Alumni Spotlight: Thomas Johnson


Tom is an English and Humanities teacher living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He graduated college in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in aviation and in 2017 with a master's in cyber security. After serving in the US Navy and Coast Guard for 4 years, he chose to pursue a career in teaching abroad for a life-changing experience.

Why did you choose this program?

I discovered The English Camp Company (ECC) in 2015 after I read the amazing reviews on Go Overseas and Go Abroad. The staff support stood out the most to me, as traveling abroad can be daunting at first for many people. For a relatively small organization, ECC provides remarkable communication and support throughout the summer from start to finish. Ashleigh and Nate are hands down the best diligent team in Europe.

Believe it or not, it was difficult turning down the opportunity to teach and travel in Italy and Austria for a second summer. With that said, I almost forgot just how competitive it is to gain acceptance into the program, and how many applicants apply year-round. I've always loved a challenge, so putting together an application (pictures, videos, references, essays, class activities, etc.) that stood out from the crowd wasn't easy. But if you're willing to put the time in and submit and quality application, this program could possibly change someone's life, as it has mine.

Before working with ECC, I hadn't lived outside of the US. After spending the summer teaching and traveling in Italy and Austria, staying with host families, eating amazing food (the list goes on and on), I've become an international teacher, with experience living and teaching in 6 different countries.

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

ECC was a phenomenal source of assistance and information. Ashleigh and Nate went out of their way to ensure that I was well prepared to work abroad for the summer. I could always reach out to them by phone call or email with any question I had about staying with host families, Italian and Austrian culture, and camp days. Once I arrived at orientation, they were there to greet me and made me feel so welcomed.

The items I had to organize on my own were:

  • Plane ticket to and from Italy.
  • Train ticket from my final camp to the airport.
  • International Health Insurance for my time in Europe.

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

First, it's imperative that you commit to the available dates you put on your application. Camps are 2 weeks long, Monday to Friday. Keep in mind that you were chosen among thousands of applicants who would love to spend their summer working in Italy and Austria. This is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in a foreign culture and work with people from around the world.

I wish I would've known that I would work with different age groups at each camp. But it turned out to be one of the best challenges I could face. Changing grade levels at your next camp gives you the best chance to expand your teaching skills (and patience).

This job is for the creative, flexible, energetic, over the top bonkers...and yet mature kind of person. If you're silly and ridiculous, and love to be involved in the lives of the younger generation, this is the job for you! Feel free to leave your inhibitions in your home country and embrace the ECC tutor inside of you.

It is utterly important that you are involved all day at camp, and especially with your host families. If you want to sit down and look at your phone all day, there's no need to apply. There are many others who truly want to be your position.

You may live with a host family that doesn't speak much English. You would be surprised at how many basic words and phrases you can learn in Italian and German before working with ECC. This goes a long way. It's a great chance for a cultural/language exchange, and these families can end up being your absolute favorite. Therefore, you should embrace the fact that they're welcoming you into their home.

Lastly, working with tutors from around the world can be difficult at times. Everyone has great ideas. Everyone was hired for a reason. Everyone will get tired and hot. Not everyone will agree with one another. That's okay. Try your best to focus on the children at camp, and the fact that you're working in a breathtakingly beautiful place for a summer.

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

  1. Saturday - Arrive at your camp location/city and meet your host family! Then meet up with the tutors and your camp director and begin planning the 2 weeks of camp with a theme, activities/games, you'll be given your class list of children, ECC books for your class, and start making posters for your awesomely colorful camp schedule, team points list, camp rules, and cleanest classroom (sometimes this happens on Sunday).
  2. Sunday - Spend the day with your lovely host family!
  3. (Monday to Friday*)
  • (~0745) Wake up at your host family home, get dressed, eat breakfast with your host brother/sister, grab your packed lunch and snacks for break then it's off to camp!
  • (~0850) Arrive at camp, greet the children as they arrive, discuss the plan of the day with your fellow tutor(s).
  • (~0915) Start morning camp circle songs and games.
  • (~0945) First English lesson! Feel free to start the day with a fun class activity.
  • (~11:10) Break time! Where's your snack? ^_^
  • (~11:30) Second English Lesson!
  • (~1300) Lunch time. I'm sure your host family packed a meal with yum yums. At a few camps lunch can be catered.
  • (~1400) Afternoon activities/games with your organized team. Competition time ^_^
  • (~1515) Break! Has anyone seen my fruit?
  • (~1540) Part II of Afternoon activities/games!
  • (~1645) Time to clean those classrooms.
  • (~1700) Say bye-bye to those children, and go home with your host family.

You have a lot of time after camp to shower, relax and eat with your family. Many of them will take you out to meet their relatives (or invite them over), see beautiful sights, eats lots of ice cream and pizza! (or the occasional ever-so-tasty weinerschnitzel). You may also end up meeting up with the other tutors and their families.

*The second Friday is Final Show.

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

Fear. It’s what often keeps us from living our lives and achieving our dreams. And it is one of the most common reasons why most people don’t travel. Whenever I talk to people about long-term travel, so many tell me they wish they could do what I do. They tell me all their travel dreams and then when I ask why they don’t pursue them, they come up with a plethora of excuses:

  • They fear not being able to afford the trip.
  • They fear they have too many responsibilities at home.
  • They fear they won’t be able to make friends on the road.
  • They fear not having the ability to handle it.
  • They fear something will happen to them.

Ironically, these are the fears I had before traveling, working, and living abroad. With all that fear, it’s much easier to stay at home in our comfort zones than to break out and travel. It’s a big thing to step out your door, away from your safety net, and into the known. The most comforting things I found out and would constantly remind myself along the way were this:

  • You aren't the first person to travel abroad. You'll meet so many people when you travel that have the same goals and dreams as you. You're not alone.
  • You're just as capable as everyone else. We all dream. We all have ambitions. We all have gifts. Why not you? There's not reason you can't do what other people have done and are doing now. We live in a time where technology has allowed us to communicate with others around the world with ease. Use it to your advantage. You're smart. You've got this. Don't doubt yourself.
  • Most of the responsibilities you have and make excuses for are materialistic. There came a day that I sold my car. I never looked back. I left my job. I found thousands more jobs abroad by simply searching on websites like Go Overseas. Suddenly, all those responsibilities began to disappear one at a time, and I felt free.
  • You will definitely find employment if you choose to go back home. Employers love looking at resumes that show diversity, language skills, and a proven ability to adapt to a different culture.

How do you travel and stay healthy?

We all joke about gaining weight when we travel, but it really is important to try to stay healthy in order to better enjoy the experience. It starts while still on the plane; avoid too much alcohol and caffeine and instead opt for water. Staying hydrated will help you feel better and minimize jet lag. Once in the destination, definitely enjoy the local food but don’t go crazy and try to balance it with a healthy breakfast. Finally, most of us walk a lot when we travel so use this as your daily workout and burn off those French pastries while also enjoying the sights.

I've found that I care more about my health when I'm abroad because I'm not able to run home to mommy or daddy and cry about my problems. Sure, I vent to them on occasion, but living abroad gives you a sense of independence like nothing else in the world can (not even university). If you want to travel long-term and really change your life, it's important you begin to take care of your body regularly. Les Brown once said,

''If you do what is easy, your life will be hard. But if you do what is hard, your life will be easy.''