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A teacher’s first year can often be the most difficult; combine that with teaching overseas, and the prospect can seem daunting. After spending her spring break volunteering at a school in Jamaica, College of Education (CoE) alumni Caitlin Munson (’10) knew she was up for a challenge. Munson realized how difficult it would be to teach in a foreign country, but also recognized the opportunity it offered, allowing her to combine two of the things that she was most passionate about: teaching and traveling.
Munson began searching for teaching opportunities in Japan until the Tsunami hit, ultimately re-directing her search efforts. While working a temporary office job, one of her coworkers agreed to pass along her resume to a connection he had in Italy.
“I had always planned on going back to Italy one day, so I knew that this would be a great opportunity for me,” said Munson. “My contact happened to be the director of the school. I had two interviews and was then offered the job.”
In just her second year of teaching second grade at the American School of Milan, Munson has continued to embrace this once in a lifetime opportunity, teaching students from a variety of different cultural backgrounds. After traveling to seven different countries, including Switzerland, France, Czech Republic, Germany, England, Hungary and Ireland, Munson has gained considerable experience in adapting to and learning about cultural norms.
“This job is incredibly rewarding,” she admitted. “The students that attend my school are from over 50 different countries, which has allowed me to gain a better grasp of how to incorporate lessons on culture and diversity into classroom instruction.”
Munson attributes the success she has experienced thus far to her CoE undergraduate and master’s Elementary Education program, offering courses that have provided her with the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to be a well-rounded educator.
“The literacy courses I took at JMU were very helpful in making this transition,” said Munson. “Literacy is extremely important, especially at my school where some students are learning two languages. These courses taught me innovative techniques and approaches that I have used to overcome language barriers.”Aside from the language barriers, Munson noted that the most challenging part about teaching abroad is the distance from home.“It’s natural to feel homesick, especially when you start to begin new chapters in life,” she explained. “Knowing that I can’t jump in my car and drive back home to New York like I did at JMU was hard. Luckily, those moments are rare, as I often remind myself how incredibly lucky I am to be living my dream.”
With one more year left on her contract, Munson will be faced with the decision to either stay and continue teaching or move on.
“Ideally, I would only want to spend about five more years abroad max. But if the opportunity presents itself to teach in a different country next year, something tells me the journey will continue.”