Traveling to Paju-Si: Beyond Seoul

 

Traveling to Paju Si Beyond Seoul Zoe EzechielsWhen South Korea pops into your head, there are a few directions that your mind could wander in. In some cases, it goes to the popular phone brand Samsung (a tech giant based out of Seoul, South Korea). On the rise in younger generations is K-pop, Korean pop music, which is, again, based out of Seoul, South Korea. Maybe you think of the Korean staple food, kimchi. Or perhaps you think of the K-BBQ place that you and your friends went to recently.

Whatever you think about, you probably don’t consider the beautiful scenery, rich history, or the wide array of people who call South Korea their home. Though about 48.2% of the Korean population live in or around Seoul, more than half the population still inhabit other parts of the country. When I studied abroad from Fall 2017 to Summer 2018, my home-base was Seoul. Many different factors influenced my decision to study at Sookmyung Women’s University, but one of them was my desire to travel throughout the country of South Korea.

I’ll be honest, I was getting all of my info about Korea from K-dramas, reality TV shows, and programs about Korean idols. The only thing in my head was Seoul, Seoul, Seoul. But I knew there was so much more. That’s what sent me to Paju: my desire to learn more about the beautiful country I was calling home.

Traveling to Paju Near the Border

I got the opportunity of traveling to Paju through my roommate. She was a Korean language student from France. Both of us were on exchanges, but she focused solely on Korean, while I combined learning Korean with learning Korean copyright laws and mass media communication. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much about those copyright laws. But the memory of traveling to Paju is burned into my mind.

One afternoon, while I was studying for my dreaded copyright class presentation and my roommate was going through her Korean flashcards for the thousandth time, she brought up Paju. It was a cultural field trip that her class was going on and she was able to bring a guest. I jumped at the opportunity right away (even though I had no idea what Paju even was). The field trip would be on Saturday, early in the morning. This conversation happened on Friday afternoon. There was no going back after that initial agreement since Saturday we would be traveling to Paju.

paju hill side

Finding Friends While Traveling to Paju

On the bus ride, I met two students from England (one born in England and one who had moved there from Lithuania). I sat next to the native English girl and we quickly bonded over our love of the famous Korean boy group SHINee, Taemin in particular. After conversations died down and we were well on our way to traveling to Paju, the tour guide began to give us facts about the city.

The one that stuck out to me the most was how close it was to North Korea. During the bus ride, we saw North Korea from our window. Paju is located mere miles away from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas. For a fee, you can even stay overnight in the soldiers’ barracks and get the “military” experience. Because of the proximity, I expected Paju to be a somber and serious city. Fortunately, as the bus pulled through the city, the impression was quite the opposite. Colorful neon signs, heavy traffic, and screaming children all meshed together to create a joyful and alive city. It was as if there wasn’t a war zone a couple of miles away.

Centuries of Tradition Stay Strong

We went deeper and deeper into the city until eventually we reached the outskirts. Thickly clustered apartments, businesses, and public spaces gave way to rolling hills and lush greenery. We weren’t headed into the city after all, but rather to the Jaun Seowon Confucian Academy. The academy was located far outside the main city in the suburbs, but the driver took the scenic route through the main part of Paju so that we could marvel at it.

Jaun Seowon having a parade and festival

When we finally pulled up, a beautiful mesh of traditional Korean architecture and nature met us. Plus, we were just in time for the parade. Jaun Seowon was having a parade and festival to celebrate the culture behind the academy and we were going to be part of it. The staff was friendly yet efficient as they led us to get changed into the traditional scholar gyobok. The gyobok was what the scholars wore during the Joseon period. While in the academy, they learned about Confucian teachings, how to run the government, and other skills fit for wealthy adolescent men to learn.

Parade, Traditional Art of Tea, and Cookie Making

The parade involved all the students walking after the musicians. The locals snapped a lot of photos and laughed as we waved at them and stumbled over the long uniform pants. Unfortunately, at that time, my Korean wasn’t good enough to ask them to send me some of the photos they took.

Koran Cookie Making

After the parade, it was time to learn the traditional art of tea and cookie making. We all sat in the building that used to be the primary classroom. First, the staff demonstrated tea and cookie making to us. Then, we got to try it ourselves. Needless to say, my cookies turned out pretty amazing. The tea was delicious too.

Finally, we got to write our wishes for the New Year using special Korean rice paper and ink. I was one of the only students that didn’t get any ink on their sleeves. Although, that might have been because I took Chinese in highschool and we practiced calligraphy (shh don’t tell anyone). Even though I had previously practiced, I still ended up smudging ink all over my parchment and my characters looked like they were written by a child. But, I was proud of my New Years wish, which was to continue to live happily and healthily for as long as I could.

