Travelling abroad often makes the heart grow fonder for home, which is what former lakecity teacher Sharon Smith is helping dozens of people across the Cariboo experience.
Smith taught in Williams Lake at the elementary and high school level for most of her life after becoming a teacher and lived in Williams Lake up until two years ago, when she moved to White Rock near Vancouver. Her connections run deep to Williams Lake, however, and she has been leading tour groups made up primarily of lakecity residents around the world since her retirement.
She loved working as a teacher in Williams Lake because of the chance it gave her to make an impact on the young people of the community. As time passed and she moved to the high school level, she enjoyed the chance to reconnect with former students and see how they’d changed and grown.
“It was a very rewarding career, I really enjoyed it,” Smith said. “I enjoyed the people the most. You’d go to the grocery store to pick up a couple of things and you’d be an hour in there because you bumped into so many people you knew, people were really friendly.”
Travel had been a big part of Smith’s life since her childhood, ever since she was a little girl of 12 who received a postcard from her uncle of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, France. Seeing something so different was magical to Smith and led her to keep the postcard to this day and fostered in her a desire to go to different places and see different things. As a college student, Smith went backpacking through Europe on her own at the age of 19 and has since taken every opportunity she can get to go explore the world.
While working at Columneetza as a high school counsellor, Smith said the first time travel came into her job was when the school hosted a class of Japanese students. Smith was asked to organize their stay, which she was thrilled to do, and did this for several years before eventually Smith was invited to bring a group of lakecity students to Osaka, Japan.
After a few more trips to Japan, Smith began organizing school trips through Education First Tours, a company that offers tours to various countries with a focus on learning. For Smith, it was great, as it combined her love of travel, organization and teaching all into one package. She especially loved the opportunity to take students who had never left Williams Lake onto a plane and take them to amazing places like the Coliseum in Rome and Big Ben in London.
“It was just amazing to see the change in the kids. Their eyes were really opened to the world.”
While she doesn’t remember the exact amount of tours she organized as a teacher, Smith estimates she went on at least 20 to 25 of these trips to Europe, Japan, China and Costa Rica. Seeing people live differently then we do and the realities of the world outside a movie screen, Smith thinks, was very valuable for the children and like anyone returning to Canada, made them really appreciate what we have here.
After retiring, Smith still felt wanderlust and a desire to take new groups of people to places old and familiar. She found that even when visiting landmarks for the second, third or fourth times, the new people she brought with her gave a fresh perspective and experience each time.
“Going by yourself, somewhere, isn’t always the most fun. It’s nice to have other people to share it with.”
After attending a conference for teachers involved with Education First Tours in South Africa after her retirement, Smith remembers being on a safari and watching a mother jaguar play with her two cubs. Thinking about how lucky she was to get the chance to see things like this, she thought how wonderful it’d be to share it with her friends. It was at that moment she decided to continue to organize tours, only this time with adults.
She organizes them through Go Ahead Tours, the adult component of the company she worked with as a teacher. Like her students, Smith said her friends are treated to an educational trip throughout the country, with an Egyptologist accompanying them on their latest tour.
The camaraderie and experiences the group gets to share she feels are very valuable for those who set out and helps bind them together. When meeting back up with the groups she’s taken out they’ll laugh and share stories, good and bad about their experiences.
“That’s part of travel sometimes. It’s never smooth or perfect, there’s bumps along the road, but that’s the sign of a good traveller if they can go through those bumps, manage and come out happy at the end.”