Brian O’Dea hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma in the US, a big city full of wild west charm. But he wants more. Following in the footsteps of his favorite teacher, Uncle Iroh from Avatar (not to mention other fave all-star educators like John Keating, Dumbledore, and Mr. Feeny), Brian is on his way to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to make use of his recently minted TEFL course.

Sounds awesome, right? Read on!

Tell us about some of your recent travels! We heard a rumor that a lot of it was influenced by your heritage. We’d love to know more. 🙂

It most certainly was heavily influenced by my heritage. I have always dreamed of doing an around the world trip, and thought it fitting and poetic to begin in Ireland. Castle and Monastery O’Dea is near Ennis, so I found a way to set up a private tour of it after exploring Dublin for a few days. It was incredible to kick off my international trip with an experience like that, seeing the land and region which my father’s side of the family originally called home. From there I went west to Galway, and then south to Youghal to meet the Premier TEFL team.

Brian in Ireland

Then I went to the Cork/Blarney area before heading off to Barcelona. Hitched a ride north to Andorra, then Toulouse, and am currently set up in Paris. I’m staying in the world famous Shakespeare and Company Bookstore through the Tumbleweed program, which is basically a paradise for traveling writers that goes back decades.  Whenever I tumble onwards the plan is to check out Belgium before cutting east through Europe and Southeast Asia until Vietnam, however long and far that trip may take me.

Give us some details about your hometown, where you grew up, etc. and their attitudes towards traveling. Has your community been supportive of your wandering ways?

My hometown of Tulsa, OK, and Fayetteville, Ar (where I lived for the past nine years) were amazing places to grow up and live. I grew up in suburbia Tulsa, which is something between being a southern and midwest city. It was a fine place to grow up with a friendly community, and relatively safe aside from the tornado drills and alerts I still remember to this day. Fayetteville is a beautiful college town nestled in the Ozark mountains, more centered on outdoor activities like hiking, canoeing, and camping. Both communities were supportive, yet a bit apprehensive, for my somewhat patchwork plan to travel and teach abroad. It marks a stark contrast in my life’s course so far, and so it took some explaining on my end to convince them I had not completely lost it. I love both those places dearly, and always will, but felt this step was necessary for me to grow in the manner which I desire.

You plan to teach abroad in Vietnam. AMAZING! What is drawing you to Southeast Asia?

My fingers are going to fall off if I try to type out all my motivation for Southeast Asia. After making the initial mental commitment to teaching abroad, I dove heavily into researching all the different areas one can teach English. Southeast Asia won due to the natural beauty entirely unknown to me, and professionally since there is such a high demand for teachers there. Geographically I have always wanted to live near beaches, as Oklahoma and Arkansas are about as far from any ocean as it gets. Southeast Asia, being such a different world than my previous homes, appealed to me as a perfect opportunity to shake things up, learn, and explore different beliefs and cultures, all the while doing lasting good in a region looking to develop its English proficiency. Seemed like a good fit, and I’m looking forward to meeting the trials and triumphs that I am sure await me there.

What do you think are the three most important skills that an ESL teacher should possess in order to succeed in the classroom?

Well my direct experience with ESL teaching is limited, but I would say patience, empathy, and humor will be core tenants of my teaching philosophy. Already while traveling I have felt the struggle of language barriers as I cannot communicate complex messages in Spanish or French, and so I will keep this in mind when I am teaching those who have trouble with English. Empathy should be applied to virtually all interactions in my opinion, as it is much easier to teach or learn from someone you see as a person rather than just a figure of authority. Understanding that those I teach come from a completely different world and upbringing from my own means, and that bridges must be built from the ground up with common ground. There has to be some level of respect and common humanity if either side is going to get anywhere with the other. Humor can be used to lighten the tension, deepen connections, and make learning a joy rather than a burden. So long as the lessons are taught, then there is no need for it to be a stuffy affair. Once I get the hang of things, I hope to inject a bit of silliness so students might even look forward to coming to class someday.

