April 3, 2012

Benefits of Study Abroad for ESL EFL Teachers

A guest post by Sarah Fudin, who currently works in community relations for the University of Southern California's Master of Arts in Teaching program, which provides aspiring teachers the opportunity to earn a Masters Degree in Teaching credential online. Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.

As an ESL teacher, you will work every day with students struggling to learn a new language, many of whom may also be struggling to adapt to the customs of a new country. As their instructor, you will have an intimate knowledge of the challenges and rewards of that learning process as it unfolds in your classroom, but students also lead full, vibrant lives outside the classroom. As they absorb the English language, they will also acclimate to the cultural life of their new home country. These are struggles and joys that teachers can certainly relate to, but not all teachers have experienced themselves.

Share Your Students’ Challenges
Studying abroad will allow you to experience firsthand what living in a foreign country and immersing yourself in a foreign language feels like. This experience will equip you with a deeper understanding of the difficulties, surprises, joy and potential alienation your students may go through. And the more deeply you can relate to your students, the more aptly you will be able to teach them.

Get to Know Your Students’ Culture
Studying abroad also gives you a chance to get to know the culture of your students. For instance, if you teach ESL in the United States, you will probably have students from Latin America. Studying abroad in Latin America will give you a deeper understanding of those students’ cultures. You can then use this common ground to help build rapport with your students in the classroom. For instance, you might teach them the English names for items you know to have particular importance in their culture. By teaching them words that they are more likely to use and retain, you can make your lessons more relevant to their lives.

Understanding your students’ cultures can also help you in the classroom in other ways. For instance, it is useful to know when a student’s apparent rudeness is actually rooted in a different understanding of etiquette from your own. By addressing such differences respectfully and directly, you can save both yourself and your students from misunderstandings. Such knowledge can be difficult to come by in your own country, but you will quickly discover many such fascinating and useful facts while studying abroad.
While there are many practical and pedagogical reasons for an ESL / EFL teacher to study abroad, perhaps the best reason is the pure joy of discovery. Getting to know another culture and another language can be a thrilling and even life-changing experience. Become one of the few Americans to visit Cuba, soak up the surreal architecture in Barcelona or experience Carnival in Brazil. After all, the best teachers are driven not only by a passion for learning, but a passion for life.

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