Teaching During a Pandemic: A Teacher Abroad

By Amanda WhittenSelfie of Amanda Whitten while abroad teaching during a pandemic.

Catch up on Amanda’s first interview before joining her for the second part of her three-part interview!

This has been one of the weirdest years ever for me, not just for teaching, but in general. I’m sure that the same could be said for everyone else, as well. It’s been transformative in a number of ways, which I’ll get to in a moment. This year has affected my relationships with my students, my co-workers, and even myself. One thing is for sure: the world is changing and we must adapt to it. Read on to find out how I adapted to teaching during a pandemic!

What is a typical day at your school like? 

Pre-coronavirus, I typically arrived 20-30 minutes before class because of the public transportation schedule. As soon as I arrived, I’d head to the English department room, my safe haven, and hideout. Then, I’d check to make sure that I had all my ducks in a row and that I knew what I was supposed to be doing for each of my classes. I’d also make any last-minute necessary lesson plans or preparations and basically mentally prepare myself to go into performance mode. If I had any extra time, I’d go downstairs to the cafeteria to have a coffee and chat with any of the teachers already there.

This year, classes ranged from about 9:25am to 2:00pm, which is a pretty easy schedule, I’d say. Some days, I’d have a planning period, and other days I’d have a constant stream of classes apart from one break from 11:10am to 11:40am.

Afterwards, I’d rush home, eat very quickly, and then rush back into the world to go to my private lessons, academy classes, or whatever else I had going on. Of course, I had to adjust to teaching during a pandemic, so that all changed. I spent more time doing hobbies such as painting, and am really proud of how much I’ve grown as an artist so far! 

Teaching During a Pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic initially began, I’d wake up an hour early, eat breakfast, shower, prepare my headset, laptop, and generally wait attentively to see if any students needed any help or wanted to talk in general. Other than that, I just uploaded their various activities and scheduled them to appear during class time. Kahoot and Educaplay were invaluable online resources for making quizzes about literally anything that the students could complete. 

After a while, other than the occasional video call, I started waking up two minutes before class because I had discovered, much to my lazy side’s delight, that Google classroom could be downloaded on cell phones. Then I could lazily browse and be “present” in class while laying in bed. A difficult and tiresome job, really.  

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

I interact frequently with a nucleus of about four to five teachers, but usually there are many more who actually teach at the school. At IES Pablo Neruda, I had sixteen classes and therefore, had sixteen working hours. 

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

I considered myself very lucky at what was, until June 30th, my current school. With a good rapport with all of the teachers I worked with, I developed what I would consider actual friendships with at least three of them. I really admire all of the teachers I personally worked with and basically feel that I won the lottery. All I wanted was to feel respected, appreciated, and accepted here in Spain. They did an amazing job of doing that for me. It was and is mutual. Even while teaching during a pandemic, I can honestly say these were the best coworkers I’ve had so far in Spain.

Amanda Whitten and Leganes while Amanda was abroad teaching during a pandemic

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

I would say that I had a few favorite groups that I really enjoyed working with. A bachillerato group I worked with always reacted enthusiastically to my activities whether an introduction to country music (seeing these kids goofily sing Garth Brooks literally made my year) or getting into heated debates, I had so much fun. I also really enjoyed teaching my 1st eso kids, which are pretty much 6th graders. They are still so full of excitement for learning. They loved telling me about their favorite foods and what they did on the weekends. How could I not adore them? 

I have a few favorite students scattered here and there: naughty ones who could make me laugh as well as academic and friendly ones who enjoyed interacting with me. All of these students made my days more enjoyable. While I can’t say that I had a specific favorite part of each day, I can say that I had certain highlights during the week. It makes leaving this part of my life behind all the more bittersweet.

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

It really depends on whichever teacher is in charge. For example, one teacher may prefer to heavily rely on going through the book via a program on the computer. This makes it easy to correct and grade exercises as a group. Others focus on using their book as a guideline, choosing to focus more on activities and conversation. The former may be easier, but it is so much more boring for both me and the students. The latter can be more challenging, but it is so much more fun and engaging, provided the students are interested. 

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

Some classes required no preparation whatsoever. One teacher would give me the page numbers and exercises to correct via the computer program, and that was it. Usually, I was told that I had the freedom to come up with extra activities, but since these instructions were usually given right before class or the day before, I rarely ever knew what we were going to be going over. And for those classes, the activities were meant to “complement” the lesson, not detract. 

For other classes, I would be given a topic to make a presentation on or perhaps a topic to practice conversation around. These practice conversations would be easy enough to research a bit, and perhaps make a PowerPoint if necessary. 

Amanda Whitten pointing at a frog while abroad in Madrid teaching during a pandemic

Still, others would have me go over certain pages in the book, but without an answer key. I usually answered the questions myself before class so that I didn’t embarrass myself in front of the kids, teens, or even literal adults. 

Fortunately for me, I never had to worry about teaching actual grammar at this school, thank goodness. The teachers left the listening and conversation practice up to me, for the most part. And if there’s anything that I apparently have a gift for, it is a gift for gab. 

Do you work at a bilingual school? Is English being taught as a subject or throughout all classes?

I have worked at a bilingual school in the past, but I much preferred working at a traditional school. The reason being is that it’s difficult to teach technical concepts such as art theory or, god forbid, science and math, to even the most academically advanced students. Yes, I much prefer the straightforwardness of teaching ESL English in English classes rather than English through a different subject. I can’t imagine the challenges of teaching during a pandemic at a bilingual school. 

What goals or standards are classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

If the students managed to speak up at all, they would get a point in their favor in the grade book. This would all add up at the end of the year, and it could hurt or help their grade. It was really all about mere participation, with the exception of when students gave rubric graded speeches. I’m sure that the teachers themselves had more extensive ways of measuring progress. However, in my classes, it was all about showing up and speaking up, no matter how quietly or hesitantly. Honestly, it was good enough for me because, concerning foreign languages, it’s not about the destination, but the journey. And that journey is rocky and full of humiliating errors. So if they even dare to take a step, I applaud them. 

Amanda's work station while teaching during a pandemic.
My work station I set up to teach during the pandemic.

 

Looking back at our first interview, what have you learned most about yourself in the classroom this year?

My answer applies not just to our first interview, but also all the way to the beginning of my illustrious teaching career. I have learned to relax, breathe when rattled, not be a hammer, and be a high five. I have learned that having a good time, even if just playing an invigorating game, can be worth fifteen grammar lessons. If a student is laughing and smiling, then they are learning. 

Amanda will share her plans for next year in a follow-up interview. We look forward to hearing what she has to say and where her future will take her, especially considering her success in teaching during a pandemic. Be on the lookout for her third interview.

How to Teach in Thailand

In our last interview, Diego Ambrosio talked about wrapping up his school year by giving final exams. He was waiting to hear more about the COVID-19 instructions from the Thai government. He recalled his first day of class and how much he had grown as a professional. Diego took us on a typical day-to-day life of a Thai teacher and shared his teaching methods and his overall classroom instruction. 

