A dream, a passport and a talent for teaching

Sean on boat pg 26Bitten by the travel bug at an early age, Sean Crowder has crafted a plan for treating his critical case of wanderlust. Just 20 years old, he recently completed his first foray into what he hopes will be a lifetime career of exploring and teaching in the far corners of the world.
Born and raised in the Santa Ynez Valley, Crowder, who lives with his mother and stepfather at Clairmont Lavender Farms in Los Olivos, first glimpsed the wonders of travel during a trip to Japan when he was 17.
“I met a British teacher in Kyoto who told me about teaching English abroad,“ he says. “That trip inspired me to travel and teach, too.”
In summer 2008, while attending Allan Hancock College, Crowder heard from his best friend, Sam Lyon, about an opportunity to sample his dream. Santa Barbara City College was sponsoring a three-month Study Abroad program that included a six-week stint teaching English in China, followed by an excursion to Vietnam.
“The only two students out of 50 who attended the meeting at Hancock who showed any interest in the trip were Sam and me,” Crowder remembers. “Traveling with the city college group, we met a whole crowd of new people and teachers.”
On September 7, after learning the bare basics of the Chinese language, the group of 36 students and their faculty advisors departed for Shanghai via South Korea. A 10-hour train ride carried them to Jinan and the site of the prestigious Shandong University, founded in 1901, where they would teach conversational English to Chinese students for two hours each day.
“Shandong University has several schools that focus on different topics,” Crowder says. “The students I taught were studying math and science, and were between 22 and 25 years old. They all held masters degrees and one even had a Ph.D.
“They asked me ‘what degree do you have?’” he continues with a wry smile, “and I’m just a second year college student. It was a little intimidating.”
Crowder found that his students, most of whom possessed a working knowledge of English, were eager to practice what they had learned through lectures and books.
“They really wanted conversational experience,” he says, “so we had to keep them talking.
“We could teach in the classroom or meet on campus, which is like a park,” he continues. “We’d talk for a bit and then walk over to the shops for something to eat. They were pretty open and by the end, I had them all speaking.”
SAm & Sean pg 27The Americans stayed in university dormitories and enjoyed having two entire floors to share with Russian students. It was there that they cooked meals and often welcomed their Chinese students who would “come up and hang out.”
When not committed to classroom duties, the group took advantage of opportunities to see the sights.
“It was the first time we students were allowed to go off by ourselves,” Crowder reveals. “I went to Weihai, the sister city of Santa Barbara and we climbed Mount Tai, which was really hard, because there were thousands of steps. We climbed for four and a half hours!
“We visited Tsingtao,” he adds, “a pretty famous city, where beer is made. The Chinese love drinking beer when it’s new. There was a lot of German architecture there and I met several travelers who told me what it’s like to teach abroad.”
By early November, the group had landed in Hanoi, where Crowder witnessed the locals’ keen interest in the U.S. political scene.     “The election was a huge thing over there,” he says, “and there was lots of celebration the night McCain withdrew. People cheered, a big party started and they gave out free drinks.”
While in Vietnam, Crowder took a surprise plunge into floodwaters, lost his weekend backpack to a shady cab driver and had to replace his wardrobe at an army surplus store, and later bought himself a tailor-made silk suit.
At Xuan Thuy National Park, he witnessed one of the trip’s most memorable sights.     “We visited a wildlife preserve,” he remembers, “and at 3 a.m., we took boats into the open part of the river. There was water as far as the eye can see and all these houses on giant stilts. People fishing with the sun rising. Total silence. I loved it. It made me see how important this trip was.
“I want to travel,” he declares, “and teaching from one location in no way limits you, because when you get a day off, you can jump on a train.
“For me,” Crowder says, “the trip was about discovering myself, finding out what I wanted and what I wanted to give to the world. It was a great experience. I recommend traveling abroad to everyone.”