My Life-Changing Experience in Bangladesh

Travis Schultz left the borders of the U.S. for the first time to teach English in Bangladesh. Since he stepped off the airplane, his life would never be the same.

Travis Schultz is a first year student at Florida State University studying for a Master’s in sociocultural and International development education studies or SIDES. Before entering this program Travis served in the Peace Corps and left US borders for the first time in August 2005 for Bangladesh. Though his time was cut short  and had to leave in March 2006, he will never forget his time in this country.  The following article was written by Travis about his time in Bangladesh. 

Living in the developing world is often pitched to students in the United States with emphasis on the poverty, political oppression, and dysfunction of the societies and governments. Students who go on foreign visits or attend classes with this sort framework generally emerge with enhanced self regard and a fair amount of pity for people not lucky enough to have been born in a developed country like the United States. This sort of comparative and self-congratulatory approach should be replaced with a more open one that takes seriously the chances of finding positive aspects of life for those living outside the developed world. Students who are truly exposed to a variety of cultural, political, and economic systems abroad often emerge from their experiences noting that there are surprising number of similarities in the human condition regardless of location and culture. Finding common threads that bind people together, I would argue, is a better way of instilling appreciation for diversity than one that emphasizes the destitution or oppression suffered by individuals outside the United States.

Travis (right) and friend Emon (left). "Together we would hold English class on the roof of his complex every Friday. Emon taught me how to play cricket, took me to my first puja and generally help me understand Bangladesh. He was one of my best friends during my time there."

I was 22 when I opened up a big blue package from the US government saying that I had been invited to serve as an English Teacher in Bangladesh.(I was a Peace Corps volunteer; sadly my time was cut short because we were evacuated after 8 months) My flight to Bangladesh marked the first time I had ever traveled beyond the borders of America.  I do not know if it was just the shock of the new, but something about the country grabbed me in both mind and heart. While being in a place where everything was new and strange, I also had to figure out how to teach spoken English to a class of over three hundred students.  To this day, I have no idea if I was successful, but at least we were able to able to have spirited discussions about the world around us.  I started to see that education led to empowerment; in Bangladesh, the line between the haves and the have-nots is clearly drawn. If a person can read and write, they have multiple opportunities for advancement. If someone stays illiterate, they become a burden.  Being a Peace Corps Volunteer and a teacher gave me the opportunity to highlight everything that is good about education in America. For example, I could implement interactive teaching methodology that is uncommon in many developing countries.  Although my assignment in Bangladesh was cut short, and I did not get to see my labors bear fruit, it set me on my path as an educator for those who need it most.

Bangladesh is over crowded, filthy, exotic, impossible, and I loved it!  I was totally taken by the place, the people, and its conflicts.  Since stepping off that airplane, I have never really wanted to be anyplace else. I loved chowing down on ruti in the morning. I loved the huge smiles that greeted me wherever I went. I loved being able to walk wherever I wanted to go. The smells of the open market, the spices, the chai wallas, the local shop owners pulling me in for tea. Yes, there will always be time for tea, and anything worth doing is done over tea. My CD player broke, so I took it back to the store where I bought it because it was still under the year warranty that I was convinced to buy over two cups of tea. The shop owner carefully looked over my CD player, and after a few long seconds of pondering, said, “This is no good, I cannot give you a new one, warranty no good.” What are you talking about, I insisted as I showed him my receipt. “No, No, No, come let’s have tea and we will discuss this matter of your CD player.” After two or three cups of tea I left the shop with a smile and ended up buying an even more expensive CD player! My movements and teaching became in tune with the call to prayer five times a day.  Once the Imam’s voice rings out over the loudspeakers, all work stops. The sounds of Pujas before each meal in the Hindi district made me crave fish from the river behind the village. I loved the six day work week, because in Bangladesh there is so much work to be done that one must work that extra day, and still nothing ever gets done.

I came to Bangladesh as a young man searching for how to spend his life while wandering around this planet. Now I realize that upon arriving in Bangladesh, I entered a world which nothing afterwards could ever compare to. Bangladesh is a place that always provides more questions than answers. In order to be successful in such places, it requires a vivid and wild imagination. You can be strolling along to the store or school and find yourself watching something you not only hadn’t seen before in your life, but had never even imagined. People who learn to respect the surprises that living in a developing country can offer will do very well, and if they are lucky, like me, the experience will shape their lives forever!

Travis explained the Peace Corps was evacuated in March 2006 and he finished his service in the Philippines. He liked it so much there he stayed from May 2007 to November 2009. Most recently Travis was in Lesotho, South Africa teaching English as well as basic computer training at the National Health and Training College with Peace Corps Response.

Travis plans to graduate from the SIDES program at Florida State in 2013. In this program students learn about International and multicultural education and development as well as serve a two year service tour with the Peace Corps. Travis learned about the SIDES program while serving in the Philippines. After graduation Travis plans to return to Southeast Asia with a goal of becoming a professor or continue working with a non-governmental agency (NGO).

Learn more about the SIDES program
I lived in Gazipur for 3 months during training and the Turag river ran beside and behind my house. It is abundant in fish but has become very polluted.
Shapla is a flower that can be seen floating with ease in almost every water body of Bangladesh. There are two types of Shapla. One is white and the other is pink. Besides adding picturesque beauty to the countryside of Bangladesh, the Shapla is a delicious food as well. Many people living in rural areas consume it as a curry. And children are also fond of eating the stem.
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