Why Every U.S. Teacher Should Visit a Foreign School

People often think of travel as a process of self-growth. But teachers in today’s culturally diverse U.S. schools should also consider how much their time spent abroad can benefit their students back in the U.S.! TIEs with Teachers’ summer program sends U.S. teachers abroad to visit foreign schools (check out our pilot program in Nepal), and here’s why:

Learn new approaches to your daily classroom challenges – Teachers around the world face similar challenges, i.e. bullying or getting kids to focus. But what’s different is our approach to these challenges! Going abroad allows teachers to observe radically different teaching methods, such as the meditation our partner school in Nepal uses to help students focus. It might just be radical enough to breakthrough to that kiddo you’ve been struggling with in your own class!

Experience a healthy dose of cultural discomfort – If you’ve never been a stranger in a strange land, you probably have no idea how your newcomer immigrant students feel when they come to school every day. Although you will never truly know what he or she is going through, you can better support your kiddos during the acculturation process having experienced it yourself!

Improve your intercultural communication skills – Every culture has its own norms for communication, i.e. topics that are appropriate, norms for eye-contact, ways of greeting people. Going abroad is a crash course on communicating with people from a different cultural background! When you return to your diverse classes in the U.S., you will be more aware of communication differences between yourself, your students, and their families – and be able to adjust your communication as necessary!

Better understand the link between culture and learning – Each culture also has it’s own norms for learning – i.e. types of classroom activities or norms for speaking up in class. Observing such differences firsthand will help you appreciate the role that culture plays in learning, and make you more reflective about how your own students’ cultural backgrounds affect the way they learn best.

Celebrate cultural diversity in your class – It’s one thing to tell your kids about cultural diversity – it’s another to SHOW them! Think of all the photos and stories you can share when you get back! TIEs with Teachers provides an excellent opportunity for educators to walk the walk and model the appreciation for diversity we often talk about in our schools. And if you spend time in the developing world, you can use your personal experiences to spark critical discussions about poverty and cultural stereotypes.

In addition to these benefits for your classes back in the U.S., you can also support foreign educators at the schools you visit by sharing your own teaching insight! So consider spending your summer break visiting a foreign school with TIEs with Teachers! We are currently crowdfunding a project to give more American teachers the opportunity to visit foreign schools, starting with a school in Nepal. It’s not just about self-growth – it will benefit your kiddos back in the U.S.!

3 Things Teachers Can Learn in Nepal

When teachers go abroad to work or volunteer in a foreign school, they should expect to learn as much as they teach. That’s why the “T” in TIEs stands for “Two-way”! Here are three teaching strategies we think U.S. educators can learn at the site of our current exchange project in Nepal:

1. Meditation

_MG_4494Ask any U.S. teacher – one of the biggest challenges they face is getting kids to pay attention. Many U.S. schools are trying to implement “mindfulness” programs (i.e. meditation, breathing exercises) to address this, but in my experience, the teachers often don’t have the training/experience to do so effectively. Why not learn from the pros in Nepal? Our partner school has students at all ages doing meditation to come to class calm and ready to learn, and was founded by a Buddhist nun with decades of meditation experience!

2. Character Education

_MG_4536Informal character education happens in U.S. classrooms on a daily basis, like when we pull a kid aside to explain why we shouldn’t steal or how bullying makes people feel. But doing so interrupts the flow of a class. After all, no teacher includes “Pause 5 minutes to address hurtful words” when writing a lesson plan! Our partner school in Nepal takes a more pre-emptive approach: rather than simply addressing these behavior problems as they come up, they have a character education class built into their curriculum. And they have more of a “culture of kindness” and less bullying than any school I’ve ever experienced!

3. Bilingual Education (despite not being perfectly bilingual yourself!)

_MG_5219There is a high demand for bilingual education in U.S. schools, but not enough bilingual educators. What if teachers didn’t have to be perfectly fluent in a second language in order to implement at least some bilingual ed (particularly in early elementary)? The teachers at our Nepali partner school are English language learners themselves, but they don’t let that stop them from doing English language activities with their students. And the end result is fantastic: by high school, the students are conversing and doing upper-level academics like math and science in their 2nd language – English!


Our U.S. teacher participants aren’t obligated to run back to their own schools and immediately implement all of these strategies – the goal of TIEs is to introduce teachers to new approaches and open up discussion about which ones may be appropriate in the context of their home classrooms. TIEs would like to encourage teachers going abroad in any country to do so with the mindset of learning from the local educators. Consider it a type of professional development!


Learn more about our current project in Nepal!

Maybe We Could Learn Something Too: The “Two-Way” Approach To Teaching Abroad

The kids were just sitting there….listening to the teacher. 5-year-olds, sitting in a circle without fidgeting, playing with their neighbors, or talking over the teacher. I had never seen a more focused, attentive group of kindergartners in my life than when I observed this Nepali classroom.

