A woman of adventure

English teacher learns much about herself, others through travel


Laura Caffery

Cambodia Students take part in the arts

Brandon Steward and Roundup staff, Staff Writers

English teacher Laura Caffrey is not one to lollygag when she decides to do something. And travel and new experiences is one of the things she loves to do.

She proved that in December of 1995 when she made a snap decision to sell everything she owned to move to South Korea to teach.

The decision to go started in December 1995 when Caffrey saw an ad in The Dallas Morning News about teaching English in Korea and decided that was what she wanted to do.

By February of 1996, Caffrey was doing just that.

While in Korea, Caffrey made a number of discoveries. 

“I learned a lot about myself, that I was capable of a lot more than I thought I was,” Caffrey said.”And humans are a lot more alike than they are different.”

Body language, a smile are the same everywhere she said. 

“I would absolutely go back to South Korea,” Caffrey said. ”I think that has been the most pivotal adult decision that I have made.” 

In Korea, she taught English in a language school for a year. She picked up some Korean as well.

“I had learned some phrases and the number system,” Caffrey said. “I learned to figure out how much something cost when they told me.”

Not ready to go home, Caffrey looked for a new experience. She found one in going from highly-developed South Korea to still-developing Indonesia. She taught there for eight months. 

“Indonesia gave me an appreciation for pollution controls,” Caffrey said. “When I blew my nose, the snot was literally black.”
Then it was back to Texas – mostly Austin and Dallas. She got an adjunct professor position at Richland College teaching ESOL and started work on her masters degree with a focus on literature. 

“I chose literature to give me options, whether it would be teaching ESOL or English,” she said.

She got an alternate teacher’s certificate and started her teaching career in the States. She taught in Garland and Plano before coming to Mesquite in 2020.

The travel bug and her interest in the Far East continued calling. She took summer vacations to make trips.

Cambodia beckoned in 2017, where she volunteered to teach for three weeks. The first elementary school was for one week. The students went for part of the day, then had to spend the rest of their days in rice fields or in the tourist market or taking care of siblings.

She was in Cambodia for three weeks. One great experience was going to Budist Angor Wat, a magnificent temple in the country.

The population has few elderly people because of the genocide of many citizens under the direction of Communist Party general secretary Pol Pot. He enacted a political genocide – going after teachers, doctors, lawyers and other educated people. More than a quarter of Cambodia’s citizens were murdered in less than a four-year period.

Caffrey discovered the people in the country are very nice.

“They are super sweet people,” Caffrey said. “I became friends with one of the food street vendors. She was one of my favorite people to get my dinner from. It was a great deal for a dollar.”

This visit was five and a half weeks long and started in Malaysia. 

Caffrey stayed with a host in Malaysia, paying $3 a night for an ensuite. She was there for a week.

“I told my host that I went into McDonalds,” she said. “She was horrified. 

“I told her I had to go to the bathroom,” Caffrey laughed.

Then all was OK.

Next was the three weeks in Cambodia and finally about a week in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

Caffrey came back to teach in Plano but planned another journey – this time to China in 2019.

Caffrey chose to do volunteer work in China with a program called SABEH. She taught teachers how to develop thinking skills with their students. The school wanted to move past rote memorization. 

“Teachers over there have some of the same problems we have over here,” Caffrey said. ”You know, having to get students off their phones or having to call a parent when the kid isn’t doing their work.”

She said the Chinese government limits freedom of speech.

 Facebook and YouTube were forbidden. 

Social media there is WeChat – which the government controls. WeChat is kind of like a combination of Facebook and Instagram and also has a pay component. But the government knows every move people make.

Caffrey also noted how China monitored people’s movement there. People had to have an ID wherever they went. 

“Everywhere you go, you have to prove you have a legal right to be there,” Caffrey said. “When you go someplace, it’s like going through TSA at the airport. They check your ID and everything goes through X-ray.”

Now Caffrey is settled in at West Mesquite, teaching English. She sees the Far East in her future. She and her husband are considering retiring to Malaysia in about 10 years because it’s inexpensive and has a well-developed medical infrastructure. 

“I’d love to visit Laos,” she said, already thinking of future adventures.