In our final interview, Diego talks about why Thailand and how to overcome initial and recurring obstacles a teacher might encounter during their first years of teaching. 

What has been the most important thing you learned while teaching abroad so far?

“I would say that the first thing I learned was certainly the ability to adapt to a culture and a way of life diametrically opposed to how I lived in Italy or England.

Hand in hand with this, I have learned to acquire greater self-confidence and greater courage in accepting the “great teaching challenge.” This is not simply teaching, but teaching through a language that is not your mother tongue.”

Diego Ambrosio and his School Director

Have you accomplished your goals while living in Phuket?

“It was not easy at all. I believe that together with a large organizational component, a bit of luck was also needed. I, fortunately, had the opportunity to meet the right people at the right time.”

Planning a new life in a decidedly distant place from your native land requires a lot of preparation.

“First of all, you must consider a minimum budget available to “start the engine,” let’s say. Without an appropriate budget, moving abroad is like trying to start a car without gasoline. Obviously the more gasoline you have available, the longer you can travel before having to refuel. “Refueling” can only be dispensed by a job. Therefore, you need to know how to organize your resources the best you can and have a roadmap calendar for each day of the week, including small or large objectives to complete.

Acquaria Museum

The second really important thing is to be aware of the baggage you are leaving with, which doesn’t just include clothes :). It also, and above all, includes your curriculum vitae and accredited professional skills. Without these, I could hardly have entered the world of teaching in Thailand. So, within the time that was granted to me, I followed all the objectives. I never broke down or became lazy. Whenever I could, I tried to get more and more information. I scoured the Internet and asked people I met every day.

This resourcefulness, together with my “good nose,” was fundamental in being able to slowly plan my future and to transform uncertainties into solid affirmations.”

What has been the biggest challenge of living abroad?

“The biggest challenge has certainly been to find a job in a country with very few job opportunities for foreigners. It should not be forgotten that in Thailand, most professions are reserved for Thai people only. The few remaining opportunities for foreigners are divided between four or five sectors, which fortunately includes English language teaching.

If I had wasted the opportunity to teach English in Thailand I would have had little or no reason to stay in Thailand. The lack of job diversity is one of the main reasons it’s such a challenge to live in Thailand compared to other countries that offer a wider variety of work.”

What advice would you give on how to deal with that challenge?

“As I explained before, this challenge can only be overcome by rigorously accomplishing a series of small objectives. Together with a well-managed budget, professional background, and a back-up organization to support you will increase your success rate. No matter what, there’s always a small chance of failure. However, your chances of succeeding will be much higher if you face the adventure with an organized conscience.”

Do you have any advice for other teachers about to travel abroad to teach for the first time?

“A specific piece of advice that I have not yet expressed is to try, at least in the beginning, to not to rush towards opportunities that are too demanding. It’s more appropriate to always start with small experiments. Don’t travel too far. Test your very first experience in a new country somewhere with a similar social system.

M3 students

I tested my endurance and adaptability initially in England, a country very close to Italy. I managed to gather positive energy and the experience necessary for a bigger adventure. That first step into a new country was the one that brought me to live in Thailand today.”

How has teaching abroad helped with your overall professional goals?

“Teaching abroad has certainly helped me a lot in perfecting my professionalism within the teaching sector. Above all, teaching is itself a job that enriches you daily, not only with exciting experiences but also culturally. The countless considerations of the ever-changing English Language and all the new information I receive every day slowly complete the puzzle of my knowledge. Every day I become more and more confident in myself, and therefore, in my ability to teach English.”

What was your most memorable moment at your school or in class this year?

“It is curious to note that my colleague Bethy, a member of Dreams Abroad and a great friend, and I share a similar indelible memory linked to the moments spent so far in school. I will never forget the day my pupils of the Mattayom Four-level organized a surprise party on my birthday.

It all started with an organized false “skit.” One of my pupils pretended to be sick on the floor while another student immediately ran to my office to ask me for help. Once I arrived, I immediately started to give aid to the pupil. I lifted his legs and asked for a glass of sugar water to help him recover. I was in a state of total panic and felt extremely worried.

It was at that moment that a group of students gathered behind me with the cake and candles ready, singing a very excited and emotional “Happy Birthday.” I had tears in my eyes from a double dose of joy. Realizing that the ill student was just a joke and that they had all gathered there and planned this out exclusively for me is a memory that I’ll treasure forever.”

What parts of your teaching will change next year and what will you keep the same?

“The teaching method is generally not subject to change. In this case, I’m referring to the style, the voice, the stage presence, and my way of presenting my lessons.

What normally is subject to change every year are the courses I teach. They may be courses I have never taught before. This variety leads me to constantly organize new projects and new work material. It’s usually a very exciting and motivating task, since teachers are the main actor and director of what will be presented and what will contribute to the student’s educational growth.

I felt particularly interested when I received the chance to create a “Creative Writing & Speaking” course for students of level M5 and M6. In this course, I inserted one of my favorite fairy tale authors, the Greek fabulist Aesop, with enrichment from figurative language (figures of speech). I also assigned a final project that required a theatrical representation of a fairy tale.”

Waterfall in Thailand

What did you do over the Thai teacher vacation in April?

“Unfortunately, as for the vast majority of people around the world, I spent the month of April under lockdown. The Thai government decided to quarantine the nation in order to contain the global pandemic triggered by the then-novel coronavirus. Spending the holidays cooped up at home is not exactly what anyone would hope for. This was especially so in my case, as I was really looking forward to returning to Italy to spend a little time with my family members I only have the opportunity to see once a year.

Nonetheless, we will survive this. The human being is invincible and always finds a solution to everything. I am sure that we will find the strength and the right temperament to overcome even this sad period of our lives.”

What is the most important tip you can give someone wanting to teach abroad?

“If you really intend to teach abroad, remember that motivation and planning are the essential elements to undertake this choice. Motivation represents the first real starting point. Ask yourself if teaching is really a main goal in your life, or if it is a fallback to achieve other purposes, such as being able to stay in a country and explore it. The most delicate phase is planning, since it includes the collection of all useful and fundamental information before departure. A few examples of things you need to know about include your itinerary, and all the information you can get about your new home country in terms of work, laws, health, lifestyle, customs, traditions, climate, cost of living, and more.

Finally, you must think about the economic budget required for the first few months. You must plan this in advance in order to cover any surprise situations that may occur. The greater the starting budget, the better your quality of life will be, along with fewer worries to overcome.

Finally… I cannot help but to wish you a lot (and I mean a lot!) of luck! :)” 

thai School Formal

Wrap-Up of What It Is Like to Teach in Thailand

Diego will be teaching online intermittently until July. His regular school year starts July 1, 2020, when he resumes classes. He is waiting to hear more instructions from the Thai government and what actions will occur next due to Covid-19. He is optimistic that the future will allow him to teach in Thailand again. Diego has really enjoyed his experience in Thailand and is hopeful that the coming school year will provide another great year of professional growth and memories.

