Teaching Abroad Changes Your Life

 

teacher abroadRyan Gomez has been back in the US for about a month. Recently, we had the chance to catch up about his thoughts since being back home. He was overly enthusiastic per his usual self and really looking forward to starting a new career. Ultimately, the type of career Ryan wants is one that will give him flexibility and mobility while also providing a sense of accomplishment each day. Living in Spain and traveling opened Ryan’s eyes to the idea of having a non-routine within the workplace. For example, Ryan does not want to sit at a desk for eight hours each day. His time spent in Bocairent interacting with various people while doing different tasks helped him come to this conclusion.

Catch up with our last chat about teaching abroad in Bocairent, Spain.

Here are Ryan’s thoughts about his time in Bocairent:

What was the most important thing you learned while living abroad?

“No matter where you are in the world, most people face similar challenges and are aiming for similar goals. The “happiest” people I met in Spain were the ones with close familial ties and meaningful friendships. Having a sense of community and belonging to something bigger than yourself where everyone looks out for each other seems to lead to the most fulfilling lifestyles. Nobody cared what kind of car I drove (I didn’t have one) or what brand of clothing I wore (anything to keep me warm). What kept me getting invited to events and gatherings was my positive and appreciative attitude towards everyone I met. At least, that’s the impression I got.

On a personal level, the most important thing I learned while living abroad is that I know how to learn. I literally moved to another country where I didn’t speak the language and was able to survive and make some great connections. Learning Spanish was a day-by-day undertaking and it changes your life. Along with being immersed in it every time I walked out the door, I practiced on my own for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour each day. I wasn’t even trying to learn Valencian but managed to pull together a decent list of vocabulary and local sayings just by living around it.”

How have you done with accomplishing your goals while living in Bocairent?

“My time in Bocairent was something special and it will stay with me forever. I learned patience and the ability to feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations. The pace of life was a lot slower and gave me a lot of time to readjust my values system. However, when I initially applied for the program my goal was to meet my distant relatives and learn more about our ancestry.

On three different occasions, I was able to travel north and visit my Basque family in their town of Orduña. These were my favorite experiences. Along with traveling to the famous cities of Bilbao, San Sebastián, Burgos, and Guernica, they took me to some of the most popular restaurants in the northern provinces of Pais Vasco, Castille & Leon, and Cantabria. Some of the greatest meals I’ve ever eaten were in Northern Spain. I never thought I’d enjoy horse meat so much! And the fruit is on another level.”

In your pre-departure interview, you mentioned that the main goal of yours was to learn more about your family ancestry and see your family’s plot of land in Basque country. Were you able to do this? What was it like?

“My entire family tree and how mi abuelo ended up in the United States was all drawn out on paper and explained to me. I was even taken to the original Gómez house that has been in our family for almost 500 years! I sat on the same bench in front of the same church where my abuelo and his brother made their first communions over 70 years ago. As a history buff, that was pretty moving. I’ll always consider myself to be an American… but I felt something special in the Basque Country. I felt my roots.”

my families house and the family lineage paper
My family’s house and the lineage paper.

 

What has been the biggest challenge about living abroad and what advice would you give on how to deal with that challenge?

“The biggest challenge I faced while living abroad was being located in a remote, mostly isolated town with no definitive means of transportation. There wasn’t a train station and there were only two bus routes (only one of which had a schedule posted online) passed through once in the morning and once at night. To this day I still have no idea where Bus Navarro comes and goes from… a mystery left unsolved. Also, there wasn’t a local taxi service and very few BlaBlaCar drivers drove by our exit. For most of my traveling adventures outside of the Valle d’Albaida, I had to rely on my fellow teachers driving me to a train station. So the best advice I could give is to introduce yourself to all the teachers in your school as soon as you start!

You never know where a smile and casual conversation might take you. Remember, I was in a small town where most of the population had never even met an American before. My people were more than willing to lend help when they could. They knew I was alone, living in the middle of nowhere. You can’t be too afraid to ask for help. The experience changes your life. Also, if you are situated in a small village, try to be a “Yes-Man/Woman”. If you get invited to something… GO! The best way to get acclimated to your new home and learn the ways to “get around” is to expose yourself to as many experiences and people as you can early on.”

Do you have any advice for other auxiliars interested in traveling while teaching abroad?

