Linda Smith, our rockstar support coordinator, received this very nice letter the other day from Cindi in Cambodia. Cindi took our TESOL Certification course in Phnom Penh, and is now loving life as an English teacher abroad. It’s always great to hear from teachers who are embracing life abroad and making the most of their experience, and we wish Cindi continued success and happiness on her adventure abroad! You can read her email below.
When I first came to Florence, Italy, in October of last year, I couldn’t have imagined how much my life would change. I came for Florence’s TEFL certification program, arranged through LanguageCorps, even though I hadn’t planned on really teaching. It was never a profession that interested me, and if I’m being honest, I rather dislike children. Teaching 30 ragamuffins in a chaotic classroom where I didn’t speak the native language didn’t appeal to my sense of adventure, but I decided to do the program because I really wanted to live in Italy and travel throughout Europe, and I needed a way to make money. As my departure date got closer, I also decided that maybe this program wouldn’t be so bad as a way to try something new and out of my comfort zone. After all, I was already getting out of my zone by picking up and moving overseas, so why not look forward to the reason that was getting me there?
Well, the TEFL Certification program was tough. How could it not be, given I only had a month to learn everything I never knew about English grammar and pedagogy? Even with my English degree and stronger knowledge of grammar than most of my fellow American classmates, the class was a challenge. And after becoming TEFL Certified, I found I still had no desire to teach. I’d enjoyed the practice teaching sessions and the classrooms were no more than seven adults, but overall, I still felt pretty ambivalent to the idea. I decided I’d move to Rome where my friends were teaching, and do what people in their 20s do: hang out.
That didn’t last long. After a month or so of this, I realized hanging out takes money. Money I didn’t have anymore. I looked around for writing and journalism options, because those were my degrees in college and I felt more comfortable in that field, but I didn’t have much luck.
So, I decided to give teaching English in Italy the ol’ college try. And what a fun, rewarding ride it’s been! I feel incredibly lucky. I teach a range of ages from 9 to 18, and while at first I wasn’t too pleased (remember, I dislike children, and teenagers fall into that category for me), it’s turned out to be a great opportunity to get involved with something I’d never considered doing, and I now realize that teaching can be pretty awesome.
When my students tell me they had a fun lesson, there’s a level of satisfaction that I didn’t have when I was working in journalism. Granted, I also have my frustrating days, and days where I wonder what I was thinking getting myself involved in teaching. But who doesn’t have those? It only makes the good days that much better. And I still get to travel, which was the whole point of the trip in the first place. I go to a new place for a weekend each month, and while I wish I had more time, I’ve found a good balance of getting more acquainted with Rome, while still seeing Europe.
I’m now involved in a summer camp in Umbria, where I would be teaching English to children ages 6-12 for three weeks. I’m sure I will come away with a sense of accomplishment and happiness–probably happiness at being done with the camp but also happiness that I did it in the first place. Only time will tell!
When you are living or teaching abroad, one of the first thing you might want to do is pull out your cellphone/camera at every opportunity and take pictures to share with your friends at home. Sites like Instagram and Flicker have made sharing pictures on a daily basis a part of our culture—I mean, we want to make our friends back home realize how much fun we are having, right?
However, there are also some great benefits to putting that camera away and leaving it behind when you go out for the day. You start to notice things differently when you aren’t out to get the perfect shot to send to your friends, like how good a slice of pizza actually tastes instead of how it looks in Italy, how bright Gaudi’s colors are in Barcelona without a brightness setting, and how busy the streets of Tokyo are when you aren’t glued to your camera phone’s screen. There are some major benefits to really appreciating the moment and enjoying wherever you are in the world.
1. You Appreciate Art More
When you are in a location that has some amazing works of art, you might want to find yourself wanting to snap that picture behind the security guard’s back. Before you decide to take that photo, however, remember that this work of art has probably already been snapped…usually again and again and again. Think about actually enjoying the work of art as it was intended. Who knows? You might see something new.
- You appreciate food more.
Taking the time to snap a photo before you dive into a plate of sushi in Japan or pouring yourself some sangria in Spain has kind of become an obligatory action. While it’s understandable that you want your friends to know what’s been on the menu recently, part of the experience of eating food is to enjoy the whole enchilada (so to speak). Before you decide to take a photo, think about whether or not it would ruin the meal to stop and take a picture. Either way, enjoying your food is an important part of learning about a new culture.
