How to Find Books to Understand the World Better

It is often said that travelling broadens your horizons and helps you understand the ways of the world. As someone who has lived in different countries and visited many more, I wholeheartedly agree with this thought. Travelling has shown me the diversity of culture, language, and history that exists. However, the honest truth is that, perhaps due to opportunity, financial constraints, or personal reasons, not everyone has the chance to travel. Yet, there is a way to wander the world without getting on a plane! Literature allows us to be curious and delve into foreign places, different eras, and make new friends. Here are some books to understand the world better IMHO.

1. Falling in Love With Barcelona With The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

´Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it.´ 

This book stood unread for many years on my shelf, despite the many amazing recommendations from my mum. When I eventually opened it as a teenager, I stayed up all night under my duvet, reading it from cover to cover. The Shadow of the Wind tells the story of Daniel, an 11-year-old boy in Barcelona during the Franco dictatorship. Taken by his father, who is a second-hand bookseller, to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, he finds a copy of The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. He, like me, reads the book in one night and is determined to find other books by the author. However, finding out more about Julian Carax opens up a nest of intricate mystery and dark secrets, which is a reflection of the guarded times in Francoist Spain.

When I read Zafón’s description of his Barcelona, I felt as though I was in those streets. I imagined myself walking along the Ramblas, having a cortado outside the bohemian cafe Els Quatre Gats or getting on the tram up to Avenida del Tibidabo. Never before have I felt so transported by prose. His details of the shops, labyrinthine alleyways, and Gothic architecture made me desperate to visit Barcelona. I recently went to Barcelona and found myself looking for the mentioned streets and monuments. It was like literature coming to life, and the book acted as my map around the city! I often say that this novel is my favourite book for the reason that I completely lose myself when reading it and feel that I, too, am ambling through the streets of Zafón’s Barcelona. 

2. Living With Loneliness With Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

‘Sometimes you simply needed someone kind to sit with you while you dealt with things.’

Gail Honeyman’s first novel really spoke to me on a personal level. Eleanor Oliphant is a 29-year-old finance clerk living in Scotland. She is good at her job but has no friends and very little social interaction. Every weekend, she drinks two bottles of vodka alone in her house. She is a very lonely person who we discover has a very dark, traumatic past. As her mental health deteriorates, emerging relationships bring her back to a better place. While I do not identify with the character completely, there are elements of her life that resonate with me. 

Mental health is something I have always struggled with. As a child, I was very shy and anxious, which led me to have little self-confidence. The school was definitely not the place for me! When I went to university, I came out of my shell and gathered an amazing group of friends around me. On my travels, I have expanded my friendship group, which has now become my second family. However, recently I have felt the longing to settle somewhere more permanent as saying goodbye to people when I move somewhere else never gets easier. I have never felt settled in a community, and this has led me to experience bouts of loneliness. The covid lockdown really pronounced this feeling as I was away from a lot of my friends, most of whom live in other countries. 

Reading Eleanor Oliphant’s story reinforced my thinking that surrounding yourself with even a few intimate friendships can really help you when you are in a dark place. A friend doesn’t need to talk to you about your innermost worries for the loneliness to subside. Simply sitting near them or talking about nonsense can make the world seem a little brighter.

3. The Magic of Coming of Age With Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

“You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!”

As with most adults of my generation, I grew up with Harry Potter. I eagerly awaited my letter from Hogwarts, which never came. Drawn in by the story and characters as a child, when I look back on the Harry Potter series now, I realise it was much more than a children’s story. The series truly shows the journey from child to adult, facing up to serious responsibilities, coping with loss, and cultivating important relationships. For me, the fourth instalment marks the turning point from Harry Potter the boy to the beginnings of adulthood. In The Goblet of Fire, Harry’s friendships are put to the test. He has challenges in the form of Triwizard tasks and confronts evil and death. 

The important message of personal growth and acceptance of self-identity, which is present in the book, has helped the way I see my own journey. The transition from child to adult is not an easy road, and it can feel fraught with dangers, heartbreak, and setbacks. To know that everyone has the power to reach the other side is a positive lesson. The magic of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter is that the adventures and struggles of one boy reflect the journey of many, including my own. It is a book that will always be close to my heart as I have read it as a child, a teenager, and an adult and still learn more about myself. 

