Studying and Working Abroad: Q&A with Candace Ricks

Candace Ricks is a Towson University alumna who graduated in 2013 with her Bachelor of Science in Psychology. During the fall semester of 2012, she studied abroad with International Studies Abroad (ISA) in Meknes, Morocco, earning a certificate in language, politics, and culture. She is currently living and teaching abroad in Guangzhou, China.

ricks_morocco3

Q: What (or who) got you started and how did you choose your program? What would you consider to be the benefits of study abroad?

“One of the main questions I’m asked as an expat is ‘How did you get started with international travel?’ I’m always excited to reveal that my initial experiences were with Study Abroad. Travel had always been a life goal of mine, so when a friend revealed her plans to study in Africa with her school, being the curious Kitty that I am, I looked into opportunities at Towson’s Study Abroad office.

In search of real culture shock and growth, I finally chose Morocco, an ensemble of vibrant colors, music, and beautiful language. Navigating the database of programs was simple, so it wasn’t long before I stumbled upon International Studies Abroad. This Texas-based Study Abroad Company had been around since 1987 and offered a variety of programs in over 30 countries; I chose the Language, Culture, and Politics track.

Participating in Study Abroad was one of the best decisions I could have ever made during my undergraduate career. That semester I was the only Towson student to travel to Morocco, but I returned with many lifelong friends and new professional skills. For example, while there, I had the opportunity to lead a panel on Intercultural Communication Strategies, participate in a language exchange, and to visit historical sites throughout the country. This experience nurtured a new confidence in communication, offered perspective on real world issues, and gave me a true cross-cultural experience.”

Q: How did study abroad prepare you to work abroad? What is your daily life like working in China?

“Often I muse over how studying in Morocco exposed me to an alternative way of life in regards to scheduling, planning, and communicating. Where I’m from, we are direct, move quick and with a purpose. I learned fast that every country has its own personality and stride; tasting life abroad as a student first undoubtedly prepared me for being a professional in the real world.

I’m an educator so I’m constantly tasked with discovering new ways of being innovative and sensitive to the needs of those around me. The third largest city in China, Guangzhou is a hot, commercial center, with menus to die for. Home of Cantonese food, the Canton Tower, and the infamous Canton Fair, this is a city for the ambitious. Working in China is quite the experience for me, as I am employed by one of the largest language schools in China, and have my own personal pursuits on the side as a designer and mentor. Since I have an evening schedule, during the morning I usually attend mandarin classes, scour the markets, or discover the city in some other way. In the evening I head to work where I manage 16 classes of varied level students, and am tasked with planning creative lessons to keep them excited about learning. This isn’t always as easy as it seems, especially when you consider the differences in school culture across the world.”

Q: Have your experiences abroad met your expectations? Exceeded them?

“As I prepared to embark on this journey, I made sure to have no real expectations of those around me, only of myself. There were three things I promised I would do:

1)    Say yes more often

2)    Really pay attention to the people around me

3)    Take heed to the signs and opportunities for personal and professional growth

The friendships, family, and professional connections that I’ve created since stepping outside my comfort zone have empowered me to peel back the layers of humanity, revealing the world, revealing me. Of course there have been frustrating moments, scary moments, and plain disappointment, but with each of those comes an opportunity to learn, teach, and grow.”

Q: Your study abroad experiences were a large part of your time at TU and beyond. How have they affected your career path?

“Study abroad was an expansive experience that allowed me to see the true value of international education. Learning in the classroom is wonderful, but there are many things that a person can only gain through real world experience. Being exposed during undergrad equipped me with the idea that there were more non-conventional paths to the life that I desired. Teaching, public speaking, and organizing travel on my own, were only a few activities that led me to think outside the box.”

Q: Many study abroad alumni speak about an “ah ha” moment or a particularly powerful memory. What’s yours?

