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DCE Magazine

Alumni Spotlight: Educating the World

Summer 2020

Teaching English while exploring far-flung cultures is a perfect empty-nest plan for this DCE alumna.

Growing up in East Germany during the final stages of the Cold War, Elle Wallstein and her family faced harsh restrictions on their travel. But all that changed when the country reunified and opened up in 1991. Let's just say that Elle has made up for lost time since then.

“When the Berlin Wall came down, I made the most of my newfound freedom,” she said. “Maybe that's where my wanderlust comes from.”

After living in Switzerland for six years, Elle came to the U.S. in 1996 and has since led a remarkably international lifestyle, living on three continents and developing a love for English tutoring along the way. The experience inspired her to enroll in the DCE's Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate program.

It's the start of an exciting new adventure, a career traveling the world after raising a family. And it was inspired by a talk she had with her oldest son.

“When I was living in China, in a very international community, I loved tutoring people in English, sometimes in return for cooking lessons or traditional Chinese medicine treatments,” she said. “Then last spring, when my older boy graduated, we had long talks about what he might do in his gap year and beyond. We started talking about teaching.”

Elle went on about the wonderful life he could have teaching and experiencing different cultures and countries. Her son loves math and music, and she spoke enthusiastically about the advantages and excitement of teaching these subjects abroad.

“I told him, ‘You can teach anywhere in the world! You will be able to live in different cultures! You can travel every break!’ Then I realized my words meant for him were very much what I wanted to do once my boys have left the nest. I put two and two together.”

The next step was enrolling in the TEFL certificate program, her passport to an empty-nest career teaching English around the world. She recently completed an internship and can't wait to get started on her next step.

A spiritual woman, Elle concludes every email with a quote from the Dalai Lama: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” She recently carved out some time to offer her thoughts and reflections on her journey so far – and the exciting chapter yet to come.

“The teachers were simply amazing! They were inspiring, extremely knowledgeable and supportive. Every single one of them had certain qualities or techniques that I will be stealing!” Elle Wallstein

You've lived in so many different countries. How is life in the U.S. different from the rest of the world?

I have to say that apart from differences in culture and language, people everywhere seem to want pretty much the same things: good food, a home, and happiness. What I love about the U.S. is how much Americans love their country.

What do you think is the most rewarding part about teaching English abroad?

Teaching ESL, either here or abroad, involves much more than just the curriculum. If your students are in class with you every day, you get to know them personally and at a cultural level. To be aware of cultural differences, to embrace and respect them is incredibly important in building trust between teacher and students. If they have different backgrounds, it is extremely rewarding to learn from each other. The students in my ESL internship class impressed me with their determination, amazed me with their personalities, and soon I was looking forward to seeing them every day.

Tell me about the TEFL certificate program. What was your favorite part of the experience?

Honestly, I cannot say enough about the TEFL program. The classes were well structured and organized, overlapping here and there to form an organic entity – not easy to do with eight subjects! We were an extremely close-knit class of 16 students from all over the world. When you spend every day together, you become something of a family, with lots of laughter, teasing and of course, studying.

Did the DCE instructors live up to expectations?

The teachers were simply amazing! They were inspiring, extremely knowledgeable and supportive. Every single one of them had certain qualities or techniques that I will be stealing! Copying might be the better word, but I believe that a really good teacher never ceases to learn, from colleagues and students alike.

Tell me about your TEFL internship.

My internship seemed the logical next step, and I am so happy I did it. All that knowledge freshly acquired during the TEFL program was put to great use; I got to do everything that I learned in real life. My master teacher was one of a kind, and her energy lit up the classroom. She taught a Grammar and Writing class, and after only a couple of days, we formed a perfect tag team.

What about your life outside the classroom? I love the Dalai Lama quote you have in your email signature.

My philosophy of life is kindness. I believe in the Golden Rule, which has been the foundation of many civilizations and societies: to treat others as you would like to be treated. I believe there is a balance in everything, yin and yang. I practice Taiji every morning at the beach, I have a garden where we grow lots of things to eat or just to look at, and my greatest pleasure is a good book. We have no television; my boys asked me once whether we were Amish. We do watch movies, of course, but I decided against the daily push of news and information over 20 years ago and stuck to it.

Learn more at Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate Program.