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Gloria Meier teaches in a classroom in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in this 2004 photo. Teaching there was similar to teaching in a country school in the U.S. with students of many ages being taught in the same classroom. (Submitted photo courtesy of Dick and Gloria Meier)

Home from teaching abroad

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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

SPICER -- For many Americans, moving to live in a foreign country can be a difficult relocation.

For a couple from Spicer, returning to the U.S. after teaching school overseas for four years was just as challenging.

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Gloria Meier, a second-grade teacher at Prairie Woods Elementary School in New London, returned home this year with her husband, Dick, after teaching students and establishing new schools in China, Albania and Tajikistan. They had been overseas since 2004.

Although glad to be home and working in Minnesota, the Meiers are stuck "between two worlds," wishing they could still teach internationally.

"We love to be back home, we love to be near our family and friends," said Gloria Meier, a teacher in the New London-Spicer School District since 1983. "And I love my students this year, don't get me wrong. But we'll always have that piece in our heart for the international experience."

The couple spent most of a four-year assignment for Quality Schools International by developing a school in Tajikistan. Quality Schools International is an organization that has funded and developed 37 nonprofit, English-speaking schools in 27 countries over the last 37 years.

"(Tajikistan) is one of the poorest countries in the whole world," Meier said. "And when we arrived there I said to my husband 'Let's just do what we have to do over these 10 months and let's get out of here.' But we ended up staying there for three years."

During their service, the couple taught class in a way similar to that used in U.S. country schools, Meier said, teaching all subjects to multiple age groups. The Meiers taught core subjects while other teachers assisted with music and art lessons.

Class sizes of the schools ranged from six students to 27, Meier said.

The most obvious challenge was communicating, Meier said. Some students spoke English fluently, she said, and others grasped the basics. But some came to class only knowing how to say "yes" and "no."

"We always just felt the challenges brought us closer to the people," Meier said. "And they just made us stronger for it. The challenges were the blessing."

The Meiers' recent four-year stint was not their first time abroad. After first connecting with Quality Schools International in 1997, the Meiers taught class in Slovenia from 1997 to 2000.

"My husband always dreamed of not just traveling overseas but to actually live there," Meier said. To do that, the couple joined International Schools Services, a nonprofit organization serving American international schools. They were later hired by Quality Schools International.

Though the Meiers wish they could teach abroad and at home, Prairie Woods Elementary School is glad to have Meier back.

Principal Sonya Peterson said Meier has already made an impact on her second-grade students by fusing her cultural knowledge into her lessons.

"She's very good at teachable moments and that kind of thing that pops up and you can't always plan for," Peterson said. " ... It's just nice having her back because she is such a good teacher."

Meier said the couple has kept in contact with a few international students and plans to attend one's high school graduation. They hope they will again have the opportunity to live and teach abroad, Meier said.

"We're going to see where our life leads us from here," Meier said. "But it just made us really better people. ... We certainly look at life totally differently than we ever did before."

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