“The Western Sahara is extremely cold at night, especially just before dawn. Our group traveled out to the middle of the desert to camp for a few nights, and it was there I felt the sky, and tasted reality. This night I ended up alone, watching my group go off in front of me, scaling up and down the tall, soft sand dunes. I was tired, so once I reached the top of a particular dune, I planted my body right there. The shadows dwindled in the distance and it was just I, stretched out at the top of this mound, being flattened by the sky, and covered in the silence. I began to meditate, then to cry as I wondered how I got to be in such a beautiful place, with such beautiful people. I’d come so far and I didn’t want to go home, I felt at home right there on that dune, laid back watching nature go wild above me. On that dune, my love of a good view was born, and I was reminded that no matter what, whether alone or in a group, I would always honor my dreams and keep home inside me.”

Q: What would you say to students worried / concerned / afraid of studying abroad?

“Honor those feelings, and then immediately challenge them, along with the narrative that is leaving you afraid of going after what you want. You really only have two options, do it now or do it later, because it will not go away, the desire.

One of my favorite books of all time is The Alchemist by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. This story is probably one of the most favorited amongst travelers because of the emphasis placed on the importance of ‘the journey’ for the protagonist. I suggest they read this book and make their own assumptions; I can guarantee they won’t regret it.”

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Alumni spotlight: Chelsea Herskovitz

We’re always happy to hear from Towson Abroad alumni and Chelsea is no different. As you’ll see Chelsea is now working in the field of international education in nearby D.C. and we are excited to share her story!

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My name is Chelsea Herskovitz. I graduated from Towson in 2012 with a BS in Mass Communication with a Marketing Certificate. I’m originally from a small town in Pennsylvania that few people have heard of. During my junior year, I studied abroad in London over the winter mini-mester.

Q: What (or who) got you started on study abroad and how did you choose your program?

I always knew I wanted to study abroad but was skeptical because none of my friends were doing it. While my parents were supportive, they felt more comfortable if I somewhere where they spoke English. England was the obvious choice. I also knew I wanted to go over the mini-mester because I always found myself bored during the long winter breaks and this was a productive way to fill my time while also earning credits towards my degree.

Q: Did your experiences abroad met your expectations? Exceeded them?

My experience abroad, as cheesy as it sounds, was life altering. Prior to studying abroad, while I had some travel experience, I was always intimidated by being so far away, missing experiences here in the US and whatnot. But the adventure was eye opening. I was able to experience freedom and a new culture without the pressures of home. It gave me the opportunity to interact with other students at Towson I had never met and felt I could truly be myself. I was pushed to try things outside of my comfort zone and ended up loving (most of them).

Q: Your study abroad experiences were a large part of your time at TU. How have they affected your career path?

Once I graduated from college, I immediately was offered an internship that eventually turned in to a job offer. However, I hated the job so much and it had me living at home with my parents. I would go to work every day and be bored out of my mind. Eventually, I thanked them for the job offer and was happy to accept if they would allow me to take a month off to travel. With their permission, I booked my trip to Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. On my 3rd day in Cambodia, I wrote to my boss requesting an additional 2 months off. Oddly enough, he gave me his blessing. I eventually ended up quitting the job and spending 6 months in Southeast Asia. While in Thailand, I interviewed and was offered a job a non-profit working with high school students interested in studying abroad. Without the experience with Towson in London, I never would have been motivated to go to SE Asia and eventually work for this company.

Q: Of all the places you’ve been, both study abroad and in your life after TU, do you have a favorite? Where and why?

Choosing a favorite travel destination is like choosing a favorite child. But I certainly have destinations I prefer but for different reasons. Vietnam makes it to the top of the list because of the history. I don’t remember ever learning about the Vietnam War in school, so it was very eye opening. Spain and Peru by far had some of the best and most creative foods I’ve ever eaten. But London always has a special place in my heart since I lived in a flat there and had the opportunity to live like a local.

Q: Many returned study abroad alumni speak about an “ah ha” moment or a particularly powerful memory. What’s yours?

I wouldn’t say there was one specific moment. During one of our free weekends, me and a couple friends booked a trip to Barcelona. I think the entire experience of going from one place where I didn’t know anyone to another, staying in a hostel, trying to use my absolutely terrible Spanish, and trying to maneuver the city was very eye opening to all the things I am capable of.

Q: What would you say to students about studying abroad?

