Sometimes life takes you in unexpected directions. Just ask Genevieve Skinner, a 2007 St. Mary’s High School graduate. Being a teacher had long been her goal, but a few years ago she never would have expected to be teaching in Qatar. Yet that’s where she is teaching first and second graders.
“I had always wanted to become a teacher but never gave teaching abroad much thought until college,” Skinner said. “At the University of Northern Colorado I encountered people from all over the world and developed an enthusiasm and passion for travel.”
Once that passion was ignited, Skinner looked for ways to combine her love of teaching with her love of travel. During her student teaching year, Skinner attended an international teaching job fair at the University of Northern Iowa in Waterloo, Iowa, in hopes of finding an opportunity to teach overseas.
“I was blessed to receive a job with an international school in Doha, Qatar,” she said. “I wanted to each social studies to high school students, but they asked if I would teach English to first and second graders. So I did!”
Teaching English as a second language to elementary school students may not have been Skinner’s first choice, but now it’s become her passion. So much so that she plans to someday get her PhD in the ESL field.
“I want to continue teaching ESL as I’ve found it very rewarding to see the progress young children can make in learning a new language,” she said.
Skinner said she’s found it rewarding to work with children from different backgrounds. Most of her students are Muslim, but she said there are few Christian students who are from non-English speaking countries.
“A different culture means a different perspective on life. I’ve been impressed at the tolerance in Qatar when I’ve heard so much about intolerance in this part of the world,” she said. “They have Christmas shops here and I dress in the same clothes I did in Colorado. But I also experience the dominate culture in the five calls to prayer every day and in helping to run the school activities that recognize the old Qatari customs.”
Skinner, of course, misses her family the most. But other than that she said one of the hardest transitions has been the perception of time in the Middle East.
“People are much more laid back and do not organize things the way we would in the United States,” she said. “However, I like how open-minded the people of Qatar are. This experience has certainly changed my perspective and understanding of the Middle East.”
Life in Qatar is a long way from high school at St. Mary’s. But her time at SMHS paved the way for turns her life has taken. She said what she learned in high school allowed her to produce more focused papers in college, while some of classmates were frustrated in their writing.
“St Mary’s provided a very rigorous education in several ways, the most beneficial to me was in writing, which was very important with a major in history,” she said. “The methods that I had learned from my high school English classes got me started and kept me going when I got stuck. The ‘tricks’ I learned at St. Mary’s resulted in fewer errors and better grades!”
Skinner’s parents, Tom and Nicole Skinner, said it is scary having their daughter so far away and knowing how long it would take to get her. But thanks to modern technology such a texting and Skype they are able to communicate almost daily with her at a low cost. Those opportunities to communicate aren’t something they take for granted, realizing that even a few years ago there would have been limited ways to communicate and it would have been expensive to do so.
“We knew she wanted to see the world while she was young before settling down, so now is her time,” Tom Skinner said. “We can tell that she is growing and changing being on her own and that's very gratifying as parents.”
Once her two-year contract in Qatar is up, Skinner plans to move back to Colorado. But she is keeping an open mind about other overseas opportunities.
By Amy G. Partain, Communications Associate
St. Mary’s High School
Below, Genevieve Skinner with her students in Qatar on hat day at the school.