From the Classroom to the Field

Our time at Jaun Seowon Confucian Academy ended with lunch (I had a delicious veggie kimbap roll procured by the staff after they realized that they didn’t have anything vegan for me) and then free time. My friends and I played traditional Korean games, failed miserably, and took plenty of photos.

Traveling to a Farm Near the DMZ

soybean field traveling to paju-si

It was now early afternoon and our trip wasn’t over yet. We were going to see how they made tofu. Yeah, you heard me, we were going to a tofu-ery (if that’s what it’s called). The bus driver pulled away from the academy and took us deeper into the rural suburbs of Paju, except we were driving close to the Paju DMZ (Korean Demilitarized Zone) again.

I couldn’t help being a little nervous as we pulled into a small village less than a mile away from the border. Sprawling land surrounded a few homes. We were in farmer county. Specifically, soybean farmers, our tour guide informed us. The families that farmed here had been at it for generations.

We made our way down a dirt road, passing rows and rows of beans. A stray cat flitted through the crops, hunting a bug. When I tried to call out to it, the cat stared at me. I tried again and the cat blinked slowly before continuing its chase. It didn’t occur to me until later that the cat had probably never heard English before. But that’s a thought for another day.

Making Tofu

Eventually, we made it down to a shed. It was big enough to house a tractor but the only equipment there was for tofu. The two women running the tofu house were extremely polite but spoke no English. Thus, our tour guide translated for us whenever they explained things.

handmade tofu making

First, the soybeans go through a special wash. This cleans them of all the toxins they could have picked up from being transported on the farmers truck. It also softens them to allow them to be ground into a paste. The women showed us how the soybeans sit in the wash for days before they are ready. Turns out, they had a batch that was just finished soaking in the water. Hauling a big bucket between them and with wide grins on their faces, the ladies invited us to grind soybeans with them.

Try Everything

A traditional Korean grinder is made from two huge stone blocks with a small pathway for the beans to go through. They end up between the two stones and are smashed into a paste that pours out the sides into a bowl. You spin the stone on top with a huge wooden handle in order to create that paste.

My friends and I only tried it for a couple of minutes, but those women did it day in and day out. That was their livelihood. To this day, I consider them extremely powerful and badass. After everyone had tried their hand at making the paste, we were given samples of their soondubu (soft tofu). This is tofu that hasn’t hardened and is still in a soybean broth. They had us add soy sauce and green peppers. It was delicious (honestly the best tofu I’ve had). Before we left, we also got to take home chunks of their handmade tofu, directly from the source. My vegan heart was soaring.

What I Learned from Traveling to Paju

I never would have had the chance of traveling to Paju if my roommate was a different person. I never would have heard of the place unless I was open to the opportunity. Because I trusted my gut and said yes, I made lifelong friends, learned a lot more about the place I hope to call my future home, and got to have once-in-a-lifetime experiences. So, in short, I learned that Korea is a lot more than Seoul and it’s worth it to explore every single inch.

traveling to paju si kakao talk

Spirit of Aloha

During my college winter break, I was invited to go to Hawaii with my best friend and her family. It would be a week and a half of beautiful blue oceans, volcano hiking, and wildlife I’d only seen in photos. Immediately, I jumped on the opportunity (but honestly, who wouldn’t). The plan was set. We’d stay on the big island, Hawai’i, for five days. Afterwards, we’d head over to Maui for the final three days of our trip.

ALOHA picture

An Introduction to Hilo Culture

While I was staying in Hilo, the largest city on Hawai’i, there was one message that hit home for me: “the spirit of aloha.” Aloha means a lot more than a greeting/goodbye to the Hawaiian people. It is as much as a way of life as “Hakuna Matata” is for Lion King’s Timon and Pumba. The owner of Hilo Ocean Adventures, a local who has lived in Hawai’i all his life, told me that the word, “aloha,” translates to “breathe.” Aloha represents the community spirit and the fact that humanity not only survives, but thrives, if they work together.

hawaii beach

The locals take this to heart. While we were packing our luggage into our rental car, a couple stopped their jog to help us load our bags. They went from being completely focused on their run to organizing eight suitcases into an already-cramped minivan. Then to top everything off, the couple recommended a delicious Asian Fusion restaurant since they had heard our stomachs rumbling. That was the first of many encounters that truly showed off “the spirit of aloha.”

The Spirit of Aloha

Weirdly enough, a lot of the encounters that showed me just how nice locals in Hawai’i happened on the road. Normally, people are at their worst while they’re driving. They shout, curse, and generally have no regard for others on the road (I’m dragging myself too – road rage might as well have been my middle name). But Hawaiians are on a different level when it comes to driving, especially those who subscribe to Hilo culture.

