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King University News :: Making a Difference :: King Alumnus Teaches English Abroad

Although Bristol, Va., native and King College alumnus Josh Sokolow did not intend to travel abroad when first mapping out his career plans, he has spent the last several years teaching English as a second language (ESL) to students in both Spain and South Korea. 

When speaking of the preparation he received from King College, Josh said, “It was everything!  While at King, I met so many wonderful people from overseas that were able to share different languages, different cultures, different ideas, some of them Christian, some of other faiths and beliefs, and we found a way to coexist.  That certainly prepared me.  In terms of experiences abroad, I met so many people I was able to travel with, and the experience of the Italy program was really the turning point.  Even though I love Bristol and the Tri-Cities, I felt the calling to be abroad and I listened.  The Lord has blessed me every day! 

When Sokolow first attended King, he noticed while playing soccer for the King Tornado nearly half of his teammates were from all over the globe.  “Typically, at least four to five continents were always represented on the team.  As a result, I became intrigued with other languages and cultures.”

Sokolow caught the travel bug his junior year at King when he travelled with classmates to Italy for a study trip.  Through the Italy Studies program, students stayed in the Tuscan village of Montepulciano while attending classes and traveling on weekends to enticing places such as Florence, Venice, Pompeii, and Pisa.  They also explored ancient Rome, including the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, the ancient Roman Forum, the Catacombs, and the Colosseum.

“Italy was my first real trip outside the United States,” said Sokolow.  “I loved it enough that I began looking at options on how I could move overseas, travel, and make a living in the process.  It was then I found teaching English was the best way. 

“I was apprehensive about teaching English until I went on a mission trip to Slovakia with the church I was going to in Bristol,” continued Sokolow.  “The trip opened my eyes.  The goal of the mission trip was to integrate with the youth and share the gospel via an English camp.  I taught in the English camp for a few weeks and discovered I enjoyed it.  I knew I could teach English as a second language in the short term, maybe five to six years.  That is how it all started.” 

Because Sokolow had red-shirted his freshman year in Soccer, he had an extra year of eligibility.  “I saw this as an opportunity to continue my education and apply for King’s Master of Business Administration program.  After graduating from King with my bachelor’s degree in marketing in Dec. 2004, I worked until my MBA classes began in fall 2005.  I was also able to finish my last year of eligibility for soccer.  After my final soccer season, I was privileged to work with the Lady Tornado soccer team.”

After graduating with his MBA from King in 2007, Sokolow still had the travel bug.  “A friend and I spoke about different options of overseas locations to obtain a teaching certificate.  We narrowed it down to Greece and Spain.  My then girlfriend, Kalie Estrada, had accepted a position as an au pair in Madrid.  Her host family said they knew of a university in Madrid, Universidad de Alcalá, with a master’s program in Multi-Cultural and Bilingual Education.  After looking over the program, I contacted the head of enrollment and gained entrance to the program.  It was a year-long program with an internship.  This way, I had a teaching position lined up while I was doing my core studies.” 

Even though Sokolow had Spanish classes in both high school and college, he wasn’t quite prepared for the Spanish of Spain.  “Nothing quite prepared me for the differences I would encounter with the Spanish language in Spain.  The Castilian Spanish language, I found, was quite different than that of Latin American Spanish.  It was quite difficult at first.  Many of the basic words we knew from Latin American Spanish did not translate to Castilian Spanish.” 

Sokolow’s internship was at a small school outside of the city center called Gredos San Diego de Moratalaz.  Gredos is a charter school, part private, and part public with several locations across Spain.  “Outside the brief instance in Slovakia, teaching in Madrid was the only other experience I’d had teaching English as a second language.  Despite the cultural differences, it was relatively easy to adapt to teaching in a Spanish classroom.”

After completing a year-long internship, the school asked him to stay on for an additional year.  “I had moved to the neighborhood where the school was located, about a seven to eight minute walk.  The faculty and staff were wonderful and working with the students was a true blessing.  It could not have been a better experience.”