I’m not going to lie, it’s an intimidating experience. To think about being so far away from your friends and family, the finances, the planning, lots of  new words and processes you’re not familiar with etc. etc. But you would have to search far and wide to find someone who either regrets their time abroad or wishes they didn’t do it. It is worth all of the preparation and work. In my job, I hear from students all the time about the cost of studying abroad and surely, it can be costly. However, you cannot measure the financial benefits you will receive from an experience abroad. Students gain confidence, intercultural experience, and knowledge some of their peers do not have; all items which potential future employers are looking for.

Q&A with one of our previous study abroad superstars!

Dr. Alexandra M. Towns, graduated from Towson University in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies.  Her study abroad experiences at Towson consisted of the German Language Immersion program in Summer of 2002 at Carl Von Ossietsky University in Oldenburg, Germany, the Spanish Language Immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico over Minimester in 2003, and finally the Butler University Study Abroad at Chilean Universities Program in Santiago, Chile over the Spring semester in 2004.  In 2015 she was also selected to be the Towson Honors College Alumnus of the year.  Dr. Alexandra M. Towns is now a medical ethnobotanist working at Naturalis and Leiden University.

Alexandra Towns

Q: You had the opportunity to study abroad multiple times while at Towson. What (or who) got you started and how did you choose your program?

As an international studies major, I was very motivated to learn about other parts of the world. Studying strictly in a classroom setting, however, was not enough- I realized that I needed to have my feet on the ground to really understand other countries. I was a Spanish language minor, so I wanted to not only improve my language skills in a Spanish-speaking country (Mexico 2003), but also to challenge myself to take university-level coursework in Spanish (Chile 2004). The desire to learn German (Oldenburg 2002) was motivated by my heritage; my mother immigrated to the US as a teenager from Germany, and although I had visited with our German relatives many times as a child, it wasn’t until college that I had a chance to really learn the language.

Q: Have your experiences abroad met your expectations? Exceeded them?

My experiences abroad, both as a Towson student and in my professional life, have continuously exceeded my expectations. Traveling, studying, and working abroad have had a major influence on the person that I am today.

Q: Your study abroad experiences were a large part of your time at TU. How have they affected your career path?

Before even applying to Towson University, it was my intention to work internationally. However, the opportunity to study abroad in different contexts provided the initial occasions to test out my ideas of living abroad and helped to build my skills and confidence. It also helped friends and family adjust to the type of lifestyle I would be living.

Q: Of all the places you’ve been, both study abroad and in your life after TU, do you have a favorite? Where and why?

I’ve been extremely lucky to have traveled and lived in many places across North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. I’ve backpacked across South America, worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, completed a doctoral degree in the Netherlands, researched herbal medicine in Benin and Gabon, attended an academic conference in Hong Kong, and traveled and visited friends all over the world. Each place has inspired, challenged, and surprised me in so many ways that I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite. But I can say that one place in particular has a very special place in my heart: Niger. It’s an incredibly humble location- very hot, dry, and dusty with some of the lowest human development indicators in the world- but also with some of the kindest, funniest, and most generous people I’ve ever met.

Q: Many returned study abroad alumni speak about an “ah ha” moment or a particularly powerful memory. What’s yours?

I can’t say that I have one particularly strong memory, but sense of smell is a really powerful source of remembering for me- be it a tea that I was introduced to in a country, a spice that was used in a specific cuisine, the odor of certain leathers used in artisan handicrafts, or just something in the breeze on a random Tuesday- I am immediately transported back.

Q: What would you say to students worried / concerned / afraid of studying abroad?

I would say to take those fears of studying abroad seriously- realize that there are real risks to your health, security, and well-being. Inform yourself how to avoid/prevent them by doing your research, talking with others, and taking all precautions, but then hop on a plane and go!

Alumni spotlight: Clark Rachfal

This post by Associate Director Kelly Holland is a result of her phone interview with Towson University study abroad alumnus Clark Rachfal. Clark is perhaps best known as a Team USA para-cyclist, who has been competing since 2007, but we know him first and foremost as a study abroad success story. We wish him well as he races this week in the Netherlands in the UCI Para-cycling World Championships! 

