Meet Lisa Mallett: Niagara Falls Travel Advisor

Lisa Mallett has a passion for travel and exploring new places. She decided it was time to take this passion further by creating a travel blog and becoming a travel advisor based in Niagara Falls, Canada. Due to the pandemic, she’s discovering more about her home and sharing her discoveries with her readers. Once traveling can begin in earnest again, her goal is to build custom travel itineraries for private or group trips to explore Ontario’s Niagara Region. 

Wander, explore, and discover to fuel your soul with travel” — Lisa Mallett 

Meet Glamma Travel, aka Lisa. She is a fifty-something Canadian grandmother who loves being a travel advisor. But don’t judge Lisa by her age or the fact she has grandchildren, as she is not your average grandma. 

You mentioned in Living in a Tourist Destination that you reside in Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side. How would an American visitor reach Canada’s Falls area?”

Getting to Niagara Falls is relatively easy; if you are flying we have two international airports within a two-hour distance of the Falls. Toronto Pearson Airport is the closest to Ontario, Canada. There are many transport companies that can provide travel to Niagara. If you live in the USA, you can fly domestic to Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Then, either rent a car and cross the border in Buffalo to get to Niagara Falls. Alternatively, you can arrange a car service to transport you over. Of course, if you happen to live within driving distance, you can use your own vehicle to cross over one of our three international border bridges.

US and Canada Border Bridge

When is the best time to visit and why?”

As a travel advisor and local, Niagara is an ideal location any time of the year, depending on what you are looking to experience. Our most popular tourist season is in the summer. During the months of June through September, the temperatures are warm and you can try out outdoor activities in comfort. If you are looking for a quieter time to visit, you may enjoy the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. You can take advantage of more reasonable prices and fewer crowds. We have plenty of activities that you can take advantage of during these seasons and you may find more reasonable prices and less crowding. Winter is cold in Niagara, but if you love snow, it is very beautiful to see.

What seasonal differences are there in terms of things to do in and around Niagara?”

If you are visiting during the summer season, you will be able to experience all the major attractions in Niagara Falls and the surrounding area. There are land and water options, wine tours, and all of the beautiful floral displays will be in full bloom in Niagara Parks. The shoulder seasons offer similar activities to summer. However, the weather may be more of an issue with a wider spectrum of conditions depending on Mother Nature’s mood. During winter, there will be limited outdoor activities. Nonetheless, it is ice wine harvest time and there is a local Winter Festival of Lights.

Niagara Falls in winter

If people plan to spend more time in the area than a day trip, what would you recommend checking out close to Niagara?”

Niagara Falls is right next door to Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is where many of our wineries are located. The small village itself is so picturesque, you will feel as if you have stepped back into the Victorian era. The Niagara Parkway is the route between Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake, and it is a beautiful scenic drive as well as a must-see in my humble opinion. Toronto is only about one-and-a-half to two hours north and can easily be driven to by following our QEW highway. The largest city in Ontario, Toronto rests on the shore of one of our Great Lakes, Lake Ontario. It is an international centre of business, finance, arts, and culture. If you have the time, it is worth spending a couple of days or more visiting. As a travel advisor, I recommend it!

A nighttime photo of Toronto

Foreign tourists are conspicuous by their absence in the Falls at the moment. However, to what extent has the shortfall been made up by those on staycations?”

Niagara Falls generally counts on about 50% of the tourism revenue to come from American citizens. With the international border being closed since March 2020, Niagara Falls has tried very hard to promote itself as a close-to-home staycation option during the months that our pandemic numbers were more under control. Ontario citizens actually do makeup about 70% of the 14 million tourists who visit Niagara Falls in a typical year. However, they only provide about 25% of the tourism revenue. I am not aware of how much revenue Niagara Falls was able to produce in the 2020 season as of yet, but it was most definitely less than a typical year. Until the border reopens, I assume that this trend will continue.

How much is Niagara a victim of its own success? What environmental damage has been done by the mass of visitors rocking up on a daily basis?”

Sadly, tourism definitely has had some negative effects on our environment mostly due to pollution emitted from so many vehicles. Wildlife is rare except in green areas. At one time, there was toxic chemical waste as well as sewage generated from tourists being legally dumped into the Niagara River. I am not completely sure if this practice has been stopped or lessened but I do know there has been an awareness of it made public in recent years.

Niagara Falls Rainbow

How have the Falls adapted to becoming more ecologically sustainable?”

