Teacher Abroad: Sara in Alaska

 
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I reached out to Sara a little while ago because I really wanted to feature teaching in Alaska as part of this Teachers Abroad Series. I know technically Sara isn't "teaching abroad" but Alaska is one of those places that is a world of its own, which is probably why I've always wanted to teach there! Unfortunately it can be a little tricky for South African teachers to get a teaching placement in the US of A, so I'll just admire Sara's teaching situation from a far ... 

KD: Tell us about yourself - who you are, where you are currently living and teach and your teaching experience.

SL: My name is Sara Lucas and I am currently living in Kenai, AK. I teach at Kenai middle school which is less than a mile from my house. I am currently teaching 6th grade Math and Science in the morning and Algebra in the afternoon. This is my first year in Kenai, but my 6th year teaching. I previously taught for 5 years in Toksook Bay, AK with is about 500 miles west of Anchorage. 

KD: What made you decide to teach in Alaska? 

SL: When I was about ready to graduate from Hanover College, in Indiana, I was able to attend a job fair close to my parents, and where I grew up. I jumped at the opportunity just hoping to get some experience interviewing, but not really looking for a job, as I wanted to leave the state. I was excited to travel to a new place and thought that there would not be many, if any, opportunities that would take me to a place other than the midwest. While there I looked for every opportunity that would allow me to travel to a new place. There were many mission type teaching positions that I visited with first, but quickly realized this was not for me. (I was a about to be a new grad with no money and these positions required me to fundraise my salary.) I then found the Lower Kuskokwim School District and signed up for an interview. I interviewed and loved the thought of going to Alaska. A few weeks later they contacted me for another interview with the assistant superintendent who was in charge of hiring recommendations. From there I was given the opportunity to interview with the new  site administrator for Toksook Bay. Almost immediately after that I was offered a position. I had no other offers at the time so I jumped on it. 

KD: What’s it like living there?

SL: Where I am at now is really no different from any small town in the United States. We have staples like Walmart and Subway. It is about 3 hours to Anchorage by car or a 20 minute plane ride. The biggest difference is the amount of flying or driving that I do here. When I do leave it takes me a while to get to where I am going. I also have done way more flying than I ever imagined since moving to Alaska 6 years ago. When I was living in Toksook Bay I would travel at least once a month and it was all by plane. Most villages are inaccessible by roads and the only way in or out is by air travel. 

KD: What do you love most about teaching where you are?

SL: I love being on the road system now. There were perks to being in a village with simplicity of life being the best part. I didn’t have many other worries outside of school. Everything in the village revolved around the school and life was easy. I am now thankful to live in a place where I can drive and go to a legitimate grocery stores (with fresh foods). I have also started playing hockey with a local women’s team, Kenai River Queens. I had never played before but am loving learning the sport and the great group of women it has connected me with.

KD: What’s the most challenging aspect of teaching in this part of the world? 

SL: The hardest part is being far away from my family. I miss out on a lot of family gatherings and functions, but I love the state of Alaska. It is a constant pull and one day I will probably try to move closer to my family. For now, I am happy where I am and know that I can always call home when I need to. 

KD: What advice do you have for others wanting to teach and travel abroad?

SL: My advice is to go for it! I have never regretted my decision to move to bush Alaska right out of college. I love to travel and getting a job in a far away place was perfect.

KD: How can I teach where you are? 

SL: Go to http://www.alaskateacher.org/. ATP is a great source of information, and has a database that posts all job openings in the state. They also host a job fair in Anchorage and attend a few others in the lower 48. They have a wealth of information for teachers who are newly moving to the state as well. 

 

For some reason it is always encourage and a pleasant surprise when other teachers enjoy teaching in rural communities as much a I do. I definitely have teaching-travel envy! Alaska will forever remain on my extensive list of teaching destinations for the future. 

If you would like to read more about Sara teaching in Alaska you can find her blog and Facebook account linked here.

 

Teacher Abroad: Lural in Costa Rica

 
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Today's teachers abroad series post is one near and dear to me. Lural is not only a fellow teacher, or should I say director, at the school where I taught for over a year. But she has become a close friend of mine too. I get so many questions about how I managed to find a teaching job in Costa Rica as they are scarce, especially one where you aren't in a city and get to be close to the beautiful seaside! Future Verde is what some might call a tropical jungle paradise that offers sustainable, holistic, international standard education. Its definitely top notch. Read on to find out if teaching in Costa Rica, and possibly even Futuro Verde, is something you're up for: 

KD: Tell us about yourself - who you are, where you are currently teaching and living, and more about your teaching experience. 

