle edition. She would be a fascinating interviewee for my show too!

Lillie of TeachingTraveling.com

Thursday 13th of December 2012

Absolutely! Let me know if you have trouble finding her contact info.

Dan Martin

Tuesday 5th of June 2012

I loved Sulimani and Erbil. I was there in 2008, when were you there? Erbil is a great place-where were you teaching?

Did you go to Halabja at all? The museum and grave sites there are some of the most moving and horrifying photos I've ever seen. Loved the Carpet Museum in Erbil though.

This is me there: http://www.koreatocapetown.co.uk/gallery/photos2.asp?gid=16

Lisa Niver Rajna

Monday 4th of June 2012

Gretchen, Thank you for sharing your story! We met someone who was teaching in Qatar and she had incredible stories! I would love to review your book for my site and/or for Wandering Educators. What is the best way to get in touch with you? Lisa

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