“It’s been one of the highlights of my teaching career.”
That’s how St. Mary High School teacher George Huczek describes his work with Project Overseas. His most recent experience was in St. Vincent and the Grenadines this past summer, where he spent time training teachers about the technological aspects of education. It was his second trip to the island nation, and his seventh overall with the organization, and overall, he says it was a memorable two months.
“It’s really the experience of a lifetime, to be able to work on those kinds of projects.”
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a nation of over 100,000 people situated in the southern part of the Caribbean, near Venezuela. Huczek’s accompanied a group of teachers to the capital, Kingstown, where they helped train local teachers about special education. He says the general idea was to show teachers how to integrate special education into their classrooms.
“We were trying to raise teachers’ awareness of what special education is and how they can accommodate exceptionalities in their classrooms,” he says.
The difficulties associated with such a trip are numerous, but not unbearable. Even though English is the country’s official language, communicating still has its challenges.
“There’s always the possibility of being misunderstood and miscommunicating information because of the cultural differences and the way different people interpret different kinds of messages,” he says. “The relationships are of primary importance there.
“Before you can establish any kind of trust or communication with other people it’s necessary, in their cultural context, to be able to establish an interpersonal relationship,” he added.
That made organizing events via email difficult, since Huczek didn’t personally know the teachers he was training.
There were other cultural differences too, both inside and outside the classroom. For example, Huczek says teachers are allowed to use corporal discipline in the schools. However, outside of the classroom he says there is a more laid back atmosphere.
“Their perception of time is completely different,” he says. “We’re very linear in our understanding of time, and they regard time in a cyclic manner. Scheduling appointments can be a bit of a challenge for us.”
However, Huczek isn’t trying to be hard on the approximately 100 teachers he trained over the summer. He says he has great respect for them, citing their large class sizes, poor facilities and resources shortages as obstacles they have to overcome.
“Working within that kind of a cultural context, with different cultural norms and different teaching conditions poses quite a challenge,” he says. “Teachers there are not very well paid, and the status of the teaching profession is really low.”
Travelling and working with organizations like Project Overseas is an illuminating experience. However, Huczek says there are some similarities between St. Vincent and Prince Albert.
“Prince Albert has many students that are at very high-risk and have very high vulnerability,” he says. “Coming from that kind of context helps to understand the circumstances they face.”
Huczek represented both the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation on his trip. He had to send in an application to be selected.
Even though he’s been on several trips before, he’s not done going overseas. In fact, after he retires, he says he wants to do work like this full time.
“After retirement I would like to do some international work as well and continue working, perhaps as an international substitute teacher, working in developing countries with people like this,” he says. “It’s an extremely personally rewarding challenge.”