An Underground Trip to Paris

by Cassidy Kearney

It was 6:30 in the morning and we had a train to catch. My group piled onto the bus outside of our hotel in London and we took our last looks at our first city abroad. We were dropped off at one of London’s cornerstones: Kings Cross Station. It was enormous. It was exactly like an airport but flat, which was unexpected. This would be the first train ride I’d ever taken.

Kings Cross Station in London

We had about three hours to kill once we’d gotten to the station and past security. Dounia and I explored all the shops and went up and down and around the station while we killed time. I exchanged my pounds into euros, not caring about the exchange rate. I didn’t want to run around in our first non-English-speaking country with no money.

Our train arrived and I boarded, towing my suitcase, my new copy of The Hobbit, and my travel journal. My heart was beating and I kept poking Dounia, telling her how excited I was for my first train ride. She rolled her eyes at me but grinned. She reminded me that we’d be underground for a majority of the time. I didn’t care. An underground train?????? How could this get any cooler?!

A Trip Underground

We settled into our seats. There were four of them facing one another, with a table in the middle. I gave Dounia the window seat because she’s a lot shorter than I am and I could easily peer over her shoulder. The conductor called “All aboard,” And we were off!


The train quickly dove its way underneath the English Channel, and the windows showed nothing but black. I still thought it was cool that we were underground, but it was a little dull to do nothing but stare into a blank window for the hours-long train ride we had before us. I spent a good portion of it reading and writing about the rest of my London adventures in my travel journal.

Trip-to-Paris-France-Eiffel-tower-travel-abroadBehind us was the bar cart. As the train ride went on, more and more people collected in it. By the time we emerged from underneath the Channel, there was a regular party happening behind us! Bill passed by me with a can of olives and a slice of a baguette. I raised my eyebrows and asked. He pointed at the amassing French party behind us.

I slipped back and grabbed my olives. I tried to listen in on the French conversations that surrounded me, but my two college classes of French left me ill-prepared. I was a little disappointed but happily returned to my seat to snack.

Arriving in Paris

After watching rolling hills dotted with sheep, we finally arrived in Paris. Nikos told us that the railroad workers were striking and that traffic was blocked all around the station. We were going to have to walk a few blocks to our bus.

Once we shuffled on, our Parisian tour guide introduced herself as we drove around the city. She apologized for the strike, telling us that striking was Parisian’s favorite pastime. We quickly stopped at the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. We finished our tour at a popular city garden. Afterward, we got back onto our bus and we were driven to the northern part of Paris to our first hostel of the trip.

Paris-France-lion-travel-abroadOne Key, One Bathroom, Six Girls

Our hostel was three floors with one elevator (the tiniest I’ve ever seen). Nikos explained to us that the hostel only had one key per room, so if we all left, we should leave the key in the lobby. Dounia and I were assigned to a room on the third floor with four other girls. There was a pigeon plucking its way across our open window when we arrived.

There were three bunk beds in our mid-sized room. Fortunately, each bunk space had an outlet so each visitor could conveniently charge their devices. I still didn’t know many of our group members, and I don’t remember specifically who I shared the room with. I do remember that we were all starving and cranky. We immediately left to go find a place to eat.


After wandering around the streets of suburban northern Paris, we finally settled on a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop. Everyone attempted ordering through gesturing and pointing. I went last, and I got to try ordering in French for the first time! I think the shopkeeper seemed relieved, but I could just be inflating my own ego!

We quickly ran back to the hotel to prepare for the evening’s activities, which I’ll talk about in my next post!


Transcend into Traveling

by Carlos Balbuena

I heard that immortality is boring, although I don’t remember where I heard that. All I know is that I don’t agree with that sentence. I think the problem with immortality, at least as a human being, is that every single thing humans do is because of death. We busy ourselves from here to there because we know there will be a moment when we can’t go from here to there.

Time helps us be aware of the fragility of our existence. We act in order to give our life a meaning – an objective in the little time that we possess. So no, immortality would not be boring. It would make action sterile. The whole purpose of movement would cancel. Aristotle saw time as movement: things were born and then died. He called the time lapse between birth and death corruption, which is essentially movement. Life is movement. It’s a big beautiful moving thing between two layers of nothingness.

time clock

Life is Possibility

Life is possibility, death is finite. We grasp the idea of an afterlife, but we have no guarantees. I believe in an ever-after, but faith is personal. In the end, all we have is now. Even if we don’t think about it, the idea of the end lies within us. We cope with it; it’s no big deal. There’s nothing to fear in dying – the real tragedy is not really living.

Life is being responsible: being aware of ourselves, what we want in life, and getting to know the real you. Life is about being aware of the weight of existential liberty. That is, being able to do or not do with the full awareness of the extent and impact of our actions. We, as mortals, are amazingly free because we die. Therefore, we have to make our life a poem until death.  Success is getting old, looking back and being satisfied with the pictures that you see in your head. It is dying and being remembered by your loved ones… because loved ones… they never really go. They just cease to live. This is not the same as ceasing to exist. They live through us.

Living to Travel map helocopter

Immortality is not the same as eternity. We, humans, seek eternity, though we confuse it with the former. Immortality is, essentially, not dying. Eternity exists way beyond our time, not necessarily living. In other words, looking for immortality is wanting to not die, while looking for eternity is wanting not to be forgotten. And what stands better throughout that ravenous beast we call time other than memory?

