The first time I went abroad was at 16 - Italy.
The first time I went abroad solo was at 19 - Canada.
The first time I backpacked was at 23 - Europe.
The first time I moved abroad was at 25 - Thailand.
Then, at 29 I accomplished my goal of reaching 30 countries before my 30th birthday - Czech Republic.
So, how did I accomplish this? Well, there wasn’t just one driving force. There were many. And they are all connected and intertwined and emerged out of the tiny intricacies of life — out of celebration, out of sadness, out of seeking adventure, out of finding a purpose.
The biggest reason — aside from my desire to see everything and go everywhere — is my education and my CIEE TEFL Certification.
I still remember very distinctly the moment I decided to get TEFL certified and teach abroad in Thailand — I was sitting in the library late one May night, completing my Master’s thesis; and it was snowing. I was exhausted. I was frozen. I was convinced I would never finish said thesis. My heart was broken from a break up I was certain I would never recover from. I needed to go somewhere warm, and I needed to do something where I wasn’t solely focusing on myself and trying to turn every detail of my life into art. Teaching children in a foreign country was the answer.
I met with Ally at CIEE a few days later, and all she had to say to convince me was, “I mean, you’ll never regret teaching abroad.” And that was all the arm-twisting I needed.
I started my TEFL certification course immediately after graduation (I did, in fact, survive grad school) and I completed the certification with ease as I was driving across the country back home to Arizona, as I visited my family in Hawaii, and in the comfort of my favorite coffee shop that summer.
(Side note — you’ll also never regret getting TEFL certified. It will help you become a better teacher, which will inherently help your students and make them more successful which spirals into even more positives from there. Sometimes investing in yourself is the best way to help not only yourself, but others.)
From there, I hopped on a one way flight to Bangkok. And, for the next 8 months I taught and traveled and met incredible people (including my now best friend for life) and ate interesting foods and I got to work with incredible kiddos who I still find myself reflecting back and smiling when I don’t even realize it.
Teaching abroad changed my life in the best ways possible. I learned patience, I learned genuine laughter and happiness, and I learned resiliency. I met people I would have never been exposed to otherwise. And most importantly, I learned so much about myself and just what I was capable of. It proved to not only be the ultimate source of healing, but it was the source of adventure I was so desperately looking for. It was a way to dedicate myself to something so much bigger than myself.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned on this journey was on one of my last nights in Thailand. As I side saddled the back of a motorbike taxi as we zoomed through Bangkok traffic, I gazed up at the blazing red sunset clouds and thought — “I am right here. I really did this."
And that was my only thought.
I discovered — When I’m traveling, I’m present.
[Insert an eye roll if you want, but that’s the truth.]
On most days, I have a busy brain. I can be thinking of multiple things at once and working on several different things and simultaneously wondering what I should eat for dinner later and what goals I want to accomplish this year and if I should try that new spin class and if I’m on the right path and if what I’m doing right now is meaningful to anyone or anything and also wondering if someone remembers that embarrassing thing I did two years ago. And that’s just a normal Tuesday for me.
But, when I’m traveling, I’m there. I’m absorbing my surroundings, I’m not worried about what’s next, I’m enjoying precisely where I am. And that is a rare and beautiful thing for me.
Granted, I caught the travel bug long before getting TEFL certified. But after completing it, I learned how to travel more efficiently and how to communicate cross-culturally (in addition to all those teaching perks).
With my TEFL Certification, I made it to 12 more countries — and without it, I would have never accomplished my goal of reaching 30 countries before 30.
So, are you wondering what the benefits are of getting TEFL Certified? Well, you’ll no doubt become a better teacher. But what other life goals can it help you accomplish? — The opportunities are endless.