Michelle Norby had never traveled abroad, but after spotting a campus meeting flyer for teaching international students, she was interested.
She had always wanted to do missionary work, and this would be a good start for a math major for high school in Grand Canyon University. She asked College of Education Dean Dr Meredith Critchfield for a recommendation.
Critchfield is excited about GCU students teaching abroad — and GCU’s Global Canyon educators, who work with international partnerships to place student teachers in English-speaking Christian schools.
“I taught abroad in Kenya, and it changed the course of my life,” Critchfield said. “When you teach in another country, you eliminate the fancy teaching strategies that you learn in your curriculum and just focus on building relationships with the kids.”
Norby got the job and found herself on her way to Senegal in West Africa.
“I didn’t even know Senegal was a country,” she says. “It was scary.”
But the fear faded shortly after landing in Dakar.
“It wasn’t the culture shock I expected,” she said. “It’s very community driven and random people are always helping you out. There, you can count on people to help you fix a flat tire. In America, we can be very individualistic.
She also grew in her faith, relying on the Lord for strength, she said, while navigating the capital and making new friends in a new place while beginning to teach at the Dakar Academy.
The experience was so meaningful to her that the May 2021 GCU graduate is going back. She was due to start on August 17 as a full-time mathematics teacher at the Dakar Academy. And she has brought along her new husband, GCU student Andrew Norby, who will be teaching physical education at the school while he studies online.
She really wanted to go back to Africa after she finished teaching students, returned to the United States and took a job in Texas public schools. After one semester, she concluded that students valued education in Senegal more, striving to do their best to be able to go to university.
“In America college is given to a lot of kids. It was hard to teach in America where the kids don’t want to be there,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to come back. I love everything about it. I love the mission side. I love teaching in a Christian school.
Canyon Global Educators is a growing area at GCU. New teaching heads Dr. Shawna Martino and Amy Schwartz working with partner organizations, such as the Network of Christian Schools International (NICS), to help place students in schools in Senegal, Peru, Bolivia, Germany, Kosovo and Thailand, among others.
“Several students have had the opportunity to go abroad each semester, and each student has returned inspired and forever changed by their experience,” Schwartz said. “Many of these students received job offers to teach full-time at their international schools, and all felt blessed by the opportunity.”
Norby convinced her fiancé to fly to Senegal to see if he would like to live there, and he loved it. It’s the kind of place where coworkers invite you to discover their village for a weekend.
So, after getting married in June, they moved to the countryside in July and enjoy a trendy apartment, a bustling city and a modern campus. This is not the Africa she expected.
The school specializes in teaching the children of missionaries and other international students.
“Families who have to go out and serve in the jungle, we’re giving their children a good American education,” said Norby, who will teach five math classes.
She recommends teaching international students – if nothing more than to learn about the world and other cultures.
Critchfield says it can add relationship-building skills. A teacher can learn to communicate in new languages or in other ways.
“What’s so special about teaching abroad is that it forces the teacher to peel back the layers and understand the essence of why we’re teaching – and that’s to make a difference in a child’s life.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
More information: College of Education students interested in teaching international students can contact [email protected]
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