Transcend into Traveling: Action is Fuel

Transcend into traveling and action is fuel for memories. Memory is the only witness time leaves alive. History traces back all the actions – the good and bad – that compose our ideologies that form the present and mold the future. But transcendence is not only applied to humans as a social being. We fulfill our life’s purpose by being the best possible “I” we can. It can only be achieved through self-examination and enjoying life to the fullest. Transcendence implies making something meaningful. It could be to us, personally, or to a group of us, but meaningful nonetheless. Art is the most beautiful way of perpetuation. But we can create these moments as well, unerasable from memory. And one of those ways is by traveling.

Living to Travel map bubble

Traveling is the perfect way of doing something meaningful. One can get a gaze of many ways of life. Let’s face it: there’s more ground to cover than we’ll ever be able to step on in our short lifespans. So, we have to cover as much of it as possible. Don’t be afraid – it only takes one small step at a time. Formalize your desire. Don’t be afraid to fail, because the ones failing are the ones trying to change. So what if life is short if we can make the most of it? When you’re in another country, it’s easy to be defeated by homesickness or by the combination of futons, awful food, and a big, cold room. But let us not despair. Comedy = Tragedy + Time.

Transcend into Traveling

Now, I laugh and remember tenderly those bad nights: sometimes on the floor, beside a river, down a pier, or in a soccer field in the middle of nowhere. I remember the times that I celebrated a special occasion all alone and the times where I wanted to hug my significant other. Too bad Skype hasn’t gotten that far! Reflecting on the times, I felt nostalgic. I missed my loved ones, but I became aware of how beautiful and noble that feeling was because it’s not rational.

You may and may not have hard times while traveling, but I think you can endure everything that you want and learn from it. I want to travel abroad and see Canada. Taking my girlfriend to Italy and wherever she wants would be amazing. I want to live in another place – at least for a while – and while I can. Traveling is an excellent opportunity to transcend and be happy. The only other two ways to find meaning that I see are helping nature (animals, plants, humans, ecosystem) and creating (artistically speaking). So, no, immortality is not boring. Transcend into traveling is just that it pales against the exquisite exhilaration of mortal life.

José G. Carrasco Talks Teaching in Miami-Dade Schools

José G. Carrasco was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and moved to New York at the age of five. He speaks three languages: Portuguese, English, and Spanish. José is currently teaching Mathematics in the inner-city Miami-Dade public schools system. He received his undergraduate degree in microbiology from the University of Miami. José worked in a lab for a few years, conducting research, and later moved to Tallahassee to be closer to his daughters.

Teach-USA-Jose-Carasco-student-gradWhile in Tallahassee, he completed his master’s in curriculum and instruction and earned an education specialist degree. José moved back to the Miami-Dade area to once again live closer to his daughters, and teach full time as he conducted research to complete his dissertation for his Ph.D.

For those of you who do not know him, the best way to describe José would be that he’s a smart, kind kid at heart. If you aren’t laughing when José is around then you must be in trouble – with him!

“I want to make a difference in that one kid’s life — that one kid who doesn’t see what we all see.” – José G. Carrasco 


Why did you choose to come to the USA?

“This is a tough one. My parents separated when I was five years old and my mother brought me to the States without my father’s permission. He was furious and made arrangements to bring me back home. It took him almost a year to get me back. My parents eventually got back together and decided to live in Bristol, Connecticut.”


What are your goals while you are teaching in Miami and studying at FSU?

“My goals are to conduct more research in teaching and eventually finish my Ph.D. I see myself teaching for another six to seven years in the public school system, and eventually teaching at the college level. The hands-on experience that I am able to attain in the classroom will allow me to have a better grasp of how educational research can be used in the field.”


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

“Before I went into teaching, I worked in a lab as a research assistant. After going through a divorce, I decided to make a change and decided to transition my career into teaching. I went for a higher degree (M.Ed. and E.Ds.) at Florida State University in Curriculum and Instruction. Before accepting my current position two weeks before Christmas break, I was working in a charter school. That experience was okay, but the administration was not helpful and the school was very unstructured. The school that I’m working at now is better organized. They want me to be a classroom teacher next year, so I may have a new experience. So, instead of teaching two subjects, they would rather I teach a self-contained fifth-grade class.”


Why did you choose to teach and also, why did you choose FSU over other schools?

“I had friends and connections at FSU that work there and encouraged me to apply. I actually almost went back to the University of Miami, but I was offered a better financial aid and a research assistant job at FSU, so it made more sense for me to go there.”


What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came to the USA?

“When I moved to New York as a child, I was very surprised by many people’s lack of knowledge about the rest of the world. When I would tell people that I was from Brazil, they would ask questions such as What part of Puerto Rico is that in?and So you speak Spanish?’. I do speak Spanish, but Portuguese is the primary language in Brazil. Puerto Rico is actually part of the United States. I was very surprised by many people’s lack of knowledge.”

“My biggest culture shock was actually moving from New York to the South. The differences between the various parts of the U.S was very surprising to me. My perspective is that the education system is much better in New York than in Florida. This is at least true of the schools that I’ve been to. The differences in the education system within the United States are very surprising.”


What has been the most difficult since you began teaching?

“The most difficult thing is dealing with the negativity from other teachers. Some of the older teachers are really passing down a lot of negative attitudes to newer teachers. Another challenge is that a lot of new teachers from programs like Teach for America are really unprepared and quickly realize that teaching is harder than expected. Also, in Miami, the mentorship program is not nearly as strong as it is in Tallahassee. In Tallahassee, all new teachers get a mentor. It’s not like that in Miami. Some teachers seem to just be following a script. Also, the lesson planning and planning for differentiated instruction takes a long time.”



