Erika Weber was an English Language Fellow from 2015-2016 in La Paz, Mexico at the Secretary of Education Publica, Baja California Sur. During her fellowship, she developed important language, personal, and professional skills that enriched her life and helped catapult her career once she returned to the United States.
Erika’s primary project was English teacher training for kindergarten through eighth grade. Once she arrived in Mexico and began working with teachers, she discovered the need for a mentor program. “I was working with a new teacher who confessed she was nervous to start without any guidance or prior experience. I found experienced teachers and asked them to help. With resources from my Regional English Language Officer (RELO), I researched and created a mentorship program manual to guide the year. Participants worked collaboratively to guide one another through their first or second year of elementary school English teaching,” Erika said. “I have always viewed education as a shared experience. As educators we inspire each other—it was amazing to be able to help teachers connect with each other and grow together. I had been a mentee at the beginning of my career, and now I was the person who was guiding the mentors!”
Creating this mentorship program, along with Erika’s experiences training teachers of English, helped Erika develop her own professional skills in an exciting new environment. “I gained insights into another culture, and some of these lessons and ideas came from the teachers I worked with. My RELO gave me invaluable resources that I can use to help train teachers in the States. Now when people hear of my experiences, I get many requests to speak and lead seminars.”
Back home in Philadelphia, Erika has been “catapulted to a new level in the global education and English education spheres. I think of things in terms of ‘before my fellowship’ and ‘after my fellowship.’ Now I am not just the teacher who attends conferences, but the teacher who leads and presents.”
Erika now works in a specialized position teaching science to Spanish-speaking immigrant students. Although language skills are not a requirement for Fellow applicants, selected Fellows often choose to study languages spoken in their host country before and during their fellowship. In Erika’s case, her Spanish skills flourished in Mexico, a perk that helps her now that she is back in the United States. “With the Spanish speaking skills that I was able to learn in Mexico, I am now able to teach science in Spanish and have parent conferences in Spanish. I wanted to be able to help people—and with a second language, I can do that better.”
During Erika’s fellowship, she attended a regional conference in Peru. One of the highlights of her time abroad was visiting Machu Picchu. “We also went whale watching and I actually got to pet a wild, baby whale! The fellowship has a lot of opportunity to travel and to learn about language and culture. Not only did I get to travel with my host institution throughout our state for work, we got to do things like swimming at gorgeous beaches, eating traditional foods, learning local arts and dances, and relaxing.”
Beside these cultural outings, what’s one of the main things Erika misses from Mexico? “Fish tacos! There is nothing better than when a fisherman catches a fresh marlin out of the Sea of Cortez and fries it up!”
Erika’s determination to make the most of her ten months in Mexico made an important impact on her host institution and her own self-outlook. “I am a much more confident individual, and I see myself as someone who is a change maker who helps people overcome obstacles along their chosen path. A lot of times with teaching it takes years for you to see the impact of your work, but with the structure of the program, the focused partnering of Fellows to projects, and the resources available, Fellows are set up to succeed—and we do!” Erika describes her fellowship as “world-expanding. My fellowship expanded my world with language, professional contacts, skills, new relationships, new travel experiences, and a new confidence to take on larger professional tasks that help my community in Philadelphia.”