Krabi sunset teach in thailand

 

Life in the Time of COVID-19

 

Harold Michael CarterApologies to Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Márquez for borrowing from his book titled Love in the Time of Cholera.

Dreams Abroad is all about living, working, and traveling abroad. So what’s it like to do all of these things during these current pandemic days? I’ve been doing all three during the past month or so. First, a bit of background information. This is the first piece I’ve written for Dreams Abroad, but I have been interviewed in several articles about teaching abroad recently. Check two of the three boxes, as I live and work in Cambodia. I recently took an eight-day trip to Thailand during the third week of March, from March 14th to March 21st. Check the third box. Here is my story.

The news and casual awareness of COVID-19 first surfaced here in late 2019. The first reported case in Cambodia was announced on the 27th of January. Fast forward to the 7th of March when they recorded a second case in Siem Reap. Siem Reap is Cambodia’s top tourist draw, as the small city is only 12 km from Angkor Wat. When this happened, the government ordered all schools in Siem Reap closed for two weeks.

Closer to Home

Samae Beach, Koh Larn, Thailand COVID-19
Samae Beach, Koh Larn, Thailand.

I live and work in the capital city, Phnom Penh. Everyone at our workplace knew that when the inevitable — cases reported here — happened, our schools would get closed down as well. I had signed a new contract at the beginning of February and still had a week of holiday owed to me from the previous contract, so on about the 9th or 10th of March, I booked a flight for Bangkok leaving on the 14th.

On the 13th of March, they recorded a few more COVID-19 cases. Cambodia now officially listed seven cases. The writing is on the wall for the teachers. The school announces a meeting for the Saturday morning of the 14th to discuss a contingency plan. I do not attend as I am safely buckled into my Air Asia flight to Bangkok by 9:00 a.m. Later that day, the government announces the closing of all schools until the 20th of April (at least).

A Hauntingly Empty Airport

My one-hour flight to Bangkok was only about 70% full. There were no crowds to speak of at either airport and expedient processing through customs and immigration. I spent a night in Bangkok and then went to visit friends in a nearby coastal town. I spent a day on a small island called Koh Larn. Everything was business as usual — although with reduced numbers of people — for the first four days or so. I remember paying respect to my Irish heritage in fine fashion on the 17th for St. Patrick’s Day. 

airport thailand COVID-19

Around 6:00 p.m. on the 18th, the police came around to a number of places to request their closure. The government of Thailand had decided to close entertainment places, cinemas, and bars, but restaurants could remain open. Life was significantly quieter during my last three days in Thailand. Borders around the world were closing up faster than windows during typhoon season. Part of me hoped I’d be marooned in Thailand for an extended holiday. But, I wasn’t loaded with cash and my family was waiting for me in Cambodia, so the other part of me was glad the borders between Thailand and home hadn’t buttoned up. 

Flying back just eight days later from my departure, the plane was now only about 30% full. Air Asia doesn’t serve alcohol on short flights. Too bad, as with those low numbers, I could have had a cart of wine to myself.

Returning Home During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ferry to Thailand mainland
Ferry to/from Koh Larn (Thailand) to the mainland.

 

Returning to Cambodia by air is always a breeze for me as I have a one-year multiple entry visa in my passport. This arrival was especially quick. I had to fill out an extra form on the plane which asked which countries I had visited in the previous 21 days. I gave it to one of the ladies wearing masks and gloves upon arrival, and off I went through immigration. 

pier on Koh Larn
View from the pier on Koh Larn.

I spent a relaxing Sunday (March 22nd) with my family in Phnom Penh and by now I am aware that I won’t be teaching the following day. So what about this job? What do I do? What did I miss? The devil on my shoulder who represented the half of me that wanted to be stuck in Thailand nodded and winked at me, saying “See, I told you so.”

 

Monday the 23rd — students can’t go to school, but they left school open to teachers. In both the students’ and my absence the previous week, teachers were busy learning the tricks of online teaching using Google classrooms — something which was new for all but two or three of us. We used next week to make practice lessons for the students to help them adjust as well. The school had collected the necessary contact information so that at least the older students could do this. The new school term didn’t actually begin until April 1st. So, we conducted online teaching from then up until the 10th. At which point — enter a nine-day break for Khmer New Year.

Khmer New Year Break

celebrate Khmer New Year every April
Cambodians love to decorate their houses and prepare plenty of food to celebrate Khmer New Year every April.

Khmer New Year officially lasts from April 13th to April 15th, but when factoring in travel days, the country closes for at least a week. It is based on the Buddhist calendar, so we were celebrating the incoming 2564 BE (Buddhist Era). People celebrate with traditional games, heavy drinking, and gambling. They also spend lots of time with extended families and make frequent visits to pagodas. The capital empties out as the masses head for the provinces.

There was a bit of a twist this year though, because on April 8th, the government announced the holiday will be postponed this year because of COVID-19. They want people to keep working and avoid a mass exodus to the provinces for the holiday. Nevertheless, we respect the holiday and stopped online teaching from the 10th to the 20th of April.

Epilogue: Life Goes On in the Time of COVID-19

The 20th arrived and the government still had not given the green light to reopen schools because of COVID-19. In our case, we are informed we will no longer be paid a full salary and are offered 50%. The teachers held a closed-door staff meeting to decide how much work we should actually do to earn these reduced financial rewards. The new hope/projection is that the schools will open again in early May. If this proves to be true, all of this will be a mere bump in the road. If not, the better schools will survive — but other schools will likely be bankrupt within three or four months.

COVID-19

by Michael Carter

TEFL in Thailand

by Leesa Truesdell

Eric Haeg Course Director of TEFL Campus
Eric Haeg, Course Director of TEFL Campus

Eric Haeg is the Course Director of TEFL Campus–a TEFL training course provider in Phuket and Chiang Mai. He moved to Thailand in 2004 because he knew he didn’t want to teach in Europe. He had already visited Europe and wanted to explore somewhere entirely new. Eric didn’t know if there was a need for teachers in Thailand back then. His reasons for taking the TEFL course back in 2004 were entirely whimsical. He searched for TEFL certification courses and signed up for one in Phuket because it looked like “Phuk-et”. Eric explained said, “I thought to myself, ‘Eh, f*ck it. Must be a sign. What’s the worst that can happen?’” He also says he has no shame in how that sounds because it was the best decision he’s ever made. 

Eric took the time to explain what Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Thailand means today. Here is what he had to say. 

What makes Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)  in Thailand different from TEFL in other countries?

There are a few reasons that taking a TEFL course in Thailand is different from other countries.

  1. Low Costs – TEFL courses are cheaper in Thailand because of the lower costs of operation when compared to courses in places like Japan, Australia, most of Europe, or the Americas.
  2. Welcoming Culture – Thailand’s nickname is the Land of Smiles. It only takes a few minutes here to see why. Thais are incredibly welcoming and eager to share their culture with foreigners.
  3. High Demand – It was recently reported that Thailand needs 10,000 foreign teachers. This means that those who come to train and earn their TEFL certification will find jobs after their course rather easily.

