Typically, those closest to me would describe me as adventurous, spontaneous, adaptable, and tenacious. However, the past few years (and particularly the past few months in quarantine) have deeply humbled me to realize my limits. I have somehow found myself going from fearlessly backpacking foreign countries solo to ordering groceries online because I am hesitant to even go to the grocery store. The sudden change has been deeply unsettling.
Suddenly, I have gone from constantly being surrounded by students and friends, to teaching online and being quarantined alone. I have never been one to spend much time at home. I would much rather go to the gym or study from a coffee shop than work from home. However, I have had to figure out how to make things work from home. Even as things start to slowly open up, I am trying to only be in physical proximity with the few people that I have seen since the lockdown began. Still, I have found it important to keep connections.
Finding Sanity Mid-Quarantine
Here are a few of the things that have helped me keep relatively sane during this unprecedented time:
Video chat: As often as possible, I have tried to be in contact with friends and family via Facetime or other video chat sources. Although maintaining physical distancing has been difficult, this makes it a little easier to feel a sense of connectedness.
Workout from home: I used to go to the gym most days, but now I have been working out from home. Although it’s much harder to find a routine that works, I have found that having an app or video to follow has been helpful in working out more efficiently than if I just worked out without guidance.
Find a good book or show to watch: I have never been one for TV, but being in quarantine, it has been nice to find something to occupy my mind when things get too quiet. I’ve also enjoyed catching up on reading.
Routine: I’m not best at this, but it’s definitely helpful. Waking up early and making a to-do list has certainly made my days more bearable.
As soon as quarantine is over, I will be the first to be planning my next adventure. However, until then, I am trying to make the most out of a difficult situation. Perhaps when the dust settles, we will have a newfound appreciation for things that were once taken for granted.
Teaching from Home
For many students, teachers, and parents, the move to online instruction has been a challenge. Although I have been using instructional technology in my practice from the beginning of my teaching career, the sudden change has been difficult for students and teachers alike. Even before the outbreak, I was already using Blackboard to supplement in-person instruction. However, I had to quickly adapt my courses to be entirely online. It looks as though instruction will continue this way through at least the summer semester and potentially into the fall. Here’s some advice for teachers, students, and parents alike during this time:
Be Empathetic: Regardless of what age/subject you are teaching from home, all of our students are going through rough times. Perhaps your students have new roles and responsibilities or are otherwise struggling. They may not have access to proper technology or wi-fi. They may be experiencing financial struggles, or health issues. Accept late work, and ask your students how they’re doing — how they’re really doing. Be flexible in getting them through the semester.
Collaborate: My experience has been that teachers are good at sharing and working together. Share with your colleagues. We’re all better when we work together. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Be Flexible: Pencil in plans, but don’t be too attached to anything. Things are changing constantly, and adaptability and flexibility are key.
Try to create space at home dedicated to virtual learning. Students focus better if they’re not near their TV, video games, toys, bed, etc. You don’t need to have a separate room. A learning station at the kitchen table can work.
Communicate with your child about their work, but don’t be too involved. This may be a hard line to draw and is an exercise in balancing needs and support. The bottom line is that it does children no favors to do things or assignments for them that they’re able to do it themselves. While it can be helpful to talk through homework, do not do it for them.
Encourage your children to complete their assignments, but don’t stress them out unnecessarily. Mental and physical health must take priority at this point. We’re all living in unprecedented and highly stressful times.
Make a list each day of the things that must get done. Cross them off as you complete them. It will help you to stay organized and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Communicate openly with your teachers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your teachers are learning as they’re going along much as you, and most teachers take student feedback into consideration.
Pay attention to all instructions. Don’t just skip to the end to try to get through quicker. Listen to the instruction on your modules or the Zoom/Blackboard Collaborate lecture. Most likely, the answers to your questions are there.
Quarantined and Teaching from Home
It will be interesting to see how this situation changes education. Perhaps this time will allow us to hone effective use of instructional technology and continue to effectively incorporate it when we are able to return to in-person instruction.
My name is Carlos Balbuena González. I’m from México City and I want you to meet my mom: María Dolores González Aguilar. She was the most amazing person I’ve ever met and I had the privilege of having her as a mother. Being her son is the best thing that ever happened to me because of what she taught me.