The environment has become a much bigger focus in recent years. Niagara is trying to do its part to help. The role of the City now is to “maintain, preserve, and promote good stewardship of the natural resources within the City for existing and future needs and to protect the diversity and interdependence of these natural areas to maintain and improve their natural functions,” (City of Niagara Falls Official Plan, Section 3).

You mentioned you live in Wine Country. What dishes would you recommend accompanying these vintages? Are there many local gastronomic specialties?”

We have many vintages in Niagara, so this would be difficult to cover in just one paragraph.  Any winery host that you visit for tastings will be happy to suggest food pairings for the individual wines. We actually have a couple of times a year where the wineries all offer wine and food pairing tours. Many of the wineries also have restaurants where they offer a complete food and wine pairing menu. 

Food and wine pairing

What are some of the most outrageous questions tourists ask?”

As Niagara Falls residents, we have heard some pretty outrageous questions. Here are some of the best:

“Do you ever turn the Falls off?”

“Are we in Canada?”

How would you describe the people who live in Canada? What distinguishes them from other countries?”

I would describe the people in Canada as friendly, respectful, and accommodating for the most part. Many would also call us apologetic. Canadians are unique people, especially when compared to our closest neighbor, the USA.

Our government is very different. We are a Commonwealth country led by a Prime Minister, meaning we are friendlier and more accepting of outsiders. On the whole, I believe that Canadians are more educated about the US than US visitors are about Canada, sometimes embarrassingly so. We have a different currency, our national languages are English and French, we have entirely different healthcare and school systems, and even the foods we have in common are not that similar. So even though we border the USA, Canada is a very unique country of its own.

You can find more information and book future travel to Niagara through Lisa Mallett’s travel advisor website. She is ready to help plan the perfect itinerary for Niagara, Ontario, Canada and their stunning wine country.

by Leesa Truesdell

New York City’s Top Ten Traveler

 

An image of Moshe, the Top Ten Travel Writer

Who is the Top Ten Traveler?

“I’m a 37-year-old guy named Moshe Huberman. Originally from Israel, I’ve lived in New York City for the last four-and-a-half years and have been happily married to my wonderful husband for almost five. He is the best partner I could have ever asked for in everything we do, including traveling. We have a beautiful seven-year-old mixed-Labrador Retriever, and we live a vegan lifestyle together.”

When did you begin traveling?  

“The first time I got on a plane was at the age of ten with my parents. We were on our way to Paris, France. We landed late at night, and everything was closed — even in the airport! The streets were incredibly dark and far too quiet, so my first impression was a bit traumatic. The next morning, when we woke up to our first day in Paris, however, I felt astounded and extremely charmed by everything. I still remember it so vividly. I learned the metro lines by heart after one day and I led all the conversations in English (not my native language). To boot, I even learned a few words in French from the people at the hotel’s front desk. I developed traveler skills at a wonderfully young age.

An image of New York City from a pier, provided by the Top Ten Travel writer

After that, I traveled a few more times in Europe and in the US with my family. When I finished my service in the IDF at the age of 21, I packed my bag and flew to Australia, then New Zealand, for three months. That trip was my first big trip as an independent traveler.”

What started your travel bug?

“I guess it was the first trip to Paris with my parents. Ever since I was a young kid I was a big fan of the world’s countries and cultures. I memorized the world’s capitals and flags. Plus, I read all the volumes of the Geographical Encyclopedia. My older siblings’ Atlas was my favorite book. I always felt excited to watch the Olympics’ opening ceremony just for the Parade of Nations. I had, and still have, the world’s map on my bedroom wall.

An image of New York City from the River, provided by the Top Ten Travel writer

So, the moment I could leave my country for the first time to start seeing and experiencing the things I had only been reading about, was mind-blowing. From there, I just had to see more.”

Why do you like traveling?

“I always felt fascinated by diversity. I grew up in Israel. It’s a small country, but it has an amazing mixture of cultures. The Jews in Israel came from all over the world, bringing their unique traditions, stories, and foods. Even my family’s roots are from both Syria and Poland, which I always liked to explore with my grandparents — where did they come from? What was their childhood like? Etc. For me, traveling is the ability to take this exploration one step further and get to know the diversity of the entire world. I want to know and see how other people live, what their history is, what language they speak, what religion they practice, and, of course, what food they eat.”

Why are you The Top Ten Traveler?