What is the application and arrival process for your school? 

study abroad ESL teacherThe process starts with a lengthy and detailed information file that we send out once an applicant has officially enrolled. We include information on how to get visas (if needed), our accommodation options, travel options, and more. We have a long Q&A section that includes information on getting local SIM cards, international driver’s licenses, vaccinations, what to pack, and more. 

From there, we then help people reserve their accommodation and schedule a meet-and-greet for the day they arrive. For those who are eligible, we organize our personal driver to meet them at the airport. 

We also have unique Facebook groups for each course, where people can introduce themselves before the course to their peers. We send out helpful posts about things to do in Phuket, reminders about the course, information on jobs, and much more. 

What’s the most important thing someone should know about TEFL in Thailand?

People need to know that teaching is challenging. While that’s not unique to Thailand, far too many TEFL course providers in Thailand take the “teach-by-the-beach” approach to their marketing. They make people think that teaching is an all-day ball of joy, that finding jobs on idyllic islands is the norm, and that teaching is easy.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Teaching is challenging and that’s why new teachers need meaningful training that includes curriculum on building cultural awareness. Most good jobs are in urban areas — but at least in a place like Phuket, the beach is never far away on days off. If you’re not near the ocean, Thailand has endless natural beauty. Nonetheless, you’ll have to work a challenging, full-time job Monday through Friday if you are to enjoy it in your freetime. 

How is TEFL Campus in Phuket different than its Chiang Mai location?

TEFL Campus runs the same curriculum in Phuket as in Chiang Mai. Both programs include university-level validation, guaranteed job support and experienced trainers. The main difference is the observed teaching practice. In Chiang Mai, you’ll teach in local schools, with local students in primary and secondary schools. In Phuket, you’ll teach in a language center setting, where students fourteen and older come to learn English voluntarily.

thai students abroad
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

 

Outside of class, Phuket and Chiang Mai offer rather different experiences. Both are major destinations in Thailand, but for different reasons. Phuket has its beaches, Chiang Mai has its mountains. Phuket has its unique Old Town, and Chiang Mai has its ancient walled off section of the city. Finally, Phuket is always warm or downright hot, while Chiang Mai has its cool season from November to February. Between the two of them, both locations offer something for everyone. 

What is the greatest student success you have had for TEFL in Thailand?

Honestly, there are more than I can count. Each student succeeded for different reasons.

There’s Steven, an Australian who met with me back in 2012. He wanted to get his degree before teaching. He went back to university as a mature student, graduated uni, took our course in 2016, got a entry-level job in Bangkok, and now works in the corporate development department of Wall Street English.

Then there’s Bish, a Nepali gentleman who was a gifted teacher. He was going to have trouble finding a job due to Thais’ prejudice against south Asians. After helping Bish find a job at a local primary school, he now works as a coordinator there who’s won the hearts of his students and colleagues alike. 

But honestly, as I think through the names of our grads, I can easily think of a dozen or more success stories. They include people who went on to get more credentials to eventually work in high-paying international schools. There were also those who found jobs in highly competitive countries like Maldives, Switzerland, and Hong Kong. So many of our grads who wanted to quit our course because they didn’t believe in their own abilities ended up sticking to it and achieving their goals of teaching overseas

Why do you think someone should leave their home country and teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Thailand?

I actually don’t think everyone who wants to do it should do it. The only people who should do it are those who are open-minded, ready for a challenge, have a healthy sense of responsibility, and a genuine desire to teach. It’s one of the most important professions on Earth and students deserve dedicated, capable teachers. 

Outside of career goals, I think everyone should live abroad for a year or more. It’s the best way to challenge one’s assumptions about “reality,” build a better understanding of humanity, and benefit from experiences those who don’t travel could never imagine. 

As of late, the Thai government has been searching for more than thousands of teachers for TEFL. Eric wrote a piece on how to get the most reliable teachers earlier this year. The article discusses three ways schools can alleviate the teacher shortage before having to wait for the foreign government to lend assistance. He is on his annual leave in the USA and hopes to get back to Thailand as soon as it is coronavirus-cleared. For further information about TEFL in Thailand, please contact Eric directly. He can assist with questions and offer suggestions.

Teaching English in Thailand TEFL Campus
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

 

Working at a Catholic School in Medellin, Colombia

Catholic School Medellin Colombia

Lamon Chapman graduated from Hamilton College in upstate New York with a degree in Economics. He originally wanted to be an investment banker. However, Lamon decided to move to Los Angeles, California to pursue his musical dreams instead. He enrolled in music classes at the Musicians Institute. Lamon played for a variety of shows and bands while living in Los Angeles. 

He aspired to learn a different language while living in Los Angeles and thought that moving to a different country would help him with his language learning. Lamon decided to move to Ecuador for two months. He traveled from Quito to Guayaquil and everywhere in between. Then, he headed back to LA. 

Lamon decided that he wanted to become more fluent in Spanish and moved to Medellin, Colombia. A close friend of his told him that Medellin was going to be the next up-and-coming place for urban music. Lamon was ready to give his musical talent a new start. However, he also wanted to have another source of income while living in Medellin. After researching, he learned that teaching English abroad could be a good way to make extra income. 

Lamon volunteered at a library assisting immigrants with their English for six months. Prior to that, he had never taught English. After he received great feedback from his peers and students, he realized he was pretty good at it. That’s when he realized he had a skill for teaching others a language and for teaching in general. Soon after, he made his move to Medellin and lived there for five consecutive years, teaching and playing music. His first job while in Colombia was at a Catholic school for six months. 

Meet Lamon Chapman: 

How did you find your job teaching at a Catholic School?

“I found my job through an old high school friend. They were born in Medellin, but completed high school in the states.”

What was the process of getting hired?

“The process was rather involved. I had to pass a reading, speaking, and listening assessment; not to measure my competencies but rather to ensure I didn’t have speaking, hearing, or vision problems. Also, I had to complete a medical exam and a test in Spanish. Funnily enough, I just sat there during the Spanish test and didn’t take it because I didn’t speak or understand Spanish at the time.”

Who made up the population of students that you taught?

Catholic school“The boys that I taught were aged thirteen through fifteen. I taught four classes with an average class size of twenty. 

In Colombia, if you are single and teach at this particular Catholic school, you can only teach the same sex. For, example, I don’t have a wife, so they only allowed me to teach boys. If I had a wife, then I could have taught both girls and boys. The same applies to single women. If they do not have a husband, they can only teach girls.”

What did you like most about teaching these students? The least?

“For me, the blessing of being an educator lies in the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better and develop positive life-long relationships. There was always a sense of pride and achievement when a student would report to me how an activity or classroom experience benefited their life outside of the classroom. Whether it was translating for their parents at the customs office or simply instilling confidence to use the language, it always felt and continues to feel good to hear those stories.

