The Language House Testimonials Spring 2019

This course was really intense with hard work but a really great experience. To discover my own language and explore all the ways I can make it fun and interesting to learn. Having a small class has made it very helpful to see each others progress and help each other. It’s been really good to get a lot of teacher practice and observe each other’s classes as well as give and receive feedback. Thank you Gyl!

Dido


The course was a bit stressful since it required a lot of work but it was also a lot of fun getting teacher practice and good feedback. A very good challenge and definitely worth it in the end! Good, clean environment with kind positive people.

Tara


I found the experience fascinating, intense and fun. I was warned that it would be intense so I was expecting it but I didn’t anticipate how much joy I’d get out of it. I really bonded with the other TEFL students, my teacher and the ladies we taught English. This made the intense and challenging parts all the more easy.

I was really fascinated with the learning process- from the grammar of my own language which I’d always questioned but also learning about people- how people learn, respond to questions and topics and how as a teacher I need to adapt to this.

Cara


The teachers were very kind and the atmosphere was good. I think writing the journal and case study was rather long but it helped me make progress in writing and analyzing how I could improve my way of teaching.

Christine


Fantastic Course! Fantastic Teachers! I thoroughly enjoyed the experience!

Maggie


All round an awesome experience. The group size was perfect and allowed us to create a good dynamic. The course materials were very useful. It was fairly intense with a lot of material to cove and was delivered with humor and professionalism.

Jeff

Becoming Culturally Savvy

I stumbled downstairs, after a long flight, to my first breakfast with the nurses at the Krankenhause Schüle in St. Polten, Austria. Brown bread, butter and jam and the thickest and most delicious yogurt with Müesli.  “Guten Morgan“, I shyly mumbled in my American accent.”  Jet lag, a new language and a new culture all rolled into one. My task wasn’t going to be easy after 6 months of informal language learning …I needed to be ready to welcome 150 youth to the city in one month– find beds and food for each person and a facility to put on the musical theater performance.

For me, my time in Austria marked the conscious beginning to cultural learning and adaptation. Our whole lives we do this, but at a certain point, it’s helpful to reflect on what makes these experiences really successful. What are the elements or actions that help a person learn and grow in a new culture and feel at home or, at least, comfortable and functional?

According to recent research, there are a few prerequisites for this thing we’ll call intercultural development or being culturally savvy. In her model, Deardorff (2006) cites a number of attitudes that are essential for laying the groundwork for this type of learning. Ask yourself the following questions:

Are you curious to learn about other cultures? Can you handle ambiguity in your everyday life or even social interactions? Do you respect people from other cultures? Can you interact with others while withholding judgment? Are you open?

What did you find out?  Hopefully you are a curious person that is open to new ideas, people and cultures, if not, stop reading here! If you’ve got the groundwork for being culturally savvy, then there are a few things that you can do as you live abroad to help accelerate your leaning and adaptation.

Stick with the Natives

When I first arrived in Chile to the university campus, I was fumbling around looking for the “teléfonos azules” which at that time allowed you to make international phone calls given enough peso coins shoved into the little slot. A short man with dark hair and a kind face approached me and offered to help.  He spoke to me in English and directed me to the nearest blue phone where I called my mother. My Spanish was so poor, and particularly my Chilean Spanish, that I was grateful for his help, even though something inside of me told me that I shouldn’t be speaking English during my study abroad semester. Well, never mind – the great thing was that he was Chilean and I was quickly introduced to all of his friends and incorporated into lots of social events!

