By: Zac Heisey
I’ll never forget the first time I went surfing. It was a cold, dreary day at Zuma beach in Los Angeles. My friend handed me an ill-fitting wet suit and a surfboard that could float an elephant.
“What do I do?” I asked him. “Just paddle out” he yelled over his shoulder as he bolted for the water, leaving me on the beach. Rather than gracefully riding towards the shore, I spent most of my time choking on salt water and sea foam. But for some unknown reason, something changed inside me that day, a fundamental change. Even though I didn’t catch a single wave, the mysterious, raw, and ever-changing nature of riding waves had me hooked. I was enthralled with the unique feeling of nervous anxiety and excitement that comes with entering a world where I had no idea what to expect. It was one of the few times I was actually aware of feeling “alive”.
Ever since that day, I have been surfing. And each time I paddle out, I feel that same nervous excitement of the unknown that lets me know I’m alive. That there is more to life than houses and cars and clothes. More than what money can buy. It is because of this feeling that I have continued to seek out additional experiences and situations that provide the same feeling. I have found this feeling in travel. Not All-Inclusive, Club Med, Cancun-on-Spring-Break travel, but throw your clothes in a backpack, spin the globe, cross your fingers travel. Traveling with an element of the unknown, even a little bit of danger – that nervousness mixed with excitement of what I might experience – to me is truly living.
So where does teaching English abroad enter into this? Well, up to this point, despite my best attempts to immerse myself in the local cultures of the places I have visited, I have still felt like a tourist. Like I was taking more than I was giving to the local community. In order to feel more like I was contributing to my travelingexperience, rather than gaining from it, I completed the online TEFL course with International TEFL Academy. What I thought was going to be an easy 3 month course turned out to be a very challenging academic endeavor.
A few times during my course, I thought to myself, “Do I really want to teach English abroad? Don’t I just want to visit new places, have fun, surf, and hang out?” In the end, it was the unexpected difficulty of the course that convinced me that teaching English abroad was the right thing for me. I knew deep down that becoming part of a foreign community, meeting my neighbors, speaking a new language, eating new foods, all of these experiences would be that much more meaningful to me if I was able to pass something of value along to the local people. Something that they might pass on to their friends, their coworkers, or their children.
In the book Surfer’s Code, Shaun Tomson writes, “I jump off the sand into the water, and I float. I have jumped off the edge of the earth, and I am floating into a place of things unseen and waves rolling towards me that have yet to break, but I know they are on their way.” For me, this perfectly captures not only the feeling of entering the ocean, but also of entering a new country. We are preparing to face things unseen, experiences unknown to us.
The nervousness and excitement of knowing that those experiences await us, however, is what makes packing your bag and getting on that plane worth it. Tomson continues, “When surfers make that leap from land to shore, we pass through a threshold that changes who we are and how we perceive the world. That feeling is so special that when we have made the decision to paddle out, we know we have to leave that place gracefully and finish what we have begun.” For those of us who choose to teach abroad, that special feeling Tomson describes is exactly why we go – and why we decide to stay.
Zac Heisey is 27 years old and from San Jose, CA and now teaching English in Peru. After earning his degree, he spent 4 years working for an Internet marketing company in San Diego. When he finally decided he had enough of the 9-5 office world, he packed his backpack and traveled through Asia for 3 months, which inspired him to earn his TEFL certification and give back to the communities he was visiting.
Here is a link to his travel and surfing blog: http://inthenameofsurf.wordpress.com/
For more on his experience in Peru, check out his Q&A: Lima, Peru Q&A with Zac Heisey