Post Written by Emma Smith, May 2017
For me, teaching and living abroad was not a question of “if” but of “when”. I was fortunate enough to have been able to travel pretty extensively while I was in university and I also completed a six-month study abroad program in Amsterdam. Having done this, I knew that living outside of the states for a long period of time was not only something I could handle but something I would enjoy.
After graduating with my BA in Anthropology from the University of Georgia in 2016, I worked in the private sector for about two years. I quickly realized that I was becoming lost in a job and life that I had never envisioned for myself. I knew that I wanted to go to graduate school but I felt like not fulfilling my dream of living abroad before I continued my education would be a disservice to myself. After acknowledging this about myself along with the fact that the world is too big to stay in one place forever, I decided to pack my bags and go.
Right after graduating college I backpacked through Costa Rica and immediately fell in love with the laid-back atmosphere and the cool people I met there. A lot of backpackers who I met had just been to Nicaragua and were raving about the beauty of the landscape and the interesting things you could do there. After doing more research I decided that this was definitely the country for me. I was determined to learn Spanish and the tropical makeup of the country (with both beautiful mountains and oceans in close proximity) make it a paradise for lovers of the outdoors such as myself.
I completed my TEFL online and moved down to Leon in August of 2016 where I completed the hybrid TEFL course. I am so glad that I decided to do my practicum in Leon. Not only did I get real world teaching experience but the connections and friends I made during this time helped me immensely as I began to acclimate to life in Nicaragua. I was fortunate that I was employed by one job almost immediately although it would take me several months to acquire an additional two jobs which provided me with the crux of my financial support. I taught both children and adults at the different schools that I worked for. I was lucky to be employed by great people and never had any professional issues all though you definitely need to learn to go with the flow when working in Central America.
Teaching English is an extremely rewarding practice where you can see the fruits of your labor everyday as you watch your students improve. Language learning can and should be fun! It was my desire as a teacher to create a safe space for my students so that they would know there would be no judgment if they made any mistakes. It felt like such an accomplishment to see my students truly excited to learn every day and to watch their process. I was even able to help a few of my adult learners prepare for job interviews in English and it was awesome to see how their hard work was paying off.
Four months into my time in Nicaragua I began preparing my application for graduate school. I took the GRE before I arrived in Nicaragua in anticipation of being abroad. I was able to contact all of the necessary institutions electronically so my being abroad did not affect the application process. I applied for a Masters of Public Health program and I know my international experience benefited my application greatly. Besides just making your resume stick out amongst a pile, international experience demonstrates an openness to other cultures and a commitment to being an active citizen of the world.
After my acceptance to graduate school, I decided to leave Nicaragua in preparation for the course. Through ITA Nicaragua and social media I was able to easily find other teachers to take over my jobs so as not to disturb my students in the middle of the year. Saying goodbye to my students was such a hard thing to do and it made me all the more appreciative of my experience in this beautiful country. After grad school, I hope to couple my international experience and masters in public health to be involved in research and aid with health disparities around the world. I will be forever grateful for the support network provided by ITAN who made my time in Leon, Nicaragua truly unforgettable.