CIEE TEFL Alumni Spotlight: Claudia Macpherson

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Hello! I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, but my first big move was when I decided to move across the country to attend Villanova University in Pennsylvania. In college I studied biochemistry, but my minors in English and Spanish are the degrees that I have used more since graduating! I completed my CIEE TEFL certification during the summer of 2019, right after graduating from university, and in the fall I moved to Madrid to teach! I spent the better part of two school years teaching in Spain (with an unfortunate interruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and found that I love both teaching and living abroad. I felt ready for a new challenge, so in 2021 I moved to South Korea to teach. I have just started my third year teaching here and I'm still loving it!

1. What inspired you to get TEFL certified or teach abroad?

I graduated with a degree in biochemistry, but none of the jobs that my friends were applying for during our senior year felt right for me. Travel has always been important to our family. It was actually my mom who heard about the opportunity to teach abroad and found CIEE's programs and suggested that I apply! Looking back, most of my early jobs were related to teaching—swim instructing, volunteering at summer camps and after-school programs—so teaching abroad has turned out to be an even better fit for me than I could have imagined.

2. What have you found most fulfilling about teaching English? 

I love seeing my students use English outside of the classroom! I live close to my school here in Korea, so I often see students outside of class. I love when they want to have a conversation and tell me about what's going on in their lives. It's especially fun to see former students who have graduated!

3. What was the biggest challenge you faced as an EFL teacher? How did you overcome that challenge?

The biggest concern here in Korea is the disparity in English level in each class. It's an ongoing challenge to keep higher level students engaged while not leaving lower level students behind. I try to include a solo or partner activity in each lesson so that I can check in with my lower level students and help them as needed.  

4. What was the most important thing you learned in your CIEE TEFL course or while you were teaching abroad?

I'm pretty sure it's impossible to teach abroad without learning to be flexible. Things always come up and sometimes it's a scramble to accommodate different schedules or activities, but there's nothing like learning on the fly!

5. What advice would you offer to future CIEE TEFL and Teach Abroad participants?

Be ready for things to go wrong! They will, and that's okay. A positive attitude will make it easier for you, and your co-teachers and school staff will appreciate it (and be more willing to help you)!

Be okay with not knowing things! Between language barriers and cultural differences, there will probably be a lot of things you don't understand. It took me a while to get used to feeling dumb a lot of the time! Don't be afraid to ask questions, and keep an open mind!

6. What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies? 

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, my family was very outdoorsy. Since moving to Korea, I've learned that it's a hiker's paradise! There are hiking trails everywhere, and many are easily accessible even without a car. The first winter I spent in Korea I hiked Hallasan, the highest point in South Korea. During a long weekend this spring, some friends and I visited Seoraksan National Park (and spotted K-pop idol Kang Taehyun on a hike)! Next up on my hiking bucket list: Jirisan National Park!

Thanks Claudia for sharing your experience as a CIEE TEFL student and teaching English in South Korea!

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