Upon completing his contract in June 2011 at Gredos, Sokolow and Estrada came home to Bristol and married in July 2011.  After ensuring all of their paperwork and visas were in proper order, they left for Busan, South Korea mid-February 2012.  Currently, they live in the port city of Busan, one of the largest port cities in Asia. 

When asked how they chose South Korea he responded, “Kalie and I discussed a five-year plan for our overseas travels.  We concluded we wanted to do two years in Europe, two years in Asia, and then a year in Brazil.  Narrowing down our choices for teaching in Asia, we chose Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea.  We passed on Malaysia after some research in which we determined Kalie didn’t have enough teaching experience to work in the Malaysian schools.  When looking at Japan, it was around this time that the Nuclear Energy problems were occurring in Japan due to the tsunami.  With radiation a very real concern, we turned to our other viable option, South Korea.” 

The Sokolow’s had some friends from King College who were currently in South Korea, and several who had been there previously, giving them confidence in their decision to make it their new base. 

“South Korea has a fantastic government program called EPIK, English Program In Korea,” said Sokolow.  “Representatives of the recruiting agency met us at the airport and swept us away on an all-expense paid eight-day orientation.  They then take you to the city you will be teaching in and give you three to four days to get used to the city before you start work.  Due to budget reasons, they only allow one ESL teacher per school.  My wife requested elementary and is teaching at a school about 15 minutes from where we are living.  I requested high school and am teaching at JungAng Boy's High School, which is about 50 minutes away from where we are staying.  We may only have about 30 to 45 minutes a week with a particular group.  It can be difficult to pass on the amount of information you would like to in that small of a time frame.

“At the high school I teach in, students arrive between 7:30 and 8 a.m., depending on if they have an extra morning course prior to their first class.  All students have nine 50-minute class periods.  There is a potential for them to be at school till 8:30 to 9 p.m. at night at times.  There are high expectations placed on all the students, especially in high school.  One of my main goals is to make class as interesting for the students as possible.  I’m not really there to teach grammar, but more so conversational English.  I spend much of the time teaching about Western culture, to which the kids respond well.” 

When he and his wife first looked at moving to South Korea to teach, Sokolow remembered the numerous friends he had made while at King who were from South Korea.  “In March of this year after moving to Korea, I was able to reconnect face-to-face with one of them.  He stood in the door way and we just looked at each other for a few moments like it was something out of a movie, thinking, ‘is it really you?.’  Because of connections with him and other Korean students at King, culturally, I had a good understanding of the country, but my Korean language skills were non-existence.  It has been fun learning their language in true emersion fashion.”

Currently, the Sokolow’s plan to stick with their five-year plan which will mean spending a second contract year in South Korea.  “Working with the children here in Busan has been such an enlightening experience.  At the end of our second contract year, we may move to our dream city of London or we may choose to remain in South Korea.”

When asked, after their five-year plan was complete, if he and his wife would continue on this path of moving from country to country to teach English as a second language, Josh said he wasn’t sure that moving every few years wasn’t necessarily a permanent career path.  “This has been such an amazing journey and I can’t thank God enough for opening the doors to be able to help others and teach children across the globe.  My wife and I do have some long-term goals for Bristol.  There are several different businesses we would like to explore when we do move back home to Bristol – different ideas we have had from living overseas and efficiencies we have seen from both European and Asian cultures that we believe we could bring back to Bristol.”

For Josh Sokolow, what began as intrigue of other languages and cultures while playing soccer for King College turned into a journey of a lifetime.  “I am so thankful for my time at King College and the preparation I received.  It was invaluable and a turning point in my life.” 

You can find out more about King’s Italy Studies program at Italystudies.king.edu.  For information on teaching English abroad, contact Karen Shaw, associate professor of English and coordinator for Study Abroad for King, at klshaw@king.edu, or contact Matt Roberts, assistant professor of Education and associate dean for Teaching Educational Development at King, at mroberts@king.edu.  For anyone interested in the Master of Bilingual and Multicultural Education degree program at the Universidad de Alcalá in Madrid, Spain, contact Josh Sokolow on Facebook or via email at jssokolo@gmail.com

Although Bristol, Va., native and King College alumnus Josh Sokolow did not intend to travel abroad when first mapping out his career plans, he has spent the last several years teaching English as a second language (ESL) to students in both Spain and South Korea. 

