New Horizons: Jumping from CELTA into the Immigrant & Refugee Sector

 | Teaching House Nomads Blog

Ramona is this month’s guest blogger. A NY CELTA graduate who arrived home after stints in Spain and Russia to find rewarding work in the immigrant and refugee sector. She’s now planning to start her own non-profit organization in the future.

In 2014, I completed my intensive CELTA course at Teaching House – New York. Out of my graduating class, two of us went to Russia, one moved to Israel, another got a job in the U.A.E. and two stayed in New York. A few weeks later I was hired by International House in Moscow and really enjoyed many aspects of living in Russia. I taught a wide range of levels and age groups and quickly established positive relationships with my students, roommate and mentor. My housing and transportation were paid for by the school and plenty of hours were available. Prior to enrolling in the CELTA course, I had lived in Barcelona for several months, living with a host family and teaching small group and private lessons at a local school. A bit weary of long-term overseas teaching, I decided to stay in St. Louis and utilize my skills at home.

International House Moscow is a good option as a teaching destination for CELTA teachers worldwide
IH Moscow is a quality option

I volunteer regularly with the International Institute and the Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Program, both outstanding organizations which offer free English and citizenship classes to immigrants and refugees. I give one-on-one lessons to a woman from Eritrea named Nighisti. We conduct classes in her home and she thanks me by making a huge meal.  She has lived in the U.S. for over nine years and could barely speak a word of English when I started working with her six months ago. But now, we are able to have a basic conversation, she can count to 500 and her vocabulary has increased exponentially. She is starting to use full sentences without being prompted and her reading and writing skills have greatly improved. Since she wants to become a citizen, I have started giving basic civics lessons and teaching her questions that are the citizenship test.

We also went on a “field trip” to the Soulard Farmer’s Market so she could practice the target language in our shopping unit and see the city. The most important improvement that has been made is her elevated level of self-confidence; she has been reaching out to her neighbors and the staff of the retirement community for the first time. Decreasing isolation and getting a foot on the first rung of the ladder is crucial, i.e. learning the alphabet and basic phonemes. If you ever have the opportunity to give one-on-one lessons, I highly recommend it! Of course, it’s not for everyone, but there are so many advantages: lack of mixed levels, tailoring the lesson plans with one specific person in mind and not dealing with difficult classroom dynamics are just a few examples. I know that one woman in our CELTA group gives private lessons and absolutely loves it; she was always really uncomfortable being in front of a class so this method of teaching is perfect for her. Watching someone begin at the lowest level and seeing them grow is one of the most beautiful and inspirational things I have ever experienced.

Beyond teaching, ESL teacher Ramona does community volunteering and healthcare services abroad
Picking up trash in Kolkata, India for Earth Day

Keep in mind that you can still travel and gain experience teaching ESL without accepting a nine month contract to live and work overseas. In April, I went to Kolkata, India and volunteered at New Light which provides English lessons and healthcare services to residents of Kalighat, one of the largest slums in Asia. With short-term volunteer or work opportunities, I can still travel without sacrificing jobs or relationships in the process. I recommend looking at and other forums to read first-hand experiences, perusing reviews about places before you decide to go and finding out if they charge a fee to volunteer; basically, do your research. I found New Light on a list of organizations in “Half the Sky”, a book written by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about the oppression of women all around the world, so that may be a good place to start!

My experiences traveling, working with foreigners and teaching English have altered my plans for the future. Remember, there are a lot of different ways to use your CELTA qualification. In the fall, I will begin graduate school to obtain a Master’s in Public Policy. The tentative plan is to establish a nonprofit organization for immigrants and refugees, although if I enjoy policy analysis courses, I may decide to get involved in conducting research and writing proposals that will shape laws.  Whichever path you decide to follow, I guarantee you will have life-changing adventures!

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