A Journey of Learning and Teaching in Two Cultures

Teaching Beyond Borders

A Journey of Learning and Teaching in Two Cultures: A Filipino Educator’s Experience in the United States

Meet Jessie M. Valerio Jr., a 31-year-old hailing from Archipelago City in the eastern Philippines. Jessie’s upbringing was within a modest family, where, following the loss of his father, his mother dedicated herself to providing education for her children. His teaching journey began in his teenage years, and for over a decade, he has been imparting knowledge to children and teenagers. Today, Jessie has ventured across borders to continue his educational mission as an international teacher in the United States.

In 2021, Jessie seized the opportunity to travel to the United States and serve as an international educator in the state of North Dakota. He takes immense pride in his role as an international teacher. Jessie’s teaching philosophy revolves around nurturing students’ learning experiences and building strong connections with them. His time in the United States has brought about a diverse and captivating journey, as he engages with students and shares the rich tapestry of Filipino culture with them.


International Ambitions From the Start

After completing his bachelor’s degree in physical education at the Philippine State University in 2012, Jessie embarked on a teaching career that has now spanned over a decade, focusing on educating children and teenagers. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, he is currently pursuing a master’s degree. However, despite his keen interest in studying in the United States, financial constraints prevented him from pursuing higher education in that country. “I had a strong aspiration to pursue a master’s degree in the United States, but the prohibitive cost of education rendered it an unattainable goal. Therefore, I made the decision to pursue my master’s degree online through a university in the Philippines.”

Becoming an international teacher has always been Jessie’s lifelong aspiration. In 2014, he became aware of the cultural exchange program and the J-1 visa through friends and relatives residing in the United States, inspiring him to explore this opportunity. Since 2015, he has been actively working towards participating in this program to realize his goal of being recognized as an international teacher. This journey challenged him to improve his English proficiency, but with unwavering determination and tireless effort, Jessie ultimately achieved his dream. He reflects on his journey, stating, “Realizing this dream was far from easy, and I poured my heart and soul into achieving this goal.”

Applying for the J-1 visa proved to be a time-consuming endeavor, and due to the unique circumstances of 2020 and the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, all procedures had to be conducted online. Jessie applied to multiple schools in the United States, persisting until one of them accepted his application. He eventually arrived in the United States on August 8, 2021. “In reality, my visa sponsor played a pivotal role in making my dream a reality. This organization provided unwavering support at every step of my journey. I made a personal commitment to reciprocate this support by dedicating myself to teaching and mentoring students.”

Jessies Story

Classroom Contrasts

At present, Jessie is an instructor at Standing Rock Community School in North Dakota. He imparts physical education to students ranging from kindergarten to 5th grade and takes immense pride in this opportunity as an international teacher. His teaching experience in the United States presents a marked contrast to his earlier experiences in the Philippines. In this new environment, he is in a perpetual state of learning and discovery, exposed to diverse teaching methodologies and state-of-the-art equipment. Furthermore, he gains insights into various social behaviors and seizes numerous cultural exchange opportunities. Jessie underscores the attractiveness of the United States along with the differences among students from what he experienced in the Philippines: “Salaries are notably better here, and the prospects for cultural exchange are truly captivating. American students enjoy numerous privileges and rights.”

Jessie’s teaching philosophy has consistently centered around student-centered learning. He endeavors to build strong, meaningful relationships with his students, fostering an effective learning environment. Jessie goes the extra mile by actively participating in physical activities with his students in the gym, providing them with a taste of traditional Filipino entertainment that the students seem to love. He also shares insights into the diverse cultures and traditions of the Philippines, sparking discussions about cultural variances, particularly in Filipino and American cuisine. Jessie shared one particularly poignant anecdote, saying, “I introduced my colleagues and students to a special and traditional dish from my home country called ‘Filipino Spaghetti’ for the first time. They were pleasantly surprised by its unique sweet taste, distinct from Italian and other spaghetti dishes. After tasting this dish, they expressed a desire to have the opportunity to savor it again.” This unique experience enhanced his ability to communicate with his students and actively promote Philippine culture.

