Alumni Spotlight: Karina McCowan

Hey everyone! I'm Karina, studying a Masters of Primary Teaching and just generally having a good time! I tell great jokes (they're horrible), love my dog and am finding writing this section terribly difficult...

Why did you pick this program?


I chose IVHQ as a company because they had the most reasonable prices from what I had seen, and had heard good things from a few different people.

Studying teaching, I knew I wanted to give teaching abroad a go, mainly because I love to travel and experience new cultures, but also because I wanted to experience schools and children that I thought would be completely different to back home. I wanted to be put out of my comfort zone and hopefully not only gain experience in a personal sense, but possibly help even one child to better their English (and therefore better their chance at a good life).

I selected Laos because, very honestly, I knew hardly anything about it. I wanted to learn new things about a culture I knew nothing about and throw myself in to the deep end.

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

The school was completely different to anything I have ever seen. Rickety wooden tables and chairs, no lights, a broken fan and an old blackboard were the only contents in the rooms.

My first day I just watched the old volunteers teach. Less than half of the students paid attention. It was a genuine disaster.

I dreaded going back. The previous volunteers told us that they had taught the kids about nature, colours, days of the week & jobs. I got there and these students couldn't even tell me what day it was. Nothing that they had been taught had sunk in.

It took me a while to realise the issue. It made me realise why they were so inattentive and disruptive in the classes. They had no proper grasp of the alphabet, let alone how to write letters and sound them out.

We started from scratch, and amazingly, gained their attention. I was only there for a short time, but I believe I helped create a small change, hopefully something that will then be the scaffold for them to better understand and correctly write English.

I went in there expecting to make these huge changes but I realised that wasn't possible. Even the smallest change makes a difference, every little bit counts.

What made this experience unique and special?

With local children

There were two key factors that made this experience unique and special.

The first thing... The students at the school were the happiest and cheekiest children I have ever had the privilege to meet. You get to know them and their little quirks and (after the initial first day) was so excited to go back every day to see them. Their hearts are bursting with love for everyone they meet and their happiness is contagious. I absolutely adore those children and will never forget the joy they brought me every day.

The second.. The other volunteers. Absolute legends. Every one loved everyone, we were a family. Those people made me laugh more than I have in my life and they were what made the time after school absolutely fun and exciting.

They're what made this trip the best of my life.

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


Try something new, put yourself out of your comfort zone. Be prepared for anything and most importantly be open to it! (Sorry for sounding like a cheesy motivational poster)

If you're teaching, have fun! Don't take it or yourself too seriously. The kids love games (I lost devastatingly badly in dodgeball), they have a great sense of humour and you'll get a much better response out of them if you're animated, warm and exciting.

Definitely take some time to plan your lessons, meet with your group and brainstorm ideas. Work together! You're all there for the same reason and everyone has different ideas and teaching styles so use them!