Languages Spoken in Spain: Learning Valenciano

edgar llivisupa profile photoUpon reading my placement letter from the Valencian Community, I noticed it was odd. I assumed I was reading a Spanish-written letter. However, there were dashes within words, a notable lack of the letter “ñ,” a reverse accent mark I’d never come across (`), and words that appeared to be misspelled by a letter or two.

After some research, I learned that my assigned region utilized a co-official language, valenciano, alongside Spanish. What I originally envisioned as an opportunity to improve my first language by living in a country where it was primarily spoken now also presented a second opportunity to experience one of the most challenging yet redeeming aspects of living abroad: learning the local language.

History of Languages Spoken in Spain

At the time, I was completely unaware of the linguistic diversity in the country. Obviously, the average Spaniard knows that a few other languages are commonly spoken in Spain. Like many, I knew that the region of Catalonia speaks Catalan a significant amount. However, I came to discover that there are other regions that similarly promote the use of their traditional language.

For those unaware, Spain isn’t homogenous when it comes to culture. There are different foods, traditions, festivals, and languages across the country. This stems from medieval history. The Iberian Peninsula once composed itself of distinct kingdoms that utilized languages derived from Vulgar Latin. Townsfolk of the time spoke Vulgar Latin, the non-standardized version of Latin spoken during the medieval era.

Ultimately, Spanish became the most prestigious, widely spoken, and heavily associated with the country. It originated from the Kingdom of Castile, which is where the alternative term for the language, Castilian, derives from. Originally located in central Spain, it grew during the Reconquista, a period where Catholic rulers attempted to rid the peninsula of Moorish rule. During this time, Alfonso X (The Wise) began favoring one language over others. Spanish became the language of higher education, science, law, and more rather than Latin.

Bilingual marketing posters in Ontinyent, Spain
Bilingual marketing posters in Ontinyent, Spain.

Spain Unifies

Centuries later, the crown would unite with the neighboring Crown of Aragon through the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, unifying most of Spain under one dynasty. The pair would later finance Columbus’ voyage to the New World. Succeeding journeys eventually enabled the spreading of Spanish throughout the world. In the peninsula, other languages met a similar fate to Latin, and private conversations are the only place to find such languages.

Bilingual regions make efforts to revitalize historical languages. The regime of General Franco restricted the use of other languages with nationalist policies. Other languages were further limited to private use. Book burnings and a ban on foreign names limited the use of other languages. As the country transitioned to a democracy, the newly-created autonomous communities received the freedom to express their cultural heritage.

The Co-Official Languages of Spain

While every community has Spanish as an official language, six more utilize another in their educational systems, in an official capacity in different levels of government, or in everyday speech. In the Basque Country and parts of Navarra, the Basque language has co-official status. In Galicia, it’s Galician, which some consider being the cousin of Portuguese due to their similar phonology and morphology. Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and the Valencia Community all use Catalan. However, some prefer to refer to their variety of Catalan as balear or valenciano, to differentiate the dialects.

Thousands speak the other unofficial languages found in Spain. Some find themselves classified under the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. These include Aragonese, Asturian-Leonese, and Gascon.

This means that things like traffic signs, supermarket displays, public service announcements, and public school instruction, present both languages. Bilingual regions expect service workers to understand and speak both languages fluently. In addition, public television airs in the local language, with programming varying from movies, cooking shows, news programs, and live music.

Bilingual sign in Ontinyent, Valencia showing a supermarket’s operating hours and day
Here is a bilingual sign in Ontinyent, Valencia showing a supermarket’s operating hours and day.

What is Valenciano?

A return to medieval history is required to understand the origins of valenciano. Two entities ruled the eastern side of the Iberian Peninsula: the Kingdom of Aragon and the County of Barcelona. They eventually unified under the name the Crown of Aragon around the early 12th century after the marriage of Petronilla of Aragon and Raymond Berenguer IV of Barcelona. In line with other kingdoms, expansion was a goal and as a Catholic crown, they also joined in Reconquista efforts.

