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Teaching English in a tropical paradise. Impossibly possible.

Teaching English in a tropical paradise.         Impossibly possible.

The Marshall Islands is an exotic environment. I can say the same about teaching the English language on the islands. 

It’s been a couple of months since I started to teach at the local college. It has its pros and cons, but mostly endless opportunities and benefits too. I have gained new skills and discovered a lot about myself, teaching, and life itself. 

We’ve got the watches, however, they own the time

The main motto is not to panic. The peace, tranquility, chilled and relaxed atmosphere spread around the Pacific region. Everybody, students included, follows their own pace of life, their own time, and college is not the reason to make them hurry. Once, popular Slovak traveler and adventurer Martin Navrátil said “We’ve got the watches, however, they own the time”. That resembles the students’ approach to their studies pretty much. Kudos to the hard-working ones. 

It’s important to notice that the students pay the tuition in the Marshall Islands, and it’s not that cheap at all. However, there’s no guarantee if you pay the tuition fees to have an excellent education system with the best students willing to study. Everybody has the access to studies in the Marshall Islands thanks to the funds and scholarships. 

College of Marshall Islands
Panoramic drone view at the college campus. The ocean’s washing the beaches of campus. Source: cmi.edu

Massively financed education

Students get scholarship grants and the education system is massively supported by the US (similarly to almost the entire sphere of public life on islands). The best students who wish to achieve their goals continue in their studies at US universities. The majority is not that ambitious. They are satisfied and happy on their island. Western-wise, it’s an ideal paradise or utopia – to live on a remote abandoned tropical island, summer all year long, no duties…

However, I must admit and praise the ambitious projects of the student organizations which have a powerful word in their fight against climate change. They do a pretty good job here and can attract the attention of the authorities. The Marshall Islands are at risk of sea-level rise. They strive for building sustainable marine transportation using natural resources. Time will show how successfully.

CMI-graduation

The graduates getting ready for their graduation ceremony.Source: cmi.edu

How to motivate?

The motivation of the students is my biggest challenge. It is not an easy job for a teacher, however, neither an impossible task. I follow the motto of my constantly positive father who brought us up saying “Everything is doable, you just need to try your best”. And I took it to my heart! I do not accept the excuses “I can’t” or “I don’t know”. I apply the same philosophy to my students. Their motivation to study is deep below their primary life needs (to have a shelter above their heads, food). Even in the most difficult situations, the teacher must be the one who helps, guides, and finds the solution to their questions “How we’re gonna do that, Mr. Teacher?”. And that’s fine. It is hard, many times challenging, fortunately, there’s always a solution. And time constantly solves even “the most intricate” problem. 

It’s changing in time, at least financially. The students receive scholarship support, various funds, and grants. However, it has a negative impact – their motivation to study decreases even much more. Let me give you an example from this semester – all the students received very generous governmental “covid-relief” of “Uncle Sam”. The attendance of my students dropped rapidly by more than 50%! Frankly, if I were a student and received such money, I also would not know what to do and disappear. Time will show whether they come back. The real students stayed, “the earners” are cruising the island. They will come back again, however, maybe next semester. Perhaps, we know for what reason. 

CMI-happy marshallese-graduate
The unique joy and happiness of one of the graduates. Source: cmi.edu

We also have incredible ICT equipment, almost timeless. Any university could dream about the resources and the state-of-the-art technologies in our island college. We are developing more towards the interactive environment, documents cloud sharing, we just go paperless! Honestly, I’m enjoying it a lot. The IT support of our lecturing is limitless. After coming back to the islands, I was amazed by the chip-cards office door locks, classrooms PIN, and fingerprint door opening. I got mostly blown away with the chip contactless restroom-door opening. Fortunately, we don’t go paperless over there… 

It is fine

All-in-all, it is just fine. Do not panic stands for rule number one here. Just follow your goals to be safe. Yes, indeed, it is just maybe my defending mechanism to keep my spirits high. Your mindset is important, stay positive and try to get the most positives out of any situation to help all the parties involved. I learned to value the more unique student-teacher relationships. The teacher in the Pacific region is still considered the authority, somebody with powerful words even towards the parents. They trust the teachers, therefore, I strive my best to return the trust they have in me. It is a mutual relationship, balanced with all due respect for the ones involved. And thereby, it is just fine. 

me-and-marshallese-students

After the successful exam time, the students enjoy some treats with teachers too. Source: M.G

To teach in the Marshall Islands is not for unstable and weak personalities. As it’s used to say, you just need to have your nuts. Weaker characters could easily fail and run away. The lecturer at the college must be flexible to any unpredictable changes one cannot even imagine. It’s quite useful to respond promptly. Who doesn’t know, life will teach you, and the time shows. I have learned a lot at the university in Fiji, mostly about patience (but it’s another story to be continued). 

And what about you? Are you a patient teacher? What motivates you? Write in the comment section below. 

CMI graduation party
Cultural exhibition with traditional dances at the graduation ceremony. Source: cmi.edu
martin-gluchman-english-instructor-good-day-english
Martin Gluchman

I’m an English instructor for more than 12 years. I worked at the language institutes and universities in Slovakia, Fiji, China, and the Marshall Islands. My mission is to boost the language competencies of students. I love to motivate them to learn English naturally. English teaching is my hobby, not just a job.

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