Monday, July 15, 2013

Teaching Abroad... Just. Do. It.

I have been reminiscing lately about my teaching abroad experience. I think it has been on my mind as one of my friends is getting ready to move to South America for four months..... It was the scariest, hardest, most exciting and best experience I ever had. I want EVERY teacher person to live abroad, hence why I felt it necessary to borrow Nike's slogan...but c'mon ... Just do it!


Let me back up. In the fall of 2003...yes that long ago... I applied to the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program. Just to see what would come of it. I never expected to get an interview... I did. I didn't expect anything, but next thing I knew in the summer of 2004 I flew to Washington D.C. to meet the teacher I was exchanging with and to meet all the fellow Americans getting ready to hit up classrooms around the world.

From there I was off to England... let's be honest a big chunk of us were off to England because of our lack of a second language. But we weren't close to each other...once you were in the U.K. it was every teacher for themselves. Now if you read this blog often you know I am a big traveler...that's now... but then I had been to only Canada and Mexico. I got on that plane hoping my new "head master" (aka principal) would be at Heathrow Airport holding a sign with my name on it. She was.

We drove the 3 1/2 hours to the small town of Hereford where I was to teach "Year 2" which is first grade at St. Thomas Cantilupe Primary School. It was such a different life. Now some of it wasn't different because it was England vs. America... plenty of it WAS because of the difference in culture, but it was also different because Hereford is a small town and I had never lived in a small town, regardless of the country. And it was a Church of England school and I only had experience teaching in public schools. And it was English weather... and well, I am born and raised in Southern California... I put on a sweatshirt if it dips below 70.

So I wasn't used to the quaint town and the rainy weather. Places closed at 5:00pm and it seemed there was endless rain.  And oh yeah, I didn't have a car... we Californians live in our cars and now I didn't even have one. In London, I am a big fan of the tube and I even like the double decker red buses, but in Hereford we just had a regular bus that stopped running early in the night. So as you can see.... lots of changes for little ol' me. Not to mention that I didn't know one single person in the country except for the handful of other Americans in the same boat as me who were sprinkled throughout the country. So yes, were there days that I thought, "Oh my...what am I doing here?"

But there were other days I was planning my next trip or feeling empowered by this new life I created for myself.

Yes, I would have chosen to be placed in London if I could have, but in hind sight I am glad I wasn't afforded a choice. In the end I spent many weekends in London and since then spent two whole summers there- so I got my London fix and they took good care of me in Hereford. See, the way Fulbright works is you tell them everything about you and your teaching position and they match you with someone. You don't choose the country... never mind the city. I know, a bit scary to relinquish that much control. Again, just do it!

Every so often Fulbright would have a get together for all of the Americans to attend. I looked forward to these to hear how everyone else was "getting on." (I'm using my "British talk") and to just hear other people going through the same things as me... both the good and the bad. I want to point out there were all kinds of people...young, old, married, single, with kids... everything. So I know some of you were thinking, I can't... I have kids or my husband or wife's  job...etc. Yes, it may be a roadblock, but I was staggered by the amount of teachers who were bringing their families with them and who would report that their kids were loving their new schools. What a fun experience for those little ones! {There was only one incident I recall of a teenage boy who was missing his high school life back home, which is understandable, and he did fly back to the states after a while in England to live with his aunt. His parents and younger siblings stayed in the U.K.}

This experience made me such a better teacher. There are so many things that we teachers do the same...because a 6 year old is a 6 year old no matter where you are. But there are so many things they do differently and I learned so much.

This is my class celebrating Thanksgiving with me. Obviously, not a holiday there so we were all at school that day. It was probably the most patriotic Thanksgiving I have ever had, but it was sweet the thought they put into it for me. I wish you could see their cute faces... but please observe the ties.

One of my favorite stories is how after changing from their "P.E. kits" the  first week of school they formed a single file line with their ties loose around their neck .... Yes?? I wondered... Oh, the line was for me to tie their ties. When they found out I didn't know how, they were in just as much shock as me. For the record, I learned pretty quickly.

The other part of this experience that was amazing is how much I learned about myself. That sounds so cheesy or cliche I can't stand it... but it is true. There I am living in a stranger's house {while that same stranger was living in my apartment} with no friends or family nearby. I made friends and I traveled and I learned so much! For me, part of what made this experience so special was doing it all on my own, but now I am interested in doing something similar again with my hubby by my side.

I had a website while  I was there called "Christy's Life: An American Teacher in England." Sadly, it is all gone now. I had paid the one year subscription for my URL and now it has vanished into the air - I didn't get to save it all either {So annoyed at myself} But I also had a blog... sadly, it was barely maintained because I had the site. Why have both you ask? Well, back then in 2005 people had to sign up and have a blogger account just to view a blog...this wasn't going to happen for most of my family, so I got a "real website." In hind sight I'm disappointed because the ill maintained blog is up and running and the very cool website {if I do say so myself} is gone... Here's the blog: Christy's Blog {creative name, huh?} Best part, I can't access the blog...I've tried every email and password I know.

