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What Happens When You Catch the Travel Bug Early
Written by: John Bentley
Last Updated: December 18, 2020
By: Sophia Skaff
What inspired me to teach abroad?
I grew up in a multi-cultural family. My mom is Greek, and my dad is Lebanese-American. Both cultures were entwined into my home life. My mom always cooked amazing Greek and Lebanese food. We would spend summer vacations in Greece to visit my grandparents and other family members. I loved everything about those trips, the different foods, people, and language. The beauty of Greece with its crystal-clear waters and white stucco houses. As well as the small mountain-side village where my grandparents lived. There, I would pick fresh figs from the trees and play with my grandma’s kittens in the beautiful grape-vine covered garden.
The only thing that bothered me about those trips was that I did not speak Greek, as my mother never taught me the language. I remember making friends with a local girl who took me around the town and introduced me to her friends. With her I memorized how to count to ten as we played a skipping game with numbers. We were able to communicate and form a friendship even though we didn’t speak each other’s language. After that point, I remember having the goal to learn a second language. These interactions happened over 15 years ago, but they have stuck so clearly in my memory because they shaped who I am today and led me to the path I am now on.
I caught the travel bug early from my family’s trips to Greece and other countries in the Mediterranean during my formative years. The interest in other countries and cultures continued throughout my adolescence. So, when I went to University, I decided to study International Relations and Spanish. I also spent my Junior year living abroad in Granada, Spain. That year was by far the best of my time in University. I became fluent in Spanish, met and made friends with so many interesting people from around the world and got to spend my winter vacation backpacking throughout Europe. Once I graduated Uni, I moved to Washington DC and interned for a year at an international NGO that fought against the tobacco industry.
After that, I spent eight months working for an international security forum. While I was working in the field that I wanted to be in and living in an amazing city where I had made a lot of great friends and had a serious relationship, I felt that there was something missing. I did not enjoy working in an office. Life felt monotonous and boring, staring at a computer every day from 9-5. So, when I was accepted to the Fulbright Brazil Program as an English Teaching Assistant, I dropped everything and moved to Brazil. My plan was to move back to DC at the end of the 9-month program, but things changed while I was abroad. I really enjoyed teaching English, being in front of a class, interacting with students. My work was far more engaging and interesting than what I had been doing in DC. I also loved learning Portuguese and living in a new culture. So, after some emotional torment and decision making, I ended things with my boyfriend in DC and decided that I would find a new position teaching abroad the following year.
This is where International TEFL Academy comes into play! Soon after I returned to the US, I was accepted into the English Opens Doors Volunteer Teaching Program in Chile for the following March but had a few months of down time before then. I wanted to be better prepared for teaching English to youth. I also read that in order to find a paid teaching job in Latin America it was important to have a TEFL certificate and training. I did a lot of research on different online programs and came to the decision that TEFL Academy had the best online course for me and the training that I wanted. I really liked that the program included a practicum so that I could put the material I was learning into practice. The promise of job guidance and reviews online also swayed me. I didn’t regret my decision. I learned a lot during the course and the job assistance I received led me to apply for my current job with Beyond English in Chile. I am now currently still in Chile working for Beyond English, a B corp. based out of Santiago that uses funds from private classes to teach in underfunded public schools. Through this company and in collaboration with a governmental educational program, I am working in Valle de Elqui, where I am a co-teacher in various elementary schools in the area and work with students of all ages from Pre-K to High School, as well as teach private classes to adults.
Basically, what led me to where I am today, teaching abroad in Chile, is a synthesis of all the previous events in my life since my childhood. I have always had the travelers spirit in my heart and I hope it never leaves! At this point, I don’t have any definite plans to return to the US. I plan to spend at least the next couple of years teaching abroad and exploring new places.
Sophia Skaff is from the U.S. She graduated with a BA in International Relations in 2015, and decided to teach abroad when she realized working an office job was not for her. She loves trying new foods, speaking foreign languages and exploring new places.
John Bentley is Co-Founder & Senior Writer for International TEFL Academy (ITA), the world leader in TEFL certification for teaching English abroad. A graduate of Harvard University and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern, John is a recognized expert in the field of TEFL. His articles have appeared across the field's top websites, including GoAbroad.com, StudyAbroad.com, InterExchange, GoOverseas.com, Adventure Teaching, & many others. He has also spoken as an expert on Teaching English Abroad & TEFL certification at major conferences like MeetPlanGo and Lessons from Abroad (LFA) in Portland & San Diego.
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