Sara Hendricks explored a number of possibilities before deciding on her current career path.
The 2001 Eau Claire Memorial graduate, whose maiden name is Allsop, initially wanted to train animals for movies. She’s also been a lifeguard, valet, vintage photo-booth photographer, comedian, dude ranch wrangler and, by her own admission, a “terrible jewelry salesperson.”
“My mom always told me I should try teaching,” Hendricks said, “but I didn’t think that was ‘exciting’ enough.”
Nevertheless, she eventually was drawn to the vocation, and the world has been her classroom ever since. Hendricks currently is finishing up a stint as a U.S. Department of State English Language Fellow in San Jose Chiapa, Mexico, which has a population of roughly 4,500. She teaches at a new bilingual university in a program designed by the U.S. Embassy.
Hendricks was working on a novel stateside when a friend helped her get a teaching job in South Korea more than 10 years ago. She’s also taught in China, Japan and Taiwan.
“I just fell in love with teaching,” Hendricks said. “I like how every day is different, and I plan and choose what I’m going to do.
“I like being in the classroom and having fun with the students, and I also like the challenge of research and writing papers for journals, as well as presenting at conferences, which is a pretty big part of a university teacher’s life.”
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After teaching in South Korea, Hendricks volunteered with the United Nations for six months in Ecuador, teaching English to refugee families fleeing drug violence in Colombia. They took night courses while their paperwork was processed to relocate to Canada.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree from Brigham University-Idaho, she returned to the United States to earn a master’s degree in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) at UW-River Falls. Through that program she met her future husband, Jon Hendricks, a 2001 New Richmond High School graduate. Both are now 35. While in Mexico, Jon is continuing his studies and writing a supernatural thriller novel.
“I’m very lucky to have fallen in love with someone who also wants to travel the world and teach English with me,” Sara Hendricks said.
The couple now have three children — the oldest two were born in Japan and the third was born in Mexico last year. On one occasion, the entire family — plus two pet guinea pigs — adventured by car across Mexico. Although the journey took nearly twice as long as the seven hours anticipated, it was relatively uneventful.
“We got stopped twice for random drug checks,” Hendricks said, “but they were very painless.”
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Hendricks took part in theater, improv and tennis at Memorial. As far as school work, her electives included Spanish, shop and a jewelry class.
“Memorial is a very good school,” she said, “and gave me lots of options for which types of classes I’d like to take.
“I only realized once I left and saw the world a little bit how lucky I am that I attended such a quality school.”
Nevertheless there have been challenges in her life abroad. Cultures treat day care differently, Hendricks said, and the paperwork required of visas and other documents requires a relentless amount of time and resources.
“Things we were able to compromise on concerned health care costs, English-speaking doctors, weather, nightlife and so forth,” she wrote in a blog entry. “I would love to be able to take my kids to an English-speaking pediatrician and dentist. I would have loved to give birth in the states without having to memorize the vocabulary for epidural and fetal heart rate monitor, but these things just didn’t work out.”
At the time of this writing, Sara and and her husband were in the process of applying for jobs in Japan at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, where they both previously worked.
“The kids like it here and have adjusted well,” she said. “We’re trying to prepare them for our move away from Mexico and, so far, they seem to understand that we are leaving.
“The kids learned to speak Spanish well, and I love to hear how fluently and confidently they speak it.”
And the cultural journey will continue for the family, which doesn’t appear ready to settle down at any one location anytime soon.
“No matter where I go,” Hendricks said, “I always find my new neighbors, colleagues, friends and I are so much more alike than we are different.”
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