Minot native learns from teaching in Sri Lanka

Submitted Photo Hyla Beachy uses teaching aids to help Sri Lanka students learn English.

SRI LANKA – Memories of her school days in Minot are providing Hyla Beachy with role models for teaching as she works with students halfway around the world.

The Minot native is assisting with English language education as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sri Lanka, an island country near India.

Beachy said the experience also is teaching her she has capabilities she never knew she had and possesses an adaptability she didn’t know was there.

“I never realized I could lesson plan or be a teacher. I think of myself as an introvert and being very shy, but since I’ve gotten here, there wasn’t an option to be shy,” she said. “I’ve learned that I’m not as introverted as I thought, and I’m fully capable of talking to anyone and forging relationships with people. I’ve also learned that I can figure things out on my own – simple things like a bus schedule or negotiating with a tuk driver or eating with my hands or cooking on a wood fire stove, washing clothes by hands – things that I never thought I would be able to figure out but I have, and now they feel normal to me.”

Beachy volunteers in Central Province, working alongside Sri Lankan teachers to teach English to students in grades six through 10. Having just completed a three-month, pre-service training upon arriving last December, including getting acquainted with the Tamil language, Beachy still is getting her footing by observing teachers to determine ways to best help them. She aids teachers in developing their English skills as well as working with students to give them chances to practice their English. Eventually, she will be co-teaching, and she and other Peace Corps volunteers will be starting English clubs and English day camps.

Hyla Beachy engages with Sri Lanka students in an English class.

Beachy, 24, spent her early years in Minot. She speaks highly of her Sunnyside Elementary teachers, whom she tries to emulate in working with students in Sri Lanka.

As a student at Jim Hill Middle School, she was nominated as student ambassador for the People to People program, traveling to Europe. She participated on the swim team at Jim Hill, and her positive experience with her coach led her to continue on a high school swim team after moving to Louisiana in 2013 at age 13.

“I still consider Minot my home,” she said. “I went to the (State) Fair almost every summer. Some of my most positive memories are the parade that would be right before the start of the fair in the summer.”

Her family also was impacted by the 2011 Souris River flood.

“It was a very hard time but I also was very amazed, even as a kid, by the way that the Minot community came together to rebuild,” she said.

Her father, Chris, was a biology professor at Minot State University and her mother, Connie, was a nurse at Trinity Hospital.

Beachy studied at Louisiana Tech University, earning a degree in sociology. Midway through college, she was struggling to find the right career path within sociology when her mother introduced her to the idea of applying to Peace Corps.

“I always thought, no, that’s not me. That’s not something I can do. But then later as I was getting ready to graduate, I brought it up to my academic adviser at Louisiana Tech, and she was really, really supportive of it,” Beachy said.

Beachy completed the application, received an interview and was given a placement. Her initial placement fell through when the project date was pushed back.

Instead, she learned last May she had been reassigned to Sri Lanka. She is one of 20 volunteers in the first Peace Corps cohort to serve in the country since 1998.

The demand for English language education prompted the Sri Lankan government in 2016 to request assistance from the Peace Corps. Peace Corps re-established operations in the country in 2018, with the arrival of the volunteers last December representing the latest evolution in the agency’s commitment. They join more than 500 U.S. citizens who have served as volunteers in Sri Lanka since 1962.

Outside of the classroom, Beachy enjoys spending time with her host family and neighbors..

“The community has been great in helping me get out and helping me meet people so I can be more integrated, be part of their community,” she said.

“My absolute favorite part is seeing the level of support that Sri Lankans offer each other. It’s very collectivist. It’s not every person for themselves,” she added. “The fact that they’re able to open that connection up to me, even though I’m an outsider, is my favorite part. It just warms my heart, and every day they show me that kindness and that connection.”

Her Peace Corps stint is for two years, with an option to extend to a third year.

“It’s a lot of ups and downs because you have to unlearn a lot – about yourself and how you view life – and then relearn it the Sri Lankan way,” she said. “But I’m feeling really good about this decision. I’m very happy here and even on days that are hard, I have more support than I’ve ever felt in my life – and I have a very supportive family in America, so that’s saying something.”


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