Carroll native Dan Orlano stands in front of the London Eye on one of his first visits to the city.
Carroll native Dan Orlano stands in front of the London Eye on one of his first visits to the city.
September 20, 2013

On Aug. 17, 28-year-old Carroll native Dan Orlano left the town he had called home his entire life, and crossed the Atlantic Ocean with nothing but a suitcase full of clothes. More than eight hours and 4,000 miles later, he landed in England.

"I've always wanted to travel the world. I felt like the time was right for me to do that," he said. "Carroll will always be the place I consider home, but it was my time to really go and see things I've never seen before. It was my time to go and move across the country and not know a single soul, because I could."

Orlano said it took him two days to recover from jet lag. He spent those two days getting to know 11 other new hires before the group moved to the campus of TASIS, The American School in England, where Orlano will spend the next year teaching fourth-grade students. This year will mark Orlano's seventh in teaching, and his fifth with fourth-graders.

The private school caters to families involved in the international business community. It is located Thorpe, Surrey, a small village about 40 minutes outside of London. The village has two businesses - a convenience store and a pub, the central meeting place for drinkers and non-drinkers alike, and the first stop when the school cafeteria food doesn't make the cut.

"It's a huge stereotype, but they do have quite a bit of fish, fish and chips, meat pies," Orlano said, admitting that adjusting to the different food has been one of the biggest challenges of the move. On his first trip into London, he grabbed dinner at a Burger King.

"I was dying for a chicken sandwich and fries," he said with a laugh.

Despite his cravings for American food, Orlano said that sampling the local cuisine has helped "open his eyes to different cultures." His fellow teachers and students have also begun to teach him about their cultures. Orlano estimates that 50 nationalities are represented at the school. Though his own students are all Americans, Orlano is also a dorm parent, in charge of 13 high school boys during the week. The individuals hail from Spain, Greece, Austria, Egypt and Belgium, to name a few - Orlano is the only American living on his floor.

"It's interesting for me to talk to these guys," Orlano said. "It's a fun learning experience."

He has noticed differences in forms of greeting, fashion and vocabulary. In the Spanish culture, it is common for the boys to hug and kiss on the cheeks when they meet, an action Orlano never saw in his seven years in Iowa school hallways. Clothing is not baggy. In English slang, nice guys are called "blokes," girls can be called "birds," moms are called "mums" and pants are called "trousers," while "pants" refers to underwear.

"I got in a bit of trouble," Orlano said with a laugh. "You say, 'I spilled something on my pants,' and people look at you like, 'Why would you say that in public?'"

Orlano also finds himself afraid to cross the road.

"I don't know where they're coming from or turning to, I always look 100 times before I cross the road," he said. "Everything seems extremely backwards, the roads are so narrow, it feels like you could get into an accident at any time because the margin of error is so slim."

But it's a small price to pay to have the world at his fingertips.

One mile from a train station, Orlano has a straight shot into downtown London, where he has been to watch a football (soccer) game, visited the London Eye (giant Ferris wheel on the Thames River) and Big Ben, and taken a tour of the Harry Potter film studio. Orlano is also a short 15-minute taxi ride from the airport, where $80 and a short flight would allow him to spend a Saturday in Milan, Italy.

"It's the same cost as going (from Carroll) to spend the day in Iowa City for a football game," he said. "It's crazy how close everything is and the travel opportunities here."

Except for a fishing trip to Canada, Orlano had never before been outside the United States, and he is the only teacher he has met at the school who has never been to any European country other than England. But that won't be the case for long. His current position includes room and board, leaving Orlano with no expenses. He already has plans to host a school trip to Rome, Italy, and has booked flights to Lisbon, Portugal, and Krakow, Poland. Orlano also hopes to visit Spain, is only a few hours from Paris, and said that he would love to visit Egypt if the social and political issues settled down.

For the moment, he is content to visit landmarks in England, all of which are still new to him. Windsor Castle is only 10 miles from the school while Virginia Lake, a location used frequently in the Harry Potter films, is a mere three-mile jog, which Orlano makes several times a week.

"I want to have as much fun as I possibly can and take advantage of this opportunity," Orlano said.

He received the opportunity after attending an international teaching job fair organized annually by the University of Northern Iowa. While discussing the fair with Bill Baddeley, a fellow staff member in the Carroll School District where Orlano taught four years before moving overseas, Baddeley told him that he had a friend working at TASIS. Baddeley's friend connected Orlano with the headmaster. After a 30-minute interview, Orlano was offered the job.

Both his class size and classroom in England are smaller than in Carroll. The majority of students attend the school for only one to three years before their parents move. They regularly participate in exploratory classes, such as drama and foreign language or other topics U.S. students often don't study until they reach high school. Despite the different environments, Orlano said, a fourth-grader is a fourth-grader.

"They want to feel like they're successful, cared for, important," he said. "That's no different in Adams or Fairview (elementary schools in Carroll)."

Orlano said he misses his friends in Iowa and still gets up every Saturday to check how Carroll High School's football team did, stopping mid-sentence via Skype to exclaim, "There are those Carroll trains I've been missing!"

He appreciates the support from everyone back home. His mother, Wilma Orlano, is a family consumer science teacher in the Carroll district. His father, Bill Orlano, is a guidance counselor in the Coon Rapids-Bayard Community School District.

Orlano added that emails he receives from former students help remind him why he does what he does.

"One of the things I try to get students to do is not be afraid to take a risk, to do something outside their comfort zone," Orlano said. "I hope to inspire them to do something similar."