Fostering Understanding: Penn GSE Student James Busacca Prepares to Teach Globally

October 1, 2016

interview by Juliana Rosati

Former Peace Corps Mongolia volunteer James Busacca came to Penn GSE to pursue his dream of an international career in language and public service. Currently a master’s student in the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program, he was a recipient of the Fife Scholarship at GSE in 2015- 2016. We sat down with him to discuss his interest in language teaching, global living, and Penn GSE.

While in the Peace Corps, Busacca taught English in a small village of Western Mongolia, working with Mongolian teachers and living in a traditional yurt. Photo by

What brought you to Penn GSE?

While serving in the Peace Corps Mongolia, I grew to love teaching English as a second language and decided to pursue a career in this field. The job training provided by the Peace Corps was thorough but short, and I knew there was much I would need to learn for the long term. When I researched TESOL programs in the United States, Penn GSE’s stood out to me because it is a great match for my interest in teaching English in diverse global contexts.

The Peace Corps promotes peace, friendship, and intercultural understanding. What were some highlights of your time supporting this mission?

James Busacca

For the first two years, I taught English at a secondary school in a small village of Western Mongolia, working with two Mongolian teachers and living in a traditional yurt without running water or heating. I saw both the daunting challenges that teachers face and the inspiring impact they can have on their students’ lives. I also learned a lot about Mongolian culture, particularly through one of the teachers, who invited me to eat dinner with her family almost every night. For the third year, I was the program manager for Special Olympics Mongolia, working to raise awareness of issues affecting people with disabilities in the country. For me, the personal connections I made with members of the community were one of the greatest benefits of my time in the Peace Corps.

What does Penn GSE mean to you?

The passion that Penn GSE faculty and students have for education is truly inspiring. I am extremely honored to continue my journey as an English language teacher at the School. I feel incredibly lucky to study at this great institution, and I am excited to see where it leads me in my career and my life after I graduate.

Tell us about one of your favorite classes at Penn GSE.

So far, one of my favorites has been Researching Language Learner Interactions Online. Online teaching and language learning will become increasingly important in the future. It has been interesting to learn about the benefits and limitations of online language classes, and how they compare to those of traditional classroom learning.

What are your career goals?

I believe that education is central to our success in making the world a better and more understanding place, and I am eager to join the ongoing conversation about improving education in America and across the world. In the short term, I think one exciting possibility would be to take what I have learned at Penn GSE and use it to help other Peace Corps volunteers by working at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, DC. Another possibility would be to work in language teacher development. My long-term career goal is to pursue public service and diplomacy as a regional English language officer in the U.S. Foreign Service.

What is your favorite thing about Philadelphia?

After spending several years abroad meeting people from diverse backgrounds, I’m glad to be living in a community that has such incredible diversity. I also really enjoy the historic feel to Philadelphia, having studied history as an undergraduate.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of The Penn GSE Magazine.