From the Stage to the Classroom: The Multifaceted Journey of Gregory VanderPyl

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Gregory VanderPyl is a senior instructor at the Department of English.

By Tala Zoubi

“I was learning the New York life of a freelancer, of an artist, a bohemian,” said Gregory VanderPyl when describing his move to New York as a newly graduated aspiring actor in the ‘80s. 

With around 50 countries traveled, VanderPyls’s extraordinary journey to becoming an educator has culminated in over 30 years of experience teaching, acting, a delving into the film, theatre and arts industries. 

Born and raised in Rhode Island, USA, VanderPyl gravitated towards the arts initially. He did a bachelor’s in communication with a minor in theatre, later studying theatre, film and art for a semester abroad in London to expand his interest. Exploring Shakespeare, musicals and off-theatre street productions helped him dive further into the field.

After his undergraduate studies, VanderPyl experimented with all types of jobs, ultimately landing in California to pursue acting. He completed an acting and stuntman course and took roles in popular shows like “Baywatch,” “Renegade” and “MacGyver.”

New York City marked the beginning of 12 years of commitment to pursuing traveling, film and visual arts work. 

“I was a production assistant for Micheal Jackson; I drove Michael Jackson on one of his concert tours,” said VanderPyl.

Later, he worked on an independent film that did well on the independent scene. The director of the film offered him free rent in Manhattan.

“Robert De Niro’s restaurant was around the corner, and his house was three blocks down. Matthew Broadrick lived three doors down. Drew Barrymore roamed around the neighborhood all the time. So you go and get your coffees and see them,” VanderPyl said. 

As the independent film did well, VanderPyl and his team were invited to the Munich and Venice film festivals. He decided to travel solo through Europe to attend the festivals.

When he returned to New York, VanderPyl switched gears from acting to art as an artist’s project manager and installing art in galleries with side jobs in independent films. 

However, he got tired of the instability of the field and decided to explore Southeast Asia after a friend’s recommendation.

“Things get rough, and you just get abused, too; you work 16-18 hour days. You get treated like meat. Even as an artist, people would call me at 4 a.m. with ideas, threatening me if I didn’t immediately start working,” said VanderPyl.

As VanderPyl embarked on his journey through South East Asia, his teaching career also began. He tutored English to students in Malaysia and Thailand as an easy and efficient way of making money. 

In Laos, while staying in a stilted guest house above the Mekong River, a significant hurricane destroyed the bungalows and left the owner, Mr. To, with nothing. Mr. To’s generosity inspired VanderPyl to offer to rebuild the entire complex using his experience as a carpenter in the US. Mr. To accepted, and in return, he would provide free food and accommodation during the two-month build. 

Locals all over the island heard about VanderPyls’ work and wanted to employ him to translate menus into English for potential tourists. Local work continued throughout Vietnam and Cambodia, where he met fellow teachers. 

VanderPyl learned the English language’s profound impact on people through his travels and community work and wanted to pursue it professionally.

Memorabilia from his adventures were collected, hoping to publish travel pieces.

“My goal was to write a book or a travel book or at least journal magazine articles about traveling on a shoestring budget,” said VanderPyl.

The memorabilia was eventually published in a famous men’s magazine in Singapore, which helped pay for his daughter’s education.

VanderPyl returned to the US in 2000 to work and earn money to return to Asia and continue teaching. He moved to Seoul, South Korea, for his first official teaching position at a high-end private school. 

While in Seoul for six years, VanderPyl worked with all grade levels, created English campaigns for Samsung, and helped Ph.D. and master’s students write their thesis papers and prepare for interviews.

VanderPyl’s most fulfilling moments were teaching young kids in Seoul. 

Incorporating art into teaching, VanderPyl emphasized the importance of process and development to his kindergarten students. He created a life-size portrait using Gustav Klimts’ painting, revealing one color daily. The project earned recognition from a mother who was an educational psychologist, resulting in a feature story in a major Seoul newspaper.

VanderPyl then decided to pursue a master’s degree. He then taught in Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and now in Sharjah. 

Determination and creativity have a symbiotic relationship in Gregory VanderPyls’ life. Whether paving his way in the film industry as an actor or teaching students worldwide with unique techniques, he continues to pursue his goals no matter where they lead him.