After graduating university, and having done a study abroad in Argentina for a year and South Africa for a summer, Mark got bit by the travel bug and hasn’t been able to shake it off since. Following university Mark wound up working as an ESL teacher and ESL coordinator in the Philippines and continued on to teach in a variety of different places around the world like Saudi Arabia and Shanghai. He hasn’t quite settled down in one place for now, but I caught up with him to chat about how he ended up mixing work into traveling.
Where are you originally from?
I was born in Hawaii into a military family. After a couple years, I went to Japan where we were fortunate enough be able to stay put from first grade and the rest of my childhood. My parents were both born in the Philippines which lead to some of my curiosity of other cultures.
Tell me a bit about yourself and what led you to be so addicted to travel?
In high school I traveled a bit of the states mainly for debate tournaments and my family would go to the Philippines whenever we got the chance, but it wasn’t until I left for college and moved from Washington to Malibu, California. After my first year in university I went on a summer program to South Africa and Swaziland. The animals, the culture, the government, the social issues, it was all mind blowing. During this trip I went on a safari, visited AIDS/HIV clinics and orphanages, interviewed locals, went cage diving with great white sharks, and visited various churches. I went with a group of highly privileged college students from a private school in Malibu. Some of the attitudes I witnessed amongst this group were bothersome, I needed to get away from America. I got bit and got bit hard by the travel bug. The following school year I went to Argentina and stayed through the following summer. I went back to California to finish my degree without the need of returning for my senior year.
Was it important to you to find a career that would allow you to travel or did it just work out that way?
I finished university a year earlier and decided I would do a “gap” year. I went to South Korea and did the ESL thing but found it quite bothersome by the lack of professionalism. The marketing for these ESL schools was ridiculous… anyone with an American accent or coming from an English speaking country could get this job. I didn’t enjoy my first teaching job and quit shortly after. I decided to take a Masters in Teaching English and went to the Philippines for the next few years. I began a pattern of trying new things, living in different places, and seeing what would and wouldn’t work for me. I’ve been fortunate that things have worked out.
How do you decide where you are going to head next to work?
For awhile I got pretty ambitious telling myself I’d live in every continent excluding Antarctica. So far I’ve made it to South and North America and lived in Asia with my wife and will be in Europe this school year. To be honest, my wife and I think about where we want to be and the opportunities to travel the region. Europe was high on our list as we wanted to end our long term honeymoon there. We moved so slow through Central America and ended up in Ecuador on our 13th month. I was looking through tieonline.com using a friend’s account and came across a couple schools in Europe. I didn’t expect to go back to education but threw out three emails to schools in Berlin, Austria, and Albania. There weren’t a lot of choices as most international schools finish hiring by February. In the end I got a job offer to work as a language coordinator in Austria (where I am now).
What does your wife do?
Camille is an interior designer by profession but is super entrepreneurial. She has a huge passion for cooking and baking. While we were in Shanghai she was interior designing the first half of her day. She’d go home and tutor students for some extra cash and then would get into her passion of baking. Being a teacher at a school gave her an in to get extra work with food. She would spend nights making all sorts of cakes, cookies, anything with sweet goodness for classroom parties, events, and farmers markets on the weekend. She built up a decent number of regulars of stay at home mommies and was really busy. As tough as it is to land without a job, she’s been a trooper. She’s resilient, flexible and creative in making things work. I’m very blessed to have her in my life.
If you were to settle down teaching in one place, where would you choose?
Over the past yer of traveling this conversations come up a lot. These days we are planning on settling down in the Philippines on one of the many beautiful islands out there. We’d like to be in Europe for the next couple years to travel the region, have children, and continue planning our retirement. Specifically, we want to open up a hotel in Palawan. We’re also looking at ways to be digital nomads and trying to pick up travel writing online. These are the plans today, but tomorrow might be a different story.
What has been the best place you have worked so far and why?
For 4 years I worked at Yew Chung International School in Shanghai. The staff, especially the upper management, have been very supportive both personally and professionally. When working overseas it’s always good to know that even prior to landing you will be taken care of both in and out of the workplace. Since we were there for this period of time we grew close to many people, created a home, and even became owners of characterful French bulldog. The city of Shanghai is incredible and it’s amazing to have experienced China from the city given its growth. We would probably still be there if it weren’t for environmental issues mainly the air pollution.
Do you have any advice for people who may want to be an ESL teacher, or an international teacher?
Find a place you like and try different places if your unsure. Go for the ride of not knowing what’s to come, have realistic expectations, but dream big, be open minded and know that if things don’t work out in a particular place, your greatest asset is your mobility. There’s always a job somewhere and a place in this world for you!
You can also catch up with Mark on his blog at 365traveldates.com.