From Oregon to Ecuador
After spending nine years with students at Reynolds Middle School, Alyssa Hertel is working as a counselor at a school 4,000 miles away.
Hertel moved from Gresham to Quito, Ecuador, last month, where she's working as the high school counselor at Academia Cotopaxi American International School.
"I really wanted to put my foot down and improve my Spanish. I've taken some classes in the states, but I really wanted the chance to be fluent," she said, adding that she also was interested in a lower cost of living in order to more quickly pay off her student loans.
Hertel, who signed a two-year contract with Academia Cotopaxi, began looking at schools abroad several years ago and found her current position through the Association of American Schools in South America.
"It's very different from any other teaching interview process that I've gone through," she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added an unusual element to Hertel's time abroad. Upon arriving in Ecuador, she and her boyfriend, Mark Chaitin, took COVID-19 tests at the airport and then quarantined for two weeks in a hotel with their two cats.
Since then, they've been able to move into their apartment and pick up their vehicle. Through the AASSA's buddy system, they've also connected with a Quito resident named Gabby who's shown them around town.
School began Wednesday, Aug. 19, and currently is being held online.
"I was really lucky because my school did a really good job of communicating with new staff. It was always really clear that even if we're starting online, your contract is safe," Hertel said, adding that she thinks classes likely will remain online through the first semester. "The Ecuadorian Ministry of Education is very strict and has lots of protocols and reporting procedures."
Academia Cotopaxi, located in Quito, serves students in preschool through high school. Approximately 60% of the students are from Ecuador, and the remaining 40% are international.
A significant part of Hertel's job is ensuring that students have the necessary credits to graduate from the school, which offers a United States diploma, an Ecuadorian diploma and an International Baccalaureate diploma.
She noted that there are several elements that are new to her, including a smaller school community. The high school has around 130 students.
"A lot of international schools are small, and they recruit teachers, and those teachers have children, so your students are also your co-worker's kids," she said. "In Ecuador, it's a small community of expats, so then it's like, this kid's parent is also the ambassador that's in charge of my visa."
Her scope as a counselor also is broader.
"It might just be at my school, but there's an expectation that the school counselor keeps tabs on the mental health of staff as well," she said.
Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Hertel hasn't done a lot of exploring yet, but in the coming months she looks forward to visiting a nearby textile market and several hot springs.
Since classes started, she's appreciated connecting with students online, including 14 who are new to the high school.
"I met early on with those families, and that was good because I could tell them that I'm new, too, and I don't always have all the answers but I'll find out for them," she said.
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