LIMELIGHT INTERVIEW WITH STEPHANIE MCCREARY
Many people believe that trial and error is one of the best teachers. If you work in the field of international education, some might argue that it’s the only teacher. Unlike other professions such as medicine, law, or engineering, there is no clear-cut path or destination that will help you decide your career trajectory. Just ask Stephanie McCreary. Although she had envisioned traveling the world as a child, she had no idea that she would be able to translate that passion into a full-time job.
Stephanie shares a few valuable lessons she has learned along the way as an international educator while exploring Europe, Asia, and Africa.
1. Try new things.
At 16 years old, Stephanie had an opportunity to study abroad in Belgium through a program sponsored by the Rotary Club. Her interest in other cultures and traveling began as young as six or seven, so her parents weren’t surprised and offered their full support.
2. Don’t do what you think you should do.
Stephanie enrolled in the creative writing program at Antioch College because she loved writing and didn’t know what else to study. Although she naturally assumed that she’d become a writer, she took advantage of the college’s cooperative education program, which enabled students to alternate semesters of on-campus study with off-campus work in a domestic or international location. She opted to enroll in the Buddhist Studies Program which took her to India. At the end of the program, Stephanie worked as a volunteer ESL teacher at a private school for children in Southern India, an experience that would prove invaluable later on.
3. If it feels right, try it out.
After graduating from Antioch, Stephanie spent two years working at an adult education center. She used her time at home in Milwaukee to save money and pursue research opportunities that would allow her to return to Asia. A TESOL Certificate program in Thailand seemed like the perfect fit. Stephanie found a job teaching middle school students in northern Thailand almost immediately after completing a four-week TESOL course. When she wasn’t working, she took time to explore neighboring countries like Vietnam and Singapore. Although she loved the Thai culture, the people, and the food, she eventually took a better-paying position teaching in South Korea.
4. Go with your intuition.
Staying true to her desire to see the world, Stephanie applied for another teaching position at an English immersion school in Istanbul, Turkey. Prior to arriving in Turkey, she had taken a trip to Chicago with her mom and attended a Turkish festival. Stephanie befriended a Turkish woman at the festival who connected her with a friend Stephanie would later meet in person after arriving in Istanbul. This small moment was a sign that she was on the right path. Stephanie says the energy and spirit of the city were palpable, and it was the first time since traveling abroad that she felt at home. The community of teachers and co-teachers afforded her an enriching social life and made the cultural adjustment easier.
5. Don’t be afraid to take risks.
Once Stephanie realized that IE was the path that she was destined to take, she decided to get a master’s degree from the School for International Training. The SIT program enabled her to participate in a short-term study abroad program in Senegal focused on language and social justice in the education system. She also spent six months as an intern with Barcelona Study Abroad Experience engaging with outbound students in Barcelona, Spain, and promoting study abroad programs to university students while working at the headquarters in Northampton, MA.
6. Don’t close doors when you get an opportunity.
Most recently, Stephanie was teaching abroad in Kurdistan, Iraq, for the Professional Development Institute at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. She accepted the 1-year position in October 2019. Everything was going well until the school completely shut down in February 2020 due to COVID-19. Stephanie thought she would be able to return to in-person classes within a month, so she took a trip to visit a friend in Jordan. In March, she realized that she would not be able to return to Iraq, so she booked a flight to Portugal to stay with another friend. As airports in Europe began shutting down, Stephanie ran out of options, and the only country that would allow her to enter was the USA. Stephanie returned to Wisconsin in mid-April, where she has continued teaching for PDI remotely while managing a huge time zone difference. The school has no immediate plans to open for in-person teaching until possibly Fall 2021. In the interim, Stephanie accepted a new position as an Academic Success Coordinator with Verto Education, a Portland, Oregon, based gap year program. She was hired with the intention of eventually working abroad in the South Pacific in Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia. However, due to COVID-19, the Fall 2020 program was coordinated to be online.
- Interview by Global Leadership League member and volunteer, Kanette Worlds
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