Considering leaving the classroom to live overseas?

Learning can continue after changing careers to find other jobs abroad!

Exploring Victoria Falls, one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World

Exploring Victoria Falls, one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World

Teaching Traveling: Welcome to Derek Hartman who has powerful experience in this topic. Derek, tell us a bit about your background. 

Derek: I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and went to a state college there to study business. After working in finance for 5 years, I went back to school to pursue business education. I began teaching in the Philadelphia suburbs and spent eight years in the classroom, coaching swimming and as a class advisor.

When I turned 30 I considered teaching abroad. One of my good friends from high school was teaching in Switzerland and had previously taught in Thailand. He couldn’t find a job teaching in Pennsylvania so he left the country to begin his career and never looked back.

I always envied the adventures he was having and talked to him about the process of applying to international schools. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t pull the trigger to leave the security and stability of teaching in my district.

Iconic Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Iconic Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Everything happens for a reason though. Four years later, I began dating my partner, Mike, and things progressed as they do in any relationship. We moved in together after almost two years and we supported each other in our careers — mine in education and his as a chemical engineer.

He loved helping to plan and chaperone prom for the class of 2016. He even came into my classroom and spoke to my business classes about new product development when he was working on a project for Apple.

In November of 2016, Mike was approached by his boss and asked, “Can you be in Copenhagen on Monday?” He was surprised to be requested, but months prior he had made a good impression on the Business Director of EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa). When the director needed an emergency team to make a last-minute trip, he remembered Mike.

Mike asked me if he would be missing anything if he went to Europe for 2 weeks, and of course, I encouraged him to go. It was a great opportunity and Mike made the most of it. On day one, they asked him to stay an additional two weeks.

He agreed, on the conditions that he could still have time off for American Thanksgiving, and they would fly him to New Orleans on his return instead of Philadelphia. We had a long weekend in New Orleans planned for Mike’s birthday in early December.

This also gave me the opportunity to visit Copenhagen with him over my Thanksgiving break. I flew over for Thanksgiving and we explored the city. We had a great time and were impressed by the Christmas markets. When I left, I told Mike I would meet him in New Orleans.

The night before we were scheduled to fly to New Orleans, Mike had a farewell dinner at his temporary boss’s home in Copenhagen. Oddly, I didn’t hear from Mike that night. I waited up until 11:30 EST and went to bed slightly worried that I hadn’t heard from Mike and it was 5:30 AM in Denmark.

I received a call from him at 12:00 AM, now 6:00 AM in Copenhagen as Mike was returning to his hotel and grabbing his bags for the airport. He had been talking until late with his boss, who also asked him to move to Denmark for an expat assignment. He said, “Why don’t you and Derek move here for 6-9 months, and if you like it, it’s a permanent job here.”

This was a lot for me to take in at midnight, and we decided to sleep on it and discuss in New Orleans — where all good decisions are made. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much.

We also didn’t discuss things for very long. We didn’t need to. Reunited in New Orleans, we grabbed dinner. The decision to move abroad was almost immediate. We had both considered expatriating previously and didn’t want to give up a second chance.

We also loved traveling and the lifestyle in Europe. It would mean some sacrifices, but the rewards would be immense. Two weeks later, Mike was back in Copenhagen until Christmas.

He spent one week in Philadelphia and three in Denmark until I was able to move over in March of 2017. Two and a half years, and 30 new countries later we love our expat life in Denmark!

Visiting The Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Visiting The Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

TT: What a story!!! Tell us more about your travels after you moved abroad.

D: In January I spent a month traveling India from North to South. My first job in Copenhagen was for a start-up company and the contract ended in January 2019.

When I explained this to friends, the question they usually asked me was, “So will you be traveling when you finish your contract?” I never thought of this, but after being asked by the fourth person I started to think that I should look into a trip.

Apparently, it’s common in Europe to use the time between jobs to travel. In America, I would have likely panicked and spent my savings on emergency health insurance instead, but that’s obviously not necessary in Denmark. A second reason to travel is because January in Denmark is a very dark and cold month. It made sense to escape.

I chose India because I have always been fascinated by the culture, history, and religion of the country. It also made sense because I was traveling alone, and Mike was not particularly interested in India.

Therefore, I wasn’t worried about having the experience on my own and him wanting to return together. Seeing the Taj Mahal in person was a bucket-list item completed. The lesser-known cities and sites were just as astounding.

