Episode 78 │ Thousand Miles, Thousand Smiles (EGYPT & MORE)
"There's really no such thing as loneliness, in my opinion, if you really push yourself to even just spark a conversation with someone... No matter where you are in the world, or what your opinion of a place might have been, you'll find somebody there to still give you a smile." (Edward, Episode 78)
As you might recall, earlier this year I took a chance on inviting a handful of selected strangers from Twitter to be guests on Young, Gifted and Abroad. Dai'jah (episode 74) was the first person I got to speak with from that handful, and this week's guest Edward G. Young III is the last. Edward is a professional public speaker, and I was looking forward to having him tell me about studying abroad in Egypt in his late teens, which was his first time traveling internationally. After reaching out to him, I soon found out that Egypt was just the beginning. To date, Edward has been to over 50 countries, and including the U.S. he's lived in five of them for at least a year each!
Edward was born and raised in Gary, Indiana, and the chance to go to Egypt came to him via a family friend. During Edward's freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, an administrator and mentor told Edward's mom (whom he'd graduated high school with) about an upcoming second semester culture class that would culminate in a trip to Egypt for a few weeks. Edward's mom passed the word onto Edward, who understood that this was not a suggestion so much as a heads-up. The administrator had already decided that this would be a great opportunity for Edward to expand his horizons, "Eddie's going on this." And it was so. Edward was indifferent about the trip at first, but he became more excited as he learned about Egyptian culture and the Arabic language with his classmates. It didn't feel fully real until he boarded the plane. In addition to the heat, what left the biggest initial impression on Edward upon arriving in Cairo was how bustling the markets were, even late into the night. Having not been to New York City yet at that time, he thought to himself, "This is what New York must feel like, a city that never sleeps!"
The purpose of the trip was historical and cultural exposure, so Edward and his group spent their time visiting temples, tombs, landmarks, and other places of historical importance around Cairo and Luxor. Highlights included the temples of Luxor and Karnak, a short cruise on the Nile, and of course, the Great Pyramids. The Great Pyramids remain especially memorable to Edward for a few notable reasons, besides the awe-inspiring majesty they're known for. First, he was shocked to discover how accessible the pyramids actually were; rather than having to go on a lengthy trek into the desert to reach them, all it took was a short trip just past the edge of town where a sizable hotel and even a McDonald's were still within proximity. Second, Edward got scammed at the pyramids! Unaware of the plethora of ingenious methods that peddlers would use to get money from tourists, Edward accepted a man's invitation to pose for a picture atop the man's camel for free, only to find that he had to pay the man—in American dollars—if he wanted to alight from the camel. And third, in hindsight Edward has continued to kick himself for not going inside the pyramids when he had the chance. Having conscientiously budgeted how he would spend his money while in Egypt, he didn't want to part with however much the entry fee was for the pyramids; he figured it wouldn't be that big a deal. To this day he wishes he would've allowed himself to be a little more flexible, so he wouldn't have missed out on what could have been a remarkable experience.
In addition to all the sites he saw, the beauty of the trip was that Edward got to travel with a group of students from a similar background as him. The program was geared largely toward minority students—mostly hailing from Milwaukee—who, like him, didn't come from a lot of money and probably had never seen themselves one day venturing outside of the States until they got the opportunity to do so. Taking in Egypt with like-minded peers who each possessed a similar level of street sense made the trip that much more special, and kept all involved from being intimidated by their new surroundings. Plus, as the youngest person in the group, 18-year-old Edward was lucky to be in the company of a few seasoned students who had done this program previously in other destinations. He remembers fondly how formative the trip was in putting him on the path toward becoming an avid world traveler, "That's what really opened up the world to me... It shaped who I am [and] opened my eyes to a world that's much smaller than we make it out to be."
After Egypt, Edward put a pause on traveling again so he could focus on his commitments to school, athletics, and his ailing mom. He graduated from UW-Whitewater with an English degree, and after teaching high school English for a year he decided it was time for him to get back out there, "Alright. I wanna explore. I wanna get out." He didn't know where he was headed, however, and while considering China a former professor of his put him in touch with her colleague who specialized in East Asian studies. That colleague encouraged Edward to look into Japan, and the more he learned about the country, the more he thought it would be "super cool" to live there. So he got into the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program and was placed as an English teacher in Tottori, the least-populated Japanese prefecture which is also known for its sand dunes. (There are camels there too.)
