The International English Teacher

Kendall Wachowiak, Staff Writer

Many people dream about traveling outside of the country, getting to see all of the places in those vivid photographs coming to life. The view is unimaginable and the surrealness of the moment quickly becomes apparent. The luckiest people get a glimpse of these places in real life, and some even get to pursue their dream job while seeing the sights. This is the case for English teacher Judy Trinkner, who has grown up in various parts of Africa and has taught in five countries around the world.

“I was born in the United States, but within the first three months, I was on an airplane to Tripoli, Libya in Northern Africa,” says Trinkner, “My dad worked at many universities in Africa as a teacher trainer, so we moved every two or three years.”

Trinkner and her family bounced around in many parts of Africa, allowing her to see different countries before she even graduated high school. “I went to Ethiopia for a while, then back to Nigeria; after that, I stayed in Kenya for a little bit and went back to Nigeria.”

Trinkner at a beach in Nigeria when she was four-years-old.

She also moved between the United States and Africa throughout her school career. Living in the United States for second and third grade, then moving back to Nigeria for fourth and fifth. 

Despite being born in the United States, Trinkner never felt she truly belonged or that it was her home. “I’m not American at all, I don’t know anything about it. It’s the weirdest thing: I never felt like I had a culture.”

When children are born in s country that they no longer live in, they are considered a third culture kid. Trinkner was a third culture kid, she did not want to be American because she was sickened by the culture, but that was her native country. 

8th Grade yearbook photo from when she went to school in Ethiopia.

“I went to my first cafeteria lunch, I saw people playing with their food and throwing food away. I have never seen that much food wasted in my life!” 

America seemed so careless, which is one of the reasons why she wanted to get out of the United States as soon as possible. Once she had graduated from college in the states, she packed her bags and got out as quickly as she could. 

“I really wanted to see the world on my own. I had been with my family the whole time; I had never been independent.” 

With no plan whatsoever, Trinkner hopped on the plane headed to Costa Rica and took the first job she could find. 

Costa Rica is where she met her husband, creating a special memory for the country. Trinkner and her husband both taught at the same school and had interests in traveling. They flew to the Canary Islands, which is where the two eventually got married. Soon after, they traveled to Korea, where they had their first child, and later had their second in India. Once she got to Greece, her two kids were in middle school and high school, but the country itself is what made this country so memorable. 

Trinkner says, “There are mountains in Greece so you can ski, there are beaches, and the mainland of the islands is so beautiful. You could spend a lot of time in Greece.”

Traveling to different countries provides many unforgettable sights, but lots happened in the classroom too that were special. “In South Korea, a student had been kicked out of all the other 10th grade English classes. All the teachers were just fed up with him,” Trinkner tells, “So when he came into my class, he had a ‘gangster’ attitude with a bunch of chains and his pants falling down. So I asked him an easy question, and he answered, and I liked what he said,” Trinkner continues, “As the conversation in the class went on, he began to sit up straighter because I was respecting him, I was listening to him. Anyway, he came back to class the next day with a pair of glasses on and a notebook.” 

After that, instead of having a negative attitude towards school, the student came into English class ready to share ideas about what he was reading. It is moments like this where a child becomes involved in the class which makes being a teacher so special. “I don’t know if I did anything except engage him in our conversation, and our classroom was a very respectful place where people shared ideas, and he clearly felt safe to do so.”

Trinkner was part of the International Baccalaureate program (IB program), which was why she could travel and teach in so many countries. The IB program, which is a worldwide high school experience, allows students to get a high school diploma, along with an International Baccalaureate. Most of the students she worked with were extremely gifted academically; most of them could speak multiple languages and were far ahead of most kids their age. This meant they could speak more than one language, so Trinkner did not have to worry about a language barrier, at least with her students. She could travel around the world to wherever she was wanted, teach for a couple of years, and move to the next school.

When she eventually made her way back to the United States and lived here shortly before moving back to Greece. Trinkner did not want her kids to have the same third culture experience similar to herself. She bought a house in Colorado and lived there for 8 years until her sons were older, before moving back to Greece. While in Greece, her family discovered that her youngest son had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), a condition that makes following instructions and focusing difficult, and that he needed stability in his life. Trinkner and her family moved back to Colorado, and she began to teach English at Erie for the last 16 years. She teaches creative writing classes, along with CP 12 English classes and ninth-grade honors English classes. One of the biggest things she brings to Erie is all the lessons that she has learned through her adventures. 

Some of her encounters still stand out to her as being a learning experience. When living in a different country that has a different culture, there were some strange things that Trinkner had to get used to. 

“Once, my landlord was outside my house in Greece talking to my neighbor and he was shouting. I thought they were about to fight so I ran outside and tried to stop them,” Trinkner continues, “They were having a normal conversation, but they are just so passionate about what they are saying.” 

Traveling and living in so many different countries, getting to learn so much about cultures and the world, much more than you would from a couch is one of the things that make Trinkner such a versatile teacher. 

“One thing Mrs.Trinkner does that stands out to me is the way she keeps conversations going,” says freshman Molly Nelson, “she will take what a student said and add on to it, the conversation just keeps flowing.”

Trinkner has worked with tons of kids with lots of different situations, giving her the chance to teach about the world through literature. Additionally, going through a childhood where she constantly felt she did not belong can make you more active with students. Trinkner knows what it is like to feel like an outsider, too not really have a place in the world, which is why she makes sure that every student has a voice in her classroom. She also incorporates students’ interests into her learning, making sure whatever her students are doing become invested in it. 

Freshman Paige Lowther says, “She lets us do our own thing, while still making sure we stay on task, and giving us enough time to do the best we can.”

Living in different parts of the world shows someone a peek into different countries, from the activities in Greece to seeing what a third world country looks like, and how much the US takes things like food for granted. These experiences are what make a person who they are and why Trinkner is the person she is today. 

Getting the chance to travel the world when she was younger and grow up in more than one place is something Trinkner will always be grateful for. Deciding to go out and see the world on her own was one of the best choices she ever made.

She says to all aspiring travelers, “Explore, explore, every place I’ve traveled I have explored. There are opportunities out there, so go and get them. Get enough of the language so you can get around but explore and enjoy.”