Alumni Spotlight: Joe Parker


Joe is an aspiring PE teacher with a keen interest in shaping young minds.

Why did you choose this program?

It was almost 2 years ago now when Matt Ray (the founder of Travel Teacher) came into one of my lectures at Solent university to explain Travel Teacher to students.

I instantly knew that this was something that I wanted to be a part of. As an aspiring PE teacher, the opportunity to personally develop, to ply my trade as well as to shape young minds across the world, experiencing lifestyles and engaging and immersing myself in local cultures that were vastly different to what I was used to back in England, it was an opportunity that was simply too good to miss!

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Matt Ray was excellent in providing the Travel Teacher groups with any information that we needed regarding the programs that we would be embarking on. There was a wide range of varied information from the more 'obvious' factors of the costs of the flights and the program in general to the 'lesser known' factors of immunizations.

I personally thought that it was a particularly nice touch to have been provided with information that was specific to where we were going. As one of the Cook Islands alumni, we were given a 'lesson' at Wembley Stadium (which was also a very cool place to have as our training venue) about the Cook Islands such as the capital (Rarotonga), the population, the school that we would be working at (Araura College) and the challenges that they faced within their education system.

It was one thing to hear about this, but the impact became much more personal and prominent after seeing it with my own eyes.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I cannot recommend this experience enough to anyone with a passion for education and travel. If you think that this is something you 'might' want to do, I can promise you that you 'will' want to do it and you will not regret it.

However, one piece of advice I can give would be to have a financial 'contingency' in place in case you underestimate the cost of staying out there. I was very fortunate as I did this so I never encountered any issues with money. This could be bringing a bit more than you would've originally intended as 'insurance' or even bringing a bank card with you. I did both.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

I was fortunate enough to have been teaching PE at Araura College, and as such, my days consisted of teaching PE from around 9 am-12 pm and even though it was technically winter in Aitutaki (July), the temperature was still considerably better than an English summer holiday!

I personally opted to spend more time at this school to teach as I thoroughly enjoyed working at this school and forming close bonds with both staff and students. All of the Travel Teachers often spent their lunch breaks playing football with the children at the school.

That said, on days where Matt Ray had planned special surprises, we would leave the school at around midday to do these activities. We did a lot of exploring across the island of Aitutaki, particularly with snorkeling in some of the most beautiful, crystal-clear blue lagoons you could ever wish to see! I was shocked at just how much you could see underwater.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I wouldn't quite call it a 'phobia', but I was not particularly keen on fish - especially eating them! That said, not only did I participate in snorkeling with man-sized trevally fish but I had come out of my 'comfort zone' by trying a bunch of different fish to eat.

To be honest, I can't quite remember all the fish that I ate, and for many people, this probably wouldn't be a very big deal, but for me, this was massive! I recall trying raw trevally fish having helped the hospitality class at Araura College prepare the dish. I never knew that tuna could taste so good. I always associated tuna with something cheap you buy from a can in a supermarket, but I did not expect to like fresh tuna steak anywhere near as much as I actually did. It was amazing!

What made your time abroad special?

In terms of personal development, the opportunity to develop our teaching and to teach abroad, leading to a teaching qualification at the end of the experience was just the 'cherry on top of the cake'.

It was amazing to see how differently these children viewed their education compared to what we were more accustomed to back home. When we first arrived at Araura College, the children and staff instantly made us feel welcome and I personally felt 'at home' immediately despite being about as far away from home as it was possible to be.

The children really looked up to us, I formed several excellent relationships with them and when the day came to say goodbye, I knew that it was going to be emotional and it certainly was. Their kindness, their generosity and perhaps most 'eye-opening' of all, the fact that even though they had so much less than we do, they were always so happy and I can't express just how refreshing it was to see that.

Word had quickly spread around the island about who we were and what we were doing and we quickly became like A-list celebrities where everyone, even strangers we hadn't previously met before outside of the school we were working at would recognize who we were and what we were doing, thanking us for educating the children, it was quite a surreal experience actually - but in a really good way!

If you like working with children, I can promise you that you will form plenty of amazing friendships with these children. I will not forget them anytime soon and I don't think they will forget us either. I had countless children asking me to come back again in the future and hopefully, I will be lucky enough to share the experience all over again!

How did your project positively impact the community you were in?

The whole package with Travel Teacher was incredible and something that makes me particularly proud to be a part of it is that everybody benefits from the experience.

When we were in Aitutaki, we were given a presentation about obesity rates in the Cook Islands and, much to my surprise, the Cook Islands had the highest rates of obesity in the world. There were several factors as to why this was the case but one of the most frequent factors was that the local Maori people could not afford to buy their own fruit and vegetables.

Part of the money that myself and other Travel Teachers spent on our experience has gone towards developing and maintaining a vegetable field on the field at Araura College so that they could grow their very own fresh fruit and vegetables that they could eat to help combat the issue of health and obesity in the Cook Islands.

Not only that but Travel Teacher had also employed 2 students from Araura College to maintain this vegetable field, therefore providing them with employment as jobs and opportunities were also very limited in Aitutaki. I was very proud to have played a part in this and because of Travel Teacher, hundreds of lives have been positively impacted by this and will hopefully continue to do so in the future.