I spent my college years studying to become a teacher. Now, my studies are radically different, revolving around engines, mileage, and car parts.

I spent the last eight years studying to become a teacher in the German public school system. My days were filled with thinking about literature and the declination of German articles and how to motivate students. It was also about writing, but those were scientific papers, relating the ancient Hungarians to characters in Game of Thrones, how to get a class to research their family history, the role of the city of Chicago in The Jungle. I spent a lot of time talking about German as a foreign language, and using it in everyday life.

Since then, my course of study has radically changed, and everything is different. Now I study engines. I learn about distributors, figure out which ones are better than others, study which ones are more energy-efficient based on gas-milage data. Discussions roam around the sound of fan belts, when to change the oil, valve adjustments. I’ve attended weekend seminars on the topics of brakes, wheel bearings, and CV joints. Done intense research on oil leaks. How to Keep your Volkswagen Alive: a Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Complete Idiot  and the Bentley manual are my textbooks, the Samba and the Itinerant Air-Cooled are my online reading. I admit, I still have many pages to go, but hey, I’m just at the beginning.


I had the privilege of explaining to a VW newbie what spark plugs do the other day. In case you were wondering, spark plugs carry the electrical current to the pistons of the car, creating a spark that, thanks to the distributor, lights at the exact right moment in order to create a small and controlled burn to push the piston up and down and propel the engine forward. I’ve never even seen a piston, although that surely also has a place in the curriculum. I have spent a bit of time with the spark plugs themselves though. I know how to change them, where to look up what the ends should look like (“A good plug has a light brown surface”, according to The Idiot’s Guide). I know how to pull them in order to do a compression test, to check the pressure of the engine. I knew nothing about spark plugs before I started all of this.


In addition to these, other topics come into play. Advanced free camping. Off-grid hygiene. Advanced article writing. How to maintain a blog. Beginners photography and film. North American geography. Household economics and resource management. Other subjects that are somehow related. Together, these topics slowly train us to become very good at living in our Bus. I don’t really know what this degree will be called. Vanlife? VWlife? Maybe something like that. I don’t really know what exactly we will use it for afterwards, but like teaching, I’m sure it offers many useful skills for life in general. Which is, after all, the whole point.


About Author


Emma is a writer, traveler, and teacher. She co-runs this blog and is currently traveling in her VW Bus “Big Emma” from Alaska to Argentina. She loves everything colorful and occasionally licks a rock. She doesn’t believe in mustard.


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