TeachingTraveling: Welcome to James from Ouroyster, who has been traveling on and off since he was 16.
James, tell us a bit about your background.
James: I was born in the United Kingdom, and my background is in the Merchant Navy. I was a navigational officer. During my time in this role I went to a lot of different places, the best of those being Manaus in Brazil where we stayed for 2 months while we sold a ship.
When I was 21 I took a voluntary redundancy and began to travel on my own terms. First I went through Europe and then into Africa where I had my first experience with teaching whilst on a black rhino conservation project.
TT: Tell us more about your travels.
J: The most interesting travel I have done was to Zimbabwe. My granddad lived out there in the 50s and set up a medical centre. My dad was born there, and going there felt good. It was as if I could finally see this great country which had played an instrumental role in their lives.
When I went I worked on a conservation program for Black Rhinos, I was there for about 7 weeks and I loved how detached it was. There was no internet, the electricity was sporadic with frequent blackouts, and despite working long hours every day, it felt really rewarding.
TT: Describe the moment you decided to travel to Zimbabwe.
J: At the time of making the decision I was 4 days into trying to walk across France. It had rained for the full 4 days and I was having a miserable time camping. I had made it to Rouen (a small city about 80km from the coast), it was a Sunday and the only thing that appeared to be open was a small internet cafe. I decided that I wanted to do something in Africa.
I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. At the time my main concern was going someplace warm. I also wanted to do some volunteer work, and the black rhino conservation project seemed perfect.
TT: Amazing! How did you find the money to fund this travel?
J: I was made redundant from my job in the Merchant Navy. The money came from my redundancy pay.
TT: Nice! Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
J: One of the most powerful moments while I was in Zimbabwe came when we took a day trip out from the volunteer project and went to visit a small village that had set up a community permaculture project.
They had beehives which cost $5 and there was a collective honey processing building that everyone in the community helped to build. The school also had an extensive permaculture project going on and it was really uplifting to see the children take pride in their garden and work so hard to achieve the results.
It was powerful to see these two projects because it reminds you that despite a country’s political sway, people everywhere are generally good and are willing to do good, positive things to enrich their lives and the lives of their neighbors.
TT: Beautiful. How have your travels impacted you in your current career?
J: Very recently I have decided to continue my career in the Merchant Navy. I left in 2010 thinking I would not go back. Now I see its value. Without traveling around for so long and experiencing other jobs, I would not have come to this conclusion. So I am going to go back. And I am going to finally finish my high school degree while I am away!
TT: That is fantastic! How else have your travels impacted you as a person?
J: My travels have taught me to be a lot more confident and outgoing. I am a lot more extrovert now. I also feel immense pride over being part of OurOyster.com, a website that my girlfriend and I set up in New Zealand.
TT: You should be proud; it’s a great site! So, what advice do you have for aspiring teacher-travelers?
J: Education is the cornerstone of progress and a lot of countries need help in this respect. To travel and donate your time in a classroom is one of the greatest gifts you can give. You will come back from your experience so much better at coping. Before I went to Zimbabwe I was focused on the animals that I would be helping. Having gone and come back I realize that the most rewarding aspect of my trip was in the classroom.
TT: Beautifully said, James! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us.
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