When speaking of the preparation he received from King College, Josh said, “It was everything!  While at King, I met so many wonderful people from overseas that were able to share different languages, different cultures, different ideas, some of them Christian, some of other faiths and beliefs, and we found a way to coexist.  That certainly prepared me.  In terms of experiences abroad, I met so many people I was able to travel with, and the experience of the Italy program was really the turning point.  Even though I love Bristol and the Tri-Cities, I felt the calling to be abroad and I listened.  The Lord has blessed me every day! 

When Sokolow first attended King, he noticed while playing soccer for the King Tornado nearly half of his teammates were from all over the globe.  “Typically, at least four to five continents were always represented on the team.  As a result, I became intrigued with other languages and cultures.”

Sokolow caught the travel bug his junior year at King when he travelled with classmates to Italy for a study trip.  Through the Italy Studies program, students stayed in the Tuscan village of Montepulciano while attending classes and traveling on weekends to enticing places such as Florence, Venice, Pompeii, and Pisa.  They also explored ancient Rome, including the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, the ancient Roman Forum, the Catacombs, and the Colosseum.

“Italy was my first real trip outside the United States,” said Sokolow.  “I loved it enough that I began looking at options on how I could move overseas, travel, and make a living in the process.  It was then I found teaching English was the best way. 

“I was apprehensive about teaching English until I went on a mission trip to Slovakia with the church I was going to in Bristol,” continued Sokolow.  “The trip opened my eyes.  The goal of the mission trip was to integrate with the youth and share the gospel via an English camp.  I taught in the English camp for a few weeks and discovered I enjoyed it.  I knew I could teach English as a second language in the short term, maybe five to six years.  That is how it all started.” 

Because Sokolow had red-shirted his freshman year in Soccer, he had an extra year of eligibility.  “I saw this as an opportunity to continue my education and apply for King’s Master of Business Administration program.  After graduating from King with my bachelor’s degree in marketing in Dec. 2004, I worked until my MBA classes began in fall 2005.  I was also able to finish my last year of eligibility for soccer.  After my final soccer season, I was privileged to work with the Lady Tornado soccer team.”

After graduating with his MBA from King in 2007, Sokolow still had the travel bug.  “A friend and I spoke about different options of overseas locations to obtain a teaching certificate.  We narrowed it down to Greece and Spain.  My then girlfriend, Kalie Estrada, had accepted a position as an au pair in Madrid.  Her host family said they knew of a university in Madrid, Universidad de Alcalá, with a master’s program in Multi-Cultural and Bilingual Education.  After looking over the program, I contacted the head of enrollment and gained entrance to the program.  It was a year-long program with an internship.  This way, I had a teaching position lined up while I was doing my core studies.” 

Even though Sokolow had Spanish classes in both high school and college, he wasn’t quite prepared for the Spanish of Spain.  “Nothing quite prepared me for the differences I would encounter with the Spanish language in Spain.  The Castilian Spanish language, I found, was quite different than that of Latin American Spanish.  It was quite difficult at first.  Many of the basic words we knew from Latin American Spanish did not translate to Castilian Spanish.” 

Sokolow’s internship was at a small school outside of the city center called Gredos San Diego de Moratalaz.  Gredos is a charter school, part private, and part public with several locations across Spain.  “Outside the brief instance in Slovakia, teaching in Madrid was the only other experience I’d had teaching English as a second language.  Despite the cultural differences, it was relatively easy to adapt to teaching in a Spanish classroom.”

After completing a year-long internship, the school asked him to stay on for an additional year.  “I had moved to the neighborhood where the school was located, about a seven to eight minute walk.  The faculty and staff were wonderful and working with the students was a true blessing.  It could not have been a better experience.”

