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Canadian Teacher Finds Adventure, Love, and Career Abroad

Kelly in Paris in 2008, looking very happy!
Kelly outside Notre Dame in Paris in 2008, looking very happy! Let us welcome Kelly Dunning, a Canadian teacher who has traveled around the world and is now living in England with the love she met abroad! Kelly, please tell us about your background.

Kelly: I was born in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, where I grew up in the countryside with cows and chickens for neighbours and a huge expanse of surrounding wilderness to explore.

When I was 17 my Mom, Dad, brother and I packed up and moved away from the cold winters to sunny Vancouver Island, where I studied Visual Art at the University of Victoria. I have always had a passion for education, so it was only natural that I began working as a teacher and sharing my love for the fine arts with young children.

TT: What sort of teaching have you done?

K: I have taught in several different capacities, many of them quite unconventional but very rewarding. I worked for two years as a Preschool Art and Drama instructor, designing a specialized creative enrichment program to a group of 3-5 year olds.

This was lots of fun, and I enjoyed encouraging their imaginations and exposing them to different modes of expression such as finger-painting, collage, sculpture, exploring falling water, puppet theatre and more!

The preschool job began as part-time during my studies, and after I graduated it evolved into developing several after-school and summer programs for different recreation centres, such as a combination Art and Theatre workshop where the 8-12 year old students wrote and directed their own plays whilst also designed costume ideas and scenery and putting together an art exhibition.

Whitewater rafting in New Zealand in 2009!
Whitewater rafting in New Zealand in 2009!

One of my favourite programs was an Eco-Art Camp, where I took my students on hiking expeditions in nearby forests, beaches and wetlands in order to sketch and observe the surroundings. I wanted them to be learning about nature and art at the same time, while getting away from the Xbox!

I also used my passion and experience in drama as a coach for two youth theatre troupes, aged 10-14 and 14-19. We performed for many different audiences, including charity shows, children’s festivals, and private parties.

TT: Nice! Tell us about one of your favorite teaching jobs.

K: One of the most rewarding experiences I have had was as a volunteer for the Gallery in the Schools Program at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. I was involved in the program for 4 years and I would still be there if I wasn’t living halfway around the world right now!

As a facilitator for this program, I took actual pieces of art from the galleries collection and brought them to elementary schools, where I would lead the children in a discussion and then a related art project. The children responded brilliantly to it, and it has always been one of my favourite teaching experiences.

TT: Sounds like an excellent project. So, what got you into traveling?

K: I have always had traveling in my imagination, especially after my mom told me stories when she was young about backpacking across South America in her early 20s. I have always been curious about new places and different cultures.

At the Liverpool, England "Cavern" where the Beatles played.
At the Liverpool, England “Cavern” where the Beatles played.

In 2008, I saved up my summer teaching money and treated myself to my first travel experience, a holiday in Europe in the autumn, since I had dreamed about going to Paris all throughout art school. It was all I could think about, and I spent all my time reading travel books and magazines and daydreaming!

When I went I loved every minute, and I ended up being bitten by the travel bug. As soon as I got home I started saving again, taking off for a 6 month long backpacking trip around New Zealand in September of 2009. While I was there, I ended up working as a Tour Guide at Napier Prison, which is a haunted, abandoned prison that is now a tourist attraction.

While I was there, I met my boyfriend Lee, who is from England and who was also backpacking around New Zealand. We traveled together around New Zealand, and then I followed him back to England! We have been living in Lee’s hometown of Accrington (in Northern England, near Manchester) since March of 2010, and I have been working with 2-4 year olds at a nursery and also as a freelance travel writer!

That New Zealand backpacking trip turned into nearly 15 months abroad and counting! At some point this year, Lee and I will go to live in Canada, but I’m sure our travels will not stop there!

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

K: I think traveling absolutely makes you a better teacher. Not only do you have so much more knowledge and experience of the world to impart to your pupils, but you also serve to inspire them by example. A lot of young people don’t realize that traveling is an option for them, and they think that they can only do it if they have a lot of money, etc.

