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Learning in the Shadow of War

Alumna volunteers to teach English in Poland

As English teacher Toni Bourgea, G'06, landed in Poland, she couldn’t help but notice the missile launchers at the ready.

Bourgea journeyed to a small Polish town near the Ukrainian border as one of 15 teachers from across the United States chosen to teach English to Polish and Ukrainian students.

“We watch the news and it’s all just devastating and horrific,” said Bourgea, who earned a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study from Bridgewater State University in educational leadership.

Inspired to do something positive, Bourgea volunteered through her union, the American Federation of Teachers, to serve during a summer camp that sought to form connections between Poland and Ukraine. The Ukrainian students were from border towns that had not been destroyed by Russian attacks; many had relatives fighting in the war.

“It was really awesome to share two weeks with them that was just fun,” she said.

She helped 10 high school students improve their grammar as they wrote autobiographies and read John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. They learned basketball and kickball and shared Polish and Ukrainian customs with Bourgea and her teenaged daughter, who was part of the American contingent. 

Bourgea said she was uneasy traveling close to a country in the throes of war. But she was relieved to see defenses at the airport and relied on the confidence built in BSU’s educational leadership program. 

“It's okay to take risks,” she said of a lesson from BSU. “You know that you’re going to be supported.”

Bourgea also praised her BSU education for preparing her to support fellow teachers at South Shore Vocational Technical High School, where she has taught English for 24 years and is president of the teachers’ union.

After returning to the U.S., Bourgea and her daughter stayed in contact with some students they met abroad. They even sent them Christmas gifts.

Bourgea, who hopes to teach in Poland again, now has a new outlook on education.

"We need human connection,” she said. “I really do believe 100 percent it’s all about relationships.”

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