Savio Wong drinking coffee in anitque cafe in Istanbul

“A lot of people are guided by some sort of career goal, but I often find myself falling into places,” commented Savio Wong (BASC 1984). When Savio graduated from Electrical Engineering at the University of Waterloo and moved out of the Grebel residence, his next steps were uncertain. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and the economy wasn’t great in the late ’80s.” After learning that there were job opportunities for teachers, he made the quick decision to apply to teacher’s college. “I had been a TA in university and enjoyed talking with students, and there were jobs for teachers, so I went.” The first position Savio landed was a two-year contract at Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School. Thirty years, numerous teaching awards, and more than a thousand students later, he retired from that same school.

Although Savio did not plan on pursuing a 32-year teaching career, he thrived in it. “I often would tell my students, it’s not about the job you do, but how you do it,” he reflected. After starting the job and devoting himself to his classes, he soon experienced the fulfillment of a career in education. One of the most rewarding parts of teaching came from “watching students discover or learn something for the first time in their life.”

For Savio, teaching was all about the students. He understood that the lesson content was only as strong as the link between himself and the class. “As a teacher, you need a connection with your students,” he emphasized. “A lot of teaching happens when you’re not teaching. The connection usually takes place outside the textbook.” To foster a friendly rapport with his students, Savio would tell stories about his travels and tried to be funny, although, “it didn’t always work because humour is a little different for younger people,” he joked.

The most impactful way Savio reached his students was through his interest in the class—he wanted to know his students. He listened to stories of their struggles and supported them through challenges, and he was also there to celebrate their victories. Savio’s intentional connection with students left a lasting impact. Past students will sometimes contact him, sharing an experience where they were positively influenced by his teaching. “One student was struggling with calculus, and I recommended an essay about the beauty of mathematics. Later, she told me how meaningful it was for her to read the essay.” There was, however, a cost to the strong connection Savio built between himself and his students. Seven years into his teaching career, the once energized educator burned out.

“In 1992, I needed to take a break, so I took a year off and went travelling through Europe and Asia. It was probably one of the best things I have done for my career,” Savio reflected. Travelling gave him the opportunity to take a step back and reassess his career. “I realized teaching was very important to me, but I needed to pace myself."

Beyond revealing the worth of a career in teaching, travel has demonstrated to Savio the importance of trusting others, revealed the universal nature of people, and shown him the benefits of choosing to “let go and enjoy the moment.” Several years ago, Savio wrote and published an essay on his personal website titled “Why I Travel.” In the introduction he noted, “The world is a classroom.” Wherever Savio travels, he aims to learn something about himself or others.

When travelling, there are three unconventional points of interest Savio visits to enhance his overseas learning: cemeteries, libraries, and minority places of worship. Cemetaries reveal what people choose to remember, libraries show the voices permitted to be heard, and places where minority groups worship unveil a country’s treatment of the ‘Other’. Savio added, “In a Christian country, I try to find mosques and want to know, ‘How is the Muslim doing? And in a Muslim country, I look for churches and like to find out, ‘How is the Christian doing?’” When visiting a new place, he looks past popular attractions into a less common element of tourism: the connections between, and wellbeing of, the people living in the country.

Grebel is one of the most impactful places Savio has visited. When he began living at Grebel in his 2B term in the summer of 1982, Savio was immediately fascinated by the community. “I found the students at Grebel were intensely serious, intellectually curious, and very smart, hardworking people.” He was surprised by the types of conversations students were having and the topics they were curious about. “People were very serious about life and wanted to change the world, and to me, that was such an inspiration. I was 18 or 19 at the time and I realized that we can make the world better.” Savio carried his personal curiosity to Grebel and through late night conversations, chapel evenings, and banter at the dinner table, he realized he was living in a sanctuary of curiosity

Learning is not something that happens passively for Savio. He actively puts himself in a place of discovery. This practice brought Savio to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and held him after class to work with a student struggling in calculus. He encourages current Grebel students to pursue learning in the same way. “Go to Chapel, even just to hear what your peer has to say. Make community a priority because those connections are what you will remember."

Savio did not hold a strict itinerary when he explored Europe; he didn’t have a concrete career path after graduation; and he was unaware of the particulars of teaching before beginning his first class. But on each of these paths, he was guided through curiosity. As a curious traveler, everything—from the massive Library of Sultan Ahmed III to a small bookstore in Hay-on-Wye—intrigues Savio. As a curious teacher, Savio touched the lives of hundreds of students through the interest he took in their struggles and accomplishments. And as a curious person, Savio has, and will, continue through life with a spark of unfading excitement—a treasure worth travelling the world to discover.

Savio's story is part of Grebel's 60 Stories for 60 Years project. Check out our 60 Stories page for more articles in this series. If you would like to nominate a Grebel alumnus to share about their experiences at Grebel, please submit a nomination form.

By Tim Saari

Savio Wong graduated from the University of Waterloo in 1984 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. After graduation, he obtained his B.Ed. degree from the University of Western Ontario and embarked on a fulfilling teaching career at Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School in Baden, where he taught for 32 years until his retirement. During the first half of his teaching career, Savio taught both Computer Science and Mathematics, and in the latter half, he transitioned to becoming a full-time Teacher-Librarian. In his retirement, he continues to indulge in his two passions: books and travel.