Mark met his first non-English speaking friends in the third grade and immediately fell in love with language. He spent much of his youth learning Spanish, and eventually moved to South America to immerse himself in the culture and teach English as a second language.
While in South America, one of Mark’s friends told him about Cook School of Intercultural Studies and suggested he look into it if he was interested in developing a long-term career in teaching English. After visiting the campus, Mark found exactly what he was looking for: a supportive, Christian community that would take his education to the next level.
“I spent some time on campus, I even got a job working on campus with some of the international students and so for me it was just a great period of time to sink in and I really spent a lot of time with classmates, professors, being on campus. It was the first time I'd been at a Christian university setting and so I probably went almost overboard, you know, I really got into my seminary classes and I tried to go to chapel every once in awhile even more than we really had to.”
Mark thrived in the Christian environment and made several friends with his fellow classmates as well as professors. He was excited to see students from all over the world come together in one classroom to learn more about Christ, and to inspire one another in their passion to learn about other cultures.
“I had a great experience with the community in the Cook School of Intercultural Studies. …There were people from all over the world; there was a girl from Mongolia, India, I had friends from Japan. And then, the people who were from the states generally had some kind of experience or pretty strong desire.”
The professors also challenged Mark to step outside his comfort zone. Since the TESOL program at Biola is smaller, students have the opportunity to truly get to know their professors personally. And, because most of the professors have their own experiences from being on the mission field, they are able to relate directly to students’ desire to learn more about what they can expect.
“The professors in the program were great, it’s a pretty small number in my program, M.A. TESOL, so each one you got to know on a very personal level, really as much as you wanted to invest in that relationship there’s a lot of room there. Everyone is experts in their field.”
Cook’s TESOL program also offers students the chance to learn how to integrate their learning with their faith. Teaching English is not only viewed as a career, but as a calling, and a way to open doors wherever you are and share the gospel.
“Teaching English as a ministry works on a lot of levels, and we got to talk about this throughout the program, every day we’re almost talking about that. And teaching English well is something that professors focus on… I love offering the service [of teaching English] and it opens a ton of doors. If people feel like they’re being served people will ask you about your church…so just building relationships and building respect goes a long way towards ministry and relationships that can go somewhere.”
Today, Mark is an ESL Instructor at a local junior college. He often works with immigrants from all over the world, so English is often the only common language in the classroom, and it is a struggle to communicate effectively. With the skills Mark learned at Biola, he is embracing this challenge every day, and showing people opportunities at a life they never knew was possible for them. Mark is excited to be a missionary in his own country, offering not only an education, but also offering hope and the love of Jesus Christ to every one of his students.
“In some ways, missions is very different now. People come to us, there’s probably a lot of opportunities even just using the internet to spread [the Word of God]. So, I think it’s just a really ripe time with all the interactions that are going on, all the cross-cultural things going on. It’s a pretty exciting time to be out there sharing the gospel.”