Becoming a teacher in China and celebrating the two different cultures
Spending a month teaching middle schoolers English while living in Hong Kong isn’t any easier than it sounds, but Kirsten Henry spent “one of the best summers” of her life doing just that.
When one of her friends told her about an opportunity to work overseas in China, Henry, a senior biomedical science major from Huntsville, began doing some research.
Henry decided that the English Language Institute/China (ELIC) was a good fit.
“I started looking into it and got in contact with someone from ELIC,” she said.
Telling her family was the next step in the process.
“They were surprised but they supported me fully,” said Henry. “I told my mom I was going and she was like, ‘what? That’s a lot of money why do you want to do this?’”
“I’ve been on a couple trips outside of the country but this was the first time I’d done anything this intense.”
So Henry traveled to Hong Kong, where she was part of a group of about 60 other students there to teach from all over the United States.
“We would teach from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.,” she said of the daily schedule. “From 2-2:30 p.m. we would teach them about America.”
Henry had her own classroom of 22 students to manage during the day.
“This was the first time I had ever taught, so to teach 22 students English was very challenging, especially when you don’t know how to discipline in the classroom,” she said. “It was a little intense but definitely worth it.”
Though being in the classroom was what she was there for, Henry said that the time she spent outside of it was her favorite part.
“They took me to restaurants and amusement parks and places they loved to shop,” she said of her students.
“I think one of the things that stood out the most was how much they told us they were going to miss us when we left,” she continued. “One of my students made a very large card with pictures of us that told the story of us being there. It said, ‘I’m going to miss you so much, please come back and visit.’”
After the month in Hong Kong, the American students got to spend a week in Beijing learning more about what the organization was doing in other countries.
“I want to be able to travel more and make an impact across the world. I don’t know what it’s going to look like but its definitely in my plans to go somewhere.”
Working at a restaurant by day, hiking Yellowstone and the Tetons on the weekends
While a lot of students spent their summers ringing in orders and waiting on tables, very few got to do it working in Yellowstone National Park.
“I worked at a hotel dining room in Yellowstone,” said Selena McEwen, a junior psychology major from Rockford.
After learning about the job opportunity because her grandparents live in the area, McEwen applied at yellowstonejobs.com and found herself as one of the many students from around the country accepted to work there for three months over the summer.
“I just wanted to see something different from Alabama,” she said of the decision to go.
The employees were expected to work five days in a row, and then they had two off to travel, or use as they pleased.
“We did a lot of camping, hiking, and fishing,” said McEwen of their off days.
“A lot of us didn’t have cars since we flew in,” she said, “so we just got in big groups and rode together.”
McEwen said that a part of the trip she really enjoyed was all the hiking they were able to do in their free time, especially getting to visit the Tetons in a national park next to Yellowstone.
“One of our hikes we were in a cloud and then we were above it,” she said of the high altitudes.
During all the time spent outdoors, McEwen saw moose, elk, buffalo, bald eagles, marmots and well over a dozen bears. Though the bears she encountered kept their distance, others working there were not as lucky.
A couple of the guys came upon a bear that had just made a kill and it became very territorial upon their approach. Though the hikers “thought they were going to die,” everyone made it out in one piece.
McEwen found herself underwhelmed by another big attraction of Yellowstone.
“Old Faithful? It’s the most overrated thing in the park,” she said, citing the huge crowds that gather around the geyser.
But there are some lesser known parts of the park that did prove to be fun.
“There are hot springs all throughout the park,” McEwen said. “You can get in some like a giant hot tub in the ground.”
Though she enjoyed the trip, one thing made her appreciate Troy.
“Being two hours away from a town, you had to buy a lot of stuff when you went,” she said. “Troy is like a mecca compared to it.”
A simple destination wedding turned into a 2-week road trip around the country
A road trip turned into a two-week, cross-country trek for Destiny Hosmer this summer with her boyfriend, Zach Swan, and his parents.
“His cousin was getting married in Iowa and his parents don’t do anything small,” said Hosmer, a junior English major from Enterprise. “So we went from Alabama to Kentucky, through Illinois and Iowa.”
From there, they headed west, traveling thousands of miles and never staying in a single place for more than a night.
“I was an army brat going up, but we stayed in the south,” she said of the experience. “I hadn’t been anywhere.”
“Instead of going to hotels his mom found this really cool website called Airbnb. So we stayed at a whole lot of bed-and-breakfasts because they were posted on there. It made it more of an experience. We stayed in people’s houses. We only stayed in a hotel for three nights out of the two weeks.
Traveling in this way, Hosmer said that her favorite part of the trip by far was Yellowstone National Park.
“During the day it was beautiful but at night we were waiting for Old Faithful at like 10 o’clock.,” she said.
The group also made it to Las Vegas, though it wasn’t quite what she expected.
“I figured out it isn’t fun unless you’re 21 – we couldn’t gamble or drink,” Hosmer said. “It’d be fun in a couple months.”
That leg of the trip was redeemed for Zach, a Fallout fan, as they stopped at a couple of places outside of the city that also appeared in the video game Fallout: New Vegas.
“We went to Good Springs, where the only thing they had was a saloon and a general store. You ate outside and the tables were falling apart,” she said.
“The waitress brings out these burgers and they were the best burgers I’d had in my life. She told us they had been on Food Network. I didn’t expect that.”
Making it to the Grand Canyon, they hiked five miles down into the canyon and then another five miles back up.
“20 feet back I was like, ‘leave me here, I can’t go any farther.’ I learned going down was a lot different than getting back up,” she laughed.
Making it to Santa Fe, Hosmer appreciated that there was “an art gallery on every corner.” The city also held a ghost for the travelers.
“We stayed at a hotel downtown. We were told when we got there, ‘if you see or feel anything, it’s just Sally the Ghost.’
“So we were in bed and between our feet it feels just like something sat on the bed and scooted off. You look down and there is nothing there.”
Making it through the haunted night, Hosmer can laugh now.
Among everything else, Hosmer got to see badlands, visit Mark Twain’s hometown, and feed prarie dogs before they returned home.
“I would say definitely that it helped me figure out where I’d like to live in the future,” she said. “The desert areas like Nevada – no. I don’t want to live in an oven. I figured out I probably want to settle around the Colorado area. It helped with future goals.”
“It was awesome seeing people are the same everywhere. Everywhere we went there were rednecks. They were other state’s rednecks, but they were rednecks,” she said of final thoughts about the trip. “Families acted the same, people acted the same.”