Episode 65 │ How'd That Happen? (OMAN/GERMANY/S. AFRICA)
Updated: Sep 22
"I think it's more, not necessarily an age thing but just a mentality thing. Like I was saying about being flexible... It doesn't matter what age you are, if you're not flexible, it's not gonna be for you. So I think it's about adaptability more than anything." (Nicole, Episode 65)
Most of the guests on Young, Gifted and Abroad are people that I've found on my own. Others are referred to me, and sometimes I even have the delight of people contacting me out of the blue about being on the show! Nicole Brewer is one of those people. She reached out to me back in April after hearing about a previous guest's appearance on the show, and in July we spoke from different continents—because Nicole lives in Oman! She's an educator who's been teaching abroad for a decade, and she's also a blogger who co-runs a travel community called I Luv 2 Globe Trot. In the midst of all this, she spent a year pursuing a master's degree in Germany and doing an internship in South Africa.
Nicole is from Detroit, and she earned a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Michigan. From there she lived in Chicago for a number of years, working in market research and IT sales. At some point she was laid off during a recession, and for nearly six months she tried to find work but to no avail. So she moved to South Korea to teach English instead. The year before she was laid off, Nicole had gone to visit some friends living in Japan, and learning more about their experiences as English teachers there made her want to try teaching abroad at some point. Now that she was looking to teach abroad in earnest, extensive research and input from people she knew helped her conclude that South Korea would be more her speed than Japan. It also seemed that South Korea would be easier for her to transition to as someone who didn't know Korean. She was hired through a program called EPIK (English Program in Korea, same as Ande from episode 22 and Nailah from episode 39).
EPIK placed Nicole in Busan, the second largest city in South Korea after Seoul. With no prior experience as an educator, she learned quickly, earning a TEFL (also known as TESL or TESOL) certification and collaborating with her Korean co-teachers to teach primary school students and eventually high school students too. And though she'd planned to only teach for a year or two, she enjoyed living in Busan so much that she stayed for three and a half years. When she decided to move on to another country, it was because she likes to move around and felt that it was time for something different, but she definitely left Korea with no regrets. And for Nicole, "something different" meant the Middle East. She initially considered Dubai or elsewhere in the UAE, but she had a hard time securing a teaching position there because it was so competitive. Then she happened upon an ad for a position in Oman. She didn't know much about Oman, but she sought out information about the country and decided to apply for the position. That's how she found herself moving from the big city of Busan to the small town of Nizwa, Oman.
This time Nicole was teaching at a college (the same one she still teaches at today), but she told me that teaching high school students in Korea was actually great preparation for this. Her first year students are fresh out of high school, and often still have a high school mentality. The college is co-ed, but it can sometimes be an awkward adjustment for Nicole's students, who are used to attending all-girls or all-boys schools. This is especially so for the female students who aren't in the habit of speaking to boys or men outside of their family, and sometimes feel nervous about being in the same classroom as male students or having to give presentations in front of the class. More than having to teach at a college level, these gender-related cultural differences have been the biggest challenge that Nicole has faced when it comes to teaching in Oman.
After teaching in Oman for a year, Nicole moved to Germany for graduate school. For a while she knew she wanted to get her master's but wasn't sure what field or discipline to concentrate on. However, a trip to Kenya helped bring her clarity. She went to Kenya on holiday during that first year in Oman, and part of the trip included volunteering to feed homeless youth with a local organization in Nairobi. She'd wanted to contribute or give back in some way since this was her first time in Africa, and doing service in Kenya felt like an affirmation, "Oh, this is your calling. You're supposed to be helping people." So she pursued a Master in Humanitarian Action degree through a joint program that's run by two European organizations: Erasmus Mundus, and an association of universities called NOHA (Network on Humanitarian Action).
Nicole's program was a one-year accelerated program that focused on humanitarian and non-profit work. For nine months she lived in Bochum, Germany and studied at Ruhr-University Bochum (Ruhr-Universität Bochum). This proved to be an excellent choice for her because all instruction was in English, and her classes included both German people and other international students from all over the world. She'd been to Europe previously but this was her first time living there, and she remembers Germany as the most challenging country she's lived in so far because people were colder and not as helpful as she'd become accustomed to in South Korea and Oman. Nonetheless, she appreciates that experience and everything she gained from it.
Nicole especially appreciated Cape Town, South Africa, where she lived for the other three months of her program and interned at a non-profit called Sonke Gender Justice. She also conducted research for her thesis, interviewing various women as part of her study on how victims of violence are perceived by the media. In this way, Nicole was able to combine her passions for both humanitarianism and communications. Outside of her studies, she was enamored by Cape Town's beauty, fun vibe, and the friends she made there. It's a city full of good memories for her, and as a traveler who doesn't repeat countries very often, she's been back to Cape Town twice since the first time. Suffice it to say that it's one of her favorite places.
"A blessing all around"
After completing her master's degree, Nicole was hired back at the same college in Oman, and she's been living and teaching in Nizwa to this day (virtually now, of course). Including her first year there, it's been nearly seven years total. Just like how she moved on from South Korea, Nicole figured she'd be in Oman for a few years and then relocate to somewhere new. But she enjoys her life there and hasn't found a strong reason or urge to leave, so she's stayed. Her contract with the college lasts at least another two years, and after that she doesn't know where she will go or what she'll be doing. From living in Oman for so long to even becoming a teacher in the first place, much of what Nicole has done over the past ten years was unanticipated, but she maintains that each twist and turn in her life has been "a blessing all around".
In addition to teaching, Nicole has also become an active travel blogger. In 2012 she started an online travel community called I Luv 2 Globe Trot with her friend and business partner Renee, whom she met when they were both English teachers in South Korea. I Luv 2 Globe Trot is meant to inspire people to travel or even live abroad like they have. It encompasses a blog, a Facebook group of over 10,000 members, as well as meetups and group trips that Nicole and Renee have organized in places like Iceland, Greece, and India. Nicole has also published a book, A Guide to Landing an English Teaching Job Abroad, which uses the knowledge that she's gained to inform newcomers who are teaching abroad for the first time.
Although she doesn't know what comes next after teaching in Oman, ultimately Nicole's dream is to retire in Portugal where she will run her own hostel and winery. Until then, she's strategizing on all the other places she wants to visit in the future. She hopes that summer 2021 will be her time to break out, and has a handful of African countries on her mind in particular: Mozambique (where she was supposed to go for her birthday in June), Mauritius (somewhere beachy), and Ethiopia (for the architecture and history). Nicole can be found where I Luv 2 Globe Trot is, including the blog (iluv2globetrot.com), the Facebook group, and @iluv2globetrot on social media (Facebook page / Twitter / Instagram).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "How'd That Happen? (OMAN/GERMANY/S. AFRICA)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
Brothas&Sistas of South Korea (FB group)
Black Americans Living Abroad (FB group)