Get Inspired – Colleen @ Write Around the World (Guest Post)

I don’t think mine and Colleen’s paths have ever crossed despite her starting off in the same place as I am now – teaching English in Hat Yai, Thailand.  However, while I have spent the past almost-18 months statically living and working, Colleen has gone through a transformation that I could only dream of; from a sometimes-blogging TEFL teacher to a fully-fledged writer in her own rights, now residing on Koh Samui.

Colleen has visited 29 countries and lived in 4, giving her more than enough qualification to have her own website, Write Around the World, dedicated to traveling stories, tips and tricks.  It’s not all about her own experiences either, with her fortnightly feature (this fortnight featuring moi…) Tuesday Tales looking at the experiences of her fellow travellers.

I asked Colleen if she would allow me to share her inspiring journey, and this is what she had to say;

Photo source:
Meet Colleen…

I’ve always thought of myself as responsible. I was brought up well, I always paid my bills on time, I had a vision of my future which involved having a good marriage, a nice house and taking my annual vacations somewhere sunny.

So what possessed me to resign from my job, sell almost everything I owned and decide to travel around the world, and start writing?

Well, let’s start 5 years ago. I was married, had a lovely 3-bedroomed home and lived in a quiet countryside village in Cambridgeshire, England. I’d been married for 8 years, had a good job and even though we were experiencing a rocky patch in our marriage, I really thought we could work through it. Suddenly, we both lost our jobs and because of the way the company operated, we were given the option to move to Germany and apply for another job. We decided to move to Germany.

Four months later, we split up, six weeks after that, I was packing up the house ready to move to Germany. I said a traumatic goodbye to my cats, my friends, my house and my life in England. After it was all done, I flew to Germany and started my new job the very next day.
I didn’t speak German. I didn’t know anyone. I was raw from the last few months and threw myself into learning German and giving my everything in my new job.
After 2 years, the inevitable happened. I collapsed at work and was eventually signed off with burnout and told not to move out of bed for at least a month.

So what do you do when you’re confined to bed? You think. A LOT! You re-evaluate your life. You decide what you want from life, what’s important to you, what you want to achieve and what you want to see. I discovered that ‘working harder’ wasn’t on my list but living my dream was.

I didn’t even know what my dream was back then. All I could think about was working 16 hour days and getting reports delivered on time. But I DID know that THAT wasn’t my dream. So I thought it might be a good idea to get out into the world and start trying to find out exactly what it was.

And that’s when it all kicked off…

After my month at home in February 2011, I resigned in April giving my three months notice. My boss was shocked. I started writing a blog, just to experiment with writing, to try and make sense of my feelings but quite soon after, it became a platform for sharing my countdown to the end of my time at work, my travel plans and how my life was changing.

I sold almost everything I owned. My furniture all went and most weekends I would have an open house with post-it notes stuck on everything that was for sale so people could just come in and buy whatever they wanted. Each week, my apartment got emptier, my excitement grew and my travel plans materialised.

Finally at the end of July 2011, after many farewell parties, I left my job, my apartment and Germany, and travelled back to England where I used the spare bedroom in my brother’s house as a base. Writing more and more on my blog, I was now starting to research other travellers who had made similar moves, leaving their corporate lives behind. I offered guest blog posts on other travelling blogs offering to tell my story and started writing free articles for various tourism websites or anywhere I had visited. I contacted companies like Cheapflights and Flight Centre and asked to write for their websites. Surprisingly they agreed and, motivated a GREAT deal by this, I contacted more and more. Yes, sometimes they refused, but mostly they agreed.
I had already travelled quite a bit but during this time, I visited France, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, Canada, America and Iceland (I’ve visited 29 countries in total now). I discovered that there was a whole world out there that I could never have seen if I’d continued to work as I had. My blog was growing and I was now starting to develop online friendships with other travellers, sharing stories and tips. Facebook, Twitter and my blog became big parts of my life as I started to realise the power of social media.

I started writing regularly for Pink Pangea, a website geared specifically for woman travellers. I shared tips, stories and other useful bits of information. This was unpaid work, I might add, but it gave me a taste of ‘writing to deadlines’ and dealing with editors.

I also discovered affiliate advertising which allowed my blog to make money. However, it was by no means enough to retire on, so in April 2012, I started to look for other ways to make money while still travelling. I ‘happened upon’ a contact in LinkedIn (a website which offers GREAT opportunities to connect with other writers and editors). She was originally from South Africa (like myself), and a writer but she lived in Thailand. Curious, I contacted her and discovered that as well as a writer she also ran a TEFL school (Samui TEFL) on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand. I’d heard of TEFL and teaching English so after some questions and answers, I enrolled.

