Updated: Mar 26
"They don't move away and leave the community. They come back and they stay. And they make change. I wanted to go abroad, and live abroad, and work abroad [but] if I just leave my country, life is still going on back there." (Amy, Episode 32)
Amy Hoang is yet another lovely person whom my friend Irene (from episode 4) put me in touch with back in the fall, when I asked her for potential guest recommendations. I know a lot of teachers personally and have interviewed a few of them for this very podcast, but Amy specializes in teaching the littlest of the little ones—infants and toddlers! Though she wandered into that career path unexpectedly, when she decided to explore it in earnest, her studies took her abroad.
While a student at San Francisco State University, Amy's friend hooked her up with a job building literacy among children. It was a year-long position that also counted for course credits, and by the time she needed to choose a major, she realized surprisingly that she already had three or four classes under her belt that related to child development. So she figured "why not?", applied to join the child development major, and was admitted. Right before learning of her admission, Amy had taken a spring break trip to Seoul, South Korea with friends and had amazing time. She wanted to go back and was also interested in studying abroad, and eventually she found a suitable program in Korea that would allow her to take child development classes there, and that was what convinced her to accept her admission into the child development major at SF State.
A year later Amy was back in Seoul, studying at Chung-Ang University for the spring semester. Her return wasn't without one significant hiccup, however. Chung-Ang wouldn't be offering any child development courses in English that semester, and the next closest focus area was social welfare. And though she didn't have experience in that field, she was in too deep at this point to not go with the flow. Surely this temporary challenge would yield new and helpful insight. Plus she was still going to Korea, after all! (Extra plus, her advisor would later sign her off so that those social welfare courses applied toward her major anyway, allowing her to graduate the year she wanted to graduate!)
In Seoul she took four courses, and also earned a stipend working 12 hours a week at the university's English lounge and Korean language school office. Her courses were on Korean language, Korean sociology, gerontology, and she had another course that focused on American cultural phenomena. In this last course, Amy was especially intrigued by her Korean classmates' perspectives and how their opinions on the subject matter reflected and/or countered Korean social norms. To a certain extant, the class also kept her aware of current events back home, preventing her from being completely enfolded in a study abroad bubble, so to speak. Overall, Amy feels that she grew more personally than academically during that time. It was her first time spending that much time in another country without family, and in everyday ways she was pushed out of her comfort zone: doing more things solo, having to talk to people when she needed help, etc. Ultimately, it was all the new friends she made while studying at Chung-Ang that made the difference. She formed bonds with fellow international students whom she's still close with to this day.
Post-graduation, Amy was working as an infant educator for nearly a year when she saw an email about an upcoming annual honors program trip to South Africa. Every year SF State's department of child and adolescent development took a group of faculty and students to volunteer in support of early learning centers in Cape Town. Figuring this would be a beneficial way to become more knowledgeable in her field as well as spend a summer abroad, and since she was still considered a recent graduate, she applied to join the trip. Her cohort arrived in Cape Town in May 2017. In collaboration with a local non-profit called True North, Amy and her fellow students spent four days a week alternating between two schools and helping South African teachers with their classes of 0 to 5 year olds.
Make worthwhile change
Since True North's aim was to help these early learning centers receive government funding via becoming licensed, Amy and her cohort were meant to facilitate teacher development in addition to providing classroom support. But both the local teachers and the volunteers came away from that summer having learned something. Amy recalls a teacher who, accustomed to rushing to feed her large number of students during snack and meal times, was nearly moved to tears when she saw volunteers patiently assisting the children in feeding themselves. And for her part, Amy was astounded to witness that all a certain teacher had to do was lay the children down and cover them with blankets for them to fall asleep at nap time, not needing to use soothing methods like Amy was accustomed to doing in the States.
Among other cultural insights, Amy fondly remembers the sense of community and appreciation that people seemed to have for each other in South Africa. In the two schools, everybody's work was appreciated and people prioritized giving useful positive feedback to each other. And while at the time she was considering leaving the States to seek greener pastures abroad, touring Langa township and learning that many of the most upwardly mobile people from that township return home to make worthwhile change in their community planted a seed in her mind, a seed which led to her staying and continuing to teach in the Bay (at least for now).
Amy not only continues to teach but continues to travel as well, setting her sights on Europe this year after having visited multiple locales in Asia. No matter where she goes, whether domestically or internationally, she always keeps her eyes and taste buds open for a good cup of coffee. Amy can be found on Instagram (@ahoa_abroad) or on her blog (ahoaabroad.wordpress.com).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Nap, Snack, Pat on the Back (SEOUL/CAPE TOWN)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
CAU International (IG)
Danielle G. is the creator and host of Young, Gifted and Abroad. You can find her other writings at DeelaSees.com.