As I walked through campus, I noticed a cluster of Americans chatting away together about last night’s events or their studies. What was I missing? – They only had an outsider’s view on Chile. I was lucky to be on the inside. Through those six months, I traveled with my Chilean friends, fell in love, visited families, ate diverse food, danced and had lots of reflective conversations about culture and values. Sticking with the natives helped me have an authentic experience of the Chilean culture and, well to this day, I’m still returning every other year to my in-laws house in Santiago and chatting about, “in the States, 7 O’clock means 7 O’clock…” or “in the United States, we usually do things like this…. ”

Have Time Out

It’s important to know where your priorities lie in terms of hanging out with the natives, but all of us need a break from time to time. Research shows that a combination of support and challenge is vital to a successful experience abroad (Van Berg, 2009). If we have too much support, like in the case I described where all of the Americans were moving around in an American blob all of the time, then we don’t learn. Conversely, if we’re pushing ourselves too much and we’re only around the natives all of the time, we can feel so fatigued that we eventually withdraw completely from the culture.  While you’re abroad, find a little group or a person to check in with from time to time.  It’s healthy to talk about the host culture with someone that can understand and support you.

Read About and Read from

My husband got his hands on the book, “Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t be Wrong” by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, by the first year that we were living in France.  Soon, we uncovered the mysteries of the famous, “fonctionnaire” and what was the “prefecture” anyway – is it the embassy? Is it the town hall? What the heck? We quickly read chapter after chapter and had conversations like, “oh, right, I remember in the chapter about the terroirs, that’s why Champagne is from Champagne…. Blaa blaa blaa” What a relief to have some light shed on so many things that either we didn’t understand, or in fact, hadn’t yet come to our attention.

 

Additionally, as our French reading proficiency increased throughout our time, we started to read some academic work and even novels written by French authors.  Surrounding ourselves and immersing ourselves in the culture, we started to make observations and reflections which in turn has aided in our cultural acceptance and adaptation to the culture.

Get Involved

Sometimes I say that I’m shy, just to justify the reasons why I don’t get involved.  It’s so hard to sign up for the tennis club or get involved in a volunteer program in another country.  It takes tons of will power, but just doing it the first time makes it all the easier for the second and third times! I just signed up for a CSA (Community supported agriculture) share last Tuesday; my neighbor introduced me to the gardener…and puff, so easy! All of a sudden, I know that I will be invited to a dinner at the gardener’s farm at the end of June; what a fantastic way to meet people, to get involved with my community. And, for me, who grew up with lots of fresh veggies every summer, it’s a way to get back to something that has been important all of my life!

So, think about either things that are important to you in your everyday life in your home country or perhaps something in the new culture that really catches your interest.  Find out about it and take the leap. Be aware that there are activities that will give you more or less contact with locals! So join the local choir, run in the marathon or take parenting classes; sign up for a wine making class, a music lesson or learn a handcraft of the area. Put a smile on your face and go for it!

Observe

I have a very good friend who lives far away, but we still talk on the phone from time to time about observation and reflection. He’s a family counselor and it seems that our thoughts cross as we both deal in different areas, but with some fundamentally similar material – humans solving problems and adapting to changing environments.

In our lives as we encounter new experiences, our identities change – as I went from not a mother to a mother status, my outlook on life completely shifted. As I moved from a small town of 60,000 to a huge city of 2 million, my identity changed and my perspective on life changed. As we evolve throughout our lives, so do entire cultures; I visited Tokyo in 1997, and I haven’t been back since. What has changed, I wonder?

What I’ve just described are two moving objects - me and the culture - that are continuously evolving and changing in time.  How can we adapt? Are there moments in time when I feel very in-tuned with myself and the culture I’m living in? Are there moments that I feel very disconnected? Absolutely – this is the normal human condition.  

My counselor friend describes an activity that he does with new groups that come to see him. He hands out a raisin to each person and asks them to hold it in their hand. Then he asks them to describe how it feels… little, light, insignificant. Then he asks the group to bring their raisins up to their noses and smell it. Note the sensation. Now, they bring it to their mouths. Note what happens in the mouth… He goes on a bit and eventually, as you can guess, the participants get to eat their raisin. The point of the exercise is, in fact, pure observation in the moment. This act of observing how our body feels, acts, what happens in our mind aids the participant in - participating in her life if only for just a moment – being completely in the here and now without judgment.

