TeachingTraveling.com: Readers, get psyched to learn about a whole slew of inexpensive teacher travel grants and programs, from one Teacher-Traveler who did them all!
Welcome, Libby Lupfer. Please tell us a little about yourself.
Libby: I have been a high school history teach for 20 years in the Chicago suburbs. I started teaching a little late after living in Europe, working at a ski resort, and getting a Master’s degree in History. I have taught in a wide variety of high schools as a World History, European History and Geography teacher.
TT: Excellent! Tell us about your travel background.
L: I have traveled to Asia on four different grants during the summer breaks from school. Three of those grants were Freeman Foundation grants through different universities and the EastWest Center in Honolulu. I traveled on those grants to China, Japan and Korea, Vietnam and Thailand. I also spent a summer in Malaysia and Singapore on a Fulbright-Hays grant. I also spent another summer in South Africa on another Fulbright-Hays.
After all of this educational travel, I decided to volunteer in the summer with Habitat for Humanity building houses. I went to Honduras and Ghana doing that. I also went with some colleagues last summer to Haiti to help build a school.
Lately, I have really enjoyed traveling with GEEO to Peru and than last summer, to Tunisia. I really enjoy the GEEO approach because I can travel with teachers (so I learn a lot more and network) but I don’t have to follow the agenda of a grant giver. I plan on traveling with GEEO this summer to Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil and my roommate will be a teacher that I met on the Peru trip. She is a Spanish teacher so I learn a different perspective from her.
TT: Libby, you have found and taken advantage of more great teacher travel opportunities than anyone I’ve ever encountered! Tell us more about your recent favorite, GEEO.
L: I learned about GEEO from a colleague who went to a National Conference for the Social Studies and met GEEO Director, Jesse Weisz. She knew that I liked to travel with groups so she told me about GEEO.
TT: Nice! How do you fund your travel adventures?
L: I started out traveling by winning grants, but lately I have been spending my own money. That said, because GEEO offers college credit for the travel, I can defer some of the costs that way. I have set up a travel savings account where part of my paycheck is directly deposited into it.
TT: Love it. Can you share with us some travel experiences that were particularly moving or powerful?
L: I can remember feeling so welcomed in Ghana. On our first day on the worksite, a woman walked up to me and tied a bracelet on my wrist. She kind of adopted me into her family from that point on.
I also remember losing my passport in Tokyo and going back to the store that I thought that I had left it at and being greeted by an anxious store manager who had kept the store open long after closing time, hoping that I would come back.
I also remember the sheer fun of riding camels in the desert both in Egypt, and later on, in Tunisia on the Sahara Desert. Most of all, I remember good friends and the common human connections I have made on every trip.
TT: Absolutely beautiful. How has travel changed you as a teacher?
L: My students really love that I travel, partly because I have made the classroom beautiful and interesting with what I have brought back, but also because of my passion and stories.
They ask me so many questions about what it is like in the countries that we are learning about, and what the famous buildings, etc. are really like. I also learn how to pronounce things more correctly and a more accurate understanding of history. Through travel, I learn much more beyond the textbook.
TT: How have your travels changed you as a person?
L: My travels have definitely impacted me as a person. I feel connected to and more understanding of the world’s people. I also have learned that we all share a common human experience.
TT: Beautiful. What advice do you have for other teachers who dream of travel?
L: My advice to other teachers about traveling is to absolutely do it.
I am such a better teacher of Mayan or Incan History after having visited Guatemala and Peru. I have learned that there are errors in my school’s textbook.
But any teacher should travel. One summer, I traveled with a Chemistry teacher to Vietnam and Thailand and he created very interesting lessons. One was on Agent Orange (we visited an orphanage for Agent Orange children and talked with American vets who had also been exposed). He also created an experiment for his students to test whether or not women in Myanmar’s traditional sunscreen lotions really worked.
TT: What a fascinating set of experiences! Libby, thanks so much for sharing your useful tips and world of opportunities! Readers, what questions or comments do you have for Libby?