“Obviously, you have to travel! And ideally, you don’t want to travel alone. The few sketchy situations I got caught up in were due to the fact that I was John Doe-ing around a major city by myself and got too comfortable with my surroundings in the later hours.

students giving teacher a present changes your life

In regards to international travel, I never left Spain while teaching abroad. I wanted to learn Spanish while living overseas… so leaving to go spend a long weekend in Paris or Rome wasn’t appealing to me. Also, although Spain is a relatively small country geographically, it’s not a very united one. The north has a completely different vibe and culture from the south, as well as the east and northeast. There are five different languages spoken in Spain, so there was plenty to see and do in the Iberian peninsula. Also, because of my transportation issues, I didn’t have enough time to travel to Madrid, fly to another country, feel the place out, and get back in time for work. Oh well, it just means I have a reason to go back for a second round in the future!”

How has teaching abroad helped with your overall professional goals?

“Confidence is everything and it changes your life. Living in an absorbing a new country, learning a new language, traveling to other towns and cities alone, getting LOST in the mountains and navigating my way out, seeing genuine love and laughter in little kids’ eyes… everything associated with this teaching abroad experience has done wonders for my self-confidence. I know I undertook something challenging that most people I know couldn’t or wouldn’t do. It’s given me a little spring in my step that’ll help me achieve my overall professional goals.”

What was your most memorable moment in class? How do you feel now that school is ending?

“There was one Chinese family living in my town and their son was in 1st grade. When I arrived at the school I noticed how lost and unengaged he seemed. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to speak a form of Mandarin and go to a school that speaks Valencian, while also being taught Spanish and English all in the same day. I get a headache just thinking about it.

He never did any of the activities correctly and rarely participated. On a random day, I happened to be spending extra time with him, and through the use of excessive finger-pointing and verrrryyyy sllloooowww talking, he finally understood what he was supposed to be doing. When he looked up, I could see the light bulb had just turned on in his head. He proceeded to go back in his book and completed the same activity for the previous chapters and showed me each time. He jumped and cheered when I said it was all correct. For the rest of the year, he always came to show me his work and he was just an overall more confident and happy kid. That was the coolest teaching moment I had all year and I’ll never forget that “light bulb look.” That’s why teachers are so damn important.

At the End of the Day…

students showing off art

Now that school has ended, I can’t really explain what I’m feeling. I know I don’t want to be a teacher anymore when I move back to South Florida, but I’m also grateful that I got to experience this and it changes your life. These kids, my school, and my fellow teachers were awesome. The past eight months were just really good for my soul. In the age of social media where children walk around with smartphones, depression, and prescription pills, I don’t think I’ll ever meet young people as happy and carefree as the ones at CEIP Lluis Vives… so I’m just thankful to know that they exist in the world.”

What will you miss most about Bocairent?

“The simplicity and slower pace of rural life. The fact that I never passed by somebody without exchanging words with them, even if just to acknowledge each other’s existence. Also, it was pretty fun being a foreigner for once! It was hard to get bored because I was always being exposed to new things.”

What will you be doing next when you move back to the United States?

“Teaching abroad in Bocairent has taught me the power of community and being a part of something bigger than myself. I know I could excel in some sort of sales position working for a random corporation selling people things they don’t really need… but that’s not me. It changes Your Life to want to continue a career in public service. I’m going to try to get into law enforcement when I move back to the United States. I think the skills I’ve acquired working in education and teaching abroad will serve me well in this endeavor.”

What is the most important tip you can give someone wanting to Teach Abroad?

“Aside from the obvious, “Don’t be afraid and just do it!” I’d advise them to think of some goals they’d want to accomplish while teaching abroad and write them down. They could be personal, professional, or both. They should read those goals every night before they go to bed and every morning when they wake up. At the end of each day, they should assess whether or not their actions got them closer to achieving those goals. If they didn’t, ask why. Traveling abroad changes your life in a positive way.”

bocairent spain city changes your life

Teaching Abroad Changes Your Life in so Many Ways

Ryan’s excursion abroad was unique in so many ways. He called my office at FSU asking about the paperwork needed for his Spanish visa. We became instant friends and he became a Dreams Abroad community member. I introduced him to our team in Spain for whatever help or guidance he might need while abroad and he was off.

His experience and time abroad have been very interesting to follow because he went with very specific goals in mind. And, of all of the teachers I have interviewed, I would have to say, he was focused, humble, and dedicated to his mission. I enjoyed this interview very much. I found his answer to question nine to be helpful, especially after doing my own teaching and studying abroad travels: “Read your goals every night and each morning when you wake up. At the end of each day, assess whether or not their actions got them closer to achieving their goals. If they didn’t, ask why.” This is great advice not only for someone living abroad but in general.

Thank you, Ryan, for allowing us to be part of your journey. We look forward to seeing your “What I Know Now” and reading your “Where Are They Now” articles in the future. Best of luck to you! If you would like to travel abroad you can do it. Living abroad changes your life forever so join our Facebook community to learn and ask questions.

by Leesa Truesdell