Saturday, April 4, 2009

What's Your Reason?

Time and Time Again
Wake up; walk to the station; jump on the forty-one. I join the ranks of students, professionals, and that woman who keeps yelling at the driver - day after day - slightly smelling of burned notebooks, and Christmas trees. Get off; work eight hours; re-board the forty-one. I open my folder and mark essays, creative projects, and creative writing the whole way home. Keep marking; sleep; repeat.

For the past three years, this has been my life. And never once have I regretted it. I love my work; I've made peace with the inconceivable amount of marking it brings – after all, each piece is one more chance for my students to show me what they can do, rather than me trying to show them what I can do. Still, like so many of us, I felt that something was missing.

Teaching in Toronto has placed me in the heart and soul of multi-cultural Canada. Over fifty countries have been represented by my students. Each life unique, and forged by personal experiences. Experiences crafted in places I had never been. Their lives, before walking into my classroom, are a complete mystery. And in some cases, beyond my comprehension.

Yes, something was definitely missing.

Why we Travel
We all have our reasons – the things that cause us to pause instead of buying that beautiful new car, or that fabulous new ring, video game system, guitar, outfit – whatever works for you. When friends might be out enjoying the hundred dollar breakfast at Norma's, we instead choose to forgo the ten dollar Orange Juice. Yes, we all have our reasons.

Mine? I want to learn. What can I say? I'm a teacher. When I walk into an interview and drop the buzz-phrase “life long learner” I'm not just saying what the administration wants to hear. I actually mean it. And there is no better teacher than life experience.

When I found myself teaching a number of Japanese students, and others who were simply interested in Japanese culture, pop-culture, and the overpowering Tokyo mystique, I too found myself re-energized. Growing up, I was interested in this country, and especially the city of Tokyo. But travelling was so difficult, and so expensive. How could anyone ever justify taking such trips? At last I had my excuse.

I am a teacher who tells stories. I always have been, and I probably always will be. You may remember some like this. Perhaps they, like myself, were trying to fill time – while hoping to impart some bit of wisdom not quite listed in the curriculum. If I could, next time a student talked about manga, tell them that I had been to the epicentre of that scene, and then expand on the simple black and white pages, illustrating the sense of being shoulder to shoulder with business men riffling through discount bins full of the product... Well I hoped that I might be able to inspire them to something more, perhaps even discovering such things for themselves.

Of course, this would mean that I would have to jump in headfirst. So that's what I did. When March Break came around, I booked a flight, found a hostel, and flew overseas. And the experience was everything I had hoped it would be. There were pitfalls, and high-highs; mistakes were made, and accidents led to serendipitous success.

From then on, travel was part of my life.

When I talk about Canada, I can do so with authority. When I teach stories with characters lost in the mountains, I too have -albeit briefly - been there.

Cuban life, and the type of people who can live happily, without expecting money or financial gain, are understandable to me. The districts of Tokyo have more meaning and depth than just words in the latest Murikami novel. The place where Peter visits in Kensington Gardens, well I can explain what it's like to stand there, in that very place. I have seen what he saw.

But still, something was missing. There was a whole world out there, and I'd experienced but a fraction of it. And I recognize that I'll only ever experience but a fraction of it, still – I'd like it to be as big a piece as possible.

There was only one choice for me: take time off of work, and spend a year travelling the world. Hopefully by the end of it all, I'll know a little bit more, and be able to bring that one extra bit of inspiration to a student, either helping them push forward where they are - or lending them the strength to get out there and see it for themselves.

So – that's why I travel. That's my reason.

What's yours?


  1. I too am a teacher. I'm heading off on my travels in august for a minimum of a year.

    I want to go because not only have a never left Europe but I feel as though I have never made a real decision in my life, rather just flowed down a pre-determined path.

    To give it all up and just hit the road gives me a great feeling of control and freedom in my life.


  2. I too am a teacher. One of my decisions that I made at the beginning of the new year was to incorporate travelling back into my life.

    This has pushed me to find out more about a deferred salary plan option that is offered at the school board that I work at and to apply for it. Just earlier this week, I learned that my application was accepted. So, I can have my year off in 2012-2013. I've not decided how I'll use the year, but I do have three years to figure that out.

    My reason for wanting to travel is about wanting a further education of what the world is about. Knowing that travelling provides a means of learning that cannot be learned in a classroom, from a reading a textbook, or from watching the latest episode of Departures, I enjoy seeing more of the world, understanding it more, appreciating it more, and plenty more.

    I don't feel that there is a lot in my life that is about me and travelling allows me to focus on myself. So, it's an attempt to be healthily selfish for once!


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