What has been the best experience?

“My favorite part of teaching is seeing students learn. I really enjoy connecting with the students and making my lessons engaging. Before I began teaching, I had experience in an afterschool program and mentorship through my master’s program. That was really helpful to make me feel more prepared. I teach because I love sharing knowledge. To see students and see their progress. I like to be the one that inspires my students to be passionate about acquiring knowledge. ‘Teaching by any means necessary’ is my motto.”


How has standardized testing affected your teaching experience?

“Data collection programs such as i-Ready take up a lot of instructional time. It’s sad that sometimes we just have to teach kids how to take tests. Instead of teaching basic math skills, I have to teach [my students] how to answer standardized test questions.”



As a teacher in the Miami-Dade schools, how has the current political climate affected your immigrant students?

“Whether they came to the U.S. legally or illegally, they are happy to be here and are taking advantage of the opportunities that they have. There is anxiety and hope for the DREAM Act to pass, but I think that my students really do feel like their school is a safe haven. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho originally came from Portugal and overstayed his visa. He was undocumented and stands up for immigrant students.”

Wrap Up


After speaking with José, it’s clear that he is passionate about seeing his students succeed. He teaches because he truly enjoys his craft. There are teachers who teach to get a paycheck, and then there are teachers who do their job because they love what they do. José is clearly the latter of the two. He spends his free time with students in the Miami-Dade schools who struggle with the material just to ensure that they know there is a solution, and a way to overcome whatever it is that is stopping them from achieving their highest potential.

José and I will continue our interview after he completes his first year as a Mathematics teacher. We will hear about how his first year went and if he plans to stay in the public school system in the Miami-Dade area. Stay tuned for more with José in a couple of months.

by Leesa Truesdell

Expat vs Depression

The emotional roller coaster of moving abroad is multifaceted; it is filled with those breathtaking ups, but is also plagued by those heart-wrenching downs. Without our typical support systems, known environments, and comfort zones, those downs can quickly spiral into some depressing times. And unfortunately, it happens more than we would like to discuss in my post of expat vs depression.

Reality vs Instagram

instagram reality photos pictures expat vs depressionSocial media has a funny way of influencing our lives. We can use Instagram as an example. Instagram is a photographic platform to express our perceptions of the world through our own lens. Personally, I post only my best pictures on Instagram, capturing the moment in the most creative and enticing way I can. By default, all my followers only see my world through my altered lens. Pictures of Spain, Morocco, Italy, England, Switzerland, etc. fill my Instagram from top to bottom. But how often do people stop to reflect on the accuracy of my portrayal of the world? Probably not much.

If I honestly posted my traveling life through Instagram, it would look more like: boxes of rice (I could not afford anything else to eat), a cold floor (where I slept in the airport because I could not afford accommodation), panic (my bank account rarely has enough to support me in case of an emergency while traveling), and the hostel (with all 20 beds shoved into a room that should only accommodate 8).

My point? Well, to get you to understand the reality of depression while being abroad, we all need to step out of this false narrative that everything is as beautiful as we make it out to be online and start understanding that there are complex, “behind the scenes” layers that many choose not to share.

Home vs There

Home is comfortable. Home is happy. Home is love. Home is family. Home is friends. When I moved here, I had no home. If I had a bad day, I did not have anyone to listen to me. Additionally, if I needed help, I had no one to call. If I wanted to make plans, I had to do them alone. Leaving your support system back at home means giving up everything and being alone with yourself. Some people thrive, while others do not.

hostel dormitory traveling abroad expat vs depression

Leaving so much behind can mentally cause a strain on your life. I missed Christmas with my relatives and celebrated it alone. My birthday was spent alone with cake that I made myself, and a movie on my laptop.  Day to day life felt uneventful because I had no one to share my memories with. Additionally, the added stressors of finding friends, learning a language, assimilating into a culture, starting a new job, finding somewhere to live, opening a bank account, adjusting to a new city, etc, etc, etc, is a lot to take on at once.

On the other side of things, some days I just watched my old life back at home as a third person and how it moved on in my absence. I missed the celebrations of holidays, birth of new family, engagements of siblings, and simple family dinners that once were taken-for-granted. I could not even understand why I decided to give up my past life. Why did I leave my loved ones? Why did I choose to move away and be alone? Where do I belong now? And what on Earth am I even doing here?

Me vs Me

traveling-abroad-expat-pressional-depressionOnce you start questioning all your decisions and plans, things can quickly go downward. It hits you quite hard when you realize you have no one to help you through the changes you are experiencing. At one point, it caused me to become my worst enemy. I started to second-guess so much about my life. From career to relationship to family to my own happiness, I could not get a grip on my own future.

My career?

I move back and continue with lots of money and benefits or I stay here and am much happier, but make a significantly lower income and not much advancement.

My relationship? – He is here and definitely not there.

My family? – They are there and definitely not here.

My happiness? – I love the lifestyle and culture here, but that doesn’t include my family, which are there.

