Three TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) students learned the challenges and rewards of life abroad this winter break when they traveled to India and South Korea. Morgan Scott, a senior TESOL and comparative religion major, visited India for three weeks to participate in the “Meaning, Culture and Values” International Interdisciplinary Conference. Katie Kerzisnik and Michael Vatan, TESOL graduate students, spent four weeks in Chinju, South Korea, teaching at an English camp for Korean elementary and middle school students.
Scott visited several regions in India including Uluberia, Balasore, Orissa and New Delhi, where she presented an abstract at the three-day conference. She says that she gained a whole new set of confidences by traveling to a foreign country on her own and presenting at an international conference.
“The most meaningful part of the trip was experiencing the academic community (at the conference),” says Scott. “I was able to join scholars from various disciplines to discuss what we each were studying. The whole conference process of presenting and mingling seems very simple, but it is such an important part of networking and cross-pollinating ideas.”
While Scott was presenting in India, Kerzisnik and Vatan were gaining hands-on teaching experience in South Korea at an English camp sponsored by the Chinju University of Education.
The students would teach English as a second language (ESL) classes from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. each day. After class, Kerzisnik and Vatan would help the children with their afternoon activities such as sports, games and crafts. In the evenings, they had free time to shop, sight-see and, of course, work on lesson plans.
Both Kerzisnik and Vatan say that adjusting to a foreign culture has its challenges. The biggest challenge was getting used to the social customs and learning to communicate using non-verbal signals.
“Going to the grocery store is not easy your first time in a new place; even buying the food and supplies you need can be scary,” says Vatan. “But after navigating around and learning some key phrases, it was easy to get what I needed, even if it wasn’t always exactly what I wanted.”
Both students agree that the rewards greatly outweigh any challenges they encountered.
“(The experience) has definitely bridged the gap between theory and practice for me,” says Kerzisnik. “While in Korea, I was able to use what I learned in my classes and better determine what my strong and weak points in teaching are.”
“I discover more about who I am when I do something like this,” says Vatan. “There is only so much you can absorb in a classroom setting; nothing beats the actual practice of the art of teaching.”
Both Kerzisnik and Vatan say that studying abroad is something they would recommend to all UF students, no matter how scary it may seem.
“Don’t let worrying and fear get in the way,” says Kerzisnik. “You won’t regret such a unique experience. There’s nothing comparable to seeing your home and yourself through the eyes of another.”
By Katie Baumgart