We’ve got a lot of amazing experiences in store for 2021, and I thought I’d include a story about how I started Alaska English Adventures and why I am so passionate about teaching English as a second language while creating authentic Alaska experiences for students who join us on our voyages.
I’ll update my blogs as often as possible, but I’m happy to share my story in my first blog.
Meanwhile, here’s a story about AEA written by Bill Zaferos of Voyij Alaska
ALASKA ENGLISH ADVENTURES TURNS LEARNING ENGLISH INTO A UNIQUELY ALASKAN EXPERIENCE
Brad Schmitz is a master of Alaska adventure.
He is also a commander of the English language.
Combining the two, Schmitz figures, will bring foreign-language speaking students to Alaska to learn conversational English while experiencing the trip of their lives.
That’s why he created Alaska English Adventures.
Schmitz developed wanderlust as a college student and has spent part of his life traveling the world, with stops in Incheon City and Bundang, South Korea, where he taught English as a Second Language. Along the way he discovered how teaching English can create a link to an Alaskan experience.
“When I was in Korea, I learned first-hand how Koreans were in a frenzy state to teach their children English,” said Schmitz, who owns Alaska English Adventures. “When I came back from Korea, I thought I could start a business that combined my two passions, outdoor adventure and English as a second language.”
He created Alaska English Adventures to combine his love of language with his desire to expose foreign language speakers to the full Alaska experience of hiking, fishing, seeing the Northern Lights, visiting the Alaska Wildlife Center, Denali National Park, Fairbanks, the Kenai Peninsula and other uniquely Alaska destinations while teaching them conversational English.
Schmitz hopes to accomplish two things with Alaska English Adventures: He wants to create an English immersion tour using cutting-edge teaching techniques. Then he wants to create an amazing adventure like no other in Alaska for his students.
English is the most commonly used language in Alaska, and it’s important that students know how to read as well as speak English so they can conduct simple interactions with English-speaking people. Alaska English Adventures aims to allow students to experience English in every-day situations while adventuring in majestic Alaska.
All of this began with Schmitz’s voyage from his birthplace, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to Boise, Idaho, to North Carolina and South Korea. It was a life journey that began after he took a social-work class at his alma mater, Boise State University, in the late 1990s. As part of a class project Schmitz worked at a local refuge center where he was paired with a man from Iraq named Mohammed. Schmitz and Mohammed hit it off, and soon he was teaching Mohammed and his fellow Iraqi friends how to speak English.
“I had ESL teaching experience before that, and I started teaching him English at his apartment, how to say, ‘hi how are you’ and basic stuff like that, and I loved it. After I got to know Mohammed and he trusted me, he brought other Iraqis over. I wound up teaching an English class at his place. There was no money involved, but he and his friends would feed me.
“They would spread newspapers on the floor and bring out a pot with vegetables and meat. We’d sit cross-legged on the floor and dip bread into the pot. It was like heaven. I felt like I was in a village in Iraq. It really meant a lot to me.”
The contact with Mohammed and his friends created Schmitz’s excitement for teaching English, and he began looking for job opportunities. When the chance to teach English in South Korea came about, he jumped at it.
“The job included good pay and housing, so I applied, I had a phone interview, and I got the job,” he said.
It changed Schmitz’s life and gave him the idea to start Alaska English Adventures.
Schmitz, who settled in Anchorage in 2000, has worked with local schools as well as Boys and Girls Clubs to create pen-pal programs. He has also reached out to teachers around the world to find out if they have students who wanted to learn English.
He said having a pen pal is a great opportunity for students to do something other than stare at a computer screen during the pandemic.
“Since there are no in-class classes, kids are probably getting bored, so why not do a fun project and mail a letter to someone anywhere in the world for a $1.20 stamp?” he said. “This is something the kids can do that’s fun.”
That kind of international pastime is part of what motivated Schmitz to create Alaska English Adventures. He believes deeply in creating world-wide exchanges, and a portion of profits from Alaska English Adventures will be donated to charities working to develop relationships between Alaskan communities and other places around the world.
Schmitz said that teaching English can be tricky but ultimately rewarding for both teacher and student.
“I’ve heard that English is hard to learn because of slang and the various ways it can be used,” Schmitz said. “You’ve also got words that have the same spelling but different meanings and in practical use and oral language it becomes very complex. If you look at people who are learning English around the world, their home language is so different that English is more difficult. We have a soft way of speaking English.”
As a result, Schmitz discourages his students from trying to talk like a native English-speaker.
“For a native speaker it’s easy because we’ve known English since the womb,” he said. “I don’t spend much time on making students native speakers. I just tell them to do the best they can and they’ll have a good time.”
His appreciation for teaching the English language is just one reason Schmitz has such a fondness of his life in Anchorage.
That and the weather.
“One of the things I love about Anchorage is its diversity,” he said. “In the public schools more than 100 languages are spoken. For a city of about 350,000, that’s pretty amazing. And as a young boy I always wanted to live somewhere cold. If you want cold, Alaska has it.”
Alaska English Adventures offers two tours in 2021. The Fairbanks Gold Six-Day Package includes 10 hours of English Conversion lessons as well as real-life opportunities to engage in English conversation, three meals a day, transportation, five nights lodging and a personal guided tour of Alaska.
A second package, the ten-day 2021 Kenai Peninsula Tour includes 16 hours of English Conversion lessons as well as real-life opportunities to practice conversational English, three meals a day, transportation, nine nights of lodging, and a personal guided tour of Alaska.
Packages include camping, hiking, sport fishing, gold panning, whitewater rafting, zip lining, ocean cruising, wildlife viewing, campfires, ocean kayaking and other adventures.
Schmitz said he is limiting the packages to eight people in order to keep them more personal.