Teaching in the Alaskan Bush – Expat Tales
Teaching English is one way to travel and live abroad, but it’s not the only way. In our Expat Tales series, people living and working abroad tell us how they ended up being expats. Kenz, from the USA, became a certified teacher in the USA so she could travel and live abroad. Here, she tells the story of how she started teaching in the Alaskan bush. You can read more of her stories on her website Rhode Trippers.
All about me
My name is Kenz and I’m a Rhode Islander currently completing the second and final year of my teaching contract in teaching in the Alaskan bush.
In the spring of 2016, I was in the last semester of my B.A. in English and Film Studies and frantically guessing at what my upcoming career options would be… I knew I wanted something that gave me the opportunity to travel, while having a schedule that would allow me personal time, and doing something every day that I could potentially feel passionate about.
It has always been a hobby of mine to plan out fantasy trips around the world—researching travel itineraries, reading travel blogs, and writing up chapters of must-see locations. I know that probably sounds intolerably boring, but to me, it was the only way I would ever get to explore the world.
How I decided to teach abroad
Through osmosis and my obsessive digestion of travel blogs, I found that most travel bloggers started their careers by teaching English as a foreign language abroad. Suddenly, it was the perfect plan! It was a real career field that would allow me to hop around the globe while earning a sustainable paycheck and still having summers, holidays, and weekends off! And I could make my English look relevant! Coincidentally, my college was beginning a cohort that summer for an intensive, year-long M.A.T. program in elementary education. I signed up and was taking graduate courses before I even finished my B.A.
Teaching was the outlet I had been looking to dump my energy into. I took 7 classes that summer, volunteered at a national professional development conference in Providence for the opportunity to attend for free, saw Malala speak at the Dunkin Donuts Center, snuck in a 2-week volunteer trip to Ecuador where I taught English in an orphanage, and graduated with a 3.8 GPA and as one of 10 nominations for a campus-wide leadership award.
I spent that whole year in grad school waiting for the window to open when I could send my EPIK application off to teach English in South Korea (the most popular first choice for new ESL teachers).
Read more about teaching English in South Korea
When it finally came, I already had all my documents collected and was hired within a week. It was spring 2017 and I had already started packing when every media outlet in the U.S. claimed that South Korea was on the verge of being destroyed by Trump and his Twitter wars with the north. My family implored that I look for other job options. I rolled my eyes but decided to attend a job fair with my friend from the M.A.T., just to look around.
Deciding to teach in the Alaskan bush
I strolled around the booths with the confidence of someone who didn’t need a job and kept coming back to the booth with the colorful poster of the northern lights. The Alaska teacher placement agency recruiter was busy doing on-the-spot interviews for his district representing village schools in remote Alaska. I grabbed a brochure and stuffed it in my tote bag with the rest.
That night, I read the information more closely. It advertised the school district through pictures of broad-faced children with smiling dark eyes showing off dance fans made of feathers and grass, and quietly doing bead-work and skinning fish. Along the side, the salary scale indicated that I would be making over $20,000 more than what I could expect in Rhode Island or South Korea. It was the price tag that made me send out that first email to the recruiter.
Within 2 weeks, I aced 3 Skype interviews and had accepted my job offer. Good thing I was already packed! My boyfriend, Matt, was excited to be moving to the bush which we had only been exposed to through TV shows like “Ice Road Truckers” and “Alaska State Police” which made the area sound wild and untamed.
Eager for adventure, we packed up his ’97 Chevy and made our commute from Rhode Island to Anchorage into a 2-week long roadtrip. We saw Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse, took windswept selfies in the Badlands, drove for hours across Montana without seeing any signs of life, had the worst meatball sub ever in Canada, and tried reindeer sausage out in the Canadian Yukon. Finally, we barged the truck the remainder of the way to Bethel, our new town without roads, and landed in a place we had only ever seen on Google.
Another option for an experienced educator is working as a governess, or nanny. Read James’ experiences of living with a Russian family in Moscow as their nanny.
Since moving to Alaska, I’ve watched a dog sled race, picked wild blueberries from the tundra, been elbow-deep in a bloody trashbag of fresh salmon, learned how to fur sew, made my own beaver hat (why buy Alaskan souvenirs!?!), and even got married at the town hall over lunch break! Not every day has been an adventure, in fact the adventures come few and far between my normal Monday- Friday work weeks of printing worksheets and repeating directions to 23 squirrely second-graders, but they are adventures nonetheless.
Moving to Alaska and teaching in the Alaskan bush, while not easy, has been a decision I am undeniably grateful for. I have the opportunity to watch the continued revival of Yup’ik culture bouncing back after generations of forced re-education schools, made a home for myself in one of the most extreme climates on the Earth, and still saved a bunch of money along the way. After this year, I know I’ll be leaving Alaska having made the most out of this adventure.
If you’re curious about what it’s like teaching in the bush schools, check out my blog post “Teaching in Bush Alaska: How It Will Make You A Badass” and follow my blog RhodeTrippers to learn how to use teaching to fund your international travels.
You can read more of our expat stories, including how Emily went from teaching English abroad to working as a safari guide in South Africa. If you are interested in teaching English, you can find lots of advice and real-life stories on our page about Teaching English.
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