Discovering Books to Understand the World Better

Reading can teach you so much about yourself. Opening a book is an experience that can change your mind about many things. It can inspire you to travel the world, it can act as a friend when you are lonely, and it can instruct on personal growth. All I can say is, if you are feeling as if you are in a rut or feeling uninspired, why not try to find books to understand the world better? Who knows? The book that is sitting on your shelf may just change your life. 

NiamhMoranBioby Niamh Moran 

A Career Pathway to Obtaining a Ph.D.

By Leesa Truesdell

Dalal Boland has been studying at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida for three semesters. She is working on Curriculum and Instruction in English Education coursework and has two semesters until she begins her dissertation. Dalal enjoys her program very much. She is thriving at USF and really enjoys the sense of diversity on campus. Compared to Florida State University where she got her master’s, Dalal feels that USF has a thriving international community. “There is just the right balance for me. Cultural immersion is not as difficult at USF because I have Americans in my classes. I hang out with the decently sized Arab population after class and on weekends.”

Dalal is on a sponsored scholarship that lasts up to five years to complete her Ph.D. She plans to finish her degree in about four and a half years. She anticipates getting back to work in Kuwait after she graduates. Right now, she enjoys working at a university teaching English.

Here is what Dalal had to say about her career pathway to obtaining a Ph.D.

kuwait city study abroadWhat was it like growing up in Kuwait City, Kuwait? For example, what was the education system like? Did you go to a primary school and a secondary school?

“I did all of my schoolings in Kuwait at a public school up until I reached university, which was a private school. All public schools in Kuwait are segregated and subject areas are taught in Arabic. In high school, I focused on science in my educational track.  However, I decided to become a liberal-arts major at the university level.”

Did you take a gap year? Or, did you go straight to Gulf University for your undergraduate studies?

“After obtaining my high school degree, I immediately enrolled at the Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST), Kuwait. I majored in English education and felt thrilled to start my new journey.”

Where did you study for your undergraduate and graduate degrees? How long did it take to get a diploma for these degrees? Did you work in the field before you went back for a Ph.D.?

“I received my undergraduate degree from GUST back in 2012. I then took about a year off working as a teller at the National Bank of Kuwait with the purpose of saving up some money in order to continue my studies. However, I was lucky enough to obtain a scholarship in order to pursue my graduate degree.

Since FSU offered an excellent graduate program in Curriculum and Instruction, it sparked my interest when browsing for universities. I decided to apply and was lucky enough to receive admission. I spent a total of four years on my undergraduate degree and a total of a year and a half doing my master’s at FSU. After obtaining my master’s degree, I went back to Kuwait to teach English as a second language to native Arabic speakers at the college level. I spent a total of three years teaching English until I recently received another scholarship to continue my education in order to obtain a Ph.D.”

Why did you decide to go to the University of South Florida (USF) for your Ph.D.?

“I chose USF to do my Ph.D. because the college of education at USF is known to be one of the best colleges nationwide. They offer excellent degree-seeking programs and have accreditation by my sponsor. Moreover, USF is a research-driven university. I believe this would best help me in executing my research ideas in order to acquire more expertise in the field of English education.”


What is the University of South Florida known for with regard to education?

“The College of Education at the University of South Florida has multiple nationwide-recognized awards for its role in research and education. Also, USF’s College of Education received accreditation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Furthermore, the Florida Department of Education approved the Educator Preparation Programs.”

In your opinion, is USF a good university?

“Without a doubt! USF offers a variety of opportunities. They encourage working with professors who are understanding and passionate about what they do. There is also a variety of students that come from different backgrounds that add a unique flavor to the academic settings.”

career pathway

You attended both Florida State University and the University of South Florida. Is USF a better university? What are some of the similarities and differences?

“Once a Seminole, always a Seminole and there’s no doubt in that! FSU has paved the way in making me the educator who I am today. USF is helping me build on the training that FSU provided. I would never make a comparison between the two universities as both are extremely qualified universities that should attract students to their programs.”

