Embark on a voyage of learning


ISH: A home away from home

Who is Joanna Pegesa?

What were your previous jobs before coming to ISH?

Before coming to ISH, I worked as a Learning Support specialist as well as a 1st grade classroom teacher in Rome. Then when I moved to Berlin, I taught 2nd and 3rd grade, and also held a role as IT coordinator.

I did not always work in the education field. In college, I enjoyed working as a waitress at a restaurant in New Jersey, a franchise called “Chili’s”.  It is not exactly known for its high quality dining, but I loved it all the same! I can still remember my opening line when greeting a table; it was a really fun atmosphere and a good place to work while attending college.

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, ever since I was six. My mother was a teacher, and I remember how much fun I would have when I went to her classroom after school. I would even steal her grading scale and pretend to mark papers! In fact, most of my imaginary play involved a classroom. I would make my friends sit down and ask them “What is 2 + 2”, and then we would take turns being the student and the teacher. I kept that dream for the rest of my life, and still love teaching as much as I did when I was little.

What is the best professional decision you have ever made?

While looking for the right university, I had two major criteria. One was to have a phenomenal education department, and the other was to have the opportunity to travel abroad. It was the perfect fit that I found a great teaching college that had a program called “Global Student Teaching”, where I could complete half of my student teaching at an international school. I ended up getting assigned to one in Rome, and had such a positive experience I immediately applied for a teaching job upon returning. A few months later, I found out I got the position! While absolutely terrified of moving abroad to a foreign country where I didn’t even speak a lick of the language, I can honestly say taking that leap outside my comfort zone was the best professional, and personal, decision I have ever made. It led me to 4 amazing years of living in Rome, then to meeting my husband, moving to Berlin, and finally here in Hamburg at the wonderful ISH.

Field Trip with Grade 1 class in Rome, view of Piazza Venezia in the background 


Which countries have you lived in?

I was born and raised in the States, where I grew up in New York until I went to college in New Jersey.

After graduating, I lived for four years in Rome, Italy. During that time I began my Masters program, which was located in Mallorca, Spain. It was specifically designed for teachers, so I only needed to be on site during the month of July, which I did for four years in a row until I completed my Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language and Post-Masters in Educational Leadership.

What was the last book you read?

I am a huge fan of historical fiction, especially Ken Follett books. My favorite series stems from his novel “Pillars of the Earth”; thrilling books about small cathedral town characters with big dreams and big dramas. Originally there were only three books in the series, but recently he came out with a prequel. I quickly devoured the new one, and then went on to re-read the rest of the 3 books. I can read pretty fast, so I always love to find a good series of thick books. I have also recently re-read his “Fall of Giants” trilogy, another historical fiction set that takes place over the course of major historical events from World War I all the way to the civil rights movement.

If you had to live somewhere for a gap year, where would it be and why?

I would definitely choose some place that is warm year-round, where I can enjoy the sunshine and relax on a beach. I would also want the place to be somewhere where I could volunteer, perhaps with animals. I spent a week in South Africa at a primate sanctuary, and found it extremely rewarding even for such a short time. I love animals and think it would be pretty cool to spend a gap year at some other type of sanctuary, but also in warm weather.

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you recently?

I recently had a conversation with a coworker (who shall remain nameless) in which he was telling me about his electronic sweeper. For 10 whole minutes he insisted that it was not a vacuum, but in fact a broom that was electronic. This was also after he told us that he grew up with hardwood floors in his house, everywhere except the kitchen where he had a carpet! I am still cracking up about it.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love travelling and just hanging out with my friends, but I also must admit that I have an addiction to escape rooms. However right now, with all the regulations, I spend a lot of my time doing puzzles. I have really gotten into them, and have now moved on to 2000 piece landscape puzzles. I find it a great way to relax and also extremely satisfying to connect all the pieces. I am currently finishing the sky of a 2000 piece Prague puzzle, and am working on my powerpoint to convince my husband to let us hang it up somewhere in our apartment.

Hiking in Lake Como, Sunset over Yosemite Park and Weekend trip in Mallorca 

Where is your happy place?

Give me a good sunrise or sunset, and I will always be in my happy place. There is something about the colors in the sky that makes me not only completely relax, but also gives me a deep sense of appreciation. I love nothing more than to just sit and watch the sun move over a landscape or city, with extra bonus points if I am in good company and have a picnic basket filled with delicious goodies.

Left: Sunset over Hamburg. Right: Handstand with Doha Sunrise

Who inspires you the most?

I get inspired most by those who exhibit confidence and determination to achieve their goals while staying true to who they are. Most recently, my heart has been warmed by the 2021 Presidential Inauguration. Kamala Harris became not only the first woman Vice President of the United States, but also became the first woman of color to achieve such a position. Amanda Gorman, an African American woman who was the first National Youth Poet Laureate and who also had a speech impediment, recited a poem that brought me to tears of hope. There are lots of other examples, such as Helen Keller, Megan Rapinoe, and Katherine Johnson, who I admire for being such incredible people. I also watch a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and am always moved by the queens on the show. They face so much judgment and discrimination and then to see so much confidence and character exuded, it always inspires me to stay true to myself and my values.

What do you miss the most about your home country?

The bagels! I of course also miss my friends and family, but there is nothing like a whole wheat everything bagel toasted with egg salad from a New York Deli that makes me smile. Whenever I go back to the States I have one for breakfast every day, followed by a classic New York deli sandwich for lunch.

What has surprised you the most when you moved to Germany?

I love finding out about all the little traditions Germany has. My husband comes from a small village as well, which has a lot of their own special and unique traditions. For example, when two people get married the town comes together to set up a “challenge” for the newly wedded couple to complete. On our wedding day we ended up doing three challenges; one was where my husband needed to cut all the flowers off a rope and then hand them to me (his new wife), the second was a wheelbarrow obstacle course where he had to maneuver me between cones, and the third was working together to saw a log in half. It was hard work, but really added to the day to make it memorable and even more special!