Why I'm Volunteering Abroad On My Career Break
IVHQ’s 2015 Teach and Volunteer Abroad Scholarship recipient, Hannah Pitts, talks about why she volunteered abroad on her career break. The 26 year old primary school teacher from Australia taught English on the Costa Rica program in San José
I was first inspired to teach by my Year 2 teacher, who was my favorite person in the world at the time. In between a few short-lived aspirations to become a lawyer, hairdresser, photographer, psychologist (etc., etc.), I always came back to my dream of teaching. Somewhat ironically, I got my first job as a Year 2 teacher at the school I attended; working in the classroom where I had been a student 15 years earlier. Even more special than that was the privilege of teaching my favorite Year 2 teacher’s daughter.
Last year I had the awesome opportunity to travel to Labasa, Fiji with a team of teachers and high school students from my school, and spend time teaching English in a rural primary classroom. I was completely amazed by how quickly my tiny students learned the language, as many of them had no exposure to English outside their classes. The thing that stood out to me above all was the way their faces lit up when they were able to communicate effectively; especially when they wrote letters to pen-pals from our school back in Australia. During our time there, we stayed in a house in the village, attended church with the locals, and shopped in the markets. I absolutely loved my time there, and the experience really stuck with me. I wanted to do more. I had also been dreaming of traveling through South and Central America for a long time. Shortly after returning home from Fiji, I made the decision to take 12 months leave from work so I could chase some of these dreams.
I discovered IVHQ completely by accident, as a result of some serious Instagram stalking (on a friend’s friend’s sister’s profile… funny how that happens!) and the ever-useful hashtag. I was instantly sold on the idea, and started researching, daydreaming and planning. Before I knew it, I was registered to teach in Costa Rica and enrolled as a TEFL student in CCELT’s online course.
As a qualified teacher, I had never considered studying TEFL, and if I’m completely honest, I thought it would be easy. I wasn’t sure how much of the learning would be new and challenging for me. In reality, I found that the course covered a huge range of concepts and approaches that were entirely unique to teaching English abroad, as opposed to teaching in a classroom of native English-speakers. I quickly realized that teaching English as a foreign language is a completely different ball game, and that even as a qualified teacher with three years’ experience, I had a lot to learn!
I booked my flights, and not long after beginning the online TEFL course, I set off for the beginning of my adventure. I started in Ecuador on another IVHQ program, spending 3 weeks working with street children in South Quito’s markets. It was incredible! I made friends with people who were volunteering on the Teaching English program, so I picked their brains with a million questions, and that helped to calm my nerves about my upcoming Teaching English project on the Costa Rica program.
After Ecuador I spent 2 months on the road, traveling through Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Studying the TEFL course while traveling in a truck was definitely a challenge! We spent a fair bit of time camping in the middle of nowhere, and even when we were in cities I battled poor Wi-Fi connections, failing technology, the temptation of ignoring study in favor of going to tango shows… you name it! Luckily, the course was really fantastic and easy to navigate; broken into small modules about specific topics.
Having now completed the TEFL course, and as I prepare to travel to Costa Rica, I am so glad for the practical nature of the units I studied. The assessments were useful, there were tonnes of ideas and suggestions to make my classes interesting and effective, and there was even advice about finding paid work in foreign countries. I felt well prepared, and nervously looked forward to arriving in San Jose to get started. I can’t wait to experience the culture, the people and amazing locations, while doing what I love. Bring it on!