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A Physical Education and Health Teacher, Teaching English in Thailand

Maggie and her husband enjoying the drink Chè at a market in Saigon, Vietnam.

Maggie and her husband enjoying the drink Chè at a market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Teaching Traveling: Think just because you teach a subject like Physical Education, you won’t be able to teach abroad? Think again!

Please welcome Maggie Chestney, a former PhysEd teacher who is now teaching ESL abroad in Thailand. Maggie, tell us about yourself.

Maggie: I grew up in Pennsylvania and went to college at West Virginia University. In December 2007, I graduated with a degree in Physical Education/Teacher Education. Soon after graduation, I moved to Charlottesville, Virginia in hopes to apply to graduate school, but I instead started working to gain more work experience.

I worked at Oakland School, a private school for students with learning differences, as a Residential Instructor and sports coach for two years. I lived on campus with the students that were boarding and the job became a lifestyle by choice.

I gained invaluable experience working with kids in this particular setting, and I fully supported Oakland’s mission and witnessed the difference they make with their students, but the lifestyle consumed me completely.

I knew if I wanted to grow as a person, my intense working-personality needed a change of scenery. I still wasn’t ready to apply for graduate school, and I wasn’t content with the idea of being a full-time Physical Education or Health Teacher.

While dining at a Thai restaurant in Charlottesville with my fiancé, I encountered a unique epiphany to teach English abroad, which ignited our desires to explore and travel the world.

We put this aspiration into action and it became a living reality. We currently live in Bangkok, Thailand and we have lived here longer than 18 months. I teach English at a private Thai Kindergarten and Cameron has managed to keep his part-time job as an online English instructor for several colleges back in the states.

We utilize Bangkok as a hub and travel as often as we can. Right now we’re content with living in Bangkok, but we hope to move to a different location sometime in the future.

Exploring the Cu Chi tunnels in Southern Vietnam.

Exploring the Cu Chi tunnels in Southern Vietnam.

TT: Fascinating! Tell us more about your travels.

M: While living in Bangkok, Cameron and I do our best to live economically and put much of our savings towards our travels. In March 2012, we chose to embark on a two-week journey throughout Vietnam.

Cameron and I have huge appetites for learning, and we’re drawn to learn about new places we’ve never been and we like to immerse ourselves into the culture. We also didn’t know much about the Vietnam War and we wanted to learn about it.

We created our traveling route and selected activities based on our own research and listening to other people’s experiences in the country. Here are the places we chose in order and how we traveled to each destination:

  • Ho Chi Minh city: Flew from Bangkok.
  • Mui Ne: Open airbus from HCM.
  • Nha Trang: Sleeper bus from Mui Ne.
  • Da Nang/Hoi An: Sleeper train to Da Nang and cab to Hoi An.
  • Hanoi: Flew from Da Nang airport.
  • Ha Long Bay: Inclusive tour from our hotel in Hanoi (incl. bus ride to from Ha Long Bay & boat tour).
  • Sapa: Inclusive tour from our hotel in Hanoi (included sleeper train ride to/from Sapa & hotel in Sapa).
  • Hanoi: Final destination. Flew back to Bangkok.

We made a video that documents some of our experiences throughout Vietnam. The link to the video is here.

TT: Fantastic! Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly interesting.

M: Two memorable experiences in Vietnam were with the XO Tours in Ho Chi Minh. XO Tours is a motorbike tour group with Vietnamese women as your tour guides and drivers, and they’re dressed in the traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai.

In a nutshell, XO Tours allowed us to experience much of Vietnam in a short period of time on the back of a motorbike, which is part of their culture, and driven by a woman in a patriarchal society.

We took a city tour and a foodie tour. The city tour showed popular tour sites in HCM along with an educational background of each site and its significance. Our tour included: The Central Post Office, The Notre Dame Cathedral, The Reunification Palace, The Jade Emperor Pagoda, the Secret CIA Building, Tan Dinh Market, The Thich Quang Duc memorial, The Binh Tay Market, etc!

The foodie tour introduced us to unique foods in the Vietnamese cuisine tourists don’t typically get to try when they eat in Vietnam. We ate with real locals and traveled to different districts in HCM and became meshed with HCM’s vibrant nightlife. Here is the website and Facebook page information to the XO Tours company:

Cameron also wrote an article about our experience on the Good Men Project media site. I highly recommend this article for a unique perspective on the Vietnamese culture. Here is the link to the article.

On the XO foodie tour in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

On the XO foodie tour in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

TT: I am so excited to learn about this, as I had a much less positive motorbike experience in Vietnam. Hooray for women motorbikers! So, how have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your career?

M: Traveling to new places has helped me understand the way history and culture blend together to influence their populations. Experiencing first hand and witnessing how powerful these two components are, if perceived objectively, can provide better understanding of people and their behaviors, emotions, and thought processes.

As a teacher, this kind of knowledge can help you be more tolerant and aware of people’s actions and beliefs. It can help you explore new methods of teaching and improve relationships with personalities different from yours.

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

M: Traveling has taught me not only about history and people but I’ve encountered opportunities where I have learned much about myself. Reflecting over the unique benefits I have received from traveling, the most prominent benefit I feel stands out is learning to recognize when to adapt yourself to life’s control and when you can safely manipulate situations.

Traveling, especially to new places, provides many moments for me to practice and strengthen this life skill. I have transferred this skill into other areas of my life, which I have found to benefit my balance of stress levels and improve my relationships with others.

TT: Well said! What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?

M: You can always plan and research when preparing to travel to new places, but your preparations and knowledge about your destinations may only take you so far. You learn most about traveling when you’re completely immersed in the moments.

Still plan well while for your travels, but know that your plans could always change unexpectedly while traveling. Always keep an open mind with you when you travel ;-)

TT: Thanks so much for this fascinating interview, Maggie! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?

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