LR: Hello! My name is Lural Ramirez and I am from the west coast of the United States- specifically the states of California and Oregon. I am married and have three amazing children. Currently, I live and teach on the pacific coast of Costa Rica in a beautiful, jungle school near the beach side town of Montezuma. I have been teaching for 15 years now. I worked for 10 years in the state of Oregon, in the United States. While working there I was fortunate to play a primary role in the re-imagining of a high-poverty, Spanish/English dual immersion school. I worked as the program co-founder and coordinator as well as a classroom and specialist teacher working with kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade, all grade levels as an ELL specialist and I also worked as a Spanish professor at the local community college. Since moving to Costa Rica, I have taught kindergarten and been an assistant director, I am now the school director at Centro Educativo Futuro Verde, where I have worked for the past 5 years- a tenure that has taught me so much!

KD: What made you decide to teach abroad? 

LR: My husband Alejandro and I planned our departure from the US for 10 years before we actually moved. We owned a beautiful historic home with a picket fence, owned 2 cars and were living the stereotypical "American Dream". But, I had this consistent feeling that I wasn't sure what "the dream" was but we weren't living it in the US and I wanted a change. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was an education law passed while we taught in the US and as it stripped down the curriculum, pulling away all subjects except math and literacy, it was also making kids sit through endless tests. We felt guilty participating in such harmful policy as teachers and we felt very frustrated as parents. There had to be a different and better way and we were willing to go out in the world and find it! I was also getting very tired of the gray and gloomy weather and my only requirement was sunshine- we had to find a place in the sun!

KD: What’s it like living in your current country?

LR: Life in Costa Rica is pretty amazing! It is just such a beautiful country and I never get tired of the amazing nature that surrounds us. At home and at school you are constantly engaged with the natural world with howler monkeys, hummingbirds, blue morpho butterflies, iguanas and so many beautiful flowers and plants right outside your step. The school and our house is also really close to fun outdoor adventures. We love to surf, hike, swim, snorkel, visit the waterfalls and just lounge at the beach enjoying the sunny days we have nearly every day of the year. Quality of life here is really high, allowing you to have a nice balance between work and play! Costa Rica's economy runs on tourism, so people are tolerant of foreigners and the country is relatively easy to navigate.

KD: What do you love most about teaching where you are?

LR: Our school is just the best school in the world and the dream we all had of education when we first began in the profession! You are given creativity and freedom as a teacher, children are given a holistic learning environment and our staff is just the kindest and best group of people! Our school calendar is also really nice. It gives you time each day for afternoon personal activities and our holidays are divided up nicely throughout the year, so it gives you travel breaks at all different times. We also have a generous allotment of professional development days each year. So, you don't fall behind on current trends and professional growth even though you are in the middle of nowhere!

KD: What’s the most challenging aspect of teaching in this country? 

LR: We are in the middle of the jungle and that close proximity to wildlife can take some getting used to. You might find yourself closer to a scorpion, tarantula or snake than you ever wanted to be! Thankfully you get used to the "neighbors", and even start to appreciate them, with time! 

KD: What advice do you have for others wanting to teach and travel abroad?

LR: If you want to teach and travel abroad you need to throw your fears aside and just do it! However, some careful planning will make your experience more pleasurable. Specifically, I would highly recommend paying off debt from your home country before you leave. Having outstanding financial pressures will cause you stress. Also, there are so many different kinds of schools to work at and you need to make sure you match your preferences with the school that hires you. Your happiness will be based on how closely your expectations match your reality, so set yourself up for success and choose your country and school well!

KD: How can I teach where you are?

LR: Futuro Verde is a fully accredited, IB World School and we only hire teachers with professional teacher certification; TEFL and CELTA are not accepted in lieu of a degree in education or teaching.  But, if you are a certified teacher with a kind demeanor and a sense of adventure, Futuro Verde could be an excellent match for you! Our school provides educational opportunities from preschool through 12th grade and we offer a holisitic curriculum, seeking specialists in the arts, environmental sciences, physical education and languages. You can find out more by visiting our social media or our website: www.futuro-verde.org, where you can apply online at any time.