The only thing I would say that I disliked about my job was being monitored constantly by nuns and priests.” 

What did you find to be the most challenging part of teaching at a Catholic school?

“I had a hard time adjusting to Catholic culture. Things like making sure all kids had dressed according to school standards did not come naturally to me initially. I also had a difficult time receiving negative feedback about group activities from the school administrators (nuns and priests). 

Side note: I never interacted directly with the parents… the school had a specific employee assigned to ‘parent relations.’ All the negative feedback came from the nuns that monitored each class and my superior; they didn’t support my decision to facilitate group activities. Additionally, they often reprimanded me for sitting down. They didn’t allow teachers to sit down.”

What are the differences that you saw while teaching at the Catholic school in Envigado, Colombia compared to volunteering at the library in Los Angeles, California?

South Korea classroom“Prior to teaching in Medellin, I volunteered at a library in Los Angeles. I worked with immigrants who had become US citizens and needed to learn English to live and function in Los Angeles. Volunteering gave me a better understanding of what it was like to teach a second language before moving to Medellin, Colombia.

My first teaching position in Envigado, Colombia was at a Catholic school. If I had to compare the two experiences (in general), here is what the main differences were: 

  • Security: Most schools in Colombia have armed security at the entrance. In the US, and at the library in LA, the immigrants did not have security guard protection.
  • Grading: If a student fails a class, the teacher must be prepared to explain why the student failed. They must also give them an opportunity to take a make-up exam and/or additional activities to pass the course. In the USA, if you fail a course… you fail.”

Explain the motivations of the groups of students for learning a second language. Were the motivations the same? How many classes did you teach?

“I taught at a bilingual school… so students were motivated to learn English because it was a requirement. They didn’t necessarily want to and this was the mentality for many kids at the Catholic school. I taught English, geography, world history, and ethics all in English.”

How did you handle classroom management for these classes? Was it regulated by the school because it was a Catholic school?

“I tried to incorporate group activities versus individual assignments into the classroom. I also tried to incorporate the use of technology in the classroom as well. Unfortunately, school officials did NOT widely accept the use of technology. I had to stop doing group assignments and I mostly assigned individual assignments without the use of technology per the request of the school.”

What advice would you give to someone who works with people from other cultural backgrounds?

  • Learn the culture
  • Learn the language
  • Be patient with the adjustment… CULTURE SHOCK is real
  • Accept the differences… don’t fight it or allow it to disrupt your experience
  • Don’t assume that everyone will understand your culture and viewpoints

Are you still living in Medellin, Colombia, and teaching at the Catholic School?  What happens next?

“Yes, I am still living in Medellin. However, I no longer work at the Catholic School. In 2016, I was nominated for a Latin Grammy music award. Since the nomination, I’ve taken my passion for music and talents to another level. This year, four close friends and I formed an entertainment company in Medellin: PRIMEROS 5 ENTERTAINMENT. Follow us at primeroscincoent. We plan and organize entertainment events that are changing the face of entertainment throughout Colombia.” 

At La Presentation College in commune 12 La América, approximately 150 students learn about caring for life on the road.
Photo by Secretaría de Movilidad de Medellín.

Looking Beyond Catholic School

Lamon stayed at the Catholic school for six months even though the odds were against him. His students misbehaved and he couldn’t provide student-centered lessons. Not to mention, nuns constantly corrected his teaching methods and conduct. Later in the school year, Lamon realized he was the first teacher to stay longer than two weeks. The other teachers congratulated him for his success and informed him that he endured the brutal challenge of teaching and disciplining this specific class of fourteen-year-old boys that no one wanted to teach.

Stay tuned for the second part of Lamon’s teaching English as a foreign language journey in Medellin, where he talks about his career of teaching English at a university abroad.

by Leesa Truesdell

Day-To-Day Life Teaching at a Thai School

by Leesa Truesdell

Diego AmbrosioDiego Ambrosio and I had the chance to catch up for his second interview Finding the Perfect International Job. He had participated in a few Thai regional tournaments since we last spoke. He went to Bangkok, Thailand to judge a spelling bee competition and a group of his students participated in a music competition in Pang Na. His group won a gold and silver medal in the competition! He wrapped up his school year and is getting ready for exams. Diego has learned so much about what it is like teaching at a Thai school over the last year. He remembers when he first arrived and how much he has grown as a person and as a professional since that day. 

Read more about what Diego said about his day-to-day life teaching at a Thai school: 

What is a typical day at your school like? 

Each public school in Thailand generally follows the same morning routines before class starts. In my school, students must be present in the main square starting from 7:30 until about 8:10 in order to observe and respect the various routine ceremonies. These include a display of rigorous respect for the Thai National Anthem in a “Stand to Attention” position and music performed by the school band, a Buddhist prayer, and finally a list of ten “commandments” to always remember. The morning ceremony ends with the school jingle played by the music band. Each lesson lasts about 50 minutes (a period) and the school day consists of eight periods. Teachers must stay in the office until 16:30. The school entitles teachers to about one hour of lunch break. There is also a school canteen if necessary.

 

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

 We currently have nine teachers of different nationalities In the Foreign Teachers English department. There is one teacher from Poland, one from France, one from Morocco, one from Australia, three from the Philippines and one from Canada. The Canadian teacher is the coordinator of the English department. This year I received an assigned eighteen hours per week teaching eight classes for a total of five different courses. However, our contract provides for the possibility of having to cover up to 20 hours of teaching per week. In any case, we must cover the hours of the other teachers if they miss class due to illness or personal reasons.

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

I consider myself a lucky person from this point of view because I was able to immediately establish excellent friendships with my work colleagues.  I consider myself a naturally sociable and peaceful person, as well as extremely empathetic. Sometimes we organized meetings outside of school and ate together on special days of the year. For example, last December 26th, we all had lunch together on Christmas Day.

thai teachers

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

The most pleasant moment of the day is around the first afternoon hours, after lunch. I usually go for a digestive walk around the school campus. The campus has various nature trails. The school has become a lovely place because it sits inside a beautiful natural reserve of mangrove trees.

How is the material being taught to students? Do you use a specific method?

My school follows the conventional teaching method found throughout almost all Thailand English language teaching programs. The lesson plan includes four main phases that we call “warm-up,” “present,” “practice,” and “produce.” 

teacher abroad

The “warm-up” phase is generally short-lived (five to ten minutes) and includes the “call of attendances,” “introduction to the lesson,” a possible “ice-breaker” or “review of the previous lesson.” The second phase, “present,”  is the one in which the lesson is presented. Teachers explain the most important contents in this phase, through the use of projectors, audio-visual material, and obviously, the blackboard. The third phase, “practice,” consists of guided exercises to understand the contents explained, through individual or interactive exercises. Teachers must constantly monitor these activities and assist students the best they can. The final phase, “produce,”  is the final production of the learning contents learned by students. It can take place through the presentation of projects or individual works aimed at the development and improvement of oral skills and content presentation.

