One NOLS alumni tells his stories of adventure, teaching, and leadership abroad.
By Scott Stewart, the Traveling Naturalist
My name is Scott Stewart and I am a tree-hugging westerner living in Southeast Asia. If you could see my curly-blonde afro, lumberjack beard, and the way my Vietnamese neighbors stare at me, you would get the picture. Every morning when I hop on my motorbike to cruise to school, I am reminded of how displaced I sometimes feel living and working as a teacher in Saigon.
Before moving to Vietnam, I lived very much within my “comfort-zone.” I worked as a naturalist, managing a nature center off the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. I performed in animal programs at local schools with rehabilitated birds of prey, various species of reptiles, amphibians, and insects. I taught all types of environmental education programs, led an outdoor summer nature camp, and helped maintain an 800-acre park.
Come to find out, after flying all the way across the world to Vietnam, there are ZERO jobs for a naturalist in Ho Chi Minh City. In fact, my city-slicker students didn't even know what environmental education was before I got hired to teach "English Language Development" at my current school, the American International School (AIS).
Since my experience teaching English was limited to a month long TESOL certification course, I focused on developing my elementary student’s language skills by teaching them what I know best: “NOLS and Nature Stuff.”
I taught my students how to read a topographical map and navigate by compass, about the gyres of plastic trash littering our oceans, the melting ice-caps and the subsequent increase in sea levels, deforestation and the destruction of coastal mangroves, the endangered species of Southeast Asia, and more. My students loved it. In fact, they became so engaged in environmental awareness that we organized a "Save the Mekong Giant Catfish" campaign at our school as well as a community trash clean-up. We helped raise over $12,000 for various schools and communities directly impacted by the earthquake in Nepal and are currently working towards becoming the first "green" school in Vietnam.
My NOLS training, specifically NOLS’ fundamental principle of "Tolerance for Adversity and Uncertainty" is what consistently motivates me to keep striving towards my goals and to stay positive in a chaotic environment.
NOLS also taught me to have fun and to smile in the face of adversity. It unknowingly got me ready for life in Southeast Asia by coercing me into drinking sketchy water, eating strange things made in dirty pans, and going the good-ole-#2 in weird places!
The physical, mental, emotional, and social challenges which presented themselves throughout the three NOLS courses I completed (Wilderness First Responder, Outdoor Educator in the Southwest, and Rock Climbing 30-day in Wyoming) skillfully prepared me for the obstacles I have conquered since moving abroad.
Want to get ready for your own experience abroad? Consider a gap year with NOLS.
Have your own stories of leadership and learning abroad? Want to see them on the NOLS Blog? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas.
About the Author: Scott is a 34 year old kid that loves to play outside. His spirit animal is the bighorn sheep, his favorite tree is the bristlecone pine, and he loves the smell of granite. He has an identical twin brother with an awesome 2-year-old-son, he loves his wife and best friend Neyda and he is a constant student and teacher. Scott is a Wilderness First Responder (WMI) and has completed two NOLS courses: Outdoor Educator in the Southwest and 30-day Rock Climbing in the Wind River Range. Scott makes his living as a naturalist, guide, and outdoor education/physical education teacher.