When I taught kindergarten in the U.S., my co-teachers and I had a bag of tricks we would constantly have to pull from to get the kids to focus. Praise one student for his or her good behavior to motivate others to do the same (“I like how Tommy is sitting”). Pause until the students realize you’re waiting on them (“I’m going to wait until everyone is ready”). However, pulling from this bag of behavior management tricks always used precious classroom time and interrupted the flow of the lesson.

This Nepali kindergarten teacher, on the other hand, wasn’t using class time to get her students’ attention back – she never lost their attention in the first place! As a result, she could spend class time doing something that feels more and more foreign to U.S. teachers: she could actually teach.

_MG_4332This particular Nepali school is clearly doing something right. Maybe this attentiveness comes from the meditation they practice regularly in school. Or maybe it’s the fact that moral education, a type of character development, is one of the founding principles of the school and even part of the curriculum at the elementary level. Perhaps it is tied to the Nepali culture, or some mix of all these factors. No matter the cause, it is clear that U.S. teachers have something they can learn here. But unfortunately, many “Teach Abroad” programs only focus on how much teachers in developing countries need training from Westerners, not what Westerners might learn from them.

Now I’m not saying every school in Nepal has students this attentive, nor am I saying that Nepali teachers wouldn’t benefit from collaborating with Western teachers. But I am saying that it is arrogant of us and disempowering to the country to assume that we have nothing to learn from them. That’s why it is so important that teach abroad programs take the “Two-Way” approach: the expectation of professional growth must be mutual.

_MG_5219Teach abroad programs advertise “eye-opening” and “life-changing” experiences, but often don’t implement specific program activities for the volunteers to learn from local professionals in a formal setting. What TIEs with Teachers aims to do differently is provide structured opportunities for both groups to listen to and learn from each other. Both groups will observe each other teach and provide feedback, both groups will lead professional development trainings, and both groups will participate in co-planning sessions and discussion groups to share their teaching insight.

I encourage development workers in any field to take the “Two-Way” approach. You might be surprised at how much you grow professionally.

5 Reasons International Volunteers Should Co-Teach

As today is International Volunteer Day, TIEs would like to make a recommendation to anyone considering volunteer teaching abroad:

Co-teach with the local teachers, rather than teach your own classes.

Co-teaching is a beautiful thing. By definition, it means collaboration and teamwork. But in my experience, co-teaching is under-utilized in teach abroad programs in developing countries. Volunteers without much teaching experience will certainly benefit from the guidance and expertise of a local co-teacher, but even experienced teachers should co-teach when they go abroad. Here’s why:

1. Co-teaching doesn’t displace local teachers. If you teach your own class during regular school hours, you are taking instructional time away from the regular classroom teacher. Ask any teacher with a curriculum to get through – they don’t have time to spare. Co-teaching will support the local teachers’ work, instead of making it harder for them to do.

2. Co-teaching ensures culturally-appropriate instruction. Every culture has its own learning preferences and norms for education. You can learn what these are.by collaborating with a local professional. Otherwise, you may be imposing your own ideals of education. Remember: you’re there to support the schools, not make their culture more like yours.

3. Co-teaching prevents “learning loss”. When a volunteer leaves after teaching his or her own class for several weeks or months, what happens next? The students may lose what they learned because there is no one there to build upon it. Having a local partner solves this problem.

4. Co-teaching is professional development. All teachers bring their own strengths to the classroom – why keep these to ourselves? Co-teaching allows teachers to grow professionally by sharing their expertise, particularly when planning lessons together. Younger, less experienced teachers should seek to learn from a mentor through a teaching assistant role.

5. Co-teaching develops intercultural competence. In today’s global society, we need to know how to successfully interact with people of backgrounds different from our own. Collaborating with a peer from a different country helps you develop this skill.

Sharing control of a classroom can be challenging for many teachers. That’s why TIEs will conduct regular check-ins with our co-teaching pairs. With proper support, co-teaching has the power to achieve long-term, sustainable improvements in education. Before you go abroad to teach, check to see if the organization offers opportunities to co-teach with the local teachers. It’s the responsible way to volunteer teach abroad!

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3 Organizations to Give to on Giving Tuesday

Today is Giving Tuesday — the national day of giving founded in 2012 as a response to the consumerism of other post-Thanskgiving holidays. In honor of this day, TIEs would like to shine a spotlight on three organizations that we believe are doing great work. Consider celebrating “Giving Tuesday” by giving to one of them!