Importance of Family
My mother taught me the importance of family and the value of sacrifice. She was an incredibly hard-working person. When her mother died, she cared for her father, who had Alzheimer’s. It was a challenging task and she did everything and even a little bit more for him. I admire her dearly because, at the same time she was taking care of him, she was also able to manage a business, take care of the house, and take care of me and our three dogs. She did everything to provide and educate us. She did it all for her family.
My mother always encouraged me to be myself and this taught me to be my authentic self. Maria Dolores Gonzalez was not a regular mom. She always talked to me upfront about everything and she always inspired me to pursue my dreams. I vividly remember her saying that I should study something that made me happy rather than something profitable. She constantly encouraged me to do the things that I liked rather than the things I dreaded. She taught me I must be myself and never try to shape myself to be likable. My mom shaped my world and my vision of it.
She Always Listened
She taught me that you don’t need someone’s validation or a title to prove your worth. Mom was everyone’s person to go to when they felt sad or they needed advice. She always listened to you without judging, and her advice was always pure gold. My mom was really smart and she could’ve done anything she wanted. Unfortunately, my grand-dad had the notion that women should not study since they were just going to be supported by a husband. She had to quit school soon after high school. Nonetheless, she excelled in all the jobs she had and became a fundamental part of them. When she died, the company where we worked together went down and it’s now sinking. She was the only one who was able to properly manage the business.
Besides being incredibly smart, she was also an incredibly giving person. My mom always worried about everyone else instead of herself. As we say here in México, she was the kind of person who would take the bread out of her mouth to give it to you. She died on February 19th of 2019. With her passing my world turned upside down.
I’m very sad about her passing, but I’m really happy that I was able to meet her. There’s no day I don’t think about her. I carry a few her ashes near my chest in a necklace. Whenever the day gets too rough or I’m feeling down, I grab my necklace and think about what would she say or the advice she would give to me to make me feel better, and then, the pain fades away.
María Dolores González Is My Inspiration
María Dolores González is not here anymore, but she’s still my biggest inspiration to move forward. I want to make her proud going forward and I know for sure she felt proud of me before she passed. She said it sometimes, but I want to succeed in life so I can be exactly what she wanted me to be: a good, decent, loving person, who is independent and self-sufficient. She shapes and will shape my world.
My mother knew I loved her with all my heart because we used to tell each other “I love you” often. So please, you can never be short on the “I love you’s.” If you love someone, let them know how much they mean to you. If you live with your mom, go to her room and give her a big hug for me. If you live by yourself, call your mom. It’s a good time to say to her that you love her and that you’re grateful for everything she’s done for you.
Carlos Balbuena is 29 years old and was born in Mexico City. I had the pleasure of teaching him English while he was studying at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida. Carlos was a quiet student who was eager and curious. I remember when I took a group of students to Barnes and Noble. Carlos was the student who had picked out at least six books that he wanted to buy. The first week he arrived, he spent half of his spending money on books for leisure time. He has a very well-read mind and is very inquisitive — this is what makes his writing so unique.
What sparked your dream to study abroad?
“Definitely pop culture and literature. I grew up watching movies and seeing all those places, landmarks, and people traveling. I read my father’s city travel guides all the time. By the time I was an adolescent, studying abroad was something I was really looking forward to. Then I began to read literature – specifically Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. That was pretty much the final bump that led me to actually pursue studying abroad and do it.”
What were your expectations before you left? How have they changed?
“I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everything I thought came from pop culture, books, and my imagination. I wanted to have a great experience, so in order to do that, I knew I had to leave any expectations behind and just enjoy things as they would occur. I needed to be receptive and open to everything in order to get a real grasp of what life is like in the US.
As I grew older, my perceptions of the US changed. I was a little scared of being targeted in some way. In general, us Mexicans hold a (wrong) opinion about the average American, so we are constantly defending ourselves. I think this works both ways, as Americans generally have a wrong opinion about us as well. Yes, radical people exist, but they exist despite their nationality or political affiliation. It’s human nature at its worst and it could happen anywhere or anytime.
The important thing is that there are always more good people than bad ones. In the end, I’m really happy I went because every single person I met in the US was amazing to me. Oftentimes, I hear loose comments on what Americans are like. I hope I left a good impression on the people I met in America so they feel the same way I do when they hear a loose comment about Mexicans.”