“After I graduated from university and started my first real job, I realized that I could not travel three to four months out of a year anymore. My trips now must align with the vacation days I receive and with my work responsibilities. It changed my perception:  more short trips in a year, rather than one exceptionally long. Now, when taking shorter trips, your time is limited. You need to know well in advance what you want to see and do. This is where the top ten come in. Ten is a magical number; if there are not ten things to see or do in a place, it’s not worth going. If there are more, I really tried to focus on the top ten things I could not miss.

When I started The Top Ten Traveler, I did it for two main reasons. First, to share my experiences and to re-experience them through writing. Secondly, to give people an easy summary of the main ten things to see and do in each destination. I think listing the top ten things is easier to read, easier to remember, and easier to execute when you travel.”

What is the best trip you have taken in the last five years and why?

“I would say my trip to Playa del Carmen and Cancun, Mexico. On one hand, it was the first trip in which I have learned how to relax on the beach for a few hours without becoming bored. On the other hand, we traveled and learned about the interesting history of the Mayan culture in sites like Chichen Itza and the ruins of Tulum. Plus, the Mexican food was amazing. It was the perfect combination of exploration, relaxation, shopping, and partying.”

An image of Moshe, the Top Ten Travel writer, at a Mayan ruin.

If you had one place to recommend to someone who has never traveled before what would it be?

“That is an easy one:  Argentina. It is an amazing country for travelers (but not for living, unfortunately). It is huge and has everything to offer from glaciers to deserts, from mountains to beaches, from awesome cities to a beautiful countryside. The people are some of the nicest and warmest in the world. It is one of the safest countries in South America (though you always need to keep your eyes open when you travel, all over the world) and it is relatively cheap, so you can get more with your foreign currency. Therefore, for a first-time traveler, this is the ideal place.”

Which place do you want to visit the most but haven’t had the chance yet?

“There are so many places in the world that I want to visit, each for its own unique reasons. However, if I need to choose only one, it would be Syria. Although not the country you would think about for traveling, I feel really intrigued to see where my family came from. More than that, I follow other people who traveled in Syria and they always fall in love with this country. The food is said to be one of the best in the world (which I grew up on, so I can definitely relate to that). They also have many historical and archaeological sites, like Palmyra, which dates back to over 3,000 years ago, and the old city of Aleppo, which has now been partially destroyed after the war.”

You live in New York City — Is this by choice or for work?

“My workplace relocated me from Israel to New York City at the end of 2015. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live abroad, so we jumped on it. After all, exploration is at the heart of the Top Ten Traveler. I didn’t know how the move would affect my husband and I as a young couple, but after experiencing the New York City way of life, we liked it and decided to stay. New York City is amazing and it never ceases to surprise me. I still don’t think I know all of its hidden gems.”

An image of a New York City bridge, provided by the Top Ten Travel Writer

What would you recommend to do if someone only had a day to visit New York City?

“Explore the city by foot. The streets and avenues of the city are amazing and different. Fifth Avenue is nothing like Ninth Avenue and is nothing like the streets of Soho, Financial District, or other neighborhoods. So strolling between them, you can catch all the important landmarks of the city while also enjoying the unique charm of each area or neighborhood. I once had a 12-hour layover in the city on my way from Israel to Argentina. To kill some time, I walked from Central Park to Battery Park, just to see the statue of Liberty. It was so much fun, and on the second flight, I slept like a baby. For a lunch or dinner break, I’d recommend trying one of my favorite vegan restaurants in the city, as described in my Top 10 Vegan Restaurants in New York City post.”

What would you recommend a frequent traveler to do in New York City?

“Many people come to New York City to watch a show on Broadway. I have watched a few and I really love the theater, but there are crazier and more special theatrical experiences than Broadway. One that comes to mind is Sleep No More. It’s an interactive show performed in a five-story building designed to look like an old hotel. You can follow the actors and move from one scene to another whenever you want. Two tips: come in your sneakers and walk alone.”

by Moshe Huberman

Visit Moshe’s website, The Top Ten Traveler, to find the top ten best sites to visit on your next travel destination! 

 

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

Finding Balance After Spain

Sam Loduca was born in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin but has lived the majority of her adult life in large cities such as Chicago and Madrid. After living in Madrid for two years, Sam moved back to Chicago and landed a job in human resources at a consulting firm. Her focus is on placing employees in different locations around the world. Sam got a degree that specializes in human resources and was working in human resources before she moved to Madrid for two years.

Finding Balance After Spain

After returning from Madrid, Sam wanted to work in a profession that combined international affairs and human resources. Sam’s new role does just that and much more. Although she doesn’t have as much free time as she did in Madrid, Sam explained that her new role provides her with a sense of fulfillment. She is helping others achieve their travel goals and dreams.

