All posts by eallennilsen

Teacher. Seeker. Dreamer. Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

How I feel about being a Peace Corps TEFL teacher – Emily

Now that Andrew and I have received our full medical clearance (YAY!!!) we’ve shifted our focus to our online TEFL trainings provided by the Peace Corps.  Following is an essay that I wrote about how I feel about being a TEFL teacher:

As someone who struggles to remember the 20 different passwords to her various accounts, I found one this past year that helped me not only remember it, but brightened my day: liveyourpassion. I am just finishing up my third year of teaching Science and Language arts to 6-8th graders. While I do not know what I will do with the rest of my life, I do know that I am very passionate about teaching and learning. I have loved teaching these past three years and am very excited to get to continue exploring the world of teaching through the lens of the Peace Corps TEFL teacher trainer program.

Being a teacher truly fits my identity, fits what I believe about life and the ways in which we live most fully. For me, teaching is less about content and more about building community. I strive to be a part of creating intentional communities in all aspects of my life. It isn’t always easy, but I believe that when people come together with a shared set of values and strive to really get to know each other, the world becomes a little bit better place. Teaching allows me to build connections between people and ideas, to build bridges between human experiences.

John Perricone, an inspirational author for my teaching life, wrote, “We teach who we are.” I bring my whole self to my teaching; teaching brings me to my whole self.

While most of the information and teaching strategies of dos and don’ts in this session were a nice review, the part that I’m going to try to take with me and add to my repertoire is the idea of “striving for good enough.” As a perfectionist, I’ve struggled with this the past three years in my own teaching. My addiction to overachieving has proved difficult to combat, but I have been managing expectations and work/life balance a bit better this third year. However, learning a new language, and then teaching in that new language, will be harder than I even know right now. I can easily see myself wanting to do more, wanting to do better, and being frustrated when I struggle. The personal drive for excellence can be helpful. My self-loathing when I don’t measure up to my own idea of excellence is not. “Striving for good enough” may have to be a mantra I adopt over the coming months.

A practice I already try to avoid, but will continue to focus on, is not just being a deliverer of knowledge. I believe that true teaching is an opportunity to watch others be successful, to delight in their triumphs, and to compassionately understand their failures. When teaching consists solely of lecturing and imparting content knowledge, teachers run the risk of their students not reaching success. Students need to practice, especially language learners, in a safe and nurturing environment that will build their confidence as well as their experiences with the content. I hope to avoid teaching being about me and instead help it be about my students.

I felt that this introductory course into teaching portrayed teachers in a very appropriate light. Teaching is hard, but it can also be such a rewarding experience. The suggested practices to try and avoid are ones that I would suggest to beginners in the profession. I’m grateful for Peace Corps understanding the difficulties and strategies for success and giving them to TEFL teacher trainers early on in this process. It gives me a lot of faith for the program and hope for my cohort. I also appreciated that Peace Corps recognizes that while this will not be an easy placement, that humans are learners.  Our students can learn much from a confident, competent teacher. Likewise, I can learn a lot from my students, this program, and the experiences I will have over the next few years of TEFL teaching. I cannot wait to get started!



Menucha offers guests “the gift of contentment” — the comfort of needs well met and the freedom to engage in purposeful work. Purposeful work is work for which people have a passionate intention, but which daily demands may keep us from. Menucha is a chance to return to what matters. –

Life doesn’t seem to be getting the hint that I’d like it to slow down.  I’ve always lived a busy life, but lately the tempo has picked up another notch.  Between school wrapping up, trying to pass on my co-pastorship roles, Peace Corps medical and legal clearance, learning Español, and really just everything Peace Corps prep related, I’m barely able to keep up.

With all the doings, one thing that can easily fall to the wayside is my relationship with my husband.  It’s easy to slip into to the pattern of simply occupying the same space.  But connection, real connection that fills your soul, that takes work.  And work takes time, time that we don’t have much of.

We may be still “newly” married (coming up on our 3 year mark in about a month), but our relationship isn’t perfect.  Like all couples, to truly thrive we have to take time for ourselves and for each other.  Talking things out and getting on the same page is incredibly important.  Sadly, even at our young age, we already have friends who have not been able to do this, and as a result their relationships have fallen apart.  Marriage itself does not keep two people together.

So last weekend we took some time.  We took an evening out of our busy schedules and went to the Menucha Retreat Center just outside of Portland, OR.  We drank tea and we talked.  Connected.  Shared.  In setting aside time for just the two of us, we were able to take our conversations further than the, “How was your day, dear?” dinner conversations.  Creating a safe space in which to share deeply has helped our relationship multiple times in our few short years, and we endeavor to continue to do so in the future.

Our marriage continues because we choose to be intentional and take time to return to what matters.


A Culture of Caring

Growing up in the United States, my earliest encounter with another culture was the common rite of passage – the sleepover. Staying the night at the home of a friend opened my eyes to a whole new world. The meals and table etiquette were different. Bedtime routines were nothing like mine. Even the contents of a home provide a glimpse into the priorities of the occupants. These early intercultural experiences caused me to think about the world and the people in it a little differently.

Cultural differences exist all around us in our communities, friends, families, and occupations.  One particular community you may hear about from time to time on our blog is our church, Community of Christ. This small community of peace makers have deeply impacted our lives for the better through the relationships we’ve built. A few quick disclaimers for any of our blog clientele: Andrew and I are not the proselytizing kind. If you are not religious, or spiritual, or whatever, we are not offended or concerned about saving your soul. We actively choose to engage in a community that values the worth of all persons, unity in diversity, and the blessings of community and we are followers of the principles that Jesus stands for. But that is our story. That is where we have found healing, hope, and connection. This space is not to convince you that church is the best way or the only way to find meaning in life. Quite the contrary, as our blog itself is suggesting that you find and create meaning wherever you are in life.

