When Amanda Wood boarded a plane to student-teach in Costa Rica for Spring 2012, she had every intention of returning to United States to begin her teaching career in the fall.
Instead, she fell in love with the people and culture of Latin America. The day after graduating in May, she accepted a two-year teaching contract at a school in Mexico, where she says she learns just as much as she teaches.
"These people have helped me to see how intricate and multi-faceted the world can be," Wood said.
The life-changing experience was made possible by the highly competitive Consortium for Overseas Student Teaching, which is only offered in 15 schools in the United States. Eastern Illinois University -- the only participating university in Illinois -- sends as many as 10 students around the world each year.
When she first applied to the COST program, Wood had only been out of the country once -- to Niagara Falls, Canada.
COST Informational Meetings
Monday, Oct. 15
- 3 p.m. - 2439 Buzzard Hall
Tuesday, Oct. 16
- 1 p.m. - 2160 Buzzard Hall
- 2 p.m. - 2160 Buzzard Hall
Wednesday, Oct. 17
- 11 a.m. - 2444 Buzzard Hall
- 7 p.m. - 2440 Buzzard Hall
Thursday, Oct. 18
- 11 a.m. - 2439 Buzzard Hall
- Noon - 2430 Buzzard Hall
Friday, Oct. 19
- 2 p.m. - 2439 Buzzard Hall
"I had never thought that I would be brave enough to dedicate two years of my life to another country that did not have hot water or Reese’s cups, but that changed at about mid-February last semester, when I was really able to embrace the culture entirely," Wood said. "My life changed completely in Costa Rica, and it immensely opened my eyes to opportunity and chances."
She taught at Pan-American School, right outside of San Jose, Costa Rica, where students ranged from being the children of teachers, to the children of famous athletes, to the grandchildren of ex-Costa Rican presidents. The international school's student body also included students from South Korea, Ireland, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina and the United States.
Looking beyond the distractions of sickness, poverty and drug cartels in Costa Rica, Wood quickly recognized the potential in each person and the impact her efforts could make.
"I feel like a member of the human race more than ever," Wood said. "I got out of my small corner of the world, and I was able to meet people from every walk of life. I believe that that has made me a much more loving, spiritual and open-minded person."
Conversely, she has also helped break down stereotypes people from other countries hold about Americans.
"Being in Latin America, I have encountered many strange questions about my country, culture and lifestyle," Wood said.
"These questions have mostly given me a reason to reflect on my acceptance of others and the acceptance of myself. This internal trait is an extremely important quality for a teacher to possess."
When Wood wasn't at school or at home with her host family, she and her fellow international student-teachers traveled the country together, exploring beaches, walking in the rainforest and even climbing a volcano via a lava-rock path. On weekday evenings, they would often head to local hotspots to bond with the locals.
Before Wood had even earned her bachelor's degree in English in May 2012, she had job interviews with schools in Singapore, China, Morocco and Mexico. She's now settled in as a member of the faculty at Colegio Americano de Torreon, in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico, where she teaches 10th-grade English, 10th-grade SAT composition, and ninth-grade theater.
After she completes her two-year contract in Mexico, she might choose to pursue other international-teaching options. Some countries that pique her interest include Argentina, Singapore and Spain.
Wood's life-altering experience is seen time and time again in EIU's COST participants, said James Kestner, chair of the EIU Department of Student Teaching and Clinical Services.
“We seem to accept so many practices without question, and student-teaching abroad often puts students in places with very different views," Kestner said. "What I see in returning candidates is a great deal of confidence. The experience proves to the students that they are ready to take on the challenges of teaching, wherever and whatever they are.”
Wood said she is forever grateful.
"Because the COST program was willing to take a chance on me, a small-town girl from central Illinois, I am able to go out and genuinely experience (and change) the world," Wood said. "I have come into contact with some of the most wonderful people that I have ever met in my life through my travels here, and I would not take them back for anything. I thank God every day for the chance I was given to participate in such a wonderful program."