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Learning to Teach in Honduras and South Korea

Shasta with Kindergarteners in South Korea.

Shasta with Kindergarteners in South Korea. Welcome, world-traveling teacher Shasta! Please tell us about yourself.

Shasta: I’m originally from a tiny town in northeast Texas and went to college in Louisiana and Arkansas. I graduated with a Psychology degree from the University of Central Arkansas in 2006, and then began the test of intestinal fortitude that is a Peace Corps application. I got nominated to teach in Eastern Europe/Central Asia, but needed some actual teaching experience before I could get an official departure date.

I had already set up an after-school Spanish tutoring gig with a local middle school when a woman I worked with asked if I’d ever thought of teaching in Korea. She just so happened to know a woman who recruited for public school in South Korea. In South Korean public schools, each school is required to have a native English speaker on staff.

Rotan, Honduras: the longest Zip-line in Central America.

Rotan, Honduras: the longest Zip-line in Central America.

I had not thought of anything but the Peace Corps, but I interviewed all the same because I adopt a very “Why Not?” philosophy concerning most things in my life. I’ll choose the evil I don’t know over the evil I do any day.

The interview went great and I got offered a job. This led to me putting the PC on hold (indefinitely) and traveling/teaching my way around the globe. I spent a year in Korea teaching K-6 ESL at three schools and I’m now in El Progreso, Honduras teaching MS/HS Spelling, Art, Family and Consumer Science, and Psychology. If all goes well, Okinawa, Japan is on the docket for the Fall.

TT: Amazing! Please describe more about your travels?

S: My first international job took me to Suk Jung Elementary School in South Korea. That experience changed who I was, in every sense of the word. I can look back with complete certainty and say that blind stupidity allowed me to take that job. I didn’t know the first thing about Korean culture, language, or geography, but still chose to take my 24-year-old self to the middle of nothing to live alone in the countryside 45 minutes away from anything resembling a city.

It took about a month of wondering what I had gotten myself into before my heart really caught up with Korea. I don’t recommend making your first big move right before the Holiday season but after the new year I began to loooove it. Being white in rural SK gets you more than a few stares.

I was growing used to the “ajummas” (Korean middle-aged women) giving me the stank eye every chance they got when one day, while waiting on the bus, I just sucked it up, bowed, and greeted the first old lady who leered disdainfully in my direction.

You can imagine my surprise when she scooted over on the bench and offered me half of her orange. Turns out, they were looking at me crazy because I was being disrespectful by not bowing to them first. That interaction really showed me that kindness and respect will get you farther in life than assuming you’re right ever will.

At a daycare for underprivileged kids in Honduras.

At a daycare for underprivileged kids in Honduras.

My Honduran experience has been a new kind of different because I speak more of the language and can enlist the help of my students whenever I have any cultural questions.

I’m southern and grew up with “Southern Hospitality” being an everyday part of life. The culture here is a lot like mine in that the mommas just want to hug you and everyone wants to feed you.

It’s different in that Honduras is definitely going through a transition period where you can see horse-drawn carriages, motorcycles with entire families piled on them, and 18-wheelers on the same highway. There’s a really interesting mix of old and new that lends itself to an endless amount of adventure, and it is a privilege to witness it firsthand.

Shasta's 9th Grade class in Honduras.

Shasta’s 9th Grade class in Honduras.

TT: Incredible. How did you find this teaching job in Honduras?

S: The Honduran job actually came about through a Facebook status. A friend from college, Deena, was living down here teaching 2nd grade. One day, she posted a status about needing an assistant, and I sent her a message asking if that was a real request. A few months later, I was here. The Spelling and Art teacher quit right before I got here, so I took his job. Poor Deena still never got her assistant!

TT: What a demonstration of how social networking online can change our lives for the better! How did you find the money to fund this travel?

S: It really is not hard at all the find fully-funded opportunities if you speak English fluently. I haven’t had to spend any of my own money in either place that I have lived. Both of my schools paid for my airfare and accommodations in-country. I use my salary to pay for utilities and entertainment. Here in Honduras, I’m technically a missionary but I don’t rely on any support from back home.

Goofing around with a 1st grader in South Korea.

Goofing around with a 1st grader in South Korea.

TT: Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.

S: The most recent heartwarming moment came cleverly disguised as a 9th grade boy. Usually, 15 year olds can be counted on more for attitude than encouragement, but he proved me wrong in a big way.

Hondurans generally adhere to the misconception that all Americans are wealthy. I tried explaining to them that I get paid in Lempiras (the local currency) and no one sends me money from home. I then used my white board to show them how much more money I made waitressing than I do now and how many less hours I worked.

Their collective jaws hit the floor to see that I took a big, fat pay cut to come here. The cost of living is a lot less here but it still felt nice to have one of my boys get out of his seat to come give me a hug then announce to his classmates, “See, I told you she loved us.”

TT: Beautiful, beautiful story. So how have your travels impacted you as a teacher?

A field trip to Korea's National Museum, Seoul.

On a field trip to Korea’s National Museum, Seoul.

S: I have only ever taught internationally. The only two things I swore I’d never be were a missionary or a teacher. Now I wake up every morning as both and couldn’t imagine life any different. I tell my students all the time that they’re making me the teacher I’m going to be forever.

I told me homeroom class (7th grade) a few weeks ago that I wasn’t coming back in the Fall and one of them pointed out that it was OK because they would always be my first 7th grade class. I’m really excited to see what kind of teacher I’m going to be when I get back to the States where I have access to a car and Office Depot.

TT: Yes! How have your travels impacted you as a person?

S: One of my favorite quotes is by Robert Louis Stevenson. He said, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” I totally agree. I love moving to a new place and getting to know its customs and people and making it my home.

I was just home for Christmas and have gotten to the point where I feel like a foreigner in the US. I made the mistake of referring to Honduras as “home” and my Mom quickly informed me that, “Home is where you mother is.” For me, home is where you pay your light bill and, for now, that’s Honduras. Living abroad has made me more at home in my own skin because I am really the only constant I’ve got.

TT: What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?

 A perk of of living in Central America: beaches like Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras.

A perk of of living in Central America: beaches like Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras!

S: Talk about it! You never know who’s going to hear your story and have a connection for you. I got both of my international jobs through friends or friends of friends. Network, network, network!!

TT: What a great, useful interview! Thanks, Shasta!

Readers, what questions and comments do you have?

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