 

Teacher Abroad: Lauren in Argentina

 
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After teaching in Costa Rica for over a year and now living on the opposite side of the world, I've had a lingering feeling of needing to return and explore South America. Argentina has for a long while been on the top of my list and to say I was mildly interested when I came across Lauren's blog is an understatement in the least! She has been living and teaching in Argentina for over nine years and in my eyes she is basically a local at this point. Read on to find out more about the ins and outs of teaching in Argentina: 

KD: Tell us about yourself - who you are, where you are currently living and teach and your teaching experience.

LW: In the immortal words of Alice from Alice in Wonderland: "Who in the world am I?  Ah, that is the great puzzle!"  

While I am able to identify myself with different titles (such as "Mother," "Wife," "Teacher," "Blogger," and so on), I am still very much figuring out who I am in the greater context.  In any case, since leaving South Korea, I have been living in Argentina for the past nine years, and teaching English as a second language and English as a foreign language for nearly 15 years.  I currently teach at the Lincoln International School of Buenos Aires, as well as English to Chinese students online.  I got my start teaching refugees in a church in Washington, DC in my early university days, and it was an immensely rewarding experience.  I am proud to have had students of all ages (from toddlers to senior citizens) from every corner of the world and just about every level of English proficiency.

KD: What made you decide to teach abroad? 

LW: I was all of 15 years old when I went to spend a summer with a Brazilian family in Belo Horizonte.  I was introduced to my host brother's EFL teacher, who graciously invited me to sit in on one of her conversation classes.  THAT!  That did it for me!  That was THE moment the seed was planted.  As distant and as far-fetched it seemed in the future, it was always an ambition of mine.  

KD: What’s it like living in your current country?

LW: I have often compared living in Argentina to a co-dependent, love-hate relationship with an eccentric lover.  When I think of Argentina, I think of a place with out-of-control inflation, bureaucratic obstacles for even the simplest of tasks, and a great deal of insecurity. You are always on your toes.  However, I also associate it with closely-knit families (including the one that I formed here myself over the years), decent and affordable healthcare that I did not have back in the United States, and economic opportunity for those willing to work hard.  There is no such thing as a Utopian country, and by this point in my life, I more than consider Argentina to be my home.

KD: What do you love most about teaching where you are?

LW: I teach full time at the Lincoln International School of Buenos Aires.  There are so many facets of my job that I love; not only do I work with some incredibly amazing colleagues, but my students come from all over the world - Argentina, Israel, South Korea, Germany, Brazil, and Kuwait (just to name a few). It is like a mini United Nations!

KD: What’s the most challenging aspect of teaching in this country? 

LW: As I had previously mentioned, inflation is one of the greatest challenges facing Argentina.  The first year when the current president, Mauricio Macri, took office, we experienced a crippling wave of 41% annual inflation.  While my school offers a dignified peso wage for a local teacher, it has unfortunately not proven quite enough to make it to the end of each month. Like most people living here, I have a "side hustle" apart from my 9-5, by doing some side jobs as a private tutor as well as teaching online.

KD: What advice do you have for others wanting to teach and travel abroad?

LW: Teaching abroad has been by far one of the most difficult things that I have ever done, but has also been one of the most worthwhile.  It has required me to be out of my comfort zone on almost a daily (no... hourly) basis.  But on the other hand, everything I accomplish on my own feels like an important, character-building victory.  So where am I going with all this rambling?... My point is ultimately that while teaching and traveling and living abroad is not for the faint of heart, there is no other experience quite like it.  The world out there is so vast - make the most of it!  As the old adage goes, "Ships in the harbor are safe, but that's not what ships are built for."

KD: How can I teach where you are? 

LW: Because it is often difficult to get a proper job without a work visa, and difficult to obtain a work visa without a job, I recommend doing what I did - coming over on a tourist visa (valid for 90 days, able to be extended for an additional 90), to first test the waters to see if this is the right place for you (it isn't for everyone).  In that time, you can still work "en negro" (off the books), and establish valuable connections, make friends, and see if this city is a good fit for you overall.  Almost all companies that are legally able to contract foreigners prefer to interview you in person before hiring you, so during the time you are here, you can make yourself personally, professionally known.

You can read more about Lauren's experiences at Vagrant Violet and be sure to watch the empathy video she created with her students, where they depict what it may feel like many of the students we teach abroad who are not native English speakers.