Alumni Spotlight: Pauline Kanyiva Mwendwa


Pauline is a 27 years old adventurous and spontaneous middle school English teacher. She was born in Nairobi, Kenya and she is currently teaching in Mexico, Monterrey.

Why did you choose this program?

TEFL is an online course that prepares teachers and aspiring teachers, whether native or non-native speakers, to become teacher English as a Foreign Language. When I moved to Mexico, I had no international teaching experience whatsoever. However, having taught in Kenya for over 4 years, I knew that I was a competent teacher and an excellent one for that matter. Two months into my new job in Guadalajara in Jalisco I lost my job! Culture conflict and language barrier can be a real challenge.

You see, Africa and South America are two different worlds altogether. The culture, religion, food, dressing, music, political affiliation and every aspect you can think of. The school set-up, classroom management and general approach was even completely new to me. With my experience from Kenya, things were completely different. Even though I am a quick learner and very versatile, things weren't easy. Situation were coming up from time to time where students disagreed with me or I disagreed with them. This led to my termination of my one year contract only two months into it. It was an amicable agreement between me and the school administration because both the students and I were having a hard time.

This motivated me to do a thorough research on how to cope and teach in a new country, especially to English non-Speakers. That's how I learnt about TEFL course. Through my research, I learnt about the importance of taking the course since all the challenges I had faced previously were addressed in the course work.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Ontario Institute of Studies of Education of the University of Toronto came in handy to ensure that I successfully completed my program at my own pace and with all the required materials. Everything was availed on the student's platform and it was easily accessible. The University ensured that the organization of the course was suitable for both trained and untrained teacher, The arrangement from known to the unknown stood out, besides the advantage of freedom to choose the area of specialization. The immediate response from tutors and the administration helped a lot especially in the cases where I had questions about journal submission and grading.

On the other hand, I was able to organize myself since the course is self-paced and there is enough time to completely finish everything with good time management. I was able advance my activities every weekend since my weekdays are usually extremely busy at work. I used a lot of online research and referred mostly to my experiences when answering my journal evaluations. The systematic organization of the program made it easy for me to do almost everything by myself without experiencing any difficult.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

If you are thinking about teaching in a foreign country, then you are on the right track. First things first. You might need to consider taking this course whether you are a trained teacher or not. This will prepare you adequately to partake your new journey with full knowledge and confidence. This course highlights all the possible challenges and gives the solutions as well. I would also advice you to do a thorough research about your host country before moving over. What kind of language is spoken there, and if possible learn the basics, what are the political affiliations, religious believes and generally the culture.

This might sound very obvious but I will give you an example. Hand gestures are not a big deal in my country and in most countries actually. So in Kenya, you can snap your fingers to encourage someone to contribute in a discussion which is very okay. However, here in Mexico snapping fingers got me into a problem with a parent for snapping at the students during a classroom cooperative activity. Here in Mexico you cannot go snapping your fingers anyhow because it is very offensive. If I had done my research before and learnt that, may be I would have avoided such a confrontation. So it is very important to understand the culture differences that you might experience in order to avoid unpleasant confrontations and embarrassments as well.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Generally, this will depend on an individuals interests and preferences. As a teacher, my day starts at 7.30 am to 3.30 pm, from Monday to Friday. This might defer depending on different institutions or the region as well. When my day ends at work I have a whole afternoon to myself and at the end of the week I have a whole weekend for myself. This is the time I get to indulge with the culture, make new friends and go to new places.

Here in Mexico people are very social and there is always something to do. In the evenings, I sometimes go for Salsa dance, Carne Asada (barbecue night), movie night even going to the gym. Weekends are excellent for road trips, camping, weddings, quinceañera and site-seeing. As I said, all this depends on what one is interested in doing.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

Moving to a new country is not as easy as it may sound. At first, I did not know how I would survive without my parents and my sisters around me. My other biggest fear was starting over. I was unsure of how things would be in a new country without family and friends. I thought I was going to lose my friends and lose contact with my family. The best way to overcome fear is to face it.

After I got here, those became completely non-factors. Now I had bigger problems like learning how to fold a taco and confidently put it in my mouth without spilling everything. Thanks to technology and this digital era, I can now Skype call and even Whatsapp call my family and friends almost on daily basis. This helps a lot when I feel homesick, even then though I miss being with them physically.

Is it worthy moving to a foreign country?

This is a question I get from anyone that I tell my story. I will be very honest. If your main reason for moving to a foreign country is solely to make money, then I would say no. Why, you may ask. First of all, moving to a foreign country is not cheap. It is like an investment or a business you are trying to test waters. It means abandoning whatever you were building on and starting over. So it is a risk which might or might not work out. What if it does not work out as you expected?

If your main reason is exposure and experience, then money might be just a bonus. Moving to a foreign country, as a teacher especially, comes along with a bunch of advantages. First, the international teaching experiences is a plus in career development. Most importantly, the exposure gives you a new way of perceiving everything and an opportunity to experience diverse cultures and practices. Even though most of these things are now available on the internet, the same internet will never teach you how to fold a Taco and put in your mouth without spilling everything.

Be wild, travel and live a thousand ways!