My best friend’s parents made some crazy maneuvers while trying to get to our destinations in Hilo. I know for a fact if we were anywhere else we wouldn’t have been able to do it. At one point, while driving to Rainbow Falls, we had to make a U-turn into a swarm of oncoming traffic. Instead of passing us, as most folks would, the drivers stopped and let us complete our U-turn. Wow. Everyone in the car was shocked that we made it.

traveling hawaii

The friendliness didn’t stop there; when we were snorkeling, locals would point us towards the best places to see rainbow fish. They wouldn’t hesitate to recommend their favorite restaurants and favorite sights. If we hadn’t gotten directions from a local biker on the road, I would never have been able to experience the black sand beaches. Plus, due to the recommendation of the Hilo Ocean Adventures owner, I got to swim side by side with sea turtles (my second favorite animal). Overall, Hawaiians seemed ecstatic to show people their city. However, they expect their lands and customs to be respected in return for their hospitality. This was nothing, especially when considering the friendliness of the locals and great sights.

A Pristine View Comes With Responsibility

The spirit of aloha also includes nature and wildlife as a part of the community. Though they were happy to show us the best places to swim, the locals were also surprisingly stern about making as little impact as possible on nature. There are signs on every beach warning tourists against littering. Almost all the restaurants we went to used paper straws. Whenever we went snorkeling, there was always someone keeping an eye out to make sure no one messed with the marine life inappropriately.

sea turtle in hawaii

The spirit of aloha is, fundamentally, about seeing yourself as part of a bigger picture. It means taking a step back, breathing deeply, and looking at the situation from a place of calm and loving awareness. Though I wasn’t there for long, the Hawaiian people taught me to extend a hand of friendliness to strangers, because you might help them more than you could expect. It taught me to take care of the Earth because we need it more than we realize.

Aloha,

Zoe

Interested in learning more about planning your next trip to Hawai’i? Check out this Oahu itinerary and road trip to the north shore

 

 

Pre-Departure Teaching English in Seoul, South Korea

by Zoe Ezechiels

Paige MillerPaige Miller recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology from Florida State University in August of 2018. While at the university, Paige was an active part of the Hallyu Wave Club (the Korean pop culture club) and the Korean American Student Association. She participated in learning and performing k-pop dances, some of which include “Bboom Bboom” by Momoland and “Mic Drop (remix)” by BTS and Steve Aoki.

Because of her interests in both Korean culture and teaching, Paige decided on teaching English in Korea after graduation. In February 2019, she began to teach in Seoul, South Korea at Seoul Dongho Elementary School. Keep reading to find out her initial process and how to apply to the same EPIK program Paige did.

How long have you known that you wanted to teach in Korea?

“I have been interested in Korean culture since I was in high school. However, it wasn’t until my junior year of college when I found out about the job opportunity from a family friend who had previously studied abroad. After further research and a burst of courage, I started to pursue teaching in Korea in my senior year of college.”

What is EPIK? (Are they a recruiter for foreign English teachers in Korea?)

Teaching in Korea“Firstly, EPIK is an acronym that stands for the English Program in Korea. Essentially, they are a government program that seeks to improve the English-speaking abilities of students while also facilitating cultural exchange between the students and English teachers. So while EPIK is not exactly a recruiter, I did use a recruiter called Korean Horizons to help facilitate my application to the program.”

Where were you placed and what type of school will you be teaching in?

“As of now, I only know that I have been placed in Seoul. EPIK will not alert me of my exact school location until the last day of our new student orientation on February 27.”

How was the passport process when you were updating or applying for one?

“I received my passport in January of 2018. I had to apply in-person and receive a new one. This was because I hadn’t updated it since I was a toddler. The overall process was pretty easy. I showed up with an old passport, a money order, and a passport-sized photo in hand. I completed a passport form at the approved location. From there, they sent it off to the U.S Department of State and I received my new passport less than a month later.”

How was the visa process to begin teaching English in Korea? Did EPIK help you apply for a visa?

EPIK teaching English in Korea

“For the visa process, as throughout the entire overall process in applying and receiving the teaching job, my recruiter with Korean Horizons helped facilitate it. Once the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education approved my position under EPIK, they sent my contract and my notice of agreement certificate to my recruiter. He then mailed these to me, alongside a visa application form. Upon arrival, I signed my contract, filled out the application with an attached a passport picture, my passport, a return envelope, and a $45 money order before mailing it to the Korean Consulate in Atlanta, Georgia. I received my passport back with the visa less than a week later.”

Did you need to get an apostille for your diploma? If so, how was that process?

flying to korea“I was required to get an apostille for my diploma. I filled out another application form as well as a criminal background check before sending my diploma to the Secretary of State to have it both notarized and receive an apostille.”

How far in advance did you book your plane ticket?