- You appreciate your surroundings more.
Part of going to a new place is enjoying being somewhere else and seeing some new things that you wouldn’t if you were at home. When you are constantly snapping pictures, you can actually end up missing a lot because you are so focused on finding that perfect angle. Think about taking a long walk without your camera in hand and see whether or not you notice anything different about your neighborhood or the people you pass on the street on a daily basis. With so many beautiful things to see while being abroad, it would be a shame to miss them.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t document your experiences and that you shouldn’t take some pictures! But if you find yourself looking through the lens more than you think you should, you might want to consider putting the camera down and taking a long walk with no options of filters.
My own culture
This is a very well- accepted phrase, but at times we really forget to pay attention to how much excitement, change and challenges help us grow. Some days we just live with an accepted monotony of conditioned behaviors and activities that we call a ´normal day´. But this kind of day-to-day normalcy is not born into us.
As a traveler I have seen many different kinds of lifestyles that have taught me just how many choices we have in the world. Living life as a fairly typical American for my first 21 years, I have come to an understanding of American culture (which does exist, believe it or not!) But living an American lifestyle in China or Spain just wouldn’t be possible without being thoroughly and constantly frustrated. So we learn to adapt.
We may be resistant at first, but with time and flexibility we learn to try out the mores of a different society ´´for fun´´. We try local foods, shop for traditional clothes, make friends of different cultures and try activities common to the natives. As we open our minds, we realize different is not always scary, and we start to crave new experiences. We may even learn to fully envelop ourselves into another society.
My latest cultural experience was teaching English in Spain. I had a piso (Spanish for flat) in a small town in Andalucia. I had a café solo and tostada con aceite (bread with olive oil) for breakfast, ate lunch around 2 or 3 and finished the day with tapas and wine at a local bar. The siesta didn’t fit my work schedule, but on some weekends would be an added activity. I spoke in my broken Spanish, learned to not expect any stores to be open from 2-6, Saturday afternoons or Sunday, wasn’t surprised by religious processions, walked very slowly and greeted everyone with a kiss on both cheeks.
And with adaption comes a realization of personal preference that is not always in keeping with the traditions of our home land. The lifestyle of the new home is not always perfect either. We become a person free from accepted norms, challenging each culture with questions, and coming up with our own idea of what a ´normal´ day should be like. We accumulate new experiences in order to compare with what we already know. This personal growth is central to the process of creating our own culture; one that is unique to our interests, needs and passions.
While in Spain there were parts of my life that were very ´´unSpanish´´. I didn’t eat dairy, eggs or meat….yes even ham was not a part of my diet. I spent my weekends traveling with new friends, never ate meals with my family and spoke English with my roommate. There were parts of the culture I would never be able to fully understand, but I was still able to appreciate it for what it taught me about family, work and life.
So. What other foods can I try? What other sport can I try? What other lifestyle can I learn from? Each time I try something new I am able to commit further to what I know is my own culture.
Thank you for learning with me,
By Gina Rodondi, LanguageCorps Thailand
Gina is a yoga instructor and travel enthusiast who currently resides in Portland, Oregon. She caught the travel bug pretty early on in life, but didn’t have the opportunity to travel abroad until June 2013, when she embarked on her first transcontinental journey to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to get TESOL certified through LanguageCorps. It was her goal to acquire this certification and then teach English in Thailand a teach English, making it possible to economically sustain all the jet-setting she planned to do. She has had the pleasure of not only bowing into the peace and wonder of Cambodia, but also has ventured to southern and northern Thailand, and also Luang Prabang, Laos. She is now back in the United States, nurturing what she learned while teaching English in Thailand. The experience was one that enriched and empowered her life on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level and truly created the space for lasting change.
