This week on the blog we are featuring Greenheart Travel alumni and telling the stories of “Where Are They Now?”. We handpicked alumni that are doing great things back home following their programs, and whose time abroad has shaped what they’re up to now. Kaija Reinelt is Greenheart Travel Teach in Thailand alumni who just graduated with a Master’s in Education following her time in Thailand! Read on for more about what Kaija is up to and how her time abroad helped her gain skills she brought back to her American classroom.
Teach in Thailand program—I loved living in Thailand for numerous reasons—all of which come back to the level in which Thai culture allowed me to ponder and connect with what it means to be human. Thailand is so SO different from my home country (USA). I really value how Thailand challenged me to live life within an entirely different set of norms, customs, weather patterns, etc. than what I was brought up with. I learned so much about my own biases around how and what I think human society “should” look like or how it “should” operate. I went to Thailand in a time when I was exhausted by the individualistic, high-paced demands of American society. Thailand, known for being laid-back and carefree, was sort of meant to be a break from that. And while there are things about Thai culture I absolutely prefer to American culture, I also learned that there are things about American culture I prefer to Thai culture. Ultimately I love how living in a culture opposite my own provided me with new tools and perspectives to integrate into the way in which I move through and create change in the world.
I’ve been home in Seattle for a little under two years. I started grad school for my masters in teaching four months after returning from Thailand and am about to start my first year of teaching! I will be teaching Chemistry at a public high school in Seattle.
In Thailand I had the opportunity to teach high school science (in English). I already knew I wanted to be a science teacher upon returning to the states, but this experience confirmed it. At the time, what I didn’t know is that I was simultaneously gaining a passion to work with English Language Learners (ELL) and newcomer immigrants in the US. During grad school, I completed my student teaching at a public school for recent immigrants where I taught Physical Science and Biology to students from all over the globe.
Absolutely! Especially related to working with ELLs. More broadly, I learned the value of building relationships with students and creating community in the classroom—even when, especially when my students’ identities do not match my own. Being pushed to learn how to connect through the heart and through shared humanity, despite language, culture, whatever barriers, has been a hugely vital skill in my ever-evolving teaching practice. Prioritizing building relationships with students this is pretty much the gold nugget to creating an environment in which students trust you and are able to learn, in my experience!
I think the only way traveling abroad can negatively affect your career goals is if you can’t articulate how the experience contributed to your growth. Following that, I do think it is important to have a couple of goals, questions, or intentions you want to explore while traveling abroad. I think it’s important to be clear on why you are traveling abroad, and to not let the reasons that other people have affect or alter your path too much. I am definitely not advocating for rigidly sticking to a plan that you outgrow, more just advocating that you listen to your inner voice and be brave enough to follow it. If you can come home with the ability to describe what traveling abroad taught you about you, yourself, and your place in the world, employers will be very impressed.