“After I received my visa, I booked my ticket two weeks before I left. It didn’t fully hit me that I was leaving for Korea until a few days before I left. That’s when I started to pack and get everything ready to begin the adventure of teaching English in Korea.”

What are you most looking forward to when you arrive and begin teaching?

“I am most looking forward to finally knowing what school I will be teaching in. I can’t wait to begin building a good relationship with my students. I’m excited to go to concerts of artists I’ve been following since I was back in America. Plus, I can’t wait to go on trips around Korea and other parts of Asia!”

food on flight to korea

 

 

Non-Bilingual School Education For My Third Year

by Amanda Whitten

The Third Year’s the Charm When Teaching at a Non-Bilingual School

If you’ve just stumbled onto Dreams Abroad and have somehow made it to my page – welcome! If you’re like me, you probably won’t be interested in going back and reading all of my past blogs just to be caught up to date with my latest posts. Therefore, what follows is a short, proportionally inaccurate timeline so that you won’t be confused when I mention something from previous articles.

time line amanda whitten time abroad

This visual of my time in Spain doesn’t include all the places I’ve gone or the things that I’ve seen that have kept me, at the very least, sane, and at the most, in love with living in Europe. There have been events that seemed horrible, like getting voted to not return to my first school or being asked to leave my au pair position. However, these events ultimately set me on a path that let me explore some of the ins and outs of Spanish education, both bilingual and non-bilingual schools, and Spanish culture.

fountain sunlight

A Toe in the Water

My first school was a public bilingual school. The level of apathy towards learning not only English but in learning in general, appalled me. I was shocked at the level of disrespect that I witnessed. I saw students telling professors to shut up. Kids slept through entire trimesters and never faced any backlash or received extra help. There were kids whose only plan for the future was to go viral on YouTube and get rich. That was their sincere justification for doing nothing at all.

There was a stark difference between the kids who, for whatever reason, had intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. They were intelligent and had an adequate command of English. Many of them had been a part of the bilingual program for many years and cared about their education. However, they were few and far between. To make matters even bleaker, some of the teachers didn’t even want the auxiliars to be there. We were seen as a waste of time and money.

Non Bilingual Education

Wading In

Then I taught at a private, international, democratic school. I encountered students who took control of their educational experience. Of course, there was the occasional lazy kid, but the vast majority was interested in learning English. That school employed a number of methods, including one where they let kids with high levels of English skip the lunch line. If they wanted the benefits of knowledge, all they had to do was apply themselves and make an effort. I saw a rate of transition from non-fluency to fluency that was so speedy that I couldn’t believe my ears or eyes.

Non Bilingual Education

At the same time, I was moonlighting at a semi-private traditional school. My first teaching experience was somewhat mirrored in this newest school. I began to believe that only non-traditional schools were capable of motivating the greater majority of their students. For one reason or another, I wasn’t able to continue a second year at that non-traditional school and I feared another miserable experience. How could a public, normal, non-bilingual school even compare in a positive way to a bilingual public school? I was worried that I wouldn’t make personal connections with the students or that they wouldn’t have learned enough English to be able to relate to me or me to them.

I’m pleased to say that my worries were unfounded. Maybe it’s because my first school was in the isolated mountains. Perhaps it’s precisely due to my theory that being cost-free and bilingual caused parents to send their troubled kids there as a last ditch effort to teach them English. Maybe it’s all a coincidence.

park Non Bilingual Education

Dreams in a Non-Bilingual School

All I know is that here, in Leganes, as an auxiliar in Madrid, I am having the kind of experience I dreamed about when I first arrived in Spain. The kids want to talk to me, especially the younger ones. They think I’m funny and entertaining. They listen to my presentations and we have lots of debates, especially with the older ones. Since it’s a non-bilingual school, I’m able to focus almost exclusively on English instead of having to create art theory presentations that will somehow get these complex ideas across without being above everyone’s English levels. I’m encouraged to tell my point of view on things whether it’s the origins of Christmas, the United States’ political system, or the current immigration situation in the States.

churros chocolate teacher students

I get along with and have almost no issues with any of the staff. I really feel appreciated, more so even than last year. Instead of forcing the puzzle pieces to fit together, they are beginning to fall freely into place. There is an air of positivity here. Maybe it’s because the parents are very involved (before Christmas break, they organized churros and chocolate for ALL of the staff and students). Perhaps it’s my attitude and how I went in determined to be more organized than ever. Maybe it’s just this town.

There are more colegios here than I have ever seen in one place (coincidentally, I’m once again moonlighting at a second colegio through an academy here in Leganes, and it, too, is going exceedingly well). Most importantly, they want me to renew. They want to keep me! I don’t want to jinx it, but it really does seem like the 3rd time’s the charm.

