Five Questions … With Marianne Bohr, Teacher, Redland Middle School
She can’t quite pinpoint where she got the bug. Maybe it was from her grandparents, since they traveled often and took Bohr and some of her 10 siblings on trips to Bermuda and New England. Or maybe from her high school French teacher, who later inspired her to become a teacher. Or maybe it’s just a sense of adventure she seems to have been born with.
Raised in a strict Roman Catholic family on Long Island, N.Y., Bohr’s mother was Irish and her father is Mexican. She is the oldest of 11 children. Her father worked for GE and her mother was a teacher before she got married.
“I was born 10 months to the day after they got married,” she says. “Growing up, it was organized madness. It was quite organized and quite strict. I was 16 when my youngest brother was born. As soon as I could drive, I was cooking, doing the food shopping and babysitting.”
She met her now-husband Joe while they were in high school. They started dating their senior year. Bohr received her undergraduate degree in French from the College of Holy Cross; she later got an MBA from the University of Maryland. Joe has had a long career as a marine engineer, and has worked for the Department of Defense, NOAA and NAVSEA.
Bohr spent more than 30 years in the world of marketing and book publishing before deciding it was time for a change. She settled on teaching as her next step. She was 55 years old when she did her student teaching. She is now in her fourth year teaching at Redland Middle School in Rockville.
“I was in the corporate world and my salary and compensation put my kids through college,” Bohr says. “Things were changing quite a bit in the industry with the advent of technology and it was no longer about relationships with people in bookstores or relationships with people in the media to try to get coverage. It was all going to social media and technology. I missed all those personal relationships that used to be so important. I was kind of getting burned out.”
For all of their lives together, Bohr and her husband had planned to sell off most of their belongings, take a year off and travel. It would be what they called “a gap year.”
The couple spent time abroad while in high school, and fell in love with it. They decided that it would not be the last time. No matter what came in the years ahead—children, a mortgage, parental illness or other concerns—they would be back.
“We were just like, ‘This can’t be all there is. It can’t be that we did this trip and that’s it,’” Bohr remembers. “Once we realized we were going to get married, we made a pact that at some point in our careers, we would do this. We weren’t going to wait until we were retired and have bad knees, a bad hip or a sick parent.”
Whenever they had a chance, they talked about their gap year. Still, they went on with regular life, raising their children, doing the carpools and the school plays, and putting them through college.
And so, it happened that in 2011, after their children graduated from college, they quit their jobs, sold their house and their cars and got rid of 70 percent of their possessions and lived their dream. They left the U.S. for a year abroad. They left with a tentative list of countries to visit, a budget and a few plans in place (including a non-negotiable month in Paris). They had no grand plan.
In that year, they experienced 21 countries. Bohr chronicles their journey in a book published last year, Gap Year Girl.
The logistics of a move like that have to be overwhelming. How do you even begin?
I’m the oldest of 11 children. I’m not a pack rat. Mom and dad were both pretty organized. If you raise two kids and you live in a house for awhile, you accumulate stuff. I’m not a total minimalist but I don’t like clutter.
We had a house in North Potomac. Just before the kids graduated from high school, we went into a townhouse. That’s the one we sold, and part of the proceeds from that financed our trip.
There were some things we knew off the bat.
We always had the plan that we would rent an apartment and stay in Paris for a month. Always knew we would leave right after Labor Day, because airfares drop significantly then. In the year leading up to the trip, I penciled things in that came up or things we knew we wanted to do. We wanted to spend time on the Greek islands when it was warm, so we went late April/May. We knew the kids would come around Christmas and that they are skiers; the cheapest skiing is in Italy so we penciled that in. We kept thinking about how much we would be drinking and eating. So my husband and I decided to run the Paris Marathon on April 15. Another thing that I read about 20 years ago was the Tour du Mont Blanc, a long-distance walk through Italy, France and Switzerland, so we wrote in a week for that.
