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Lucky One

In a quiet moment as she left Cambodia, things came into perspective for Amanda Ahrens. When someone says good-bye to you in Cambodia, they don't just say ‘See you’ or ‘Have a good day.’ They say ‘Good luck to you.’ And it just hit me in that moment how lucky I am.”

Throughout her career as a teacher, Amanda has been continually reminded of her good fortune. Hailing from Twinsburg, Ohio, the second-year graduate student in Notre Dame’s Master of Education program has been in classrooms around the world, studying abroad in Rome, Italy in her junior year of college, and as an English teacher in schools from Chicago to China.

“I taught in a small high school in the Chicago Public Schools for two years. It was on the south side of Chicago and 95% of my students qualified for free lunches,” she recalled. “I also taught English for one year (07-08) in Shenzhen, China. Shenzhen is one of the wealthiest cities in China, located about 40 miles from Hong Kong.”

In addition to China, her year teaching abroad included stops in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. She feels that this travel will have far-reaching benefits not only for her, but for her students as well. “My mantra for the past 10 years or so has been to constantly remember that there is a world out there that is much larger than the one I inhabit,” she said. “I want my students to be globally educated, so I need to be that too. When they can explore the world through my adventures, it makes the content I am teaching come alive. If one student I teach is inspired to explore the world more in depth, then I have done my job.”

The irony in attending a college that professes to “Change the world… one student at a time” is not lost on Amanda. With a more international exposure than most people experience in a lifetime, she realizes it isn’t what she knows or where she has been that is so important to her students. “Teaching is not about being in front of the classroom or about a great lesson plan. It is about the one-on-one interactions; the "great job” you wrote on a student’s test. It’s the meeting after school where you finally explained that concept in a way that your student could understand. That is teaching, and that is changing the world.”

Steve Ruic is the writer and editor at Notre Dame College.