Photo courtesy of Lillie Marshall
Lillie Marshall, who spent five years teaching English at Charlestown High School, took a leave of absence this school year to travel around the world to volunteer, teach, and write. Along the way, she has visited 10 countries so far and is blogging about her adventures. MetroDesk caught up with Marshall, a 28-year-old Brookline native, in the West African country of Ghana, where she recently completed three months teaching English and running an international pen-pal exchange program in a youth center.
Q. What made you decide to take time off from teaching to go on this trip?
A. My heart kept asking me these questions: What else is out there? Might there be some mystical zing of spice you are missing? Could you become a better teacher, citizen, and human by volunteering outside of your country? If what makes you happiest is movement, newness, and exploration, why don't you get outside of your comfort zone?
Q. Which countries have you visited, and how did you go about picking
A. Here is my itinerary:
Tokyo, Japan. For 10 days in Tokyo and Osaka, I was hosted by extremely generous friends of friends. Why visit Japan? Because so much of our modern society connects to that fine country. In truth, I was both awed and intimidated by Japan, but I am so thankful to have been able to peek in.
Bangkok, Thailand. Thus began an epic, four-month trek through the backpacker paradise of Southeast Asia. I chose to spend the longest time in the region because it is fascinating, gorgeous, inexpensive, relatively safe, varied, and easy to travel through. My route went as follows: Southern Thailand (islands and beaches), Cambodia (Angkor Wat temples), Vietnam (mind-blowing history), Laos (beautiful!), Northern Thailand (for a two-week Thai massage course), Southern Thailand (one last sunny escapade), and then back to Bangkok.
Florence, Italy, where my family joined me for one week of hugs and sight-seeing.
Accra, Ghana. For the past three months I have been a volunteer teacher at a youth organization in Ghana's Volta Region. Truly, these three months working in Ghana have been the highlight of my whole trip so far.
In just a few days, Iím off to Spain and Portugal to ponder my next life step. I return home to Boston in mid-May, exactly nine months after I first flew out. Once back in Boston, I will teach summer school and earn some money... to perhaps fly out again in August!
Q. What has been your most surreal encounter so far?
A. Being trapped on the back of a motorcycle in rural Vietnam for three days with a creepy guide who was trying to grope me. I used the power of screaming and crying, threats, and ultimately running away to finally make it to Nha Trang by bus. As revenge, I blogged about the guide's behavior, and have since heard from more than one Google searcher that they were going to hire the guide until they read of my experience.
Q. What's the one thing you didn't carry on your trip that you wish
you had taken along?
A. Truthfully, nothing. I took very little, and have found that little to be more than sufficient. As my friend hollered while she helped me whittle down the junk I was trying to stuff into my backpack: "Do you really think they don't sell pens in Thailand? Take only three, not twenty-eight!" Anything I have needed along the way I have been able to purchase, borrow, or do without.
Q. Any advice for someone who might be contemplating such an adventure?
A. Do it! You CAN travel long and travel far, and you will not regret it! You may wonder how a public school teacher could afford an entire year of world travel, but this amazing journey has proven to be far cheaper and easier than I ever imagined.
How? By focusing on developing countries, volunteering, "couchsurfing" (using free accommodation exchanges), and traveling at a slow pace rather than flying and sightseeing like crazy, I have maintained a budget of about $30 a day, including housing, food, transportation, and entertainment fit for a king or queen. The truth is that by month nine of this trip, I will have used less than half of the savings I amassed over six years teaching.
Q Will you return to the classroom in Boston? If so, how will your travels change how you teach?
A. Although I will likely be teaching in Boston this summer to replenish my savings, I think I'm not finished traveling. Now that I've realized that all this is possible, I want to see it through as far as I can. The ideal: to find or create a career that combines writing, international travel, helping society, and teaching.
That said, I expect to teach a lot more in the future. Above all, I now realize how easy it is to connect to a global "classroom" through the Internet. If it was feasible for me to run an online student life story-writing project and a 15-school international pen-pal exchange in this town in Ghana which has just one computer connected to the Internet for all of our hundreds of students, then there's no reason we teachers can't do such things in any other country in which we find ourselves!
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more