Teaching Traveling: Welcome to Tara Madden-Dent, founder of the HLSL Institute: an innovative program to help international students transition into U.S. culture. Tara, tell us about your background.
Tara: It’s a relatively short commute from home in Lake Tahoe to work at the University of Nevada. I’ve taught undergraduate and graduate students “Education and Society”, “Nevada School Law”, & “Children and Families in Multiethnic Societies”. I love what I do, especially when it deals with cultural studies. My Ph.D. is almost finished which specializes in international education and cross-cultural adaptation. That’s why I expanded my profession to include HLSL Institute: a hybrid teaching program instructing international students (from around the world) how to transition into the U.S. culture. I get to teach from anywhere.
TT: Tell us more about your world exploration.
T: Although I’ve traveled to many countries for pleasure and professional reasons, an interesting aspect of my current role at HLSL Institute is that I can experience a variety of cultures from anywhere. For example, I’m currently teaching or working with South Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese students in their home country because of technology. When they arrive in the U.S, we can continue working online or also face-to-face.
How cool is it that I get paid to teach about U.S. culture to people from around the world while they teach me about their culture? Often times we become great friends and now have places to stay when we do travel internationally. Is there a better job than that?
TT: Amazing! How did you find this opportunity?
T: HLSL Institute is my creation. After years of research, the need for it was too great to overlook. I now watch American Ambassadors (my teachers) transforming our students’ lives as they transition into the U.S. culture. My international students and expatriates (including their families) now seek me out because the educational program works. I can go into theory and describe my research, but in short, those who learn from a trained, caring local mentor/teacher or friend, have a better transition. That’s how this opportunity found me: I was that friend.
TT: Love it. Tell us one moment from your international connections that was particularly powerful.
T: One day, a woman in her 40’s from Cuba contacted me and wanted to meet. She was beautiful, kind, and funny. That’s why my heart broke when her tears began muffling her story.
Apparently, she had been in the U.S. for about 6 months after arriving with her husband (an expatriate contracted in the U.S. for one year). She still had no friends, knew almost no English, and was terrified to leave the house without her husband. This moment changed my life. Here I was, a person seeking to know this culture, befriend and teach people like her, and she was hiding at home too afraid to pick up a ringing telephone. She said, “I feel like I’m shrinking. I’m lonely, sad, and afraid”. I knew right then that teaching international sojourners was my destiny.
TT: So powerful. You’re doing important work! How have your travels impacted you as a teacher and in your HLSL career?
T: There is a common theme that I’ve witnessed during my travels and interactions with various cultures that directly impacts my teaching. It’s that compassion and empathy is understood by all cultures and creates an authentic connection transcending cultural or language differences. Knowing this helps me connect with my students regardless of where they originate from. For example, a woman from Iran recently told me that our “inner connection” was stronger than our language gaps. She felt that “we are the same”, that we were friends. I saw that this made her more comfortable to engage with other U.S. natives and that’s what I’m all about.
TT: Beautiful. How has travel impacted you as a person?
T: It’s all about learning. As a life-long international learner, travel provides infinite opportunity to expand my identity. People, languages, cultures, food, music, history, religions, etc. help shape my worldviews and my ability to contribute a lasting valuable legacy. I’m a better leader and global citizen because of my travels.
TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
T: The world is your oyster! International education is on the rise every year (thus, increasing a need for teachers) and with technology, you can teach from anywhere. First, search the internet for grants and scholarships to teach or travel abroad and for positions, then, commit! More opportunities will present themselves as your travels unfold. You don’t need to know how your travel story or teaching story ends, just begin the story and see where it takes you. There are tons of blogs and tools to learn the tricks to succeed at both travel and teaching, but you need to make the decision to commit. Once you do, it’s a win-win lifestyle and the benefits are infinite.
TT: Thanks so much, Tara! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?