From traveling the world to teaching at SDSU’s American Language Institute (ALI), La Mesa resident Wes Bennett has always liked the satisfaction of making a difference in peoples’ lives.
“I really enjoy the feeling you get when you know you are helping someone,” says Bennett, who has taught at the ALI since 2006.
The native of Stowe, Vt. – ski capital of the east – came to San Diego in 2005 to teach at a private school and has been hooked on the West Coast ever since.
“I grew up with a strong passion for ski racing and skiing in general,” says Bennett. “Of course, the conditions were so bad in Vermont that when I skied in the west, where the snow is light and dry, it was like a dream come true.”
When Bennett left the University of Vermont after three years as an English major, his dream was to serve as a volunteer for Youth with a Mission, a global emergency relief agency. During his 10-plus years with the organization, he took part in such causes as helping refugees fleeing the civil war in Guatemala, assisting survivors of an earthquake in Mexico City and taking part in rebuilding the shattered island of Granada after a devastating war.
“We went to places that had had natural and human disasters and provided food, water, housing and medical attention,” Bennett says. “We helped a lot of people and I will always be grateful for that international experience, which helps me to relate to our international students. Also, I was in my 20s; it was a perfect time to travel, explore and find myself. I learned a lot.” In all, Bennett traveled to over 37 countries throughout Asia, Central America and Europe.
In his early thirties, Bennett left the volunteer field and finished his English degree at Indiana Wesleyan University. Returning to his New England roots, he moved to Boston and taught English as a Second Language (ESL) at a private school. He fell in love with teaching ESL for three reasons: his love of the English language; his love for travel (“If I can’t travel, they can come to me,”); and his love for teaching.
While in New England, Bennett earned his Master’s degree in English education at Boston University. He subsequently taught one year of high school but discovered that his true passion was teaching ESL.
“I love teaching international students because they are usually so full of life,” Bennett says. “I worked with a variety of people, such as the defense minister of Ukraine, a Taiwanese movie star and Miss Brazil.”
Teaching ESL in the heart of Harvard Square for seven years was a big thrill because of the national and international dignitaries visiting Harvard. “It was common to walk down the street and pass a Supreme Court justice or the president of Brazil,” Bennett says. “We could take our ESL students to many fascinating lectures as well.” After seven years of teaching in Boston, Bennett chose to come to San Diego because he loved the city and “the weather, of course.”
He has been a permanent fixture at ALI, a division of SDSU’s College of Extended Studies, since February 2006.
“Here at the ALI, it is very academically oriented,” Bennett says. “Our students are not just here to learn English. At ALI, we have the goal of preparing them for the rigors of SDSU or other universities. Consequently, the level of dedication, professionalism and commitment from the people I work with is just fantastic.”