Teaching internationally in the age of COVID-19

Published: Apr. 26, 2020 at 4:36 PM EDT
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Christina Brown is a teacher, a Christian and somewhat of a globetrotter. After earning a bachelor’s degree in intercultural studies from Crown College, Brown moved to Indonesia to teach English at a private Christian school with a friend from college.

She taught there for five years before heading to Scotland and the University of Glasgow for her master’s degree in educational studies. Having earned a graduate degree, Brown went back to Indonesia to work at another school, Mountain View, where she’s been working for the past couple of years.

“I felt like God wanted me to go back and teach at a different school. So I ended up at the school Mountain View, in a different area of Indonesia,” said Brown.

She teaches English to “advanced” students, so she mainly uses English while teaching. She won’t say that she’s fluent, but she can hold her own while speaking the Indonesian language.

Brown says it's fairly cheap to travel around Indonesia, so she's gotten to see a lot of it while living and working there.

“I really really love Indonesia as a country. For one thing it’s really beautiful,” said Brown. “I love in Indonesia they are really centered on community and family. They place really high value on those things and I just think there’s a lot to learn as a westerner from that and about having those kind of values.”

She sees similar values reflected in her school. She says she sees more opportunity for community there, and not just because it’s a private school.

“Everyone is very close. Teachers are allowed and able to get close to students and really help them with the problems that they’re facing in life,” said Brown.

When she’s in Indonesia, Brown lives in the dorms at Mountain View with students and fellow teachers.

“There are some students I see literally every day, even on Sundays,” said Brown. “The school really is my home there.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mountain View has sent it’s students and teachers away. Seizing the opportunity to return home and visit her sick mother, Brown is still teaching her Indonesian students from Marietta, Ohio. She doesn’t usually lecture, but she frequently meets with students in groups or one on one over Zoom.

“It just kind of depend on what’s needed. Sometimes my students have a lot of questions. So, I have to just kind of be available, sitting next to my phone or my laptop, typing out comments, giving some help, responding to emails, stuff like that,” said Brown.

Due to her station, Brown has some odd work hours. She’s often up past midnight working with students.

“Mostly I’ve been working in the evenings because that would be their morning,” said Brown.

Brown says she has to be somewhat flexible with student deadlines because she’s not the only one working from the other side of the planet. When Mountain View sent its students home, many of them returned to other corners of Indonesia and a few left the country.

“We have quite a large Korean group on our campus, so a lot of them have actually gone back to Korea,” said Brown.

There’s even a few back in other parts of the United States.

“We’re very scattered right now,” said Brown. “So we have to be very flexible with due dates and those kinds of things.”

Brown teaches eighth grade students and eleventh grade students. Most of them are fluent English speakers; having learned at home or through the school system. But she helps them hone their writing skills.

Eighth and eleventh grades are pretty different age groups, and Brown says she takes a slightly different approach to each group.

“My eleventh graders keep my mind very much active, getting them to critically think about things, dive deeper, and I get into really deep discussions with some of them,” said Brown. “My eighth graders, they keep me very silly and light at heart.”

While Brown is separated from her students, she says there are nuances and challenges to teaching from another part of the world.

“I think one of the big things for me is when I realize a student is struggling, and there’s just not as much that I can do to help them. As much as technology is helpful, and it allows us to bridge gaps, it just can’t do everything. There’s just not a good substitute for the kid who is struggling to have them sit in your classroom, to sit next to them and walk with them through some of their assignments,” said Brown.

Being a Christian school, Mountain View holds chapel every Sunday, which Brown has been able to teach through. The school has even been able to hold virtual chapel while students are away.

Brown says she is also able to teach biblical lessons in her own classroom.

“That’s really important for us, to share God’s truth through the different subjects and things. So, whether it’s English or Math or P.E. or something like that, we really try to incorporate ‘what does God have to say about this?’ or ‘what can we learn more about this subject by looking at God’s word,” said Brown. “I think it’s amazing to be able to stand in front of a classroom of students and freely talk about my relationship with the Lord and share with them what the Bible says.”

For those wondering, Brown says Indonesia officially recognizes six of the world’s major religions, including Christianity. However, they are the most densely Muslim country in the world.

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