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A Job Teaching International Students About American Culture

Tara at the University of Nevada's Child Development Classroom.
Tara at the University of Nevada’s Child Development Classroom.

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.

International student introducing an American Ambassador to friends back home.
International student introducing an American Ambassador to friends back home.

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?

Tara in Jamaica: Working from the sandy beaches of Negril.
Tara in Jamaica: Working from the sandy beaches of Negril.

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.

Teaching from laptops to international students across the globe.
Teaching from laptops to international students all the way across the globe.

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. T

his 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?

Tara at the Pantheon in Italy: Experiencing Rome while teaching about U.S. culture.
Tara at the Pantheon in Italy: Experiencing Rome while teaching about U.S. culture.

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?


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Kacie Conn

Friday 20th of December 2013

I had the great pleasure of taking a class with Tara. Her enthusiasm for education and culture came across in each class and encouraged students to be more engaged in the class. One of the biggest things that stood out to me about my experience in her class is how she ran the class and how she interacted with students. She fostered an environment of mutual respect and regarded the students as capable and intelligent human beings. We were encouraged to learn from one another. There was an attitude on the class that everyone had something valuable and unique to bring to the table and contribute. I was thoroughly impressed by the extent of work that Tara put into our class. Hands down, one of the best teachers I have come across in my education. After many years in school, it was refreshing to have a teacher that was passionate about education and made learning fun and engaging again.

Tara Madden-Dent

Thursday 26th of December 2013

Hi Kacie. Thanks for the positive and encouraging comment. Your support inspires me as a teacher. It was a pleasure having you in class and I wish you continued success in school and with your future endeavors. Have a wonderful new year.

Ashlee Tesser

Monday 16th of December 2013

Tara has done a wonderful job with her company, and her program. I have had the pleasure of working with her and her international program which is a huge success. Tara has a love for teaching and culture, which is contagious about her passion for helping others. I can't wait to see the big opportunities that come for her and her company.

Tara Madden-Dent

Monday 16th of December 2013

Thanks for the encouraging comment Ashlee. It was my pleasure working with you. HLSL Institute is effective because we have positive, educated, and experienced teachers like you. I look forward to teaching international students with you again.

Tereza Trejbalova

Friday 13th of December 2013

Tara, you are truly one of a kind. There is not many people like you; it shows that you truly care and that makes the lives of people you communicate with so much better. Your enthusiasm is priceless and I am happy to have met you. Good luck in everything you do!

Tara Madden-Dent

Saturday 14th of December 2013

Thanks for the encouragement Tereza. You have been a wonderful HLSL Institute teacher and I wish you great success with your Ph.D. and international travels. I look forward to keeping in touch. Thank again.

Nancy Haskett

Friday 13th of December 2013

Tara, What a great idea you have turned into a reality! We are so proud of your accomplishments and know you are the perfect person for a job like this. With so much dissension in the world today, we need people who can build bridges, and that's exactly what you are doing. This is a lovely article, and you are deserving of the attention! Have a wonderful holiday season. Hope we can get together sometime!!

Tara Madden-Dent

Friday 13th of December 2013

Thank you Nancy for your touching comment. Friends like you have inspired my love for learning different cultures, religions, languages, etc. and the joys we can offer each other. I owe much of my success to positive influences like yourself, Sarah, and your family. Big hugs. Have a great holiday season too.

Lee, Gungoo

Friday 13th of December 2013

I got the deep impression from Tara for this field. I never expect I can meet the specialist before I come to the States.

If I had contacted with her before I had come here, I would have much less troubles in adjusting in the States.

This kind of works are really helpful for international students and foreigners in adjusting to the totally different lives in the States.

I am sure Tara and HLSL Institute can help them and become bridges among USA ans any other foreign countries

and also believe this kind of works are so important that UNR or Nevada has to invest more heavily in the field.

Tara Madden-Dent

Friday 13th of December 2013

Thank you Gungoo. I'm glad we've become such close friends and that HLSL has helped you and your family. My teachers absolutely loved getting to know you and being a part of the educational experience. Thank you for your kind words. See you at the university.

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