Ironically, as much as he'd initially wanted to be near Tokyo or some other big city that had more action, Edward had this to say about his three years in Tottori, "It was a truly magical, beautiful location. I couldn't ask to have been in a better location." With mountains on one side of him and the Sea of Japan on the other, along with the calm and friendliness of the people in the small village he called home, Japanese rural life proved to be peaceful and healing in ways he hadn't expected. This was not only Edward's first time living abroad, but also his first time living completely on his own, so his years in Japan helped teach him what it means to be an adult. Meanwhile, he explored other parts of Japan and became acquainted with such ancient traditions as the Hadaka Matsuri—the "Naked Festival" or "Naked Man Festival" where loincloth-clad men compete to obtain lucky talismans from a designated temple—which he went to Okayama Prefecture to witness each winter.
And if all that wasn't enough, Edward found his work both in and beyond the classroom to be quite rewarding too. He bonded with his students due to the small class sizes and the after-school activities that he assisted with, and despite believing that his sports career had ended when he graduated from college, in Japan he achieved his childhood dream of playing baseball as an adult! Edward played with a local team called the Yonago Dragons, and was even seriously considering going for the Japanese major leagues. But ultimately he decided to leave Japan on a high note and move on to the next stop on his personal world tour, a tour which he didn't have a blueprint for and took one country at a time.
That next stop was South Korea, where Edward lived for four years teaching English. (His teaching career was the main vehicle he used to relocate from country to country.) From his first to his second year there he shifted from teaching at a high school in Incheon to taking intensive Korean courses while working part-time in Seoul. He was determined to not be as lax about learning Korean in South Korea as he had been about learning Japanese in Japan, and his efforts toward greater fluency paid off. He went from not knowing a word of Korean to eventually being invited by a buddy to guest on a travel show that aired on national television ('Go with Jamie'), giving a tour of his town in Korean. By that time Edward was living in Asan, where he spent his third and fourth years in Korea teaching at a university. He enjoyed having high-level and meaningful in-class discussions in a university setting so much, that he decided that from then on he would only teach college or other adult students. Following that intention, Edward once again worked as a university lecturer when he later moved to Oman for a year and then Saudi Arabia for two years.
Being in the Middle East again made Edward feel like he'd come full circle, and he appreciated the clarity that came with realizing he'd returned back to where his international travels first started. And he didn't stay put, either. Having his home base in the Middle East allowed him to travel to African countries more easily, and one year he made a point of scheduling a trip to Tanzania around his birthday so that he could celebrate his day and the triumph of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at the same time. Edward has since shifted toward a career in public speaking and hasn't taught in several years, and he's currently not traveling as much as he used to, but his travel goals are no less vibrant than they were before. His most recent extended experience abroad was going to Bogota, Colombia on his own to study Spanish for six weeks. When I asked him where else he wanted to go in the future, he told me, "Everywhere." Literally. His long-term goal is to visit every country in the world. More specifically, the Caribbean came to mind as a potential next destination, since he hasn't been anywhere in that region yet.
As for public speaking, Edward sees the work he does now as a culmination of both the leadership skills he learned from years of playing sports and the ability to connect with people that he learned from teaching around the globe. Speaking has allowed him a larger reach than being in a classroom, and living out his principle of "bringing light" to others allows him to positively affect people even when he's not talking on a stage. And although he's passionate about guiding and motivating people, he prefers to call himself an "illuminational speaker" rather than a motivational speaker. His habit of smiling in pictures with various people he meets during his travels and posting them online helps remind him that connections can be formed wherever he finds himself, "Thousand miles, thousand smiles." Edward can be found on Instagram (@e3motivates) and Twitter (@E3Motivates), on LinkedIn (Edward G. Young III), and on his website rebornstronger.com.
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Thousand Miles, Thousand Smiles (EGYPT & MORE)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
Edward's TEDx Talk about his travels
Jessica Nabongo (Black woman who's been to every country in the world)
Danielle G. is the creator, host, and producer of Young, Gifted and Abroad. You can find her other writings at DeelaSees.com.