Study abroad can be a lot of things to a lot of different people. For Clark Rachfal, study abroad was an opportunity to “hit the reset button.” Enrolled at Towson as a double major in Economics and Political Science, he went looking for an off-campus experience where English was the primary language. Clark jokes that when he realized fall semester would be cold in the United Kingdom and summer in Australia, he quickly committed to Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, Australia!

Photo courtesy of Clark Rachfal Facebook: Segovia World Cup 2014

Photo courtesy of Clark Rachfal Facebook: Segovia, Spain World Cup 2014

The Annapolis native says, “Australia was somewhere I wanted to go in the world since I was a child.” What started as a fall semester extended to a full academic year, allowing him to study halfway around the world for ten months. ANU greeted him with a wide variety of students: Australians from Melbourne and Sydney, some American and Asian students, as well. Meeting new Australian friends allowed him to travel beyond Canberra and explore the country. Was there a difference between semester one and two? Clark says the first round was about personal growth, and the second round was about academics.

When asked what his family thought about his decision to go abroad and stay abroad even longer, he acknowledges, “My parents were scared shitless.” Growing up, the family had hosted au pairs from Norway, France, Australia, and Northern Ireland. Clark notes, “Whenever we could, our family would travel in the U.S.” and even had the pleasure of attending the wedding of a former au pair in France. “My parents ingrained the travel bug into me and my sister,” he points out. So why were they so scared about a semester in Australia after all this exposure to travel? Clark Rachfal is legally blind.

Diagnosed at age 4 with a degenerative retinal condition, both he and his family learned to adapt in many ways. Australia was an opportunity to meet new people and visit a new place, and he was fortunate to find support abroad as well. “Disability Support Services at ANU were awesome. They made the transition very easy,” Clark shares. It was in Australia that he hopped on a tandem bicycle and rode for 270 kilometers (about 168 miles) for three days as part of a fundraiser. Clark stopped riding a single bike around age 13 when it became too dangerous to do alone, riding his family’s tandem bike instead. In 2004 when his friends offered him the opportunity to get back on a bike he jokes, “I didn’t think they’d find someone who would let us borrow a tandem but they did!” Clark says it was important to be open to the idea but also credits his new friends as a support system: “I was growing more comfortable in my own skin, and they were trying to make [the ride] happen.”

The charity ride was when Clark first started to use a team for mobility. As it turns out, that long tandem bicycle ride was just the beginning. Clark would later return to Australia in Fall of 2005 to complete two independent studies and an internship with the Australian Legal Aid Society. He recalls being warned that the return trip would be different, and it was. “People, environment – that all changes. You yourself change.”

Photo courtesy of @usparacycling 3/24/15

Photo courtesy of @usparacycling 3/24/15

When asked about the challenges he faced while abroad, Clark is honest and candid with three moments for three different reasons. One, “the realization that I am there for classes and still had to study and write essays,” he jokes. Two, in between semesters when his mom came to visit and travel with him and returned to the States, he experienced homesickness. Last but not least, Clark acknowledges that there was a time when he realized being “a person with a disability as great as this is, there are still things that I can’t do.” When he speaks about returning home from Australia after that first year, he asks if Towson students are aware of reverse culture shock, recalling when he had to assimilate from Australian culture back to America culture after ten months abroad and how he didn’t know it would be an issue.

Challenges aside, Clark’s enthusiasm for study abroad and travel is evident. When asked what he would say to students who are considering study abroad or nervous about the experience, he says, “Few opportunities like study abroad are going to come up in your life. You almost have this opportunity to hit the pause button on reality, go gallivant around the world for an extended period of time.”

Clark’s para-cycling career took him back to Australia once more, racing in the World Cup in Sydney in 2011. Although Australia first stole his heart, Italy is also one of his favorite countries, “for people, experience, and culture.” When talking about another important piece of culture – food – he admits he is a “seafood snob,” thanks to his Annapolis upbringing and fondly remembers many BBQs in Australia where grilling out was a big part of the culture. A less fond memory is the time Clark mistook Vegemite for Nutella and slathered it on a piece of bread, only to throw the whole thing out after two bites — we can relate.

Thanks to Clark for taking the time out of his busy training schedule to speak with our office. Best of luck in the Netherlands!