What did you not expect?
“I didn’t expect to talk to so many people. I was able to look back and be very glad that I went, and I actually miss it all the time. Talking to lots of people, especially as an introvert, was a huge success for me. It was also a warm and welcome surprise to be complimented on my English. It made me realize that I was going in the right direction.
I wasn’t expecting to end in bad terms with my fellow Mexican travel companions, though. I guess it’s ironic that I got along pretty well with the locals but not with most of my countrywomen.”
What’s your next step?
“It’s been a very hard year for me, guys. Everything that could have gone wrong is going wrong. So, in all honesty, I’m not sure what my next step is. This year, to me, is about getting the hang of things as they are now. Recently, I had a difficult loss in my family. Right now, it’s all about taking care of things. I want to travel again, soon, but now isn’t the right time. I would like to live someplace else but I’ve become aware that it may take a little bit longer than I thought it would originally. Ultimately, it’s still what I want to do with my life. I’ll just have to be patient.”
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to study abroad?
“Surf the Internet: search for local scholarship programs and see if you fit the requirements. If not, then work to fit them. Study and improve your notes, then apply again. If you have an interest in a specific country or a city, soak yourself in it. Watch YouTube video blogs about it, listen to local music, read books related in any possible way to it, and study the local language. Don’t let fear grip you. It will be hard, but it would be harder to look back with regret for not trying.”
Good Memories of an American Experience While Studying Abroad
Carlos made friends while in the US, which is arguably one of the most important parts of studying abroad. He made an everlasting impression on many of the people he interacted with in Tallahassee and I am so glad I had the pleasure of teaching him. I was able to catch up with Carlos this past April in Mexico City while visiting on a vacation. I met Carlos before my grandma passed away and since then, I have moved to Madrid and have moved back. While living in Madrid, I experienced the greatest loss of my life… my grandma passed while I was abroad.
My own grief has taught me that the way to let someone know you care about them is to tell them. When we met, Carlos was experiencing grief and I could sense that it was very painful. I want our readers and Carlos to know that the memory of our loved ones who pass never fades. The pain gets better with time and life sorts itself out. Hang onto the good memories and let go of the bad ones. Carlos, life is full of opportunity and for you — it’s just begun.
The American experience studying abroad not only provides education but also introduces you to new cultures. Many students who leave to study abroad are leaving their home for the first time. Dreams Abroad has created a Facebook community for travelers, students, and educators to share their passions and stories.
Ryan Gomez has been back in the US for about a month. Recently, we had the chance to catch up about his thoughts since being back home. He was overly enthusiastic per his usual self and really looking forward to starting a new career. Ultimately, the type of career Ryan wants is one that will give him flexibility and mobility while also providing a sense of accomplishment each day. Living in Spain and traveling opened Ryan’s eyes to the idea of having a non-routine within the workplace. For example, Ryan does not want to sit at a desk for eight hours each day. His time spent in Bocairent interacting with various people while doing different tasks helped him come to this conclusion.
Here are Ryan’s thoughts about his time in Bocairent:
What was the most important thing you learned while living abroad?
“No matter where you are in the world, most people face similar challenges and are aiming for similar goals. The “happiest” people I met in Spain were the ones with close familial ties and meaningful friendships. Having a sense of community and belonging to something bigger than yourself where everyone looks out for each other seems to lead to the most fulfilling lifestyles. Nobody cared what kind of car I drove (I didn’t have one) or what brand of clothing I wore (anything to keep me warm). What kept me getting invited to events and gatherings was my positive and appreciative attitude towards everyone I met. At least, that’s the impression I got.
On a personal level, the most important thing I learned while living abroad is that I know how to learn. I literally moved to another country where I didn’t speak the language and was able to survive and make some great connections. Learning Spanish was a day-by-day undertaking and it changes your life. Along with being immersed in it every time I walked out the door, I practiced on my own for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour each day. I wasn’t even trying to learn Valencian but managed to pull together a decent list of vocabulary and local sayings just by living around it.”
How have you done with accomplishing your goals while living in Bocairent?
“My time in Bocairent was something special and it will stay with me forever. I learned patience and the ability to feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations. The pace of life was a lot slower and gave me a lot of time to readjust my values system. However, when I initially applied for the program my goal was to meet my distant relatives and learn more about our ancestry.