In the 13th century, King James I of Aragon conquered territories south of its location, including Valencia and the Balearic Islands. He incorporated them into the Crown of Aragon. While northerners settled the acquired territories, Catalan became more common. Over time, the Catalan dialect spoken in these regions evolved and differentiated itself from standardized Catalan. That is why today the terms catalán, valenciano, and balear can be problematic. To some, each can be their own language, all part of a family, or simply different dialects. All three stem from a strong cultural identity or reluctance to use a term associated with another region.

The Difference Between Valenciano and Catalán?

Bilingual sign in Ontinyent, Valencia listing different ATM signs
Here is another example of a bilingual sign in Ontinyent, Valencia listing different ATM signs.

While both Valencian and Catalan have distinct academies that regulate and promote the use of the language, the Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua defines valenciano as another term for catalán. For what it’s worth, the Real Academia Española, the Spanish-language regulating body, describes valenciano as “the variety of Catalan spoken in the former Kingdom of Valencia and is commonly felt as its proper language.”

The differences between valenciano and catalán include vocabulary, conjugations, and pronunciation. They are minor enough that speakers can understand each other, and language teachers can work in either region.

Compared to Spanish, valenciano has two more vowels: (à) (è), the letter (ç), and the letters “ny” replace the iconic Spanish letter, “ñ.” There are more orthographic differences, but as a Romance derived language, they share a lot of similarities including conjugations for person, tense and number, gender, etc. 

It’s been very exciting learning about valenciano and how it became the co-official language of the area where I teach. It’s fascinating to see the long-lasting effects that history has had on the language.

Deciding to Learn the Language

I discovered all this information weeks before relocating to Spain as I felt curious to see the extent of other languages spoken in Spain in my assigned area. Upon arriving at my worksite I realized citizens spoke valenciano as much as Spanish. This encouraged me to learn the language.

Learning as a Teaching Assistant in Ontinyent, Spain

edgar llivisupa profile photoEdgar Llivisupa is a native New Yorker completing a dual degree in Business Journalism and Spanish Literature and Language. His goals while teaching abroad are to improve his Spanish, test his capabilities as a teacher, and to travel. 

Edgar has been living in Ontinyent, Spain for one school year. Ontinyent is located in eastern Spain near Valencia. He is a teaching assistant at a primary school and will be returning to the same school this September. He enjoys learning Valencian and interacting with the locals. 

Edgar is looking forward to returning for another year. He wants to continue his progress with his students and dive deeper into the Spanish culture and lifestyle.

Meet Edgar 

Why did you choose to come to Spain and Europe? 

“There were many motivations for me to live abroad. Firstly, it had been rare in my life for me to venture outside New York. In fact, I had traveled out of the tri-state area only a handful of times, so I was itching to leave. Secondly, after failing a calculus course I switched my major to Spanish and started taking more intensive coursework. During a literature class, the professor flagged up  the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program. As an American, there was already an innate curiosity to visit Europe. As a descendant of Hispanics, I was also inquisitive about Spanish culture and how much it influenced Latin America. Thirdly, I had a brother living in Madrid. This put me at ease after reading online testimonials from other participants in the program.”

Why did you choose to teach abroad? 

“While I had considered studying abroad in the past, the costs made it seem out of reach. I was never the type to look for grants or scholarships to aid my studies. Alongside that, I would have to pick courses that would grant me credits at my college. Instead, this program gave me the opportunity to work abroad, which made me more comfortable rather than going abroad as a student. I hadn’t considered teaching before, but regardless, I have approached my tasks and responsibilities with an open mind and strived to do my best.”

Have you ever taught before? If not, what were you doing before you decided to move abroad?  

“I’ve never taught before. Rather, I was working very close to home at a pharmacy. It had nothing to do with what I was majoring in, but I wanted some work experience and a reference for the future just in case. Earning my own money felt rewarding as it lessened my dependence on my parents and when I decided to participate in the program, it meant I could start saving for my year abroad.”

What did you think teaching abroad would be like? Where are you teaching? 

“I am an English teaching assistant at a primary school in Ontinyent, Spain, located in the Valencian Community.

I had a feeling that teaching abroad would be extremely difficult as I had no previous experience. And I had been put off it as a career by what my public school teachers had to say about it.

I also had no idea what my students’ proficiency level would be so thank God for the chance to do some homework on them on the Internet. The school’s online blog gave me a great insight into the faculty, the students, and what the school looked like. There were documents on the English classes, their textbooks and other learning materials. I was also heartened to see that the school had recently embarked on a cultural exchange with public schools in Africa. So my arrival wasn’t going to be jarring as they had already opened their hearts and minds to another culture.”