What sparked your dream study abroad?

“I have always wanted to study abroad ever since I was a teenager. However, I only got the opportunity to do so after obtaining my undergraduate degree. I believe that studying abroad makes a person grow on multiple levels. Those that study abroad are immersed in a rich culture. This experience offers different opportunities to explore not only the culture but oneself, too.”

ucf college of education

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the location and what changed since being in the program?

“My expectation before I left Kuwait was that the program was going to be challenging yet very informative. My expectation was certainly met. I was blessed enough to be part of a university with a department that works with capable teachers who have valuable information in the field of English education.”

What have you done since you began your doctoral program? Are there any tips you want to share with any candidates about to start their own doctoral program?

“From the very beginning (and several times early on in my first semester as a doctoral student), I sat down with my advisor. We came up with a projected course of study in order to have a plan that would create the best path for my adventure as a doctoral student. I advise whoever else who has started this journey to have this plan done from the very start. It is so helpful to refer to it when it comes to classes that you need to take that also align with your research interest.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad in the USA for an advanced degree?

“For those who are studying abroad, my ultimate advice to them is that they must constantly remind themselves of why they chose to leave their family and country behind and embark on this new journey. There are times where a person will feel homesick and overwhelmed with the coursework, especially as a doctoral student. However, one should keep in mind that struggle is temporary and a doctoral degree is forever! It doesn’t matter how bumpy the ride is. What matters most is that one reaches his/her designated destination.”

A Career Pathway to Obtaining a Ph.D.

If you are thinking about getting a Ph.D., Dalal talks about five steps to take before leaving for the USA. She went back to Kuwait last summer and plans to return again this summer. I asked her what she misses most about Kuwait while living in the US. She explained that she misses the professional part of her life — the part of being a teacher. She wants to apply the techniques she has learned in attaining her Ph.D. on her students. More specifically, she wants her students back home to learn how to make their voices heard when applying the English language. We will be keeping up with Dalal to see how her final classes go and also discover what her dissertation will be!


Teaching Private Lessons and Setting Goals

by Leesa Truesdell


In my second interview with Sam Loduca, I immediately noticed a change in her. Check out her first interview about why she enjoys European culture. The holidays passed and she was more determined than ever. When we initially spoke, she had objectives. However, she had not clearly outlined her cultural immersion goals in Spain. This meeting was different because Sam talked to me about her future.

In our initial meeting, I remembered her saying what she thought teaching would be like: “I am taking the approach of not thinking what teaching will be like. I am not setting expectations for myself.” Keeping this approach in mind, Sam is well into her second semester at her school. She told me that she is returning for another year because she is not ready to leave. She loves what she is doing at her school and she adores the culture and her life in Spain!

Sam is implementing her goals according to a weekly timeline. For example, her primary goal is to learn Spanish. Since January she has enrolled in two Spanish classes with an additional speaking activity per week. Additionally, she made plans with a group of Spanish friends to have lunch/dinner or attend an intercambio. An intercambio is a group language exchange where native Spanish and native English speakers go to converse in the language they are trying to learn. For example, Sam attends so she can practice her Spanish and in exchange, she speaks English half of the time with a native Spanish speaker.

Sam Finds Balance

Beyond this, Sam has created the opportunity to teach private lessons to a group of fourth-grade students each week. While teaching, her school requires her to speak Spanish to correct the student that needs assistance with an explanation. Sam’s private lessons are providing her with additional cultural immersion and Spanish practice while teaching English.

Sam’s goals are crystal clear and she is thriving! She mentioned in her first interview that she is most content when she is learning. Sam created a lifestyle where she feels happy and challenged while also seeing friends and socializing. It appears as if she has found balance.

Meet Sam, the culture seeker:

What is a typical day at your school like?

“It’s really interesting and exciting working at my school because we work with all the different grades and a lot of different teachers! This allows us to have great relationships with everyone throughout the school.”

