By: Patricia Kousoulas
1. Tell us about your experience after Mac.
After five incredible years as a both a student and employee of McMaster University, I knew that I was craving an adventure even though the thought of leaving the Mac community behind sounded like an awful decision; however, I knew that travelling was something that I wanted to do. When my contract job ended, I recognized that I wasn’t committed to anything and had no actual excuse for why I shouldn’t go.
My first adventure involved spending three weeks in both Alberta and BC, where I embraced a hiking opportunity. The McMaster Outdoor Club was organizing this trip and wanted to give others the opportunity to experience the Rocky Mountains through an ambitious adventure. It involved intense and consistent hiking days that I sometimes wasn’t sure if I was going to make it through. The incredible part though was that I could quickly realize my body is able to carry through when I have an optimistic attitude! Overall, it was one of the most unbelievable sights I have seen and I have so much more appreciation for Canada.
Afterwards, I was fortunate enough to get hired to teach English for the summer months in both Italy and Austria. What attracted me to the program was that it was a very untraditional experience; I’d be living with host families throughout it all. Every two weeks, I’d be given a sheet of paper with a train ticket attached, the name of the small town I’d be living in and the team of teachers I’d be working with. I’d later get an email with a mini description of the family that I’d be living with! The entire experience forces you to stay open and truly just embrace the present. The combination of teaching, engaging with locals, visiting places and living with families made it an experience that I will talk about for years!
2. Why did you decide to work abroad?
This teaching job happened because of the English Camp Company, which is the fabulous organization that I was working for! A mentor from many years back participated in this five years ago so I always had this opportunity on my bucket list the second that I first heard about it. However, this year there finally was no excuse of not going. What attracted me to this program is that it would be a very meaningful and local experience. I was so excited to share a cultural experience with local families! And of course, that ended up being my favourite part of the entire experience.
3. Was the experience positive?
Being surrounded by like-minded individuals who wanted to have an impact on kids and travel in a meaningful way as well as being welcomed with open arms by incredible host families, I could not even begin to explain how much of a positive impact that this wholesome experience had on me. Doing something like this teaches you about people. It reminds you that time means nothing with regards to how close you can get to someone. It shows you that even with a language barrier, communication can exist and that you can still form a connection with another person.
Overall, it was incredible to have people make you feel so at home wherever you are. As an example, since we were located in very small villages and towns, tourists were nowhere to be found. Therefore, people were so excited to meet me wherever I went and to learn about my life in Canada and who I was as a person. These strangers went miles out of their way to ensure I felt safe, comfortable and was happy being there. I’m so thankful for all of these individuals who have become family in such a short time frame.
I shed so many tears while here because I was so grateful and happy. The world feels a bit smaller and just brought me so much joy to share parts of my life with people across the world from where I live and for them to do the same with me. Gosh, and everyone’s food was so INCREDIBLE! Another thing to be so thankful for!
4. Were there any challenges?
I don’t like to describe anything that I do as perfect because it never is. I was so exhausted throughout the work weeks because working 45+ hours per week is never easy, especially if it involves engaging and playing with wild children haha. But of course, the kids give you that energy back so it becomes easier at times even if those early mornings are tough.
There obviously was a language barrier almost everywhere I went so it was tough at first finding ways to engage and communicate. Eventually, it got easier and we were able to find little ways of interacting even if it involved using “google translate!” There were even some days where I questioned my abilities on being able to teach the kids something useful because two weeks never felt like enough time. And of course, you begin missing friends and family at some point too.
I vividly remember that during the first three days in the school… I hated it and instantly regretted signing up. The kids were out of control, I felt inadequate to teach and I was already so tired. I’m thankful for these days because every day afterwards became so much easier and it was nice to see how much I’ve grown throughout the summer! So yeah, I had to stick it out, stay positive and be reminded that my feelings were normal. Plus, when surrounded with other teachers – it’s very comforting to be around people who are going through the same things as you are which makes it so easy to share with each other! The teachers become your support system and 100% validate your feelings! They definitely helped make any tough days turn into better ones!
5. Has the experience impacted your career or professional decisions?
On my initial flight to Italy, I was sitting beside a wonderful 75-year-old man who was sharing his entire life story with me. He was a retired teacher and has taught all the way from kindergarten to university-level students. He was so excited to hear that I was off to teach and, in that moment, it made me realize that maybe teaching could be a career that I fall in love with.
As much as I loved the teaching experience, I still don’t think it is the career for me. Instead, I think all of this just confirmed my love for people and wanting to play a part in impacting young people. So, I think I’m more open now to the possibilities outside the education system (as that is what I was leaning towards) and other roles out there! When you put yourself in places such as these, your mind starts getting creative and reminds you to keep your doors open. There are thousands of opportunities out there that no one speaks about so I guess my goal is to find them now!
Patricia Kousoulas graduated from the Faculty of Science in 2017.