 

Read more about Clark’s journey: 

Team USA biography: http://www.teamusa.org/para-cycling/athletes/Clark-Rachfal

Towson Alumni Magazine, Fall 2010: http://www.towsonalumnimagazine.com/towson/fall2010#pg18

“Annapolis resident to compete in para-cycling world championships,” http://touch.capitalgazette.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-82990690/

From Australia to Costa Rica

This is part two of Towson alumnus Zachary Renner’s story on life after study abroad in Costa Rica. We are so pleased so share his adventures, and are grateful that he contacted us to do so!

Zachary Renner
Studied Abroad Sophomore Year
The University of The Sunshine Coast, Australia
Graphic Design Major
Graduated from Towson Spring 2010

The following winter, I convinced three friends to go on a surf trip to Costa Rica. We spent three weeks hunting down waves on the Pacific Coast and camping in the back yards of local homes. The people I met in Costa Rica seemed to really enjoy life. Many of them had with far fewer possessions then anyone I knew in the United States. I could tell Costa Rica was very special place, and could easily see myself spending more time there. As graduation was getting closer, I ready to catch a plane to just about anywhere, start bouncing around from country to country like those kids I had met in Australia.

The last part of the Graphic Design degree is the senior portfolio review. That semester Towson was short a teacher so they brought in Hud, the owner of a small graphic design firm in Washington DC. One of my design teachers caught me in the hallway after my review and asked that I show some of my work to Hud. He was apparently looking for a new designer. Hud liked my work and called me on the phone shortly after to come in for an interview.

My mind was already completely set on starting my travels, but I knew how fortunate I was, and how hard I had worked to get opportunities like this. I very difficultly decided that if I was offered the job, I would take it. I would work as along as I could stand it, then start my adventures. Figuring that traveling would be a lot easier with money, was also appealing. I picked an amount of money that I thought I could travel on for at least two years, and started my 8:30 to 6 job. Commuting from Towson to DC, parking four miles from my office, and skateboarding in to work. I did everything I could to save money and reach that number faster.

I left my job on great terms about 15 months from the day I was hired. Fortunately, Hud fully understood what I was after. When I told him I would like to leave the company to travel, he gave me $100 and told me take my girlfriend to a nice dinner to celebrate. He is an amazing guy, and I still do freelance work for him.

Me and Kate both decided it would be nice to really immerse ourselves in a culture. So we would stay at our first country for a year or so. We decided on Costa Rica. We already knew that I liked it. Costa Rica is also close to the United States, so we would get plenty of visitors.

I left Xanthus Design in August and flew to Costa Rica in September. No idea where I would live, what I would do, or how I would speak to anyone in Spanish. Stayed in a few hostels for about a month before finding El Castillo.

El Castillo (the castle), was an abandoned, run down hostel/hotel/bar/restaurant on the Pacific coast of the country. It is absolutely secluded on a protected beach for sea turtle nesting. The drive to the closest town takes between 20 minutes and 1 hour depending on whether or not the river is low enough to drive your car/motorcycle through it. I am unique in my ability to see possibilities in things that are far from functional as anything. I told Kate that I found something for us to do, but to give me a little bit of time to make it livable.

I learned how to run electricity, fix plumbing, build bed frames, and talk enough Spanish. I bought a car, mattresses from Nicaragua, pots, pans, a stove… About two months after I arrived, we accepted our first guest.

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We have been doing this for three years now and I am pleased to say that El Castillo is now a fully functional hostel and pizza restaurant. We always have at least one volunteer that lives here. I give surf lessons, perform all of the maintenance, and am the pizza chef. When we have free time we take trips to Panama, Nicaragua or places that we have not seen in Costa Rica.

About two years ago we saw the possibility to get El Castillo more involved in our community. We started by hosting kids movies nights. We have now hosted several community fund raisers, Christmas parties, and grass roots art festivals. Since we always have young, able guys and girls staying here, it was really easy to start a volunteer hostel.

Most people love to help. It is hard to take a multi-week or multi-month vacation without feeling a little useless. So when people arrive here and see that there is work they can do they are really excited. Foreign guys and girls learn some Spanish and about a different culture.

