To the students who made my year

My last day of teaching was bittersweet. I was excited for S.E. Asia trip coming up, but sad to leave my students, knowing that I’d likely never see them again. 

Chan Ho is incredibly bright and even more kind.

One student, Chan Ho, was getting so excited to tell me something that he began to stutter. He couldn’t think of the English. Then finally he stops and says in a very serious tone, “Sarah Teacher, you are the Best English Teacher.” he pauses for dramatic effect, “Of..My…Life.” “Thank you, Chan Ho.”

Teaching in Sangin


My coworkers and good friend Rikus, who the students call Matt Teacher, went on vacation for a week. It was during middle school testing, which is a time I do not have classes but instead work on preparing test questions or work in my school’s publishing department.

Covering Rikus’s classes was a welcomed surprise because the students are a few years younger than my 12- to 14-year-old students. There were loads of differences between teaching these different age groups.


First, the students were incredibly kind and took the time to say hello. The students were happy, carefree, not stressed and seemed to enjoy being at academy (or at least better at hiding their dismay).

“Me! Me! Me!” was exclaimed when I asked,”Who wants to read the first paragraph?” It was a welcomed change from the middle schoolers averting eye contact when it came time to be called on.


Students want soju, too.

student essay01

Essay question: What is something you want to do when you grow up? Give three reasons.

“I want to drink a sojue soju. because When I was young I drank a Beer accidenly accidentally. But It’s very delicious so when I was grow in adultup, I want to drink sojue soju or Beer. ”


written by a 13-year-old student

Student Essay: “I will invent this!”


This unit was on special clothing such as firefighter’s flame resistant materials, atheletic compression clothing and NASA’s aerogel materials. The essay question: If you could invent any type of special clothing, what would you invent?

This student’s picture earned her an “A”. She must love juice.


One huuggee roll of 휴지



Being a teacher is rarely boring. This lovely student, who is always five minutes late to class, asked me to go the bathroom.

“Sam! Sam! Sam!” He yelled. Sam is short for “선생” which is teacher in Korean.

“Teacher,” I said strongly to correct him.

“Teacher, Hyoji??” He yelled as he pointed to nose. Knowing that 휴지 (pronounced like huegee) means tissue in English. I nodded reluctantly.  He ran off to the bathroom and came back with this giant roll of toilet paper. Now, that’s one huuggee roll of 휴지.


Student Essays: Are all boys the same? Girls and money.

After watching Susan Cain’s TED Talk “The power of introverts,” I gave my students an essay to discuss the points of Cain’s talk. Most of my students were able to touch on both the good and the bad about being an introvert.

Essay Question: Is being shy a good things or a bad thing?

One of my thirteen-year-old students, who is clever, quiet and tall, wrote this essay: “I think being shy is a bad thing…I like a girl, but I’m shy. I can’t speak ‘Do you want me?'”

photo 3

My students struggle to communicate with me for a number of reasons. Some students simply haven’t learned enough English to communicate while some students are shy like this boy. A majority of the students have little interest in learning English. They’re forced to go to English academy by their parents who are forced to send their kids to English academy because of their country’s unrealistic educational expectations.


I spend 40 minutes with the students twice a week, so over the past seven months I have been able to learn little things about each student—some more than others. My students’ homework assignment is a short essay worksheet twice a week. Through these essays, I learn the most about my students. I learn what makes them sad, what makes them happy, what they worry about and what they want. Some weeks they write the most simple sentences while others they write thoughtful essays often with loads of mistakes.

I love the mistake-ridden essay in which the students are trying to say something important even when they don’t know how. I am often reminded that my students are not just middle school kids—they’re people. So, I try week in and week out to treat them as so. Even when they make fart jokes or curse in English, I force myself to see them past the exhausted expressions on the students’ faces and see them as thoughtful, emotional, hardworking teenagers.

Program I’ve considered

I have spent hour upon hours looking at and researching programs. These programs include teaching English abroad, volunteering in the U.S., working with kids, traveling the world or helping out your neighbor.

I thought it’d be helpful to create a running tally of all the programs I have spent time looking at. I might’ve simply heard about it and still know nothing about it, or I might have gone as far as applying for the program. Maybe something will spark your interest.

What does someone in international studies do with their major? Good Question! Here is an extensive list of internships, links and helpful information for those who study international studies or foreign languages.

Here I am in a bus spot parking lot in downtown Kansas City with Elizabeth Werner, Jill Nowak and Monica Powers. (I’m on the far right). We have our packs packed for Peru. First, we took a long bus ride to Chicago to catch our flight from Chicago to Peru.