What expectations did you have before you came here?

“I had no expectations coming to Ontinyent. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t looking forward to it. Knowing I had finally made it out of New York meant I was aware that I would have a good time regardless of where I wound up.”

cityscape ontinyent spain

What were your perceptions of Ontinyent during your first year?

“Again, I had the Internet to thank for discovering that it wasn’t amongst the most isolated towns in the region (looking at you there, Bocairent). I saw there was a decently-sized shopping mall with chains like Zara and GAME (an equivalent of GameStop), as well as a movie theater. All of the major Spanish banks were there. And most important of all, there was a train station to Valencia. 

By the end of the first year, I had learned that family is highly valued in Ontinyent. At least once a week, regardless of work or social schedules, the family, from grandparents to grandchildren, will share a meal together.”

What were some of the accomplishments of your first year?

“Moving and living abroad is a big accomplishment in itself with all the changes it has brought  me. I had never lived away from home or on my own before. Suddenly in my own flat, there was no one to clean up, cook, or pay the bills. Those responsibilities all fell on me.

Ontinyent newspaper

Many people had warned me that the town isn’t ideal for young people with few nightlife options or places to hang out. Instead I just traveled to the major cities before returning to the calm of Ontinyent. It was a great balance for me.”

What do you want to achieve for your second year? 

“As much as I strive to plan my life (after all, I first heard of this program three years ago), I have no idea where it is going. This year, I am going to lay foundations  in case I decide to relocate to Ontinyent for good. This includes continuing to study the local language, Valencian, which is a dialect of Catalan. 

I want to attend Spanish language courses. While I know enough to be considered a native speaker, I still lack confidence. So it would help to be more proficient and understand the basic facets of the language. 

Also, while I can assume I did a decent enough job to warrant a warm and lovely “see you soon!” party at my school, I do feel that there is a lot I can improve on. Since I’m returning to the same center, I don’t have to spend the first few months meeting the faculty and students or familiarizing myself with the town. Like I told some of my co-workers, I come back ready to work!”

What advice would you give to other participants about your first year? What are some of the things they must do and some things they must absolutely not do? 

“The most important thing to realize about this program is that it is going to take a while to adjust to living in Spain if you’re not in a major city. You’re not going to easily find foreign cuisine or people who want to, or can, speak English. By the time I acclimatized to living abroad, which for me was around the New Year, I was already at the halfway point of my tenure. Keep that in mind if it takes you longer to adjust to a new surrounding.

Another piece of advice I have, and this is more personal, regards technology. Yes, it makes us all connected but while it is great to talk to loved ones back home, attempt to disconnect once in a while. Enjoy your newfound independence in a different setting.”

How do you feel about your integration into the culture so far? How did you prepare before you arrived? 

“Before my arrival, I explored the town’s tourism website and looked at the traditional dishes, holidays, and festivals celebrated throughout the year. Being in a small town helped me integrate easier than a tenure in Madrid or Barcelona. There aren’t fast-food chains to satisfy my American tastebuds. The stores in Ontinyent close around 8pm. And my town is also multi-generational.

Now that it’s a year later, I can say it was a great change for me. I am happy to be away from New York. Ontinyent was the perfect size for me. Living in big cities can cause anxiety if you don’t have a big weekend planned or spend too much time at home. Choices are limited in a small town. Most weekends entail a simple football match or drinks at someone’s apartment. I appreciated simple living. When I went on trips during vacation or long-weekend excursions, I had a greater drive to explore and enjoy my time away.

Culture Shock Made Easy

Since I am of Hispanic descent, there wasn’t much of a culture shock. The passion for football extended to my family, so I ended up attending a match at every stadium of the eight La Liga teams based in Madrid and Valencia. I was even able to attend the trophy ceremony for Valencia CF’s triumph in the Copa del Rey, the Spanish domestic cup competition.

