Rest Less member Keith Stewart on teaching abroad, the BLM movement and always having a plan

Sixty-one-year-old Rest Less member Keith, is a firm believer that having a plan in life makes you unstoppable. After arriving in the UK from Trinidad and Tobago in 1964, he experienced racism at school, work and in daily life – but has always strived for a better life, and continued pushing to reach his full potential.

In 2017, after a long and varied career involving youth work and conflict resolution, he decided it was time to start an exciting new life chapter. Looking to free himself from house keys, leaky pipes and council tax bills, Keith sold his flat in Brighton, put his belongings in storage and walked away with a single suitcase. He swapped possessions for experiences and made travelling his main focus – always exploring ways that he could lend himself to opportunities to meet new people and visit new places.

The beginning of a new adventure...

One of his first stops was Berlin, where a one-week trip became four, after he took a short language course to help him build connections, learn the basics and explore. In Tasmania, a five-day tour introduced him to new friends, who invited him to visit them in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year. And in Melbourne, a two-week work placement, which involved helping a chaplain unpack and settle into her new home, gave him the chance to experience small towns, Koalas and a ski resort, hundreds of miles away from the city.

Although Keith enjoyed his new found freedom, he was keen to build on the skills and knowledge he developed during his 40+ year career. He’d spent 15 years working with young people from various different backgrounds, in a range of different settings including schools, American summer camps, LGBT youth groups and childrens’ care homes. For another 20 years, he’d also worked as a freelance trainer, specialising in conflict resolution, team development, assertiveness, and equality and diversity. Keith considered how he could bring all of his experience together, whilst still having the flexibility to travel.

On teaching in Mexico and Brazil: “The aspirations and commitment of the students is exciting and inspiring”

So, in April 2018, age 59, he took a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course, which involved three classroom-based days at a hotel in Sheffield, plus online work – which Keith challenged himself to complete within two weeks, by working 9am-7pm every day. He then looked for opportunities to put his teaching skills into practice; starting with two one-week immersion courses in Poland and then Spain, where he helped business people to develop their skills through conversations. This experience later landed him some paid teaching work in Mexico and Brazil.

Looking back on these first teaching opportunities abroad, Keith says, “Living in these countries was superb. I got a better understanding of the lifestyles, language, pressures and the positive sides. It makes you realise how easy life is in Europe, UK and America for so many people. I noticed how easy people in the UK have it, and how people in the countries I visited worked so hard and had so much motivation to succeed. A widowed mother with three children, a full-time job (including a half day Saturday) came to my classes five evenings a week. So did a 16-year-old who planned to start an environmental organisation to improve recycling in Mexico. The aspirations and commitment of the students is exciting and inspiring.”

Achieving a life-work balance

Keith explains that his role as a TEFL teacher over the last two years has given him the life-work balance he was looking for. His ability to teach either in person or online, means that he can still have a fulfilling career, whilst satisfying his travel goals. Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu, The Coliseum, Valencia and Rio are just a few of the places he’s been able to tick off his list since teaching began.

Giving some insight into the other aspects of his life today, Keith – who is single and enjoying life this way – continues, “Aside from my TEFL work, I am also planning to learn how to make animations soon – so I can turn my thoughts, poems and ideas into visual stories. I also read one book a month for fun to expand my mind, and I love coffee shops and sunsets. I’m currently based in Martinique, where there’s an amazing collection of daily rainbows. After rain in the mountains there is always one or sometimes a double rainbow.”

Fighting racism and prejudice

Although Keith has fallen in love with his life, it hasn’t always come without challenges. He says that he has experienced racism in many overt and subtle ways since arriving in the UK as a young child 56 years ago. This has included people he has not previously met or spoken to, telling him to “go home”, and shouting racist slurs.

In 2016, he took on his local council over their unfair treatment of himself and his mother. During the case, social workers, managers and healthcare staff were all found to be discriminatory by two independent enquiries and the Local Government Ombudsman.

Keith says, “That was a turning point – seeing investigators agreeing in writing that I had been discriminated against. And getting justice for my mum. Now, when people make discriminatory remarks online or in real life, I can challenge them from a place of strength and knowledge. Most people crumble and can’t continue to debate because their prejudices are being laid bare.”

“The Black Lives Matter movement is about my life – it is not news”

Keith has recently led some interesting discussions on the Rest Less community forum about Black Lives Matter; a movement which is intended to speak out against police brutality and systemic racism, and encourage positive change. The death of George Floyd – an unarmed 46-year-old African American man who died after white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, during an arrest – has recently catapulted the Black Lives Matter movement onto the World’s stage. Expressing what the Black Lives Matter movement means to him, Keith explains:

“I post comments, articles and images on my social media about racism and aim to be positive about how as a society, we can make a change. But I don’t sugar coat the mistreatment of black people, just so that white people won’t be scared. I spent too long smiling, so that white people wouldn’t feel threatened by me. I’ve also had to re-evaluate friendships with people by listening to them and looking for how much they really understand, not only about my life, but the lives of others.