Well, that’s all for now.

Thanks for reading!

Squirrel

 

Teaching ESOL, Spanish, and Online Classes in the United States with Caroline Hazelton

Caroline Hazelton is from Jacksonville, Florida. When she isn’t teaching ESOL, lecturing part-time at a university located in South Florida or teaching online classes, Caroline is a wife and mom to two beautiful daughters.

She is one of the best presenters I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Caroline and I met at Florida State University’s College of Education where oftentimes we were asked to engage and interact in meaningful dialogue with our classmates. We studied education, so we pretty much had presentations every other week, and Caroline always had stellar presentations. I remember her specifically as being one of the best presenters in our class. She has a passion not only for Pedagogy and Foreign and Second-Language Curriculum, but for life. Caroline’s enthusiasm is contagious. She is a fourth-generation teacher and once up in front of a classroom, she draws you in with her love of language.

Meet Caroline, the language enthusiast:

What do you like most about teaching international students?

“When you teach international students, you see brilliant thinkers from other parts of the world who possess different talents, perspectives, and attitudes. They also arrive with their own academic strengths and passions from their desired degree programs. Every university student is already a thinker and a learner, or else they wouldn’t be there. And what’s more they can see things very differently from Americans which can be challenging but stimulating. For example, last year at another school, a Chinese student told me that World War II was tragic but helpful. As an American and as a granddaughter of veterans, I could not get my head around the concept of  WWII being “helpful.” But from his perspective, China had benefited from the territory inherited from the war.

Teaching ESOL – teaching languages and cultures to people is my passion. There is something about watching a student  embrace a language. I subscribe to the linguist Noam Chomsky’s theory of  “universal grammar” which asserts that humans have an innate ability to learn languages. It is fascinating to watch someone partake in a process that is more often reserved for small children.

teaching foreign language to US students

It is also amazing to watch a new identity form. Humans tend to isolate themselves into groups that look the same, act the same, and share the same culture. Yet when we learn a new language, we adopt its culture. We cannot simply stay in our own culture with people just like ourselves because we now have the ability to communicate with those who are different from us. I do not want to see people hiding away with clones of themselves. I want to see them mingling with others, celebrating their cultural and linguistic identities. As you learn more about another language, you can relate to another culture and begin to develop multiple “identities.” When we do, we can relate to more people. This makes the world a little smaller and more unified.”

What did you like most about teaching a foreign language to US students?

“Teaching Spanish to non-speakers with mostly American backgrounds meant that these students were discovering a world that had been hidden within their own. Now that they were able to begin understanding, they could now be a part of it. I saw this when I taught university students all the way down to my elementary school students. Spanish is everywhere in the United States. I would have students who could communicate with friends, family, co-workers, or clients and would come to class and tell me about it. Students would find that they could now listen to more music. This was because we would listen to and translate music in Spanish in class. Spanish is simply everywhere in the United States.

Teaching ESOL in the United States

I see myself in my students. As I was learning, I didn’t abandon my first language when I learned another, but in fact, gained a new identity. Of course, my second-language identity is a whole different component than my first. But, teaching Spanish in the United States has helped my students find their own “second identities.” I can help them connect to another world within their own.”

What did you find was the most challenging part of teaching both groups of students?

“It’s important to realize that anytime you are speaking a second language, no matter how much you know of it, you will still struggle to express yourself. Your mind might blank on a word. You might have complex thoughts, but all of your cerebral energy is going to simply put the words out there. Some students are able to be bold and learn despite this insecurity, but this really upsets some. Teachers can ease this anxiety by creating a warm, welcoming classroom environment so students feel comfortable taking risks. I’m happy to say that on my university course evaluations this was something students mentioned. The relaxed environment I strived to create made them feel okay with failing.

student studying in library books

In teaching ESOL, I find it’s very important to show students what you do as a teacher when you stumble on a word or have some other kind of miscommunication. Even in our first language, there are already enough miscommunications. These can range from different intended meanings, different references, body language, etc. which we have to resolve in daily life. Being open about our own mistakes encourages students. In other words, showing students that failure is okay is both a challenge and extremely important.”

What did both sets of students have in common? What was the difference?

“Both groups are trying to communicate in their second language and learn it better. The difference is that with international students, there is more at stake in learning English. In the United States, many students are studying Spanish as a foreign language for a required credit. Most students learning Spanish just need to pass a foreign-language requirement and continue with their studies. For international students in intensive English programs, they usually cannot pursue their degree studies, face visa issues, etc. if they do not pass their English courses. They are actually trying to live in a culture where the language and culture they are learning is dominant. This is actually helpful when teaching ESOL. My Spanish learners were not in that situation. In other words, language-learning issues remain the same, but the motivation levels and stake factors do not.”

students studying in front of computer

Where are you currently working? What are the challenges that your international students encounter?

