A Tangent to Traveling

Math Teacher Reflects on his World Travels


CIRCLING THE WORLD Radu Toma finds value in experiencing different ways of life, whether it is exploring the beaches of Uruguay or the metropolis of Hong Kong. “I am fortunate to be able to constantly broaden my horizons and learn about the geography, history, culture [and] archaeology all over the world,” Toma says. Photo by Megan Chai

Megan Chai and Kamala Varadarajan

From racing a Formula One car in Abu Dhabi to seeing lion cubs in Johannesburg, Palo Alto High School teacher Radu Toma, who teaches Geometry A and Algebra 2 / Trigonometry Honors, has traveled around the globe. Tasting regional cuisines and meeting local people, Toma immersed himself in diverse cultures in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. Via Verde interviewed Toma over email to learn about his global experiences and the valuable insight his travels have imparted to him.

Via Verde: What have you learned from your trips?

Radu Toma: The world is hugely diverse. Sceneries, lifestyle[s], standard of living, architecture, cultural values, history [and] art …  differ a lot from one continent to another, from one country to another, and from one region [or] city to another in the same country too. At the same time, there are many things most people have in common, independent of the country or region they live in: family matters, friends matter [and] most people are courteous and welcoming towards visitors.

VV: Have you met anyone or done anything that has changed your perspective?

RT: For me, the most troubling aspect of travel is seeing how hugely unfair life is. How lucky some of us are to be born in a stable, prosperous, rich democracy like the US, and how [others face] worse odds, who otherwise may have the same intellectual capacity, drive and work ethic we do, have to deal with just because they were born in a less fortunate place. On a happier note, it is enlightening to see how resilient people are and how little correlation there is between people’s happiness and their … material possessions.

VV: Have you had any funny or weird experiences while traveling?

RT: The cutest encounters? One [monkey in Gibraltar] had the audacity to enter our car through the open window, steal my wife’s bag of chips and before we knew it, escape back out … The weirdest? Unplanned encounters with old friends and [former] students in the most unexpected places: in downtown Tbilisi, Estonia, on the Great Wall in China and on a cruise ship in Patagonia.

VV: How have your travels affected you as a person or as a teacher?

RT: It helps to have seen a large part of the world and experienced, even if only at a superficial level, many different cultures. It puts things in perspective: taught me do’s and don’ts, how to appreciate what I have and strive to achieve the achievable. … It taught me to care about the environment, to worry about the have not’s, the uneducated, the less fortunate and to admire people[’s] drive, optimism and desire to improve the lives of their loved ones.