Jenni Taylor said she first taught abroad in Iquitos, Peru while she was on a gap year between high school and college. She was staying with family friends when they asked her to teach English at their elementary school.
“With zero experience, I threw myself in and somehow managed to stay afloat,” Taylor said. “This is when I fell in love with teaching and knew what I wanted to study when I came back to the States.”
She taught abroad for four months before coming back to the States and starting classes at Webster University as an education major. She made friends with “equally strong travel bugs,” became a resident assistant and played Humans vs. Zombies. She lived as a regular student for three years.
The school in Iquitos where she previously worked reached out to her at the end of her junior year and asked her to come back and teach. Taylor said she still had degree requirements to complete before she could graduate, so she consulted with professors and learned she could do an independent study program that would let her take online classes.
“Next thing I knew, I was on a plane,” Taylor said. “No longer inexperienced and scared out of my wits like the first time around, but with three years of education classes under my belt, ready to tackle the world.”
Teaching in Iquitos meant enduring heat and lack of supplies. Her classroom equipment consisted of whiteboards, notebooks and pens. Being an online student in Iquitos meant taking a motorcycle taxi to an Internet café and downloading material to complete in between trips to the café.
Taylor said despite the difficult living and learning conditions, she looks back on her time in Iquitos fondly.
“I loved living in Peru. The conditions were sometimes difficult, but it taught me to be quick on my feet and improvise in the moment,” Taylor said.
After spending time in Iquitos, Taylor heard about teaching opportunities in Shanghai, China. She took the opportunity and went from living in a small jungle city to a modern metropolis.
That was a year and a half ago. While the culture is different, she said she gets the same amount of satisfaction from her work.
“Just this morning I had a student email me a fairy tale she has been working on in her spare time, all in English. It is the best feeling in the world to watch them grow and learn and connect with the world,” Taylor said.
Corinne in Korea
On Corinne Eschenroeder’s first day teaching pre-kindergarten, she was nervous about a lot of things: how she would get along with the kids, her co-teacher and how much English her students would know.
Eschenroeder said when she was finishing her education degree, she was faced with the uncertainty of post-college life. She started looking into teaching abroad and within three months of graduating she was in Dongtan, a suburb of Seoul, South Korea. A week later, she began teaching general studies ranging from English, to reading to a class of three and four year olds.
Eschenroeder, a member of the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority, found insight from her sisters when weighing her options.
“When I started talking about it, it was like everybody knew somebody who had some connection to South Korea,” Eschenroeder said.
Through her sorority sisters and friends at Webster, Eschenroeder made a friend who was an English teacher in South Korea. With her new connection, and with the help of recruiters—head hunters who help American teachers find jobs overseas—she started jumping through the hoops to become an international teacher.
Since the end of February, Eschenroeder has lived in Dongtan. She’s made friends through other teachers at the school and Facebook groups for expatriates in South Korea. Despite websites and guides stating that teachers in South Korea should get teaching English first language certificates, Eschenroeder admitted that not many teachers in South Korea have those certifications.
Webster offers teaching English first language certifications in the School of Education. While these certificates may make a résumé more attractive for potential employers, Eschenroeder said she chose not pursue one. She was able to land a job at a hagwon—a Korean word that vaguely translates to private school—with her degree and student teaching experience.
Eschenroeder initially planned on staying for a year. After six months abroad, she’s made the decision to stay for at least two years. While she misses her cat, family and friends, she offered these words of advice for students considering studying abroad: “do it.”