We built a big concrete half pipe for skateboarding. It turned out amazing, we even had some skateboards donated from friends in the United States. We have had people drive long distances to skateboard here since it is one of the only ramps in the country. We held an online fund raiser to build playground and library for the local school. We received donations from all over the world. Before our 50 book library cabinet, the kids only had a few black and white copies of textbooks. The leftover money from the playground will go into the future library building with even a few computers.

My Study Abroad Experience and What Came After

This incredible story of adventure in the Outback comes to you from Zachary Renner, a Study Abroad and Towson University alumnus. This is part one of two installments about Zachary’s adventures abroad.

Zachary Renner
Studied Abroad Sophomore Year
The University of The Sunshine Coast, Australia
Graphic Design Major
Graduated from Towson Spring 2010

I studied abroad at the University of The Sunshine Coast in Australia. Right from the start it was a new and exciting experience. Before this trip I had only seen parts of the east coast of the United States.

The adventure started right away when I found out that my standby plane ticket only took me as far as Sydney. Once in Sydney, I hunted down a bus to Brisbane, then a second bus to the Sunshine Coast. I was loving the feeling of adventure and freedom right away. It was a new culture, new people, new animals and new landscape.

The university was very nice, located within the Mooloolah River National Park. We were also 15 minutes from the beach. There were kangaroos and exotic birds literally everywhere on campus. My teachers were all very nice and the classes were interesting. I made sure to get my assignment finished quickly so I would have plenty of time to meet new people and see as much of the country and culture as possible.

Kangaroos in front of a classroom in Australia

Kangaroos in front of a classroom in Australia

I befriended people from all over the world. My roommates were two girls from Japan. They loved to cook for me and listen to my surf adventures over dinner. I went on camping trips with my German friends, and surf trips all over with my best friend Rocco from South Africa. One camping trip we arranged was for a boat to drop us off on an outer island of the great barrier reef for 7 days. We brought only water, a tent, food, and snorkel gear. This is still one of my favorite weeks of my life.

Camping with my German friends in Australia

Camping with my German friends in Australia

It was absolutely eye opening to hear about all of the traveling that my friends had done even before college. Many had lived with host families in other countries for a few months during, or just after high school. All of my German friends spoke perfect English. I met other people at hostels that were just traveling and making the money they needed as they went. That really sticks out in my mind. The idea of just bouncing around with very few possessions, no plan, work when you need money, relax when you don’t.

As soon as my exams were over I went down to Sydney to see my girlfriend, Kate. She studied abroad in the same semester. We rented a car and drove the Great Ocean Road, 150 miles of beautiful rocky cliffs along the coast in Victoria, Australia. It was surfing heaven. We camped every night and woke up every day to beautiful coastlines and exotic animals.

Once we were back in the States, I was consumed by dreams of more traveling. My experience in Australia taught me that this whole idea of school, career, house, kids, retire… was really just one option of many.

ISA Alumni Reunion in NYC!

w.beta.header.NYC-AlumniReunion-AR-Final (1)Hey ISA Alum!

Are you itching to get back together with the people you spent your study abroad trip with? Want to network with ISA alumni from across the U.S.? Interested in sharing stories from your time abroad?
Well now is your chance!

ISA will be hosting their inaugural alumni reunion this month in NYC!

Date: June 26th from 8:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Location: BFB Highline, in the West Village
Register and RSVP: Register for the event using their Host Committee page, but be sure to do it by June 19th!

*You must be 21 years or older to attend this reunion
*ISA is not responsible for any transportation expenses incurred if this event is canceled; however, ticket will be refunded in full
*ISA alumni are allowed to bring guests to this event

Volunteering Abroad: Jane Nay

 

Name: Jane Nay
Major: B.A. in Economics ’13
Hometown: Salisbury, Maryland
Location: Chachoengsao, Thailand
Program: CIEE, Teaching at Rajabhat Rajanagarindra University from Oct. ’13 – Oct ’14

Q. How did you decide that Thailand was the right place for you? How did you find out about the program? 

I knew I wanted to go abroad and experience something different once I graduated from Towson, but had no idea where or how to start the process. I talked to my professor, Dr. Seth Gitter, about what I wanted to do and he recommended CIEE.

