Teaching Traveling: Curious about travel and teaching in South Africa? Ever considered doing student teaching abroad? Please welcome Haleigh LeCompte and read on! Haleigh, tell us about your background.
Haleigh: Hi! I am 24 years old, and a proud Kentuckian! I am currently living in Chicago, Illinois, working for City Year, an educational non-profit. City Year is an AmeriCorps program that focuses on reversing the country’s drop out epidemic through improving students’ daily attendance, behavior, and academic course work.
I discovered this organization upon returning from an overseas teaching opportunity I took during my last semester of graduate school. Instead of finishing the year in Kentucky as my classmates did, I completed my student-teaching practicum in the ever-sunny Knysna, South Africa, while simultaneously earning my Master’s Degree in Secondary Education. Through the Consortium of Overseas Student Teaching (COST) program offered by my university, I was able to stay enrolled in my courses via online classes, while embarking on an unbelievable five-month journey overseas!
TT: What a brilliant idea! What don’t more people know about this possibility? Tell us more about your travels.
H: Despite my small-town upbringing, I’ve always craved traveling, different cultures, and adventurous experiences. With the help of an overzealous mom planning cross-country road trips and even an Alaskan cruise, I’ve been lucky enough to visit all 50 states! But when asked of my most memorable trip, I immediately think of South Africa. When I first found out that I would be moving to South Africa, I was a little apprehensive, as South Africa is 8,520 miles from my hometown and I would be the first student from my University sent to this site.
Thankfully, I accepted the offer and just three short months later, found myself in South Africa, stunned by its beauty! Needless to say, I quickly fell in love with the country, my host family, and soon enough, my job. My time at Oakhill School included teaching every type of student you can imagine, from rambunctious 8th graders to easygoing seniors. Adjusting to a new system was interesting: I learned a lot about the ambiguousness of time and the upside to having lengthy tea breaks factored into your teaching schedule.
Although I went to South Africa solely to teach, I was able to experience so much more. I went skydiving, snorkeling, bungee jumping (off the world’s highest bridge I might add), elephant riding, zip lining, and wine tasting throughout the Garden Route! I took road trips to Cape Town and Port Elizabeth for festivals and Game Park drives. Even better – thanks to my school’s three-week spring break, I was able to participate in a Kenyan safari through Lake Nakuru, Samburu, and Masai Mara, ride in the world’s largest hot air balloon, camp out under the Milky Way, and spot all of Africa’s “Big Five” animals (a trip I recommend everyone experience once in their life!).
TT: Wow. Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful, interesting, or funny.
H: Each year, Oakhill School facilitates a one-month journey for all 10th grade students. The trip includes hiking, cycling, kayaking, abseiling and camping in the bush. The students are split into groups of 12 and led by two teacher chaperones – one of which I was lucky enough to be!
For ten days, I led my students on, what I still consider to be, one of the most trying, rewarding, and ethereal experiences of my life! From blistering feet to awe-inspiring sunrises, and sprained ankles to Milky Way nights, I was able to experience everything the bush has to offer. I never thought I would be able to travel 150 miles by foot, with only the things on my back – but sure enough, I (and thankfully all of my students) survived!
TT: Amazing. How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your current career?
H: Traveling has definitely helped me see that I want to pursue a career that allows me to keep exploring. When I returned from teaching in South Africa, I decided to apply for the Peace Corps (much to my parents’ dismay). Now in just a few short months, I’ll be packing again and preparing to depart for the Philippines July 3rd of this year! I will serve as a Secondary Education Teacher Trainer: collaborating with local Filipino teachers to strengthen instruction and jumpstart community involvement.
Before my move to South Africa, I never would have dreamed that I could live abroad – let alone sign a 27-month commitment. Regardless of the career you’re after, traveling teaches you that you are capable – mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, etc. I still don’t know exactly what job I’ll want after my Peace Corps service ends, but I do know that it will involve helping people and discovering new places.
TT: So exciting! How have your travels impacted you as a person?
H: Although I have traveled to many places, my trip to South Africa marked my first extended trip abroad. Over five months, I transitioned from a tourist, to a guest, to a functional and accepted member of the society. Living in South Africa offered me the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. There were moments I didn’t understand someone’s motives, opinions, or actions, but I always found that people were inherently good.
I discovered the type of person I want to be, the type of career I want to have, and, most importantly, I found that the world is actually quite small – and we should all take the time to explore it.
TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
H: In the words of Mary Anne Radmacher: “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
Or in other words, GO.
TT: Thanks so much, Haleigh! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?