Day-To-Day Life Teaching at a Thai School

by Leesa Truesdell

Diego AmbrosioDiego Ambrosio and I had the chance to catch up for his second interview Finding the Perfect International Job. He had participated in a few Thai regional tournaments since we last spoke. He went to Bangkok, Thailand to judge a spelling bee competition and a group of his students participated in a music competition in Pang Na. His group won a gold and silver medal in the competition! He wrapped up his school year and is getting ready for exams. Diego has learned so much about what it is like teaching at a Thai school over the last year. He remembers when he first arrived and how much he has grown as a person and as a professional since that day. 

Read more about what Diego said about his day-to-day life teaching at a Thai school: 

What is a typical day at your school like? 

Each public school in Thailand generally follows the same morning routines before class starts. In my school, students must be present in the main square starting from 7:30 until about 8:10 in order to observe and respect the various routine ceremonies. These include a display of rigorous respect for the Thai National Anthem in a “Stand to Attention” position and music performed by the school band, a Buddhist prayer, and finally a list of ten “commandments” to always remember. The morning ceremony ends with the school jingle played by the music band. Each lesson lasts about 50 minutes (a period) and the school day consists of eight periods. Teachers must stay in the office until 16:30. The school entitles teachers to about one hour of lunch break. There is also a school canteen if necessary.

 

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

 We currently have nine teachers of different nationalities In the Foreign Teachers English department. There is one teacher from Poland, one from France, one from Morocco, one from Australia, three from the Philippines and one from Canada. The Canadian teacher is the coordinator of the English department. This year I received an assigned eighteen hours per week teaching eight classes for a total of five different courses. However, our contract provides for the possibility of having to cover up to 20 hours of teaching per week. In any case, we must cover the hours of the other teachers if they miss class due to illness or personal reasons.

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

I consider myself a lucky person from this point of view because I was able to immediately establish excellent friendships with my work colleagues.  I consider myself a naturally sociable and peaceful person, as well as extremely empathetic. Sometimes we organized meetings outside of school and ate together on special days of the year. For example, last December 26th, we all had lunch together on Christmas Day.

thai teachers

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

The most pleasant moment of the day is around the first afternoon hours, after lunch. I usually go for a digestive walk around the school campus. The campus has various nature trails. The school has become a lovely place because it sits inside a beautiful natural reserve of mangrove trees.

How is the material being taught to students? Do you use a specific method?

My school follows the conventional teaching method found throughout almost all Thailand English language teaching programs. The lesson plan includes four main phases that we call “warm-up,” “present,” “practice,” and “produce.” 

teacher abroad

The “warm-up” phase is generally short-lived (five to ten minutes) and includes the “call of attendances,” “introduction to the lesson,” a possible “ice-breaker” or “review of the previous lesson.” The second phase, “present,”  is the one in which the lesson is presented. Teachers explain the most important contents in this phase, through the use of projectors, audio-visual material, and obviously, the blackboard. The third phase, “practice,” consists of guided exercises to understand the contents explained, through individual or interactive exercises. Teachers must constantly monitor these activities and assist students the best they can. The final phase, “produce,”  is the final production of the learning contents learned by students. It can take place through the presentation of projects or individual works aimed at the development and improvement of oral skills and content presentation.

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

I always prepare my lessons with care. Preparing ahead helps me feel well-organized. I have everything ready well in advance so that I don’t have to run into unpleasant or unexpected events. As I explained above, I prepare my lessons through a specific template provided by the school which includes the four main processing phases. In addition, I also like to always look for new ideas and materials. Thanks to the Internet, I can always have an endless source of teaching material available. 

Do you work at a bilingual school? Does the school teach English as a subject or throughout all classes?


The English language is taught in all the classes. This means my school is ultimately a kind of bilingual school. However, there are several types of classes that have access to different levels of teaching quality. The two main programs of study for the English language are called the “regular program” and the “English program.” The regular program includes the teaching of the English language, but not through foreign native English-speaking teachers. On the other hand, the English program provides for the presence of native speakers, therefore the enrollment cost is significantly higher.

What goals or standards are classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?


