Two Years in the Life of Principal John Dodig
He is there every morning, greeting students as they enter the school from their buses. He makes an announcement on the loud speaker almost every day.
He is a vital part of each and every student’s academic life.
Yet how many people know what Principal John Dodig did before he became an administrator?
Before Dodig became principal of Staples High School, he had an incredible traveling experience that many people are unaware of. After studying at Fairfield University to get his Master’s Degree, Dodig realized that he wanted to travel. After looking into the Peace Corps, he became aware of an opportunity to travel to Alaska, Jamaica, or Baghdad to be a teacher.
Seeing Baghdad as the obvious choice, Dodig began his adventure and traveled overseas to hitchhike all around Europe before reaching Baghdad.
“I started teaching at Al-Hikma University where students could travel to Boston College afterwards,” said Dodig. The school was 15% Jewish.”
In a country where the population of Jews was remarkably lower than 15%, Dodig explained that this large student percentage was a result of native teenagers only being allowed to attend school through high school.
While going to Baghdad is an experience in itself, Dodig’s travels only begun there.
After about a year and six weeks of teaching at Al Hikma, the school was surrounded by Iraqi soldiers under the rule of Saddam Hussein, who were armed and warned the university that they had 48 hours to either expell all of the Jewish kids, or shut down the school completely. The school decided to relocate, however the student teachers were all told that they would be given a ticket to return back home. Dodig, along with his German friend, opted to stay.
“I’ve been to 48 countries,” said Dodig.
Many of these 48 were covered in the months after leaving Al Hikma University. So from Baghdad, Dodig and his friend traveled to Afghanistan, then over to Pakistan, and next to Inida, where they crossed the country using just $3.50 to sit on the top of a bus.
After India they continued hitchhiking to Nepal where they went as high as 12,000ft and slept with water buffalo to stay warm.
Next came Thailand and then Singapore, followed by Japan. There were many other places that were visited, however Dodig described this as the main route of his hitchhiking travels.
Throughout his entire trip, Dodig always had his guitar at hand and found it as a useful assimilation tool.
“It was my first month in Baghdad and there was a faculty party and they asked me to sing,” said Dodig. “So I whipped out my guitar and sang for one hour. It was remarkable. In a country I didn’t know at all, people then knew me.”
Dodig’s guitar was also a source of entertainment for young children in villages who would be entranced at the music he would play.
Dodig also used his guitar as a way to earn money. In places like Paris or Rome, he would open his guitar case and play and sing any song. This would “pay for the hostel for the night.”
This story of Dodig’s post college life is what led to the following Q&A interview:
- Who was the most influential person you met on your travels?
“Father Iarrupe who was known as the black pope. He was the head of the Jesuit order and he was Mexican. He spoke eight different languages. He found value in assimilating into any culture he found himself in. He was just so brilliant.”
- What was the most influential place or thing you saw?
“When in southern Iraq I saw the Marsh Arabs. It’s people who live in marshes on rolls of mud. Each mound is about the size of a room. To get from mound to mound you get in a boat. Saddam Hussein drained these marshes in an attempt to destroy the culture. There was a book written about these marshes and my name was in it. I’ve never met people who’ve lived like that.”
- What inspired you to travel so much?
“I just knew I never wanted to wake up one morning when I was 35 or 55 and want to travel but couldn’t because I had a daughter or a mortgage to pay.”
- What was the major lesson you took out of your experience?
“All people are the same. What people want is to have kids and to provide so that the kids have a better life than they did. And that’s it—people are pretty simple.”
- Is there anything else you would like to say?
“I’m glad I did it. It really helped make me who I am today. I’m accepting because I slept in the homes of people, like in Nepal when I stayed with a family in a hut with no windows and there was awful food that was rancid butter mixed with green tea, but I looked at the face of this women and it broke my heart. I was her guest and this was the best she could do for me and I will never forget her face.”