In this Teachers Abroad Series I share the experiences of my new friend, Megan. I recently met Megan through a mutual teaching friend on Instagram and its scary how much we have in common (not only our name)! Megan is South African, like me, and taught in the Republic of Georgia and Myanmar for two years. I had honestly never heard about Georgia before - which is really embarrassing because I consider myself a travel addict, but hey, you learn something new everyday! After interviewing her and looking through her pictures I couldn't help but notice similarities between Georgia and Bhutan and I am honestly in love with this country already, I can definitely see myself visiting and possibly teaching there in the near future.
I want to thank Megan for all of her inspiration and I hope you all feel as inspired as I did while reading through her experiences :) Go have a look at her Blog or find her on Instagram if you want to find out more.
1. Tell us about yourself - who you are, how old you are, where are you from, where are you currently living, your teaching experience and what you are currently teaching?
I'm Meg aka "Miss Meg/Teecha/Teacher Meg/Mastsavlebeli". I'm 27 going on 73, and am from Durban, South Africa. I'm currently living and teaching in Cape Town but spent time in 2012 and 2013 teaching abroad in The Republic of Georgia, and in Shan State, Myanmar (Burma).
2. What made you decide to teach abroad?
From a young age I've known I wanted to be a teacher, a calling I just could not ignore. This mixed with a severe diagnosis of wanderlust led me to start my career abroad whilst completing my PGCE through UNISA. I had au paired briefly in Chicago, started my PGCE, and completed my studies whilst teaching in Georgia. I wrote my final exam in Istanbul. Again, this insatiable desire to meet new faces in far off places led me to investigate my options abroad. The Georgian government had an easy to join program, as they paid for flights and also didn't require a degree to be able to join. The country also appealed to me as it was a country I had never heard of but after doing some research knew that I would love the place. I wasn't keen to go to Thailand and other countries that are hot spots for expat teachers, I wanted to go off the beaten track. I was at a stage in my life where I know I wanted to get away and see what the world has to offer and as cliche as it sounds ... "find myself".
3. What was it like living in the countries?
Living in Georgia was incredible! There were definitely challenges, but overall I fell madly in love with the place! I didn't have time to feel anxious or uncomfortable because they are all such friendly, warm people. Living in a rural village where the main mode of transport was your feet, the toilet was an outdoor long drop, there was no running water, minimal internet and erratic electricity was definitely challenging initially but as time went on living so simply was the most amazing experience I've ever had. People were incredibly hospitable. There were no awkward silences, and even if you didn't understand a word of what was being said you somehow felt a part of it all. I stayed with a host family, but had my own room and privacy.
Myanmar was somewhat different, the language didn't come nearly as easy as Georgian did to me, and the level of English was much higher amongst adults so I didn't feel the need to learn the language. Again, the people were incredibly hospitable and friendly. I often found myself feeling so guilty for just how much people did for me and how accommodating they were. I stayed in my own 3 bedroom house, with 3 bathrooms and a lounge, dining room and kitchen. It got very lonely, so I ended up offering one of my colleague's partners a room in the house, which made things a lot easier.
Not being a fussy eater made both countries a breeze. In Georgia we ate from the land, made homemade bread, picked veggies and fruit and made wine and "chacha" (moonshine) on our doorstep! Chickens were killed for special occasions, and there was always a pot of coffee being brewed in most homes and at school. Myanmar (Shan State) had an abundance of fresh food markets and a few "fancy" grocery shops, and endless street stalls with ready to eat delicious curries, tofu dishes and soups. Both countries had a low cost of living and a high quality of life!
4. What did you love most about teaching where you were?
I fell in love with Georgia - the people, the culture, the language, the food, the lifestyle. In both countries I enjoyed the freedom of being able to create and implement my own curriculum. At first this was not very reassuring as self-doubt always loomed, but in hindsight after teaching in South Africa, I enjoy being able to switch things up and get creative!
The learners in the two countries were very different. In Georgia learners were more mischievous and playful, whereas in Myanmar the learners were almost too disciplined. The teachers were strict and the learners were often expected to perform on a level higher than they were developmentally capable of. Again, in both countries, the students were wonderful and excited to learn and the staff was also so open to suggestions and the knowledge that I could impart. Despite the vast differences in the culture, religion, language, ethnicity, lifestyles and experiences I am always fascinated that our common goals are all pretty much the same and we're all just trying to make the most of this journey we call life.
5. What was the most challenging aspect of teaching in the countries?
Like I mentioned before, in hindsight it was nice to have that freedom and flexibility with the teaching but at first it was my biggest challenge. I always doubted whether I was doing the right thing, and thinking I could be doing so much more. The school hours in Georgia were flexible, you only walked to school when you had a lesson to give and then you could go home. It was so relaxed! But as a foreigner, in a new and strange place, it was surprisingly intimidating being so free! The language barrier was also something that scared me big time. During my orientation I was not grasping the introduction to the Georgian language at ALL, which made me panic! Once I was in my village, this quickly changed because I so badly wanted to be a part of the community and immerse myself in it all. I wanted to interact the the wonderful people and I picked up the language fairly quickly. In both Myanmar and Georgia the lack of resources was also quite a challenge. It wasn't always easy to get art supplies and posters, etc.
In Georgia there were enough expats and friendships formed that I could jump in a taxi and travel for an hour to go hang out with some friends, or spend weekends away with them. In Shan State (Myanmar) I was the only foreigner I knew of in the entire town so that became a challenge for me, which I never anticipated. Sometimes I just craved interaction with someone who I could relate to. I also got a lot of unwanted attention as this was obviously a huge novelty for the locals (a country that has only somewhat recently been given freedom after being under military rule for a long time). In Myanmar YouTube and access to the news was banned until 2011.
6. What advice do you have for those wanting to teach and travel abroad?
My advice is to take the risk - Just do it! It might seem more convenient or easy to stay in your comfort zone but if you've got itchy feet and are passionate about what you do then make it happen. However, I do think that if teaching is not a passion, it may end up being more challenging. I say this only from my interactions with those I've met abroad who taught to travel, and didn't travel to teach. I can confidently say that my experiences of teaching abroad have equipped me with so much knowledge, tolerance, patience, adaptability and experience. More importantly, its given me a lust for life and connected me with some of the most special people who I never dreamed of meeting and calling my friends. Do it for the right reasons, and be prepared to work hard, and never be afraid to ask for help. Go with an open mind and an open heart.
7. How can I teach where you were?
I can totally relate to Megan's decision to avoid teaching in Thailand and try some place that nobody knows about! This was exactly what it was like coming to Bhutan and I am so in love with this hidden gem. Its so much more rewarding when you choose to go where many people won't, especially as a teacher. Thank you so much for being so inspiring and for definitely sparking an interest in myself, Megan! If you are currently teaching abroad and would like to be a part of my Teachers Abroad Series, get in touch - I'd love to hear from you!