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

I always prepare my lessons with care. Preparing ahead helps me feel well-organized. I have everything ready well in advance so that I don’t have to run into unpleasant or unexpected events. As I explained above, I prepare my lessons through a specific template provided by the school which includes the four main processing phases. In addition, I also like to always look for new ideas and materials. Thanks to the Internet, I can always have an endless source of teaching material available. 

Do you work at a bilingual school? Does the school teach English as a subject or throughout all classes?


The English language is taught in all the classes. This means my school is ultimately a kind of bilingual school. However, there are several types of classes that have access to different levels of teaching quality. The two main programs of study for the English language are called the “regular program” and the “English program.” The regular program includes the teaching of the English language, but not through foreign native English-speaking teachers. On the other hand, the English program provides for the presence of native speakers, therefore the enrollment cost is significantly higher.

What goals or standards are classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?


Like any educational institution in the world, Thailand’s school system has parameters for the student assessment during the course of the entire school year. Teachers evaluate students at the end of each semester. My school has two semesters per year. Each student can earn a total value of 100 points. They can earn these with scores from two main units (25 points + 25 points) plus a mid-term exam for a max of 20 points and a final exam with a maximum score of 30 points. Based on the total score obtained, the student will be able to access a grade ranking that ranges from a minimum of 1.5 to a maximum of 4.

I want to clarify an important detail of the Thai school system, namely that students cannot be rejected or repeat the same school year. The school promotes each and every student, no matter what. Whenever a student earns a score lower than 50/100, the teacher becomes responsible for taking care of the student by organizing an extra lesson, project, or exam for the student. The student must complete them as proof of resolution of the low score. Even if the student fails to successfully complete this phase, he will still be promoted. This aspect makes us reflect a lot, since it shows a big flaw in the process of education and growth of the Thai child. There is a very high possibility of an unprepared student reaching the upper levels of an academic course.

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself in the classroom this year?

There is always something new to learn with each passing year. I can still remember who I was as soon as I arrived at this school and how, day after day, I managed to improve the quality of my teaching together with improved creativity and constant participation within various school events.

Recently, for example, I learned that the morale with which you start your lessons has a decisive impact on the progression of the lesson and on the learning that follows from the students. So it is really essential to always start in the right gear and have the best intentions.

Wrap Up Working at a Thai School

Due to the recent coronavirus pandemic, the minister of Thailand mandated that schools in Thailand be shut down until May. Diego wrapped up his final week of classes by giving final exams. He had originally planned to go back to Italy in April for his break. Since Italy is a major epicenter of the coronavirus, Diego will not be able to go home and plans to remain in Thailand for now.

Stay tuned for more on Diego’s Thailand teach abroad adventure.

 

Going Back to Spain as a Tourist: Hot Chocolate

 

emma schultzEarlier this month, I went back to Madrid, Spain — but just as a tourist this time. I was able to structure my break between semesters of graduate school to spend ten wonderful days there. I was so excited to get back to one of my favorite cities and the first place I called home as an adult. Mostly, I was excited to spend time in my old neighborhood, visit one of my favorite art museums in the world, frequent restaurants and cafes I’d visited often in my time living in Madrid, and see close friends and colleagues.

Museo-Thyssen-Bornemisza

Shopping, Food, and Friends

I prepared myself for shopping in my favorite boutiques and Spanish chain stores, lots of tapas and churros, and afternoons spent catching up with friends. Fortunately, I did all of those things. But what I didn’t prepare for was how it would feel going back to Spain as a tourist to visit a place I had once called home. To be a tourist in a place I hadn’t been before is one thing. To be a tourist somewhere where I lived for years was another.

Madrid-Tourism

I had a bit of a sneak peek of what this would feel like when I went back to Denmark for the first time since studying there for an academic year. It was a wonderful and strange experience to walk the streets I did as a student. However, going back to Madrid where I lived and worked for so long felt even more like a shock. I found myself not wanting to be perceived as “just a tourist.”

I offered up to shop attendants and waiters that I had, in fact, lived in Madrid for three years in the past. Sometimes this made sense in context, but often I volunteered the information with little prompting. Why did I feel the need to prove myself? My Spanish is good, I know the city, and I know the culture. But I still felt a certain pressure to re-prove to people there that I, too, belonged.

Emma Schultz

Forgetting Things That Were Second-Nature

el Roscón de ReyesIn addition to this reaction, I also realized that over time I had forgotten some small things that used to be second-nature, things that had been automatic knowledge for me. One of my first days back in Madrid, I went to a cafe with a friend. We went specifically for a seasonal Christmas cake, el Roscón de Reyes. She ordered coffee with hers, so I decided to get something warm as well.

I’m not a big fan of coffee or tea. So, I decided to let my child-at-heart out to play and ordered hot chocolate. However, I translated literally and didn’t give it a second thought. When the cup of melted chocolate showed up at my table, I remembered that hot chocolate in Spain isn’t the same as the U.S. I knew this very well from living there. In Spain, locals dip churros in the hot chocolate while having it as a winter drink. However, instead of a liquid drink, locals fill the mug with melted chocolate, literally. If I had wanted American-style hot chocolate, I would have needed to order ColaCao, the Spanish equivalent of Nesquik. Fortunately, I didn’t repeat the mistake the rest of the trip. Nonetheless, I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t remembered this detail of custom and translation.

Of course, it didn’t present any real issue for me that I mistranslated what I was trying to order. Fortunately, none of my mistakes while visiting Madrid created big problems for me. It was more of an internal reflection process for me. I realized that I didn’t remember how to do everything I had once done out of habit.

Going Back to Spain as a Tourist

What I realized from my hot chocolate gaff and a couple of others was that we forget over time. We forget how to live in the places we’ve been when they are very different from one another (and maybe even if they aren’t). The day-to-day starts to slip away. We forget some of the cultural or linguistic knowledge we attained when living in that place. And that was difficult for me to come face to face with going back to Spain as a tourist this past month. But I realized something else, too: whatever we forget we can remember. It’s not as if I hadn’t ever learned those things. Even being back in Madrid for ten days helped me remember some of what I hadn’t realized I’d forgotten. And that gives me hope about staying in touch with the places I’ve left, because the ability to reconnect is definitely there.

Going-Back-to-Spain-as-a-Tourist

by Emma Schultz

How to Get TEFL Certification in Five Steps

I withdrew from my college’s study abroad program before I even left the country. I wanted to see the world and did not want to do it while in a traditional school setting.

Although I had heard of TEFL as a way to live abroad, I didn’t really know how to get started. Eventually, I decided to take a TEFL certification course in Phuket, Thailand in late 2018 and now I’ve been living abroad ever since.  

How’d that happen? Here’s a step-by-step guide of everything I did before getting on a plane. I hope it helps you better understand how to get TEFL certification and eventually start teaching English abroad.   