Like any educational institution in the world, Thailand’s school system has parameters for the student assessment during the course of the entire school year. Teachers evaluate students at the end of each semester. My school has two semesters per year. Each student can earn a total value of 100 points. They can earn these with scores from two main units (25 points + 25 points) plus a mid-term exam for a max of 20 points and a final exam with a maximum score of 30 points. Based on the total score obtained, the student will be able to access a grade ranking that ranges from a minimum of 1.5 to a maximum of 4.

I want to clarify an important detail of the Thai school system, namely that students cannot be rejected or repeat the same school year. The school promotes each and every student, no matter what. Whenever a student earns a score lower than 50/100, the teacher becomes responsible for taking care of the student by organizing an extra lesson, project, or exam for the student. The student must complete them as proof of resolution of the low score. Even if the student fails to successfully complete this phase, he will still be promoted. This aspect makes us reflect a lot, since it shows a big flaw in the process of education and growth of the Thai child. There is a very high possibility of an unprepared student reaching the upper levels of an academic course.

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself in the classroom this year?

There is always something new to learn with each passing year. I can still remember who I was as soon as I arrived at this school and how, day after day, I managed to improve the quality of my teaching together with improved creativity and constant participation within various school events.

Recently, for example, I learned that the morale with which you start your lessons has a decisive impact on the progression of the lesson and on the learning that follows from the students. So it is really essential to always start in the right gear and have the best intentions.

Wrap Up Working at a Thai School

Due to the recent coronavirus pandemic, the minister of Thailand mandated that schools in Thailand be shut down until May. Diego wrapped up his final week of classes by giving final exams. He had originally planned to go back to Italy in April for his break. Since Italy is a major epicenter of the coronavirus, Diego will not be able to go home and plans to remain in Thailand for now.

Stay tuned for more on Diego’s Thailand teach abroad adventure.

 

Going Back to San Lorenzo to Teach

I didn’t think the time would come where I would be writing a wrap-up on Cate’s Madrid adventure. Or, am I? When I said my goodbyes to Cate in June (a goodbye I won’t forget), I knew our time to laugh together would come again soon. What I didn’t expect was that it would be in Florida! Yes, that’s right — Florida! The very place that ignited our first conversation over a year ago and started our friendship. It was great to catch up and see each other outside of Madrid. Read along and see what she has planned next!

Your main goal in coming to Madrid was to learn Spanish. How did you do?

My primary goal in coming to Spain was to learn enough Spanish to be able to have a basic conversation. If I really focus on the concept of “basic,” I think I achieved that. Barely. I certainly added a huge amount of vocabulary and some grammar. However, with less than half of my time there left, I had only just started to try to string together actual sentences. As it is for so many struggling second-language learners, getting out of my own head is my biggest obstacle.”

You also spoke about traveling. Did you get to see many countries while living abroad?

I was much more successful with my goal of traveling! I’m pretty proud of this list, so here it is… I went to: London, Paris, Copenhagen, Gibraltar, all through Ireland, Amsterdam, spent an hour in Tangier (crazy story), and saw a lot of Spain by car and train. Being able to see so much of Europe in such a short time was absolutely mind-blowing.”

In your previous interview, you mentioned that you were speaking and teaching English most of the time. What can you tell us about learning Spanish through immersion?

teaching students in SpainThe process of learning Spanish, or attempting to, was certainly not what I had expected. To be completely (and embarrassingly) honest, I thought that merely by living in Spain for 10 months, the language  somehow would seep into my brain and I’d speak it without even realizing how it happened! Wrong.

First of all, I found the four-week immersion class practically useless, for me anyway. It was too much all at once and I wasn’t able to digest virtually any of it. What progress I did make came from private, weekly lessons and the homework I received. And when everything was said and done, the ONLY thing that caused any of it to “stick” in my brain was actually using it (with Spanish friends). Some people received the gift to easily pick up new languages… I’m not one of those people, but I keep plugging away.”

What was your most memorable moment in class? Do you miss your students?