After looking into all the different countries CIEE has, the programs in Thailand stood out to me. I’m not sure exactly why. I liked that Thailand is a slow paced ‘no worries’ or “mai ben rai” kind of place. I read that the people in Thailand are extremely nice and welcoming (true). I liked the idea of going to a Buddhist country, learning about a new religion, and seeing amazing temples. And, of course, the delicious food and amazing beaches!

Q. What is your daily workload like as a teacher in Thailand?

I teach 7 classes, 5 days a week. Each class is three hours long so I only have one or two classes per day. When I am not teaching I am in the office. My time in the office is spent making lesson plans, creating worksheets, and grading. I am expected to be at school (teaching or in the office) from 8:30- 4:30 every day.

My school does not have text books to work out of, so I have to create lesson plans without having anything to work off of. Lesson planning is harder and more time consuming than I expected it to be. I also travel between campuses every day. The work plus the travel can be stressful and exhausting but is also rewarding.

Q. What has been the most rewarding part of volunteering abroad?

The most rewarding thing is making progress in my classes. Most of the students in my class have very little, or no, knowledge of the English language. This makes it hard to teach when English is the only language I speak. I will spend 20 minutes trying to act out and explain a topic, or even a word, in many different ways. Finally, I will say or do something that just clicks for the students. You know because a group of 15 students will say “OHHHH” in unison. That sound is the best sound I have ever heard.

I also find it very rewarding to see students become comfortable speaking English. As the semester has progressed more students are coming up to ask for help. When I first started they were afraid to talk to me, or in English at all. Now, many students are trying.

Q. And the most challenging part? The most surprising?

The most challenging part is communication in the classroom and lesson planning. Each of my classes have around 50 students who range from good at speaking English to having no English at all. It is very hard to create a lesson plan that works for each student because of this huge range. Some days the 3 hours drag. Students don’t seem to understand a thing I am saying. Other days the lessons go just as I wanted. I am still learning the best way to communicate to my students.

The most unexpected, or surprising, thing was having surgery in Thailand. After only being in Thailand for a little over a month, my appendix burst. It got really bad really fast. One day I had a simple stomach ache and two days later I was having surgery. Communication was extremely difficult. Nurses and doctors did not speak English and I do not speak Thai. This experience was the worst, yet the best, thing that has happened to me so far in Thailand. It was the worst for obvious reasons. It was the best because I realized the support I had here in Thailand. I truly got to experience the kind nature of Thais that I have heard so much about. I did not have to stay alone in the hospital once, even if that meant a friend of a friend of my boss stayed the night with me. People were bringing me food once I got home from the hospital. Many people in my town were looking after me. It was a great feeling to know that I had a family here in Thailand and that I don’t ever have to worry about being alone.

Q. How is teaching abroad different from studying abroad?

Since I have never studied abroad, this is a question I cannot answer from experience. I think the main difference would be the responsibility. One thing people have to remember when considering teaching abroad is that it is a job. Not only do you have to show up to class, but you have to be completely (physically and mentally) there every day all day. I have expectations from the University. I have students I am responsible for.

Q. Has your time abroad met your expectations?

My time abroad has been great but in different ways than I expected. I expected to spend most of my time abroad traveling around Thailand and Asia. I do travel and get the chance to see great things, but not as much as I expected. Sometimes it is not realistic to travel since I only have off Saturday and Sunday. This is not a bad thing, though. I have had the chance to meet people, make great friends, and become part of a community. I feel more at home in Thailand than I ever expected. I don’t think this would have happened if I was always on the move.

Q. Any advice for others considering spending time abroad?

Keep an open mind and put yourself out there. It is important to go out and meet people around the town you live in and learn about a new culture. There will be times when you get frustrated and disagree with the way things are in the country you are in. I was told to remember things are not wrong they are just different. I think that is an important thing to remember.

Q&A Spotlight: Jane Nay

Name: Jane Nay
Major: B.A. in Economics ’13
Hometown: Salisbury, Maryland
Destination: Chachoengsao, Thailand
Institution: CIEE (partners with OEG)


Jane is a recent TU alumna who extended her study abroad experience to a teaching opportunity at Rajabhat Rajanagarindra Universit. This is her story!