Everything turned into a personal struggle and my mental battle turned into a physical battle. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or enjoy anything about my life anymore. I felt that I was constantly being pulled between two places, or essentially two lives.  What made things worse was the feeling that no one understood my dilemma. My family just wanted me to come home. My friends wanted me to continue my adventurous life. Anywhere I looked, I couldn’t find the answer to any of my questions or anything to alleviate the torn emotions I was experiencing.

traveling abroad expat airport

So, what did I do? Well, I wish I could wrap this story up with a happy ending and a solution like I normally do. Unfortunately, this time is a little different. I still grapple with these emotions. I often find myself waking up from a nightmare about my future, my family, my relationship, and my life. What has helped is focusing on the things I want and the things that make me happy. I try to remind myself that I’m not alone and my family and friends are always with me, whether it’s here or there. I try to remind myself that I’m living a dream in another country and it may or may not last forever. If I don’t seize my day in Madrid now, when will I ever get the opportunity to do so again?


To my expats,

Don’t forget: we are a big network. There are people just like you who have leapt into a new world and are trying to keep their head above water. Talk to others in the same boat as you. Share your experiences to help uplift yourself and possibly someone else who feels the same. Reach out via meetings, social gatherings, or even Facebook where “Expats in ____________” groups are always there to help bring people together. And most importantly, remember the positives. Living in another country is a giant learning experience. You see the world, connect with others, learn about yourself, and gain such valuable lessons that you could never achieve from staying in your comfort zone. Remember that what you are doing abroad is shaping you into a remarkable, well-rounded, and cultured person. These are true qualities that change your life forever. Don’t ever forget that.

Us AND You 

Sometimes you win and other times you learn
Sometimes you win and other times you learn.

Do you have a loved one abroad?

Check in with them often and take note in any change of behavior.

Support their endeavors because sometimes they can’t even support it themselves.

Encourage them to stay strong and remind them that they are doing a superb job so far.

Recognize that they are facing new challenges every day and any negativity can sincerely affect their mental statuses.

Praise them for following their dreams. Just because we are far away doesn’t mean we want to lose the feeling of your presence in our lives.

by Bebe Bakhtiar

An English Blur

An English Blur

If you haven’t read my second installment take a quick peek at Getting Lost in London to catch up!

The next morning, I woke up early to meet the group that was going to Oxford. Dounia hadn’t wanted to visit “some stuffy, old college,” and rolled her eyes about visiting Stonehenge, so I was going without her. I went to the hotel’s continental breakfast and was met with all the workings of a traditional English breakfast. I tried eggs benedict for the first time, as well as English breakfast beans (unusual, but I enjoyed it. Every chance I got, I would heap a mound of breakfast beans onto my plate). I went down to the lobby to wait, where I finally met Yennifer. Yennifer was the oldest member of the group and had grown up in Colombia. Dounia and I would become great friends with her.

Change of Plans

Nikos informed us that there was a last-minute change and we wouldn’t be visiting Stonehenge, much to my disappointment. Nonetheless, we were off. We met up with another tour group, and we all piled into a bus. Still unfamiliar with who my group was, I sat alone and looked out the window. When we got to Oxford, we took a quick walking tour, visiting all the important locations, and then we were released to explore on our own.

oxford-england-An English Blur

As soon as we were released, I bought a hoodie. It was freezing! It was the middle of summer, and it was like 60°F out! In Florida, it was probably 95°F. I didn’t think I’d be wearing a hoodie in the middle of May, that was for sure.


For lunch, I had a venison meat pie (delicious) at the market. It was completely surreal ordering it. There was definitely a delay while I took time to process the cashier’s accent – I think I had a venison pie, but who really knows what I agreed to in that quick exchange.

I took some time to sit in one of the important halls of the college, where I wrote a postcard to my grandmother, and then tried to visit the famous Oxford library. Unfortunately, the library is closed to visitors, so I made do with buying a copy of The Hobbit from the library’s gift shop. I popped into one of the oldest pubs for a quick peek, and then after ran into Yennifer and another girl from our group, Emily. They were going to visit the museum, so I thought I’d tag along.

Onto the Museum and Oxford Courtyard

The museum was incredible. There were old dinosaur bones that hung from the ceiling, and I had never been so transfixed as I had been, standing there, amidst such an incredible display of natural history. Yennifer, Emily, and I rushed through as much of the first floor as we could, as we had to meet the group once more. After meeting up with them (and after listening to an excited 19-year-old about popping into that old pub and buying a beer – “I didn’t even get carded!”), we were led to the famous Oxford courtyard that appeared in a number of Harry Potter films.


When we got back, Dounia and I went to have dinner somewhere Nikos had suggested, which was down a slightly scary street. We talked about turning around several times, but we eventually found it. I ordered my second drink ever, an apple martini, which Dounia recommended. What a difference! It was delicious! I could definitely see how those could be dangerous!

More Of London

The next day, we piled onto another bus and toured around London. We saw the Globe Theatre, Big Ben, London Bridge, and even got to watch the Changing of the Guards ceremony at the palace. Afterward, we again stuck close with Nikos and followed him around, along with a mid-sized portion of the group, into Chinatown. We saw all the usual quirks of Chinatown, along with the really cool entranceway.

After that, the group struck off from Nikos, and we visited several art museums. Dounia and I had dinner again, together, this time in a more popular part of town. A bunch of our group went bar hopping, but Dounia and I skipped it, as we had to wake up early again the next morning, and neither of us wanted to spend our souvenir money on booze.

I feel like I missed a lot in London, but this can be attributed to it being the first city, and we were still getting our feel for things. It was so big that it was overwhelming to pick what you wanted to visit. I feel like a lot of time was wasted just wandering around and trying to figure out how to navigate.

I remember feeling really frustrated at a lot of the people we were with, because nobody could make up their minds on what they wanted to see or how to get there, and I was trying to go with the flow. Later on, I decided that I would be the one navigating – I wasn’t going to waste my time trying to ‘collaborate’ (i.e. argue) on directions when I knew I was right. I probably rubbed more than a few people wrong, but in the end I was one of the go-to’s for directions, which ended a lot of frustrations on my end.


