(Photos courtesy of Nelson Carson. From top left: Breakfast with Mama Amelia, Txan di Tanki, Cape Verde; Part local and part tourist, biking around Place Opera, Montpellier, France; 8th grade students get excited for a class photo in Ribeira Brava, Cape Verde)
As we delve into the field of TESOL, we discover that a wide range of teaching opportunities are available. With the continued growth of the immigrant population in the U.S. and the consistent influx of an international student population, domestic teaching possibilities stretch from coast to coast. However, they don’t stop there. Many TESOL openings also lie abroad.
Opportunities to teach English abroad are abundant, through a variety of programs all around the globe. Two of these, the Teaching Assistant Program in France and the Peace Corps, marked the beginning of my path as an English teacher. When I arrived at Ohio State as an undergrad, I began to learn about opportunities for students to study and volunteer abroad, and attended an information session about the Peace Corps. At this point, I became set on becoming a Volunteer; the idea of volunteering in a different country fascinated me.
Before serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I participated in the Teaching Assistant Program in France. As an elementary school English assistant in Montpellier, the capital of the Languedoc region of France, I taught 12 hours a week for nine months. During this time, I learned a great deal about classroom management, lesson planning, and authentic material development. I also had plenty of opportunities to travel and become immersed in French culture beyond the wine, cheese and frog legs. I learned that, on your birthday, YOU ought to take in your own cake and refreshments. I also enjoyed hearing and attempting l’accent montpellierain because, well, when in Montpellier…
After spending a year teaching in France, I found myself re-packing my bags. This time, as a Peace Corps Trainee, I was bound for Cape Verde, West Africa. Following 9 weeks of language, cultural and technical training—along with a positive homestay experience with Mama Amelia—I set out to the island of Saninclau, which I called home for three years.
My role as an Education Volunteer consisted primarily of teaching English to high school students. My classes were spread from early morning to late afternoon, and sometimes on Saturday morning. Teaching hours ranged between 18-21 hours/week. Teaching 6-7 classes (180-200 students) on a yearly basis was quite a challenge, but I was able to establish some kind of routine amid the chaos. On a typical day, I would rise to roosters or the barking of street dogs and then plan lessons for the 4-5 classes I had on any given school day. Twice per week, I would also facilitate a capoeira youth group, which focused on life skills through body movement and music. In the evenings, hanging with friends and locals often meant sharing food—a spet of barbecued pork or maybe a heaping plate of catchupa (pork or fish atop a hearty plate of corn and beans). Frequent religious festas translated into a lot of dancing and good food, including goat stew, fish stew, and fried tripe. Sure, I occasionally missed a burger or a Bob Evans’ breakfast, but in my mind, you couldn’t go wrong with most of the local delights.
When I decided to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was imbued with an idealist sense of adventure and “doing good.” I was thirsty to learn a new language and experience a different culture. Our Country Director’s wise words struck a chord, though: most Volunteers go in as idealists and go out as pragmatists. Toward the end of my service, I was no longer thinking of changing underlying cultural systems that had shocked me. I wasn’t there to reform the educational system; I simply became engaged in my teaching capacity as best as I could. Hearing from students years later—still in English—is the biggest reward. Whether it’s a short summer stint or a longer commitment, I recommend teaching abroad. It helped to broaden my cultural lens, and can do the same for all teachers.