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Home Away from Home

Home Away from Home

If you decide to teach overseas, at one time or another, you’ll face homesickness, whether it’s missing friends and family, your hometown or just the day-to-day activities and culture of your home country. TESOL graduate Morgan Attaway knows what that’s like, but here’s how she uses it to inspire her students:

So 2015 has arrived — which means that we’ve all survived yet another hectic holiday season. For those living and teaching overseas, however, it might have been a very daunting time being far away from loved ones and the familiar sights and sounds of home. This is usually the point when homesickness decides to rear its terrible, no-good, rotten, ugly head.

Do not despair! While homesickness is definitely part of the ups and downs of life abroad, there are ways you can use your classroom to create a little home away from home on the other side of the world.

TESOL Cookies

Morgan baked this test batch of cookies in the school kitchen to prepare for English Club.

To me, food is the cornerstone of culture and usually the part that people take the most pride in when sharing their culture with others. Everyone has that favorite dish their mother makes or certain ingredients that consistently pop up in their homeland’s cuisine. Like peanut butter — I never realized just how deep America’s love affair with peanut butter goes until moving overseas.

People love trying new foods and my students aren’t any different. My English club loved it when we took over the school kitchen and I taught them how to make traditional chocolate chip cookies. Simple and delicious and the smell took me right back to my mother’s kitchen.

Holiday traditions are my worst enemy when it comes to homesickness, but they can also be my best friends when it comes to fighting it. I tend to feel blue when I see friends and family celebrating back home but that doesn’t mean I can’t create my own celebration right where I am!

Maybe the country you live in has never heard of certain special traditions such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Day or Presidents Day. Maybe they don’t celebrate your favorite holidays at all (I’m looking at you, Thanksgiving). I take the opportunity to introduce these holiday traditions to my students by making hand turkeys in class or by carving Jack-o-Lanterns with my after school club.

Or what if your new country does celebrate your favorite holiday but in a completely different way? For example, Christmas is more of a couple’s holiday in Japan where it’s just a normal work day, and KFC is the food of choice for the Christmas Eve feast. This is an opportunity to embrace a new tradition or, my personal favorite, create a fusion. I try to have an exchange with my students: for every personal tradition I share with them, I have them share a personal one with me.

Last but definitely not least. Some have claimed that music is the language of the soul, so what better way to bring a bit of home to the classroom. I remember my Spanish teachers always playing Latin music whenever we entered the classroom. It’s definitely beneficial for the students as it allows them to attune their hearing to English language rhythms, but it’s good for the teacher as well. Sometimes nothing brings a smile to my face like a good ol’ Golden Oldie.

My predecessor instituted an English Shower program at my school which has English music played over the speaker system during cleaning time right after lunch. The kids love hearing new material as well as artists they’re already familiar with like Taylor Swift and One Direction. On the flip side, it lets me feel connected with back home and that I’m not completely out of touch.

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bringing your own culture into the classroom and are definitely my go-to solutions when it comes to combating homesickness. Just remember that everyone gets hit with it at some point (even multiple points), but that it too passes.

So why not ride out the wave with some fun ideas for both you and your students?

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