What I Learned

Ultimately, I wish I had gotten the chance to go back to London with my group. The anxieties of being in a new place with almost no one that I knew definitely got to me. This would eventually go away, but for the first few cities, I was really stressed out. This wasn’t only just the fact that I was in a new country either, but also because I was in such a large, historic city. I hadn’t come in with any plan at all on what I wanted to do or see and had no idea about what was around London that I could look at. I had brought a sightseeing book for Europe, but a lot of the sites in that were too far away.

My favorite place that I visited while in England was Oxford. I think I loved it not only because of the college but also because it was such a charming town. You could feel it waking up as the sun reached further and further overhead, there were people strolling up and down the street, and some locals tending to their garden flowers. The market was busy and alive. I saw an entire pig head! There were students and tourists rowing in the river down the way, and students walking around in their exam uniforms. I could have spent a few days in Oxford alone.

Final Thought About Where I Was

Visiting Oxford gave me a chance to take a deep breath and remind myself that everything was fine. Being alone in a weird place was nothing to get worked up over. I needed to be more open to new experiences and actually go with the flow. Not just say that I was! Taking the time to write the postcard gave me a moment to appreciate where I was. It was incredible that I was sitting in a hall that millions of students had traversed. I was standing smack dab in the middle of a room with wall to wall windows – a hall that was part of a university dedicated to educating students for centuries. It was big, beautiful, and breathtakingly rich.

When I emerged from that hall, I found a sense of calm. When Yennifer and Emily invited me to the museum, I was touched that they thought to include me. They reminded me to be friendly. Everyone who came onto this trip was just as alone as I was. Visiting the museum with them was one of the best parts of the first half of my month abroad.

In my next post, I’ll talk about arriving in Paris and our Parisian dinner! If you’d like, check out the video I made from clips I took while walking around!

by Cassidy Kearney

Visited Oxford today and got a little carried away with the video clips

Posted by Cassidy Kearney on Monday, May 16, 2016

Teach in Spain and Learn How to Live

Kyle Talbott is a fellow language assistant that works at the same school that I work at this year. He is a very charismatic person and is also very knowledgeable about the culture and history of Spain. He was even before starting this year! Because he is this way, I thought he would be the perfect person to speak about his first year in Madrid.

Teach in Spain Kyle Talbott

Why did you choose to move and teach in Spain?

“There were several factors that brought me to Spain. I studied Spanish language and literature in college, so living in a Spanish-speaking country was almost an inevitability. It would seem kind of senseless to spend all that time learning Spanish to not have a chance to put it to use! I also have tenuous familial connections with a Spanish family that lives in Alcala de Henares. However, I am not Spanish – not even European – but my family has a history in Spain that spans back to when my grandfather was stationed here in the sixties. Both my grandfather and my father were in Spain while serving in the U.S. Air Force. Lastly, living in Europe has been a goal of mine for many years. Spain just seemed like the natural choice given the above circumstances.”

What are your goals while you are here?

“I came to Spain with two goals: one was to find a way to stay in Spain for a few years. The other, more important goal, is to learn how to live differently. Living in Spain is sort of a daily adventure. The Spanish culture feels almost alien at times, and the rhythm of life here is distinctly different than in the States. My hope with coming to Spain was that being in this strange and interesting environment would open my mind to different sorts of lifestyles.”

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

“I had actually taught before coming to Spain. In the year and some months before coming to Spain, I was teaching two English as a Second Language classes at a small community college in North Carolina. I also taught an Adult Education/GED course for about six months. In fact, I took this position as a language assistant in order to get experience teaching children. I figure that if I am going to pursue a career in education, then I should broaden my experience with teaching people of all ages.”

Barcelona Teach in Spain

What did you think teaching in Spain would be like? Where are you teaching?

“I am teaching in a small primary school called CEIP Antonio Osuna, in Tres Cantos. Tres Cantos is a small, middle class town about 30 km north of Madrid. I really only had one apprehensive about teaching here in Spain, and that was working with children. These are little kids too with an age range of 4-11. Before Spain I had not spent any significant amount of time around kids younger that about 15.

My understanding of kids was that they make a lot of noise and are generally dirty creatures. I had already taught before, so I knew that I could do that. I knew that my job assisting another teacher would be drastically less demanding than teaching a course myself. Happily, the anxiety I initially felt about working with kids has dissipated. Actually, most days, I enjoy some of them. Other days I enjoy none of them, and one day I am sure that I will miss them.”

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

“Ok, full disclosure, I had many reasons to leave the states that had been accumulating for quite a while. Primarily however, I just had to escape from the country that just elected Donald Trump as president. That may amuse, offend, or confuse you, but, that is the naked truth. As I said before, Spain was the natural choice for living abroad if I was going to be in Europe. I was also just curious to live in Europe. I wanted to understand how people in Europe relate to one another socially and politically, relative to how we relate to each other in the States. In conclusion, I had a desire to live abroad ever since I started college in 2012. Once Trump was elected, that desire transformed into an imperative.”