Episodes of Perfect Kindness
The golden sun is going down on another day here in Chiang Mai, the land of kindness. I realize that Thailand as a whole is known as the “land of smiles”. However, I have not witnessed as many outward, generous expressions of kindness as I have in this city. I went to the dentist today to have the first teeth cleaning that I’ve had in an awfully long time, and naturally I was white knuckling the chair and squirming because my teeth have become very sensitive of late. The sweet woman dentist was so attentive and even empathized with me about her own sensitive teeth as she held my forearm in a gesture of comfort while turning the teeth cleaner down to the lowest speed. Later on, I went back to the same dentist office to bring in the other portion of my payment. I spoke with a different Thai woman at the reception desk, whose English was a bit limited, but she generally understood what I said when I broke it down. She began to tell me a bit about herself and brought up wanting to learn English, but had no time since she worked every day. She had also mentioned that her sister was a Catholic nun and that she goes to visit her at the convent often. I stayed for a few more minutes, both of us laughing as we tried to understand each other. I went to open the door to leave and she says, “God bless you” with a huge smile on her face–I couldn’t help but return the sentiment, since she was such a sweetheart and did so well with her English conversation.
Next, I went to AUM, my beloved vegetarian restaurant, and had the nourishing, creamy avocado maki with the bright carrot, orange and ginger juice. I was craving something a bit sweet after, so I stopped into a nondescript cafe on my stroll home. I crossed the threshold and I greeted the proprietress with the customary, “Sawadee ka” and she answered me immediately in English with a warm, “Hello. How are you?”. This woman exuded non judgment, warmth, kindness and confidence in both herself and her establishment. She made me feel right at home, and went on about how much she loved the embroidered cotton tunic that I was wearing, because it looked so lightweight and the blue color matched my eyes. Who doesn’t like getting complimented immediately upon meeting someone the first time?
She guided me over to the pastry case to see what kind of sweet I would like, and I chose the perfect, delectable almond brownie. I took my cute, baby pink cushioned seat and surveyed the scene, which slightly resembled a British tea house that I used to frequent in San Francisco. The late afternoon light filled the entire place, brightening up even the dark cherry wood of the tables and chairs. It matched the amount of warmth that I was receiving from Yupa, the proprietress. I stayed only for a short time, but the place made a lasting positive impression on me. I would definitely be back.
I cannot help but feel so incredibly blessed to be here, having these magical interactions with seemingly complete strangers, which convinces me evermore that there is so much good left in this world. God bless me, indeed.
Do you have a story about your time teaching English abroad? Email Steve.Patton@languagecorps.com!
Pack light, friends and relatives are quick to advise upon hearing about your plans to go teach English abroad.
Well, that’s excellent advice in general, but when you are going to spend six, nine months or even a year teaching abroad, you’d better be prepared.
Here are some suggestions you can take under consideration when traveling to a foreign country to teach English. Continue reading
Anna is a LanguageCorps participant currently teaching English in Peru. She sent us over this post about her first few months in Cusco.
I truly did not know what to expect when I began my 20-hour-journey to Cusco, but those are always my favorite adventures. Shortly after landing, I realized they weren’t kidding about the altitude as the weight of my body became seemingly more apparent.
My first day was a blur consisting of meeting my host family and battling altitude sickness. However most of my stress was alleviated by the efficient services of LanguageCorps starting from my airport pick-up to the arrangement of my host family. Arriving in a new city can be daunting and having the peace of mind that my ride and accommodation were verified and safe made a world of difference.
Machu Picchu, by Pedro Szekely on Flickr
Sorry, South America, Australia, and Africa, but the Northern Hemisphere has the most fun during summer.
As soon as the Sun starts sticking around. Europe blossoms. Music festivals begin to lurk behind every corner. And it’s not just music events; art lovers and foodies aren’t left behind, either. This is when Europe’s cultural diversity finally offers something more than just the language barrier. While you teach English in Europe, you might as well have some fun, right? Continue reading
Technology and our smartphones in particular are becoming so much more than a way to keep up with friends. They are in our classroom, they can give us quick access to information and they even make traveling more accessible.
Everyone knows about TripAdvisor and how handy it is, but what are the travel apps that have stayed under the radar?
The five apps below have made my travels much easier and range from tracking your steps to tracking your cash. Continue reading
If there’s a place in the world that turned out nothing like what I expected, it’d be Thessaloniki, Greece.
For years I thought it’d be a quiet, almost boring city where apart from studying, not much is happening. How wrong I was!
A few months ago I visited Thessaloniki for the first time and all my false ideas about the city were shattered by the end of the first day of my visit. Continue reading