Five places that changed my life: Eddie Woo, mathematician and educator

KUALA LUMPUR

I was born in Australia and have lived my entire life here, but my parents were born in Malaysia and I grew up eating my mum's amazing Malaysian cooking. When going there, I got into the authentic food – especially the street hawkers who grill their satay skewers and other delicacies with bare flames and lots of love. They remind me of my mum, who passed away in 2004. Food is such an important part of our sense of belonging and identity. Malaysia reminds me of that.

SINGAPORE

In 2017, I went on a one-week study tour to see Singapore's high-performing education system. Aside from the schools, I loved the beautiful gardens. The Gardens by the Bay were breathtaking, and I could have spent an entire day just in the National Orchid Garden within the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Mathematics is about order and precision, and it was fascinating to me to see a culture that abides by those principles in everything, from teaching to its urban footprint.

DUBAI

In March this year, I was privileged to represent Australia at the Global Teacher Prize in Dubai. There's a reason it's often called The Las Vegas of the Middle East. As you fly over the desert, this oasis of a city seems to appear out of nowhere. I stayed at the Atlantis on the Palm – an incredible feat; a completely man-made landmass that looks like it should be physically impossible. For me, being passionate about seeing human beings reach their potential and exceed their own expectations of that, Dubai was inspiring.

UGANDA

I spent a week working in rural Uganda with schools that are funded by the School for Life Foundation, an Australian charity. Getting up close with the wildlife was life changing. But spending time in Uganda reaffirmed for me the incredible power of education, which was opening career doors and extending lifetimes for the students fortunate enough to enjoy the care of the School for Life teachers.

RIVERINA, NEW SOUTH WALES

Working for the NSW Department of Education gives me wonderful opportunities to travel around the state and work in regional areas. While much of inland Australia is characterised by those famous sunburnt plains, the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area is a marvel of human engineering that allows the region to be one of the most fertile areas of NSW. For me, seeing the ingenuity of the locals who transformed an arid area into a vibrant and living place was an incredible emblem of the indomitable human spirit.

Eddie Woo teaches mathematics at Cherrybrook Technology High School in Sydney and is the creator of the popular online maths tutorial channel Wootube. He was named NSW Local Hero at the 2018 Australian of the Year awards and was also shortlisted for the Top Ten Teachers of the World. His new book, Woo's Wonderful World of Maths (Pan Macmillan, $29.99) is out now. See panmacmillan.com.au

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