Teacher, Warren native sees the world one classroom at a time
Even after breaking her back in China and digging up a body in Indonesia, Wendy Marvin always has been eager for the next trip.
“My mother said I got the travel bug at three days old when they took me from my place of birth, Glen Burnie, Md., and returned to live in Warren, after my dad was discharged from the Army,” Marvin said.
“All I wanted to do is travel. I wanted to get in the car and go somewhere and see something,” she said in a video chat last week from Poland — the country in Europe, not the village in Mahoning County.
“One of my first ‘dreams’ that I remember was to go to Paris. We took vacations and road trips all my childhood. As an adult and with my partner, Tom Craciun, we traveled extensively, and it was with him I first went abroad.”
At the moment, the 1980 Warren G. Harding High School graduate teaches business English in Warsaw.
“I spent the summer on the Black Sea of Bulgaria working at a youth language camp before spending about three weeks traveling Egypt and Morocco,” Marvin said.
Marvin draws on adventures from an ever-growing list of nations visited for a book she hopes to write one day.
“Sunrises and sunsets at base camp at Mount Everest — that was pretty amazing. Seeing the pyramids is overwhelming. Of course, I visited Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca … Being in London for the Queen Mum’s funeral … the Terra Cotta Army and the Great Wall of China, every trip to Vietnam … Stonehenge …”
In China, a car hit her motor scooter, flipping the scooter on top of her. She endured a seven-hour surgery for a broken back.
The patient is responsible for bedding, food, bathing and anything beyond medical care in China, Marvin said. “The lady who hit me had to provide care and get food for me. Usually family members do it.” But she was alone.
On one of her two trips to Bali, her hosts, Koming and Ketut, invited her to take part in a “ngagah” or “awakening of the dead” cremation ceremony, which happens in the community once every three years.
“I got to help her dig up her mom’s body, exhume it, wash the bones in floral water and coconut water, wrap it up … I was holding the head of the woman who was dead while the family washed the bones.”
Marvin said it was an honor to be included in the Hindu ceremony.
“Living with a family, in my opinion, is the best way to see a country and learn its culture,” Marvin said. “Once you meet people around the world, we are all the same deep down. We all want the same things.”
GROWING UP IN WARREN
Marvin attended Laird Avenue Elementary and East Junior High schools before graduating from Warren G. Harding High School.
Memories of growing up Warren include “Friday night football, parades, riding bikes everywhere, Packard swimming pool, People’s Dairy, The Triangle Inn — it was practically in my backyard, the bowling machine — the Lobster tank at 422, Mr. R’s, my school days … the summer gardening program — once a week, a bus picked us up and we’d go to the garden … There were so many things to do.”
In 1980, Marvin landed a part-time job at the YMCA in Warren as an aerobic instructor.
“I was there for 34 years,” she said. “I worked in many areas, starting with aerobics, then when they added the Nautilus equipment, I was a Nautilus instructor. I eventually started worked at the reception desk in member service department and became a full-time employee.
“I eventually moved upstairs to the offices and was an assistant / secretary to the accounting department and then as a secretary to the director and eventually became the associate director.
“I also taught some aqua aerobic classes, noon fitness, an abs class, kids gymnastics, etc., over the years,” she said. “Basically I worked pretty much in every area of the YMCA over the years.”
HITTING THE ROAD
It was time to go.
“There is always that turning point,” Marvin said. “My partner and I had broken up (after 27 years). I wasn’t enjoying my job anymore that I used to love. I needed to get out of there; I needed to do something.”
“The more I / we traveled, the more I knew I wanted to spend extended periods living and immersing myself in another culture,” she said. “I enrolled online at the University of Miami of Florida and got my Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification (TEFL). When completed, I took a leave from the YMCA — I ended up making it permanent — after interviewing and getting a job in Paris, France. I was in Paris from August 2014 to February 2015, returned to the USA and knew I had to get back overseas somewhere.
“I took another TEFL course with a school in Beijing, China, after accepting an internship as a teacher in China. What was a six-month stint turned into four years.
“After China, I spent several months working at a school for special-needs children in Bali, Indonesia, and from there I came to Poland with many travels in between.”
She said she believes she has visited 40 countries, plus a few territories, such as Puerto Rico, Aruba (Netherlands), and Hong Kong and Tibet (China).
“The greatest day and memory of my life happened in Warren, Ohio, and not some far-flung place,” Wendy Marvin said. “It was Jan. 9, 2020, the day my brother opened the Robins Theatre. I came from Bali. It took me 53 hours to get home because of problems.”
Her brother, engineer Mark Marvin and his Downtown Development Group firm bought the dormant Robins Theatre in downtown Warren in 2017 and restored it as close as possible to its 1923 showpiece state.
“I can’t think of anything that will top that night for me,” Wendy Marvin said. “Well, maybe if I get to meet the Dalai Lama if I get to India, but …”
Where will she go next?
“The list is never-ending,” Marvin said. “I have signed up with a group called Work Away. I hope to be able to spend a month in India and a month in either Kenya or Tanzania volunteering at a school, (then) back to Egypt to see the Valley of the Kings.
“I want to see the Northern Lights from either Norway, Finland or Sweden. I’ve been to Moscow but want to get to St. Petersburg. I would like to go back to China just to visit. I have never been to South America, so maybe someday just to add continent No. 5.”
ANSWERING THE CALL
For others wishing to experience the world, Marvin has a simple answer:
“You’ve gotta quit making excuses about why you can’t do it,” she said. “There are ways to make it happen. Do your research and don’t make excuses.”
For her, it was aligning herself with organizations that provide English language teachers. Knowing the other language isn’t always necessary, and many times, the clients prefer that the teacher doesn’t know the native language. That forces the students into English immersion. They learn it, or they can’t communicate.
Or, if you’d prefer, travel with her via her Facebook page or her website, “Down the Rabbit Hole: My Adventures in the Middle Kingdom and Beyond” at https://wendyjmarvin.com.
Marvin’s travel blog includes such stories as “That Time I Let a Stranger Bathe Me — My Experience at a Moroccan Hammam,” “Wendy Eat World (with due respect to Jimmy Eat World)” and “You’re Never Too Old To Make Your Life a Story Worth Telling.”
“I like telling stories,” she said. “My website / blog is my way of recording my journey to hopefully put into a book someday.”
It’ll probably happen on the road.