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How Teaching ESL at Home is Like International Travel

Times Square, New York City: A Sea of Cultures!
Times Square, New York City: A Sea of Cultures!

Don’t have money now to travel? Get your international fix by teaching English locally!

Today we have a brilliantly insightful piece from Craig, a New York ESL teacher.

Take it away, Craig…

While I myself don’t have too much experience traveling, I feel like I have traveled extensively through the stories of my ESL students. I love to travel, but am more devoted to my students and get to experience the world through them.

My students vary in age from teenagers through sixty-somethings. They come from all over the world, including Asia, Europe, South America and the Caribbean.

One of my latest storytellers is a 39-year-old Tibetan man who does not have a first name or birthday. On my attendance sheet he’s listed NFN, but he’s chosen his own US appropriate name when he arrived, as many students do. He studied in a monastery with monks way up in the mountains of Tibet and loves to talk about his adventures there, such as a 40-day hike which he once took.

New York City: City of Immigrants with Amazing Tales!
New York City: City of Immigrants with Amazing Tales!

Another student is a professional pastry chef from France who has worked with top-notch chefs. The class has been lucky to taste some of his culinary delights, and indeed they were delicious!

There is also a Venezuelan man who was a pilot for a major South American airline and is hoping to fly for an American one very soon. Here in New York he works at a Queens restaurant selling Venezualan food, but keeps his flight dreams alive the more English he learns and the better he gets.

There are many more interesting students, including a South Korean magician, a Nepalese charity worker and an Ecuadorian nephrologist.

In addition to these great stories, I keep up a Facebook page where I provide links to interesting English games and stories. It’s private, to respect students’ privacy, but it’s a good way for them to help each other acclimate to the US. Back in real life, when we finish a course at the school, we have a celebration where every student is encouraged to bring a cultural food from their country.

Even the advertisements in Times Square are international...
Even the advertisements in Times Square are international…

I believe I learn as much from my students as they learn from me, and while I’m grounded in New York for work, I live vicariously through their tales.

Thanks so much, Craig! This article is a great reminder for those of us who don’t have the money right now to travel that we can start volunteering at our local ESL tutoring centers for FREE.

Not only does teaching ESL help us see the world from the comfort of our own city, but it also helps create opportunities (and friendships) with our fellow Earthlings.


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Nancy Rutland

Friday 3rd of June 2011

How do we find these centers?


Wednesday 27th of April 2011

Very true! Of course, as someone already said, for most of us just teaching in NY would be incredible!

As an English person, living in the Canary Islands, I was asked by a friend, who worked for the Red Cross, if I would like to give English lessons at an immigrant center. That was almost six years ago. At the beginning there were people from a variety of continents Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, even North America, and it was fascinating. We used to do multi-cultural events, such as you describe. Within a year it had changed because of the massive influx of refugees (economic or political) from Sub-Saharan Africa, which you may have read about at the time. I became immersed in African cultures to the point where I can't believe now that I still haven't been there! I like to say, at the time, that Africa came to me for a few years. Now it's changed again, and because I'm now unemployed, and don't have the money to get up to the Center, which is a bit remote, I can't continue, but it was the most amazing and humbling and rewarding experience. Really, for the entire time I was doing that I truly didn't care that I wasn't travelling, which is what I had intended to be doing back then!


Tuesday 21st of December 2010

I want to work with top-notch chefs. I always wanted to know how to cook but I always fail.

[email protected]

Friday 10th of December 2010

Ha! I've never been to NYC, so teaching there really would be a 'foreign' experience for me. Looks fun though!

Cheers, Andrew

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