Next Generation Nepal

Website: nextgenerationnepal.org

Donations Page: nextgenerationnepal.org/Donate_Online

Next Generation Nepal is an organization that works to unite trafficked children in Nepal with their families. They provide temporary care and education for the children while seeking the families. Once the children return, they continue to monitor the situation to provide support and prevent re-trafficking. An exciting thing about this organization is that they actively speak out against voluntourism in orphanages, as it can cause psychological problems for the children and it may actually promote further child trafficking. They have written an amazing set of guidelines for ethical volunteering, which TIEs aims to follow when establishing our own volunteer placements.

Moving Worlds

Website: movingworlds.org

Moving Worlds is an organization dedicated to connecting skilled volunteers with social impact organizations that could benefit from their particular skill set. They call this type of volunteering “Experteering”, and you can find out more about how it works in their video. TIEs is a big fan of “Experteering”, as we utilize expert volunteers ourselves to improve education in the U.S. and Nepal. Why not celebrate this “Giving Tuesday” by making a plan to give your expertise somewhere — and do it with Moving Worlds!

Mindful Life Project

Website: mindfullifeproject.org

Donations Pagemindfullifeproject.org/support-our-work

Mindful Life Project is an organization in Richmond, California that works to empower at-risk students through mindfulness activities such therapeutic yoga, art, and performing arts. They conduct programs in schools in low-income communities to help students build confidence, self-awareness, and self-control. TIEs is particularly interested in this type of work because mindfulness is a founding principle of our partner school in Nepal, and we hope for our American teacher participants to gain new ideas about mindfulness that they can apply back in their own classrooms.


If someone on your gift list this holiday season doesn’t need more “stuff” in their life, consider making a donation in their name instead! Happy “Giving Tuesday” everyone!

-TIEs team

Responsible Voluntourism: More than Just Good Intentions

I was fresh out of college, and I wanted to travel and do something good for the world, so I came up with the idea that I should teach in developing countries. I had no teaching degree and little classroom experience, but that didn’t matter – there were numerous “voluntourism” programs that would accept me despite my lack of qualifications.

teaching pic 1Voluntourism is a form of travel where tourists participate in short-term volunteer projects such as building libraries, working in orphanages, or teaching – often without regard to their skills and experience in these fields.  As a voluntourist, I taught English in developing communities.  Sometimes I taught alongside local teachers, but other times I was given my own classes during regular school hours, which meant I was taking instructional time away from local professional teachers.

I remember showing up to classrooms to teach and watching as the local teacher stepped out.  I think I told myself then that this was permissible because it was a rare opportunity for the kids to learn English from a “native” speaker.  But I learned the truth behind this misconception the hard way: native-speaker status alone does not make a good language teacher – training and experience do.  There were times when our group of voluntourist teachers stood by helplessly as 30+ students ran around the room because we lacked classroom management skills.

_MG_5203There were local teachers with more classroom experience than us (and certainly more cultural insight about the students) who spoke at least some level of English.  Were we really more qualified to teach the class than them?  At the very least, we should have co-taught more with these local professionals.  I started to wonder what message we were sending – that inexperienced Westerners were capable of running their own classes in these schools?  Would the reverse ever take place, where inexperienced foreigners were given their own classes in U.S. schools?

The impact of placing inexperienced volunteers in lead-teacher positions may be deeper than just a poorly-managed classroom.  While our intentions were good, I fear we were perpetuating a class system that positions Westerners as more competent, capable individuals solely because we come from developed countries.  After meeting talented educators in the developing world, I know that this is just not true.

_MG_5189Undeniably, there is some good that occurs when inexperienced Westerners volunteer in developing countries, particularly in terms of the impact on the voluntourists themselves.  In an article by Sam Blackledge, he describes a volunteer whose experience in Uganda inspired a masters dissertation on gay rights in that country.  My own experiences inspired me to pursue a masters in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (which helped me realize how little I actually knew when I was volunteer teaching).  But if helping well-intentioned yet inexperienced people get a foot in the door of development work is the goal, it should be done responsibly by giving them assistantship roles, such as a teaching assistant alongside a local teacher, rather than positions of leadership.

TIEs with Teachers takes a different approach to volunteer teaching abroad by emphasizing two things: skilled volunteers and professional collaboration.  First, we actively seek volunteers who are experienced K-12 teachers.  Second, we never want a scenario to occur where a foreign teacher enters a classroom and the local teacher steps out.  Sustainable improvement in education must be a collaborative effort between both groups.  Our American volunteers will co-plan and co-teach lessons with the local teachers in the host country – not as a mentor/mentee relationship, but as equals who come together to exchange ideas.  This approach empowers all parties involved by valuing them for the expertise they bring to the classroom.  And by meeting as equals, neither group imposes their own ideals of how education should be.  Instead, we can co-construct a future for what education can become.