On three different occasions, I was able to travel north and visit my Basque family in their town of Orduña. These were my favorite experiences. Along with traveling to the famous cities of Bilbao, San Sebastián, Burgos, and Guernica, they took me to some of the most popular restaurants in the northern provinces of Pais Vasco, Castille & Leon, and Cantabria. Some of the greatest meals I’ve ever eaten were in Northern Spain. I never thought I’d enjoy horse meat so much! And the fruit is on another level.”
In your pre-departure interview, you mentioned that the main goal of yours was to learn more about your family ancestry and see your family’s plot of land in Basque country. Were you able to do this? What was it like?
“My entire family tree and how mi abuelo ended up in the United States was all drawn out on paper and explained to me. I was even taken to the original Gómez house that has been in our family for almost 500 years! I sat on the same bench in front of the same church where my abuelo and his brother made their first communions over 70 years ago. As a history buff, that was pretty moving. I’ll always consider myself to be an American… but I felt something special in the Basque Country. I felt my roots.”
What has been the biggest challenge about living abroad and what advice would you give on how to deal with that challenge?
“The biggest challenge I faced while living abroad was being located in a remote, mostly isolated town with no definitive means of transportation. There wasn’t a train station and there were only two bus routes (only one of which had a schedule posted online) passed through once in the morning and once at night. To this day I still have no idea where Bus Navarro comes and goes from… a mystery left unsolved. Also, there wasn’t a local taxi service and very few BlaBlaCar drivers drove by our exit. For most of my traveling adventures outside of the Valle d’Albaida, I had to rely on my fellow teachers driving me to a train station. So the best advice I could give is to introduce yourself to all the teachers in your school as soon as you start!
You never know where a smile and casual conversation might take you. Remember, I was in a small town where most of the population had never even met an American before. My people were more than willing to lend help when they could. They knew I was alone, living in the middle of nowhere. You can’t be too afraid to ask for help. The experience changes your life. Also, if you are situated in a small village, try to be a “Yes-Man/Woman”. If you get invited to something… GO! The best way to get acclimated to your new home and learn the ways to “get around” is to expose yourself to as many experiences and people as you can early on.”
Do you have any advice for other auxiliars interested in traveling while teaching abroad?
“Obviously, you have to travel! And ideally, you don’t want to travel alone. The few sketchy situations I got caught up in were due to the fact that I was John Doe-ing around a major city by myself and got too comfortable with my surroundings in the later hours.
In regards to international travel, I never left Spain while teaching abroad. I wanted to learn Spanish while living overseas… so leaving to go spend a long weekend in Paris or Rome wasn’t appealing to me. Also, although Spain is a relatively small country geographically, it’s not a very united one. The north has a completely different vibe and culture from the south, as well as the east and northeast. There are five different languages spoken in Spain, so there was plenty to see and do in the Iberian peninsula. Also, because of my transportation issues, I didn’t have enough time to travel to Madrid, fly to another country, feel the place out, and get back in time for work. Oh well, it just means I have a reason to go back for a second round in the future!”
How has teaching abroad helped with your overall professional goals?
“Confidence is everything and it changes your life. Living in an absorbing a new country, learning a new language, traveling to other towns and cities alone, getting LOST in the mountains and navigating my way out, seeing genuine love and laughter in little kids’ eyes… everything associated with this teaching abroad experience has done wonders for my self-confidence. I know I undertook something challenging that most people I know couldn’t or wouldn’t do. It’s given me a little spring in my step that’ll help me achieve my overall professional goals.”
What was your most memorable moment in class? How do you feel now that school is ending?
“There was one Chinese family living in my town and their son was in 1st grade. When I arrived at the school I noticed how lost and unengaged he seemed. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to speak a form of Mandarin and go to a school that speaks Valencian, while also being taught Spanish and English all in the same day. I get a headache just thinking about it.
He never did any of the activities correctly and rarely participated. On a random day, I happened to be spending extra time with him, and through the use of excessive finger-pointing and verrrryyyy sllloooowww talking, he finally understood what he was supposed to be doing. When he looked up, I could see the light bulb had just turned on in his head. He proceeded to go back in his book and completed the same activity for the previous chapters and showed me each time. He jumped and cheered when I said it was all correct. For the rest of the year, he always came to show me his work and he was just an overall more confident and happy kid. That was the coolest teaching moment I had all year and I’ll never forget that “light bulb look.” That’s why teachers are so damn important.
