Year of Graduation: 2005
Graduate School: M.S. in Counseling St. Cloud State University
Current Position: This past year I've been working as an English Teacher for an NGO called WorldTeach (www.worldteach.org). WorldTeach sends volunteers to various countries all over the world to teach English.
Please give a brief description of your current position.
I was placed in Pohnpei, Micronesia and have been teaching at a local community college (College of Micronesia) since August. There are times when teaching is challenging, however my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. The students fill my days with constant entertainment and they also have taught me a lot about their own culture and language. In addition to teaching English at the college, I have also volunteered with many different organizations on the island. I started a track and field program and I tutor over 50 high school students in English through a program called Talent Search Program (TSP). Pohnpei is a developing island where people still live in shacks with tin roofs; however, where it lacks in physical development, it makes up for in community and culture.
What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
In college, although I wanted to, I chose not to study abroad because I was a track and field athlete. I didn't want to leave my teammates for an entire season. After I left college and finished graduate school, I still longed to live abroad. I also didn't feel ready to start a long-term career. I started looking at programs and began talking to people I knew who had lived abroad. One of my former teammates, Katie Rehani, was a WorldTeach volunteer in the Marshall Islands and after talking to her, I decided to apply. I chose Pohnpei because of the obvious draws. It's a beautiful island on the Pacific Ocean with consistently hot weather, the culture is known for its hospitality and the program was fully funded! I applied in January, accepted the position in April and flew to Pohnpei in July!
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your position?
If you still feel strongly pulled to live, work or study abroad after college, go for it! Not only does it leave you with little regrets, but you will also learn a lot about yourself in a more global context. Also, I have been able to make many meaningful connections with people both personally and professionally that I wouldn't have been able to make if I stayed at home. Teaching in a developing country definitely offers many challenges; however a flexible disposition, a willingness to learn and a positive attitude is all you need. Also, I've noticed that the volunteers who are either extending their contract or saddened by leaving, are the ones who weren't afraid to connect with and integrate into the culture. Those who fulfilled their teaching commitment and didn't connect with locals are the volunteers who are counting the days until they return home. So, if you decide to teach abroad, don't be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Don't just hang out with the other volunteers in your group. It may be a little awkward at first, but the end result is extremely fulfilling.
What skills are important in your field?
In my limited experience teaching ESL, I found that a positive attitude, patience, critical thinking, and a personal desire to continue learning were the most important skills. When I first started teaching my students, they were very self-conscious about their English language ability. After I was able to increase their confidence, their abilities noticeably increased. It was important to be positive, yet honest, with my students throughout the year. Patience and critical thinking was necessary because teaching ESL is not a step-by-step, linear process. At times it felt as though I would take one step forward with my students only to fall back two steps the very next day. However, I was able to be patient and supportive and this encouraged the students to not give up and continue trying, even if it was a slow and frustrating process. Lastly, it is important as a teacher to always continue learning yourself. Even as a native English speaker, there were a few concepts that I didn't understand! Whenever I would get stuck with a difficult grammar principle, I would research it after class and return back to class with a clearer answer. A desire to keep learning often kept me afloat!
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job? Most Challenging?
My experience teaching in the classroom was by far the most rewarding part of my job. However, it was also the most challenging! At times it was difficult to keep my students motivated to learn and it also was a constant battle to get my students to arrive on time to class. Pohnpei is the second rainiest place on earth, which provides students with a regular excuse for being late! Also, anyone who has had the opportunity to live on an island will understand what I mean by "island time." People simply don't move as fast on an island! However, even though there were daily frustrations, there were also things that happened each day that made me smile, laugh or simply shake my head. At the end of each semester, the outpour of love and appreciation for our (WorldTeach volunteers) help was overwhelming. On the last day of class each of my students decided to write me a letter to reflect on their experiences. I was moved to tears by what they wrote. I will not only cherish their letters, but I will also cherish the many memories we shared together.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
CSB helped me develop the confidence to dive head first into situations with unclear outcomes. When I left for Pohnpei, I had no idea if I was going to enjoy my experience abroad. As left my family and traveled through the security gate at the airport, I kept telling myself, "Even if this is a terrible experience, it's only a year. I can make it through a year regardless of how comfortable I am." Yes, I was afraid but CSB (especially Blazer athletics) helped me realize that often the most challenging situations bring about the greatest reward. I remember when I decided to become a heptathlete (a seven-event athlete) on the Blazer Track and Field team. The thought of participating in such a challenging event intimidated me. However, through that experience I learned the meaning of hard work, dedication, and never giving up. Living in Pohnpei, at times, was like competing in a heptathlon. Often I had to go from one "event" to another without much rest. If the previous event did not go well, I simply kept going. Just like a heptathlon, giving up wasn't an option. Being a Blazer heptathlete taught me that even after setbacks, great things can be accomplished if you just keep on working hard. Living in Pohnpei, though challenging, has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.