“There are a few students that I miss and one that I have kept in touch with. For the most part, however, I didn’t form any real bonds with most of the kids. Schools strictly forbade auxiliars from speaking Spanish with students. The language barrier at my school felt virtually impenetrable. I’m sorry to report that the most memorable occasions all felt extraordinarily negative. I saw some extremely challenging students who created some unforgettable scenes. It seemed unfortunate for everyone involved.”

What do you miss most about San Lorenzo de El Escorial?

“I miss everything about San Lorenzo except for the ubiquitous dog poop everywhere. I miss being able to walk to everything. Undoubtedly, I miss the vistas of the mountains and the monastery, the cheap whiskey and wine, and the antiquity of it all. It’s certainly a magical little town.”

What have you been doing this summer?

“This summer… what have I been doing? It was so disorienting to be back that it took me several weeks to really feel ‘normal’ and completely unpack (shame). I went up to spend a few days with my sister in Cape Cod. I’ve helped one daughter and her husband a bit around their house. I helped the other one move to Boston for a new job. Lately, I’ve been driving for Uber on the weekends.”

I think we all want to know… Will you return to San Lorenzo for Round 2?

It looks as if I am going back, for a few reasons. First of all, I have a job there and that’s more than I can say for here. Secondly, I’ll have medical insurance there and that’s a huge deal for an old broad like me. Then there’s the Spanish that I still want to learn and the lifestyle of Spain that I enjoy so much. I’m just not done “adventuring” yet.”

Going back to San Lorenzo to Teach

while living abroad in spain

And, here we go! Of the people I interviewed, Cate was certainly the one I thought would have a different ending. When I asked her for her quote for her second interview, she provided this one, “I stopped telling myself that I’m lost. I’m not and am on a road with no destination, I’m just driving with hope that I’ll find a place that I like and I’ll stay there. I’m not lost, I’m on my way.” – Ahunnaya

After one year of knowing Cate and having the pleasure to call her my friend, I can say without a doubt that she has found her way and is headed back to her “place,” San Lorenzo, to continue her Dreams Abroad.

by Leesa Truesdell

Teaching in the Community of Madrid: Part Two

by Leesa Truesdell

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

Teaching Abroad  in the Community of Madrid

Teach Abroad is a three-part series that shares the different perspectives of native-born English speakers teaching abroad. In part two, my Dreams Abroad colleagues here in Spain discussed their roles at their schools and what it is like to teach in, and for, the Community of Madrid. Over the course of the school year, we’ve visited several different cities and shared the teachers’ stories. If you missed my first part of the series which I speak about how I adjusted to teaching abroad in Madrid, please take a look.

Meet Leesa, Dreams Abroad Founder:

What is a typical day at your school like?

“Each day at my school is different in the Community of Madrid. I work with a different class and a different grade level each hour of each day. I see my students typically once a week. If they are in my theatre class I see some twice a week. It’s important to make a note of this in the beginning, as my school is not a bilingual school but is a part of the program.

We teach English as a subject which means that I am teaching English grammar or assigning English reading projects. I am not teaching English in science or in any other subject in the student’s curriculum. Since I have a master’s degree in education that specializes in English as a Foreign Language, I feel blessed to be at this school because each day I am using the English language in ways that I never thought I would. I love what I do.”

How many people do you work with (auxiliars included) and how many classes do you teach?

“I work with my vice principal who also teaches English, seven teachers (English coordinator included), and one auxiliar. Auxiliars are language and culture assistants hired by the Community of Madrid to enhance the language acquisition process. Typically, the teacher in the classroom is not a native English speaker. The auxiliar acts as a native speaker and is there to assist with language and culture in the classroom. This, of course, is speaking generally. Some auxiliars are doing more and some less.

I am fortunate to work with a variety of teachers. I have learned a different style or method of teaching from each one. They all use a similar method of teaching however their approaches to teaching are unique. For example, one of the teachers has been teaching English grammar for a very long time and knows how to teach it better than I do. When we work together, we each use our own approaches to teaching. This creates a great rhythm in the classroom. I am so grateful to be working with skilled teachers who know their craft but who are also open to new ideas. This is when teaching and learning become not only beneficial to the student and the teacher but also is fun!”

