Raymond451 and I were just having a discussion on here about the Western world of today and I fancied opening it up to a wider audience before we whiled away the afternoon talking about it!
To give you the background, I just returned from a trip to Africa (my third trip there, love it) and once again I was blown away by it. I LOVE Africa, I'm slightly obsessed by it and would dearly love to spend even more time there but alas, someone has to look after Chalkboard! :)
Previously I've taught in Uganda and Kenya, but I've also spent time in Tanzania and Zanzibar traveling around, and I've definitely been bitten by the Africa bug. To be fair, I'll travel anywhere really, I wouldn’t limit myself to one continent, it’s just happened that way.
There are a few things that have hit me when travelling to Africa:
1. The hospitality.
This might be written through rose tinted glasses, but I’m happy to type it! It feels like, with a small exception, everyone I’ve met on my travels has been so welcoming and friendly! It’s amazing to meet people who are so genuine and happy to welcome you in to their homes, their country and their culture and not expect anything in return. They’ll give you their last banana and share everything with you. in smaller towns and villages, the community spirit thrives, whilst in a lot of places in the UK, we don’t know our neihgbours until we need them…am I right? Is this the same worldwide in developed countries in your experience?
I lived in a home stay in Mombasa with a family and loved it! I saw parts of the city that I’d never see as a tourist, I sang songs on a karaoke box with them, are with my hands, learned how to cook local foods and learnt Swahili from them.
I lived in a remote village in Uganda and went to play some cards with my neighbours in their mud hut. The locals gathered outside and thought they were killing me because of the screams of laughter outside – that was a funny moment to explain. They didn’t think a Westerner laughed like that…honest actual words from them.
There are so many stories from my time there and the wonderful people I met. I don’t pretend to think that there aren’t people out there who wouldn’t do bad things; that happens everywhere sadly, but in general I like to think I made friends wherever I went!
2. The children
I can never get over just how amazing the children are! I get a lump in my throat when I remember the children who used to walk for a mile and back to school each day, desperate for an education – did I mention they were barefoot?
I’ve taught and assisted in classrooms in the UK, not a huge amount, but it’s always such a shame when you come across children who can’t be bothered with education – ‘school’s boring I don’t want to go, can’t be bothered’ etc. I don’t think it’s just me who feels this way?
I’d love to show them the children that I’ve met in Uganda who would give everything for the type of education they have, but I can’t. Still it makes me frustrated, but what can you do?
3. Return culture shock
I always find coming home is the hardest part of traveling now. Anyone agree? When you settle in to a new lifestyle, especially one that is so laid back, it’s hard to return home where underground trains are counted down in seconds and people moan about not having a cold drink if their fridge is broken…it’s all I can do not to shake them!
I mustn’t shake them though…no; you can get in to trouble for shaking strangers! I could tell them that life could be harder, but I figure you have to discover this for yourself. When you try and describe your experience to someone who’s never been there, with the best will in the world, their eyes will eventually glaze over, and you’ve lost them!
What I do try to do though, is use my experience overseas and apply it to my life back home. If you don’t intend to come home after TEFLing then good for you; but if you do come home, then my top tip is to not settle back down to the life you had before.
I can’t tell you how to do this because everyone is different, but for me it’s little things like minimizing waste, taking colder showers (even in the colder months) and I haven't straightened my hair since I went to Uganda in 2007 (smug). I just stopped caring about having straight hair!
Have you made any changes as a result of your travels? What experiences have hit you whilst overseas?
I'll leave you with a question that I'd love your answers on...have we developed too far in the Western world and forgotten what it's all about? What is it all about?
Happy travels and TEFLs everyone!
P.S. Here are my top tips for terrified teachers based on my experiences: