Alumni English Careers

Fighting Bullets with Words: Why You Should Consider Teaching English Abroad

Shots rang in the background, at a distance but still too close for comfort. My classroom teacher paused, then carried on teaching as though nothing had happened. Not for the first time did I wonder, “What have I gotten myself into?”

After studying abroad in London and attending a creative writing summer program in Thessaloniki, Greece, during my junior year in college, I realized I had contracted a bad case of wanderlust. In fall 2015 I was set to graduate the following spring from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC, with an honors degree in English. However, I struggled to envision life after all the research, writing, and coffee-fueled late nights of my undergrad.

Then, I discovered that my two passions—words and travel—could be combined through the valuable service of teaching abroad. For two years (2017-2018) I lived and taught in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, through the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program. South Africa drew my attention as a biracial woman in the South wanting to understand race in a new and different context. I had very few expectations as I stepped into the most challenging and rewarding period of my life. Working in a local high school forced me out of my comfort zone in thrilling and nerve-wracking ways. I had to grow into my circumstances—there was no option to remain the same.

My school and its surrounding area were plagued by many of South Africa’s systemic issues: poverty, violence, gangsterism, and high rates of sexual assault. There were mornings when the school was closed due to political riots and afternoons when we had to remain in our classrooms an extra hour or more because of gang shootings.

Personally, I found solace in a sense of community and the realization that for me, these circumstances would end. Still, this was real life for my students so I threw myself into providing them educational and creative resources outside the classroom. One of my most exciting efforts was receiving a grant to take 30 students to Black Panther (a film that uses their native isiXhosa language) and discussing the depiction of Africa and Africans in the film. Because I ran the school library, I was able to promote literacy with fun competitions and resources. I also coordinated creative writing and career readiness workshops for the students through local universities. By combining critical thinking, literacy, and creative writing my students were exposed to invaluable enrichment and opportunities they otherwise would never have found!

For English majors or minors, the road after graduation ahead can seem either a set plan without room to change or a looming question mark. Yet, for those who are willing to live life outside their comfort zones, international teaching is more than an extended vacation or a break from real life. It can become a life-long passion or a short-term season of growth. Volunteer for a month or invest your time into a career for a year or more. Either way, there is a global need for English speakers to share their knowledge and gain invaluable, exciting experience along the way!

Are you a Sigma Tau Delta Alumni member? Consider submitting a blog to WORDY by Nature to share with your fellow Sigma Tau Delta members how you have been using your English degree.

RBurns-headRachel Burns
Iota Mu Chapter, Alumna
Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC


Sigma Tau Delta

Sigma Tau Delta, International English Honor Society, was founded in 1924 at Dakota Wesleyan University. The Society strives to

  • Confer distinction for high achievement in English language and literature in undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies;
  • Provide, through its local chapters, cultural stimulation on college campuses and promote interest in literature and the English language in surrounding communities;
  • Foster all aspects of the discipline of English, including literature, language, and writing;
  • Promote exemplary character and good fellowship among its members;
  • Exhibit high standards of academic excellence; and
  • Serve society by fostering literacy.

With over 900 active chapters located in the United States and abroad, there are more than 1,000 Faculty Advisors, and approximately 9,000 members inducted annually.

Sigma Tau Delta also recognizes the accomplishments of professional writers who have contributed to the fields of language and literature.

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