“Why We Teach Overseas” (Part III)

Several days ago I started this series about why my husband and I spend most of our time overseas in the former Soviet Union, in Astana, Kazakhstan.  Bottomline, we both like challenges of living in a different environment from our own.

4. Being and staying organized while living and teaching overseas can be a challenge. First of all, I’ve experienced in China, Ukraine and Central Asia that May is a dangerous month to require too much heavy testing or written work to be put into the syllabus schedule.  Holidays are liberally celebrated during this month and it is just as well because by this time teachers and students are tired of schoolwork and the great outdoors with warmer spring weather is a welcome distraction.

However, because we were Peace Corps and I was the TEFL training coordinator, I was able to set up my own schedule despite what the rest of the country was doing for their set holidays. During this training session in summer of 1993, I effectively used my time to enable the PCVs to be up to speed on how to teach English in a Kazakh classroom.  I implemented a Model School for three weeks, where 32 PCVs took turns in six different classrooms teaching English to primary school age children.  We had about 120 Kazakh students who participated in this Model School. It took a lot of coordination but was well worth it to give confidence to those inexperienced PCVs who did not have any teaching experience before this assignment in Kazakhstan.  Many of the PCVs were trained as journalists but they quickly learned during our TEFL training sessions, especially with young subjects in front of them, eager to learn English.

While I enjoy creativity and flexibility, I also appreciate structure. This makes it so much easier to walk into a classroom with a well thought out lesson plan, thorough textbooks that adequately cover the material and an overall good curriculum that touches on all the necessary skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking in an integrated way.

Second, I enjoy researching and have presented several papers having to do with my own Norwegian ancestor’s history.  I’ve also learned about my students (Ukrainian and Kazakh) history.  When I ask them about their grandparents or grand grandparents, they are very proud of their ancestors and do well in writing about them.  I have presented at history conferences (four papers) and many times at international TESOL conferences.  I enjoy researching and try to help my Kazakh students enjoy it too.  Many helpful websites such as Thesis Statement Builder and Citation Builder make the attributing of sources less onerous.

5. I have many years experience living overseas and coping with cultural differences. I enjoy the moment of breaking through to have a “normal day.”  I have taught in many similar settings to Astana, Kazakhstan and have lived outside of my own home country for over 15 years.  I think I bring an immense amount of experience that my fellow teachers and colleagues might benefit from.  I enjoy helping to coordinate solutions for those who are new at living overseas, dealing with exasperating “cultural moments” when things don’t go according to our westernized sensibilities.

Also, I DO know how extreme the weather can be in Astana but I’m from northwestern Minnesota that shares a similar climate.  In order to cope with the cold, you must find a sport that you enjoy doing outdoors.  I like to cross-country ski and it is great exercise to help alleviate stresses due to living in this sometimes very perplexing culture.

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