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

“The first semester I worked with two other auxiliars, but our school was looking for another one to join the team. This second semester there are four of us. I work with about nine teachers from all different grade levels. I have worked with almost every class in primaria, however, currently, I work with about 12 different classes and teach a total of 21 classes a week (I am mostly with fourth grade and have grades 1-4 currently).”

street in spain

Communication in the school and outside of school:

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

“Yes! I get along great with the other auxiliars and even teach private lessons for one of the teachers at the school.”

Are you forming bonds with students?

“Yes! This is probably my favorite part of the job! I have formed so many great relationships with students of all different ages and English levels. For example, I primarily work with 4th graders. I’m teaching private lessons with three of my fourth graders and it is amazing to get to know their families and be welcomed into their home.”

Does the school foster the creation and maintenance of these relationships inside and outside of the classroom?

“Yes! We were welcomed to many different staff holiday parties and events. We are also included in various meetings to help ensure that our voices are heard within the school as well!”

How is material being taught to students?

“Material is mostly taught lecture-style, with a lot of interactive activities. The books that are used are great because they include a lot of review and fun activities to do with the students. We spend a lot of time doing these with the students. We also spend a lot of time taking a few students out one at a time and practicing general conversation skills with them.”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you do not plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

teaching private lessons in spain“Lesson prep for classes is different depending on the teacher and the grade level. For first grade, I do a lot of prep with flashcards and posters and make things very visual. For older grades, I focus more on grammar prep and creating activities centered around conversation and listening.

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

“Yes, I work at a bilingual school. For me and the Comunidad of Madrid, a bilingual school means that the priority to learn English is very high. They are teaching the students all of the subjects in English except for Math and Spanish.”

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

“They use a lot of written exams to measure performance. There is not as much of a focus on homework grades as I remember there being in the United States. It’s much more of a big-picture focus to make sure that they really understand the concepts.”

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

“I think overall, yes. More meetings with the teachers could help us improve that all students and teachers are on the same page. I think they will try to incorporate that into this next semester.”

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

“I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned that I really enjoy teaching and creating relationships with the students and teachers. Mostly, I have learned a lot about how to use time wisely. In my old role, I was constantly doing a thousand things at once, and I rarely had a minute of free time. In this position, there is a lot of self-directed down-time. You can choose to take a break, or you can choose to create lesson plans, organize student books, or research more information about the exams.

teaching private lessons books

I have learned that I can have more than one passion. I really enjoyed working in HR. This role could not be more different than that one, yet, I still realized that this is something that I am passionate about. Most importantly, I have learned to love a new culture. Every day — and I mean every day — I catch myself smiling on the way to work or on the way home from the Mercado. Don’t get me wrong, things still frustrate me, but it’s even a pleasant feeling to be frustrated here. The Spanish people have welcomed us into their culture with open arms and are constantly offering helping hands, advice, and language practice. I truly mean it when I say that I have found a home here and that every day I am striving to get more and more immersed in this culture that fascinates me so much!”

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

“I am really hoping to improve my Spanish further. I am able to communicate and generally understand everything these days but know that I am not using the correct grammar. Before I leave, I would really like to improve this.

I would also like to focus on learning more about the exams that the students need to take. By learning more about what these contain, I will be able to better incorporate these objectives into my lesson plans and class-led activities.

Finally, I am hoping to make more connections with locals. I already have a lot of friends, but I feel like I stopped reaching out and trying to meet new people the closer it got to the holidays. This, I would love to change.”

Catching up and learning about teaching private lessons and setting goals

Catching up with Sam made me realize how quickly time passes. She is doing extremely well and certainly is not wasting one minute of her time.

Sam plans to immerse herself even deeper into the culture as she completes this year and plans her next. She is taking her time finding a hobby she would like to try in Spanish. Part of Sam’s journey abroad is to find balance in her life; her imbalanced life in Chicago did not allow for her to even think about a hobby let alone participate in one.

“I would rather Die of Passion than of Boredom,” — Van Gogh

This quote was chosen by Sam to express her desire to go out and do something she loves rather than something that is comfortable. My favorite part of our interview was when Sam opened up and said, “ I would rather go out and do something risky because I love it and am passionate about it than play it safe to be comfortable.”

We cannot wait to see what the future holds for our enthusiastic culture seeker teaching private lessons in Spain. Join us to find out in a couple of months!