I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to travel, study, live and work in a number of different countries, including Scotland, Jamaica, Mexico, Chile, Honduras, Lebanon and Afghanistan. And with each of these opportunities, I have realized how valuable travelling the world can be and how much it has impacted my practice as a teacher. I wanted to write this post to share some of my own experiences around the world and to encourage other teachers to seek out opportunities to travel abroad.
I can almost hear some of you already, “But what about the cost!” Believe me. I’ve been there. I hate shopping without coupons and I know what it’s like to scour the clearance bins at Target for even the most basic classroom materials. The good news is that if you’re willing to put in a little bit of work, there are fellowships and grant opportunities that will help you cover some (if not all!) of your travel costs. Be sure to visit my Grants page for more details about how you can find funding to support your travel.
So, without further ado, here are seven important reasons why I believe teachers should take time to travel the world.
- Build Cultural Awareness - Travelling abroad can open new windows into language, religion, family and society. Our world is increasingly connected. This global diversity makes it increasingly important to build an awareness of the many ways in which our lives can be different and an understanding that those differences are not ‘weird’ or ‘wrong’ but something to be celebrated and shared. By learning about cultural practices around the world you will be better prepared to build cultural awareness in your own classroom, not through tokenism and standalone monthly bulletin boards, but through a richly integrated and highly personal approach to education.
- Develop Empathy – Although travelling to a new country for a week or a month is not enough time to deeply understand the history, culture, and struggles of a particular place, it can give you a powerful glimpse into lifestyles that are drastically different from your own. Living in the United States has undeniable privileges, especially for those groups of people who have historically been the agents of systematic oppression and marginalization, myself included. Being able to recognize and understand life experiences outside your own will help you to develop greater empathy and appreciation for the lived experiences, strengths and struggles of your students and families.
- Enhance Creativity – Think about some of the most creative people you know. Chances are, they are not the type of people who like to play it safe. Some of the most creative individuals I know are risk takers. They push boundaries and they aren’t afraid to fail. They soak in everything around them and translate it into something new through art, music, language, food or fashion. Traveling will force you to push boundaries. It will push you outside your comfort zone and give you an opportunity to surround yourself with new and different ideas every day. What you do with those ideas is entirely up to you!
- Enrich the Classroom – One of my goals for all my students, regardless of age, is that they would leave my classroom with a better understanding of the world around them. We need students who are not just tolerant of differences, but willing to celebrate what makes them unique and passionate about addressing the problems in our world by actively seeking out diverse perspectives. Travelling the world can give you new stories and ideas to bring back into your classroom. I fully believe that globally-minded educators will help to raise a generation of globally-minded students and much-needed global leaders.
- Learn a Language – There are literally thousands of languages in the world. Even though it’s not possible to learn them all (I wish!), it is never too late to start learning another language. Even learning a few words and phrases can go a long way in building relationships in a new country. As an added bonus, stretching yourself linguistically can help you connect with the multilingual learners in your own classroom. Learning a language through intentional immersion is one of the best ways to develop your skills, but it can also be exhausting. You will learn the importance of visuals and scaffolded input and you’ll be able to explore some of the unique connections between language and identity.
- Problem Solving Skills – If you’ve travelled overseas before, you’ll know that sometimes things just don’t go as planned. There’s a lot that can go wrong when you run into differences in language and culture. Travelling will force you to solve problems that you never knew existed. Teachers are great at monitoring and adjusting and that flexibility can go a long way while travelling. By finding ways to keep moving forward you will be continuing to enhance not only your situational awareness, but also your ability to adapt and make changes on the fly. And sometimes, the problems you run into overseas can help you put some of your own problems at home into perspective.
- Renew Your Spirit - Teaching is tough work. There has been a lot of talk lately in education circles about the importance of self-care. As educators, we are constantly taking care of others. The students in our class have been entrusted to our care and at times, that can be a heavy responsibility. It’s important to remember to take care of ourselves. As difficult as it may be to step outside what is known and comfortable, travelling can be good for the soul. Exploring the world outside your own can be an opportunity to reflect on where you’ve come from, where you are and where you would like to be.
Do you have any great teacher travel stories? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you haven’t taken time to travel to another city, state or country recently – I encourage you to go! Traveling can make a world of difference. Do it for your students. Do it for yourself. Go explore!