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

forming bonds with students

“We have an online group chat where we ask one another questions or send out community information. However, we do not get together outside of school. Most of my colleagues live in the southern part of the community of Madrid, where we work, but I live an hour north, in the city center. Because we live far from each other, it makes it difficult to do things outside of work. In addition, my coworkers have families with children. On the weekends, they are usually spending time with their kids, being parents.

At work, however, we have a very strong bond with one another and have learned to work well together. I know their methodologies and respect them so I can adapt my lessons to complement their style of teaching. Because there is a level of trust among us, we share lessons and give one another feedback regularly.”

Are you forming bonds with students in the Community of Madrid?

“Yes, I am forming bonds with students in most of my classes. In particular, my second eso classes and my second bachillerato classes. The students in my middle-range classes (such as third and fourth eso), are at that age where they are constantly playing around during class with classmates. In the U.S. this is around 9th grade and 10th grade. Once the fourth eso students pass all required classes and exams, they complete secondary school.

students abroad

Junior and senior year (bachillerato) are optional for students once they pass fourth eso. Students who plan to attend a university must complete all levels of secondary school. This age group, in particular, has been a hard group for me to establish a connection with. No matter how fun I make the lesson their mind is not on English, it’s somewhere else. Most of the time, I can see they are focused on friends in class. Sometimes they’re more interested in what’s happening during a snack or recreo break or with passing notes.

I realize that this is a challenging age and, initially, I felt that perhaps I lacked control of the class. However, since I teach in someone else’s class, I can only use a limited amount of discipline for control and management. In most classrooms, it’s the teacher’s role to know when to let things go and when to step in. Learning is supposed to be fun; however, there are times when students try to test those boundaries. That’s when I become silent. When my students get too loud during a fun conversation, I won’t speak until they get quiet. At first, this made me frustrated, but now, I feel like my students understand that being loud and talkative when I am explaining something they are excited about is considered poor manners.

Establishing Bonds

Overall, my students, in the Community of Madrid, are great and the bonds we established will be some of the most memorable. For example, my English theatre students are all very good students. They work hard so I choose to give them the lead on how they want to work on the play. I go to class and listen to their ideas about what I had previously outlined for us to work on that day in the syllabus. The only way to really get your students to love a language is for them to want to use it.

I use a student-centered approach in this class and it has worked so far because my students come to class with smiles from ear to ear, ready and eager to work. For example, the bachillerato students have been assisting me in co-directing while the younger students have helped with play editing and modifying character roles. I am proud of this group because it is the first full school year class that I have taught while living abroad since receiving my degree.”

Does the school foster the creation and development of these relationships with the students inside and outside of the classroom?

“Yes, my school encourages students to participate in seventh-period activities. I have spent the year working with around ten students in a theatre class. We are working on a play where the students have been able to assist with its production.”

What is your favorite part of the day?

“I don’t have any specific part that is my favorite. However, I truly enjoy working with the bachillerato first and second students. They are at the level where they can really work with the language in creative ways. For example, I worked with a group of students (generally, ages 16-18) on skits, job interviews, debate, and most recently, news reporting. They enjoy these types of creative activities and also work well together in pairs and groups. The more proficient students are able to assist lower level students.

language in creative ways

I also enjoy working with my theatre class students. I work with them once a week for 7th period, which is technically after school. This class is the only class where I am able to teach on my own. It is an extracurricular class and probably the class my students enjoy the most. It’s a great point of pride when a student says they look forward to your next class. I am proud of my work so far with this group and I am certainly taking notes on my curriculum.

I ask myself: if each class were fun and not graded, would every student pay more attention and want to attend? Are we forcing students to do things they don’t want to do and therefore getting poor results (i.e. students with anxiety and stress disorders that lead to bad tests results and poor attendance)?”

How is material being taught to students?

“Each English teacher is different with regard to how they prepare and teach. Therefore, when I am asked to prepare a lesson, I collaborate with the teacher ahead of time on the unit and topic. If grammar is the focus of the week, I make sure that I stick to the grammar point and only the grammar point. Then, at the next class, I work with the grammar in conversation. For example, I just finished teaching the present continuous tense to the youngest group of students in the school. When I teach grammar points, I make sure I have an activity and a worksheet to go along with the grammar point.