The lack of a language barrier also made it seamless to fit in. I didn’t have much of an opportunity to stand out as a foreigner. However, with my co-workers and their family and friends, it was always fun to let them introduce themselves in English. I would always follow in Spanish and leave them astonished. It meant I was able to meet everyone in a more personable fashion. They would ask me about my life in New York and how I was adapting. Meanwhile, I would ask them about their life in a small town.

teaching abroad

Looking Forward to a Future in Ontinyent

Alongside that, learning Valencian has helped a lot. Understanding a conversation between two native speakers, saying that I was taking classes, or just switching from Spanish to Valencian continually impressed people. They couldn’t believe a New Yorker was not only interested in their language but was making a serious effort to be proficient in it even as they considered it “useless for my future in the country.” Even today, weeks removed from Ontinyent, I still think in Valencian.   

I had an enjoyable year in Ontinyent, and I’ve met some of the most generous and accommodating people. Because I have traveled around so much, I’ve seen more of Spain in one year than most people I know who’ve had the opportunity to visit in all their years of living in Spain. While I have a hard time measuring how well I’ve integrated into my new town, it has been enough that a few months away is difficult for me. I am eagerly looking forward to my second year.”

An Expat Living and Working Abroad in Ontinyent, Spain

Edgar shares details about his first year abroad living and working in Ontinyent, Spain. He provides guidance for first-year teachers who are just arriving. Expat life is not easy. It can take longer than one expects. After having lived in the Ontinyent area for a year, Edgar feels as if he has made friends at work and started to better understand the language. He is trying his best to learn and understand Valencian and they appreciate his willingness to do so. It takes time. Sometimes expats live abroad for years and still don’t feel a sense of full familiarity within their new home. Edgar plans to try his best in his second year to understand the culture better by perfecting Valencian.

We look forward to hearing more about Edgar’s second year in Ontinyent. Stay tuned for his second update in the late fall. 

by Leesa Truesdell

Switching Gears from Teacher to Student While Abroad

I’m a couple of months into my third year living abroad in Madrid, Spain, but a lot has changed in my life. When I moved to Madrid in the summer of 2016, I had no idea how much I would love it or how long I would stay. I had planned to teach English here for a year and take it from there. Now, over two years later, I find myself switching gears. I’m still back in the classroom, but now I’m the student instead of the teacher.

student abroad madrid spain
Early days in Madrid, August 2016


My decision to study the Spanish language in an intensive program for one year stemmed from my professional goals, a desire to make a fuller life in Spain possible, and my love for the language. By the end of my next summer living abroad, I hope to be C1 level certified. I’m getting a lot out of my program so far and enjoying my new life here in Madrid. Now that I’ve been back for a while, I’ve reflected on the biggest shifts in my life since I started studying again and stopped teaching.

Where Does the Time Go?

The first is, obviously, how I’m spending my time. I’ve been out of school for a couple of years, so getting back into the rhythm of studying took a bit of effort. I have classes every day of the week, homework many nights, and tests every Monday, so I have to stay focused to do well.

The park by my apartment, which I’ve been visiting more often this year

The next big shift is where I spend my time. I spent the last two years teaching English in a primary school in the mountains north of Madrid. For me, that meant that I could engage the city where I lived when I wasn’t working. That also meant that throughout the week I got to spend some time close to nature as well. Now, I attend a language academic in the heart of Madrid. Much more of my time is spent in the city. One of the most surprising aspects of this transition is how much I have missed time away from the hustle and bustle of Spain’s most populous city. So now, I make an effort to get out of town and back to nature when I have the time.

The third big change I’ve experienced is spending so much less time with children. I have taken a small nannying job where I speak English for a few hours a week. Although I really enjoy that time, it’s very different from spending every day with young students. I miss my kids and the energy they brought into my life.

Breaking Away From Speaking English

A rather obvious transition is that I’m less engaged with English and more engaged with Spanish. I am learning how to express my views better in Spanish and how to communicate thoughts on more complicated themes. This makes a life in Spain, or even just a life full of Spanish, a much more realizable dream.

And, finally, I’ve had to transition away from teaching and towards studying emotionally as well. Teaching here gave me a sense of purpose that was more palpable. I felt I made a difference in the lives of my students each and every day. I know that studying Spanish in this way will have a huge impact on my life in the long run. Unfortunately, seeing and feeling those changes every day is harder. It has also been a challenge to take a big step back from working so that I can focus on reaching my language goals. I know that I want to have a fulfilling career, and improving my Spanish is a key part of getting to that future. But I’m also looking forward to getting back into the workforce in a fuller way as well.

The Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena

After Spending Two Years Living Abroad in Madrid

Choosing to study Spanish this year was easy. After spending two years in Madrid, I wanted to develop a much better level of Spanish. I also wanted to develop the ability to engage in more nuanced conversations. Doing so will help me reach my goals in a big picture sense, and I’ve already improved so much in the short time I’ve been studying. Although going from teaching to studying has shifted my life in many ways, I’m grateful for the opportunity to pursue new goals and dreams this year and see where they will take me next.

by Emma Schultz

Getting Back Abroad

After a year in Madrid full of surprises, twists, and turns, Ellen Hietsch is back in the US for the summer. We checked in with her to see what she has been up to these past few months. Her adventures include a West Coast job, moving out of her childhood home, and applying for a student visa during what we like to call “Visa Application Season.” Read on to learn more about her adventures and her next steps.

Where in the world are you this summer?

Berkeley California San Francisco Skyline summer update travel abroad
Exploring Berkeley

I have been all over the place! First, I arrived at my childhood home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. A cabin fire had broken out on my plane home and I subsequently had a canceled flight. Once I made it back, I was home for three weeks before leaving for Berkeley, California, where I’m currently writing this. After my time in Berkeley, I will return to Carlisle at the beginning of August. Once again not for long. My family is moving to upstate New York (like… 30 minutes from the Canadian border upstate New York) in the middle of August. This is also where I’ll be until I return to Madrid. It sounds chaotic, but I honestly prefer it this way. After a year constantly on the move in Madrid, the last thing I want is to be sitting around in one place for three months

Are you working or studying this summer?

In Berkeley, I am working as an RA for Summerfuel College Admissions Prep program. There are students from all over the world. When I’m in Carlisle, I’m going to be busy with my family’s move, a whole lot of networking, and (the always dreaded) Visa Application Season.

Why did you choose to work in Berkeley this summer?

Originally, I had been interested in working for Summerfuel’s Barcelona program, but it was full by the time I was aware of the opportunity. I chose Berkeley instead because I had never been to California before, but it always fascinated me! If I stay in the US for my master’s, I would love to get it on the West Coast. Summerfuel has been great for getting me to think about opportunities that may exist there. Part of my job involves supervising participants on college tours around the Bay Area. I’ve found a few campuses that have piqued my interest.

Does what you’re doing now with Summerfuel fall in line with your main interests for your career?

Yes – I want a career in international education! Summerfuel has been interesting because I have gotten to explore it from the side of foreign students coming to the US for the first time.

Are you applying the skills you developed while abroad in Spain to this job?

The San Francisco skyline

Definitely. After working with students in a Spanish secondary school, the 19 teenage girls on my floor seem like nothing. The patience I developed while working as a language assistant has also been vital. It’s helpful in that it helps me pause to think about cultural differences that could exist between the students and me. It also helps in simply not blowing up if they won’t stop talking during our floor meetings. I also consider my own experiences of being nervous while away from the US, and am sure to check in with the girls to make sure they’re doing okay.

Are you planning to go abroad again?

After some unexpected scares at the end of my first year in Madrid, I can finally say YES (well, given that Visa Application Season goes well, but I feel confident)! I will be attending a Spanish language school program in Madrid for the year, in hopes of leaping towards fluency. In the meantime, I will get 20 work hours a week on my student visa. I am applying for part-time work in international education and doing private English lessons in the meantime. This will keep me floating until I find something more permanent.

