How Traveling has Changed My Teaching

I'm not going to claim to be a world traveler, but I have left my step in a few places around this earth which has inevitably changed me. My first experience outside the United States was to go to London with my Girl Scouts troop in high school. The next year, my family went to Guatemala on a mission trip. My sister moved to Okinawa, Japan so I had to opportunity to visit her a few years ago. Most recently, my husband and I went to Tulum, Mexico for vacation. This was my husband's first time out of the country and his reactions and take-aways made me realize the importance of these trips and how it inevitably transfers into my classroom and how I teach.

Not everyone gets the opportunity to travel, for whatever reason. However, I truly believe it to be something to take advantage of if you are able. My husband said while we were in Mexico, "When we have kids, we are taking them on trips. I don't want them to grow up not knowing the world like I have." Because seeing the world can change you down to your very core. From your perspectives on life to your appreciation for food, traveling makes you see or do things differently. Without these experiences, I would not be the person I am today, especially the teacher I am. Because I have seen people who are different than me, gotten to be in environments that aren't normal for me, I feel better prepared to embrace diversity in my classroom. Do not get me wrong, there are many ways to embrace diversity than having to travel, but traveling brings you out of your normal, comfort zone to be surrounded by cultures and experiences that you can only gain from being in a different place.

Out of the places I've been, there are a few common "themes" that I've noticed I take back with me and bring into my classroom. I wanted to share some of these because I fee like it's important not only for the teachers reading this, but more so for myself as a reminder to continue to implement this thinking with my students. I firmly believe that if I know better, I should do better and that's the purpose behind all of this jabber. I know better and should do for my own students as well as helping you do the same.

When we were in Mexico, I had a conversation with a taxi driver and he said he never wanted to leave because there was so much to do there, even though the opportunities of "better jobs" were limited. I should emphasize that when I say "better jobs" that it what America has conditioned me to think. He thinks taxi driving is the best thing in the world and truly loves it. Going to college is very rare for people in Mexico, which makes me incredibly thankful for the opportunities I have at home. However, I feel there is a stigma that in order to succeed in the United States, you have to go to college. Y'all, I'm the first person in my family to not only have a master's degree but a bachelor's degree as well. Do I consider myself any more successful than my dad or husband? Absolutely not! I want to remind my students of that every day though. I want them to know that as much as I want them to go to college, I also believe that if you are doing something that you absolutely love and passionate about, do whatever it takes to make that happen. Find a dream and work to achieve it every day. That is what is most important in life.

My favorite thing about traveling abroad is seeing people's homes. It's not my favorite like I get excited about it, but I'm always fascinated by how people appreciate what they have. This is usually opposite from my day-to-day thinking because I'm so focused on what I don't have until I'm looking at a home made of tent or tarps. When I was in Guatemala, we visited the city cemetery which was beautiful, but in a certain area it began to smell awful. As we walked more, there was a large drop off that became the city's landfill. It was the worst smell I've ever experienced, like to the point we were all covering our faces. But it was the most memorable moment in my life because at the bottom of trash pile were people's homes, at least ten of them. They got up every day to dig through the trash for food and materials that would help them survive. Talk about a life-changing experience! It's so important to teach children to appreciate what they have. Many of my students have terrible homes as well. They're so embarrassed by it, too. I understand because I've lived in a trailer, sleeping on a couch, too. But it's still not quite as bad as what I experienced in that third-world country, and I want to remind my students that they should be thankful for whatever it is they have.

The final thing I have learned from my travels is to just be nice. I don't speak or read Japanese, but when I went to Japan I made it work with the help of the people there! It did help that my sister was already established there, but getting to and from Japan on my own was the most terrified I'd ever been. However, everyone there was incredibly nice and helpful, they were never not smiling. I had absolutely no problem the entire time because they were always willing to help. There are so many stereotypes about every culture, religion, identity, but I've never had anyone be incredibly rude to me while abroad. At home though? That stuff is literally all around me! Why is it so hard to be nice? I ask my students that all the time because I want them be better people. It's a good reminder to adults though, too. Why can't we be nice and helpful? We all need to be better people!

I had a teacher tell me once, "There are only 3 things that will change you: people, places, and books." That quote has never left me and makes me reflect on it a bit more after meeting different people and seeing places unlike my own. Traveling changes you regardless of your profession, but as a teacher, we need to take these lessons and transfer them into our classroom to ensure we are raising children that will change the world. Find a dream and chase after it, appreciate what you have, and just be nice to others will be the factors that change our world so why wouldn't we take the time to teach it?