Meet small-town girl Kari Schoenike from rural Wisconsin, U.S.A. Despite growing up in the middle of nowhere, Kari has a strong passion to venture out and see the world (our kind of girl!)
Having studied a mixture of Science, Business and Special Education, Kari is currently teaching English in São Paulo, Brazil and is doing a super job of it With a passion for travel, Kari has already visited 16 countries, and doesn’t plan to stop her discovering any time soon…
Hello Kari Schoenike! You are 2 months into your TEFL adventure in Brazil! How’s it going so far? What made you choose that part of the globe?
It’s going great! Every day is a learning experience. Teaching is really fun and rewarding. São Paulo is an amazingly diverse city with so much to see and do. One of the greatest parts of Brazil is that in addition to living and teaching in a foreign environment, you get to work with an international teaching team.
I have co-workers from 17 different countries! That’s not to say it has been without challenges. Of course, coming from sub-zero Wisconsin weather to intense São Paulo summer was a lot to get used to. Initially, I had a difficult time navigating (and balancing on) public transportation.
There have been more instances than I can count where I’ve stumbled, ran into people, and/or completely fell down on the bus and metro. But now, I like to think I’m improving.
I chose Brazil because I was looking for an adventure. I wanted to live somewhere totally different than the environment I am used to. I also worked with Brazilian students in college and they were tremendous ambassadors for their country and culture.
You’re no stranger to travel, eh? You’ve visited 16 countries thus far, where have you been? What are some of the best stories from your travels? We’d love to know your top 3 bucket list places!
Germany, Australia, Jamaica, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Italy, Greece… It’s a pretty long list. I studied abroad in Rome, which gave me the opportunity to travel around Europe. Living and studying abroad is an amazing learning experience. One of my most interesting travel experiences was living in rural Australia and working on a dairy farm.
When I arrived, the region was under mouse plague, which basically means all the mice migrated from fields and forests to people houses and barns. Encountering mice every day was definitely something to get used to. But my host family was amazing and made my experience fantastic.
Still on the top of my bucket list are Egypt, Spain, and Antarctica. However, working with an international teaching team, my list is definitely expanding.
What was it like getting TEFL certified prior to heading to Brazil? Do you feel like it adequately prepared you for teaching in Brazil?
Being a licensed teacher, much of the TEFL content is pretty routine to me. Classroom layout and management considerations are somewhat second nature. But it definitely helped to review key details and classroom adaptations for a room full of language learners before embarking on my international adventure.
In addition, for those with little to no classroom teaching experience, the TEFL content provides a great overview of how to prepare to teach. Everything really came together through being in the classroom.
Tell us about your job placement and the different levels of your students. What is it like to teach at a center with a social initiative?
It is very inspiring to work for a company that has a goal to increase access to English education to students that can’t travel to or can’t afford classes at other language schools. I’m fortunate to have several placements, so I get to work with a range of students.
One of my placements is at Instituto Ana Rosa, a partnership organization that serves students from underprivileged families and assists high school students with vocational training.
There, I teach basic English to high school students. At times, this can be very challenging because I don’t really speak Portuguese and the students aren’t as intrinsically motivated.
However, it is my job as a teacher to create a positive learning environment and encourage them all to do their best. I also work at one of the more traditional language schools in the community in which I live.
I teach basic English there as well, but the mentality of the students is very different, so it is a completely different experience. In addition, I teach intermediate English to one of the B2B partnerships that the company has.
Each group of students is unique and working with such a diverse group is helping me gain a better understanding of the social climate in Brazil.
What has surprised you about Brazilian culture?
I’ve been amazed at how welcoming and helpful Brazilians are. I live in a residential neighborhood, so people aren’t really expecting to run into a foreigner. However, when I run into trouble at the grocery store or the subway, people are always very helpful.
Another thing that surprised me is how critical Brazilians are of Brazil. The current political climate is quite interesting and Brazilians are not shy about discussing it. I think sometimes in the U.S. we get so caught up in celebrating national pride that we forget our country makes mistakes… in Brazil, this is not the case.
It’s really interesting to hear different Brazilian perspectives on current political and social issues.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to future ESL teachers in Brazil?
Don’t be afraid to get out there and speak Portuguese! When I first arrived, I was SO nervous to speak any Portuguese with the locals. While I am by no means fluent, I can order food, ask for directions, and have a vague understanding of what people say. It took me a while, but now I am much more comfortable attempting to speak.
Sometimes I end up with mango-orange juice when I think I ordered strawberry-orange, but I think it still counts as progress. Also, bring good walking shoes and watch where you walk…. These hills and half-cobblestone/half-blacktop streets are no joke.
What is in store for globetrotting Kari once your placement in Brazil has finished?
I’m looking into to additional opportunities to teach English abroad, perhaps in Germany or Holland. Long-term, I want to pursue a career working with international students studying in the United States. I have learned and grown so much from international experiences and would love to help students do the same. But who knows? Life is an adventure!
Thanks, Kari for sharing your stories with us. We wish you the best of luck in your future travels ️✈️
Want to talk to us? Request a callback – we’d love to help you organize your TEFL adventure!