“Is teaching abroad just for recent college grads and young people?”

It’s a common question we receive at LanguageCorps, but the short answer is no, teaching abroad is not just for “young” people. Age restrictions vary by location, and many of our teachers ARE in their 20s or 30s, but we’ve also had people in their 60s and beyond participate in our programs.  If you are enthusiastic and young at heart, in many countries, the only limits are those that you place upon yourself!

Today’s alumni interview with Pat in Turkey is a prime example of just that.  Pat began his adventure teaching English abroad at the young age of 54, and it has been awesome hearing about his experience!  Check out Pat’s story below:

For a lot of my adult life I lived as a freelance person involved in the visual arts. I was an illustrator, administrator, teacher and fine artist. I co-founded and directed a non-profit arts organization during some
challenging years in San Francisco’s Mission District. I was very involved in the Nebraska Arts Council during my 4 years in Omaha. NAC is a fantastic organization.

As a teacher, I taught primarily drawing, but I also spent some time as a resident artist in public education during a time when visual and performing art was being incorporated into academic curriculum because of financial cutbacks to the arts in public schools. I was involved in teaching graphic software programs, mural production, ceramic work, printmaking and sculpture with students of all ages. I have also done some work in rehabs and prisons as a resident artist.

I studied fine art and graduated from the State University of NY at Purchase in 1981. I did my TEFL certification over a period of a year, including a weekend intensive certificate in London when I met my son who was traveling between Brussels, Scotland and Lithuania. I have three certificates.

My last 5 years in the US were vocationally really difficult. I couldn’t get work as an illustrator or an educator. I worked in an office full time for the first time in my life. Although I am grateful for that experience because of the relationships that developed with the people I worked with, the financial sector is an industry I have a difficult time with on a number of levels, so there was an element of incarceration that was omnipresent during those years. In addition to having lost a chunk of my identity in terms of the way in which my energy was spent, the financial situation I was in was extremely stressful. That work experience in that industry presented me with a daily stark, ironic and almost perverse view of the have and have-nots in America. Most significant was where I was situated in the demographic.

In what city/state do you currently live? Are you employed there? If so, what is your job?

I live on the Asian side of Istanbul, Turkey. I work as an English teacher. My students are terrific, both the students in the language school and my private students. The language school is pretty cool, too. The other teachers are great, I get paid on time and am treated with respect and flexibility. Consequently, I am more than willing to be accommodating in whatever way I can.

How did you hear about LanguageCorps?

During my 5 year “prison term” I planned my escape from the US really carefully and methodically. I did a huge amount of research on the internet and asked a lot of questions. LanguageCorps was the only program that I found that spent so much time on the actual teaching practice. Their TEFL program, which I was already certified for, was rigorous and comprehensive. It’s a really good program for a person
with no teaching experience, or someone who has forgotten everything they ever knew about English grammar. I paid for that program for the teaching practice and I walked into a classroom in a foreign country where I do not speak the language pretty prepared.

In what country did you work?

I still work here in Turkey and I don’t have any plans to move away soon.

Why did you decide to teach English abroad?

My TEFL teaching experience began in the United States as a home-stay host and English tutor at my home in Berkeley, California where my first students came from Brazil, Korea, Austria, China, France, and Japan.

What was the most exciting thing about teaching English abroad?

The best thing about teaching abroad is that I am a student again myself. I learn so much every day about culture and how much of my worldview can be expanded. I don’t ever want to stop learning. My Turkish is horrible, but if I do what I suggest my students do, next year at this time it will be so much better. It’s not an “if” it’s a “when” situation.

What was the biggest challenge you experienced?

“Cultural myopic” is the way I describe it. Although I have done some traveling in my life, it is not like living in another country that is not “the West”. I was telling my upper intermediate students the other day about my experience and it goes like this: When I visit another country, it is like being in a museum and looking at a case with artifacts on display. But these are people whose lives are normal. And even if my myopic view is one that I define by the “others'” cuteness or my fascination with “them”, I am still treating the people like a specimen – if only mentally. But when I live in a place, I am the weirdo, I am the “other”, and my worldview is shifted by this experience in the most significant way. Initially I was embarrassed by my world view, my faux pas experiences. Now I am more reconciled to being the permanent student. I am able to pay attention with a lack of judgment or critique that was much more exaggerated at the beginning
– both in terms of the “other” and myself.

Were there any special local customs, foods, places, events, off-the-beaten-path experiences that you’d like to share?

There are so many! I have been from Istanbul to Georgia along the Black Sea. I have been from Şile to Side, via Konya and Kapadokya.I have been from İzmir to Konya to Şanliurfa to Hasankeyf and Mardin to Batman, Bitlis, Muş, Kars, Erzurum, Tokat, Çorum. I have been to Patara and Kaş and the Mediterranean. I am about to embark on another trip to the south: Adana, Hatay, Gaziantep, Nemrut Dağı, Şanliurfa! I couldn’t have done a lot of that without my son Daniel, his wife Dilek and her mother, my daughter Laura, or my koca gibi (that mean “like my husband” – he lives in California)

Had you ever done anything like this in the past (examples: Peace Corps, Teach America, etc)?

I have traveled a fair amount in my life. My daughter was toilet trained in Italy, is fearless and speaks Spanish fluently. My son has been all over the world, just married a Turkish woman and speaks several languages. I went to Morocco when I was in my 20s and wore out my shoes in the mountains. But I always rent a car and have a map, do some initial research and wander. I have never done anything like what I am doing now.

What would you recommend people considering teaching abroad consider beforehand?

I would ask myself why I am doing it first. I would pay attention to my motives and be prepared to be a student. I have met people who teach English BECAUSE they are traveling or SO that they can travel. And I understand that. Personally, I am here now because I am on the next chapter of my life. I have always loved teaching, but being a 54 year old student is awesome!

Has your experience teaching abroad extended beyond your teaching contract? (E.g. new life skills, cultural experience that has helped you find a job, etc.)

I don’t have a contract. I don’t want a contract. At least right now I don’t. I feel like I am prepared to go to Southeast Asia, South America, anywhere in Europe or the Middle East/Africa. (Did I leave anything out?) Maybe I am not culturally prepared, but certainly in terms of willingness.

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