Let’s all be travelers

Juan Alberto Lopez UribeI have been travelling for the last 15 months as an educational backpacker. Being an educational backpacker has meant being on an inner and international journey of discovery and exploration meeting friends and teachers, giving courses on affective language learning, and attending ELT conferences around the globe. During this journey I have had the great privilege of being in both homes and schools of fellow teachers learning about their lives and work and pollinating their spaces with the ideas, sounds, and tastes of the different realities I have experienced. Oh, before we continue, I forgot to say that I always have Buddy the Frog with me, with whom we have made countless shows to children and teens.


I have learned during my travels that the intensity of my being in a place depends on my curiosity towards the other and how much I validate and allow the beauty of this other culture, geography, and history to become part of me. These travelling experiences have in this way powerfully changed my inner geographic and historical map of thoughts, emotions, and actions, as this map of mine is now painted and delineated with the images, sounds, tastes, and affective memories from around the world. All this travelling has made me understand that we are all the same, having suffering and joy in our human journeys.

When going on a journey, one can be either a tourist or a traveler. Tourists are usually taken places by a guide and stay together with other tourists, either taking a tour bus or going to restaurants and places tourists go. A tourist’s day has a heavy agenda with places that have to be seen and photographed in a paradigm that the curiosity lies in the going, doing, and buying. A traveler, on the other hand, is somebody who is usually alone and is surrounded by local people in local places discovering the little things that make living in that place special. The agenda of the traveler might not be as heavy as the one of the tourist, which allows time for the traveler to observing and chatting in a paradigm based on being, learning, and feeling. Both tourists and travelers can go to the very same place for the same amount of time, but I bet that the retelling and learning of their experiences will be very different.

I believe that learning a language can be a very adventurous journey of discovery. Lots of learners start with lots of enthusiasm and are unfortunately caught in the tourist traps of learning that get their money, time, and energy not allowing them to fully experience and become competent in the foreign language and culture. I believe that as teachers and educator we should not take our students in linguistic and cultural tours, but to share our journey and empower them to find their own ways and their new selves in the foreign language and culture.

Learners should be welcomed as linguistic travelers, involved in the planning of their language learning, listened to about their expectations, and asked about the path and means of transportation they would like to take in their endeavor. Learners and teacher should dream about what the unknown might bring. During this shared experience of earning and learning we can count on each other on challenges, praise each other for our efforts, and celebrate that we are on this journey together. The emotions and lessons lived in this adventure can allow us to flourish as learners and teachers and create affective memories and linguistic competence that will last a lifetime.

Travelling is about rediscovering the essence of who we really are.

Learning is the same. Let’s all be travelers!

What would you suggest your learners to take in their backpack?

Hugs from hot and humid São Paulo during a pitstop to see family and friends, as well as being in the language school I founded with my sister Sosô.



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Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe

Juan is an EFL educator, who is passionate about affective language learning with young learners. In 1994, he founded a language school in São Paulo, where children learn English affectively through play, storytelling, and puppeteering. Juan is also very curious about how confidence, creativity, and technology can be fully lived in language learning. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Pedagogy and a Master's degree in Education. Juan enjoys backpacking, chatting, and collecting frogs.

One thought on “Let’s all be travelers”

  1. I am so grateful that my classroom was one of your travel destinations Juan!

    Such a beautiful post, writing with pure Juan style: deep affective resonance. The metaphor of the traveler and tourist truly connected. I will definitely use it and think of you.

    Thank you for being my teacher during your travels. 🙂

    Keep on traveling!

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