Former international students return to their homelands to improve education and expand opportunities for the younger generation.
From NAFSA – Investing the time in studying abroad can have a profound, long-lasting impact on the lives of educators.
They may return to their home countries immediately after graduation, or may go back decades later, but they’re all driven by the same desire—to improve lives and educations in their home countries. Their approaches are richly influenced by their own years spent studying and working abroad.
They may be striving to influence their home countries’ educational systems by adapting a new model to the local environment, providing educational opportunities to those who would not normally be offered such a chance, or taking part in programs that are designed to improve social systems.
Here are the stories of four seasoned international educators who have brought their experiences studying and working in the United States back to their homelands, where they hope to impact the lives of their students, as well as society as a whole.
Yi-Chieh Lin: China
Yi-Chieh Lin believes kids should have exposure to an international education at an early age. The native of Taiwan graduated from the University of San Diego with a master’s of education degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), literacy, and culture in 2012, and moved to Dongguan, China, in 2014 to share her teaching skills.
Since opening the doors of the Pangea Educational Center this spring, about 35 elementary and middle school students have been taking part in after-school and weekend programs to hone their English language abilities. During the summer, the 9- to- 15-year-olds are offered the opportunity to attend a summer language camp at the center.
But Lin’s focus isn’t only on China’s children. Dozens of teachers from Chinese public schools have attended teacher training sessions and workshops organized by Lin to improve their own English skills.
Lin enrolled in the University of San Diego in 2008. She had graduated from Feng Chia University in Taiwan with a bachelor’s degree in international trade the previous year. By moving to California, she aimed to improve her English skills.
Her original plan was to obtain a master’s degree in business from the University of San Diego, but after taking several classes, she decided it wasn’t the right fit for her.
Instead, she was drawn to the field of education. She had tutored students in English in Taiwan, and saw education as a way to blend together her two loves. “I love kids,” she says, “and English has been my interest. I love watching American drama movies, and I love songs in English.”
At the same time, “teaching English is a huge market in Asia.”
Lin already had experience in the field. During her undergraduate years in Taiwan she was a teaching assistant at the Oxford English Institute and also worked as a private English-language tutor.
As a graduate student in San Diego, she served as a teaching assistant and student teacher at the English Language Academy, which is a part of the professional and continuing education program at the University of San Diego.
When she and her husband, who was born in Hong Kong, decided to move to China in 2014, Lin decided to start the Pangea Educational Center.
It took time to get her plans off the ground. She spent a year developing connections between herself and the government to obtain the approvals she needed. “You have to find someone on staff (with the government) who can open the door,” she says.
At the Pangea Educational Center she’s using the Cambridge Global English series and Hooked on Phonics to educate the students. Younger students receive part of their instruction in English and part in Chinese, while the older students receive their instruction only in English. She also strives to teach the youngsters to develop critical-thinking skills.
More than 250 study abroad students come to ILCS each year from countries such as the United States, Canada, China, and Australia. They reside with host families during their time in Morocco.
Having foreign students come to Morocco not only exposes the visitors to real-life situations in the North African country, but it also gives the Moroccan students a chance to interact with peers from around the world and gives them extra opportunities to hone their English language skills.
At the same time, “community work helps ILCS students and students from around the world to develop their leadership skills,” Lemtouni says.
The work in the community changes the students’ lives, she says. But it also impacts the nongovernmental organizations that the students assist, as well as the families who host them during their stay.
By bringing together students from around the world with ILCS students, and with Moroccans from all walks of life, it serves to foster dialogue and understanding among people of various cultures and this “contributes to preventing extremism,” Lemtouni says.
Lemtouni is a big proponent of also having educators spend time studying abroad. It allows them “to be open minded, overcome their prejudices, adapt more to their students, keep the human dimension in everything, and mainly to develop empathy.”
A teacher who is a native English speaker also works on staff so the students can learn to speak with the accent of a native American.
Lin wants the parents of her students to see “what kind of benefit the American education system can bring if you learn English in this way.”
In many places in China, students simply are required to memorize and repeat English sentences and grammar. “This doesn’t help students learn,” Lin says. “Language is a flexible thing.”
Along with her efforts focusing on the students, Lin also helps to teach the teachers. She works with the local government to train elementary and middle school teachers from public school how to speak English fluently. She regularly provides instruction to more than 60 teachers a week.
Her academic adviser from the University of San Diego, Sarina Molina, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Learning and Teaching, recently visited the Pangea Educational Center. She was accompanied by three graduate students from the university.
Molina held an English language workshop for about 85 middle and elementary school teachers, while the graduate students helped teach English to the schoolchildren.
“The education I had in the United States totally changed me,” Lin says. “It’s helped me to become a different educator.”
By Susan Ladika