Mother Teaches in Saudi Arabia while Earning Degree Online
Nathalie Chica and daughter in Saudi Arabia
Jetting off to a foreign country to teach sounds like the dream of bright-eyed young college graduates and corporate America burnouts looking for a fresh start. But Nathalie Chica, MS in Global and International Education ’16, doesn’t quite fit these stereotypes. As a divorced mother working in education, Chica wasn’t looking to escape her day job or take a gap-year adventure; she was looking to further her career.
Back in 2013, Chica began dreaming of living in the Middle East. She had converted to Islam as a teenager and had always been interested in Arabic language and culture. That same year, she was looking at master’s programs to help her further her career and become a classroom teacher. After spending a year searching, she finally found the right program: Drexel University’s online MS in Global and International Education.
“It was online, the price was right, it basically ticked all of my checkboxes,” Chica said. With only two semesters left in the program, though, Chica was offered the chance of a lifetime: to travel to Saudi Arabia and teach. She wasn’t going to let a little thing like being in the middle of finishing up her thesis stop her from achieving her dream.
So, Chica decided to take a risk. She packed up herself and her daughter and, partial thesis in tow, headed to Saudi Arabia.
Chica was given her own classroom in an international school, teaching first grade boys. In some ways, the experience wasn’t that different from what she was used to; the school taught an American curriculum, albeit one that was censored by the Ministry of Education. Culturally, though, it was a bit of an adjustment. Chica found the parents overly demanding, putting the “helicopter parents” of the U.S. to shame. Her work environment was also less friendly than she was used to, with little teamwork or cooperation between the teachers.
Still, Chica was able to focus on the important thing: her students. “My motivation was them and learning about their culture,” she said. “I learned something new every single day.”
It’s a good thing Chica was learning new things culturally, since that was the basis of her master’s thesis. Titled “An Educator’s Path to Global Citizenship,” her thesis focused on the question, “how can the cross-cultural experience of a Latina teaching abroad offer insight into building global citizenship for educators.” The answer to this partly came from what she dubbed “the other side of the coin,” a new understanding of the patience needed to interact with and learn from those of different cultures.
“When I was teaching in the U.S. before I left, I didn’t really understand the immigrant experience, even though my parents were Colombian immigrants…I used to almost judge or criticize parents who didn’t help their children with their homework. I used to say, ‘Limited English isn’t an excuse, why don’t they find someone to translate or do something.’ I would be really hard on them,” Chica said. “Then, when I had my daughter with me in the international school, she had Arabic language class and Islamic studies, and I saw the other side of the coin. It really is hard! I couldn’t help her with her Arabic homework because I didn’t know enough to help her. So, it was really eye opening…I was giving the parents such a hard time, and now I understand it better.”
Chica is currently teaching Family and Consumer Sciences at a high school in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The job combines her love of teaching with her undergraduate degree in fashion design, making it the perfect fit for her. Still, Chica hopes to one day return to Saudi Arabia and teach again. And she wants to make it clear that if she can do it, anyone can.
“I’m a divorced mother, and I feel like that should encourage other mothers who want to pursue a master’s,” Chica said. After all, if she could move halfway around the world with her young daughter to teach and finish her degree, what’s stopping anyone else?