You don’t know what you don’t know, right? Well, it turns out that after my best intentions to go off to college, come of age, experience “the best four years of my life,” and become a more well-rounded, highly educated individual, I knew diddly squat.
This mildly daunting realization did not come until I found myself plucked out of my comfort zone and plopped onto a .72 square mile plot of coconut trees and sand in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (and no, this does not include my summer study abroad trip to the Gold Coast of Australia). To be fair, I eagerly volunteered myself for the plucking, although, I had never taught before in my life.
When I walked into my classroom for the first time I started to ask myself (just a little too late), “Wait.” Can I teach these kids? What if I’m bad at it? What on Earth am I going to get out of this?” I found out the answers to those questions, some sooner than others: “Yep, you sure can. You’re all they’ve got so you’ll figure it out. And you’re going to achieve more experience than four years of college and all those student loans have given you.” I had no clue how I would be altering my life’s path in those first few days, weeks, or even months. But change it, I did, and after a few years in the classrooms of the toasty Equatorial sun, I’m back in the States working for the very organization where it all began.
I’ve learned from both my own experience and that of the volunteers I work with daily, and now provide you with some of the most unique experiences that serving as a volunteer teacher at a grassroots level can afford you and that studying abroad might have left out.
Pop that study abroad bubble
By partnering directly with the Ministries of Education in-country, WorldTeach volunteers are placed in local communities where the specific need for teachers has been identified. The local communities welcome you, and in turn, the independence that volunteers find away from college campuses, credits, and familiar territory is profound. You will not only learn about yourself, but also about the customs of the community you are now a part of.
Become a charades master
Learn a million and one ways to communicate without words both in and outside of the classroom. Volunteers often surprise themselves with the level of adaptability they acquire while in-country, and this translates well when communicating, despite your potential lack of knowledge of the local language.
Trying to teach the correct use of the past tense conjugated form of “to be?” There’s a move for that! Hungry and all you want is that mango on the top shelf, just out of your reach? You’ll find a way to get your point across if you’re hungry enough! Locals laugh along with you as you pick up the local language, and watching your comfort and acquisition grow over the course of your service can be extremely rewarding. It not only enables you to relate to what your students go through in the classroom each day, but your friends will be fighting over your mad non-verbal communication skills when you get back.
Scope out this whole teaching thing
Curious about teaching? Perhaps you’ve pondered it but you’re not positive you want to go through the entire certification process in the States before you’re sure?
Working within a developing country at a grassroots level provides you with an opportunity to get inside an actual classroom and give it a shot. Of course, in an ideal world, there would be local teachers that could fill the spots that WorldTeach volunteers are placed in, but many things are never ideal in a developing country. There is a reason WorldTeach’s presence has been requested. Whether you have formal teaching experience or not, you are qualified because you were blessed to be raised in a society that enabled you to pursue higher education and obtain an undergraduate degree (psh, and study abroad).
Still not so sure about your qualifications? All volunteers participate in the Teacher Quality program, in which they are paired with an experienced teaching mentor back in the head office who is able to guide you throughout the year, through those inevitable “bust” lesson plans to the “and boom goes the dynamite” variety that make everything worth it. If you’d really like to step it up a notch, in some countries you can do your TEFL coursework while in-country and walk away with that certification at the end of your service.
Get served a piece of humble pie
Not everyone in the world lives like Westerners do. Not by a long shot. It’s an incredibly eye opening experience to see how most of the rest of the world lives. Not only does it empower you to make a difference where you can, but the lens through which you view your own life may change. Will change.
The resiliency of kids who have known hardship and an all too real life from a young age are inspiring. Their stories are selfless and heartwarming. Though your community may live in humble conditions, that won’t stop them from sharing everything they have with you, from an ordinary cup of coffee to the outrageous already-chewed piece of gum. Whether you end up on a .72 square mile island like me, or in a remote Tanzanian village, or even the urban hub of Bogotá, I’m confident you too will witness kindness and the resiliency of the human spirit.