If one more person asks…

As Thanksgiving break begins today, I dread going home. Not because my family is already bugging me or because I still have deadlines and homework looming over me.

I mean, I love Thanksgiving. What’s not to love? Overeating, oversleeping and laziness are encouraged. This is my kind of holiday.

So, why is this year’s trek back to my parents’ house in the suburbs of Kansas City feel so different and downright dreadful? Because I know I will have to face the “Then What?” questions yet again. I don’t know if I can answer it honestly or seriously or even politely any more. I’m just plain sick of it to be honest.

Any fellow senior or recent-graduate can sympathize with me. The conversation goes like this:

“So, Sarah, you’re a senior?”

“Yes,” Oh, here it goes again.

“Do you graduate in May?”

“Yup,” Oh. Here’s the kicker.

“Then what are your plans?”

“Uh…” I reply.

Well, at least they didn’t say, ‘Then, What?” I hate that even more people asking about ‘my plans.’ It is as if simply graduating is too anti-climatic for them. Well, what do they want to hear? That I have my ten-year plan and 401k calculated and set in stone.

“Uh…” has been a typical response until I muster up an entertaining lie that leads to more annoying questions.

Lately, I’ve been replying with the most ridiculous lies. Two months ago I told my grandpa that I was becoming Canadian. When he questioned the meaning of this, I told him frankly, “I’m moving to Canada, making some Canadian friends and maybe finding myself a Canadian lover. Doesn’t that sound good? Eh?”

The Canadian thing began to rub people the wrong way, which by the way still baffles me, “What’s wrong with Canada, eh?”

I soon became more creative in my approach to the, “Then what?” question. I told classmates I was moving to New Zealand to become a skydiving instructor. I even threw in facts about altitude and how it only takes two tandem jumps in Missouri to become certified to jump alone. They believed this. Silly, Missourians.

The ridiculousness of my tales grew and grew. A group of my mom’s friends still to this day think that I am getting paid to model in Senegal because my blonde hair paired with cellulite would be a rarity and considered most beautiful. My favorite misconception with this fib was that most of them think Senegal is in Asia. Not one questioned the cellulite comment, but I heard someone whisper, “It’s near China or Japan, I think.”

Now, I tell most people that I am teaching English in Southeast Asia after I graduate. This seems to get the simplest of reactions and most boring follow-up questions, which is a bit disappointing considering this scenario is most likely to be the closest to the truth of my future.

I have no idea what I really want, which I completely blame on that fact that I am a woman, but I do think I want to teach English. It is one thing that I may be pretty good at. I loved learning a new language.

Most of my freshman year was spent with stacks of self-made Italian vocabulary note cards and in the stacks with some cute fraternity boys whom I tutored Italian. I loved teaching the language and learning the language myself.

Although my Italian has faded, as did my relationships with the boys I tutored, I still remember how satisfying it felt to see someone finally understand something after you explained it in ten different ways. I felt accomplished that I had taught someone how to use indirect pronouns and direct objects when all he really wanted to do involved some Italian verbs I didn’t know. Turns out, I’m a good tutor.

Now, I tutor English as a second language to visiting scholars, international students and Lawrence community members. English is a valuable tool for a lot of a people, and I’m happy to find a skill that involved one of my flaws and biggest attributes: the fact that I talk too much and am a grammar nerd.

I first learned that I loved teaching English when I was backpacking Australia on a surf tour and helped a Korean student order his first beer. This may seem small and as if I was trying to get this poor kid drunk, but none of that is true. His face lit up as the bartender handed him a pint of Foster’s. He realized he cogitated his verbs correctly and had the power to not only understand English but also to use it outside the classroom.

I enjoyed helping my new friend at surf camp practice his English. On that surf tour, Koko (yes, I named him that) and I spent hours out on the waves laughing about American stereotypes and the way he pronounced “beach.”

My favorite question Koko ever asked me was: “Do all American girls dress like you, Sarah?” My reply was, “Dear God, hope not. I’ve dressed horribly.” Considering I hadn’t changed out of my swimsuit in three days and had only slipped into an oversized orange tank and one short, black cotton skirt during our nights drinking at the surf camp’s poolside bar. He seemed slightly relieved yet still confused.

But, later, I knew I had successfully taught him to understand my American English sarcasm. When I asked, “So, do all Korean surf like you?” he laughed and replied: “Dear God, hope not. I surf horrid.”

Turns out I’m not a horridly tutor after all.

Thus, my sarcastic reply to the “Then what?” question may be best answered by simply smiling and saying:

“I’m tutoring English to people who want to learn the language and laugh a lot along the way.”