As they shared colourful tales of their travels, faculty members, graduates and students of Concordia's TESL Centre agreed that teaching in a foreign country can be an intensely enriching experience. Just hearing their stories would have made the staunchest of homebodies catch the travel bug, too.
These sometime nomads, all teachers of English as a second language, shared their adventures with about 50 people at an open session on February 16.
"Teaching in Japan changed me forever," said TESL alumna Natalie Cristofaro, showing slides of her trip. Cristofaro, who stayed in Japan for three years, cautioned that being open to new things is paramount when teaching abroad. "If you aren't, you could end up hating where you go."
TESL Professor Lori Morris agreed, noting she could easily have detested a recent teaching trip to China, yet she loved the country and all its quirkiness -- like washing machines that played Silent Night.
What she found hardest, though, was her students' passivity. "It was extremely difficult obtaining any response from them," she said. She loosened them up by playing mahjongg with them -- which was illegal on campus.
However, exploring China was dazzling, said Morris, who is undergraduate program director at the TESL Centre. "It's amazing what you can get for the price of a plane ticket."
Catherine McAdam said that although she was warned that monsoons, leprosy, meningitis and cholera were common in Bhutan, where she taught for three years, nothing could dissuade her from teaching there. Sandwiched between Tibet and India, Bhutan was forbidden to foreigners until recently, and seemed irresistible to her.
"It was a magical place," she said. Palaces, monkeys, lush vegetation and marijuana, grown to feed pigs, dot the country. "In Bhutan, I also learned that I was capable of doing much more than I thought."
Like the "delightful and lovable" locals, McAdam learned to literally laugh off her troubles: the absence of toilets and presence of rampant rats, huge insects, malnutrition and inadequate school supplies.
"I was so happy in Bhutan that I didn't notice my malnutrition and scars until I returned," she said. "Life here is so padded. Few of us know what it's like to be cold, hot or hungry. In Bhutan, I was always learning and aware that I was alive -- or remaining alive."
On the other hand, Marlise Horst said that teaching in Saudi Arabia and the kingdom of Oman was trouble-free. "It was a piece of cake!" Her good salary allowed her to pay off her debts while seeing a part of the world where "the beaches go on forever." She was also glad that she was not forced to cover her face, as is customary for some countries in the area.
Shirley Ashcroft, who taught in the Czech Republic, said the best advice for those wanting to teach abroad is to do it alone. "Going with a friend is a bad idea," she said. "You are seen as a couple, not as an individual, and you get to meet fewer people."
She also stressed the importance for teachers to know their material, especially grammar, since teaching English is not as easy as it seems. "There's always a student who knows it all," she said.
TESL Chair Palmer Acheson, who recently returned from teaching in South Africa, said instructing English is a good way to tour the world.
Indeed, he's been doing it for 35 years, from Mexico to Saudi
Arabia, and obtained his first job while hitchhiking through
Europe in 1964. Teaching in developing countries "can make a
huge difference," but he recommended that instructors who
want to teach in Third World countries obtain their jobs through
international agencies to avoid
For TESL MA student Michel Pilon, who gave private English and German lessons during two winters in Spain, escaping our cruel winters was one of the perks of teaching abroad. Teaching abroad, he said, "allows you to meet great people."
For more information about Concordia's top-notch TESL
programs, or about teaching English abroad, call Barbara Barclay,
coordinator of undergraduate programs, at 848-2449.