Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey


Stephanie Farrell, TESOL Alumna

Stephanie Farrell

Give us a little biographic information about yourself.

I'm half-American and half-Japanese. I grew up in Japan, and then moved to the US for college when I was 18. My degree was in French. Previous to MIIS, I worked at numerous language summer camps. I also held other types of jobs, such as a Starbucks barista for a year.

You did the Peace Corps Master’s International (PCMI) program, didn’t you? What was that like?

Yes, at MIIS I was enrolled in the PCMI program. This meant that basically, my master's and Peace Corps service were combined: I studied at MIIS for two semesters, served as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Mauritania (West Africa), then went back to MIIS for my final semester. In Mauritania, I taught English at a local high school.

What an incredible experience. You’ve certainly moved around a lot. Tell us a little about your current life in Japan.

I am currently in my second year teaching English at Kanda University of International Studies, located in Chiba, Japan. This university specializes in foreign languages; besides English, there are many other languages offered, such as Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, and Portuguese. There are approximately 60 English teachers from all over the world at Kanda (e.g., Americans, Canadians, Australians, British). We teach content-based classes, where language is seen as a means and a tool to communicate ideas. Therefore, students do a lot of English speaking in class. In general, students here are motivated and hard-working, which makes the school an enjoyable place to work for the teachers.

Describe your time at MIIS.

Though "graduate school" may sound daunting, once you're there, you realize that it is manageable. My MIIS experience was a good one -- I had great teachers, who were available when I needed to talk to them about class projects, as well as great classmates, who became my friends -- I learned a lot from each of them. Of course I had to study a lot (and I felt stressed at times) but I believe that being in Monterey reminded me to put everything in perspective. Monterey was too beautiful for me just to stay in my apartment and write papers; I had to go and explore what the city had to offer!

What was your career trajectory after MIIS? Did you move to Japan straightaway?

I graduated from MIIS in December 2007, and then immediately moved back to Japan to be closer to my family. I had also decided that I had lived outside of Japan for too long, and it was time for me to go back. I had missed Japan.

How would you characterize the career opportunities in TESOL or language education?

I think the career opportunities in TESOL/language education are endless, and you can go in so many different directions. I know those with my degree that are teaching ESL in the States. There are also many, like me, who teach English abroad at universities. You can go into testing and publishing. TESOL/Language education is a great field to be in. It is a portable job in that language teaching, especially English, is wanted in many different countries.

What are some misconceptions about the work you do?

One misconception people have is that ANYBODY who speaks English can become an English teacher. However, this doesn't necessarily make you a good English teacher. Teaching languages is a skill, where you need to be able to explain to students about the language (e.g., grammar).

Are there other erroneous beliefs?

Another misconception people have is that it is easy being an English teacher. Perhaps this idea comes from the fact that we get long vacations. While it is true that we get generous breaks, we work very hard during the semester. It's not just about the work you do in the classroom, but you need to constantly prepare for the new lessons, grade papers, and such.

Many people wonder why they should do a proper Master’s degree in TESOL or applied linguistics when there are a variety of English teaching jobs around the world that don’t require one. Your thoughts?

If you want to teach at a university, a Master's is usually required. These days, there are lots of teachers competing to get the same teaching positions, and this means that a Master's (if not a PhD) will give you an edge over those that don't have it.

And there is value in your longer term professional growth, right?

I think that a Master's in TESOL/applied linguistics helps you with your professional development. People who are considering making a career out of language teaching should look into it. My time at MIIS as a MATESOL student has helped me to become a more confident practitioner: it's helped me to be more confident of why I teach and how I teach.