Student-Centered Lessons

Because I rotate between classes, I make sure that I am always keeping the lesson as student-centered as possible. On the other hand, most teachers at my school have a tendency to be teacher-centered. Since I do not have full control of the class, I have to modify as best as I can. Sometimes I have to compromise if the teacher wants me to teach the grammar point in a teacher-centered way then create a student-centered activity afterward. For a student-centered activity, I will, for example, get the class paired into groups of two or three and ask for examples of the topic.

This week, I have assigned two different classes two group projects. From there the students will have two weeks to prepare the topic to present in class before our spring break. These projects include bachillerato first presenting their weather reports as news reporters to the class and third eso presenting their Incredible Journey to class. This is a project where each group had to research four to five places they would like to visit and tell the class why, for how long, and what they will do in each place.”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

“I prepare for each lesson a week before that class. When the class finishes, I take notes about where we left off that day in class and then I coordinate with the specific teacher about my idea for the next lesson. He or she will give me their input and then I make my lesson. I prepare between 10-12 new lessons a week and then continue with the same topic in some of the classes that are doing group work or presentations. Each week, I have about three to five extra hours of planning added on to my work schedule for new lessons. In addition to the lesson planning, editing and directing the play takes about an hour to two hours of planning.

Brainstorming  Ideas

We are now getting into the acting portion of the course so the edits are more or less over. However, each week I brainstorm ideas and think of other ways we can do things before the big production day in May.

brainstorm ideas being a teacher Community of Madrid

I enjoy lesson planning for all of my classes because it means that I have control of what I will be teaching. I like going through each class and designing what I teach. It allows me to be creative but, at the same time, it also keeps me organized week by week. There are many things about teaching that you cannot control however, when it comes to lesson planning, I always have my initial lesson plan in sync with a back-up lesson plan. For example, my school encourages the use of technology in the classroom. But, eight out of ten times, I go into a classroom where the computer is broken or the Wi-Fi has a weak signal. On these days, the back-up plan is used.”

Do you work at bilingual school? What does that mean to you? What does that mean according to the Comunidad of Madrid?

“I do not work at a bilingual school. My school has an English department with certified English teachers who teach English as a subject. Since English is part of the core requirements under LOMCE law, all of the students in the school must take English at every level. It is not an elective course.”

What standards are your classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

Spain uses the Common European Framework of Reference (CERF) for languages. The framework states that students must have at least two foreign languages in addition to their native language. Therefore the standards are applied by grade level according to the CERF standards. My school follows these standards in addition to La Programacion (our school guidelines) which they send out to the parents at the beginning of the year. This lets the parents know the aims and specific goals for each department.

My school, in the Community of Madrid, uses performance-based learning assessments, which are quarterly exams based on the book information that has been taught to assess a student’s proficiency. In a student’s fourth year (fourth eso) the student’s proficiency will be tested based on CERF standards. All four skills will be tested (reading, writing, speaking, listening) to asses the student’s overall academic competency. At the end of fourth eso the student has the option to graduate and move on to work, vocational school, or continue on to the next level in secondary school. The next two levels are called bachillerato first and second. The student’s proficiency level at this age in their academics is important in order for them to continue their academic studies should they choose to. Foreign language is a requirement in bachillerato one and two per CERF standards.”

With regard to lesson and unit standards:

 lesson planning Community of Madrid

“Before each lesson, there are no written descriptions of what students are expected to know or be able to do. The aims and objectives are listed in the textbooks and each teacher explains the objectives in their own way with regard to trimester tests. For example, we will have an exam in December on chapters one through four. These cover present simple and past continuous tenses. Obviously, the student should be able to know this material.

The standards are not written on the board and the syllabus does not list a rubric with standards itemizing what each standard is for each chapter. The chapter identifies the aim for the student and the school selects the textbooks based on stages of proficiency outlined by CERF. Each level has specific content that will be taught to the student of a specific proficiency level.