I also toured India through a group travel company designed for travelers from 21-40, so it was a great way to experience group travel while on my own.

I had never traveled for longer than 10 days, and I had never been somewhere as foreign to me as India. Visiting the nation with a tour group was very reassuring, and it stretched my comfort zone in a healthy way.

Checking out the Christmas Markets in Copenhagen.

Checking out the Christmas Markets in Copenhagen.

TT: What a great experience! How do you find your travel opportunities? 

D: Travel inspiration hits me in many ways and word of mouth always inspires me. Living in Denmark, where people travel more than in the United States, I am often hearing about different friends’ vacations and take notes on where I need to go next.

I also follow many travel blogs and began my own two years ago: Robe Trotting. It was a great hobby before my Danish work permit was granted, but I love being a part of the travel community. Even film and TV inspires my travels.

For example, Mike and I binged the series The Americans this winter and we began visiting former Soviet countries: Kyiv, Ukraine in January and Saint Petersburg, Russia in April.

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

D: We travel often, and it’s definitely easier and cheaper in Europe. We monitor discount airlines and aren’t picky about lodging. Mike travels a bit for his current position, so we try to turn them into long weekends when we can (and only have to pay for my flight).

We also take tips from some of our favorite bloggers and skip certain destinations when we learn of hidden expenses. For example, certain airports in Italy can be very cheap to fly to, but we end up paying more for transports from the the airport to the hotel than we do for flights.

The public transport is a little more difficult in Italy and sometimes a $90 taxi is the only option. This cancels out any savings from a $50 round-trip flight.

Relaxing in the Dolomites in the Italian Alps.

Relaxing in the Dolomites in the Italian Alps.

TT: Smart calculations! Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.

D: One powerful moment in my travels was getting to plan a trip with my mother for her 60th birthday. We went to Poland, where her grandmother was born, and we also tracked down some relatives while in Warsaw.

In Krakow, we visited Auschwitz which was incredibly somber. The trip also included a few nights in Prague over Mother’s Day weekend. It’s tough being apart from my family for months at a time, but getting to tour Prague Castle and have brunch overlooking The Charles Bridge was a superb trade-off. Never did I think I would be having Mother’s Day brunch with my mom in Prague.

Seeing the Taj Mahal in Person!

Seeing the Taj Mahal in Person!

TT: So beautiful. How have your travels impacted you in your current career, and as a person?

D: Though I am not currently teaching, I can better explain how teaching has impacted my travels as well as my first job in Copenhagen. My first job in Denmark involved sales and implementation for a tech start-up. I leaned heavily on my experience as a teacher during this role.

I was essentially teaching a tech solution to clients and following up to make sure they were using the technology consistently and correctly. I know that my background in education played a factor in hiring me for the role.

As for my travels, planning an itinerary is something that my career in education has helped me to perfect. When Mike and I plan a trip, we have a a standard routine and method that works well for us.

Combining his analysis and knack for procedure as an engineer with my creativity and planning skills as a former educator, we have planned some pretty epic holidays and even share them on our blog.

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TT: Awesome. What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching? 

D: I dreamed about travel for years before I started doing it. I realize that my path wasn’t the normal one — moving to Europe really fell into our lap.

Still, the most important thing is to make travel a priority. There are a ton of excuses not to travel, but when you stop accepting them of yourself, you’ll start to fill your passport.

It doesn’t take much of a sacrifice to save up enough for airfare, putting away just $20 a week can really take you places (pun intended). Again, the only advice I have for those dreaming of traveling is to simply make it a priority. Feel free to reach out to me on Facebook, Instagram, or my blog!

TT: Thanks so much, Derek! Are any readers out there considering a career change to quit teaching? Let’s start a discussion…

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2 Comments

  1. Very good post. I’ve had similar experiences recently myself. I’ve done a lot of travelling over the last few years but I wanted to experience living in another country. I did an online TEFL course and worked in various places in Spain for over a year and a half teaching English. It’s a really good way of live and an easy opportunity to live in another country. After a break of about 10 months to do more travelling I’m now going back to work in Spain again. Not sure teaching is what I want to do long term, but it definitely has it’s upsides.

    Reply

    1. Wow, teaching English in Spain must be incredible. Where in Spain have you lived, Stuart? Best of luck to you as you decide on teaching or other opportunities. It’s definitely very rewarding but I know how great it is to travel and explore the other options out there.

      Reply

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