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

“I want to start by saying that Madrid is a fantastic city! There is literally something for everyone in this city. Personally, I enjoy city life, so Madrid is a good fit for me. My only problem with Madrid is its small size. Being small is not necessarily a problem, unless you try to cram 3 million Madrilenos into the same small city. It is the 9th most densely populated city in the European Union, but it wouldn’t be if the city were not so tiny. Living in a densely populated city means you are always dealing with crowds, and personal space as you know it is impossible to maintain. I have only lived in the center of Madrid since being here, and this is probably why I am focused on the crowd sizes. In the next year, I want to move further away from the center where I hope to enjoy Madrid even more!”

Spain Flag

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

“Honestly, it’s the little differences between life in the States and life in Spain that I find most frustrating. For instance, maybe only around half of the businesses are equipped to take credit/debit cards; for some reason there are only six kinds of topping combinations for pizza in the whole country; copious amounts of bread is served at every meal and in between meals; stores don’t open until 11 or 12 on regular working days; the whole country seems to regularly go on vacation simultaneously and then nothing at all is open; and lastly, the Spanish put as much milk into their coffee as they do coffee.

Sadly, flavored coffee creamer is something you are just not going to find in Spain. Aside from these minor frustrations, I would have to say the amount of walking required to live in Madrid has been difficult to adjust to as well. I can confidently say I have done, by far, more walking in the last 4 months than I have in the past 4 years! On the one hand walking is better for my health and the environment than driving, on the other, walking is tiring and time consuming.

Teach in Spain and Get a History Lesson

For me, a history buff, I enjoy sightseeing and touring museums the most. So, my most memorable experience would definitely be seeing the Amphitheater and Circus Maximus in Mérida. Both date back to the time of Christ, and both are amazingly well preserved. It might sound completely uninspiring to most, but seeing and touching these monuments puts you in touch with everyone who has done the same over the centuries! Imagine, someone living in 1502 was vacationing in Spain and visited Merida. Even in 1502 these structures were over 1,400 years old! Now, imagine all the people who must have visited these monuments just in the 5 centuries between his visit and mine! This feeling of solidarity that you have with people who may have lived centuries ago is something that I find to be just endlessly romantic.

I have also very much enjoyed the Spanish people. They have a very generous and practical nature in general, and many of them have invited me into their homes. I have had several Spanish feasts that I am likely to never forget. Admittedly, I am sometimes intensely annoyed by certain cultural practices of theirs, but, I find them to be fascinating, if not a perplexing people.”

Kyle has hit the ground running with his time here and to teach in Spain. I know that he is staying for at least one more year to pursue a Master’s Degree. I hope to hear more about his adventures in Spain and beyond!

by Justin Hughes-Coleman

What I Know Now: Emma Schultz

What I Know Now

On August 7th, 2016, I was en route to the airport in Austin, Texas to fly to my new home – Madrid, Spain. I had spent the last several months completing my certification to teach English as a foreign language and the last several weeks setting things aside to pack for my new life. Clearly, I had put a lot of time and effort into this. And yet, in those final moments as our car approached the airport, I found myself thinking, “do I want to move to Spain?” I’m sure it sounds absolutely ridiculous to say so, but I truly hadn’t thought about it before that moment. I pushed the thought away. My bags were packed, my tickets purchased, and I was going.

spain culture

Obviously, there was a lot I didn’t know about Spain or Madrid. In fact, I’d hardly done any research on the city before I decided to move there. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that I was in for some culture shock upon my arrival. Although I was in for a bit of a rocky start, I learned a lot of lessons along the way. Read on and learn from my unpreparedness and ready yourself for life abroad – in Spain or anywhere new.

Open Your Eyes; Learn from the World

I had an anthropology professor in college who used to say that people are the experts of their own lives. While I do think you should learn about your new host culture before leaving home (don’t be me),  taking a bit of a passive approach once you’re there can be very valuable. What I mean is this: learn from the people around you; let them teach you. Observe habits, customs, and cultural dos/don’ts. Culture is a funny thing. The people who know the most about one won’t be able to easily describe it to you. They live it – it’s something they feel. As an observer, you can start to put together the pieces that will help you understand life in your new home.

Small Things Can Add Up – Don’t Let Them Get the Best of You

Whenever I’ve tried to explain the frustrations of living abroad to those who haven’t experienced it, I always find myself coming up short. It isn’t that a singular, small frustration is overwhelming. It’s the accumulation of lots of little things that feels that way. When my grocery store is out of cashews for days on end. When someone stands way too close to me on the metro. When I still have a hard time navigating a Spanish crowd. When I struggle to communicate my thoughts and feelings in everyday, and meaningful, conversations.

It’s the sum total of these and other experiences that can wear you down without you realizing it. We know, consciously, that these small experiences aren’t deal breakers for us. So we tend to dismiss them. But small irritations build up in us, and if we don’t confront how all of these little differences can feel to us, that’s when we end up feeling overwhelmed. Life abroad is different. Almost every little thing is different. And it can end up making you feel really out of your element.

On a recent trip to Stockholm, Sweden

Know What Keeps You Grounded

With that in mind, this is really important. Know yourself, and get in touch with what helps you feel grounded. For me, home, routine, and time with friends are what’s really meaningful.

When I first moved into my apartment in Madrid, I spent countless hours getting it set up. My new roommates must have thought I was insane, sitting on the floor inside my bedframe with a brush and a pot of wood glue. But I was setting up my home base – a place I could always feel comfortable in when I didn’t feel that way otherwise.

Similarly, having structure in my weeks and some repetitive activities throughout helps me navigate the unexpected in living abroad because my routine is a reliable constant that I control. And being with friends reminds me that other people are experiencing similar things. Sharing our fears and anxieties reminds us that we aren’t alone and helps us solve problems creatively. Things like these are important anywhere, but they become even more so when you’re abroad.

