Freedom! After weeks of essay deadlines and exams, the holidays are finally in sight. Maybe it’s the Scottish weather, the mild claustrophobia of St Andrews or, for American students in particular, our proximity with the continent, but the oncoming holidays provide the perfect opportunity for many of us to pick up our passports and fulfil the travel bug within. But where should you go? Or, more to the point, what should you do when you’re there?
Let’s face it, being a tourist is fun. You get to wear daft clothes, visit famous sights and unashamedly ask random people on the street to take your picture. But being a tourist can sometimes feel like a superficial experience. Sure, it’s relaxing to forget about work and see a new and pretty place, but if that’s what you wanted, surely you could just watch a travel documentary and save yourself (or, more likely, your parents) money.
Fortunately for us, there’s another way to travel – to combine it with the tough, challenging, but deeply rewarding act of teaching. Here are just a few of the many reasons why teaching and travelling might just be the best way to see the world there ever has been.
- You meet people
We all know that one person we met on holiday, became instant friends with, told our life stories to and promised to visit when the joyful holiday that brought you together came to close? Imagine that times about a hundred. Whether it’s your host families or your students, teaching and travelling provides unrivalled opportunities to meet wonderful people who you would never otherwise be able to get to know and forge bonds that last well after your teaching is over.
- It’s cheap
Seriously cheap. Choose a good organisation and there shouldn’t be a program fee which essentially means free food and accommodation for however long the program lasts. Choose a good country and that means you’ll also put on a load of weight. No regrets.
- You gain experience
Teaching looks good. It shows you can present information, lead a classroom, manage your time and put up with screaming children without going insane. What’s more, when they aren’t screaming, it’s actually a lot of fun. What other job lets you draw, play games, sing and dance without even the slightest tinge of embarrassment?
- You feel wanted
Communities wouldn’t agree to host teachers if they didn’t want them. Unlike being a drifting tourist, you feel wanted and respected and can leave knowing that you’ve made some sort of contribution, however small, to the community you lived in.
Of course, there are many things to consider about teaching abroad. If you can’t stand children, or are not in some way qualified to teach a subject, then it might not be for you. Choosing an organisation can be tough too because, like all ‘voluntourism’ agencies, some aren’t in it for the right reasons. If you’re looking for a reputable organisation, Learning Enterprises is a good place to start. It is a non-profit organisation run almost exclusively by student volunteers in eleven different countries – no program fee, wonderful host families and over twenty-five years of volunteering experience.
Furthermore, it’s a good idea to do plenty of research on the country you intend to teach in before you go. The British governments’ Travel Aware campaign provides a wealth of information for people considering travelling or volunteering abroad ranging from getting the right insurance to choosing a responsible organisation. For researching particular countries, their Travel Advice pages provide specific and regularly updated information. There’s not much point in teaching if you haven’t even taught yourself about where you’re going!
For those just wanting to see the tourist trail (which, of course, there is nothing wrong with) then perhaps teaching isn’t for you. But if you want to make a meaningful connection with a new part of the world, make wonderful friends and do something productive with your holiday, then teaching and travelling is the way to go. You might just learn more than you could ever hope to teach.