What are your thoughts on voluntourism?  TIEs would love to hear what you think in the comments below!

“More than the seeing of sights”

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”

– Mary Ritter Beard, U.S. Historian, Archivist & Women’s Sufferage Activist

I would like to start this post by thanking the community of our partner school in Lalitpur, Nepal.  In the weeks Sammy, Edward, and I spent there for TIEs with Teachers’ planning trip, I can honestly say we did not feel like tourists.  We got to know so many students, staff, and parents.  People invited us to their homes for meals, took us to places not listed in any guidebook, and asked us to participate in intimate holiday traditions.  We made genuine friendships and had fascinating conversations.  It got to the point where every time we walked through the town square, we would run into someone we knew.  I can’t express what an amazing feeling this is.


Family doing tikasI want to encourage everyone reading this to try this kind of travel – travel that makes me think of Mary Ritter Beard’s line, “more than the seeing of sights”.  It’s different from what many of us are used to, and much more difficult to arrange – it often requires a personal connection with someone in the host country or a work/volunteer opportunity.  But when you do it, you will actually participate in the local culture, rather than just observe from the outside.  And like Beard says, it will cause a “deep and permanent” change in your way of thinking.


teachers with posterFor me, this change in thinking occurred in my views of education.  By working in schools abroad and collaborating with foreign educators, I have gained new ideas about classroom management and how to build a sense of school community, and I have come to appreciate the role of culture in how students learn (more about this in future posts!).


TIEs exists to provide teachers with opportunities for this kind of travel.  However, I encourage people in any profession to go abroad and do more than just see the sights.  Collaborate with foreigners in your professional field.  Stay with a host family or a contact you have in a foreign country.  Volunteer or work abroad.  Because when you do this, you will come home with more than just photographs and a bag of souvenirs – you will return with new “ideas of living”.

Happy Tihar!

Students and teachers came to school dressed in traditional Nepali attire for a day of song and dance performances, painting, and games to kick off the 5-day Hindu festival of Tihar!

Tihar is a holiday to pay respect to gods, animals, and even one’s own body.  Our partner school’s commencement ceremony incorporated traditions from multiple Nepali ethnic groups (a great way to celebrate cultural diversity in school!).

In the tradition of the Bahunchettri caste, students sang Deusi Bhailo, a playful song urging teachers to contribute gifts to a straw plate which they carried around the school.  These gifts are usually fruit or money (the money is later donated to a nonprofit or to an extracurricular program).  This tradition seems to really set a good example of giving and altruism for the kids.

In the Newari caste tradition, students performed a ritual called Maha Puja.  First, students sat cross-legged and drew mandalas — intricate patterns made with colored powders and flower petals.  They then lit candles and made offerings to their mandalas with items such as traditional foods.  This act represents a form of inner, or “self”, worship.

Follow TIEs blog to hear more updates about Tihar!  And check out our gallery of the gorgeous mandalas created by the students on the school’s courtyard and other Tihar festivities!

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Natural Disaster Control Day

The word on the street in Lalitpur, Nepal is “Prepare, Be Aware”, “Drop, Cover, Hold,” and “Prepare Before Earthquake, Make Your Life Safe”! Students enthusiastically carried these hand-crafted signs to and from the town square as their school held a march for Natural Disaster Control Day.

The march is an innovative way to give kids an outside-the-classroom application of things they are learning in class. Back at the school, students demonstrated how to “Drop, Cover, Hold” during a skit to teach earthquake safety measures to their classmates. Both the march and the performance were prepared in collaboration with volunteers from ENPHO, a local environmental NGO.

These activities were a great way to turn a dry topic like earthquake safety into an engaging, memorable experience. Follow the TIEs blog to hear more innovative teaching ideas from Nepal!



The Tika Ritual

On the tenth day of the 15-day long Dashain Festival, Nepali families prepare a plate with a beautiful array of colors: orange, yellow, and black powders, green blades of grass, red and white ribbons, and a sticky red substance made from rice grains and yogurt.  These items each have a role in the beautiful and intimate Dashain ritual of “Tikas”.

One by one, the family members approach an elder to receive this ritual.  The elder dabs the colored powders onto their foreheads and places the Tika itself (the thick clump of red-dyed rice grains).  Afterward, the elder gives small gifts such as fruits, sweets, or Nepali rupees, along with the blades of grass called “jamara” (which the family members tuck behind their ears).  Jamara is planted on the first day of Dashain and by the 10th day has grown up to six inches tall.  Finally, the elder wraps the red and white ribbons around their necks.

The items in this ritual all come together to create a blessing of good health, fortune, and future.  The red color of the Tika itself represents the blood that bonds the family, a perfect symbol for a ritual that brings the whole family together and strengthens family ties.

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