I decided to teach English online so that I could be location-independent, and travel anytime and anywhere I wanted.
Over the course of a few months, I started working as an online English tutor. However, money from tutoring trickled in slowly, which meant I still couldn’t afford to travel – and I was totally bummed.
I wanted to go to San Miguel de Allende, to Sao Paolo, to Dubai, to Medina, to Seoul! As I sat in my house, at my tiny little desk, I felt like I was wasting my time – my precious time that could be spent traveling to other countries, to other worlds. There were so many people I could be meeting, laughing with, learning from! There were so many important messages and lessons that could be changing my life!
But then it dawned on me.
I was traveling the world already…
From my desk.
I did the math, and I’ve taught over 4,795 students from literally all over the world. For thousands of hours, I’ve listened intently as my students told me everything about their lives. Intimate details. About their dreams. About their cultures. About their fears.
I was already meeting those new people, laughing with them, sharing my life with them. And they were showing me worlds I’d never known.
My 16 year-old student from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia showed me true greatness as he described his rigorous schedule – including a wake-up time of 4am! – to study chemistry. (In fact, he’d just won a world-wide science fair, edging out tens of thousands of
participants!). My student from Amman, Jordan showed me how to find peace as he described his quiet weekends with the bedouins – completely unplugged from his TV, social media, and phone. My student from South Korea, a doctor specializing in Eastern medicine, showed me the value of holistic health, as he explained to me that my years-long cough was truly not a physical problem but a spiritual one. My lovely student from Ukraine showed me the beauty of Sahaja meditation, by leading
me through my first peaceful and enlightening session.
I’d never learned so much about achievement, meditation, or health in my whole life. Totally new, unknown, beautiful, vibrant worlds were opening up to me, and I felt like a tourist, traveling to different worlds for a few hours every week.
Huh, this wasn’t so bad, I guess.
As I began to really sink into my teaching, the messages started to come. These were the messages I desperately needed to hear. About how to move forward. How to make changes in my life. How to open my heart. These important life lessons were given to me through my students, when I needed them the most.
I was having a painful week, having learned that a friend of mine passed away. I was feeling lost and scared, but still showed up to a lesson with my student from Lebanon. While we talked about the similarities between our two religions – his being Islam – he
shared with me the first line from the Quran: “God is merciful.” Peace washed over me. I smiled for the first time that day. I needed to hear those words, because it was a sign that my friend was finally at peace.
I also knew that I wanted to make big changes in my life – like move to a different city and start my own business – but I didn’t know how or where to start. That day, as I logged online to speak to a Japanese art student, I was frustrated that I wasn’t seeing these big changes manifest quickly enough in my life. During this particular class, my student told me about her application to art school, which required her to choose a poem that influenced her life. And then she told me what the poem was – “Don’t lose heart” by Toyo Shibata. Don’t lose heart, I thought. Keep going. Keep fighting. Keep working hard. It was a poem I needed to read that very day.
Whether I’m stepping into new worlds or opening my heart to messages from my students, I couldn’t be more grateful for my job. It’s a hard job, one that involves a lot of planning and scheduling (and confusing grammar questions!), but it’s worth it. I want you to have these experiences, too. I want you to be able to travel, regardless of your work schedule or money situation right now. It’s time to travel from your desk.
Become a language teacher through iTalki or Cambly. Join an online language exchange, like Conversation Exchange, Speaky, or Tongue Out. Volunteer at a local chapter of the International Rescue Committee. Tutor international students at a local college. Sign up to be a host family for foreign students. Join a cultural meetup group through Meetup.com. Go to bilingual religious services or places of worship different than yours. Take an international cooking class.
I hadn’t realized that I’d been living the life I wanted all along – speaking with people of different faiths, cultures, and walks of life. To discuss new ideas. To try new food (I actually tried a shawarma recipe per a student’s suggestion!). To grow. To change. To experience big, beautiful breakthroughs in my life.
And now, I’m traveling away from my desk (in Mexico, for now!) but I’ll always continue my tutoring and learning from my students. My life just wouldn’t be the same without it.
How do you like to experience other cultures when you’re not able to physically travel? I’d love to hear about it!
This is a guest post by Shannon Marshall.
Shannon Marshall is a writer, breakthrough guru, and co-founder of