Step 1: Be Introspective and Ask Yourself These Questions

Why do you want to take a TEFL course? Maybe you just need a break from your daily 9-5 job or you’re transitioning from one career to another. Perhaps you are in a similar position that I was: freshly graduated and in search of a sustainable life abroad because you’ve never left your comfort zone. There isn’t a right or wrong reason for taking a TEFL course, but you should know why you want to take one.

questions what do you mean

Do you have any interest in teaching? Interest is defined as the state of wanting to know or learn about something or someone. A more specific question would be, “Do you want to know or learn more about teaching?” In my case, yes, I did (and still do). I have a background in mostly math and science education as well as the scientific study of languages; I figured a TEFL course could help bridge those two things together. 

Step 2: Consider the Qualifications for TEFL Certification

The good news is you don’t need many qualifications for TEFL certification — after all, it’s considered an entry-level training course. When I took the course, I had just graduated from college and had about three years of teaching experience. Based on all the people in my own course, my qualifications and level of experience definitely aren’t the norm. I met people who didn’t have a degree and/or hadn’t been in school in over a decade. Specific requirements vary, but all you really need is a good attitude, willingness to learn, and an open mind.

Step 3: Choose a TEFL Course

map places tour

A quick Google search of “TEFL course” will bring up over 8 million results, so I understand how choosing a course can be overwhelming. I had five requirements when choosing a course: 

  1. Website Do they have their own website? In the age of the internet, it’s rare that a company or business doesn’t have a website, which is what makes having a website an entry-level requirement for me. Other questions I also consider are: Are prices and product laid out clearly? Is contact information easily accessible? Do they link their social media? Does it look well maintained?
  2. Reviews When I shop on Amazon, reviews are what ultimately get me to buy a product. Picking a TEFL course is no different. Unfortunately, there isn’t an Amazon for TEFL courses. There are actually several places to find reviews. The first place is on the TEFL course’s website itself. A good TEFL course will also showcase reviews from external websites, such as GoOverseas and TEFL Course Review. The more reviews you can find, the more accurate representation of the course you’ll get.
  3. Social Media A course not participating in social media was a deal breaker for me. If a course had an active social media presence, it showed me that there’s a human being managing their social media, which instantly makes them more real and personable. You can also now review businesses on Facebook. I went a step further with my social media requirement and messaged a graduate of TEFL Campus on Facebook. 
  4. Accreditation/Validation Be sure the course you choose is accredited or validated by an outside source. There are several TEFL/TESOL accrediting bodies; be sure to do your research on which bodies are legitimate and internationally recognized. Believe it or not, many courses accredit themselves or have simply paid for the accreditation without the company doing any real due diligence.
  5. Job Support This is actually a requirement I added on after having looked at a few TEFL courses. Let’s face it: nothing in life is guaranteed, so “guaranteed job placement” seemed way too good to be true. What drew me to TEFL Campus was that they explicitly state, “We don’t guarantee placements.”

TEFLCampus

Step 4: Choose a Country for the Course and for Work

If you follow my guidelines above for choosing a course, it doesn’t really matter where you go for the course. Choosing where you want to work though is a bit more complicated. Besides personal requirements such as: beaches or mountains, city or small village, yearly weather, etc., some countries have strict professional requirements. For example, in order to teach in South Korea, you must have a bachelor’s degree and be a citizen of certain countries. But to teach in some countries like Cambodia and Russia, you don’t need a degree.  Countries like Thailand and Vietnam list it as an official requirement, but employers commonly turn a blind eye to this. Do some research before hopping on a plane. 

TEFL Certification in Five Steps

Step 5: Prepare to Leave Home for a TEFL Certificate

Have a savings and be financially responsible. Be sure you have enough for the course and to get you through one month after the course ends while you look for a job. The cost of living in some Asian countries are significantly lower. For instance, TEFL Campus suggests coming over with no less than $3,000 after having paid for your TEFL course and accommodation for it.

Check your passport’s expiration date. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months following your course. Getting a new passport can take a few weeks. 

Check if you need additional travel documents to get into a country. Depending on your passport, you may need additional travel documents, such as a visa, to get into a country. 

luggage packing trip abroad TEFL CertificationGet a criminal background check. Most schools will ask for a background check and it is significantly easier to get one while you’re home than while you’re abroad. Depending on what type of background check you get, it can take a few weeks to get results. 

Find your original degree (if applicable). Most schools will ask to see your original degree and some countries may even ask for it to be certified. 

Before Loading the Plane for You TEFL Certification

Buy your plane ticket ASAP. The earlier you buy a plane ticket, the cheaper it will be. It’s not like domestic travel where there’s a magic number of days for the cheapest price. 

Notify your bank of travel plans. Trust me, you don’t want your card getting declined when you’re 13,000 km from home. Banks need advanced notice that you’re planning to make transactions from abroad — be sure they’re aware. 

Start packing. Dig up or buy some suitcases and start sorting your things into,  ‘take,’ ‘trash/donate,’ and ‘keep, but can’t take’ piles. Then go back and make that ‘take’ pile smaller and smaller. You’re looking to live abroad, not take your life abroad. 

Spend time with friends and family. This is the most regretful step for me. I was so caught up with finishing school and preparing to move abroad, I didn’t spend as much time with my friends and family as I wanted. If you have the time, use it. 

Packing your life up to do something you’ve probably never done before in a foreign country is scary when getting your TEFL certification. That is a perfectly normal thought and you aren’t alone in it. Hopefully, these steps have brought you some guidance, reassurance, and courage to follow through with it. Good luck!

 

Teaching ESOL from Experience

by Caroline Hazelton

caroline hazelton teaching ESOLI wonder how you found this page? Perhaps you found it by Google, by social media sharing, or by mere coincidence. Good for you! Either way, I bet the only way you’ll keep reading after this is if you truly care about teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages. Even at that, because I said the word “experience” you are probably in need of such, AKA “teaching ESOL from experience.” 

Right now I’m on Year 7 in teaching languages. I’m always improving my teaching craft. I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it a certain way. Yet as I handed in my lesson plans this past Tuesday, I realized that teacher jargon doesn’t explain what simple experience can. And yet so much of the way I teach and have been successful from Year 3 onward is because of… experience — that is, “teaching ESOL from experience.”

I originally started this article with a list of teacher advice, but quickly realized you can find that anywhere. Instead, I think it’s best to reflect on the four institutions where I’ve actively taught ESOL and what each ESOL school taught me… through experience. I’ll list each school as “School A, B, C and D” for the privacy of each school.

School A: Finding Your Place as a Professional in School

For Pete’s sake, if you are a new teacher DEMAND A CURRICULUM. You’ll need one to stay organized, maximize learning, and follow the natural flow of language acquisition progression. Furthermore, set boundaries on students. Don’t accept their Facebook requests, don’t let them use their native language in class (even if it is the other language you teach and love) except for emergencies, and if any student starts to cross professional boundaries you must immediately but respectfully set them straight for the sake of your classroom control. Also, especially if you are a young teacher, you must especially look professional at all times.

