Teach abroad; ease into ‘real world’

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Program gives graduates opportunity for adventure while educating others

As senior year begins for approximately 13,000 UT students, some may be feeling the stress of their upcoming graduation and inevitable transition into the “real world.” Many wonder, What will I do in this job market with my major? This is why some people are turning to the idea of teaching English in foreign countries.

Paige Cantrell, a UT Spanish and journalism alumna, decided during her senior year to explore her options before accepting any law school admissions.

“Right before turning in my law school applications, one of my Spanish teachers, who I had twice at UT, told me to look into teaching abroad in a Spanish-speaking country because she had done it before,” Cantrell said.

Cantrell applied and was accepted to the Council on International Educational Exchange program in Málaga, Spain. She left in September knowing that she would have to find her own housing, set up a bank account and start paying bills in a foreign country. While she admits that it seemed scary, Cantrell was ready for the experience.

After a brief orientation with the council, Cantrell started teaching in Málaga left to find a place to live in a two-week time frame before school started.

“I feel that it’s a very liberating and very relaxing experience because after that, you don’t get so worked up about taking the next step,” Cantrell said. “Law school is going to be hard, but I know I was able to uproot and acclimate to a city I had never been to before, so I can start a new type of school, which is not as intimidating as it was before.”

Graduating from college with a degree is a requirement for many teach-abroad programs, but few of them specifically require a teaching degree.

“That’s the best thing about teaching abroad is that we believe the most important quality or credential is actually enthusiasm and understanding that you’re going to go and do something where the sky is the limit,“ said Matthew Redman, the product and marketing manager for the council.

Although salaries from teaching abroad can vary from measly to comfortable, the main benefit of teaching abroad is not monetary but rather learning to speak a language while living and working in the country and being able to explore new parts of the world during school holidays and breaks.

“You get 700 euros a month because technically, you’re a real teacher,” Cantrell said. “Everyone I knew who was there gave private English lessons on the side, which there is an overwhelming demand for, and you make a ton of money. I was completely self-supported. I had to turn down a lot of people who wanted English lessons. I was able to do lots and lots of traveling and live really well in Spain.”

Hallie Hablinski was halfway through her last semester of college when she was searching for jobs but could not find any in the job market. She and a friend saw that of all the countries available through the program, China’s application had been extended, so they signed up.

“We were talking about how we wanted an adventure before we had to be grown-ups,” Hablinski said. “So, that’s when the whole idea of going abroad together came about.”

Three months later Hablinski and her friend Buffin Golias were flying to Shanghai to teach English to preschool-aged children.

“The hardest part was the language,” Hablinski said. “We did not speak the language, which wasn’t a requirement because not a whole lot of people want to do this. The people in the program mainly couldn’t speak Chinese either, so that was huge. Six months of not really being able to communicate with the people around you, not understanding what’s going on, not even being able to have a conversation with someone on the street or get directions was hard. It was six months of body language and the very, very minimal Chinese that we knew.”

Redman said that instead of hastily deciding on a career, you can teach abroad and build valuable skills toward your future.

“You’re going to learn independence; you’re going to learn how to have and hold responsibility,” Redman said. “And to problem-solve autonomously rather than depend on someone just to hand you a telephone and an e-mail address and say, ‘Here are questions, here are your answers, this is what you’re supposed to say.’ You actually have to problem-solve on your own. You have to learn how to communicate to people in ways that are completely foreign to you. So, you have to show flexibility, which is something that’s extremely marketable after you’re done.”