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Alumna Bethany Chan takes a Guatemalan Gap year

Alumna+Bethany+Chan+stands+in+front+of+school+gates%2C+excited+for+her+teaching-filled+year+ahead.+
Used with permission from Bethany Chan.
Alumna Bethany Chan stands in front of school gates, excited for her teaching-filled year ahead.

While most graduating Lynbrook students end up pursuing a traditional 4-year undergraduate experience, Class of 2023 alumna Bethany Chan plans to spend the next year teaching English at AMI International School in Cobán, Guatemala. When the school year begins on Aug. 21, Chan’s pre-K English class will contain about 20 students out of six grades. Chan left for Guatemala on Aug. 9 and plans to return home in June 2024. 

In high school, Chan immersed herself in a wide range of sports, such as cross country, track and soccer. Unlike many students who stuck with the same electives throughout high school, she found herself taking a variety of different classes ranging from Intro to Java to Ceramics.  

“I didn’t really follow a specific route,” Chan said. “I just tried a bunch of different things.”

Going into senior year, Chan applied to a few colleges. However, after hearing back from them, she decided there wasn’t a particular college she really wanted to attend. Chan was unsure about what she wanted to pursue in the future, but unbeknownst to her, an opportunity arose.

“I’ve thought of teaching as a career, because my mom is a teacher and I saw what it’s like to live and work as a teacher,” Chan said. 

Teaching is not the only parallel between the mother and daughter pair. Chan’s mother, Betty Chan, who works as a math teacher at Miller Middle School, has also participated in two service trips to Brazil and Paraguay. Both trips had a significant impact on her, and she even considered a third after noticing an opening for a teaching position in Guatemala for an organization called Acts Ministries International, or AMI. Initially eying the position for herself, Betty Chan saw the full-year time commitment as logistically unfeasible, yet the opportunity never left her mind. 

 “The idea was sitting there for a while, maybe a month,” Betty Chan said. “One day, I thought, maybe this is something that Bethany could do.”

Betty Chan had anticipated more hesitance due to the magnitude of the decision, but was met with immediate excitement. Chan instantly loved the prospect of teaching abroad as she enjoys traveling and had previously gone on service trips abroad. In the winter of her senior year, Chan traveled internationally for the first time on a 2-week trip to Cambodia where she worked with a team to install better infrastructure at a school. Keeping in line with her passions of teaching children, Chan also traveled to Taiwan in the summer following her graduation to instruct at an English camp. Chan’s experience in Taiwan gave her confidence as an educator, which partly inspired her to sign up for teaching in Guatemala. 

After talking to school officials at AMI and notifying Lynbrook counselors about her plan, Chan took up the proposal, recognizing it as a meaningful experience where she could apply her passions. 

“My family’s definitely very supportive,” Chan said. “My friends are too, though they were initially surprised because they had heard of people taking gap years, but were still unfamiliar with it and didn’t personally know many people who made that choice.” 

Isabelle Chan, a second-year college student, has been very supportive of her sister’s decision to take a gap year. She thinks this position teaching abroad will be a good fit for Chan because of her previous experiences working with kids, from helping children at church to taking care of her two younger siblings at home. 

“Bethany’s really flexible, so she’ll be able to adapt to the situation that she faces,” Isabelle Chan said. “She can do it; she’s strong and she has other people in the same situation who will take care of her.”  

Chan’s parents have also been huge supporters throughout her decision-making process. 

“I’m surprised that this has happened in my own family, but once it happened, it did make a lot of sense for Bethany, and I was excited for her,” Betty Chan said. “Even though it’s Bethany’s gap year, I definitely have learned a lot by just being part of the process.”  

While in Guatemala, Chan looks forward to interacting with a diverse group of people, including not only her students but also faculty from other parts of the world. She hopes their perspectives and experiences will help her gain clarity on her future plans. Moreover, Chan is excited to be immersed in different cultures, having not traveled much in her childhood. 

“I’m really excited,” Chan said. “I’ll learn a lot and not just academically — I’m sure this experience will help me grow as a person.”

Although Chan expects to face many obstacles in her new environment such as cooking for herself and overcoming the language barrier, she knows that there will be a supportive community behind her every step of the way. Chan is also the youngest teacher at AMI, so she hopes to learn from the more experienced staffers on base, most of whom have already graduated college. She also hopes to overcome the feelings of homesickness. 

“I feel like the biggest challenge is being away from family and friends, but I think the people around me are very nice and loving,” Chan said. “They’re willing to support me and always encourage me.” 

Assistant Principal Yukari Salazar shared her support for students who choose to pursue a nontraditional path after high school graduation. Most students at Lynbrook attend college directly after graduation, but a select few choose different career pathways. 

“I think students need to make a decision for themselves about what they want to pursue,” Salazar said.  “Sometimes it takes a while because every student is different.”

Salazar supports what the district has been doing for students who want to pursue unique pathways, but believes that more action should be taken. 

“There’s a lot of counselors that really talk about those pathways, and I wish we could be more proactive about this,” Salazar said. 

Looking to the future, Chan believes that her experiences in Guatemala will give her a better idea of what she wants to pursue. She hopes to attend university after taking a gap year but speculates that her decision could change based on how she likes her stay abroad.  As of now, Chan is looking forward to the year ahead and the memories she will make in Guatemala.  

“I’m personally very excited, especially after I got here,” Chan said.  “After talking to the people in charge and getting to know more about what the organization does, I’m even more excited.”

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Emily Pedroza, Features Editor
(she/her) Emily Pedroza is a soup and writing enthusiast. When she’s not writing or studying, you’ll find her wrapped in blankets: reading, stalking her favorite poets on Twitter and nursing cups of herbal tea.
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