Maria Hoffman on Student Teaching Aborad

NMU Student Teachers Abroad: An Interview with
Maria Hoffman

Maria Hoffman

Meet Maria

I am from Otsego, Michigan (a little town right outside of Kalamazoo, Michigan). I am studying Secondary Education with a concentration in Spanish and a minor in English, and I will be graduating in May 2013. In my free time I like to run, rock climb, bike, ski, surf, do “artsy things,” and I especially love traveling (nothing is more exciting than seeking new places to explore!). I am currently teaching at the International School of Sosúa, which is located on the north coast of the Dominican Republic.

What drew you to the idea of teaching abroad?

I wanted to student teach abroad to challenge myself. To me, the idea of staying local was not enough of a challenge because I really wanted to seek an opportunity that would not only benefit me as a professional, but as a person as well.

Why did you choose the Dominican Republic?

I chose this country because I studied abroad here a year ago, and I fell in love with the people, the landscape, and the Caribbean climate. 

How did you find an assignment abroad?

I did the research on my own. Since I lived in the country in the summer of 2012, I met a lot of people who went the International School of Sosúa even though I was studying in a city about an hour away. I checked out the school, and it was a very organized and fairly easy process to get placed here.

How long is your teaching assignment?

I arrived the first week of January, and I will be teaching for a total of 16 weeks.

Maria Hoffman


What subjects do you teach, and how many students do you have?

I work in the Spanish as a Second Language classrooms for grades 6-12, and I also work with Grade 6 English. I have a total of about 40 students who are from Russia, Canada, the U.S, and South Africa, but the school has students from over 20 different countries. The north coast is very international - it's pretty cool. 


Why is there such a large international student body in Sosúa?

They are attending this particular school because it is the best in the area, and students can graduate with both a Dominican high school diploma and a US diploma, giving them more opportunities for college, etc. Additionally, students can take AP classes, the SAT, etc. here! 

How does instruction compare with the U.S.?

Instruction is relatively the same because my school is an international school that follows U.S. curriculum. The only difference is that students are required to take Spanish and Sociales (Dominican Social Studies).

Maria HoffmanWhat is your teaching schedule?

I work Monday-Friday from 8 am to 3 pm, 6 periods a day with one to two prep hours each day.

From start to finish, what does a typical day look like for you? 

I wake up around 6:30; leave for school around 7:30; begin school at 8; teach all day with lunch at 12:30; either tutor after school or go home at 3; occasionally grocery shop after school; run, go to the beach to relax, or plan upon arriving home; Skype with friends or visit with friends in town; cook dinner; sleep at 10 pm.

What is your favorite part of the day?

I do not believe there is one part of the day that I can designate as my “favorite.” I honestly love everything I do here, so all of my days are equally as wonderful.

In general, what are the most notable differences between Dominican and U.S. culture or daily life? 

Toilet paper goes in the garbage, electricity goes out at least every other day (then the generators kick in), not always hot water, lunch is the largest meal of the day, I travel everywhere by “motoconcho” (a type of motorcycle taxi more or less), poor internet signal always, greetings, cat calls by men, etc.

What has been the most rewarding moment or experience for you since you arrived?

My most rewarding experience has been seeing my SSL students give a presentation in Spanish for the entire school for the school’s Independence Day celebration. They used skills learned in class and were so brave speaking in front of all native speakers of Spanish. Afterwards, they couldn’t stop talking about how well they did, and I was extremely proud.

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you or that you have observed thus far?

The funniest thing I have observed outside of class is seeing people carry items as large as mattresses on their motos (scooter/motorcycles), and the funniest thing in class has been watching a video project made by my grade 12 students in Spanish or hearing my grade 6 Russian students use “street vocabulary” in class without knowing what it means (generally swear words, which should not be funny, but it is so hard not to laugh about it, as it is said with the most innocent of intentions!).

What is the biggest challenge you face (or have faced) as a student teacher abroad?

My biggest challenge, initially, was leaving all my friends and family, and living alone. I have always had a roommate, so living alone was difficult. Additionally, living in a new town was hard, as I had to orient myself quickly in order to survive. With regard to teaching, my biggest challenge was teaching to students who are both second language learners of Spanish and English. I had to learn some Russian to work with them!

Maria HoffmanWhat are your plans for after you finish student teaching? 

I plan to return to Marquette to graduate, and I will return to the DR at the end of the summer.

What advice do you have for other students who are exploring the possibility of teaching abroad? 

Make sure you know what you are and are not capable of, and I think it is best to go if you have already had an experience abroad. Going abroad for the first time is a big challenge, as is student teaching, so with the two together it creates many obstacles. Students thinking about student teaching abroad should also to remember to not go into it with the expectations that the school systems will match those of the United States. We have been trained for U.S. schools, but teaching abroad is a very unique experience; the country’s culture should be respected, and student teachers need to learn the interests of students living in that country.


Created: May 1, 2013