Our Stories: Back to School

CommutAir Pilot Teaches English to Create Job Opportunities

By: John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer

A chance vacation several years ago motivated Capt. Courtney Schoch (CommutAir), a Dash-8 pilot based in Newark, N.J., to make a major life change—and in doing so help enrich the lives of others. 

“In 2013, some girlfriends and I decided to take a vacation to Nicaragua,” said Schoch, noting that the pristine beaches along the northwestern coast offer excellent conditions for surfing. Intrigued by what she saw during her stay, she moved to Managua, the nation’s capital, a year later and immersed herself in the local culture. She now spends a large portion of her time in the Central American country helping locals improve their employment skills. 

The cultural and climate differences between Managua and Cleveland, Ohio, where Schoch maintains a second residence, are—as you can imagine—quite significant. It’s common to see oxcarts and horse-drawn buggies among the taxis and motorcycles on nearby streets, she said. “And it’s hot. There are daily electrical outages, and many locations don’t have indoor plumbing,” Schoch explained. “Where I initially lived, I often had howler monkeys swing down into the open kitchen area where I hung clothes to dry.” 

A large portion of Nicaragua’s population is poverty-stricken, a reality that confronted Schoch on a daily basis. However, the economy has been growing thanks in large part to a burgeoning tourism industry. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, more than 84,000 residents are employed in travel-related jobs, and tourism contributes significantly to the country’s gross domestic product. 

Habla Ingles?

Schoch began to realize that those in Nicaragua who can speak both Spanish and English tend to get better-paying jobs. She noted that a woman she met who was earning approximately $150 a month would be able to virtually triple her income by learning English—so as a former flight instructor, Schoch had been applying her teaching skills helping area children with their English. 

One day, the CommutAir captain ventured to nearby León, the second-largest Nicaraguan city and the country’s educational center, where she met an American couple who run the International TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Academy. Schoch decided to volunteer at the school and use it as an opportunity to brush up on her Spanish. During her initial days in Nicaragua, she would tell locals that she was “embarazada,” thinking that she was expressing embarrassment about her limited Spanish skills. She soon learned that “embarazada” actually means “pregnant,” and had to explain to those she had spoken with that she was not really “expecting.”

By January 2016, Schoch had earned her official certification to teach. Every month she tries to spend at least a week at the school, depending upon what her flight schedule allows. “I continue to build ties and cultivate relationships,” she added, observing that the climate is very political and that local leaders are initially suspicious of foreigners who move to the community. 


Schoch recently established a charitable program to help pay for supplies at the academy. Through Runucate—think “run” plus “educate”—she raises funds through pledges she receives for participating in various running competitions around the world. Following a diagnosis of skin cancer several years ago, Schoch decided to take better care of herself and now runs recreationally. “I participate in marathons and half marathons, posting information about these competitions on my website,” she said. In time, she hopes to also sponsor running events as another means of raising funds. 

Looking forward, Schoch readily admits that the León academy is a steppingstone and that she one day hopes to open her own independent school to provide affordable English-learning courses and assist with job placement. She particularly wants to help those in isolated, rural areas. Schoch’s philanthropic nature suggests that, whatever she chooses to do, she’ll continue to apply her knowledge and experience to help better the lives of others.