Senior Sam Gaines will teach in Kuwait for two years. Photo by Anna Knutson.

Sitting alone in his hotel room in Waterloo, Iowa, in early February, Sam Gaines wondered, “What did I get myself into?” The next day at the UNI Overseas Recruiting Fair sponsored by University of Northern Iowa, Sam got his answer: a two-year contract to teach middle school music in Kuwait.

Gaines, a senior vocal music education major at Concordia, found out about the fair and other opportunities to teach abroad while at an American Choral Directors Association Summer Dialogue conference last August. He voiced his concerns about possibly being “stuck in a small town in Minnesota, alone” for his teaching career. What he often sees happening is that music education graduates wind up moving to small towns in Minnesota.

“To be completely honest, they sound miserable,” Gaines said. “They enjoy what they’re teaching. But they are young people, in a place where there are no other people their age or in communities where there’s not much to do. I couldn’t do that.”

Gaines explained that teaching abroad is a quality alternative to finding teaching placement in the United States.

“I’m receiving a salary comparable to any starting teaching job,” Gaines said.

Additionally, with no taxes and paid travel, rent, and utilities for his apartment in Kuwait, he will be primed to pay off his student loans quickly.

Dr. Michael Culloton, assistant professor of music at Concordia, has taught Gaines in the classroom and advised him in regards to the student chapter of the ACDA. Culloton was glad to hear that the informal discussion at the ACDA Summer Dialogue helped Gaines find the right path for him, post-grad.

“Sam’s doing this at just the right time,” he said. “Immediately after college, you are held down the least.”

Culloton is cautious to say this type of employment would be a one-size-fits all approach to music education majors. However, he believe that Gaines will be a perfect fit.

“This is a great opportunity for the right person looking for an adventure,” he said.

As he prepared to apply for the recruiting fair, Gaines found resources at Concordia’s Career Center, where the program  manager of career and professional development, namely Julie Maahs, helped him curate his resume and learn how to emphasize and provide evidence for his skills.

“We help students learn to market themselves in a way that shows employers and graduate programs what makes them a perfect fit,” Maahs said in an email.

However, most of the in-depth research into finding employment teaching abroad fell on Gaines himself. In that sense, mental flexibility was key in the process of finding a job abroad.

This sense of flexibility is still important to Gaines, who has not yet decided the specifics of his life after his two-year contract ends.

“I might continue working there and extend my contract, or I might return to the U.S. I’m really not sure,” he said.

Keeping himself open to new possibilities seems to have worked in his favor so far, and Gaines only seems ready for more opportunities and challenges as they come.

“I’m preparing myself completely to be completely unprepared,” he said.