The sound of her shoes echo down the long hallway – each authoritative step signaling her arrival. They slow as she approaches her destination: her classroom. Crossing the room, she pulls open the curtains from the windows, awakening it to the morning light. Soon her much-anticipated students will be arriving, ready to start a new day of learning. Like many American teachers, she sits down at her desk to run through her first lesson one last time. However, there is one difference: her classroom is nearly 5,000 miles from home.
Carrie Thomas recently graduated from Anderson University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English language arts education and a complementary major in international education and certification in English as a New Language. While she came into AU having never been out of the U.S., Thomas developed the desire to travel through studying abroad opportunities. [Photo on left: Thomas in Slovakia.]
“When I entered as a freshman, my major was secondary English education,” said Thomas. “I assumed that would be my only major, and I would end up teaching regular high school English, probably in Indiana. Then I went on my first Tri-S trip during my freshman year. This was my first time out of the United States and I immediately fell in love with traveling.” Tri-S was one of the key reasons Thomas started thinking of teaching internationally, and it was because of these trips that she also added a complementary major in international education during her sophomore year.
During her sophomore year the AU School of Education considered adding a program called English as a New Language (ENL). Diana Ross, Dean of School of Education, asked Thomas to be a part of the grant writing committee.
“As an English education major and an international education major, ENL was a natural bridge between my two interests,” Thomas said. “I begin to hear about all of the opportunities to teach English overseas and having qualifications in ENL is really beneficial. When the grant was approved and AU offered the first class for the ENL license, I added this program to my degree.”
She now has her teaching license in English language arts for sixth through 12th grades and English as a New Language for kindergarten through 12th grade. Thomas said Tri-S gave her the initial skills and confidence to travel and be comfortable in other cultures, and the School of Education gave her the knowledge and resources to teach abroad. After graduation, that knowledge led her to Slovakia. Now that she is living in Slovakia, she can see that it was a part of God's plan that she chose this country.
Her experience in Slovakia has been positive so far. “Everyday has been a learning experience for me,” said Thomas. “I know I am gaining skills in teaching, communicating and simply living abroad.”
While Thomas said she has had a great experience overall, it has not been without any difficulty.
“I do face small cultural differences everyday,” said Thomas. “Language has been a barrier because I have not learned very much Slovak, and not everyone here speaks English.” She has also found that taking public transportation and living in a flat has also been an adjustment because she has been so used to living in houses and driving her own car everywhere.
“Once in a while I miss things from back in the United States,” Thomas said. “But I do feel comfortable and at home here in Slovakia. I’m learning a lot about how to survive and succeed in unfamiliar situations, but overall it is more of an enjoyment to be living in Slovak culture than it is a struggle.”
Classrooms bring the highs and the lows of life. “Teaching in any classroom and in any country provides lots of laughs and tears,” Thomas said. In one of her high school English conversation lessons, she led a discussion on air travel. While trying to explain checked and carry-on luggage, one of her students asked how he could take his pet chicken on an airplane. “Since I have no experience in traveling with chickens,” admitted Thomas, “I had no idea what to tell him.” After laughing about it as a class, they all decided that this student should leave his pet chicken at home next time he travels by airplane. [Photo on right: Thomas teaching in Slovakia.]
Her plans for the immediate future are not set. Her grant is only for one school year, so she is not sure where she’ll be next fall. “I think I would like to keep teaching for a year or two more, possibly in the United States, or maybe I will continue abroad,” Thomas stated. “I would also like to begin graduate school soon. Five years from now I hope to be earning my Ph.D. and conducting research in the fields of applied linguistics and comparative and international education.”
Thomas thought she would always be a teacher to some degree but would also like to influence education and language teaching beyond the classroom. She thought she would maybe work for an international organization or the United States Department of Education. Thomas said, “It is also my dream to someday work for the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, so maybe that is where I will be in 10 years.”
- Joshua Mifflin is a senior from Anderson, Ind., majoring in communication arts and Spanish. Mifflin is an associate with Fifth Street Communications writing on behalf of Anderson University Office of University Communication.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.