No, She’s Not There Yet!
June 2022 Issue
by Dale Barr
Photography provided by Tennille Scheriff
With the stamps of 40 countries (and counting) on her passport, Tennille Scheriff gives new meaning to the word “wanderlust.” “I always had curiosity about the world,” Tennille explained, crediting teenage missionary trips and ten years of military service for feeding her travel bug earlier in life.
Pursuing a career as a teacher and literary coach, Tennille moved to Bluffton in 2002. Named Beaufort County School District’s Teacher of the Year in 2010, Tennille spent 17 years teaching in the Lowcountry while raising her son. About 15 years ago, when her son was grown, she began taking backpacking trips during her summer and holiday breaks. Four years ago, she moved to Thailand, where she stayed for a couple years before becoming the Teaching and Learning Coordinator for the American Embassy Schools in India.
“I’m taking everything I learned in Beaufort County and sharing it around the world,” she said. “Traveling for me has been life-altering. I’m able to do what I love and see the world at the same time.”
For the past two years, Tennille has enjoyed long weekends and extended holiday breaks exploring India and nearby destinations. Although she researches her destinations carefully, she doesn’t enlist the help of tour guides. She maps out high-level itineraries but isn’t worried about how she’ll get from Point A to B.
“You have to have a spirit of openness to what’s about to happen, to go where you haven’t gone, to do things you haven’t done before, and to think intelligently in circumstances that are uncertain.”
In one such uncertain circumstance, she hitchhiked (though she likes to say she “carpooled”) in a toilet paper truck to reach her destination! “I was waiting on this corner for quite a while...with four boys who were there with their sheik…and they’d say, ‘No, don’t go with them, don’t go with them!’ Then I saw this big toilet paper truck going by and I said, ‘Yes! They got to be going to all the resorts in Maasai Mara!’ So, I jumped in this truck and it was fantastic! I learned all about the culture.”
Though her spirit of adventure may sometimes worry her family, Tennille remains undaunted. “I think the media feeds into our perception of the world outside our comfort zone,” she said. “The adventurous soul needs to have an open heart and be open to tolerance, acceptance and appreciation of other cultures.”
When the pandemic struck, Tennille was on her way from Thailand to Bluffton for her sister’s wedding. As lockdowns began, she first sought shelter in a monastery, then with a local family in Myanmar. As rules got stricter, Tennille was locked down in a tiny guest house with two Ukrainian travelers. “The locals would bring us fish and food. They made sure we were taken care of.”
Despite circumstances, Tennille saw the bright side of things. “You can say, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening!’ or ‘I have the opportunity to really learn about the culture of Myanmar and the people.’”
In the hostels and guest houses where she stays, Tennille often gets advice from travelers who have been, or are going, to places she wants to visit. Sometimes they point her in new directions altogether. In Vietnam, she heard such wonderful things about the Hmong tribe to the north that she jumped on a sleeping bus and headed for Sapa. After winding at high speeds along mountainous roads without guard rails (an experience she describes as “awesome!”), she was greeted at the bus stop by Hmong women eager to show her their tourist welcoming business.
“These Hmong women have built a resourceful business. I went to a Hmong wedding and learned that many get married very, very young — at 14, 15 — and all they want is an education…they can speak perfect English but they have no written language, so none of them can write English, and you can’t respond to customers online if you can’t email them back…just listening to their stories … it was impactful for me.”
A recurring message that Tennille hears from locals is the desire for continued education. “I have met children and adults alike who have never attended school, but are brilliant in ways of navigating life that we don’t typically quantify.”
With global education needs outmatching the number of teachers available, educators like Tennille, who are as passionate about seeing the world as they are about giving back, can make an enormous difference. But Tennille encourages anyone interested in living and working abroad to go for it. “Be open to working in new environments and situations. There are jobs out there you don’t even know exist!”
Next stop for Tennille? Right now, her eye is on Ecuador but Antarctica is also on the list. “My goal is all seven continents before 50!” she said.
What do you miss most about the Lowcountry when you’re away? Shrimp and grits, live music, the beauty of the sky, clean air and water and marsh grass.
If you could have dinner with any famous person, dead or alive, who would it be and why? Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. The Book of Joy is a reminder that every day is an opportunity to have joy. It’s aspirational.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want to have with you? Mascara, a machete and music!
What tips would you give someone traveling to a country where they don’t speak the language? Sometimes you just need to learn a few words like “food,” “drink” and the name of the local beer! And, sometimes you have to play a game of charades, too!
What advice would you give someone whose commitments (work, caring for family, etc.) don’t give them the freedom to travel internationally? Explore the world around you! Visit the Heyward House, discover Pritchard Pocket Park, listen to a local band, explore the sea islands, learn about the Gullah culture.