At the End of the Day…
Now that school has ended, I can’t really explain what I’m feeling. I know I don’t want to be a teacher anymore when I move back to South Florida, but I’m also grateful that I got to experience this and it changes your life. These kids, my school, and my fellow teachers were awesome. The past eight months were just really good for my soul. In the age of social media where children walk around with smartphones, depression, and prescription pills, I don’t think I’ll ever meet young people as happy and carefree as the ones at CEIP Lluis Vives… so I’m just thankful to know that they exist in the world.”
What will you miss most about Bocairent?
“The simplicity and slower pace of rural life. The fact that I never passed by somebody without exchanging words with them, even if just to acknowledge each other’s existence. Also, it was pretty fun being a foreigner for once! It was hard to get bored because I was always being exposed to new things.”
What will you be doing next when you move back to the United States?
“Teaching abroad in Bocairent has taught me the power of community and being a part of something bigger than myself. I know I could excel in some sort of sales position working for a random corporation selling people things they don’t really need… but that’s not me. It changes Your Life to want to continue a career in public service. I’m going to try to get into law enforcement when I move back to the United States. I think the skills I’ve acquired working in education and teaching abroad will serve me well in this endeavor.”
What is the most important tip you can give someone wanting to Teach Abroad?
“Aside from the obvious, “Don’t be afraid and just do it!” I’d advise them to think of some goals they’d want to accomplish while teaching abroad and write them down. They could be personal, professional, or both. They should read those goals every night before they go to bed and every morning when they wake up. At the end of each day, they should assess whether or not their actions got them closer to achieving those goals. If they didn’t, ask why. Traveling abroad changes your life in a positive way.”
Teaching Abroad Changes Your Life in so Many Ways
Ryan’s excursion abroad was unique in so many ways. He called my office at FSU asking about the paperwork needed for his Spanish visa. We became instant friends and he became a Dreams Abroad community member. I introduced him to our team in Spain for whatever help or guidance he might need while abroad and he was off.
His experience and time abroad have been very interesting to follow because he went with very specific goals in mind. And, of all of the teachers I have interviewed, I would have to say, he was focused, humble, and dedicated to his mission. I enjoyed this interview very much. I found his answer to question nine to be helpful, especially after doing my own teaching and studying abroad travels: “Read your goals every night and each morning when you wake up. At the end of each day, assess whether or not their actions got them closer to achieving their goals. If they didn’t, ask why.” This is great advice not only for someone living abroad but in general.
Thank you, Ryan, for allowing us to be part of your journey. We look forward to seeing your “What I Know Now” and reading your “Where Are They Now” articles in the future. Best of luck to you! If you would like to travel abroad you can do it. Living abroad changes your life forever so join our Facebook community to learn and ask questions.
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.
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.
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.
My 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.
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.
This soul-searching series showcases my grieving process over the course of the most harrowing and heartbreaking six months of my life. It offers a window into how I worked through the processes of loss and resiliency after the passing of my beloved grandmother. Perhaps it will be of benefit to you if you are struggling to cope with a similar situation.
To read the previous article in this series, please go here.
After traveling to Italy for spring break, I listened to Bush’s new album and the lyrics in this song spoke exactly to how I felt at that time. It was one of the first times I really felt that music is the answer. The grieving process (albeit, so difficult at the time) transformed me into someone I should have been all along. We all learn from our experiences – well, I do – and what I’ve learned most is that nothing lasts forever. So, whatever you treasure the most in life, whether it’s a relationship or a person, tell that person or show them.
I did a very good job of this with my Tata throughout her life, but I know I probably could have done more: like sending her an extra card or two over the years to let her know how much I missed her. My mom gave me some things when I was ready after her death. The things that my mom gave to me made me realize how much she had treasured the little things. She kept toys and objects since I had been a small child – bathtub toys, Cabbage Patch dolls, books that she knew were my favorite, just to name a few. Also, there was a card from years back that I had sent to brighten her spirits.