Kelly in Rome in 2010, sun glowing through the Colosseum.
Kelly in Rome in 2010, sun glowing through the Colosseum.

I remember one of my favourite teachers in high school used to use his summer break to go traveling to all sorts of interesting places, and then he would come back and spend the first class of the year just showing us slides and telling us stories of where he went.

Sitting in that dark classroom, watching the pictures of him riding elephants in Tibet, made me realize that if he could do it, I could do it! As a traveling teacher, you can set an example for your students and show them that they can go out and live their dreams.

TT: So true! How have your travels impacted you as a person?

K: Well, besides falling in love with my dream guy? Traveling has made me way more confident, and it has also taught me to live in the moment. Before I went traveling, when I was reading travel books and brochures every waking moment and non-stop day dreaming about it, all I could think about was where I hadn’t been.

It was only once I started the journey that I was able to live in the present, because if you are too focused on your next destination you forget to enjoy your current one. I have learned to take things as they come, and go with the flow.

I would hate to have my life all planned out, I would rather have a rough idea of the near future and trust my future self to figure it out from there. I don’t know what the future has in store for me, but I know that it will include travel, teaching, and my passion for writing, art and other creative expression, and that is all I need to know!

TT: Fantastic. What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?

In lush, green Wellington, New Zealand in 2009.
In lush, green Wellington, New Zealand in 2009.

K: Don’t make excuses, and don’t put it off until later! When I went traveling, so many people said that they were “so jealous” of me. I said, “Why not go on a trip yourself!” and they came up with so many excuses as to why they couldn’t. The truth is, anyone can save up the money and take the time to go traveling if they make it priority.

Making it a priority might mean that you don’t go out every weekend and don’t have the latest fashions or a flat screen TV while you are saving up. But that is not too bad, because you have your trip to look forward to! When I was saving up for my first trip to Europe, I worked 2 jobs for sometimes 11 hour days, and I had only about 1 or maybe 2 days off per month!

However, I just thought of every dollar I earned as soon turning into a picnic lunch at the Gardens of Versailles in France, a beer at a pub in Germany, or a walking tour of Amsterdam!

Please feel free to comment and share your travel stories, as we would love to hear them. Thank you for reading this, readers, and happy travels!

TT: Kelly, thank you so much for your wise and helpful words. Good luck on all your current and future projects!


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Wednesday 15th of August 2012

I read this title posted on Twitter and thought - whoa this could be about ME!

I'm Canadian, from little old' Nova Scotia, went to Brock University in Ontario and then headed over to Dunedin, NZ to do my teacher training at Otago. After living in NZ for a year, I was in love with the kiwi way and wanted to stay, so I applied for every job going (all over the country) and ended up getting one in the far north teaching 7 year olds. Since then, I've fallen in love again, only this time was with an amazing kiwi bloke! I've been in NZ since 2009 enjoying exat life and I've had the opportunity to explore ALL over this beautiful country, as well as a few side trips around the Pacific :)


Saturday 28th of May 2011

Heya! Since this interview, the World's Coolest Cities project has evolved into an even bigger, more comprehensive travel site with interviews, news, travel tips, travel stories and more! Check it out! Global Goose


Thursday 10th of March 2011

Hi Deborah,

Thanks for your kind words. Paris is wonderful, if you do end up going there you will absolutely love it! It didn't take too long for me to save up the money. For my trip to Europe, I saved it up over one summer, but I was working two jobs at the time. Over a year, I saved up enough for my 6 month trip to New Zealand. The saving goes faster if you cut down your spending, for example I didn't eat out or buy a lot of new clothes and put that money towards my travels instead. Good luck on your own traveling adventures!



Tuesday 1st of February 2011

Wow! That sounds really fun! I can't wait to go to Paris myself, and see the Eiffel tower! It must of been a long time for the author to save plenty of money. It sounds like fun for her to teach art and drama to students! I think her life cmpletely changed, she came from a country girl to a successful traveling teacher. Way to go Kelly!

Joan Ethier

Saturday 8th of January 2011

You're inspiring, Kelly!

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