“Recently, I got hired as an adjunct lecturer on an intensive English program at a reputable university. I am also teaching ESOL – English as a foreign language – online with a well-known language and travel company. Since my experience here is limited, I will reflect on my experiences with international students as a whole.

International students struggle with differences in classroom etiquette. For example, in Chinese culture, students are expected to recite while American students are expected to critique. An American student abroad might come across as loud, opinionated, or arrogant in cultures similar to the Chinese. Likewise, certain cultures are more tolerant of issues such as plagiarism. In the US, plagiarism is grounds for expulsion from the university. It’s important to consider subtle misunderstandings due to language and culture when teaching ESOL. Each language carries certain “attitudes” with it derived from its surrounding culture. Chinese- and Korean-speaking students carry a need for “respectful language” that doesn’t necessarily exist in English. This is different when compared to Brazilian and Portuguese students, who might carry more of a “friendly” attitude. Students aren’t even aware of these minor differences until they begin their second language/culture-immersion experience.”

What challenges do you have working with international students?

“First, there are always misunderstandings due to differences in language, especially when teaching ESOL. To be honest, there are times I cannot understand what a student is trying to communicate due to accent or vocabulary. While I have to be kind, I do have to let the student know I cannot understand them. This is the only way they will be able to improve their language skills. Usually, it is just a grammatical or syntax issue, or possibly a pronunciation error that we can fix together. When handled correctly, you can help students save face for when they are communicating with someone not as “linguistically patient” as their teacher.

Secondly, and I hate to mention this, but any time you are teaching, especially teaching ESOL, you have to make sure to be on the lookout for how your gender plays a role. This is especially true of cultures where gender and sexuality vary from that of your own where you know “what to do/not to do.” I have had students who seemed to develop crushes on me at different schools. You are their teacher, you are their hero, and sometimes you are of a different culture. This can be attractive to some. As a result, I have to watch how I dress. I also have to know who/when/how I am interacting with my students, and when to let my bosses know if necessary. This is true of any school though, and not just of international students. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the world we live in.”

caroline hazelton teaching ESOL miami

 

What advice would you give to someone who works with people from other cultures?

“Be patient and get out of your comfort zone!”

quote where the magic happens

What is one example of something you have done differently or some way you have changed as a result of your experiences?

“As a result of my experiences, I try to process headlines from an international perspective. Having regularly communicated with other cultures, it has shown me that one country’s interpretation of events may not be how another country sees it. I try to read Al Jazeera English in addition to The Washington Post and The Atlantic. I will watch Despierta America on Univision in the mornings to see what’s on the mind of Hispanics before watching CBS in the evenings. Once I meet people from the countries I see on the news, I chat with them about what I see. It helps me determine if the reporting I see is my country’s perspective or if there’s some truth to it.”

Caroline is unique because she has taught pretty much every type of learner in each age group. Because she is a self-taught second-language learner, she brings a set of skills to the classroom other than the basics. Her ability to connect culture and fear caused by misunderstandings is what motivates her each and every day when teaching ESOL. We look forward to hearing more from her about her new teaching position in the upcoming months.

A New Me in Madrid

by Amanda Whitten

If I had buckled down and started this blog entry a few weeks ago, I could have written something for you guys that would have been a magical and dreamy limbo of sorts. However, I have already received my placement (among other important events) within the last two or three weeks. Therefore, there is less mystery with which to allude. All I can say is that there’s going to be a new me in Madrid!

A New Me teaching abroad

It would have been epically optimistic and beautiful, I assure you. I would have talked about the endless possibilities awaiting me this Autumn: would I be assigned to the awe-inspiring Canary Islands with their warm weather and majestic views? Would I continue at my current private, international school in Torrelodones, Madrid? A place where I felt respected, valued and appreciated as an independent teacher in my own right? Or, finally, would I be assigned to be a well-paid auxiliar somewhere in Madrid’s center or surrounding villages?

Possibilities, Possibilities

dance-spain-teach-abroad-travel

In different ways, each one of these possibilities would have afforded me with a variety of benefits. You already know from my other blogs how much praise I heap on the diverse islands that are the Canaries. If I had been placed there, I would have not have had to suffer another winter (which I hate, regardless of where I am). Inter-island travel would have been the coolest shit ever. You can get ahold of the 70% discount on flights between islands if you get empadronado (which is where you declare where you live to the authorities) on Gran Canaria and are an EU citizen (they sometimes overlook that last part). Rent would have been cheaper. Not to mention, of course, there would have been the ocean basically in my backyard.

