The Life of a Teacher on Exchange


My name’s Andrew, and I study at the University of Toronto. I decided to do a teaching internship during the summer of 2015. I had always enjoyed communicating my knowledge to others, and I was itching to produce another experience to add to my resume. However, I went abroad through AIESEC to Padang, Indonesia, which was situated exactly opposite of the globe to Toronto (and trust me, after the 30-hour transit time to get there, I would know).

I chose Indonesia because it was a country shrouded in mystery to me – my goal was to use this as an opportunity to leap out of my comfort zone and never look back. I taught at a private English academy that catered towards senior high school and university students, as well as local business owners trying to improve their English. The class sizes ranged from 1-8 people. I learned that my role was to replace the regular teacher for a set number of classes, and providing the local Indonesians with a cultural exchange experience, as well as acting as a role model of sorts. Moreover, I was also to teach fully ‘native’ courses, meaning I was left to my own devices to contend with language barriers without having the support of the regular teacher by my side. I expected it to be hard – even really hard – to overcome any cultural barriers in a classroom setting. But after being introduced to my fellow teachers and students, I learned that my leap of faith was going to pay off.

My daily routine gave me a lot of flexibility to wake up whenever I wanted, which was very important for me. I rarely had class on weekends, and my weekday schedule was generally 3-9pm, with three 1.5 hour classes squeezed in-between, since most of our students were coming to study after school. This left me with time to stay up late with friends after, sleep in, and still make it on time for classes, while weekends were reserved for field trips with other interns and AIESECers. For my first exposure to a new group of students, I would fill the one and a half hours with a cultural seminar – a Powerpoint presentation discussing my life in Toronto, and comparing the differences between Canada and Indonesia. Seeing their reactions to how cold it gets during the wintertime (it’s perpetually summer in Indonesia) was one of the best parts of the job, as well as answering their questions during the Q&A. By the end of my 3-month internship, the teachers for the classes I was substituting weren’t joking when they claimed to have memorized the entire presentation word-for-word. I was also expected to teach written English vocabulary and grammar for ‘basic’ courses, whereas ‘conversa’ classes tended to be more informal, with a lot of back and forth dialogue in English with students that commanded better mastery of the language. And with the native course, I completely dictated the flow and direction of each class. I was briefed with each learning topic a day before each class, but was given free reign over how to deliver the information – making student engagement a challenge for me to focus on. But soon, after the first 2 weeks, I was comfortable in teaching every topic from verb conjugation to directions and leading informal discussions about geography or science, allowing me to grow ever confident in my communication abilities – these are transferable skills that will stay by my side into whatever future career I choose to pursue.

My students and fellow teachers were wonderful. Between classes, our main pastime was playing cards, Uno, or FIFA with everybody (including 6 full-time teachers + 1 front-end administrator, our boss, his son, sometimes his wife, and the housekeeper), and this was honestly a really bonding experience – we would even play late into the night when competition got really stiff and nobody was willing to back out of a good card game. They consistently took me outside to eat, showed me around town and overall were very eager in showing me their traditions and customs. I even had the pleasure of attending our receptionist’s wedding. I realized that asking questions and surrounding yourself with people is a beautiful way to adapt to a new place. Through questioning the culture, you arrive at the root causes and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the things you see around yourself. The entire process really opened my eyes to how much I loved learning about new cultures, and travelling and meeting new people from across the world. When I set out to do a teaching internship, I thought I was doing a resume a favour. But looking back in retrospect, I now know that it was the tight interpersonal connections I made with my students and teachers, other interns and fellow AIESECers that really made the experience worthwhile.


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