This act of being present is a key force in your cultural learning. When you encounter a new situation, can you step back and just observe your reactions, what your mind is saying. Do you have the same dialogue in your mind in certain circumstances? How does it make you feel – good? Bad? The more you practice the art of observing, the more you become an author of those experiences. You can find the ones you like, and choose to repeat those, and for those you find unpleasant, you may discover upon further reflection ways to accept what you cannot change in the culture.

So… after one month of living in St. Polten, Austria, not only had I played my part in finding host families, food and doing marketing for the big show, I had also made lifelong friends with a family I met at the lake one lazy afternoon strumming my guitar.  And that very experience thrust me forward into a great curiosity and love for the discovery of new cultures that I still carry today.

Choosing a Country to Live in

My husband and I laid out a huge world map on our cool marble floor in Guayaquil one sunny afternoon after a delicious lunch of pan-fried fish, plantains, salad, beans and rice.  Life had been full of sun, iguanas, trips to the beach and delicious food in Ecuador, but now we were ready for a new adventure… something different.  We longed for cups of tea, rainy Sunday afternoons, climbing snowy peaked mountains and the smell of pine and wet earth. Where should we go next?

The two years we had spent in Ecuador had just been by chance really – we were all set to go to Korea when we found out just weeks before leaving that there was a problem with my husband’s visa. We quickly abandoned ship and looked elsewhere, and that’s when we came across a post for jobs at an elite University in Guayaquil, Ecuador. In three weeks we were on a plane to a destination neither of us had ever been! Since that move, we’ve become much more strategic in making decision.  Let’s take a look at some of the things you may want to consider when choosing a destination.

Weather: After living in hot and muggy Ecuador, weather was a primary factor in our next move decision.  We had no concept of what 34%C and 99% humidity felt like on a daily basis to someone who’s body was not accustomed to it.  But we found out quickly that it meant that we would have continuous rings of sweat before during and after teaching for at least 9 months until our bodies got used to the extreme heat.  Yikes! On flip side, what does 201 cloudy days feel like?  Does this affect your mood or outlook on life? If you’re planning on staying in a location for more than 6 months to a year, weather is a very important consideration.

Pay/cost of living: What’s important – the wage, the job, the maid you can afford, the cultural events around, the security….? When looking for a job and considering a location you may find yourself lured by a great salary in Qatar or befuddled by the low salary in France. Now, when looking at this you have to consider what your purposes are – do you want to save or are you looking for a distinct experience?  I will say, in those places where you can make a lot of money, often you’ll find yourself either spending a lot in the country, or needing to escape on a vacation somewhere else (which also causes you to spend money).  Those who are disciplined, unlike myself, are able to save! Some jobs in counties in Africa, or in China, won’t offer you a great wage, but may offer other benefits like lodging or airfare once a year. These are benefits to take into consideration as you make this decision.

Type of Position vs. certification: In developing countries, you can find great jobs with a TEFL certification with room for lots of professional growth.  In developed countries, your certificate will get you a job, but it won’t necessarily get you promoted unless you get more education.  In Ecuador after one year of teaching experience and with a Master’s degree I was promoted to the head of the language department at a prestigious university.  However, being the head of a language department in countries like Norway or Germany requires a PhD and years of teaching experience.

Language: Should I learn Korean, Arabic or Spanish?  Language can be a major factor in your decision to move to a certain country. I would hope that you’d be interested in learning the language of the country that you’d be moving to – so why not make it something you’re already interested in? Remember, even a one-year plan can turn into a lifetime as perhaps you find yourself in a romantic relationship! If your plan to move is a still a few months or years in the future, it’s advisable to take a beginner course in the language of the country – remember you can also find a language buddy that may be willing to swop English conversation with Arabic instruction on a weekly basis.

Moving with Children: We moved to France with our first child when he was 5 months old.  People had always talked about how kid-friendly it was, but we never really knew until we experienced it first hand: free daycare, free school, playgrounds in every neighborhood, tons of free family activities, parents enjoying happy hour as kids sipped on a juice, smiles and winks from French people in trains…the list goes on and on. Over the past years, because of Europe’s ageing population, France has created incentives for families to expand. It’s worthwhile to jump on the Internet and see what people are saying about the country that you’re moving to – with children – day care, schools etc. Even just having family-friendly activities available makes a world of difference for your social life in a new country. You don’t want to find yourself isolated in a new country just because you have kids.

