Greetings! I’m Emmie, a Greenheart First-Time Traveler 2019 Scholarship Winner. I chose to spend one month of my summer in France at a Homestay teaching English. In the US, I’m an elementary school music teacher, teaching ages 5 to 12. During my time in France, I learned a lot about how children learn, how they approach a new language, and best practices to develop a relationship with international students. I’m eager to share how I made the most out of my first experience living abroad!
At my homestay in Tarbes, France, I was responsible for teaching four sisters ages 3, 5, and 9 year old twins. The twins already knew some colors, animals, numbers, and key phrases in English, as they receive lessons through school one hour a week. Through planned and unplanned group instruction, the twins became leaders and helped their younger sisters, and each other.
My biggest advice in planning English lessons abroad is to plan plenty of games. Learning a new language should be fun! Valuable learning happens without the students realizing it, and you’d be surprised by how long they want to play. You’re also creating quality time with the kids, developing a relationship. We played common games together (UNO and Hangman were my go-tos) and taught each other hand-clapping games in our own languages. Particularly if your stay is during the summer, keep in mind that younger kids might not have the attention span for a full sit-down lesson. The more active and engaging it can be, the better!
Teaching at a homestay was a great way to learn about another culture’s educational system. It didn’t occur to me that special education is different throughout the world. I have the privilege of teaching in a country that is very committed to the inclusion of all students, regardless of individual challenges or disabilities. I’m very thankful for that. I approach this next school year with a new gratitude for those students I teach with special needs, grateful that I get to support them and watch them grow.
As a teacher, I already know children must trust an adult before they can learn from her. At first, my girls were apprehensive about speaking English in front of me, worried about making mistakes. Once they saw that I made mistakes in French all the time, they became more comfortable practicing freely. When thrust into a new environment with strangers, hearing a few simple statements in your native language can go a long way. I even experienced myself when locals greeted me with “Hi, how are you?”. Peers who speak both languages can translate and be a great resource, yet a relationship still needs to be formed between you, the teacher, and your student.
Moving forward, I have a couple ideas of how to make my music classroom more internationally inclusive. I plan to practice and use some key phrases in other languages to lay the foundation for a positive teacher-student relationship, and to greet new students in English slowly, with a smile. I’ll always cherish the time I had with my host family, as it was a learning curve for all of us! I’m eager to apply my French homestay experience to my American teaching style.
Emmie Dohse, from Washington D.C., is a Greenheart Travel First Time Traveler Scholarship recipient. Learn more about Greenheart Travel’s scholarship opportunities to help you travel for a change!