This was a pivot point for me. I didn’t know anyone in Thailand and it was the first time I’d visited a country in the East. I also knew nothing about teaching and hated children (don’t laugh, it was true) so thought I could just teach adults.

I can quite truthfully say, the TEFL course (and Thailand) changed my life. It made me dig deep and I rediscovered my fun side which seemed to have been lost in those 16 hour days. I learnt a lot about myself and what I wanted to do. I realised I had a deep desire to help people and somehow teaching satisfied that need. I also discovered that Thai children were incredibly cute and respectful and I left the course armed with a job in Hat Yai in the south of Thailand teaching primary school children. What followed in the next few months, was that my childlike, fun side completely resurfaced as the children wormed their way into my now happy, childlike heart.

I had also started writing for a South Thailand newspaper called ‘The Southern Times’ having been recommended by the TEFL school owner, since she was a writer too. This was the first time I was actually paid for my writing – a whole 2ThB ($0.04 / £0.04 / €0.05) a word. I was also loving the teaching and looked forward to seeing my students every day (well almost every day!)

The blog slowed down as my time was taken up with writing weekly for the paper, creating lesson plans and reading everything I could get my hands on about teaching and having fun lessons. I took countless pictures of my little students and would look forward to the hugs that I’d get from some. They’d make me cards, call me Teacher Colleen and just be altogether amazing.

I started to make a list of everything I’d had published and put it in one place on my blog so it was easy to refer editors and potential employers to. This made life a lot easier and has consistently proved to be very useful.

But I wasn’t happy in Hat Yai. The feeling crept in gradually over a few months but I stuck with it. I loved the teaching and I loved the kids. I’d also signed a contract and was committed to stay until the end. I even had a nice group of friends, but I just wasn’t happy.

Then, while holidaying in South Africa for two months in Mar and Apr 2013 (Thai school holidays are great!), an opportunity popped up writing for a publishing company on Koh Samui – a full time writing job. I eagerly applied, was asked for writing samples which I was now easily able to supply by pointing them to my writing page on my blog. I waited for two agonising days before I was emailed back asking when I could start. To say I was happy, would be the understatement of the millennium.

My teaching agency was disappointed, but supportive and in May 2013, I returned to Hat Yai, packed my things and moved to the island of Koh Samui, where I now live.

It’s been an incredible journey filled with countless lessons and experiences along the way, all for which I’m truly grateful. It’s made me the person I am today.

I’ve been living here for just over 6 months now and not a day goes by when I don’t pinch myself. Pristine beaches, palm trees, fancy resorts, hundreds of restaurants and the most amazing people – this is my life now. Each month I get a list of ten writing assignments which consist of interviewing resorts, chefs, property developers, or general managers and sometimes I get to write about water sports, waterfalls, fruit, fish, and many other interesting topics. I get free food, free drinks and offers of free overnight stays. I am truly blessed.

My advice to everyone?

  • Don’t be afraid, you’ll never know until you try.
  • If you want to become a writer, start out writing for free. It’ll give you an opportunity to build a portfolio, develop your style (and start having more and more web links pointing to your name, blog or website – it works, trust me. Try googling ‘Colleen Setchell’)
  • Take a chance with your writing. Email some big names in the industry and offer to write for them. The worst that can happen is that they can say no and you’ll be no worse off.
  • Don’t be afraid (yes, I know I already said that – I want to be sure you read it first time)
  • Work hard but make sure you always enjoy it.
  • I know its a cliche but you only get one chance at this life. Do you want to look back and remember yourself being stuck at a desk working for someone you don’t like? Or do you want to properly experience this incredible world you live in? I know which I’d prefer…
  • Don’t be afraid. Yup, I know, 3rd mention. But don’t … don’t be afraid. This is YOUR life. Grab it with both arms, hug it with all the passion you can muster and then get out there, find your dream and conquer your world!!!!

I hope you were all as inspired by Colleen’s story as I was – it just goes to show that with a little perseverance and a lot of determination, you can achieve your dreams.

If you have an inspiring story that you would like to share please get in touch.  Teachers, writers, explorers – all welcome!

In my classroom: Onomatopoeia part 2 – Fireworks

Looking for Halloween lesson ideas?  Click here!

In the previous lesson I introduced the concept of onomatopoeia and we looked at examples of sound words and their uses.  In this lesson I wanted the students to apply the new words that they had learned.