Remember the Positives
I knew her so well, that when we would speak on the phone, I knew when she was happy or sad. The slightest tone change in her soft Puerto Rican (boricua) accented voice would give it away. I remember sending her the card that is now one of the most precious keepsakes that I have from her.
Although we spoke regularly, every so often I would send her a card. I wanted to let her know how much she meant to me. I knew in the back of my mind how much she loved receiving them. She loved walking down to her mailbox and getting the mail each day. In my mind, as I wrote each card, I pictured the smile on her face as she hurried to open it. With each day that passes, I miss the hell out of her. The one thing I miss the most is her voice. I carry it in my heart and use it to do the good things that she would have wanted me to do.
Music Is The Answer to Acceptance
Verse 1, listed below, explains the part of the person I should have been all along (Who I try to be today!). Verse 2 talks about having the world within you and the places you go. Having just returned from Italy and experienced the many insightful things I did, this really hit me hard. Traveling has always been my method of learning. For some reason, this song, at this time in my life, really spoke to me. For me, music is the answer in coping with loss.
The first time I heard this song, I finally felt a sense of acceptance toward what had happened. I’ll never forget the morning my finger clicked my iPod on the Metro on my way to work. It was as if everything around me stood still. These words echoed through my ears and straight down into my heart. I smiled and then hit rewind. This series could easily be titled Music Is the Answer and this, right here – this Metro experience – this is why. Music changes people’s lives in ways that cannot be described, although I have tried.
[Verse 1] The longest night is over The longest day has just begun I turn myself in someone I should’ve been all along But these trials are here to mold us We are how we reply
[Chorus] And all the worlds within you And all the places that you go All the love that’s inside you All the scars and the lows All the worlds All the worlds
Check One, Check Two to Acceptance
When I got back from Italy, my job began a hurried phase. It was the final and third trimester of the Spanish school year, and I was teaching the English department’s theater class. Things got intense because I was not used to the schedule or timeline of when students took exams. Therefore, our lead students in the school play ended up missing some of the practices during the last couple of weeks, due to exams and studying. (I will never understand the student studying mentality in Spain).
Senior-level students graduated in mid-May before we performed our play, so I had to become creative. All of these schedule irregularities threw me for a loop when I got back, but I was able to work around them. We had to work together to make sure that we got costumes for each character and that character lines were rehearsed at home for students who were missing practice.
A proud moment of month five happened when all of the schedule irregularities concluded, and my students pulled together to attend rehearsals to practice and do what they needed in order to make our two back-to-back performances successful. In addition, I was able to see the oldest students in the group, and my Segundo Bachillerato classes, graduate during month five. I hadn’t been to a high-school graduation since my own. Tata went to my high school and undergraduate graduations, so this moment was extra special for me because I felt like in some very small way that I helped these Segundo Bachillerato students succeed before their graduation.
When I looked back at seminal moments in my life and thought of my students over the course of their year, I realized that I was experiencing my own circle-of-life moment. Music is the answer to everything – even graduations. One of the highlights in my own life was my high-school graduation, and all the life-changing events that came afterward (college, friends, internships, firsts of all kinds…). I’m sure in another ten years I will look back and think the same as I read this article. I listen, even now, to Bush’s song and think about the trials that shape us in life and how scared, yet happy I felt at graduation. Now I realize that was only the beginning of what was to come. My students at graduation might have felt a similar feeling.
Good & Bad Moments
All the while, I was feeling my own sense of fear, a new fear that I never knew I had. The night Tata passed, at that moment, I realized I feared the finality of death. How I would never see her again, how I would never be able to speak to her again. This was not a question of my own mortality, but rather the fact that I would not be able to live with her into the future. However, the one thing living in my 30s has taught me is the realization that life comes full circle. My experience abroad changed me in a way that made me appreciate EVERYTHING life brings — the good and bad moments and everything in between.
I wasn’t prepared to lose Tata while living in Madrid. However, during this challenge, I found an inner strength and acceptance that I never knew I had. Month five turned out to be one of the happiest experiences in my life. Everyone at the school worked so hard to perform our play. I created lifelong memories with these students, which I will cherish until I grow old and can’t remember them anymore. I realized life has its special moments, and it is in those moments that we must hold on to that joy, sadness, or whatever feeling is driving us at the time. For it is in these most memorable moments, good and bad, that shape who we are and ultimately how we perceive ourselves and treat others.
