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Saturday, 01 July 2006

i-to-i: Teaching all over the World

Written by Sasha Keeler Didier
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c. ricaEver thought about living in another country and immersing yourself in an entirely new culture?  i-to-i provides meaningful volunteer travel programs and is an excellent way for eager travelers to explore the world.  “I’ve always thought that education is one of the most important facets of society, and teaching abroad gave me hands-on experience of the benefits and hardships of sharing and exchanging knowledge between cultures,” declares Kaylen Fredrickson, who taught English at rural schools in Costa Rica for three months as a volunteer of i-to-i;.  i-to-i travel is an award-winning organization providing unique work and overseas travel experiences for those wanting to make a difference in their life and the lives of others.

In the last 12 months, i-to-i has also raised $130, 000 for projects around the world and sent 190 people from 8 countries to Sri Lanka to help with Tsunami relief efforts.  In the same time period, i-to-i has helped 4,000 people to volunteer in 27 countries and trained 10,000 people how to teach English as a foreign language.  There are many great agencies that arrange international volunteer programs, but i-to-i is said to be the most appealing, helpful, and comprehensive to those with interests in teaching abroad.

chinaWith an abundance of opportunities, i-to-i makes it hard to choose a specific program.  However, for volunteer Andrew Jacob who taught English in Beijing, choosing the TEFL program seemed like the clear choice.  As he explains, “I wanted to go to China and do something worthwhile; teaching was pretty much the only option for a foreigner who did not speak Chinese.”  For Kaylen Fredrickson, deciding to choose the Teaching English program was also an easy choice, “I’ve always loved the school environment and working with children.  I felt that with the teaching option I would be making a noticeable difference.”

Aside from language barriers and the natural apprehensions that come withc.rica traveling to a foreign environment, immersing oneself in a non-English speaking culture is an extremely challenging endeavor.  Teaching English in the city of
Beijing with such drastic language barriers was frustrating at times for Andrew Jacob, though not the hardest adjustment, as he studied Chinese fairly intensively at the start of his program.  As he claims, “The most challenging aspect in the end was the cultural barrier—my students came from very different backgrounds than myself, but more importantly, the way they thought and the beliefs they had were completely alien to me as an American.”

This feeling of alienation is similar to what Kaylen Fredrickson felt in rural Costa Rica, “The most challenging aspect of the rural setting was probably the isolation.  The language barrier was another aspect that adds to the isolation.  There are certain times where it doesn’t matter how hard both sides are trying, something is misunderstood.”

Despite her frustrations, Kaylen explains how such a challenge turned out to be extremely beneficial, “However, learning the language and communicating with people in Spanish was one of the best aspects of my trip.  The ability to speak and understand Spanish made me feel like less of a traveler and more like part of the family.  I think learning the local language is one of the most important things about traveling because it allows you to experience the culture in a more natural and uninhibited way.”

kidsStanding up in front of a classroom of students in a foreign country with no prior teaching experience is an intimidating and often frightening feeling.  For this reason, i-to-i provides intensive training programs prior to the first assistant teaching positions, though sometimes the preparation is not enough to mentally prepare the volunteer.



The fears of making of difference and getting through to the children were still prevalent for Kaylen Fredrickson, “Before entering the schools, I was nervous that I wouldn’t have all the answers.  I had a fear that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the children as well as I had hoped and that, as a result, their time with me wouldn’t be maximized.”  Andrew Jacob had similar fears about teaching in Beijing, and felt unqualified even after training, “I was afraid I would be a lousy teacher.  The TEFL training is somewhat helpful, but it is a really insufficient to make someone a good teacher.  But, I suspect teaching well is more of an instinct than a skill you can learn from on an internet course.  At any rate, I’m not cut out to be a teacher, but I did all right while I was there.”

For Kaylen, this ‘instinct’ seemed to come naturally for her in rural Costa Rican schools: “About five minutes into my first class, I realized I absolutely loved to be there and that the children didn’t expect me to know everything, just something more than they did!”

c.ricaWith most challenging experiences comes a rewarding sense of accomplishment. Or, as i-to-i refers to it, making a difference in the lives of the volunteers and the lives of those they help.

Through their TEFL programs in China and Costa Rica, Andrew Jacob and Kaylen Fredrickson did just that.  “Having the opportunity to be a part of the rural school community was as beneficial to me as it was to the children because I realized that there are so many people that have a curiosity and a passion for knowledge. Being known as the English teacher, I had several people, in and out of the classroom, ask for help with English.  I was also asked for my opinion on issues from politics to ecology and current events to value systems.  People often sought out the different experiences I could bring to a conversation or discussion and I really learned to appreciateschool that.  As a result, my experience enforced my pre-existing belief about life-long learning in and out of a facilitated environment and the importance of making and effort to learn about and understand people from different cultures,” remarks Kaylen.

For Andrew Jacob, working with people from different cultures impacted him on a personal level as well, “I learned a lot about China and Chinese people, but I think I also learned a lot about myself and my life in general.  I’ve been a student for 18 years in my own country, and suddenly being put into a role of a teacher and a foreigner gave me a very different perspective that went beyond just the classroom.

author c.r.In the last year, thousands of i-to-i TEFL volunteers found jobs in: Cambodia, China, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Nepal, and Spain.  Programs are offered for as short as one week and as long as one year or more, and are available to solo travelers, couples and small groups.  If you’re inspired to make a change in the world, and you want to experience something entirely new, i-to-i is an adventurous way to challenge yourself and discover your true potential.

For more information on i-to-i volunteer programs, visit

©Sasha Keeler Didier


Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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