Challenges Help You Grow

Now that I’m in my second year teaching English in Spain, I can reflect on the ups and downs of my first year a bit more objectively. I had a great year – full of hard times. But I know that I’m better for it now. The challenges I faced and overcame while abroad leave me feeling more confident in my ability to handle the things that life throws my way. And that’s something I can take anywhere – back to the States or wherever else life may lead me.

spain cultureSometimes You Just Won’t Understand – That’s Okay

Part of adjusting to a new culture is coming to terms with a different frame of mind. Every one  of us on this Earth uses their frame of mind to make judgments and decisions in their lives. Our frame of reference greatly shapes our frame of mind. Growing up as an American, I tend to think of things in an American way. This isn’t the only factor influencing my temperament and tendencies, but I do fall into the trend of being organized, fast-paced, and Type A. Coming into Spanish life with this framework, it has been difficult for me to understand some Spanish tendencies.


Over time, understanding comes easier as you learn more and more about the new place and the new culture you’re living in. But there are some things that you may never fully understand – and that’s okay. If you focus on accepting the differences as valid even if you don’t get to the bottom of them and carrying on with your life abroad, you’ll be just fine.

by Emma Schultz

My Life in Kuwait After Graduate School in the USA

Arrival to Kuwait after FSU

by Dalal Boland

Arrival to Kuwait

I can’t believe that 3 years have passed since I graduated from FSU; yet I still remember the day of my arrival to Kuwait as if it was yesterday. After a flight that lasted more than 11 hours, including a layover in the Heathrow London Airport, I arrived at my home country – my beloved Kuwait. I wanted to surprise my family when they saw me exiting the arrival gate, so I had purchased a graduation gown and cap to wear off the flight. As I was the first grandchild to obtain an MA, everyone was really proud of me. As I entered baggage claim, I saw my whole family, including aunts, cousins, and their children, lined up waiting for me.

My Family

They were holding flowers and signs that said, “You did it!” They threw candies up in the air, along with money coins, cheering for me. As soon as I saw them and how proud they were, I instantly bursted into tears of joy. Every single tear that was dropped that day, either of mine or my family’s, was based upon pleasant feelings. The cherry on top of that day was that my mom has arranged a PINK limo (because it’s my favorite color) to drive me home from the airport. I can’t put into words what I had in my heart that day; I was finally back to where I was supposed to be: Kuwait.

Teaching English

Since I was a scholarship student sponsored by one of the educational institutions, I had my job waiting for me immediately after graduation. I was to be working as a teacher to teach English for adult learners. I managed to get my papers done and signed by the dean. When everything was documented and official, it was time to start attending classes. I was assigned to be part of College of Education. The whole experience was new to me, since it was my first teaching position.

Teaching Philosophy

Lecture hallMy teaching philosophy was mainly focused on building a classroom environment that was friendly and fun, allowing students to learn within a nurturing environment that sheltered their abilities and knowledge of the content. What was surprising for me is that the classroom had an enormous number of language learners, which made the teaching process challenging. Students’ needs had to be met and, in order to do so, I had to work triple the amount to make sure that was happening.

College teaching

My Advice: Explore the Colleges in Advance

My advice to those who are planning on one day holding such position is to go and explore the colleges in advance so as to have an idea as to what kinds of students you are going to teach after graduation. Also, I think it’s a good idea to inquire about the resources available in the classrooms, students’ diversity, and the number of students enrolled in order to prepare beforehand with appropriate resources and ideas for teaching.

Back in Kuwait

Life back in Kuwait after graduate school is wonderful, yet a bit challenging when it came to teaching. It felt so good to be home surrounded by people who love me unconditionally. Whatever I acquired in all of my classes back at FSU, I tried to implement in my teaching. I am who I am today because of my journey; for all its ups and downs I am forever grateful.

welcome home

The Magical Views of Lanzarote, Spain

by Amanda Whitten

I want you to imagine that you step out from your doorway and onto the moon (or at least a place that looks like the moon). It is rocky and barren, which is just about what you would expect from such a feral place. But in Lanzarote, Spain, there are oceans and they are lapping at your bare feet with the rhythm of an unexpected breeze. Spots of rain pepper you every now and again giving the air a pure untouched scent.  In front of you is the shore, primarily formed of melted shards. There are liquidy-looking sharp stones melded completely into one, splayed for as many miles as the eye can see. The tides ebb in and out as the stones softly shift under the waves, remnants from primordial volcanoes. They serve as a reminder that life still pulses beneath the surface, right out of reach.

The Colors of the Island

But maybe that lifeforce isn’t so out of reach, after all. Mere seconds before, the land and sky seemed but a flow of blacks, grays, and browns; before the sun made its majestic appearance from behind the clouds; before the light touched the ocean, transforming it from an austere light charcoal to a tropical turquoise; and before the very atmosphere warmed itself within moments.  A rainbow appears, to top it all off, and in that moment, it’s almost as if this chunk of Earth is possessed by a mysterious savage magic. This view of Lanzarote, Spain is something reserved for only a chosen few. It feels like a place where you might encounter a trapped deity or maybe even an Indiana Jones explorer type searching for a sacred lost relic. You think to yourself that this isn’t real, that it couldn’t be real, that there must be some kind of mistake.  

Rainbow in Lanzarote, Spain
See! I wasn’t kidding about the rainbow. Perfect timing, really.

