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Science Teacher Amy Cohen retells her adventures overseas before teaching at West

After+being+dressed+up+by+students+and+community%2C+Cohen+takes+photo+with+roommate.+%22You%E2%80%99re+now+the+outsider+coming+into+their+country%2C+so+you+really+have+to+be+observant%2C+open+to+listening+and+patient+with+the+way+you+try+to+help+support+that+community%2C%22+Cohen+said.
After being dressed up by students and community, Cohen takes photo with roommate.

After being dressed up by students and community, Cohen takes photo with roommate. "You’re now the outsider coming into their country, so you really have to be observant, open to listening and patient with the way you try to help support that community," Cohen said.

Courtesy of Amy Cohen

Courtesy of Amy Cohen

After being dressed up by students and community, Cohen takes photo with roommate. "You’re now the outsider coming into their country, so you really have to be observant, open to listening and patient with the way you try to help support that community," Cohen said.

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Science Teacher Amy Cohen retells her adventures overseas before teaching at West.

After graduating from Drake University in 1997, science teacher Amy Cohen joined the Peace Corps and taught students in a developing country.

“I had already done some study abroad programs in both high school and college, and I loved the idea of being outside of the United States and being of service to others, as well as having an opportunity to really be invested in another culture and community,” Cohen said.

Cohen first traveled to Papua New Guinea, a country north of Australia, where she taught students on Goodenough Island.

“I learned a lot about myself in terms of how resilient I can be and how patient I should be. It was very rewarding for me to be able to be a role model for them. I also learned that no matter where you are in the world, people are people, and if you treat people with kindness, they’ll be kind to you,” Cohen said.

For two years, Cohen taught overseas while learning to adapt to life in a developing country.

“Lifestyle wise, it was challenging because we didn’t have consistent water or electricity. It was a very rural environment where there weren’t grocery stores, movie theaters or cars, so communication and transportation were challenging,” Cohen said. “In terms of my job, it was challenging having the male teachers see me as an equal since men were valued more than women in New Guinea, and me being able to have a voice in what I thought was best for our students.”

Cohen and other volunteers had to fetch and boil water, cook food from scratch, wash clothes by hand and garden to get food.

“Usually, we would have electricity from six to 10 at night. We’d wait to hear the generator come on to know that we had electricity, so then it would be easier to cook dinner. When the power went off, we made sure to be in our beds before the lights went out. It was the best sleep I have ever had because we had to be in bed before 10,” Cohen said.

Over the course of two years, Cohen taught science, math and expressive arts, a course similar to fine arts. Cohen was also the choir director, helped run the library and at one point, was also the basketball coach.

It really helped me appreciate what I have here in the United States, such as having 24-hour access to food, electricity, safe water, safe roads and doctors, having the right to vote and having the ability to go to school without paying tuition.”

— Amy Cohen

“It gave me a different perspective on teaching and interacting with students. It’s very different because they had no supplies, and there were no computers. The act of teaching was different, but the opportunity to try to figure out how to make connections with students is still the same, no matter what grade or subject you teach,” Cohen said.

Cohen had traveled before serving in the Peace Corps, more for recreational purposes than service, but did not realize the severity of a developing country and their living conditions before experiencing it firsthand.

“It really helped me appreciate what I have here in the United States, such as having 24-hour access to food, electricity, safe water, safe roads and doctors, having the right to vote and having the ability to go to school without paying tuition,” Cohen said. “People don’t realize how good it can be in America compared to other places.”

Between being white and a woman, Cohen was able to empathize with those who are marginalized in the community where they live because she too had been apart of the minority group.

It was like two strikes against me since I was a white female, and it really helped me see how some people feel when they are marginalized in the community where they live. There’s challenges of course, but always something to value from interacting with people from other countries and cultures. There’s a lot to gain from diversity,” Cohen said.

After being dressed up by students, teacher Amy Cohen pauses for a photo with her fellow Peace Corps volunteer. Cohen volunteered at Papua New Guinea for two years. “It’s hard to insert yourself in someone else’s community in a different country and expect them to trust you,” Cohen said. “You’re now the outsider coming into their country, so you really have to be observant, open to listening and patient with the way you try to help support that community.”

After two years of serving in New Guinea, Cohen participated in the AmeriCorps program and voluntarily taught at Fanning Middle School in the City of Lanzhou. For one year, she taught English as a Secondary Language to students whose families were refugees. Cohen decided to stay in St. Louis and began her career at Parkway West and while attending Maryville’s graduate school program.

“Everyone has their own path, but for me, doing the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and staying involved internationally have all helped me feel much more well-rounded as a teacher. It’s not always about science—it’s just about education and providing opportunities for students to learn,” Cohen said.

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Science Teacher Amy Cohen retells her adventures overseas before teaching at West