Students are assessed by exams that are given in December, March, and May or June. Standards are not applied to content used in classrooms.”

Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help their students succeed?

“Yes, each department meets before the school year to discuss the needs of each student. The classes are formed and each department creates their section for La Programacion. This is the main document for the school that allows for collaboration among faculty. In addition, the English department meets once a week to discuss what is needed to ensure the success of its students.”

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad series interview, what have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to Spain both in the classroom and out of the classroom?

“Since my arrival to the Community of Madrid, I have learned to think on my feet and realize that life does not always go according to plan. If a lesson plan changes due to a technology issue (and it will), I always have a back-up or maybe two. I have also used humor a lot in the classroom. The ‘go with the flow’ mentality that I adopted a few months ago has served me well. A year ago, I would not have been as casual about things that didn’t go according to plan. Now, I realize that I cannot control many of the elements around me. I can only control how I react to them. My job is to be the best EFL teacher I can be in the Community of Madrid.

Continuing to reflect on how to improve while being here has also been very beneficial. I know I make mistakes, we all do, but it’s how we learn from those mistakes. Afterward, is where real opportunity occurs. Then, growth happens. I see this process on a day to basis in my students. That is when I know that they are learning.”

What are your new goals and/or modifications to previous goals for 2017?

Community of Madrid

“My goals are to continue working hard in the Community of Madrid. I will become a better person than I was yesterday. Each day I am trying so very hard to reflect and continue to listen to others about life, dreams, and perspectives. I believe that if we all share consciousness and purpose by communicating frequently than maybe there will be a less negative outcome in our daily lives. Overall, the Dreams Abroad website has been my biggest accomplishment so far. My team is great and I couldn’t ask for more.”

Teach Abroad: Part Three will be the last series for this school year. We will be sharing the series over the summer!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more updates on our favorite Dreams Abroad members very soon! If you have any questions about the Community of Madrid please join our Facebook group.

Living Abroad and Teaching English: Part Three

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that the subject of my interview for this piece is, in fact, a close friend. Leesa and I met during the orientation week held by CIEE. We were both (as were many of us) overwhelmed by jet-lag, the newness of the place, the task ahead of us, the ungodly heat of Madrid in August, and the sheer amount of paperwork. At one of the pre-arranged get-togethers, Leesa and I found ourselves seated on either side of one of the orientation leaders (the lovely Lynnette A., a contributor to this blog and angel from heaven for newcomers to Madrid). Leesa mentioned that she was from a smallish town in Florida and it just so happened to have been where I had lived before. The ensuing conversation turned into a new friendship, fueled by adventures through Europe on planes, trains, and automobiles.

Despite a not-inconsiderable age difference (she being the age of my eldest daughter), we have managed to form a true bond. While I may have known Leesa well before, I learned even more about her during the following interview. Readers, may I reintroduce Leesa, the founder and fearless leader of Dreams Abroad. To catch up, take a look at Leesa’s last interview about teaching in the Community of Madrid. It goes over daily activates, lesson plans, and brainstorming ideas.

You’ve traveled a great deal since you began your adventure in August. What was one of your first trips?

“I went with a friend to Mallorca. While there, I saw the cathedral in Palma. It was the first Gothic cathedral I had seen since visiting Spain.”

Did you feel any sort of connection to Mallorca while you were there?

mallorca houses on the water“I would say that I did. I have relatives from Puerto Rico, and it was easy for me to relate to the island lifestyle. Although it’s nothing like the Caribbean, being on the water and, of course, having the Latin rhythm of life, helped me feel a connection. Going with a friend, and sharing this experience with her, made it even more special and impactful.”

You spoke at length about your “tool kit” in your first interview. Do you feel that you’ve added anything to it in your time here?

“I feel like I’ve added many things to my toolkit since I’ve been here. With regard to my profession as an educator, I certainly feel more empowered to speak and communicate more effectively in front of a class. I am able to understand the needs of students and can listen to what students are telling me. As I mentioned in the first interview, listening as a skill is very important to me; important in my own language and in Spanish as well. I’ve been honing that in both the classroom and in the interviews I’ve been conducting for Dreams Abroad. My writing has come a long way since I’ve been here. I attribute that to my focus on improving my listening skills.