What have you been up to since leaving Dreams Abroad?

“Since leaving Dreams Abroad, I remained in Spain for an additional year of teaching English. Since then, I have returned to the states. I’ve begun working at a consulting firm as a global mobility professional. I moved back to Chicago (where I was living before my time in Spain) and had to readjust to the old life I was used to there. I miss Spain every day and have already been back once to visit. Now, I am focusing on my career. I’m spending time with the friends and family I didn’t get to see much when I was abroad.”

castle in spain

What is your best Dreams Abroad memory?

“I really enjoyed our monthly meetings where our diverse group met and talked through our experiences. We would brainstorm ideas for articles and topics that would be helpful to other people working and teaching abroad. It’s truly fascinating to see a group of people all working in the same job, living in the same city, all from the same country, and how different their tales of the experience were!”

What are your future plans?

“My future plans include continuing to develop my career in international business. Hopefully, I will be able to do so by living abroad again. I’d love to live in Europe, South America, or Asia.

I am also working on obtaining my Italian citizenship. Going international will be a bit easier if I want to live or work there.”

What would you say to someone interested in traveling abroad to teach, work, study, or just to travel?

“Do it!! Don’t give yourself excuses like it’s not the right time, I will go later, etc. Go now – it will never be the right time to leave everything behind and go on an adventure, so you have to just do it!

Finding Balance After Spain

Don’t do it just because you think it would be fun. It will be sooooo much fun! BUT… to truly flourish in another culture, you really need to put yourself out of your comfort zone. If you aren’t willing to do that, you might as well save your money and stay home. Start conversations with people — ask lots of questions about why people do things the way they do them there (it is OK to acknowledge that people and cultures are different and try to learn why). It’s absolutely necessary to try things you wouldn’t normally try (hobbies, food, styles).

It will be one of the most rewarding things you ever do in your life. It’s hard, it’s exhausting, and because of that, it is truly life-changing.”

Finding Balance After Traveling

book store in spain libros

Around the time of this interview, Sam had just returned from her second trip to Madrid to visit the city that she will always call home. Looking back at her first interview, Sam still remembers the need to feel the nature of her life slow down and she felt it while living in Madrid for two years. Even though she took some time to smell the roses, Sam also understands the American way of life and is thriving in her job.

Sam, like many of us who have lived abroad, struggles with having one version of herself still in Madrid while still remaining content and present in her home country, the USA. She is looking forward to learning new things as a global mobility professional. She continues to travel when able. We are so happy she is found her sense of fulfillment. We look forward to hearing from Sam in the future.

This is Sam’s favorite quote from her first interview; I thought it would be an exceptional way to wrap up this piece:

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

Finding balance is no easy task while traveling or working abroad, or even afterwards! If you want to meet like-minded travelers please join our Facebook group. There you can keep up with Dreams Abroad members and their stories.

by Leesa Truesdell

 

Teaching Abroad Changes Your Life

 

teacher abroadRyan 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.

Catch up with our last chat about teaching abroad in Bocairent, Spain.

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.”

my families house and the family lineage paper
My family’s house and the lineage paper.

 

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.

students giving teacher a present changes your life

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…

students showing off art

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.”

bocairent spain city changes your life

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.

by Leesa Truesdell

Teaching Abroad at a Bilingual School in Madrid, Spain

by Ellen Hietsch

Alex Warhall remains a ubiquitous presence during our second year teaching at a bilingual school in Madrid: my flatmates and I have discussed clearing our mini dining room so that he can sleep there, so he can constantly bring us joy with his ukulele freestyling and delicious dinners. It’s no surprise that such creativity has helped him shine as an auxiliar in his return to the primary school where he worked last year. Read all about his first teaching abroad interview here.

Amongst our bops between barrios and open mic night debuts over the past few months, Alex and I have rarely talked about work in depth – unless it was for him to beam with pride about a video project he’d developed and directed. Our conversations are chaotic curiosities, jumping from considering the profound to a stream of Documentary Now references in a matter of minutes. We recently found the chance to catch up on the depths of Year Two at his Getafe Primary School. This is the conversation that followed:

What is a typical day at your school like?

“My schedule is different every day. While I can generally forecast the basic outline for my week, it’s challenging to predict my daily schedule. Surely, I know which classes I will be going to, but what I will be doing in those classes varies. My most consistent tasks during the day are guiding speaking exercises, proctoring oral exams, correcting students’ writings, or playing the role of “examiner” in the mock PET exams. If I had to pinpoint a typical daily occurrence at my school, I would say that during morning break and lunchtime I learn a new Spanish phrase from my coworkers (I would share some of these phrases, but they tend to be inappropriate).

