Humans of Ransom Everglades: the globetrotting adventures of Dr. Sasha Vliet

Dr. Sasha Vliet, an English teacher who is the current advisor to RE’s Yearbookhas had an interesting life. While Dr. Margini was on paternity leave, Dr. Vliet replaced him for the time being, and she gave a brief summary of her story on the first day of class. Her story begins in Kansas, where she was born, but slowly spreads to every part of the world, from starting a school in the jungles of Central America to visiting the atolls of the Maldives.  

I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Vliet over Google Meet about her world traveling adventures, the life she shares with her son, and the importance of the diversification of education. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.  

Would you like to introduce yourself and how you are related to the Ransom Everglades community? 

Sure, my name is Sasha Marie Vliet, and I am an educator currently working on yearbook, but I filled in for Dr. Margini while he was away on paternity leave. I’m really happy to be part of the Ransom Everglades community, and I’m looking forward to contributing in all the ways I can. 

The first day of class, you briefly described your life story. So, I was wondering if you could give me a little summary of that. 

I think that one thing I didn’t tell you guys was that I was a little girl, and I came home from school one day and threw my backpack down on the floor and started crying and rolling around the carpet. My mother said to me, “What is wrong with you?” and I said, “I found out what I want to do when I grow up,” and she said, “Well, why are you crying about it?” and I said, “Because I want to be a teacher, and nobody cares about teachers!” That’s when I knew I wanted to spend much of my life giving back in that way, and it turns out, I learned along the way that people do care about teachers. I hope that no matter what I’m working on in life, I’ll be able to contribute in that way. 

So, I know that you travel the world with your son, and I was wondering if you could explain how you decided you wanted to do that and how that experience has been.

Thank you for asking. Well, I was always an adventureseeker who found adventure in a variety of ways for my entire lifeand then once I realized that I was having a baby, I realized that I wouldn’t do anything different with a child. I wanted to be able to show him that the ways of learning are most profound when you’re interacting with the world and the people who live in the world. I just committed to myself and to him that that would be, for a very long time, our school. So, whatever I did professionally, I found a way to bring him along and to turn whatever work I was up to into a classroom for him. He fell in love with travel and adventure as much as I did, and it just worked out that we’ve been a pair since then. Obviously, conventional education is important too, but I wanted to make sure he had both worldly and classroom learning under his belt. So that’s where that mission came from. 

If you had to name your favorite place that you’ve been to, what would it be? 

Probably this tiny atoll is the Maldives called NoonuI think, obviously, the most remarkable parts about that location were the sea, sun, sand, and just phenomenal views that don’t exist anywhere else on Earth. Besides all that, what makes that location most remarkable is that, because atolls are made of coral reefs, there’s a chance they won’t stand through time and human involvement. So that place feels precious because it won’t be here for much longer. I feel guilty that I was a human being that walked on the atoll, but also really lucky I got to see it before it’s not there. 

 So, was there ever a father figure in your son’s life, or how did that work out? 

Yeah, his dad lives in the West Indies and is always down there, so we found a way to make it work without him, but he visits often, and when he does, I try to give them time but it’s just like my life, an unconventional kind of dynamic. My son hasn’t known it any other way, so he never had to go through that feeling of, “My parents are divorced.” He’s always been with me, and his dad wanted to be there, but given his work realities, I think we’ve been on the same page in that way, and it’s always just been like that. The most important male in my son’s life was my dad, and when he passed away, even though that was horrible and challenging and traumatic for all of us, I think my son got to see how incredible and graceful and strong my dad was through all of that, so, that’s been a big part of who we are too. 

Moving towards the Ransom Everglades community, how did you decide you wanted to work at Ransom of all schools? 

Well, so, we were in our little town home in Coconut Grove, and I knew that I was going to be traveling a lot but wanted to think about schools for my son when he was ready for high school, which is still six months awaySo I started investigating schools and learned about Ransom Everglades and the community commitment to giving back, and that really struck a chord with me. I then realized that I wasn’t going to be traveling much when the pandemic hit, so I saw there was a need for an English teacher and I just jumped in. 

Dr. Vliet with her son, Sebi. (Courtesy of Dr. Vliet)

You briefly mentioned that the pandemic has cut off your travels for now, but after this is all said and done, do you still plan on traveling the world? 

Yeah, I miss it a lot. It has been very difficult for me to sit in one place, but being with you guys has made this pandemic so much sweeter. I can’t imagine anyone on Earth that can call the pandemic sweet, but the time with you guys has been, and I hope I’ll always be connected to the school and close with you all. I’m sure one day the world will open back up again, and when it does, I’ll find another adventure, but until then, I’ve loved being close with you guys. 

Do you have a dream destination that you have yet to visit, or have visited everywhere you’ve wanted to? 

Of course. I feel like everywhere on Earth is special, and I love learning about places wherever I am. It doesn’t have to be a deluxe hotel or a resort or a, you know, jungle tree house, but those one-of-a-kind experiences are always my favorite, because you feel like the experience is yours and yours alone. I’m always seeking those out. I think I have a safari in mind for my next adventure. I’ve done versions before, but I’ve never spent time in the Serengeti, so I think that might be next on the list. 

I know you’ve mentioned your favorite place, but has there been a certain experience that sticks out to you as your favorite? 

Yes. I was teaching for a while in the jungle of Central America, and I helped establish a little jungle school there. This was back when I was 20, and the rich people helped fund the school. The man there told me, before I even started working there, that I would never succeed, but that he would give me a shot. So I was there by myself, speaking a version of Spanish that wasn’t the version I had learned. I learned my Spanish in Mexico City, which is a very specific type of Spanish, and in this jungle, everyone grew up speaking their native language, which was not Spanish, so the Spanish was very much a Creole type of SpanishThere was no running water or electricity, and all of that was a challenge, but having someone tell me that I would never be able to teach these students was a challenge that I didn’t expect. We ended up surprising everyone, and the students learned a lot ,and I learned a lot. I think that experience has always stood out to me as a success, not just because I made it through the jungle but because they actually enjoyed the learning experience. I think that’s the best part about teaching, when it feels like a mutual joy. You can tell when students aren’t feeling it, and students can tell when teachers aren’t either. 

Considering that you’ve traveled all over the world and learned about all these different cultures, do you have any advice for seniors at Ransom who are going to be entering the next stage of their life? 

Yes, but it would infuriate the school and your parents. I think if you can travel before you go to college, you should. If we weren’t in a pandemic, that is. I know that right after high school, if I had had the chance to go out for a year to see the world and then start college, I would have been so much more ready for a better college experience. I had a great four years in college, a great time with my friends, but I was starting college with a little conventional learning burnout. I think that if I had spent a year just being around the world, I would have jumped into college with a better mentality.