Building The Essential Checklist:
Here are some helpful tips that I developed as I dealt with the grieving process abroad:
Go out and talk to friends, coworkers and try to retain as normal a routine as possible. You don’t have to talk to them about your grief, but it does help to go out and make new memories while you are trying to let the pain subside.
Cry when it hurts, but don’t let it consume you. Suppressing feelings is not a normal thing to do. It only results in delayed, and sometimes worse, outcomes.
Seek professional counseling if you feel like you can’t follow your everyday routine and things aren’t getting better.
Try not to internalize your sadness. Write to your family and friends back home or write to a stranger. Maybe talking to someone you don’t know as well as someone you do know will help you release some of the suppressed feelings you are experiencing.
Start a new hobby and find a way to focus on making it as meaningful as you can while you are abroad.
Listen to feedback from friends and family. Be aware of what they say and note whether or not you need to adjust your lifestyle choices. Resilience begins once you understand your behavior and its effects, and how you should adjust to being able to recover from grief in order to become your better self.
ENCOURAGE people in your life to try their best. Teachers, get to know your students’ needs, and most important, get to know your students before telling them they CAN’T do something. This type of behavior causes learner anxiety and self-doubt.
Take time to mourn and reflect the way you feel in order to start healing. Make plans ahead of time during a holiday break to enjoy yourself by doing something fun. Do the things you need in order to find peace within.
Whatever you might be feeling on the inside – reflect and let it guide you to acceptance. Let it propel you toward accomplishing whatever it is that you went abroad to do. Acceptance comes over time but doing your job is important. Keep that in mind and try to move forward.
It’s been a while since my last post, where I spoke about one of my very first pieces: Embracing Uncertainty. Uncertainty means “indefinite or not clearly defined.” When we describe life events fraught with uncertainty such as living abroad, time is a theme that pops up frequently. You have the beginning months where everything seems so new and you feel like a tourist, then, you begin work and establish a sense of routine. Then, seemingly suddenly, the year is about to end! For our time here in Spain, it’s almost the end, and, again, the uncertainty is rearing back up saying, “I am back. Hello, life. What’s next?” I realize that as I get older this type of lifestyle, one that embraces uncertainty, is one that makes me feel like I am growing and learning and not feeling stagnant or misplaced.
“Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.” – Margaret Peters
With each day that passes, I grow as a person. With each opportunity that arises, I try to push myself outside of my comfort zone, working towards that growth. My time abroad has shown me that I don’t know myself as well as I thought. Time spent challenging myself has been the reason for my personal growth. I consider time, even though it’s technically free, to be priceless.
About Me and Who I Am
I started this journey looking for more answers about who I am; I wanted to know as much as I could about Spain because my ancestors were from Mallorca. On my first day at work, I made a presentation to my students called “About Me” in which I spoke about my life, my friends, my country, and most importantly my family. Not too long ago, I was talking to my class and I held up a photo of my grandmother, whom I affectionately called Tata. I told my students the reason why I came to Spain, and why I teach. Time moves on so quickly and life can change in a heartbeat. And, in my case it did.
Looking back, I never imagined that I would not be able to see my grandmother again. Those first days in front of my classes were the beginning of my life in Spain inspired by Tata. It’s been a journey that I will always appreciate because I know that she wanted me to be happy, as she told me in our last happy conversations together. As time moves on, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her sweet smile or soft voice. I started to teach English because of her. Her life inspired me. Each day I walk into a class, I carry her with me in my heart. She may not be with us any longer but her story lives on through my work.
Valuable Lessons in Resilience Abroad
Spain has taught me some valuable lessons, and one of the most important lessons I have learned so far is that you don’t know what tomorrow might bring. I know that I would not have learned the lessons I needed to had I not come to Spain. My soul opened up and my heart has once again embraced another culture that has embraced me back. I am very grateful to have this opportunity.
I felt extremely blessed to have been able to see Tata one more time before she passed. Remember to tell those people in your life how much they mean to you regularly. If they do something to upset you, it’s ok to be upset. Just remember that at the end of the day, time is all we truly have. There are a set number of days on our calendar that we will be here. Live your life, be well, let go, and carry on.
‘Cause you never think that the last time is the last time. You think there will be more. You think you have forever, but you don’t.” – Dr. Meredith Grey