How 99 Great Russell Street Made Me a Better Teacher

Post submitted by Kara Funcheon, Summer 2009 International Sports Management program participant at FSU London. Kara graduated from FSU in 2011 with a B.A. in Literature and is now a high school English teacher.

Kara in a London telephone booth during her study abroad program.

It was the summer of 2009, and I was about to enter my third year at THE Florida State University. But you guys know how great us ‘Noles are, so I won’t prattle too long about the greatness of our school, (I mean, I COULD, and you all would nod your head in agreement). I had applied and been accepted into the International Sports Management program in London for the summer. Even though I was a literature major (more on this later), I had been interning in the Sports Information office for two years at this point. I wanted to work in sports – on ESPN, for FSU Athletics, anything. So, this was my opportunity to get some Sports Management courses in while returning to my favorite city in the world. I was nervous – none of my friends were going, and I was going to be traveling alone for the first time.

I was lucky though. My mom’s best friend is from England, and I was close with her family in Manchester, so if there was an emergency, I knew “family” was going to be close. I flew into London 3 days before the program started, not realizing that I couldn’t move into the study center. But I stayed with “Uncle Tom” and his family. His daughter Laura and I are the same age, so we hung out in their garden drinking Prosecco and taking a day trip to Brighton Beach to each chips and drink Magners Pear Cider. I was 20 years old and enjoying the life that a lowered drinking age offered.

Kara in Brighton.

When I arrived at the study center on the morning the program started, I was over my jet lag, and ready for day one. I didn’t know that everyone else was arriving that day, so I definitely stood out. It didn’t help that my “Uncle Tom” worked at a casino in London and had arranged for a driver to get me to the study center from said casino. I looked like Blair Waldorf in Gossip Girl.

All that aside, my experience was pretty great. Half of my program was graduate students, so I got to see what master’s level work looked like – which would come in handy years later. But I was the odd woman out – there were 27 people in my program, and often I was left out when we had to work in pairs. At that age, it crushed me. I was awkward, desperate for people to like me. In retrospect, it was the best experience.

Being the odd one out taught me to enjoy my own company. I explored London alone, walking along the historic street without fear. I went shopping alone, and took myself to dinner down at the Tottenham Pub. I went to plays in the West End by myself and took the train up to see my “family” in Manchester alone. It was the best summer.

Now I’m a grown adult (kind of?), and teaching English and journalism to the next generation of the world. I am always looking back to that summer. Why? Because experiencing another culture has changed my outlook on life. It has allowed me to write more passionately and offer sympathy and empathy to my students.

Kara posing outside of the London Study Centre.

I am a more empathetic teacher because of 99 Great Russell. I have a lot of students who were not born in the US and come into my classroom with unique experiences. If I was never forced out of my comfort zone, I wouldn’t be as sensitive to their struggles. I make sure that I include literature from other countries to make them feel included. I am aware when a student is unintentionally left out and try to give them a safe space. It’s not a lot, but if I can make this small impact, it’s worth it.

The FSU London Study Centre sign at Great Russell Street.

If I had never experienced what it felt like to be in a foreign country, I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today. My students know I am empathetic to their struggles and know they can talk to me. I know this sounds like I’m bragging, but I’m not. I’ve been teaching at the same school for eight years now and have seen how students struggle to find someone to talk to – someone to listen. It’s what I needed when I was younger. So, I’ve become that.

I may not use any of the actual lessons taught by the International Sports Management program, and I don’t work for ESPN. I’m a high school English teacher. I love my job. I adore my students. I encourage my students to travel as often as they can, and even chaperone trips to Europe because of it. Traveling is the greatest weapon against ignorance. Now, I have a master’s degree and I am almost done with my doctorate. Living abroad changed my life.

Could I have gotten where I am today without FSU International Programs? Maybe. Would I be the same person? Absolutely not.

To learn more about our study abroad programs, visit international.fsu.edu.

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