Being a part of a church or not is another cultural aspect of our lives that helps make us who we are.

Culture and church are the focus of the post because of a wonderful opportunity Andrew and I had this past weekend thanks to our connections with Community of Christ. Our denomination has congregations all over the world, including our close international neighbor, Canada. Last weekend Andrew and I had the honor of being guest ministers at a retreat with the Meadowridge congregation in Pitt Meadows, B.C. It was also my first time to Canada, so I was excited to interact and experience a culture that is so similar, yet different from our own.

Canada culture

While we packed a lot of “Canadian” things into our short weekend – poutine, Tim Hortons, 5 pin bowling – observing the compassionate ethos of the congregation was our favorite cultural experience. The members of Meadowridge focused first and foremost on caring for each other. It’s one of those things that churches often talk about, that people often talk about, but rarely actually do. We want to be there for others, but when push comes to shove, we’re too busy, it’s out of the way, it inconveniences us to help out. This wasn’t the case at Meadowridge, though. Whenever a need arose in the life of a friend, the others were there. It didn’t matter how big or small the need was. From addictions to divorce, from children needing a home to broken and wounded hearts, needs were met and the details were figured out later.  People were welcomed into the fold, comforted, taken care of.

We were brought up to be ministers to this small community, but, as often happens, we were the ones that left inspired by the opportunity to witness a true culture of caring in action.

May I take this lesson forward in my life as I encounter needs that seem too big. When we work together with the well-being of each other in our hearts, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish.


Peace Corps Blogging Community

Update: As this post is from before we even started our service, it is now a bit out of date. If you’re looking for awesome Peace Corps and other cultural blogs, check out this more recent post.

I consider myself a decently computer savvy young adult.  I use multiple email accounts, track all events with our friend group through social media, and have run a classroom website for a couple years now as a teacher.  Even still, the shear size of the blogosphere is both intimidating and impressive.  As Andrew and I have begun the daunting task of preparing for our Peace Corps Service (more to come on this later) we’ve turned to this crazy collection of blogs and connections for advice and to being to wrap our minds around this huge life change that’s right around the corner.  In our searching, we’ve found a number of Peace Corps blogs that give us a glimpse into what service may look like for us:

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¡Salve a ti, Nicaragua! author Anna Louise spent two years in Nicaragua as a health volunteer and is currently there on an extended third year.  I love all the pictures in her posts!

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OK. I know this one says Jamaica.  BUT this couple have put together a fabulous blog!  They’re one of the blogs we’ve looked at in trying to get ours up and running.  AND they give a couple’s perspective, which we have already found helpful.  Their endeavor to embrace living life intentionally is beautiful as well as inspirational.

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Another health volunteer, Lauren is a recently RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer).  I love how her passions seep into her posts.

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Ellen is a TEFL trainer in the Nicaraguan department of Boaco.  Her start date was in August 2013, so we may cross paths in the near future!

With so much to do and prepare for, I’m thankful for the countless volunteers who have already shared their stories, experiences, and energy in their communities in country and the global blogging community.  Those voices are already inspiring us as we take the first steps of our journey towards Nicaragua.

Jumping Together

big jump
Andrew – Pacific City, OR

I’ve always loved jumping pictures.

When I think back on good times with people I love, it amazes me how many jumping pictures I’ve taken. I think they show how much joy and excitement I truly get out of life. A good jumping picture, though, has to have some thought put into it. You have to make sure everyone is on the same page. Are we jumping on three or after three? Holding hands or striking a pose? Is the camera lady/gent ready? One…two…three…GO!

The past 5 years have been a series of jumping-picture-worth-events in my life.  I graduated university with my undergrad in Education.  I found and married an amazing, thoughtful, ridiculous partner.  After realizing I wanted to spend my life with said partner, I moved across the country away from my family and friends.  I completed my student teaching, taught for a session at an outdoor science school, and fell in love with a tiny charter school in rural Oregon.  I’ve  taught, laughed, grown, cried, struggled, and come so far.

Andrew has had his fair share of jumps, too.  While he moved home, he moved home with a fiancé and now spouse.  He’s shifted through changing friend dynamics, bringing a new person into his family, and entering the job world after college.  In a lot of ways, we have lived the emerging adulthood of the 20-somethings, even living our first year in Portland with Andrew’s parents as we yet couldn’t afford rent.

Transition.  Struggles.  Jumping.  Yes, jumps can be scary, but they can also be beautiful and freeing.


Andrew and friends – Columbia River gorge
Emily – moving to Oregon.
Nilsen Wedding Party
Mrs. Nilsen’s students – Outdoor School 2014

Like many other 20-somethings, we’ve been trying to figure out what to do with our lives.  While we’re no where close to figuring out all of those details, we recognized a few foundational truths: we love people and want to work on creating greater community and love in the world, we want to do some traveling before we settle down (house, family, etc.), and we want to embrace the adventures that life has to offer.  With all of these in mind, we applied to the Peace Corps last May.

After the long application, shifting and re-shifting our expectations, and the long hurry-up-and-wait-game (we’ll probably do a post on this whole process), we finally received our invitation!  We’ve been invited to serve in Nicargua as TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Teacher Trainers with a leave date in August.  So we’re jumping again.  It’s what we do in life, right? We’d only been dating a month and we knew. We jumped. Who knows where this adventure will take us and what hardships await, but that is what life is all about.

“Things can fall apart, or threaten to, for many reasons, and then there’s got to be a leap of faith. Ultimately, when you’re at the edge, you have to go forward or backward; if you go forward, you have to jump together.” – Yo-Yo-Ma

Let’s do this.  Together.

jumping together
Andrew & Emily – Pacific City, OR