In fact, I may have overcompensated on listening when it comes to my Spanish learning. I think I can understand 90% of what I hear in Spanish now. However, this has been at the expense of practicing my speaking, which is not where I’d like it to be. I meet now with a conversation tutor to try and practice speaking more.”

You came to Spain with an open mind. How’s your mind now?

“My grandmother passed away recently. Her passing has made me realize a lot about life. I’m trying to remember the good times while, at the same time, continuing to go with the flow. There was a point just after her death that I was really, deeply grieving and my mind wasn’t open. I had shut out this whole experience because I was feeling so sad. It got to the point that I was actually rejecting the culture of Spain and everything around me because I was so focused on my loss and the past. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was hypercritical of everything around me and could only think of the past when she was alive, and all that entailed.”

plaza major madrid spain abroad

You’ve now lived and worked abroad in both Colombia and Spain. How would you compare them?

“Colombia was my first experience living abroad. It will always have a very special place in my heart. It’s a loving, welcoming culture that’s full of opportunities for those who want to learn a beautiful version of Spanish. There needs to be a structure put into place, but I think that’s what makes the school system so unique.

Thinking about my time there makes my heart smile. I will always have such fond memories of Colombia. At the time, I was still studying for my masters. I was able to visit so many schools, meet so many children, and see so many classrooms. Each had unique methodologies with the same goal of trying to teach and learn English. None of them had a very high proficiency level at the time. Nonetheless, they were all trying to do the best with what they had. That is what made it such a great experience for me.

With Spain, when I arrived here I had already lived in a foreign country and so had already overcome any uncertainty or doubt about speaking in a foreign country. I didn’t have any fear of making my way through the city after having lived in Medellin. I love my school and the classroom that I have now. However, if I had to compare the two, I would say that at the school in Colombia is a model that needs to be developed and that’s a process that I enjoy very much. I love big ideas and creating, developing and forming things into their fullest potential and I feel like there’s still that opportunity there.
school teaching studying classroom-spain

In Spain, they are building a foundation in which there is a lot of controversy and negativity. It’s spiraling into strikes by teachers and students and there’s not one clear path. Educators, politicians, and the general public are not on the same page and there’s a lot of hostility as a result. Students remain in the system only because they aren’t sure what’s next for them and teachers remain in the system beyond their years of peak effectiveness.”

How do you like teaching at the secondary level?

“This is my first experience teaching at this level, which is around middle and high school, and I really like it. I especially enjoy working with the students who have studied and put in the time to attain such a high level as to put on a play in English! From casting to rehearsals, stage crew, and props… all in English — it’s been a really cool experience.”

How has it been with what you called your “new family” of friends that you met through CIEE?

“It’s been an interesting eight months. I developed some friendships that have come and gone and some that will last forever. Those that have come and gone have done so for a reason. The friends that will last forever have proven themselves through life-challenging situations. There are times when you need someone not even two weeks from now, or maybe even in the middle of the night. It’s then when the depth of a true and lasting friendship is proven. The size of my new, extended family is definitely smaller. It’s become refined through some challenges, but I still cherish the large circle of people I met during our 4-week program! We will always remain bound by that amazing, unbelievably hot month in Madrid.”

spain madrid teaching abroad

How are you doing with “Spanish Time?”

“It’s funny, we were just discussing this in one of my classes. Some of my students are planning hypothetical trips to different parts of the world and I asked them if they had taken the potential differences of time into consideration. Dinner time is not going to be at 10:00 PM everywhere! That is something that I will never get as an American living here in Spain. I still eat dinner at 7:00 or 8:00 PM. I still can’t adjust!”

Leesa is continuing to work on new ideas with the Dreams Abroad team for the next school year and is very excited to see where the journey will take her. She plans to return home in July to see her family for the first time since the death of her beloved and inspirational grandmother and will continue exploring new ideas for traveling, teaching, and living abroad. Stay tuned for the next chapters of Dreams Abroad. Please join our Dreams Abroad Facebook group to share stories and photos.

by Cate Dapena