Jonathan S. is a science teacher who has taught all around the world and is sharing what it’s like to teach science abroad. He is an American of Ethiopian (Eritrean) heritage and speaks English, Aramaic and a little French and Spanish. After getting his teaching license 12 years ago, Jonathan set off for a job in Kuwait, followed by positions in China, the Ivory Coast and Colombia.
Question (Q): Tell us a little bit about the time you spent teaching science in Kuwait.
Answer (A): It was a great time. Kuwait was a very exciting time because it was my first time living abroad. I was just really excited to see all the new things and different cultures and languages and everything. Kuwait is very culturally rich and fiscally rich at the same time. So they did a lot of things in a big way which is really fun to see and experience.
Q: Can you give us some specific examples of things you did?
A: Desert camping. I’ve gone desert camping next to maybe a mile away from Iraq and one of its oil fires. I visited many ancient and historical temples and sites. In Kuwait their malls and the shopping are just out of this world. And they celebrated their 50th anniversary of the Constitution with what was, at the time, the world record for a fireworks show. Dubai got upset they did that, so they one-upped them the next year. But it was like an hour long and a five-mile-wide firework show. It was really amazing.
But the one thing I remember the most about Kuwait is the friends that I made there. Because it is a small country so there weren’t so many things to do when you’re out and about. So the friends that we made there we always just hung out with each other at each other’s homes for coffee or tea and just talked about anything and everything. So it was a really beautiful time to be there.
Q: That closeness that you have with people that you end up being friends with in other countries. Talk a little bit about that. Have you found that it’s pretty easy to make friends with other people abroad?
A: Yeah, absolutely. For the most part, a lot of people are all the same. And when you’re experiencing the same new thing at the same time with somebody else it brings you together in a special way. Sort of like the first year of college, it’s almost exactly like the first year of college. We’re all living in like a kind of dorm that we’re being put up in. Everybody had their sort of “major” which is either teaching or you’re like an oil engineer or working at the embassy. And because the international teaching sector is such a transitive business, you’re bound to see them again after so many years in a different part of the world. Like my friend from Queens is coming here (to visit Colombia) next week.
Q: So you’ve also taught in China, right?
A: Yeah, it’s hard in China and that one was probably the most difficult one to acclimatize to because it was so different from any other culture that I experienced. And it took me a long time to get used to it or at least start appreciating it, because I I learned that you have to have a very positive and healthy circle around you. Because if you’re surrounded by a toxic group, they can make your perspective on things toxic as well. So the things that I hated at the very beginning, I learned to really love and appreciate because there I was with a new group of people who kind of opened my eyes to the beauty of it. Now I love China. I miss it. I sometimes think about going back.
Q: And then you also got to teach in the Ivory Coast?
A: Yes. I loved the Ivory Coast. That place was magnificent. I only left because I had to leave for a family emergency.
It’s a very tropical area. So it had a lot of that coastal energy, a lot of music playing, a very easy going lifestyle. Everybody was just really happy to just be around anybody. It’s really, really friendly. Open groups. Food was amazing. Delicious. Yeah, it was almost like a paradise.
Q: What is one thing that you miss from each of the countries that you worked in?
A: I miss being able to go to the cafe and just hang out with those friends that I’ve had from all over the world. I made really good, close connections with them and since they’re on the other side of the world it’s so much harder for me to see them again. And I miss being able to just have a coffee or a tea with them.
Yeah, oh, and playing Gaelic football.
Q: Okay, and then for here in Colombia. How has working abroad in other countries helped you to be a better teacher for example, for your students here at the Canadian school?
A: It helped me to see that all students are the same no matter what culture or language or part of the world they’re from. They all want to play. They all want to make friends. They all want to do good at school, but it takes an interesting teacher to kind of help put that together for them. [Being abroad has] obviously helped me with second language learners being more patient and just being more patient with them. It’s also helped me with making friends outside of school, if they’re like second language speakers, I’m more patient and helpful as far as them practicing their English or if I’m trying to keep up with my native language, whatever that is Spanish, French, whatever. I see the difficulties and I reflect on how I can do better as a student or as a teacher.
Q: What advice would you have for teachers that are thinking about going abroad?
A: Do it. Absolutely do it. There’s a lot to miss out on but there’s so much more to gain from the experience of it all. And, if you do teach abroad, fully immerse yourself in the experience, like eat the food, talk to the people, learn the language, like just really go all in. It’s going to be a really beautiful experience for you.