Professional in School

School B: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions and Set Boundaries

Now that your demanded curriculum is in hand, ask the director/principal specific questions about the curriculum or the school they might be too busy to explain. Make sure to ask questions such as “When does the semester end?” or “How long is the book to be used for?” As much as you love your students, don’t be afraid to correct their English. However, know the goal of each activity and make your corrections specific (like adding a preposition).

Give general critiques (like encouraging students to add more information) so the students aren’t overwhelmed by their mistakes. Again, make sure you set professional boundaries. You love your job, but don’t work for free — make sure you are fairly compensated for your time. If you are not paid on time, immediately contact HR. And finally, always overestimate how long it will take you to arrive to class so you can breathe when you get there.

Ask Questions and Set Boundaries

School C: Use Your Own Experience When Teaching

Own your cultural identity and what it can bring to the classroom. I was the only white teacher in my ESOL department at School C. I owned it. At the beginning, I demanded my intermediate level students only speak in English. I made my students weird American things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I taught them how Americans butcher Hispanic names in English and hate kisses on the cheek.

Make sure to hand the mic over to your students every once in a while. Let them voice both their cultures and the saddening situations that brought them over to the United States. Let them use Spanish… but only in emergencies or during non-instructional time. And finally, as important as that curriculum is, do not underestimate the importance of authentic cultural material that is relevant to the topic. Bring in the country music, clips of The Office, and Super Bowl commercials.

Experience Teaching

School D: Give Yourself Structure and Take Time to Learn

As an unorganized person, having an organized curriculum pre-planned for me each class helped me see just how learning can be maximized with the right pacing and assessment. I tend to get off task, but staying on topic is crucial for the learner. However, the ability to learn and quickly memorize facts about each student builds a good rapport with students. Finding a balance between staying on task and learning about your students should be found. Finally, students need to hear ways to improve their English. Working with a Chinese crowd at this school, I found it helpful to study common mistakes Chinese English Language Learners make, identify them in the student, and quickly address them with go-to examples. 

Teaching ESOL from Experience

I don’t think there isn’t a day where I’m not learning from my experiences. Just tonight, an argument broke out between two students over a political issue (Venezuelan dictator Maduro seizing and selling homes abandoned by Venezuelans fleeing) and a personal issue (these two students did not get along). After resolving the argument and further discussing with another Venezuelan student about the emotional state of those fleeing, I would like to do some further reading about helping refugees process their emotions. Situations like these help shape my responses to future tense situations. After every day that I teach, I make sure to do a nightly reflection. This helps me know what I’d like to repeat for next semester but also steer away from. 

 

International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies

 

emma schultzEmma Schultz has been a Dreams Abroad member since 2017 and has always had an interest in international education. We took the opportunity to catch up with her about how she’s been doing since moving from Madrid, Spain to Monterey, California. She is pursuing a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

How did you hear about Dreams Abroad?

“I was a friend of Leesa’s when she founded Dreams Abroad. She had talked about wanting to start her own website for some time, and it was really great to see it come to life. I was excited to start working with her as a writer in February of 2017 and have enjoyed other roles with the team since then. It’s been a joy to watch the project grow, change, and flourish over time. It has become such a great resource for anyone interesting in international education.”

Where were you when you first joined?

“I was teaching English in Madrid, Spain when I started writing for Dreams Abroad.”

apartment madrid spain
The view from my first apartment in Madrid, Spain.

 

How has your life changed since then?

“My life has changed a lot since then. I started writing for Dreams Abroad when I was in my first year of teaching English as a foreign language, which was also my first year out of college. I continued my time as a teacher in Spain for a second academic year and then transitioned back to part-time study. Furthermore, I was a Spanish student in Madrid during my third year and also worked at an internship. Also, I was a dual nanny/English teacher to a lovely two-year-old boy.

My biggest transition happened this past July, however, when I made the big decision to move back home to the U.S. I decided to pursue a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

It was a hard decision to make and an even harder transition. A lot went into my choice to come back to the States — what I felt I had gained in Spain, what I thought I was missing there, and what I thought I might find back at home. Ultimately, I decided it was time for me to pursue a master’s degree. I have long known that I want a career in education abroad management. I knew that I needed to get a higher education to make that possible for myself.

Transitioning into being more than a full-time student has been challenging, but it is absolutely worth it. I know I am gaining hard skills that I will use for a lifetime. I don’t think I could have picked a better program for my interests and goals.”

international education management at middlebury institute
The Middlebury Institute of International Studies campus in Monterey, California.

 

What did you learn from your experience living abroad?

international education management college“Living abroad did so much for me. It helped me to understand the world better. It helped me to understand myself better. I was able to explore pre-existing interests and engage new ones; I experienced new ways of seeing, interpreting, and understanding things. After three years in Spain, I can say I really feel that I have a connection to the country, its people, and its culture. The degree of love I feel for what has become one of the many places I can call home isn’t something I would trade for the world.

I loved my life in Spain — the balance between my commitments and my personal life, my incredible friendships, the beauty of the country, the warmth of its culture, and so much more. Leaving was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Coming to the decision to leave took me a long time.

When I moved to Spain, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted my place in the world to be. In my three years in Madrid, I built something there for myself that mattered. I had a home, a life, and a strong love for where I was in the world. I learned, grew, and changed so much.

Why I Had to Leave

In the end, I think I had to leave Spain because of all of those discoveries. I wanted to stay, but for lots of other reasons I needed to go. I wanted to advance in my professional life. Plus, I needed to feel more stable and grounded. I needed to feel secure in a way that temporary visas didn’t provide. I needed to feel like I was working towards a life that I could make well-rounded.

Even though I loved Spain, sometimes I ended up feeling stunted. I felt like I didn’t have enough to engage my mind or fill my time. It was a limitation I had because of the restrictions of the visas I was able to use while there. It was a reality for me nonetheless.

monterey ca rocks on the water
This all led to the very challenging and definitely bittersweet decision to move back to the U.S. and pursue a graduate degree. I felt that by doing so, I could find my way to more professional fulfillment. Ultimately, I wanted to feel more balanced and grounded in my life. I hope to work towards feeling stable here or back abroad someday.”

What have you been doing this year?

“This academic year, I have been focused on my master’s degree and all of the work it entails. Choosing to go for a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies was one of the bigger decisions I’ve made in my life; I gave up a life in Spain surrounded by people I love there to pursue it.

Although I miss Spain and the life I built for myself there, I can’t say for a second that I regret the shift. I know that I am in the right place doing the right thing and that it will propel me towards the future I know I want.”

International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies

Emma has been in California for almost two months now and may need some more time to feel like it is home too. But she’s hopeful that the skills she gains and connections she makes will help guide her forward to the next step after this. Hopefully, she can find all the things she’s looking for. Be on the lookout for Emma’s next pieces on how her life has changed and follow her journey!

city on the water
Fisherman’s Wharf Monterey, California.

 

by Emma Schultz