Even though you have a ton of travel experience, you’ve gotta be feeling a wee-bit nervous about traveling to a new country to work, no? Tell us how you overcome your doubts/fears and other ideas for strategies future TEFL teachers can use.

Oh, absolutely I get nervous. In the weeks leading up to actually leaving, I would sometimes just lie in bed wondering if I really was crazy for leaving everything comfortable and known. There have been times where I land in a new city with a dying phone in the dark, it starts raining (for dramatic effect of course), and I just know the general direction of the hostel I booked a few hours beforehand. However, I have never once heard someone say, “I really regret all that traveling I did back in the day” and I know where I am now is where I am supposed to be.

Doing research on TEFL teaching before helps, as does reading the personal accounts of teachers themselves, but at a certain point, you approach a point of information overload. Make playlists before you go of music that reminds you of home that you can pop in when you are feeling down, or set up a pen pal or two. Eventually, you simply have to take the leap, and with that, know that you cannot control every detail that follows.

Staying flexible and light has been absolutely essential so far. Whenever I feel doubt or fear I tell myself that of all the infinite paths I could have taken after Fayetteville, I chose this one. The same applies when I feel happy or accomplished, and so it is a mantra or sort for both sides of emotional spectrum.

We heard you love Snapchat!! Where can we follow you and why should we follow you? Is Isabella Wong as badass in person as she is on Snapchat?

Oh yeah, it’s probably my biggest social media addiction!  Truly enjoy the brevity and lightheartedness of it. My name on Snapchat is simply brodea, and if you follow, I promise to keep it interesting as I bounce about the planet. Limited food pictures, a new city every couple days or weeks, and unadulterated confessionals of my physical and mental state. I, unfortunately, was not able to sync up with Isabella Wong in Barcelona as I was swept up in Carnival, a weirdness I still haven’t fully processed, over in Terrassa at the insistence of my friend there, but from our communication, I can confirm that Snapchat does not do her full badassery justice.

What are your future travel goals and TEFL career aspirations? Is this a short-term gig or are you going to build a lifestyle?

My goals with travel and life in the larger sense is to be a positive force in the world, writing and teaching wherever I go, and leaving those I found in a better place than when we first met, even if only slightly. I think the world needs more and teachers in general and saw this as my opportunity to become one. I am trying to take things one step, and currently quite literally one day, at a time so I cannot say for sure. Without a doubt I will be doing it for at least a year, and if I find it agreeable and sustainable, then much longer. Imagining a lifestyle built around teaching, writing, and traveling makes me all kinds of happy, but I know there is quite a bit of work between me and that dream.

Any other last words of wisdom to share/pieces of advice to give to our readers?

I will go ahead and borrow the sage-like wisdom I gathered from local legend four-fingered Mick in Youghal as a stand-in for my own as I wholly agree with him. He urged me to keep in mind along with my travels, to, and this is paraphrased since I don’t know the rules on obscenities here, “Screw the buildings, meet the people.” Don’t let your travels be just a photo shoot with your headphones in the whole time. Make an effort to meet the people who live there, attempt a few foreign phrases with them, and amazing relationships soon follow. They might last for only for a few minutes, or maybe stretch an entire lifetime, but each is unique in a way that static structures never can be.

The buildings are the skeleton of the city, but the inhabitants are the flesh, so to truly experience a city you need to make sure you get a sense of the latter. Not trying to dictate anyone’s travel routine, but I know I’ve kept within my bubble before by keeping with friends or other native English speakers while traveling. It’s a little intimidating to break out at first, but I’ve found that with mutual respect, you can have some real eye-opening conversations with the locals (which in my opinion is more so than getting a perfect picture of the famous monuments!)

Also, if you are looking at doing a TEFL program, then there logically is a reason for your mind wanders that way. Dissatisfaction with your current work, desire for long-term travel, the reasons are endless, but ultimately there is something inside you that is searching for a means to make a new reality for yourself. Don’t let anxiety and fear dictate your life, you only have so much time here on Earth, so might as well add some weird chapters to your life story.

Thanks Brian! 🙂 Keep up with Brian’s epic adventures on Snapchat and his blog.

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