Local teacher follows her calling to Honduras

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer
memara@fortfrances.com

Hannah Veldhuisen, 23, has just returned from teaching English to grade 7 and 8 students in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Veldhuisen graduated highschool from the Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program (SCAP) in Emo. She then attended Dordt University in Sioux Centre, Iowa, where she studied elementary education with a minor in middle school science and language arts.

“Ever since I was in fifth grade, I remember thinking that I wanted to be a teacher,” Veldhuisen said. “I’ve always had a deep love for education. I was always more interested in language arts. That’s always been one of my passions so this is a great way to continue pursuing that.”

Veldhuisen’s trip to Tegucigalpa was not on her radar post graduation, as her plan was to come back to Canada and pursue her teaching career. However, in her junior year, she felt something else was in store for her.

“I just felt God telling me that there are more things in store,” Veldhuisen said. “I started thinking about my future and praying about it.”

During the fall semester of that year, a superintendent from the school in Honduras came to Dordt University and gave a presentation on the school.

“I felt like he was here for me,” Veldhuisen said. “I was really impacted by the presentation and it sounded like an amazing school. I presented it to my parents pretty early on, and they did not like it.”

However, Veldhuisen followed her inner calling and travelled to Tegucigalpa at the beginning of August of 2020, for her first ever formal teaching experience.

Prior to her trip, Veldhuisen said she had done some research on the Honduran culture and learned some Spanish on Duolingo, a language-learning mobile application.

“My university taught me a lot of wonderful things about teaching, but I don’t think anything can prepare you for teaching online for an entire year in a foreign country,” Veldhuisen said. “It was quite a learning curve. But I’m just so thankful I had other teachers to give me advice.”

Since all her teaching was done online, Veldhuisen said she did not expect to form such close relationships with her students and in a short period of time.

“Because I was teaching online, I thought I was going to be so separated from these students and I won’t get a chance to get to know them at all,” Veldhuisen said. “But as the year went on, I got to know them better and we ended up having fun. I ended up having students stay after class to talk to me just to tell me about their lives and they sent me the sweetest emails sometimes.”

Going to Tegucigalpa, Veldhuisen said she thought the most challenging aspect of her trip would be the culture shock, but she found her limited Spanish the biggest barrier in communicating with her colleagues. She said she could not have deep and meaningful conversations with them.

“I really wanted to form a good relationship with them and have genuine conversations about teaching,” Veldhuisen said. “Sometimes I needed information and I felt like there was a bit of a divide, only because of the language barrier. I can see they want to get to know me and they try to have conversations with me and ask me questions.”

Coming out of this one-year teaching job, Veldhuisen said, she does not have the excuse for not doing well. She said at the end of every year, all teachers think they could have done a better job.

Reflecting on her first teaching experience, Veldhuisen said she could have pushed students harder, since she initially underestimated their English abilities.

“I assumed that in terms of English, they would be lower than the American students who I worked with, but they’re not,” Veldhuisen said. “They’re actually above and beyond what I was expecting. I could definitely push them harder next year. I’m ready to give them some more challenging content. Because it’s not fair to just make assumptions about what they know, based on where they’re from.”

Veldhuisen wanted to begin her teaching career not just at a bilingual school that gives students the opportunity to go anywhere, but the opportunity to know Christ, she said.

Veldhuisen is heading back to Tegucigalpa on August 15.