Inaugural Teach Abroad Film Festival spotlights English language teachers’ journeys abroad


Source: Stéphane Le Mentec

The Davis Theater. On Thursday, the theatre will host the inaugural Teach Abroad Film Festival, showcasing the work of several English as a Foreign language teachers.

Wilson Chapman, Reporter

After six years of working in sales and logistics, Jack Ross decided he needed a fresh start. His solution: move from Chicago to Vietnam, complete a six-week training program with the International Teaching English as a Foreign Language Academy, and become an English teacher abroad. A year later, he has no regrets.

“You’re dealing with a full class of kids, and it’s a completely different beast of managing personalities. I thought managing people in the corporate world was difficult, this is even more difficult,” Ross said, laughing. “It’s fun though — it has its rewards in the form of seeing how quick these students absorb what you’re saying.”

Now, Ross is one of 12 English as a foreign language teachers sharing a snapshot of their lives abroad at the inaugural Teach Abroad Film Festival. Hosted by the International TEFL Academy, the event will take place at The Davis Theater in Chicago on April 4. It will screen a series of short, nonfiction films created by International TEFL Academy graduates documenting their experiences as educators in foreign countries.

Ross, who found an interest in videography from a young age, created his film “Thank you, Vietnam” from footage of the country’s topography he captured while traveling before his classes started. He then asked one of his students, a 5-year-old named Anna, to provide the narration.

“The film encapsulates a big thank you to what Vietnam has given the people that live here, but also people who experience it through an expat perspective,” Ross said. “It’s kind of my words through the narrator…it’s my personal feelings, but also some of my student’s feelings over the course of the past year.”

John Bentley (MSJ ’00), International TEFL Academy’s director of content development, said the Teach Abroad Film Festival was created because the organization wanted to provide their alumni and students with a venue to share the challenges and rewards they faced teaching English abroad.

“About half of our students have never been abroad before, so teaching English really provides them with an opportunity to go overseas, see the world and experience a lot of personal growth,” Bentley said, “We really want to showcase that in the film festival, and give our alumni a chance to share their stories through film.”

Bentley said the submissions to the festival are short films, ranging from two to 15 minutes. Each piece explores the educator’s experience as an English-language teacher and showcases how it has molded their worldview.

After all 12 films are shown, a festival jury will deliberate and ultimately choose the top three pieces which will be rewarded with different sums of money, Bentley said.

Communication Professor Spencer Parsons is one of the festival’s jury members. Parsons said one of the things that interested him about the festival is that, unlike most first-time student films which tend to have a very limited viewpoint, the international experience the contestants are going through makes for a fresher perspective.

“The educational experience itself that these students are having is being funnelled very directly into artwork, which is alway exciting,” Parsons said.

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