Getting Back Abroad

After speaking with Ellen about her summer plans, transitions, and the steps she’s taking to get back abroad, it’s clearer to me than ever that the roller coaster that is living abroad prepares you so well for anything in life. After you’ve been through the day-to-day stress of life in another country and experienced unexpected hurdles there, they always seem easier to tackle back home. Living abroad has a way of showing you that you are more capable than you’d ever imagined. That’s something you can take with you anywhere.

by Emma Schultz

Berkeley California San Francisco Skyline summer update travel abroad


Travel Survey: Summer Vacations

by Cassidy Kearney

abroad starbucks

After several long weeks of waiting, we’re finally ready to reveal the results of our last summer series survey! This time around we offered a $25 Starbucks gift card to those of you who entered their email addresses. We sent an email out to our lucky winner! Keep an eye out to discover if you’ve won a $25 Starbucks gift card. Without further ado, here are our results:

Our survey’s demographics are straightforward: 42.9% of those surveyed are between 30 and 50 years old. The other 57.1% are 19 to 30 years old. This just goes to show that summer vacations aren’t just for kids and retired people! Furthermore, 42.9% of our responders so that they take a summer vacation every year. Meanwhile, the other 57.1% say they sometimes take a summer vacation, but not every year. This could be for a variety of reasons, like work, responsibilities, or timing. One thing is for sure though, all of our surveyors said they love their summer vacations and miss them when they don’t take one.

adventure beach Summer vacations travel survey abroad beach van water

Summer Vacations Can be Wildly Different

Summer vacations can be wildly different depending on the vacationer! A majority of those surveyed (85.7%) said that their summer vacations are typically a week long. There was a minority at 14.3% of those that said they had the whole summer for summer vacation! They’re truly living the dream!

Every once in a while, movie or TV characters will talk about a childhood summer vacation spot that their family went to every year. This is certainly not the case for our surveyors! 100% of our surveyors said that they don’t go to the same place every summer. They all prefer to explore and adventure in new places. Even if they go to different places every year, everyone looks forward to something during their vacation. Although 57.1% of those surveyed said they looked forward to spending time with friends and family, exploring stores, restaurants, and nightlife, and hanging out, each of the other categories was still popular! The other categories were exploring new places and meeting new people, finding fun outdoor activities, and unplugging from electronics to zone out and relax. Each of these categories had 14.3% of participants say they looked forward to that particular category most.

Summer vacations travel survey abroad beach life

Fun in the Sun

Finally, it wouldn’t be a summer vacation without summer activities! However, our surveyors were almost torn on what to do to have fun in the summer sun. The first two popular categories were exploring cities and finding things to do outdoors. These both earned a response from 28.6% each from our participants. None of our surveyors thought summer was too hot, and none selected watching movies, reading, and staying indoors as their favorite summer activities. The majority of our surveyors, however, at 42.9%, said that they loved doing all of the above! They found city slicking, outdoor exploration, and even the occasional summer blockbuster to be equally fun!

Most of our surveyors must be from somewhere hot, as most of our participants said they wanted to go north! 42.8% of participants said they wanted to go to Canada, with another 28.6% saying that they wanted to go somewhere up north. Finally, 14.3% of participants wanted to go to Iceland, while another 14.3% wanted to hop over the pond and explore some European countries.

As always, reading over the results of our survey was great fun! We look forward to hearing from our readers in our next survey series, which will be in a few months. Keep an eye out for the congratulatory email and stay hydrated as you enjoy your summer vacations!

beach sun rise

Another Year, Another Summer: Back to Texas

I feel like I blinked and the 2017-2018 academic year was over. It feels like just yesterday I was returning to Spain for my second year of teaching English as a foreign language in a small town north of Madrid. With another year of wonderful experiences, exciting travel, new discoveries, and fond memories under my belt, I’m off to Texas again for a summer at home.

On a field trip with my students in my first month of teaching.

The summer transition is an interesting one. Last year, reverse culture shock slapped me right in the face. I’m not sure we fully realize all the changes we’ve undergone until we return to a place we’ve been away from for awhile. That’s what going home was for me – the realization that I had changed, coupled with the realization that home didn’t feel quite the way I had expected it to.

Having these realizations is important, but it can be a difficult experience. From my time at home last summer, I know that the way for me to tackle it best is to fill my summer with meaningful projects and experiences. Putting my time, energy, and passion into things helps me readjust anywhere, anytime. Here’s how I’ll be doing it this time around:

1) Focus on the Future

While I’m home, I’ll also have my eye on the horizon. Next year, I’ll be returning to Spain to study Spanish and complete some internship work in the field of international education, and there is plenty to prep for that. I’ll also continue researching graduate school programs and planning visits accordingly.