Jessies Story

The Personal Impact of Diversity and Cultural Exchange

The cultural exchange program has provided Jessie with what he calls a “transformative experience”, marked by changes in his environment, diverse teaching methods, and the unique customs of the United States. “I had never seen snow in the Philippines due to the hot weather. Last winter, I went skiing with my colleagues and students, and it was an incredible experience.” He continues to immerse himself in a culture of learning and discovery in this new setting, all while endeavoring to create a conducive and effective learning environment by forging strong bonds with his students. His teaching methodology draws from his rich cultural and athletic experiences, enabling him to instruct students on how to connect with and benefit from diversity. According to Jessie, interacting with students in the United States has been an intriguing and distinct experience.

Jessie notes that the education system in the United States is exceptionally supportive of students, consistently encouraging them to explore their potential. This not only boosts students’ self-confidence but also enhances the satisfaction of teachers. An illustrative example of the impact of teacher-student interaction is the memory of a student who was facing challenging family circumstances, including the negative influence of a stepfather and familial problems. Jessie’s engagement not only fostered trust, but also empowered the student to trust in themselves. According to Jessie, such interactions can alleviate psychological distress in students and yield positive changes in their behavior. Nevertheless, interaction with students also presents challenges, as some students grapple with learning difficulties and family issues. This interaction opens the doors to young minds, fostering a rich cultural exchange between teachers and students. Jessie proudly shares, “What I’m most proud of is the genuine affection my students have for me, a sentiment frequently echoed by their parents.”

Jessies Story

Promotion of Cultural Exchange:

According to Jessie, the J-1 exchange program transcends traditional education by actively promoting and facilitating the exchange of cultural differences and communities. This program exerts a significant influence on human relationships, cultures, and human values, playing a pivotal role in introducing new teaching and learning experiences to American students while fostering global understanding and peace. For international teachers like Jessie, this program represents both an honor and a solemn responsibility. It underscores the promotion of human values and facilitates the development of a commitment to peace and nonviolence.

Jessie stands as a living testament to the positive impact of international experiences. He not only engages in cultural exchange but also exerts a cultural influence. For instance, during the program, he learned how to drive for the first time, which opened up even more opportunities to gain valuable insights into life in the United States, enriching his understanding of facets of American culture previously unfamiliar to him. “In the Philippines, car ownership isn’t a common path for those in middle and low-income communities, as it typically necessitates substantial financial resources.” And the more experience he gains in American culture, the more comparing and contrasting examples he has to not only bring his students closer to his own culture, but also as a means to enhance his pedagogical framework to improve their individual knowledge and skills as well as personal development.

One of the stipulations of the J-1 cultural exchange program is that international teachers return to their home country after the completion of their program. The J-1 visa is, after all, not an immigration pathway, but a cultural diplomacy program only available for visitors. Returning to home also completes the exchange cycle by allowing the teacher to share their newfound knowledge and experiences with students in their home country. While the initial program duration is three years, it can be extended two additional years. Jessie, recognizing the program’s importance and its positive effects, has decided to extend his stay in the United States for those two years. This extension will enable him to continue playing a role in promoting cultural exchange and furthering global understanding, thereby sustaining the program’s impact.

According to Jessie, his role as an international teacher has not only enriched his knowledge and skills but has also broadened his horizons both personally and professionally, solidifying his dedication to peace and global understanding. This program empowers teachers to impart fresh experiences to students while continually enhancing their knowledge and skills. Jessie’s success exemplifies how this experience enabled him to acquire new skills, promote cultural understanding and cross-cultural appreciation, and contribute to his personal development. This story underscores how cultural exchange programs can profoundly and comprehensively shape individuals, emphasizing the promotion of human values and a commitment to peace and global understanding.

Jessies Story