For TESOL teacher Ashley Frutiger, Cairn did more than prepare her. It guided her at every step along the way to an experience teaching English in Vietnam with a Christian sending organization. Now that she’s there, it remains a source of inspiration, mentorship, and community—continuing to empower her as she serves Christ in the church, society, and the world halfway across the globe. From opportunities to study abroad, to TESOL certification courses, to mission trips and mentorships, Cairn has guided Ashley to walk a different path and to stay on it.
Like many students, Ashley’s career path took an unexpected direction as a result of seizing one of the many opportunities presented at the University. “When I first started going to Cairn,” she explains, “I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go, what major I would wind up in.” So when the opportunity arose to spend her junior year studying in Israel, Ashley seized the chance to expand her horizons. When registering for courses at Jerusalem University College, she had the opportunity to choose between taking Arabic or the history of the Middle East—and once again pushed outside of her comfort zone. “I thought I would hate Arabic,” she confesses. “But I’d already taken history courses at Cairn. I knew how I felt about history.” It turned out that she loved learning a new language–so much so that when she returned to the US at the end of the year, she signed up for her first course in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).
Completing a TESOL certification program in just one year was “insanely hard,” Ashley admits. “Overall, my whole Cairn experience challenged me more than anything else in my life. I’ve been telling my friends that if God can bring me through four years of Cairn University, then I can survive one year in Vietnam.” It was from a visiting speaker in one of these TESOL classes that she received a different kind of challenge, as well: “Come teach in China.” Feeling compelled, Ashley chose to apply not only to that program, but to several other international teaching organizations, as well. Some of these positions paid a livable wage; others required teachers to raise support. When her applications were accepted by more than one organization, Ashley felt torn.
Faced with a challenging career choice, Ashley relied on the support of the Cairn community. While completing her TESOL practicum in Macedonia alongside a team of other students from Cairn, Ashley came away with more than just international teaching experience. Unlike on a previous mission trip to Haiti, where students had to find non-verbal ways to minister to the Creole-speaking population, teaching English classes provided Ashley ample opportunity to communicate intimately with the Macedonian community. That community spoke directly to the decision she was facing. “Unbelievably, people that I met in Macedonia were talking about one of the sending organizations that I had applied to,” she recounts. “After that, I felt like the right decision was clear.”
Relationships that helped guide Ashley in Macedonia continue to be an important source of guidance and comfort today, even as she serves halfway across the world. “There are people back at Cairn who are still forming communities to serve people who aren’t at Cairn anymore,” she explains. “Ever since the Macedonia trip, the Yoders [Tim and Lisa, who serve on faculty and staff respectively] have been a strong impact on my journey to serving in Vietnam. I’ve been talking to them a lot; even when I’m on the other side of the world, when I have a question, I go to them.” Ashley’s Cairn support network goes directly back to the classroom, as well. As a first-year teacher, she knows that she can turn to TESOL professor Barb Underhill with practical questions, as well. Mentorship and professional tips are also supplemented by spiritual support: “I can email anyone and know that they will honestly make a commitment to pray for me regularly.”
No matter where she has gone—whether Israel, Macedonia, or Vietnam—the Cairn experience has shaped Ashley’s path to Vietnam and beyond. As new paths have been opened through rigorous coursework and diverse international opportunities, she has received support for choosing a path and walking along it. As a recent graduate, Ashley has discovered that Cairn still provides markers to guide her along her path: “Cairn was like a superhub of community and learning and spiritual growth and building relationships and learning who you are in Christ—so that when you leave, like me, you’re going back to everything you learned and plugging back into the community, taking it with you.”