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C&I Secondary Ed student Sydney Amigo in Africa

Lessons from Africa

Sydney Amigo Learns value of being from Idaho while student teaching in Ethiopia.

Written by, Allison Stormo

Sydney Amigo, a third generation Vandal, has learned she can’t take anything for granted. After spending her last term at University of Idaho student teaching abroad in Ethiopia, she appreciates her family, education and circumstances even more.

“We have it so much better than everyone else there,” the 21-year-old said. She graduated in May in Spanish and secondary education.

Sydney, originally of Boise, spent January through May doing her student teaching in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, at the International Community School. She taught ninth- and 10th-graders Spanish.

Sydney Amigo and African historyThe seed for teaching internationally was planted at an early age. She grew up in a bilingual home speaking in Spanish and English. Her father, Juan, is from Spain and is a Spanish teacher. He and Sydney’s mother, Teresa Noble, a school counselor and University of Idaho College of Education graduate, decided to move overseas when Sydney was 12 and her sister Amaya was 10. The family left Boise and moved to Germany for two years, then they lived in Japan for another two years. It was during those years, Sydney learned to write and read Spanish.

Before returning to the U.S. when Sydney was 16, her family traveled extensively, and she has been to more than 30 countries. She says it was a priority for her parents to ensure she and her sister traveled and experienced the world.

“I thought it was a great experience and wanted to do international teaching,” she said.

Although Ethiopia was not her initial student teaching assignment. When her top choices of India and Turkey did not work out, she was given Lagos, Nigeria, as her destination. However, Sydney decided it was not safe for her. In fact, the U.S. Department of State has issued a travel warning and recommends that U.S. citizens avoid all but essential travel to many parts of the country. Instead, she asked that she be given a new option. She selected Ethiopia over Dubai and Jakarta.

Sydney started her work by observing for two weeks. She transitioned into co-planning before solo teaching African Treefor a least a month. But she had a much different experience teaching abroad than her counterparts have in the U.S.

“It was a lot easier teaching experience there than I would have had here,” she said referring to the U.S.

She had 24 students total and some classes had only five students. The small classes allowed Sydney to offer her students individualized attention. “They wanted to work for me because I wanted to work for them.”

She wanted them to succeed. Even though she had great successes and helped some students bring their grades from a D to an A, that wasn’t the case with everyone.

“I had this idea that all students have the same potential. I had this idea that they all had the same capacity to learn,” she said.

Sydney had one student who really struggled. She met with the student one-on-one daily. And even though the student got outside help with other teachers, she still had difficulty remembering what she was taught.

“But that doesn’t mean a teacher should stop trying,” Sydney insists.

Although, Sydney said it breaks her heart when students can’t succeed as she would like them to.

“I didn’t know how much I would care,” she said.

In addition, Sydney had the opportunity to work with students from all nationalities. She had students who were German, French, Malian and Turkish. She said the vast majority of her students have lived in at least three countries.

But while her students had traveled, she found many people living Ethiopia don’t finish high school. She met many individuals who did not finish school because they went to work to help financially support the family.

“By far it is the saddest place I have ever been.”

She said the poverty in the city is shocking. Sydney had this idea that the area would be metropolitan, but it was not as vibrant as she imagined. While she lived with a host family in a Western-style, there were shacks all over the city. She saw thousands of homeless people, pollution and poverty.

“I couldn’t believe how many homeless people there were.”

After her many trips abroad, Sydney always came back home feeling like she took something with her. This time is no exception.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be from here.”

She plans on pursuing substitute teaching in the Palouse Valley during the next year while her boyfriend finishes school. They then plan on moving to New York where he plans on attending graduate school and she will pursue a job at an international school.