Steph is currently based in Santiago, Chile, after almost two years of volunteering, traveling, and living in South America. Originally from Bath, England, she studied English literature at the University of York, before training to become a teacher through the Teach First Program in Manchester and studying for her master’s in education. A freelance writer and international educator, she’s currently pursuing her dual passions of writing and teaching as she plans her next adventure and a career in the international development sector.
"These girls were an absolute inspiration for the value they placed upon education and the dedication and commitment they showed as a result."
At GoAbroad, we’re all meaningful travel experiences. Share with us your most meaningful experience to date. What made it meaningful?
Over the past few years I’ve been focusing on traveling slowly and volunteering as I think this leads to the most meaningful, and memorable, travel. One of my first experiences of this was working for a small NGO based in the capital city of Bolivia, Sucre. I’d just left my job back in the UK and I arrived to the country seriously questioning what I’d chosen to do and whether I was going to regret moving half the way around the world to a country where I didn’t speak the language.
But seven months later and my head was reeling with the incredible opportunities I had. I visited tiny, rural libraries where I watched children be inspired to read by our international volunteers. I helped raise over $2,500 for the charity’s annual reading festival where thousands of children were gifted books. I attended important meetings to discuss a new farm in one of our communities, and I even appeared live on Bolivian television.
Working alongside my Bolivian colleagues and the people in our communities was what made my time there so meaningful, and meant that I left having learnt so much Bolivia and myself in the process.
If we lived in a world where you could only travel one-way, once (a horrifying thought, we know), where would you go spend your life?
That’s such a difficult question because the more I’ve travelled, the more I’ve realized how utterly addictive it is! I recently spent two months in Patagonia (the very southern part of Chile and Argentina) and I could definitely see myself not being too unhappy arriving there on a one-way ticket!
Not only is the whole region swarming with penguins (my absolute favorite animals) but the landscape reminds me so much of the European Alps, but on steroids. Everything is huge and utterly beautiful; you’ve got glaciers hanging off of cliffs and all these national parks filled with pumas and volcanoes and ancient forests. I’m a lover of the outdoors and I think Patagonia one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. I’m besotted.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met while traveling?
When I was volunteering in Cusco, Peru, I delivered educational workshops to young people in a series of children’s homes and educational institutions. All of the girls that I met in the project in Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley were fascinating and inspirational. They were young, indigenous women from villages hours away and who lived in the albergue during the week.
Every Friday they would make the painstaking trip back home; for some, this would involve a bus journey and then a further four-hour walk through fields to arrive at their villages. Being able to attend school in Ollantaytambo was an incredible opportunity as few members of their family had completed school and still lived in their isolated communities with few options for work or study. These girls were an absolute inspiration for the value they placed upon education and the dedication and commitment they showed as a result.
Who is your favorite fictional adventurer and why? Who or what inspires your travels?
When I was back in the UK, I discovered Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, The Poisonwood Bible. It’s written from the perspective of the wife and daughters of a Baptist missionary as they move to the Congo. Although it’s very much focused upon the (ultimately misplaced) strength of the father’s religious beliefs, there was something so intoxicating Kingsolver’s descriptions of the Congo and its wildness. The family are completely lost in their new home because their preconceptions clash so forcefully with what life is actually like and they have to learn to reshape the way their approach the people and the environment around them.
This novel inspired me to want to visit somewhere that didn’t play by the same rules as those I was used to at home; somewhere that would disorientate but ultimately make me rethink my perspective on life. This was one of the reasons why I took that flight to South America, and I certainly haven’t been disappointed!