2) Remember to Stay Present, Too

Focusing on the future doesn’t mean trying to live there. While I’m prepping for my next steps, I’ll also stay connected to the here and now by spending time with friends from home, my family, and the places I’ll be during the summer. After all, my time at home is pretty limited these days, and I want to enjoy it.

The view from home in Texas.

3) Give Yourself Some Structure

As appealing as a fully relaxed summer at home might sound, I know I’d get about a week in and go stir crazy. I know that, especially for me, structure is really important. I need to have something to put time and energy into consistently. This is why I’ll be working in my small town’s Visitor’s Center for the second summer in a row. My projects are always different and there is always something to do – a perfect fit to help me transition back to being at home.

4) Make Some Exciting Plans

Life abroad is a whirlwind – I travel much more than I would otherwise. Because most things are unfamiliar, I have new experiences more often. One of the challenges of moving home for a summer is that most things are familiar. There is so much comfort in that, but it can also feel like a huge drop-off from what I’m used to. Last summer, I was glad I saved a little time and money to travel. I’m looking forward to a couple of small trips this summer, too. It helps keep things dynamic.

5) Use the Time to Reflect

Going home is a great opportunity to reflect on your past year. What were your biggest accomplishments? How did you grow? What do you want to change moving forward? Returning to your roots gives you the chance to answer these questions and more. Take that insight into whatever your next steps might be. It’s always been easier for me to process things like this from a distance.

However you’ll be spending your summer and whatever changes you might be making in your life moving forward, summer is a great time for transition and change. I’m looking forward to spending my upcoming weeks in Texas and enjoying a bit of home before I go back to Spain for year three!



Travel Survey: Travelers and Destinations

Travel Survey Summary

Based on our survey from last month, the responses indicated that of those surveyed 41.7% thought that exploring the area and seeing the famous sights sounded like the best vacation. As far as distance goes, 61.7% said the further the better when it came to where they would want to spend time on their vacation. Time constraints are always an issue, but 50% of our surveyors said a few weeks was their ideal time to spend on their vacation and that they were pretty free to travel other than being in school or working. Notably, 41.7% prefer traveling alone. A majority of our surveyors preferred flying into their destination to lodge at a hotel or hostel, with 61.7% voting for that category. Finally, of those surveyed, 51.8 % said they would prefer meeting locals and chatting with them at a café or bar. It can be seen here, What Type of Traveler Are You?

Travelers and Destinations Survey

This month, we want to know where you’re interested in going! What is your favorite destination?  Summertime is always a good time to travel, so we’d like to provide you tips and first-person experiences about some of the places you like the most. Answer our survey below so we can create the best experience for our readers and online community!


Enjoy & Share With Your Friends.

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

Travel Survey: What Type of Traveler Are You?

We Want to Know What Type of Traveler Are You?

Here are some questions we are asking about your preferences on travel. Answer them to tell us what kind of traveler you are! There are many different kinds of travelers. Let us know what kind of traveler you are so that we can bring unique articles here just for you in the future! 

(Note: this is not a quiz that will give you your lunar astrology sign. We are collecting information to write a blog about this information. The sum of all the information will be shared in the upcoming months! Thanks for participating!)

Enjoy & Share With Your Friends.

Wasan Tawfeeq Talks Teaching and Studying in the USA

Wasan Tawfeeq and I met in 2014 while we were both studying at Florida State University’s College of Education. At the time, we were both taking the same class. I will always remember Wasan’s introduction to the class. Typically on the first day of class in the US, we announce to our classmates who we are and where we are from. There were 10 students in the class. Many were from China, and a handful from the US. And then there was Wasan. She got up, smiled, and said, “I am from Iraq and I speak Arabic. I am getting my Ph.D. in Foreign and Second Language at FSU.”

Until this point, I had never met anyone from Iraq, yet I had heard a lot about the country. Everything I had heard came from family and friends who had been deployed there, and of course, whatever I had picked up from the news. However, meeting Wasan and getting to know her has made me realize that we are very much alike. We both enjoy teaching, learning, and traveling.

Tallahassee, Fl - Entrance At Florida State University's Westcott Plaza.
The Westcott Building on FSU campus

Meet Wasan and Discover Why She is Teaching and Studying in the USA

Why did you choose to come to the USA?