Upon completing his contract in June 2011 at Gredos, Sokolow and Estrada came home to Bristol and married in July 2011.  After ensuring all of their paperwork and visas were in proper order, they left for Busan, South Korea mid-February 2012.  Currently, they live in the port city of Busan, one of the largest port cities in Asia. 

When asked how they chose South Korea he responded, “Kalie and I discussed a five-year plan for our overseas travels.  We concluded we wanted to do two years in Europe, two years in Asia, and then a year in Brazil.  Narrowing down our choices for teaching in Asia, we chose Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea.  We passed on Malaysia after some research in which we determined Kalie didn’t have enough teaching experience to work in the Malaysian schools.  When looking at Japan, it was around this time that the Nuclear Energy problems were occurring in Japan due to the tsunami.  With radiation a very real concern, we turned to our other viable option, South Korea.” 

The Sokolow’s had some friends from King College who were currently in South Korea, and several who had been there previously, giving them confidence in their decision to make it their new base. 

“South Korea has a fantastic government program called EPIK, English Program In Korea,” said Sokolow.  “Representatives of the recruiting agency met us at the airport and swept us away on an all-expense paid eight-day orientation.  They then take you to the city you will be teaching in and give you three to four days to get used to the city before you start work.  Due to budget reasons, they only allow one ESL teacher per school.  My wife requested elementary and is teaching at a school about 15 minutes from where we are living.  I requested high school and am teaching at JungAng Boy's High School, which is about 50 minutes away from where we are staying.  We may only have about 30 to 45 minutes a week with a particular group.  It can be difficult to pass on the amount of information you would like to in that small of a time frame.

“At the high school I teach in, students arrive between 7:30 and 8 a.m., depending on if they have an extra morning course prior to their first class.  All students have nine 50-minute class periods.  There is a potential for them to be at school till 8:30 to 9 p.m. at night at times.  There are high expectations placed on all the students, especially in high school.  One of my main goals is to make class as interesting for the students as possible.  I’m not really there to teach grammar, but more so conversational English.  I spend much of the time teaching about Western culture, to which the kids respond well.” 

When he and his wife first looked at moving to South Korea to teach, Sokolow remembered the numerous friends he had made while at King who were from South Korea.  “In March of this year after moving to Korea, I was able to reconnect face-to-face with one of them.  He stood in the door way and we just looked at each other for a few moments like it was something out of a movie, thinking, ‘is it really you?.’  Because of connections with him and other Korean students at King, culturally, I had a good understanding of the country, but my Korean language skills were non-existence.  It has been fun learning their language in true emersion fashion.”

Currently, the Sokolow’s plan to stick with their five-year plan which will mean spending a second contract year in South Korea.  “Working with the children here in Busan has been such an enlightening experience.  At the end of our second contract year, we may move to our dream city of London or we may choose to remain in South Korea.”

When asked, after their five-year plan was complete, if he and his wife would continue on this path of moving from country to country to teach English as a second language, Josh said he wasn’t sure that moving every few years wasn’t necessarily a permanent career path.  “This has been such an amazing journey and I can’t thank God enough for opening the doors to be able to help others and teach children across the globe.  My wife and I do have some long-term goals for Bristol.  There are several different businesses we would like to explore when we do move back home to Bristol – different ideas we have had from living overseas and efficiencies we have seen from both European and Asian cultures that we believe we could bring back to Bristol.”

For Josh Sokolow, what began as intrigue of other languages and cultures while playing soccer for King College turned into a journey of a lifetime.  “I am so thankful for my time at King College and the preparation I received.  It was invaluable and a turning point in my life.” 

You can find out more about King’s Italy Studies program at Italystudies.king.edu.  For information on teaching English abroad, contact Karen Shaw, associate professor of English and coordinator for Study Abroad for King, at klshaw@king.edu, or contact Matt Roberts, assistant professor of Education and associate dean for Teaching Educational Development at King, at mroberts@king.edu.  For anyone interested in the Master of Bilingual and Multicultural Education degree program at the Universidad de Alcalá in Madrid, Spain, contact Josh Sokolow on Facebook or via email at jssokolo@gmail.com