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On Studying Abroad and Returning Home: Interview with Etornam Fianoo - Vidza

Etornam is a current French and Spanish teacher at SOS Hermann Gmeiner International College. She obtained her Master's degree in Teaching French as a Foreign Language from the University of Arizona in the USA and is a First Class Honors graduate from the University of Ghana where she studied French and Spanish. Her love for languages coupled with her experience in the field, led her to establish SPiiKA, an Online French Lessons platform for kids, teens and adults.

Was the plan always to return home after graduate school?

I got married shortly before beginning graduate school, so returning home upon graduation was the plan.

With regards to working, what, if any, are the preparations you put in place to prepare you for your return home?

Since I knew I would be returning to Ghana immediately after school, I began the job search and application process about 2 months before graduation. I’m highly interested in languages and teaching, so I focused my search on the various international educational institutions.

How did you find the job application process?

With regards to where I am working now i.e. SOS Hermann Gmeiner International College, I found the process to be smooth. I submitted my application online in March, and by the time I returned to Ghana in May, I was scheduled for an in-person interview for the following month.

How would you describe the interview experience?

The process was a bit intense, but manageable. I was interviewed by a panel; 8 board members, including the principal. A series of questions were asked with regards to my experience teaching.

How did you prepare for the interview?

I dedicated time to familiarize myself with the International Baccalaureate (IB) system by reading and researching it since I had no experience pertaining to that educational system.

There’s often a (mis)conception that you must know someone in an organization in order to be offered a job there. Did you personally know anyone in SOS Hermann Gmeiner prior to the interview?

I actually didn’t.

Would you say the American education gave you the upper hand on being the selected candidate for the position?

Interesting question! Hmmm...a number of factors gave me the upper hand, so I won’t exactly point to the American education being the sole factor. As I stated earlier, I had no experience with the IB system and there were other candidates interviewing for the same position who had years of teaching experience as well as familiarity with the IB system, so it was really interesting I ended up being the selected candidate. I can’t tell if the principal, who subtly mentioned he was an acquaintance of the headmistress of the High School I attended or the fact that I was the only candidate who was versatile with French and Spanish, had any major influence on the final decision taken. I would say the successful outcome of the process was by the Grace of God.

Did you experience culture shock upon your return home?

I wouldn’t necessarily call it “shock” per se because I know the country I’m in and although you would expect things like bad customer service to change, it doesn’t.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to return home after studying abroad?

I’m a firm believer of “making an impact in life wherever you find yourself.” To anyone planning on returning home, I’ll advice that you shouldn’t be too complacent or easily satisfied with working for people. Start something, whether big or small, and think about something you can leverage. Also, make use of the several opportunities lying dormant in the country.

Graduate School in the USA

Why did you choose to pursue graduate school in the USA?

I love exploring and had studied abroad in France during my final year at the University of Ghana. As such, when I considered graduate school, I definitely wanted a different experience outside of Europe.

What influenced your choice of school?

University of Arizona (U of A) was actually the only graduate school I applied to. I knew someone studying there, who recommended U of A as a good choice of school.

How did you fund your education?

Fortunately, I received a scholarship which took care of my tuition in addition to receiving a stipend. The scholarship came in the form of a graduate teaching assistantship, where I taught French to college students.

Did you take any standardized test as part of the application process?

The GRE was not required for my program of study.

Did you have any expectations prior to studying in the USA?

I had few expectations; a smoother transportation system, quality education with lots of presentations and class discussions, ease of accessibility to professors and making more friends.

Were your expectations met?

The quality of education received, as well as the ease of accessibility to my lecturers was well above my expectations. However, I had a bit of a challenge with mobility primarily because the school is located in the outskirts with no public transportation. Although I made friends and key connections, I was really hoping and intentional about making more, but unfortunately, that was not the case.

What advice do you have for someone studying abroad?

Have fun, make the most of your time there, get involved in student activities to enhance your skills, get to know people, study and work hard, and be very intentional about networking. Also, learn to manage your time wisely.

Check out Etornam's youtube channel here and be sure to subscribe if you want to boost your French speaking, listening, and understanding skills. If you are an international student and would like to share your graduate school experience with us, please send us an email at


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