What Teaching Abroad Taught Me

Trying to put words to such a beautiful experience.

“So you are a teacher?” my Uber driver asked me.

“Well, for the summer I guess I am. Back in the states I’m a nurse though.” I replied.

“What are you doing here teaching for the summer then?” he asked

*cue the story*

About 11 months ago I applied to teach English in Ukraine for the summer of 2018 (this summer). I didn’t really tell anyone I applied because I figured I wouldn’t get accepted. One month goes by and I’m calling my mom: “Hi, mom. Guess what? I think I am going to teach English in Ukraine next summer. I already applied and got accepted. Sorry I didn’t tell you earlier.”

The next months went something like this: “yea, I’m a nurse in the states but I’m going to teach over the summer. No, I’ve never taught before. No, I don’t speak Ukrainian. Yes, I’m just going to figure things out when I get there.”

June 15th quickly approached and before I knew it I was on the plane to Europe. It was happening. I was going to be an English teacher and I was scared out of my mind.

I am going to warn you now. If you don’t like long post you might as well stop reading now. God literally worked wonders (a whole other post coming on this) in this short amount of time and there is no way to put in shortly. But for those of you who want to hear more, keep reading.

I arrived at the train station in Lviv, Ukraine and we get in a taxi to the monastery that we will be staying at for the week of orientation. We get our roommates and I’m the only one with a random roommate. I’m sure you can imagine how thrilled I was. I put my stuff down in the room just praying that we would get along. Then it was dinner time. A group of people were already eating so I sat at the other table not really wanting to make small talk (I know, such a good way to make new friends). I was talking to my table about blogging and a girl from the other table chimes in saying “I have a blog too!” I was excited to find someone who had something in common with me. We talked about college, blogs, social media, etc. She asked what room I was staying in, I told her 215. Well friends, that’s how I met my roommate. I silently thanked God, I knew this would be good.

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My roommate and I at Ivana Kupala

Orientation was a wild. Lots of learning, brains being on overdrive, fear, excitement and much more. I got to know the team of teachers much better, we spent the nights in the city, it was good. Orientation flew by and before we knew it classes were about to start.

Opening ceremonies came around. We were each introduced and given our list of students. “Don’t let them know you are scared.” I kept whispering to myself, “fake it ’till you make it.” Just like that I was a teacher. The first week of class was full on survival mode. I had no idea what I was doing. I would wake up at 7am, get ready, teach two classes, lunch break, teach 2 more classes, prayer, dinner, evening tutoring, start lesson planning for the next day, go to bed at 1am, wake up and do it all over again. I thought my students hated me, I didn’t know if I was teaching them anything, it was so overwhelming. The end of the week came around and I wanted to quit. I was at the point of breaking.

And I broke. I walked into the chapel at the end of the week, leaned my head against the wall, and cried. This was the first moment I think it is safe to say I learned some lessons. I learned that I’m human and that its okay to cry. I learned that I can’t be everything for everyone. I learned that I needed to let others help me in the challenging moments. As I leaned against the wall crying a student walked up to me and said, “What are you doing?” The answer seemed fairly obvious, “crying.” I hoped that he would just forget about it, my students didn’t need to see me like this. I’m their teacher. I’m suppose to have my life together, right? Well, the next day of class started like this: “Hannah, were you okay last night?” It was my turn to show that I’m just a regular person. Nothing more or nothing less. I have my hard times, my struggles, my weakness, etc.

I promised to be stronger and believe in myself. I promised God that I would be the best teacher I could to my students and not get down on myself.

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Ivana Kupala

God does not disappoint, friends. Week 2 came in like a breath of fresh air. Spirits were up, I was back in the daily grind, my students were doing well on their test (I guess I did teach them something after all), and best of all it was my birthday week. Before my birthday was a Ukrainian holiday called Ivana Kupala. We wore traditional Ukrainian clothes, made flower crowns, and some people were even brave enough to jump over the fire (this is apparently an old tradition). My birthday came around and it was the most beautiful birthday of my life. I walked into morning classes and the entire room was decorated in balloons. My students bought me a bottle of champagne and all of the students in the school sang happy birthday to me; talk about feeling loved. My sad tears from week one turned to happy tears as I was overwhelmed by the kindness and love surrounding me.

The days kept getting better. Week 3 was bittersweet. I didn’t want it to be over. At this point my roommate and I had become nearly inseparable. We “slothed” for like at least an hour a day where we just laid in bed and talked about life (or slept). I finally clicked with my students and classes were going well. Each week comes with its challenges though and this week was no exception. Twice a week there was a TED talk class in which the students watch a TED talk and then answered questions about it. In reality the students slept through the entire TED talk and didn’t really take away much. I knew something had to change. I got the idea from my roommate to give my own TED talk. I could do that; talking in front of a few people was no big deal. I was about to get up and give my TED talk when I realized three other classes would be joining mine (I was basically giving the talk for 25% of the students in the program). Getting up there and giving my person testimony to finding hope in suffering was no easy task. It was definitely the break through moment with the students though, or in their words it “made me more human”.

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Some of the teachers on the final day of English Summer School.

The day after the talk was their final exam. All my amazing, smart students passed with flying colors and made me so proud. On the last day of camp they threw me a surprise end of the program party which included cake and all. There beauty and goodness made me want to cry (again). I grew to love each and every one of them so much. The last night my friend and I led praise and worship for one last time (this is something we did every night) and then it was time for goodbyes. When two students walked up to me sobbing I was at a loss for words. There was no way I could leave them behind. I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye. Each of these students gained such a special place in my heart.

And thats English Summer School 2018 in a nut shell. Words could never describe the experience but I guess through this really long post what I am trying to say is: step out of you comfort zone, travel the world, and meet new people. Believe in love; not just love itself but believe in loving others all while seeing yourself worthy of receiving love. Be vulnerable; don’t be ashamed of who you are. Don’t be afraid to give a piece of your heart.

Yes, I broke so many times. Yes, being away from home was hard at times. Yes, there were times I had to admit I wasn’t okay and allow others to help me. Yes, my students realized I wasn’t this strong, perfect teacher. I was just human. Yes, the facade had to come down at some point. But it was all worth it, every moment was worth it.

Friends, challenge yourself and let others love you.

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