Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

Reflections on an International Career Teaching English

Asian Temple
Asian Temple

Roy Burkholder, a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language, has been living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for many years and shares his experiences and strategies for enjoying the journey abroad.

After earning a college degree in Japanese and Chinese, taking seven trips to China to work and study, and twelve trips to Japan and Korea to teach English, one might consider me an expert, but I don’t feel like one.

Although I have been able to make some beneficial contributions overseas, walking has become increasingly difficult and fatigue hampers my ability to work long hours. I had to discontinue my work in China due to the long lesson plans and activities, but in Korea, the school provided accommodations to help me in my work. Since I have difficulties in hot weather, the school provided an air conditioner for my room. Also, students came to my classroom for lessons so that I wouldn’t have to climb up and down the stairs through a hot school building to get to them.

Working in Asia was possible due to the helpful nature of the local culture. People were willing to help each other out even though they did not know each other, and there was more of a sense of community than I experienced in the United States.

With assistance from the school, I didn’t have to expend as much energy. This created a less stressful environment to live and work within the increasing limitations of my MS.

Aside from teaching English, I also took part in sports activities with my students such as playing baseball with the children. I had difficulty playing the game, and it must have been a sight as I ran the bases, yet the children had an experience of seeing how a person with a disability can overcome some of the challenges faced on a daily basis. On separate occasion, I was invited to teach English to students with disabilities. It was an exciting opportunity and a privilege to give these children a little exposure to English, American culture, and a teacher with a disability.

Since working can be uncomfortable if I’m not accommodated for my MS, it has made it a little more difficult for me to progress in my career. I always have a fear of not being able to perform well in the workplace. However, I am a survivor and my experiences in Asia are reflective of the many wonderful study and work opportunities that can be experienced throughout life.

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