The world is this Islander’s oyster: Heather Woodward has girdled the globe

Heather Woodward has girdled the globe

Lance Shearer

Heather Woodward has racked up some serious frequent flier miles. 

After growing up on Marco Island all her life, she has made the world her oyster, living and working in countries all over Asia and traveling to countries all over the globe. Her world tour recently made a stop back in her childhood home on Marco, in between a trip to Tennessee for a family reunion and a jaunt to Central and South America to visit destinations including Machu Picchu and Costa Rica. 

Woodward, the daughter of longtime Marco Island attorney Craig Woodward, graduated from the University of Florida in Gainesville, and had initially planned to follow in her father’s footsteps and go to law school. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa with degrees in classics and philosophy but found that she was moved to become a teacher rather than a lawyer. 

Feeding the monkeys in Pushkar, India. Heather Woodward, daughter of Marco Islander Craig Woodward, has lived all over Asia and traveled all over the world.

She also moved to China, studying abroad for two semesters in England and Italy instilled a desire to gain deeper experience of the world’s many diverse cultures. She taught high school students in Daoxian, and then middle school students in Xi’an to speak English, over the course of a two-year stay, far beyond the normal tourist stops in the world’s oldest civilization. 

Heather’s China experience was followed by four years in Ho Chi Minh City – the former Saigon – where she taught English to pupils as young as four, and all the way to adults, at a private language academy in Vietnam. For the past three years, she has taught in Japan, first at the Misaki Middle School in Isumi, and then in the JET program at Takeyhaya High School in Tokyo. There, in addition to teaching students directly, she developed communication materials for JTEs, or Japanese teachers or English. 

Along the way, Woodward also furthered her own education, earning a master’s degree in education specializing in language at Temple University in Tokyo. The only downside to the advanced degree, she said, was that the level of coursework required made her pare down her international travel schedule. 

Not content with living in exotic locales, Heather regularly jetted off to visit additional countries from her Asian jumping off points. While living abroad, she also squeezed in time for trips to 

Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Borneo, Palau, Australia, the Philippines, India, Nepal, Taiwan and Tibet. 

Heather Woodward visiting her parents' condo overlooking Caxambas Pass. Woodward, daughter of Marco Islander Craig Woodward, has lived all over Asia and traveled all over the world.

While Tibet is technically part of China, it is vastly more difficult to obtain permission to travel there, and an entirely separate culture, said Woodward. It created other challenges, too, she said. 

“I had altitude sickness my first night in Tibet,” she said, not surprising for the Himalayan outpost known as “the roof of the world.” 

She is not letting any such concerns dissuade her from visiting the old Inca capital of Machu Picchu in Peru. Travel, said Woodward, “has always given me a high. I learn so much – it’s an incredible rush of energy.” 

She immersed herself in the culture of the countries she visited, learning to play the dan tranh, a Vietnamese harp and accompanying herself vocally during her time in Ho Chi Minh City, and creating paintings in the tradition of Japan and India. She also, in addition to helping hundreds or thousands of Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese students learn English, found time to volunteer at senior shelters. 

Heather also learned the art of cooking in Asian styles, a skill she put to use when Craig and Bonnie Woodward hosted a get-together for a group of Marco Island friends during her visit. She made tomato egg, a Chinese dish not among the Americanized Chinese food we often find in this country, and a lemon grass chicken with a fish sauce that horrified her stepmother when she smelled it on its own before it was incorporated into the meal. 

With the master’s degree under her belt, and her contract teaching in Tokyo completed, Heather is hoping her next move will take her to a myriad of countries. She has applied to be a teacher on the “Peace Boat,” a floating language lab which is scheduled to circumnavigate the world during a three-month voyage from December to March, with port calls including Madagascar, Cape Town, Valparaiso, Rio de Janiero, Tahiti and Bora Bora, beginning and ending in Yokohama. 

It’s hard to imagine a better confluence of a teacher and a position than the Peace Boat and Heather Woodward.