The other thing is this experience opened up the world of traveling to me. Now I have been to 35 U.S. states and 34 countries on 5 continents. It's like a disease... I love it. During that one year of time there there I traveled A LOT! There were weekend trips to Amsterdam, Denmark, Portugal, Germany and more. I had my mom visit for a trip to Austria. I had the whole family come over for a Christmas in London {see below} and New Year's in Paris.
I had other trips to France, Poland, Italy, Czech Republic, Sweden, Spain, Scotland... some alone and some with friends.  All of these wonderful things because I put myself out there and said... maybe...I'm not sure...OK...I guess I will try this.

This is a collage of photos from a trip with my brother and sister in the summer of 2005 right before I came home from the year away.
A few more quick facts: Fulbright offers exchanges for part of a school year if a year seems too long, but I recommend that amount of time so you can go through the full cycle of emotions from..why did I sign up for this? To... this is the best thing ever! And you are still paid by your home school, which is good because if you are in a public system you will still earn a year towards your retirement {the bad part is when you do the currency conversions.}

Oh and as for what I missed at home... not much. I was so worried that by being off of U.S. soil for 365 days I would miss too much. What if my friends did fabulous things without me? What about weddings and parties?  But no, I emailed and got cards in the mail from people back home {how often do you get care packages from your local friends now?} So in a way I "talked" with people even more. And when I got back... it was ALL the same, sadly, it was like I never left. The only thing I didn't know were some of the songs on the radio. I remember going to a wedding shortly after my return and everyone was singing the new Kelly Clarkson song. I had no idea who she was because I missed her season of American Idol. Honestly, don't worry about missing things.. you will be gaining so much more.

Fulbright is a wonderful program, but there are other ones out there too. And there are plenty of opportunities to teach English around the globe. So I urge everyone to look into it. It will be a roller coaster of emotion and you will come out in the end a stronger and better person {and teacher.}

If you are still with me on this long post. The best part of my travels abroad is that it indirectly led to me meeting my husband. This is a picture of us at our wedding in the South of France.

This was a long one today... sorry, but as you can see I have a lot to say on the topic.

Just do it!

16 comments:

  1. I lived vicariously through you that year...well every year! :)

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  2. What an amazing experience! I've never been abroad (does an island in the Bahamas count?), but my husband loves to travel (he spent a semester in Peru as an undergrad). As much as I fear change, maybe one day, I'll work up the courage to pick up and teach abroad. It sounds like it was a year you've never forgotten!

    Susie
    Shafer's Shenanigans 

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  3. I never knew you had travelled so little before that year! You never once showed that. I had travelled loads before that but always with family so the scary part for me was being alone in a country. I lucked out with a London school though and was able to travel into town late at night rather than be confined at home or a pub in te evenings. I agree with your post wholeheartedly! Just do it and you'll never regret it!! It is life changing!

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  4. Hi Christy!

    I've nominated you for the Liebster Award...I always love reading your posts! Head over to my blog to check out all the details.

    Susie
    Shafer's Shenanigans 

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  5. Loved reading this!!! You are brave!!!!! And inspiring! :)

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  6. WOW! I can't believe you've been to that many countries! It was so fun reading this post and learning a little bit about you. I'm your newest follower! It looks like Susie beat me to it, but I just nominated you on my blog for the Liebster Award too! You can still stop by and read my post if you want to :)

    Melissa
    Jungle Learners

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  7. I have always wanted to do this and need to look more seriously into it! This summer I applied and got accepted to Reading Institute @ Teacher's College in New York. It was amazing.

    Laurie
    Chickadee Jubilee

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  8. I lived in Canada (I'm from Australia) all of last year and am so pleased that I stepped out of my comfort zone and took the plunge! Everything you said about learning about yourself, seeing amazing places and getting the travel bug is true. I hope you've inspired lots of others to try living overseas. :)

    Lauren

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  9. I'm so glad that I found your blog! I am also married to an Irishman, but we met working at summer camp in the states. One of our camp friends from Belfast did a Fulbright exchange this year. She was in Alabama and loved it. It sounds amazing!

    Jenny
    Suntans and Lesson Plans

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  10. You story is so inspiring! Thank you so much for taking the time to share. I've always wanted to teach in another country but never knew how to find a way to do it. Thanks again!

    Mrs. Thompson
    Adventures in Teaching (A First Grade Blog)

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  11. I have always wanted to teach overseas but I haven't made the plunge yet. I haven't heard of this program. Thank you for sharing. I'll have to check it out.


    Krystyn
    Ms Richards's Musings

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  12. This is SO cool! I am actually teaching English to blind and visually impaired students in Daejeon, South Korea this year. Like you, I just decided to do it!

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  13. I love this idea to reinforce and practise using English. I am considering doing volunteer work in my community by teaching ESL and hadn't even slightly thought of using games.

    Good Score in TOEFL

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