Besides committing to a job, graduates can travel the world or teach abroad.
Life after graduation is supposed to be full of mundane responsibilities, a “big-kid” job and a general resignation to adult life, right?
For those Cal Poly students looking to take a different path, the options are vast. Graduates have gone on to teach English in foreign countries, travel the world or enroll in the Teach For America program, finding a passion in going outside the usual “get a job after graduation” formula.
Alumnus Scott Kjorlien graduated from Cal Poly in 2013 with a degree in anthropology and geography. Kjorlien now lives in Shenzhen, China, working at an internship with the international service and leadership organization International Association of Students in Economic and Commercial Sciences (AIESEC).
“I was pretty sure I wanted to go abroad and experience a new culture, not just because I’m fascinated by cultural differences, but also because I really wanted to challenge myself, push myself out of my comfort zone and try something brand new,” Kjorlien said in an email.
Kjorlien’s job for AIESEC is to help Chinese students prepare for the English language exams, which are required to enroll in graduate programs — a goal he works toward simply by talking with them.
“I work with them to improve their English speaking so they can do well on these exams,” he said. “In a sense, I’m a teacher, but it doesn’t really feel like it at all. In my day-to-day life, my job is to have conversations with highly motivated students who are essentially my Chinese counterparts.”
Another testament to Kjorlien’s commitment to pushing his boundaries is the fact that he chose to go to China, a place he knew little about upon arrival.
“I wanted to push myself as far as possible out of my comfortable little bubble known as (San Luis Obispo),” Kjorlien said. “I had to start completely from square one. When I came here, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I had no idea where I was, no clue what was around me, or even which way was north.”
Though an internship abroad may be seen as a one-time experience, Kjorlien said, he feels his is one which can last beyond his time with AIESEC.
“When I decided to go abroad, it felt like I was making a decision to put my life on hold to experience China, and then come back to my normal life six months later,” Kjorlien said. “The thing is, that’s not really how life works. I’ve found so many opportunities for my future while being abroad.”
For those with a passion for education, Teach For America has provided an opportunity to teach students of all levels while also giving back to the community. Alumnus Wyatt Oroke, who graduated in 2013 with a history degree, is currently teaching 8th grade in Baltimore, Md. through the program. Oroke said he started researching Teach For America his freshman year at Cal Poly, when a professor recommended it to him.
“I saw that (Teach For America) had a mission that I aligned myself to, and knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Oroke said. “Right now in our country, the majority of our children do not get an excellent education.”
Though Teach For America participants cannot select exactly where they end up teaching, they can choose a few preferred areas. Oroke said he chose Baltimore as one of his preferences because of the city’s opportunity for growth.
“Baltimore has one of the highest educational disparities, so I figured if I was doing a program with a mission, I might as well go somewhere I was needed,” Oroke said.
Oroke said his experience at Cal Poly lent itself to his current work in that Cal Poly’s “Learn by Doing” philosophy was an adequate preparation for the program.
“Teach For America also goes with that, it’s just ‘teach by teaching,’” Oroke said. “I was just thrown into teaching.”
The best part of his work, Oroke said, is developing close relationships with his students — but that is not to say teaching doesn’t come with challenges.
“Every single day is the most difficult day of my life,” Oroke said. “You are faced with a wide range of problems that you can’t even fathom.”
Ultimately, however, Oroke feels the difficulty is worth it to make a difference in his students’ lives.
“The alternative for these students would be that they would have a long-term (substitute) or not be getting individual attention in the classroom,” Oroke said. “Every student, regardless of where they’re born, deserves an excellent education.”
Cal Poly itself offers options for students looking for an adventure after graduation. By going through the Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) curriculum, students can prepare themselves to teach English to non-speakers, either in the United States or around the world.
“I think it’s one of Cal Poly’s best-kept secrets,” director of the TESL program and English professor John Battenburg said. “There are a lot of students who are interested, but we usually see about 15 students a year who actually go through with the TESL program.”
The way the TESL program works is similar to taking a minor, Battenburg said. Students complete a certain number of units in TESL-approved classes, which prepare them to teach English to non-speakers. After completing the program and graduating, there are a variety of ways graduates can use what they learn.
“It’s not really one specific program,” Battenburg said. “There’s a lot of options for students who want to teach English as a second language.”
These options, according to Battenburg, range from teaching for programs that exist solely to educate non-English-speakers, to getting into the public school system of another country, to teaching English at a private school.
Battenburg said he often sees students who develop interest in teaching English as a second language later in their academic careers, too late to enroll in all of the necessary units for TESL certification.
“I have a lot of students come to me their senior year and say ‘Oh, if only I’d have known,’ but I just tell them to get as much of the TESL coursework as they can at that point,” Battenburg said. “Something is better than nothing.”
Battenburg said from his perspective, teaching English abroad is really about the experience of traveling. Students who go through the TESL program and go on to teach in other countries sometimes reach out to him and tell about their experience.
“The ones I do hear from, they’re always thankful that we have this opportunity,” Battenburg said.
Whether Cal Poly graduates choose to teach in the United States or embark on an adventure abroad, there are plenty of opportunities for going off the beaten path.
“Working, traveling or studying abroad is an invaluable experience,” Kjorlien said. “If you have ever thought about spending time in another country, stop thinking about it and do it.”