Traveling, Teaching, and Telling

Sophie poses with one of her students at her birthday party the school threw for her. Photo used with permission from Sophie Danielson.

Sophie poses with one of her students at her birthday party the school threw for her. Photo used with permission from Sophie Danielson.

Air Academy graduate Sophie Danielson embarked on the journey of a lifetime last year. After debating attending a university and taking a gap year, Sophie snatched the opportunity to travel to Phang Nga, Thailand and become an English teacher to Burmese migrants. Sophie was unsure of what to do following her senior year, she wasn’t sure that she immediately wanted to attend a university despite her college acceptances and scholarship offers, she desired to feel needed and helpful without a college degree, and traveling to Thailand was the perfect supplement to her aspirations.

Sophie received the job offer after applying, as per recommendation from one of her fellow co-workers. Between accepting the offer and traveling to a foreign country across the globe, Sophie had two weeks before she left and she didn’t know a single word of the Burmese language. Ms. Leavitt, one of Air Academy’s Spanish teachers, greatly influenced and encouraged Sophie to take a gap year and travel abroad. Sophie comments that when traveling abroad, “Nothing ever goes the way you plan. It’s been really good to see that. Anything I plan or expect never goes the way I planned it to. It has taught me to really go with the flow and learn how to problem solve more.”

After spending a year in Thailand, Sophie returned to Colorado Springs and spoke to an audience of Air Academy students regarding her travels. She put together an entire power point encouraging the audience, consisting primarily of junior and senior students, to take a year off and venture to a foreign place if they are conflicted about their time following high school as she was. She described the experience as truly life changing and inspiring, given the infamous luxuries we so often take for granted. Sophie emphasized the importance of a high school diploma and stressed the difficulty it is for her students in Thailand to earn one. The students are often pulled from school to work in order to support their families. The child labor age in Thailand is sixteen years old, but unfortunately, most of Sophie’s student’s who are younger than sixteen are already working two or more jobs in addition to attending school. The Burmese students are in Thailand seeking refuge and more opportunities from their origin in Myanmar, which is currently facing political turmoil and corruption. The harsh reality is that most of the Burmese migrants don’t have their official documents confirming their residency in Thailand, in which case, many of the local Thai employers take advantage of the Burmese workers, black mailing them into virtually free labor in exchange for not turning them into the police. Sophie is employed by a company working to educate the Burmese workers on their human rights and to further their education so they can apply for jobs superior to labor work.

Sophie, while back in the States, is planning to travel back to Thailand within the next month through December. So far, she has documented her experience on a blog titled, “Sophie Skips Town” which includes a selection of diary posts, pictures, videos, and updates of her journey abroad. Please visit the link below to take a look at her blog and the incredible situations she’s faced thus far.

Sophie Danielson’s Blog: Sophie Skips Town: