TeachingTraveling.com: Thanks for being our first TeachingTraveling.com interview, Laura! Please tell us a bit about your background.
Laura: I am 27 years old and I was born and raised in Boston Massachusetts. I went to Boston Public Schools growing up.
I left Boston to go to University of Rochester for college. Throughout high school and college I was a camp counselor at Camp Joy, a summer camp for inner city children with special needs.
TT: How did you end up teaching in Nambia?
L: I discovered WorldTeach, a volunteer organization that sends college graduates to third world countries that need teachers, because my older sister volunteered with them in Ecuador. After I graduated from college, I applied to WorldTeach Namibia. I was in Namibia for two years from 2006 to 2007. I had never taught before and I had never been to Africa, although I had travelled to various European countries with my family and my soccer team, and to Ecuador to visit my sister.
I loved teaching in Namibia. I was there for two years, and I acclimated to the culture very well. I didn’t really experience any negative culture shock until about a year and half into my stay.
TT: How did you find the money to fund volunteer teaching abroad?
L: I worked 90 hours a week the summer before I left as a waitressed and in a coffee shop on Martha’s Vineyard.
TT: Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful, interesting, or funny.
L: Funny: The day one of my students told me he wanted to bring me candy because of all the new English words I was teaching him!
Powerful: I taught art to my homeroom the first year I was there. It was the last day of school before a three-day weekend, and art was last period. The students asked if they could sing for art class that day and I allowed it. As the period was coming to an end, they started singing a song in Rukwangali (the local language) and I recognized my name in the song.
I don’t know what they were singing, but as the song and the period were coming to an end, they lined up in two rows on either side of the door way and made space for me to walk between them and motioned that I should leave the classroom first. I walked through the rows of students and out the door to the sound of my 8th grade students singing a song about me.
TT: Did your time teaching in Namibia allow you an opportunity to explore other parts of Africa?
L: Yes! I was able to take a trip around Southern Africa during one of my school holidays in Namibia. Two friends and I went to Victoria Falls in Zambia. We walked along the falls, and we did a program called Walking with Lions in Zimbabwe where we got to pet recently fed lions. All the proceeds from that adventure went to research towards feline AIDS, a disease that is killing many felines in Southern Africa.
Additionally, we bungee jumped off of Victoria Falls which is either the highest or second highest jump in the world. That experience was amazing… I felt like I was flying!
From Victoria Falls, we hitchhiked to Lake Malawi. On our way there, we met a man who claimed to have been from South Africa (turns out he was from Mozambique) who befriended us and stayed in the same room as us. The first night we were there, one of my friends woke up to find him rummaging through our bags.
My friend confronted him, and chased him out of our room in the middle of the night, where he proceeded to tell the front desk people we would pay for his bed and then he left the area completely. After that, we stayed there for about a week, swimming in the Lake and experiencing local culture and cuisine. We then hitchhiked back to Blantyre, a major city where we spent another week before heading back to Namibia.
TT: Have you been back to Namibia since your time working there?
L: Recently, I went back to Namibia to visit my old school. During that trip I went to Etosha National Park and saw many different wild African animals. I also went to Sossusvlei and saw the famous Namibian dunes (pictures below). The most amazing part of my trip, however, was going back to my old school, seeing my old friends and many of my old students.
TT: Clearly your experience in Nambia was wonderful. How have your travels impacted your current career?
L: It was my experience in Namibia that made me decide to come home and become a teacher. Through that experience, I learned that teaching was something I enjoyed and I was very excited to come home and learn more about how to become a great teacher.
TT: Beautiful! How have your travels impacted you as a person?
L: My time in Namibia opened my eyes to a completely foreign culture. It was the first (and only) time I have lived in a society with a strikingly different value system. I learned the limits of my ability to be open-minded and the extent to which I was willing to compromise my beliefs to assimilate to another culture. My return visit to Namibia made me realize that my language skills are better than I thought they were. I originally did not think I picked up much of the local language, but when I went back to visit I knew a lot more than I thought I would.
TT: What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?
L: I think everyone who can, should travel to another country. While I don’t think it should be mandatory, I think anyone who has never travelled to another country is at a serious cultural disadvantage in life.
While traveling, always remember to keep an open mind. Additionally, it helps to travel with other people from the same culture as you so you can process these new cultural experiences together and support each other.
TT: Thanks so much, Laura! What a story, and what beautiful photos you took!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 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 cartoons. Do stay in touch via subscribing to her monthly newsletter, and following @WorldLillie on social media!