When Cultures Collide: Alumna Kirsten Etherton shares about teaching overseas

Posted by Julia Adams on 12/5/23 10:44 AM

On a Good Friday, Alumna Kirsten Etherton (CLA-ed ’06) and a friend borrowed a coworker’s car and drove to the local Roman ruins. They had the place to themselves. Up on the hilltop, Kirsten sat in the amphitheater journaling and praying while overlooking the green hills and the Roman ruins. Even from that distance, she could hear the sounds of the mosque in the nearby village. In this one place, history and cultures clashed. It was beautiful. “Just a very different Good Friday of sitting in the Roman ruins," Kirsten said.

Kirsten recently returned to the United States after teaching overseas for several years. Shortly after graduating from PHC, Kirsten began looking for an opportunity to teach abroad. While employed at a classical Christian school, she heard about how the counter-cultural method of classical education was making an impact overseas. So, she joined a classical school in Northern Iraq just three years after graduation. Later, she taught English as a second language to children in North Africa.

Throughout her time in the East, Kirsten discovered the power of the classical education method. She described the classical education model as counter-cultural because it focuses on critical thinking and the Socratic method. She discovered that her students wanted one right answer and wanted to be told the correct answer—rather than reason through the grey areas. Through her teaching, she was able to introduce her students to Western music, art, and culture. “[It] was a really great springboard for having conversations about what really matters,” Kirsten said.

What is a classical education?

When she began teaching English as a second language, Kirsten had to learn Arabic. “It was really neat to see how much thinking is bound up in language. As I learned Arabic, I was able to understand the mistakes that [my students] were making in English.” She also recalled how much learning the language helped her better relate to her friends as well as the culture. Kirsten said that learning Arabic gave her many opportunities for cultural exchange and helped her develop more cultural awareness.

While teaching in a rural part of North Africa, Kirsten worked with a government program to teach English to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. She not only taught English but also business skills and tips for understanding the Western mindset. “It was a really neat way to bless the community [and] really understand these kids’ lives and the challenges that they face.”

Why a Classical Core Matters

Kirsten became close friends with many of her students. “It’s just a hospitable culture. They would invite me to family weddings, … [and] to their homes for dinner. I would spend Ramadan meals with them.” She felt like she was a part of the family.

Now state-side, Kirsten has realized how much her time overseas has influenced how she lives her own life. “America is just so fast-paced. It's so product-oriented and [about] getting a lot done. Whereas overseas, you often sit in someone's yard for the entire day, and that's a good thing to do.”

Thinking back on her time, Kirsten said, “I loved it. The people there were so warm and welcoming, and really eager to hear about other cultures and to connect. It was a really wonderful opportunity!”

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 Patrick Henry College exists to glorify God by challenging the status quo in higher education, lifting high both faith and reason within a rigorous academic environment; thereby preserving for posterity the ideals behind the "noble experiment in ordered liberty" that is the foundation of America.


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