I remember sitting at Participate Learning’s teacher orientation in 2004, listening to CEO David Young talk to us global educators about our upcoming journeys. He spoke directly to what has now become my life’s mission: helping break down cultural barriers through exposure to people from different walks of life while preparing students for a globally connected world.
I grew up in a small town in Australia and only knew this way of living. Other religions and cultures frightened me because all I knew was what I heard through media and preconceived notions. Even so, I had a curiosity to travel and discover the truth for myself. What was the world really like? How did I fit into it?
My own travel experiences, which began in 1997 with a three-month backpacking experience in Indonesia on my way to teach in England, showed me the power of travel on a personal and global level. I learned the world is full of beautiful, kind, compassionate, and loving people who, despite outward differences, are just like me. This is all that matters.
Traveling taught me how to think and act in different ways. I became more culturally sensitive and appreciative while gaining new skills.
I’d taught in other countries before, but this time I felt like I was part of a greater purpose. Teaching in America was unlike any educational experience I’d had before. The day was structured differently from what I was used to teaching in Australia. It was more intense, with fewer breaks for the children. The US curriculum and teaching style was also very different, and I struggled to adapt to a more formal textbook approach. This began to change throughout my four years teaching in Johnston County, NC. I loved the new approaches to guided reading and small group instruction the schools implemented, and I learned so much from the teacher training. I became a much stronger teacher because of my time in the US.
There was also the emphasis on standardized testing in the US, which was a teaching pressure I had never experienced before. It wasn’t until I found myself in the principal’s office in a flood of tears that I realized I was suffering from culture shock – I never thought culture shock would bother me in the US, as it seemed like a country similar to my own. Yet, here I was sobbing to my principal about how challenging and different the teaching was.
I remembered David’s advice, that we were not coming to the US to change the system but to be global educators. I decided to accept the way of the education system, but I made an effort to liven up my classroom with stories and studies about Australia.
I taught fifth grade in two different schools in Johnston County. Each year, my students and I organized an Australian Exhibition Day for the school. The children were split into small groups, and each group was given a different aspect of Australian culture and the land to study. They presented their information as an exhibit in multimedia formats, and we invited the rest of the school to visit throughout the day by interacting with Australian food, games, and music.
I loved how enthusiastically my students embraced this project and how proud they were to showcase it to the rest of the school. It made learning so meaningful to them. I will never forget the proud smile emanating from a student who had always struggled in school and had never shone academically before. The visiting teachers and students gushed over her Australian Aboriginal display, and I was elated for her to have that moment of achievement.
In my final year, I had the pleasure of hosting a five-minute morning TV show, which was broadcast to the entire school. I shared with the children an interesting fact or story about Australia – the students loved it. It was so rewarding to see an entire school, including teachers, benefiting from my role as a global educator.
These are the memories I have of my teaching experience in the US. Not the test results, but the joy and curiosity the children gained from learning about other cultures, as many of them will never get the chance to visit other countries.
Many of them still contact me today to tell me how much of an impact my Aussie presence had on their learning.
There’s so much value in being a global traveler, and part of the mission I do with my own work is to help as many people do this. However, it’s never going to be a reality for everyone. There is no reason why we can’t bring other cultures into our children’s classrooms so they may learn about differences, opportunities, and how to succeed in an interconnected world.
I’d like to leave you with one important piece of advice. On that first day, David asked us to raise our hands if teaching in American schools was the thing we were most frightened about. More than half the room raised their hands, including myself. He said we need not be frightened of teaching in the schools. The ability to teach and share does not change with a new environment or a global border.
So if you’re considering this experience, do not fear whether you are capable or not – you are. Just dive in and enjoy!
Want to continue your education journey? Consider applying to teach with Participate Learning today.