Meet Peter! Peter is an American who found himself plop in central Gabon in west-central Africa. His lifelong long for experience new worlds and people made teaching abroad an attractive pursuit for him. Learn more about his journey to Africa and becoming TEFL certified!
Tell us about yourself! What makes Peter, Peter?
I started out my college career in Physics, but made a large shift, eventually earning my BA in English Literature and Philosophy (a double major). Shortly after graduating, I enlisted in the United States Peace Corps, volunteering as a TEFL teacher in a small village in Gabon, Africa. Through the Peace Corps I received French language training as well as 6 weeks of TEFL instruction from the Peace Corps, including several in-class sessions at one of the local high schools in the capital (Libreville).
I then spent two years teaching at a small high school in the small village of Fougamou, Gabon, where I had approximately 90 students spread over 3 classes. I also volunteered my time teaching French literacy to some of the older “bush mamas” who did not know how to read or write. I also dabbled a little in construction of schools while there.
When I returned to the U.S., I soon found a job in a private high school, teaching English and Math. After two years, I switched gears once again and got into IT (networks/computing), a field in which I would remain for approximately 25 years, where I eventually would become Director of Operations for a large tech company.
I have left the IT field for now, and am considering once again becoming a TEFL teacher. To that end, I chose to enroll in and complete a Premier TEFL course to remind myself what is involved, as well as to have a better understanding of what is important to know when teaching a second language. I am not sure where in the world I would like to teach, or at what level, but I am considering somewhere in Central America.
You taught abroad 20 years ago in Africa. Can you tell us what drew you there? What do you remember most about the experience?
Several things drew me to Africa. I celebrate and enjoy the differences we have as people on this planet, and Africa stands out to me as the place where this is profoundly evident. The people there still retain a closeness to the Earth, where people are less sullied by the distractions we have in our “Western World”, such as television, technologies, fast food.
Secondly, while I appreciated the opportunities I had growing up, I was tired and annoyed at life in the U.S. I wanted and needed to see something new and different. I knew there was more out there, and the Peace Corps, as well as TEFL opportunities, are wonderful methods to help one experience it.
What I remember most about my experiences abroad are the people. Time is slower, and I find that people in “non-western” countries take that time to sit and talk with each other. There is a genuine kindness that people show, and I think it is due to not having to always be in a rush, trying to outdo each other.
What made teaching abroad an attractive pursuit for you? Can you tell us about it and how it motivates your work?
When I applied to the Peace Corps, I was not sure what I would be doing until later, so I was not intentionally trying to be a TEFL instructor. That role fell into my lap, as they say. However, it was thoroughly enjoyable. It gave me tons of confidence that has carried over to anything else I do. First of all, you are able to tell yourself that you are a teacher, which has always seemed to me a very noble pursuit, and knowing that gives your life meaning, something we are all looking for. But there is also the fact that you are doing something that is quite difficult, namely living in another culture, sometimes in a new language. Sticking with that over time gives you the confidence that if you can do this, you can do anything. That knowledge and confidence will carry you in your interviews when you return to work in whatever role you wish.
What advice would you give other teachers about starting and sticking with their plan to teach abroad?
My advice would be to go into this fantastic opportunity and adventure knowing that it will not all be easy. You are building yourself, and no one ever said that was going to be easy. You may get lonely, so find friends in your new culture, and at the same time watch out for the easier road of hanging out too much with the other expatriates. You decided to see a new culture and people, so dive in and really do it. In the end, your memories will be more valuable and memorable, I believe, with friendships that you made that crossed cultural lines.
What are you most nervous about when it comes to life abroad?
What I discovered from my years in Africa, as well as what I find I am nervous about whenever I am on a voluntary trip in a distant country for longer than, say, a month, is that I am most concerned with, and focused on, simply knowing if I can make it for the long haul.
When you teach or travel abroad for a long spell, things are going to be different – you are leaving your home. It can be very stressful not to be home, even for the strongest of us. That homesickness can sneak up on you after several months, and when it does, you had better have some good reasons in your head about why you are where you are, otherwise it can be easy to run back to what is comfortable.
What I am not nervous about is crime, running into “bad people”, being mugged, and the like. There are good people and bad in every city across the globe. It’s easy to find the good ones, and very easy to avoid the bad. And even those “bad people” can be pretty fun when you get to know them.
What insider tips do you have for future young men considering teaching abroad?
A few tips for the young men considering teaching abroad include:
- For many, this might be the first job after college. This is your chance to see what you are made of, so be a professional and earn the respect of your colleagues. It is OK to be serious. If you think you need to grow up a little in order to “fit into your suit and tie”, then realize that can happen quite quickly if you read the right books.
- Do some real contemplating on why you want to teach, and why you want to teach English. Ask yourself what makes it important, whether for selfish reasons or how it will help the school and students. I think knowing why you are doing something will help you stay with it, and motivate you to do a good job and put in more effort.
- While abroad, immerse yourself in the culture. When out of the classroom, immerse yourself in the new language, and only speak in that language. To those ends, hang out more with the local gang, and less (very little) with the other expatriates. It will be hard at first, but the benefits you reap and friendships you make will be outstanding and unforgettable. And the local people will appreciate you all the more when you speak their language.
- Classroom discipline is an art, but it can be learned. You may get challenged, and it is important to know why you are being challenged. If you are filling a TEFL position, consider getting a book on the subject of discipline and strategies for managing a class, especially if teaching at the secondary school level. It should help you understand where your students are coming from, and help you see how every child wants to be appreciated, how not to corner them (figuratively speaking) or insult them, so that you do not lose that child (as an enemy) for the rest of the year.
- Do not feel guilty that you are getting more out of your trip than the country and students are getting from you.
- The best way to learn a new language is to find a partner. Just be careful—families are started that way.
How has teaching abroad inspired you to live a meaningful, intentional life outside out of the classroom?
Teaching abroad has helped me see what I should be appreciative of. It has helped me see that simple things in life are important, as has also opened my eyes to how huge this world is. It has helped me feel a little more “worldly”, and at the same time humbled, which I think is a good thing, these days.
Teaching abroad has also increased my confidence, and I believe that it has also positively increased my marketability. It is not easy to be in front of 30 students for an hour. Once you get the hang of it, it has to inspire confidence. With that experience under your belt, as well as having the knowledge that you were able to thrive in another culture, it makes you stand out against other candidates, no matter what the field the position is in, Your next interview for that big job is going to feel like a piece of cake after everything you experienced.
Thanks Peter for sharing all of your stories with the Premier TEFL community!