We recently spent time catching up with Ethan Parrish. Ethan is a GeoVisions alum, and participated in our Teach in Thailand program a couple of years ago. Today, Ethan is a geologist, photographer and is constantly seeking ways to be kind to others and be a change maker. Learn more about Ethan in our interview below, and don’t miss his amazing short video, A Day in the #TeacherLife.
Our motto is ‘Experiences are more important than landmarks’ – in a couple of sentences, share an experience you had on your program (or a weekend adventuring on your own) that stands out to you.
Inevitably there will always be “problem” students. At the school my fiancée and I were teaching at there were several. One of her students in particular was incredibly poorly behaved. He openly, mocked, cursed and ignored her in class and no degree of reporting him to school authorities had any effect. The school had already written him off (as they had with loads of students, but that’s a different story). One evening, while I was walking into town along the river I ran into this student fishing off the pier. I talked myself into acknowledging him and saying hello thinking I’d regret it. He knew very little English (maybe if he payed attention in class…), but with some creative charades invited me to sit and fish with him. Over the course of the next 15 minutes I learned that he was the sole provider for his mom, grandmother and two sisters and that he was currently fishing to feed his family. It became very clear to me that to him school was wasted time that he could be spending providing for his family. That experience has had a lasting effect on me, and among many other lessons from that moment, serves to remind me that I was really the student while I was teaching in Thailand.
Which of the five senses do you value most while traveling?
This is a very difficult question… I value all of them so much. That said, if I have to choose one, I have to say vision. As an avid photographer I’m constantly looking for the beauty in the world around me. Despite the romanticized picture most people have of traveling, it can often be very stressful and overwhelming, especially when you’re actually in transit. For me actively looking for beauty while traveling reminds me to relax and appreciate the little things about wherever I find myself at a given moment.
Have your career goals shifted since you have returned from your GeoVisions program?
I’m a geologist by trade and took a 7-month sabbatical for my GeoVisions program. Prior to my trip I hadn’t really considered pursuing work in academia (namely teaching). Now, however, I’m much more open to the idea. I’m currently working on a M.S. in geology at University of Wisconsin—Madison.
Describe the most interesting person you met on one of your travels.
I don’t think I can identify a “most” interesting person. I’ve met a lot of very interesting people though. Hitch-hiking around New Zealand introduced me to a lot of really interesting people. On one hitch, I got a ride from a prostitute headed to a lunch-time “appointment”. On another, a trucker that could name just about every plant he saw. One woman had three corgis that I cuddled with for 2 hours as we drove through central Otago. My favorite hitch, however, was with a woman named Robin. She’d been widowed for 3 years and picked me up on the west coast of the South Island. I don’t remember the details, but I remember talking with her non-stop as we drove down the coast. After a couple hours in the car she abruptly pulled off the road into this pull-off that I never would’ve seen otherwise. She got out and simply said, “you coming?” Not seeing much of a choice, I got out and followed. After walking through dense brush for about 5 minutes we popped out onto this stunning, pristine, secluded, beach. She told me that this was her and her late husband’s favorite place to escape to in all the world. She said that she’d hadn’t been back to this place since his passing and then thanked me for making her smile in the past couple of hours. We went back to the car and she dropped me at the next town where I was heading east and she south.
What is your favorite travel quote or mantra?
“Love your neighbor as yourself” – Jesus
What was your biggest ‘aha moment’ or learning lesson while on your program?
See first response.
Did you ever get lost while traveling? If so, tell us about it.
Lost is a bit of a vague term. When traveling I perpetually feel lost in any situation that is new or foreign to me, it’s kind of the nature of travel. It’s one of my favorite feelings and, in my humble opinion, one of the most educational experiences that someone can have. In a more literal sense of the word lost I have been lost. This kind of lost is less thrilling to me. It wasn’t on my GeoVisions trip, but while I was living and hitchhiking around the South Island of New Zealand. Whenever I go backcountry I take a GPS as well as a map and compass. Having grown up in Colorado, I learned early on the importance of having back-up plans when it comes to backcountry navigation options. On one of my “tramping” trips into the backcountry of New Zealand, my GPS battery died which didn’t bother me too much since I naturally had a map and compass with me. The night before I had spent in a small hunting hut with a couple of hunters I met along the way. We’d been talking about routes in and out and I had pulled out my map and compass to facilitate the discussion. Unfortunately, I didn’t put them away the previous night, and in my efforts to get up and out before sunrise (best time to take pictures) without waking them, I’d left my map and compass in the hut. Admittedly it took me way too long to realize that I’d forgotten them and by the time I realized I couldn’t afford to go back as it would’ve cost me the day (and I had a biology exam the following day). Fortunately, our discussion the previous night had committed the surrounding area loosely to my memory and I thought I could figure my way out without the map/compass. Eventually I was successful and made it to the road by just before nightfall (some 6 hours after I had wanted to). I learned that without a map or compass I second guess my decisions and take much longer to make them (I also had some short detours that I quickly learned weren’t the right calls). Unfortunately, that was just the first half of the trip home. I still had to hitchhike some 8 hours home for a test the following morning at 10am. After walking down this mountain road for 3ish hours into the night I was finally (and miraculously) picked up by a dairy delivery man headed to Dunedin for his morning delivery.
What is your biggest piece of advice for anyone looking to travel abroad solo?
Rid yourself of ALL expectation and entitlement. Be kind, be humble and seek to love everyone and everything you encounter.
What are your plans now that you are back home? Any great new adventures you’ll be embarking on?
I’ve actually been home for a couple years now—it’s amazing how quickly time passes, it feels like yesterday that we were in Thailand and I’m still in touch with many of the people I met there. Currently I’m back in school pursuing a graduate degree in Geology from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. We’ll see what comes after that… My next big adventure, and arguably the biggest of my life, commences June 8th of this year when I marry my now fiancée.