Brooke Walis - Director of Recruitment & Communications
After graduating from Emory University with a degree in journalism and sociology, Brooke worked in magazine publishing, but always considered teaching because she believes in the responsibility of helping others learn the skills needed to do their jobs well. Brooke joined WorldTeach Colombia in 2013, where she was able to fulfill her goals of teaching, traveling, and learning Spanish. Though her heart remains in Colombia, Brooke has returned to Boston to continue her work with WorldTeach.
You volunteered in Colombia with WorldTeach in 2013, how did you transition from participant to staff?
I am blessed that my job right now is to talk about my experience as a volunteer teacher in Colombia, because it is something I am extremely passionate about, and absolutely the biggest accomplishment of my life. I knew that if I left Colombia, I needed to be able to continue my connection to the country and the work that I had done there; I now have this opportunity through my current role with WorldTeach. That being said, nothing is as fun as being in the classroom! But every day I am reminded why I chose to join the administrative offices, when I speak with other alums who have similar experiences to my own, and when I speak with prospective volunteers who have this beautiful challenge ahead of them.
Your academic background is in journalism and sociology, how are you able to apply that knowledge to your work as Director of Recruitment and Communications?
My appreciation for the written word, and love of languages, was what inspired me to study journalism and eventually teach English. Although my undergraduate degree and journalism career seem like another life, the communication skills that I learned through my education and work experience, combined with the cultural sensitivity that I gained through studying sociology, have since transferred into intercultural communication skills. This allowed me to be successful in my school in Colombia, and interact and collaborate with individuals of different backgrounds than myself.
What exactly does your role entail on a day-to-day basis?
My main responsibility is ensuring we have qualified volunteer teachers to meet the needs of our partner schools. Therefore, every project I work on, whether on-campus recruitment, online marketing, alumni outreach, email campaigns, publicity, or attending education/service-related events (to name a few), all resort back to finding new volunteers to join WorldTeach. I’m lucky that these responsibilities usually involve lots of face-to-face interaction and passionate conversations about international education.
What sets WorldTeach apart from other volunteer abroad providers?
There are two major factors that distinguish WorldTeach from other volunteer organizations.
First off, WorldTeach began as a student-led organization at Harvard University, therefore our academic foundation and our dedication to teaching and quality education is something we pride ourselves on. We are not searching for individuals who simply want to travel; we are full-time teachers who are dedicated to our schools, and to improving our own professional development.
Secondly, WorldTeach is only in existence because of our strong in-country partnerships. We are personally invited into each country where we work, usually through the ministry or department of education, and sometimes a local non-governmental organization. We wouldn’t be in these countries without these invitations, as it’s important to WorldTeach that we only work in communities that have already self-identified educational needs that they want assistance with.
You speak Spanish. What is the benefit of knowing a second language when volunteering or teaching abroad?
I didn’t have much confidence in my Spanish language skills when I first arrived to Colombia, so it’s definitely not necessary that you know the local language before arriving. What’s important is that you’re not afraid to make mistakes and learn. As an English teacher, you won’t be speaking the local language in the classroom, and it will actually hurt you if your students know they can communicate with you in their native language. But of course, as an individual living in a foreign country you want to learn the language, because it will allow you to create a life and identity there, with real relationships and a true understanding of the culture.
The culture that exists within each language is so amazing, and very representative of its people, but an outsider will never know that. It’s like a secret.
If you had to hop on a plane tomorrow to volunteer abroad again, which of WorldTeach’s programs would you choose?
What a fabulously tempting question. And I might just do it. If I could be on a plane tomorrow, I would join WorldTeach in Namibia. I have no connection to Africa, and therefore no expectations of what the experience would be like. If I learned anything in Colombia, it’s that zero expectations is the key to happiness. Therefore, I would be so excited to learn about a completely new part of the world, its people, language, customs, and daily life. The reason why I first joined WorldTeach was that I was looking for a challenge, I was looking to be uncomfortable. And the accomplishment arrived when I eventually became comfortable in Colombia. I want to work towards that feeling again, in a completely new community.
You’ve been with WorldTeach for about a year, what has been your biggest accomplishment so far?
During my year with WorldTeach in Colombia, my biggest accomplishment was becoming a real member of Colombian society, meaning I had a job that I was good at and a life that fulfilled me, yet all in a place that was originally so foreign and scary to me. Little things like riding public transportation and not being nervous about it are part of that accomplishment.
As for my teaching accomplishments, my work with local Colombian English teachers far exceeded my expectations and I was truly able to see a real improvement in their language skills. Not to mention I know have lifelong friends because of this.
In my role in the office, my biggest accomplishment has been connecting individuals with the opportunity to change their lives, and that of their future students, forever. On a more tangible level, I have been involved in securing many scholarships for WorldTeach alumni, as well as expanding our partnership with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey to create a masters degree TEFL program that will include a year of WorldTeach service.
What are your goals as Director of Recruitment and Communications for the next year?
My future goals are to help WorldTeach launch a new website and improve our overall online presence, learn more about google analytics to help track incoming applicants, launch a really cool promotional video that illustrates the energy and experiences of our teachers around the globe, see the masters degree TEFL program at Middlebury come to fruition, and continue to find individuals who are looking to change their lives.
What is your favorite part about working for WorldTeach?
To hear stories each day from schools and communities around the world, and then share those stories with individuals who are looking to make their own memories.