Q. How did you decide that Thailand was the right place for you?

I knew I wanted to go abroad and experience something different once I graduated from Towson, but I had no idea where or how to start the process. I talked to my professor, Dr. Seth Gitter, about what I wanted to do and he recommended CIEE.

After looking into all the different countries CIEE offers, the programs in Thailand stood out to me. I’m not sure exactly why. I liked that Thailand is a slow paced ‘no worries’ or “mai ben rai” kind of place. I read that the people in Thailand are extremely nice and welcoming (true). I liked the idea of going to a Buddhist country, learning about a new religion, and seeing amazing temples. And, of course, the delicious food and amazing beaches!

 
Q. What is your daily workload like as a teacher in Thailand?

I teach 7 classes 5 days a week. Each class is three hours long so I only have one or two classes per day. When I am not teaching I am in the office. My time in the office is spend making lesson plans, creating worksheets, and grading. I am expected to be at school (teaching or in the office) from 8:30- 4:30 every day.

My school does not have text books to work out of so I have to create lesson plans without having anything to work from. Lesson planning is harder and more time consuming than I expected it to be. I also travel between campuses every day. The work plus the travel can be stressful and exhausting but is also rewarding.

Q. What has been the most rewarding part of volunteering abroad?

The most rewarding thing is making progress in my classes. Most of the students in my class have very little, or no, knowledge of the English language. This makes it hard to teach when English is the only language I speak. I will spend 20 minutes trying to act out and explain a topic, or even a word, in many different ways. Finally, I will say or do something that just clicks for the students. You know because a group of 15 students will say “OHHHH” in unison. That sound is the best sound I have ever heard.

I also find it very rewarding to see students become comfortable speaking English. As the semester has progressed more students are coming up to ask for help. When I first started they were afraid to talk to me, or in English at all. Now, many students are trying. 

Q. And the most challenging part?

The most challenging part is communication in the classroom and lesson planning. Each of my classes have around 50 students who range from good at speaking English to having no English at all. It is very hard to create a lesson plan that works for each student because of this huge range. Some days the 3 hours drag. Students don’t seem to understand a thing I am saying. Other days the lessons go just as I wanted. I am still learning the best way to communicate to my students.

The most unexpected, or surprising, thing was having surgery in Thailand. After only being in Thailand for a little over a month, my appendix burst. It got really bad really fast. One day I had a simple stomach ache and two days later I was having surgery. Communication was extremely difficult. Nurses and doctors do not speak English and I do not speak Thai. This experience was the worst, yet the best, thing that has happened to me so far in Thailand. It was the worst for obvious reasons. It was the best because I realized the support I had here in Thailand. I truly got to experience the kind nature of Thais that I have heard so much about. I did not have to stay alone in the hospital once, even if that meant a friend of a friend of my boss stayed the night with me. People were bringing me food once I got home from the hospital. Many people in my town were looking after me. It was a great feeling to know that I had a family here in Thailand and that I don’t ever have to worry about being alone.

Q. How is teaching abroad different from studying abroad?

I think the main difference would be the responsibility. One thing people have to remember when considering teaching abroad is that it is a job. Not only do you have to show up to class, but you have to be completely (physically and mentally) there every day all day. I have expectations from the University. I have students I am responsible for.

Q. Has your time abroad met your expectations?

My time abroad has been great but in different ways then I expected. I expected to spend most of my time abroad traveling around Thailand and Asia. I do travel and get the chance to see great things, but not as much as I expected. Sometimes it is not realistic to travel since I only have off Saturday and Sunday. This is not a bad thing, though. I have had the chance to meet people, make great friends, and become part of a community. I feel more at home in Thailand than I ever expected. I don’t think this would have happened if I was always on the move.

Q. Any advice for others considering spending time abroad?

Keep an open mind and put yourself out there. It is important to go out and meet people around the town you live in and learn about a new culture. There will be times when you get frustrated and disagree with the way things are in the country you are in. I was told to remember things are not wrong they are just different. I think that is an important thing to remember.

Thanks, Jane!