Leisure Activities: What makes you happy? The beach, the mountains, great cultural events? What can you not live without? When I lived in Chile, the scenery was breathtaking – mountains, beach, rivers…nature was everywhere and it fed my eyes.  It was a stark contrast to living in a highly cemented city of 2 million people in Ecuador where it took at least 45 minutes in car to get out of town. However, the nightlife was fantastic – bars, dancing, music, and great food! Research your location well to make sure it contains the components that are important to you. 

Security:  Six months after arriving in Ecuador, my husband and I had decided that the buses were not for us.  We had just taken a nine-hour bus ride from the sierra (mountains) to the coast and on the way we had seen two buses that had just fallen over into the ravine.  My husband claims that we saw body parts hanging out of the windows and I have apparently completely blocked it out as I only remember the horrifying news cast we watched upon entering our house that night – 24 killed, 16 injured.

Traffic accidents in many parts of the world kill thousands of people every year. I’m sure that my experiences in taxis and buses were mild compared with other major cities where traffic rules are just suggestions and it’s the pedestrian’s fault if they get hit. This is just one danger to consider in your country move.  As we stayed for a couple of years, we knew people who had been kidnapped, robbed in their homes, taken by gunpoint to withdraw money and even shot at.   If you do choose to live in a city or country that is considered dangerous, do some research about what it is exactly that is dangerous – especially for foreigners and then seek advice from ex-pats who live there. They know best. I would have to say that many dangerous events can be avoided by a few things: don’t go out at night by yourself in certain areas of town, be careful who you spend time with, make friends with locals to get to know what is dangerous and how to avoid it.

Hours per job: When you apply to a job and get that interview, it’s important to consider how many hours you’ll be teaching per week. As a new teacher, it’s a great idea to work quite a few hours per week as the learning curve will speed up for you. A heavy workload can really intensify an experience, but can also be great for learning.  I’ve had assignments from anywhere to 26 contact hours per week with children to 16 contact hours per week at a university.  Teaching is not the same as a 9-5 job so you can’t have 35 or 40 hours of contact hours with your students, this would be far too much!

Apparent Cultural Affinity: After living in Latin America and in my home country of the United States, I though it would be interesting to give France a try – it was, according to me, a semi-Latin country with, what I was hoping was, a little of each culture in it that I loved. I knew it wouldn’t be completely foreign like going to a place like Saudi Arabia, but at the same time the French were famous for their “socialism” and I was interested.  Besides, I had a kid now and I wanted something that wouldn’t be too foreign to me. Years ago I lived in Japan and I had always thought of returning, there is so much I still don’t understand and want to learn…perhaps! Consider your own personal feelings about the culture and your interests!

Proximity to Home Country: As a single person, I was happy to fly far away from my home and I always knew I’d be back.  As a married person, I had a travel companion, so it was great to continue my adventures…and now as a family person I feel the weight of needing to come home more frequently to let grama and grampa dote on their sweet little grand kids.  Who are you? What are your family needs? Are you connected to your family? Are you connected to your culture? How frequently will you come back home? Will your salary/budget allow that?

Timetable: Depending on what hemisphere you’re in, summer may start January or in June….  This, of course affects the general hiring times and vacation times of the year.  This can either be to your advantage or disadvantage depending on what you’re looking for – pay attention!

So as my husband and I looked at that big world map, we decided to go back to something known… for a while, to take a break from the developing world and to head back to my home country of the United States, but this time to a small town in the beautiful Puget sound region in Northwestern United States – a place where you can drink a hot cup of tea 200 days of the year and enjoy long hikes through the temperate rain forest or see seals while kayaking near the San Juan Islands.  We knew that new adventures were still out there in world, but for the moment we were happy to take a break.