Traveling Lives: Middle School Teacher Peg Sewall

by Brianne Miers
Peg Sewall on a camel in Egypt

Before Peg Sewall packed up her life in small-town New Jersey and moved to the capital of Romania, she was a teacher in the same county as my dad. We met when they visited Boston together for a conference, and now, I get to follow along on her many expat adventures through social media. (Update: Peg now lives and teaches in Sonoma County, California.) 

NAME: Peg Sewall

RESIDENCE: Bucharest, Romania

OCCUPATION: Middle School Teacher

Piata Dorobantilor in Bucharest, Romania

view of Piata Dorobantilor from the balcony of Peg’s first apartment in Bucharest

How have you made your life a “traveling life” and why?

I didn’t start traveling abroad until I was in my late 20s, so I’ve always had the feeling that I’m making up for lost time in my travels. Since I’m a teacher, I have these fantastic blocks of time off that are perfect for taking a trip somewhere. The only negative thing about these trips was that I felt I got just a “taste” of the culture, the food, the architecture, etc., when what I really wanted was to be fully immersed in a culture for a much longer period of time.

So I joined Search Associates, a company that places experienced teachers in international schools all over the world. I went to a job fair in Boston and wound up getting hired at the American International School of Bucharest in Romania. So now I have that immersion in a foreign culture that I was looking for with amazing travel opportunities as well.

Why is travel important to you?

I love the quote by St. Augustine, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” There is so much to see and do in this world.

I’ve been traveling around as best I can for 15 years. Now I live abroad, and I have still only seen a tiny fraction of the world. I always learn something new when I travel, and that is important to me as an educator and life-long learner. I love the feeling of waking up in a new city, a new country and heading out the door to explore what that place has to offer. It’s always amazing!

buildings along the Douro river in Porto, Portugal

buildings along the Douro River in Porto, Portugal

How did you first get the travel bug?

I went on an organized trip to London with my high school when I was 16, and I loved it. But I didn’t have the money or the desire to travel abroad again until my mom took me to Italy on a tour of Rome, Florence and Venice in 2000. That was everything. Gliding through the canals of Venice, walking through the remains of Pompeii, trying gelato for the first time, seeing the Duomo and Michelangelo’s David in Florence… I couldn’t snap pictures or write in my journal fast enough to keep track of all of the awesome things we experienced.

My mom and I both caught the travel bug on that trip. All of that history, the people, the FOOD, the art, the amazing scenery. All of it. I was hooked, and I’ve been traveling as much as I can ever since.

What is your most significant travel memory and why?

I have loved every place I’ve traveled to, and they are all important to me for one reason or another. But one trip that stands out in my mind is when I went to Cairo in 2012, a year after the revolution and the events of the Arab Spring. It was a combination of experiences that made it so special. We went to the Egyptian National Museum, which is right by Tahir Square, and people were still camped out with signs and such, so it felt very surreal to be there. As we were walking into the museum, the burned remains of the NDP Building were looming on our left. The revolution was still so fresh, and near, that it was very powerful.

With that still in our minds, all of the sudden we were gazing at the contents of the tombs of the pharaohs, AND the actual mummified pharaohs! Walking past such recent history and subsequently coming face-to-face with Ramses the Great? Totally overwhelming. After that, we drove across Cairo to the pyramids… to climb up into the Great Pyramid, ride camels across the desert and take pictures with the Sphinx. I never thought I would get to see the pyramids in my life. It was unbelievable. It was absolutely one of the most memorable and amazing days of my life!

Egyptian National Museum

the Egyptian National Museum from Tahir Square (with burned NDP building in the background)

What are some misconceptions friends & family have about your travels?

Ha ha ha… well, I post pictures of my all trips on Facebook, so people can see where I go. I get a lot of funny comments on my posts, about how I must never work, how lucky I am, etc. I am incredibly lucky, don’t get me wrong, but it was a huge decision and undertaking to pack up my life, leave my friends and family, leave my steady job, to move to a country I didn’t know much about. All of the amazing places I get to travel to are also counterbalanced by the weddings I miss, family events I can’t attend, friends’ children who are growing up while I’m gone, etc. I also work really hard at my job, but since I don’t post pictures while I’m teaching classes or grading essays for the weekend, some people assume I live this breezy existence where all I do is travel. In reality, my life is mostly work, with a few fantastic vacations in between.

The other misconception people have is about safety. People don’t realize that I am really much safer in Romania, and the countries I travel to, than I would be in America. So people tell me they are worried, and asking if I’m being safe – when I live in a country with some of the toughest gun ownership laws in the world. I am statistically MUCH safer in Romania! 🙂

What advice do you have for others who want to incorporate more travel into their lives?

So many people think that they don’t have enough money to travel. (I know, because I was one of them!)  If you are smart about your budget, traveling can be really affordable. Especially if you start putting a little bit of money aside per month with a goal of say, a year or two. I have a friend who put all of the $5 bills she got as change into a jar for a year, and she then had about $1,000! The other consideration, of course, is time. But if you attach trips to a weekend, or other time off, it can really add up. Get your passports and head out into the world! No excuses! 🙂

Peg Sewall at the Vatican

Where are you headed next?

Not sure… either Ethiopia or Singapore, I think!

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