A large part of me also wanted to stay at my cool, international colegio. It is a school unlike few others due to their methodology and creed. In comparison to my last school and others I’ve taught at, the level of student interest in language learning is exceptional. There is almost no apathy towards learning English. This is something I definitely cannot say for other places I’ve taught. I have deep relationships with my students there. I know all of them by name, as well as their interests, fears, hopes, dreams, and ambitions…

Cultural Differences and a New Resolve

About a week or so ago, though, I had the balls to tell them that I needed to be paid more if I was to continue working there. They get very little wrong in that school. Unfortunately, my wage wasn’t meeting my needs. I needed and need to make a reasonable living wage if I’m going to make it in Spain. And then, of course, almost immediately after, they said that they had been doubting whether I was a good enough fit to continue with the school in general.

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I got pretty worked up about that, as you might imagine. In the end, I came to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, this is just Spain. I certainly have never experienced this type of reaction towards me/my personality anywhere else. Perhaps, there is just something about me that rubs some Spaniards the wrong way. I had troubles at my last school, and with those au pairs from last year.

Maybe it truly doesn’t matter how hard I try. Perhaps, I will never please the teaching world here in Spain. It could be that I need an attitude adjustment. Maybe I need one that says: “Bitches, I’m here for tapas and to educate your kids. If you don’t like it, you can suck it! I ain’t goin’ nowhere!!!” I would certainly be less stressed out if I didn’t give a flying flip about what anyone thought about me. No positive recommendations? Not going to renew me? No problema, señorita. I’ll be off to my next adventure without a backwards glance. It’s time for a new me in Madrid!

New Place, New Me in Madrid

This brings me to my original point. I recently received an email congratulating me on my assignment to somewhere in Madrid. Cool, alright. I don’t know where yet, but I am looking forward to new faces and new friends but certainly not new problems.

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For better or for worse, I am going to be the auxiliar that I want to be. I am not going to take any shit or abuse this year! If they’ve got a problem with that, they can hand me my resignation form right then and there. I’m educated (kindly overlook my use of the word “ain’t” and any double negatives), experienced, and, as long as this English teaching bubble lasts, in HAWT, HAWT demand. It’s out with the old, and in with the new me in Madrid!

Peace out and sayonara bebes!

Love always,

Squirrel

 

P.S. My anxiety makes it so I probably won’t have the guts to be as brave as my inner chihuahua/yappy-dog wants to me to be. Unfortunately, as my lame pun implies, I’m usually all bark and no bite. Or all hiss and no scratch. Whatever. A girl can dream, though. A girl can dream.

 

Culture Seeker Enjoying European Culture

by Leesa Truesdell

“It’s time to let go of the long hours and live a balanced life.” — Samantha LoDuca

Samantha (AKA Sam) recently spoke to me about her studies in Rome and why she enjoys European culture. She is an ambitious goal-seeker who has met the goals that she set for herself. She calls this her “self pact.” She thrives by putting herself into situations where she is learning. Her interview taught me more about who she is and who she wants to become while she is in Spain.

I met Sam in my Spanish class and learned she is also a CIEE participant. Because we were in the same class, I got to see a side of her that was eager to learn yet vulnerable at times. We only knew each other by name and whatever Spanish topic was discussed that day. I didn’t know who Sam really was until our interview. After we spoke, I realized how committed she is to learning Spanish by immersion.

Sam is dedicated, sophisticated, and takes pride in her appearance. Her skirts billow past her knees and she is always perfectly accessorized. Her authenticity shines when she speaks about her goals. That unique, authentic aura is why I wanted to highlight her favorite quote, which she shared with me after our interview. When I read it, Sam’s outlook was clearly reflected.

“Every one of a hundred thousand cities around the world had its own special sunset and it was worth going there, just once, to see the sun go down” – Ryu Murakami

Meet Sam, the European culture seeker:

Samantha LoDuca is originally from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin but, for the past five years, she has been living in Chicago. She went to Loyola University and, immediately after graduating, got a job working in HR at a large corporation in Chicago.  After about two years of working 60-plus hour work weeks, Sam decided to seek her destiny in Spain — a new life immersed in a culture that she longed to be part of.

Rowing in a boat in Spain

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

Sam smiled, “I always wanted to live in Europe ever since my first visit when I was 15 years old. I developed a love for learning about languages and culture after my family vacation to Italy. During my last year of college, while visiting Japan, I made a pact with myself that I would be living in Europe three years after graduation. I call this my ‘self pact’.”

What are your goals while you are here in Spain?

“My primary and most important goal is to learn Spanish. I would like to become fluent. My secondary goal is to force myself out of my comfort zone by integrating into Spanish culture as much as possible. I will do this by meeting and speaking with Madrilleños. Finally, I would like to get the most out of the teaching experience by making a connection with my students. I want to make an impact in their lives.”

Have you ever taught before? If not, what was your career field?