To start the lesson I played the audio only of the video below.  I didn’t tell them any information about the video, just asking them to listen carefully and think about what they can hear.

We listened to it another time, and this time I encouraged the students to think about what sound words could be used to describe the sounds we could hear.

Some sound words suggested included;

bang        pop           whoosh

crackle         crack         snap

fizz          hiss         boom

We then listened for a third and final time, followed by a brainstorm on the board about what the students thought they could hear.

Some things that the students thought that they could hear included;

balloon exploding        war       plastic bag

frying         cashier       snakes

tearing      velcro     fireworks

far away guns

After a good discussion about the sounds that we could hear and what they might be, I finally played the video on the projector screen for all to see.  The students were really excited to find out what the sounds were and they were surprised to find that they were all different types of fireworks.  As we watched the video I pointed out the different sound words as they appeared.

I then handed out this worksheet where students needed to think about sound words (onomatopoeia), action words (verbs) and adjectives that could be used to describe the fireworks in the video.

I then asked students to come up with five descriptive sentences using the words on their worksheet.  For students that find free writing a little more challenging I wrote a few sentence structures on the board to help them;

Fireworks are (action) and (action) in the night sky.
(Adjective) fireworks (sound) and (sound).
Fireworks (sound), (action) and (action).
(Adjective) fireworks (sound –ing) and (sound-ing).
Using examples on google images, I asked the students to use their sentences to create a fireworks shape poem for homework.
Here are some examples of the work that I received the following lesson.
New fireworks poem
firework poemThis one in particular impressed me as the student had created rhymes and a good rhythm which I hadn’t asked for.  Although it wasn’t strictly a shape poem…!
I have a lot more that I want to take some pictures of but I went and gave them back to the students before I had thought about getting a few snaps!  Hopefully I will be able to add them at a later date as there was some really impressive work.
This was a really fun couple of lessons covering a subject that an ESL teacher usually wouldn’t have included in their curricculum – the beauty of being left to my own devices.  Some people find the thought of teaching creative writing a bit daunting but hopefully this goes to show that if you simplify and break down the process you can have entire classes of students creating wonderful pieces of writing!

This is the second lesson of two that I taught within the topic of onomatopoeia.  If you would like to check out the first lesson, click here.


Acrostic Name Poems

Remember writing an all about me acrostic poem when you were a kid?  I always found it hard to think of words for the letter K other than ‘kind’…. ‘kissable’… I may have even once resorted to ‘Kool’ with a K which is neither cool nor correct.

This past week in my Writing classes we have been creating our own acrostic name poems using the personal adjectives that I have been teaching in Communication.  It’s nice to have a bit of cross over between the two subjects so I’m glad that I teach both to a couple of my classes.

My Matthayom 1 students did a wonderful job at brainstorming and creating their poems and decorating them for homework.  Somehow the warm up task of writing an alphabet of adjectives on the board turned into a mini-competition with students fighting over board space and marker pens; I swear anything that involves writing on the board is super exciting to these kids – on Friday we had a bit of a free fun lesson as we had completed the first unit and had a lesson to spare, and I told one of my classes we could play any game that they liked and of all the fun activities I have done with them they all wanted to play a word game that involved writing a noun, verb, adjective, animal etc. for a given letter.  They could have played ANYTHING and that is what they desperately wanted!  So my free fun lesson kept it’s educational element after all!

Here are some of my favourites; I especially like the poem written by a girl named Beam who lists ‘A smart girl’ immediately followed by ‘Modest’.  I think the irony was lost on her.  Some students didn’t grasp the concept that the poems were supposed to be within the topic of ‘all about me’ and simply wrote any old sentences – “Ants are small animals”, “Needles are very sharp” or simply “Umbrella”; although I’m sure the latter could be considered modern minimalist poetry in some circles!

Just a note if you are a fellow teacher thinking about doing this activity with Thai students; some Thai nicknames are 2 letters long such as ‘In’ or ‘Fa’ and so I said that they had to  use their full name, which in Thailand is often 10, 11 or 12 letters long such as ‘Warrissara’ or ‘Kannichorn’.  I set the minimum word count at 4 letters so unfortunately some students in the class only had 4 letters to write sentences for and others had 10+!!!  Also, have a dictionary to hand as there are a lot of tricky letters that crop up time and time again in Thai names and I struggled to think of different adjectives for some of them!

I look forward to collecting the completed poems from the Matthayom 2 students on Tuesday and will post any favourites again.