More than anything, what you need is commitment. Almost to the point of, ‘I don’t care what gets in the way.’ I have friends and other people who will say to me, ‘I could never do what you did.’ And I’ll say, ‘Sure you can. Sell your house.’ And they’ll say, ‘What? I could never sell my house!’ You’ve got to be willing to do some of that. My husband and I are very fortunate. We’ve both got two master’s degrees. We were fairly certain when we got back that we could get jobs. We were willing to live pretty frugally when we came back. It can be done.
What was your first job with MCPS and how did it come about?
When I was coming to the end of my career in marketing and book publishing, I thought it was a logical break. I planned the move into education for more than five years before I did it. I talked to my daughter’s French teacher at Wootton; she said, ‘You’re crazy.’ I have remained in touch with my high school French teacher. He lives in Tuscon; he thought it was a fabulous idea.
I got a master’s in education from the University of Phoenix online. For someone working full-time, it was a terrific program. They did all the arrangements with MCPS for me to student teach for three months; I did that at Takoma Park Middle School.
When I did the student teaching, I was nervous. I wasn’t a kid; I was just turning 55. Student teaching is like cooking in someone else’s kitchen while they’re watching you; it’s nerve-wracking.
But as soon as I got over my jitters, I knew it was right. I really love middle school kids. They can be very open and funny. I have a group of kids come to my classroom every day and have lunch. It’s a quiet place. They want to get away from the madness of the cafeteria and the whole social thing of who’s sitting with who. Usually it’s quiet and I’m doing grades. Sometimes, we talk or they talk with each other.
We returned from Europe in late August 2012. I applied to MCPS around Sept. 20 and was called in within a week. I started teaching French at Redland on Oct. 23. It was a part-time job, which I was thrilled with because it let me get my feet wet. The next year, I taught ESOL in addition to French and they offered me a full-time job, which was perfect.
Now, I teach five classes. I teach three French classes, a reading class, and an Awareness of Language and Culture class.
Why is travel so important in your life?
I have such wanderlust. I love that you don’t know what’s coming around the corner, the unpredictability. I like meeting different and interesting people. Once you’ve been to a place, any time you hear any news about it, it has so much more meaning and it comes alive. You can imagine it so much better. When those bombings happened in Paris, I knew what those corners looked like and I knew where those cafes were. I could empathize with the people. I love the perspective that it gives me to not just think that Rockville or Maryland or the U.S. is the center of the universe.
Adventure doesn’t have to end when you’re 18 or 21 or 25 or after you get married or after you have kids. I think we all need adventure. So many people I know actively seek to avoid it. They’ll say, ‘Oh, I don’t know how it’s going to end, I don’t speak the language, I can’t go there because I’ve never been there.’ Adventure makes life interesting, it helps you grow and it keeps you young.
How did the book come about?
The book was published in September 2015. There wasn’t a plan to write a book. I started writing a blog a year before we left. I thought that it would be a way to capture things we were thinking about, things we did and things we learned with preparing. I really enjoying the writing and editing. Only my best friends and family knew about the blog. When we went over, they said, ‘You have to keep doing this because we want to know where you are and what you’re doing. The more I did it, the more I loved it. Then I had a few people tell me how much they enjoyed reading it and that I had to turn it into a book. So when we got back, I created a manuscript, hired an editor and found a publisher.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
I’m always planning trips. I write travel articles that I’m trying to get placed. I do a lot of hiking. I go along the C&O canal. Maybe twice a year, I’ll go to Shenandoah [National Park] and hike up Old Rag.
This year, my husband and I both turn 60 and we’ll be married 35 years. In August, we’re doing the GR 20, a hike across Corsica. This is a hike where you sleep in outdoor refuges or huts.
I do a lot of iChatting with my kids. They’re both in California. My daughter Caroline is a NICU nurse in San Jose. My son Chris does graphics and editing for Univision in L.A. I spend the summers in California.
Last summer while I was out there, I went to a writers’ conference in Marin County. If my kids are at work, I’ll just go hiking.