As a child, Jill Dobbe imagined a life far different from the one she was living in her small Wisconsin town. She dreamt of one filled with travel, excitement and adventure. After graduating with dual degrees in sociology and education, Dobbe set off with her husband Dan and their two children, both under the age of two, to make those dreams come true.
In her new memoir, Here We Are & There We Go: Teaching and Traveling with Kids in Tow, Dobbe takes the reader along on her family’s journey over the next sixteen years as they settle first in Guam, followed by Singapore, Ghana and Guadalajara.
Recently I had the chance to ask Jill about her peripatetic lifestyle and its impact on her family. Here’s an excerpt of our interview:
Tell us about your memoir.
My memoir is not just about traveling with kids, but is also about the cultures we lived in and the crazy, humorous, and sometimes scary adventures that we found ourselves in.
On our first night in Accra, Ghana, we were taken to our new home in the middle of the night. After unloading all of our suitcases we looked around and found no locks on any of the outside doors and no bars on the windows. My husband stayed awake the whole night walking from one end of the house to the other, while my two kids and I slept in one bed locked inside a bedroom.
You grew up in a small town like I did. What inspired your wanderlust?
I always wanted to travel and I kept the hope alive all through college. I had a friend whose mother taught German at a local high school. I remember her going on a trip to China when her daughter and I were teenagers. She was the only person I knew in our small town who had ever traveled.
When I graduated with my degree in elementary education I started investigating teaching overseas. I married an educator and despite having two very young children, we went to our first overseas hiring fair and were hired as teachers on Guam. That’s where it all began. Our children grew up overseas and our daughter currently teaches with us in Honduras. We all have wanderlust now and our kids continue to travel on their own now that they are adults.
What’s the value of living, working and raising a family abroad?
It is the best education that you can possibly give to your children. Not only do they learn about the world firsthand, but they get to see in real life what their friends back home only see in school textbooks or on T.V. Children can easily become global citizens as they travel and experience the sights of the world. They learn the values of empathy, respect, and tolerance for others more readily, as they witness the importance of greetings, the value placed on extended families, and the importance of education. There is also much less emphasis on material possessions and more emphasis on the quality of life. Living and working abroad gives us all a much better perspective of our world and more opportunities to help others in need.
What has been your hardest adjustment to living and working overseas?
Sixteen years ago when my husband and I began teaching overseas was the most difficult. I remember having to make expensive long distance calls to our U.S. bank from West Africa just to try and sort out our banking issues. Sometimes we ended up unable to hear over fuzzy telephone lines, or getting cut off, or being unable to get through at all. There were absolutely no cell phones or computers then. We were unable to email, Skype, or Facebook with anyone during our first ten years abroad. Snail mail was all we had and it took weeks to get letters/packages from the U.S. Happily, it is a smaller world today with all the technology available. Living overseas is not as traumatic or scary anymore and we can keep in touch so much more easily.
What’s been the most challenging cultural difference you have had to overcome?
Right now I am trying to learn Spanish and that is challenging! We have had to learn the basics of Hindi, Arabic, Twi, and more. Despite working in English speaking schools, we still found that we needed to have a translator when getting our cable hooked up, paying household bills, getting a driver’s license, etc. because the average workers didn’t always speak English.
How would you advise parents to prepare their kids for a move abroad?
Prepare them by talking about where you are moving to. Find it on the map and read books from and about the country that you will be living in. Tell them about the new school they will be attending and find out as much as you can about the extra-curricular activities that they can take part in. Communicate with them as much as possible about the move and find out their concerns and fears about their new lifestyle. Allow them chances to say goodbye to their friends, cousins, grandparents, and classmates. Let them know they will not lose touch and will be able to keep in touch through Skype. Buy them a camera or journal or both to record their experiences while living overseas.
If you had it to do all over again, what would you do differently?
We first moved overseas when our children were only one and two years old. We took chances with their health and safety that when I think about it today, was sort of risky. Waiting until they were at least school age would have been more ideal. They would have experienced and remembered more and would have been more interested and excited in the amazing sights that we saw.
What advice can you offer to others who want to follow in your footsteps?
For teachers who are interested in teaching abroad I tell them that they must be open to everything, interested in other cultures, be able to accept frequent change, and practice patience with all of the inconsistencies. Teaching overseas is not for everyone, but once you try it and get sucked in it is hard to stop going from school to school and country to country. It is a unique lifestyle and one that has many rewards if you can handle the occasional power outages and/or lack of school resources.
I am always interested in speaking with others who want to know more about teaching overseas. It is a great lifestyle and one that I can highly recommend.
Thanks for sharing your travel journey with us, Jill!
Photos courtesy of Jill Dobbe.
Have you ever taught overseas, Wanderboomers? Any future plans to do so? Please share your experiences with us here.