“I chose to come to the USA to get my Ph.D. degree in Foreign and Second Language Education because I wanted to engage with native speakers. Yet I was keen on not only developing my English skills, but also learning more about the culture. Culture and communicating with native speakers is the key to improving your language skills and being fluent in it.”

What are your goals while you are here at FSU?

“While I am here at FSU as a Ph.D student, I have several goals. First and foremost is to get my degree, which is why I am here. Second, is to acquire more experience in teaching, which is what I am doing right now. I am working as a professor at undergraduate level. This is my third semester teaching Arabic at FSU. Before that, I taught elementary students the Arabic language through the STARTALK program. I also worked as an interpreter with the Egyptian delegation with the Learning System Institute at FSU.”

Iraq map

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

“My teaching career started in Baghdad, Iraq where I taught English for two years at Mustansiriya University. I taught university students in different departments (Geography, Physical Education, Art Education, and Elementary Education), and advised 14 students on research writing and professional internships. Every student had to complete an internship and a major research project to graduate, so I advised them on project planning, evaluated their efficiency, and academic performance. I still remember my first day— I prepared all the class materials by myself, wrote out a detailed lesson plan, and practiced my entire lecture at home.”

Where are you teaching in the USA? What are you teaching?

“I am teaching Arabic now in the United States, and I am getting a lot of experience through teaching American students Arabic, which is a foreign language for them. I get really excited when I see how my students enjoy learning Arabic and are doing very well.

The Modern Languages and Linguistics department is where I work at FSU. I teach two courses ARA 1121 and ARA 2220. This is my second semester teaching at this department. Some classes I teach are: ARA 1121 Elementary Arabic II – this class introduces extended vocabulary and grammar, and basic conversation is emphasized. Students start conversing in spoken Arabic as well as reading and writing in Modern Standard Arabic. This course also develops the students’ knowledge of Arab culture. ARA 2220 Intermediate Arabic solidifies knowledge of basic grammar and expands the students’ vocabulary. It emphasizes reading and writing in formal Arabic, as well as listening and speaking in colloquial Arabic. Students participate in cultural activities, write compositions, and give oral presentations in class. It may not be taken concurrently with ARA 1120 and/or 1121.

I have taught before at FSU’s College of Education, EDF 1005-004, Introduction to Education.”

Teaching and Studying in the USA: Wasan Tawfeeq
An example from a lesson in her ARA 2220 class.


Why did you choose to teach in the USA? Why did you choose FSU over other schools?

“I chose FSU over other schools because it has a great reputation. I like my major and what they offer. The College of Education offers a Foreign and Second Language Education major for Ph.D. students. Finally, I like how people in Florida are so friendly and I feel at home.”

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

“As I am from a different country, I was thinking about the differences in educational systems between here and there, and how I could adjust to it. But, when I came here I faced other challenges that are not in my country, like health insurance, car insurance, taxes, and so on. Now, I can say after a year in the USA, everything is okay and I can deal with it without a need to ask somebody.”

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

“I think I had some difficulties when I arrived in the USA. In my country, we speak British English with some American words that British people do not use. So, basically, I had trouble with communicating and making myself clear so Americans could understand what I was saying.”

What has been the best experience about teaching and studying in the USA?

“Overall, I believe that to make learning better, teachers have to motivate their students by planning and modeling activities that encourage their students to understand and think critically about the subject, and to assist them to achieve their goals. My own dissertation research examines the role of directed motivational currents in second language learning among Arab heritage and Arab ESL learners, teaching and studying in the USA. Motivation has a vital role in learning a language, since the longer language learners maintain their motivation the higher proficiency levels they can reach. In a classroom setting, language teachers can apply DMC components such as goals/visions and time, and help their students reach class-level, project-level, and course-level goals. This approach not only helps students increase their L2 practice (second language practice), but gives them a salient and facilitative structure, a clear perspective on learning, and positive emotional loading.”

Teaching in the USA: Wasan Tawfeeq
Wasan Tawfeeq teaching on International Women’s Day


On International Women’s Day, I had the pleasure of joining Wasan in her classroom to see her in action. Not only was it a great joy to see my former classmate teach her own class, but it was heartwarming to share in her achievements on such a special day. Stay tuned to find out more about Wasan’s classes at FSU and what she will be doing post-graduation.

by Leesa Truesdell