The Doorway Into Another World

But no. The doorway that you stepped out of was not some portal to a lost world. It was your AirBnb and this perfect desert island that feels so out of this world is actually a popular destination for tourists. Welcome, my friends, to Lanzarote.  

These natural pools couldn’t get any prettier when the sun hit them. Or colder. We went during December. I guess it would have been way worse if we had gone in February.  Esteban (my boyfriend and traveling companion) said that if we didn’t swim at least once the whole trip would have been a waste. I didn’t agree, but it did serve as inspiration to get in and get wet! I really need to invest in a wetsuit!

I think he liked it!

Our wonderful desert volcanic island view from a bus. Not long after this, we found our way home to our Airbnb.

View of the volcanic mountain Lanzarote, Spain

We were unfortunately up early the next morning. We took a quick stroll on the beach and made the sad sad trek to the airport. I only regret that we didn’t have a bit more time to explore. It really was an otherworldly place.  

Yours truly,


Teach English in Spain

In the spring of her senior year in college, Ellen Hietsch decided to apply to teach English in Spain. After an incredible study abroad experience, she was eager to see how living and working abroad could continue to broaden her horizons and her options moving forward. Ellen was excited to challenge herself personally and professionally and engage with the world in new ways.

Ellen and I met for the first time in Madrid – surprising as we both attended the same small, liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, studied similar subjects, and both studied abroad in Denmark (admittedly at different times). The similarities don’t stop there, though. Imagining that we had similar motivations for teaching abroad in Spain, I asked her for some of her thoughts on the process and her experience thus far. These were her answers.

teach english in spain

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

“After a life-changing experience studying abroad in Denmark, I started considering a career in international education during my senior year at uni. I had a background in Spanish from high school and was put in contact with Emma. She raved to me about her teaching program, so I decided to apply and was accepted. I had lived in the same small town my whole life and was feeling the reverse culture shock after living in Copenhagen. Plus, I had wanted to live in a large city after graduating. A placement in Madrid was perfect!”

What are your goals while you are here?

“I want to strengthen my Spanish language skills. I’ve made… mixed progress (I may be cringing right now after dangerously messing up a verb tense while talking to a Spanish friend at my favorite cafe a few minutes ago. What’s living abroad without a little public embarrassment?). I’ve definitely improved since arriving in August though, and am feeling more confident speaking about deeper topics in Spanish! Learning a language through immersion has helped me in other unexpected ways as well. It has given me patience in the classroom. Plus, I’m more patient with personal projects I would have easily given up on in the past.

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

Unless you count tutoring some children while I was at uni, I had never taught before. I’m interested in pursuing a master’s degree in international education however. Working with students will definitely be something I do in the long run.

What did you think teaching in Spain would be like? Where are you teaching?

“I am teaching at IES La Fortuna in Leganés. When I found out I would be working at a secondary school, I was excited. After the excitement, there were a few flashbacks to my middle school horror stories. It has ended up being nothing like my nerves had expected however. I love being able to work with older students who have a higher English level. I am able to form deeper connections with them. The younger students especially are so full of joy every day too, and it’s the sweetest thing.”

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

Ellen at her favorite Madrid cafe.

Oh man, I’m in love with Madrid. It’s huge, but so easy to make your own. I love  being remembered in my regular cafés each time I walk into them. When the crowds get a little much, it’s easy to sneak off to a side street where you will be the only one wandering around. I just bought a bike. I am so excited to use it once it gets warmer and I can discover even more of this wicked city.”

What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here?

Having such a seamless transition when I studied abroad was both a blessing and a curse. It left me excited to be gaining experiences outside of the United States again. I was also open-minded to whatever came my way. However, I don’t think that I ever considered how challenging living abroad would be when not at a school with all American students. When I was at my most homesick, I often found myself making unfair comparisons between Madrid and Copenhagen. I had assumed that this would be an easy transition as well. I am able to stop myself from doing this now that I have found more balance. One assumption that luckily turned out to be easier than expected, however, was making friends. It actually comes a lot easier for me here than at uni.

What has been the most difficult since you arrived to teach English in Spain?

While coming to Madrid through CIEE gave me an American support group, especially in the first few months, I am the only American at the school in which I am working. This can be an anxious experience, as I have to be constantly considering culturally appropriate responses when resolving workplace conflicts as well as the usual challenges of navigating relationships with co-workers. I am a non-confrontational person in general, but at work, it can be largely driven by fear of “messing up,” which is something I have had to constantly work through for the sake of doing the best job that I can for the students. I genuinely love working with all my classes, and they are a driving force for me to be consciously improving myself.

What has been the best experience?

It may sound ridiculous, but going to my favorite café a few times a week is the best decision I have made here. I always regretted not branching out from American groups more in Denmark, and spending a few days a week at this cafe has given me the opportunity to make up for this in Spain. I’ve made friends from outside the US just by starting conversations with people sitting next to me (SO easy to do in Madrid), and at this point am greeted with “Hi Ellen!” when I arrive.

When I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, I can go and know that in a few hours, everything will be okay again after a bomb ginger tea and talking music with friends who work there. If we’re being honest, not being able to go there regularly is what I fear the most about having to return to the States for the summer!

To Teach English in Spain is an Accomplishment!

Ellen came to teach English in Spain with a clear head and concrete goals – much more than I can say for myself at the same point. She focused on the ways in which she wanted to change and grow, and because of that, she has been able to accomplish many of her goals thus far. I’m excited to see how she will continue to do so in upcoming months. Stay tuned for more on Ellen’s experience in another post, coming soon.

by Emma Schultz