“The Black Lives Matter movement is about my life – it is not news. It’s the same with ageism. I laugh when I see articles talking about research that shows that ageism is rife. I think that I – and many other Rest Less members – could have told you that. It’s exciting that so many Rest Less members won’t allow themselves to be wasted and trashed. What’s the poem about not going silently?”

“Racism isn’t my problem. It is the problem and failing of the racist. The same for any form of discrimination and prejudice”

Keith emphasizes that the key to tackling any kind of discrimination is to raise awareness and lead discussions about it, and to be an ally. He remembers asking a question about the treatment of transgender people at a conference, explaining that although he is not transgender, he felt that he could be an ally by asking questions. Many people have often attributed racism to a lack of knowledge and understanding, and while Keith agrees that this may be true in part, he says that ultimately, racism comes down to choice:

“After a certain age – maybe early teens – people can make choices. A 40-year-old man who is racist or homophobic and a 25-year-old who is ageist, are making choices. It’s important not to make excuses for them. Racism isn’t my problem. It is the problem and failing of the racist. The same for any form of discrimination and prejudice.

“I lived for six months in Tehuacan, Mexico, as one of maybe six black people in a city of half a million people. I had no problems and I felt safer there than in some cities in the UK. The people in that town made a choice to treat me with the same openness I gave to them. Lack of education and understanding are simply excuses that let many prejudiced people off the hook.”

Looking forward to the future

Despite potential barriers to his success, Keith is proud of his identity and of the life he has built for himself. He continues:

“I was born in Trinidad and Tobago and grew up in London. I am British, and I love that. It is a key to many things in my present life. Part of my employment, a source of connection and discussion, and friendship when I travel. I own property, have a good income, high self-confidence, and a clear direction in my life.”

Today Keith is working for a TEFL agency, while working on plans for his own TEFL school, which will be either an online or a physical one, based in his favourite city, Barcelona. Speaking about his plans for the future, Keith says, “My task is to make the goals and dreams I have happen. Make them manifest. I added this concept to my plans after listening to David Bowie speak – he talked about making life manifest. Before he died, a musical that he’d written music for premiered off-Broadway. He made all the things he wanted to do happen.

“Within the next five years, I hope to be based in Barcelona, teaching English and working on creative projects – with the ability to be a silver nomad. I want to see the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal and Antarctica, to achieve my goal of visiting every continent in the world. I also plan to sit and shoot the breeze with my little mate Owen, who is two years old and lives in Hong Kong.”

“You cannot be stopped if you know where you are going. And regularly looking at your plan stops you from becoming lost”

Having made such a life-altering transition over the last three years and feeling better for it, Keith offers a few tips to anyone who is thinking about taking a similar leap of faith. He says,

“First, look around you and find out what inspires you. Then, for me, the most important thing is to always have a plan – even if you adjust it as you go. My initial five-year plan included owning a car. I changed that because a car sitting there is just wasted money that could be used for a flight, and a few months in an Airbnb somewhere, exploring and meeting people, and expanding my horizons. Part of my plan was also to buy two rental properties before I set off travelling, to help me generate an income, which I did. It can be helpful to have a draft of your basic 10 and 20-year plan, a slightly more detailed five-year plan and a very detailed one-year plan. You cannot be stopped if you know where you are going. And regularly looking at your plan stops you from becoming lost.

“It’s important that your plans happen at a speed led by you, and that your goals are intrinsic, and inspired by your needs – rather than extrinsic, and designed to please others. This means listening to your heart, and the beat of your own drum.”

Considering what he has overcome, achieved and learnt during his life, Keith says, “After years of training, I am living a life I deserve and have made manifest. I have a lot of privilege, despite potential barriers. But immense strength and knowledge move barriers. It is hard to be pushed off track if you have clear goals. I am 61, I know who I am and where I am going – and I love it.”

 

You can find out more about Keith’s work and life, over on his website, here. Or if you’d be interested in taking a TEFL course yourself, then you might want to browse our range on site.

Are you inspired by Keith’s story? Or do you have a story of your own that you’d like to share? Email us at [email protected] or leave a comment below.

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7 thoughts on “Rest Less member Keith Stewart on teaching abroad, the BLM movement and always having a plan

  1. Avatar
    Terry Silvers on Reply

    This is really inspiring – not so much about the TEFL as I have done a little bit of it over the years and find it dull but in terms of Keith’s attitude and lifestyle. Someone very much to regard as a role model.

  2. Avatar
    Marcus on Reply

    An interesting and thought provoking article, especially in the current Covid situation.
    Lockdown in UK has been a big boost to online teaching even if you are not a trained teacher like myself !
    I have been teaching online Business English, eg to a student in Italy. I have an accounting qualification not a teaching qualification.
    There seems to be a big demand online for native language (of most languages , mine happens to be English) speakers to teach, and you don’t need a formal teaching qualification.
    Teaching online is good if you want to work from home and earn money, and students/customers are worldwide.

  3. Avatar
    Joy on Reply

    An amazing testimony. Keith has the ability to ‘wake up’ a sleeper, and make him/her set at once to venture out and discover themself.

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