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Moving to Europe After Years Teaching Special Needs Students

Allison, enjoying a warm beverage on her travels.

Allison, enjoying a warm beverage on her travels.

Teaching Traveling: Curious about transitioning from teaching to living abroad? Welcome to Allison Green, who was a teacher of severe special needs students for years before taking the leap to move to Europe.

Allison, tell us about your background.

Allison: I’m originally from California, but I always knew I wanted to leave California and travel. When I got accepted to college in New York City, I was elated – I didn’t hesitate to pack up my bags and move 3,000 miles away from home!

Later, I studied abroad in Prague, which sparked my love for travel, particularly in Eastern Europe.

Once I returned back to normal life and finished my degree in English, I became a New York City Teaching Fellow, which is a program that expedites the certification process for teachers in high-need subject areas where they are unable to meet the demand for qualified teachers.

I was a District 75 Fellow, which meant that I was to work with students with the most severe disabilities. I started in the classroom at just 21 with only six weeks of training, and my first few months were crazy. My students’ needs were far more severe than I was prepared for – especially since I had less than two months of experience at that point!

I had to lean a lot on my colleagues, particularly my teacher assistants, who gave me a serious crash course in how to work with students with autism and severe emotional and behavioral challenges. They taught me more than I ended up learning in all my graduate coursework!

Allison in Interlaken, Switzerland.

Allison in Interlaken, Switzerland.

However, I adjusted and quickly grew to love the challenge of creating lesson plans that addressed each kid’s individual needs and learning styles. I worked as a special education teacher, mostly in a 6:1:1 and 8:1:1 settings, for 5 years.

I traveled as much as possible during those breaks – over 5 years, I visited 17 countries, ranging from Sweden to Myanmar to Colombia to Turkey.

However, in my fifth year, I was growing disillusioned with the way education was going. “Data-driven instruction” really just meant nonstop paperwork that did nothing to actually help my students achieve their academic goals. I spent months performing alternate assessments on my students, who were exempted from the standardized tests due to their disabilities.

I decided that I was ready for a change, and so I quit my job to travel the world.

I quit at age 26, and have been traveling for two years now, running two blogs to keep me busy. I’ve since moved to Sofia, Bulgaria and write about travel to Sofia and the Balkans at Sofia Adventures and travel to off the beaten path destinations at Eternal Arrival. I’ve now been to over 50 countries, and have had countless adventures along the way.

Domes of Sofia, Bulgaria.

Domes of Sofia, Bulgaria.

TT: What a journey! Tell us more about your travels.

A: The last two years have been a really exciting whirlwind of travel, most of which I do solo. I have too many stories to tell here, but one of my favorite adventures was going dog-sledding and seeing the Northern lights in far northern Sweden, in the Arctic Circle.

A few other highlights include seeing the Sahara Desert, learning how to scuba dive in Nicaragua, and hitchhiking up and down the Albanian Riviera.

TT: Love it! How do you find your travel opportunities? 

A: I’m most interested in traveling in Eastern Europe, so I’ve focused my travels in this region. But I’m also a sucker for a cheap flight, and I’m constantly scanning Skyscanner’s “Everywhere” feature (affiliate link) to see where I can fly for cheap.

My next trips are Greece with some friends for a birthday, followed by a monthlong backpacking trip through the Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia) with a friend after finding a 30 euro flight from Sofia to Baku online!

Morskie Oko: a lake in Poland.

Morskie Oko: a beautiful mountain lake in Poland.

TT: Nice! How did you find the money to fund your travel? 

A: Because I was a Teaching Fellow, my graduate degree was practically free. I also received a $5,500 Americorps award upon completing two years of service.

That got me started, but as for the rest of my savings, I’m fortunate that New York teachers make a living wage, compared to many of my fellow U.S. public school teachers.

While living in New York City was expensive, I found ways to cut my costs (riding a bike instead of taking the subway or driving, living in one of New York’s few ‘affordable’ neighborhoods) and took on extra work wherever I could.

Now, I fund my travels through my travel blog, specifically through advertising and affiliate income.

The layered buildings of Andorra.

The layered buildings of Andorra.

TT: Now, tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.

A: One of the most powerful moments of my travels was summiting Bobotov Kuk solo, the highest mountain in Montenegro’s Durmitor National Park.

It’s not a particularly tough mountain – it can be hiked in a day – but I’ve never been an extremely active person, and I’ve always doubted my physical capabilities.

I wanted to quit several times, but I pushed myself to the top – which meant a lot to me after previously failing to make it to the top of Mount Fuji, Japan’s most iconic mountain, several years back. Hiking to the top of Bobotov Kuk taught me to push my limits and persevere, even when no one is watching.

Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest.

Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest.

TT: How have your travels impacted you in your career, and how have your travels impacted you as a person?

A: While I was still teaching, travel impacted my teaching by making me more flexible, patient, and open-minded. A lot of travel is improvisation when things don’t go as planned – and that’s how a lot of special education is, as well. You need to always recognize when what you’re trying isn’t working, and make adjustments on the ground, on the fly.

In terms of who I am as a person, travel has helped give me happiness and purpose in my life. I always felt that the world was too big to see in one lifetime – actually getting out there and seeing as much as I can is fulfilling my biggest goals.

Inspiring interview about moving to Europe and becoming a travel blogger after years of being a special education teacher in New York City!

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TT: So true. Now, what advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching? 

A: Prioritize it and make it happen. I know teachers don’t often make a lot of money, but there are always certain things you can cut back on, or an extra job you can take on, to make sure you save that money for travel. I wrote an enormous post of all the different ways I could think of that I saved money for travel here – it’s all about prioritizing what you spend money on and cutting out the extras.

Remember, as a teacher, you already have the gift of paid time off that many Americans don’t have – so be grateful for that and find a way to make travel happen for yourself. No one will give it to you – you have to go out there and make it happen!

TT: Thanks so much, Allison! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?

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