Sam paused, “No, I have never officially taught. In high school, I worked as a tutor through Catholic organizations and in college, I worked as a nanny with a family. I tutored the kids in the family and worked for two years with the same large corporation. I interned my senior year, then worked for a year with the same company in human resources.”

What do you think teaching in Spain will be like? Where are you teaching this year?

“I am teaching in San Augustine del Guadalix. It is located north of Madrid. I am taking the approach of not thinking about what teaching will be like. I am not setting expectations for myself. The biggest challenge will be not to associate my past experiences of corporate job expectations. For example, how we are used to doing things the right way and at a fast pace.

American corporations care about efficiency. In Spain, they care if the job gets done, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the most efficient way.”

Why did you choose to teach abroad? Why did you choose to teach in Spain over other countries?

“Teaching abroad is a great opportunity to travel abroad and to experience another European culture. I chose Spain because I studied Spanish for eight years throughout school and I visited Madrid once before and loved it. I knew it would be a great spot to live and I could see myself living here.”

What would you like to accomplish while you are in Spain?

“In Chicago, I worked way too much. I worked 60-70 hours at the corporation plus 20 hours as a nanny at night and on weekends. I did not have time left during the week for a social life and did not take the time to enjoy life. In Spain, I want to accomplish taking the time to enjoy life. I want to take the time to be “Spanish” by going to dinner and socializing with friends. I want to have free time. It is time to learn how to let it go. It’s time to let go of the long hours and live a balanced life.”

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

“It is great and it is very different from Italy. They are both cultures derived from Latin roots but are very different from one another. In Italy, it was hard to connect with the locals for two reasons. First, it was hard to practice the language with locals because Italian people used English all the time. Secondly, in Italy, it’s hard to integrate into the culture.

They don’t accept you immediately into their social circles. You must not appear too willing or too eager for Roman circles to accept you. When they see you are not trying too hard, they meet you half way and embrace you. Because of this social dynamic, it was hard for me to integrate into the Italian culture in the three months I was there. Also, I was not very willing to give people the cold shoulder in order to have them accept me. I am a friendly person by nature; therefore, I did not integrate as well as I would have liked.

In Spain, the social barriers are different from those in Italy. I can be myself and people accept me into their social circles right away. Also, people do not speak as much English in Spain as they do in Rome. Here in Spain, you can practice the language. They appreciate you trying to use Spanish.”

What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here? Have you found them to be accurate or inaccurate?

“I thought more people would know (speak and understand) English than they do. Also, I assumed I would be afraid to speak Spanish. I thought it would take longer to get over the fear to speak. But, after two weeks, I wasn’t afraid. I said to myself, ‘I am going to give it my best shot. I am going to try and if they don’t understand, they don’t understand. What matters is that I know I tried.’”

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

Sam looked at me with a smirk, “I am going to knock on wood. I have not had a moment where I have been fed up. The hardest thing is adjusting to the Spanish sleeping and eating schedules. I am not sure how I am going to adjust during work or how Spanish people do it.”

“The Spanish eat their meals at entirely different times than Americans. They eat a small tostada when they wake up, then at 2:00 p.m. they eat a large ‘comida’ comparable to the American dinner but always more social. Dinner is around 10:00 p.m. For most Americans, this is typically the time when most are getting ready to go to sleep to get up for work the next day.”

What has been the best experience?

“I do not have one moment or one “best.” Retiro Park is my favorite place in Spain. Going to the park is a different idea for me. I would never do that in the States. I never had the free time to do it. No matter how you are experiencing Retiro, with people or alone, there is always something new to see or do. European culture is amazing and I am learning every day.

How do you feel about your integration into the culture so far? Are there things that you have embraced or are hoping to embrace?

European Culture“I have loved the integration part so far. I think I have a lot more work to do; especially during the next few weeks while I am on break before I start to teach. If I am not exhausted by the time I go to sleep then I am not trying hard enough to integrate into the culture. Other areas that I focus on are really recognizing that the culture is different by not reacting to it. For example, I try not to get frustrated by the unorganized, slow-paced government and European culture. I have had to work with them on a weekly basis since I arrived.”

Final Thoughts on European Culture and Studies in Rome

Since my interview with Samantha, I’ve been fortunate to get to know her more. Her desire to enjoy more free time this year reminds me of Lynnette’s goal when she first moved to Spain two years ago. She has a completely different story but the two women had similar goals once they arrived—to “chillax.”

Sam is a driven and determined hardworking woman. She knows what her goals are yet she is learning how to switch gears and take some time for herself.  The next time I check back with her, I plan to see just how immersed she has become and how she is enjoying her free time.

Stay tuned for more from Sam and if you want to learn more about European culture and other members of Dreams Abroad join us on Twitter.