These consistencies aside, there are often more surprises in my day. Some days I arrive at school and find out that I’m going on an excursion. Other days, I’m asked to help students practice their dance routine for Carnival. For the whole month of November, I was directing, filming, and editing introduction videos that we later shared with a fellow school in Madrid. These surprises are what make my days so exciting and my school so fun.”

Bilingual School in Madrid Spain classroom group students

How many people do you work with (auxiliaries included)? How many classes do you teach?

“When I began the school year in October, there were only two auxiliaries—including myself (both American). Because our bilingual coordinator wanted to equally distribute the native English in each of the six grades, we didn’t have overlapping classes during this time. Then, after the New Year, our school gained two additional auxiliaries (both Australian). With these additions, my schedule was revised. Now, I have the pleasure of working with all three of the auxiliares at my school. My revised schedule also has me working with three different classroom teachers: the third, fifth, and sixth-grade teachers. When I’m working with these teachers, I rarely ever run the classroom. Instead, I conduct speaking activities with small groups that reinforce the teacher’s lesson plan or prepare the students for the upcoming Cambridge English exam.”

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

“Definitely! This is my second year teaching at my school. Last year, I worked with such kind and sociable people. Unfortunately, they didn’t have permanent positions and, as a result, didn’t end up at the same school. So when I thought about the upcoming school year and the new teachers joining us, I wondered if I would bond with them the same way that I did with those from last year. I soon discovered that the new teachers were also friendly and easy to work with. I’m really grateful for my coworkers and appreciative of the culture at our school, which fosters friendships among coworkers. Some of my best nights out in Madrid have been with my coworkers—from going out dancing to eating churros at St. Gines while waiting for the first Metro to arrive at 6:30 AM.”

Are you forming bonds with students? Does the school foster the creation and maintenance of these relationships inside and outside the classroom?

“Yes, absolutely. I would say my school fosters the maintenance of these relationships inside and outside of the classroom. I spend a lot of my time working with small groups. During these sessions, I have the opportunity to learn more about my students’ interests. It probably goes without saying, but many of my students love Real Madrid fútbol, which is also my favorite soccer team. Often times, we will chat about the previous night’s match, reliving the highlight-worthy goals or complaining about the devastating blunders.

Abroad in Spain

A few of my students share my affinity for the Marvel Comic Book movies. Whenever we’ve seen the latest film, we’ll have informal discussions about it. One of my students enjoys reenacting his favorite scenes. The most impressive part of that is that he does it in English! I also love playing basketball. Whenever the weather is nice and I’m wearing the right gear, I’ll join the students during playground time for a game—it’s the only time I’m the tallest person on the court (and not by much). I’ll sometimes pause the game to teach basketball fundamentals—some students like this and others prefer that I don’t interrupt the game. Either way, we have fun.

Outside of the classroom, I have been invited to students’ gymnastics competitions and fútbol matches, some of which I have attended. I’m very grateful for these moments because I think it improves the teacher-student relationship inside the classroom. I get to see how they behave in a setting where maybe they’re more focused, doing something they’re passionate about. On top of this, they get to see me in a more casual setting and understand that I care about their lives outside of the classroom.”

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

“As I’ve mentioned before, my class schedule is different each day so I don’t actually have a favorite part of each day, but I do have a favorite part of the week! Every Wednesday and Thursday, I do a language exchange with Mario, the secretary at my school. He is very motivated to speak English fluently and his energy is contagious. The topics of discussion are plentiful and varied. I always walk away from these intercambios having laughed a bunch and learned something new. When my weekend ends that fateful Monday evening, I genuinely look forward to these intercambio sessions. Indeed, these twice-weekly intercambios have drastically improved my Spanish. Thus, they have also improved the quality of my time in school and in Madrid as a whole. I’ve gotten to know my coworker’s way better as a result and I’ve been able to meet more people in Madrid.”

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

Alex Warhall Abroad“Every teacher has their own style and methods. I work with teachers that have remarkable classroom control and are able to give an attention-grabbing lecture whereby the students—hanging on every word—simply listen, laugh, and take notes. Other teachers who work with me are integrating technology into their lessons. They show educational videos or use interactive games on the smartboard. I also work with teachers who read directly from the textbook, which sometimes works and sometimes bores the students. I think the best teachers are able to read the energy of their students. They teach their lesson in a way that matches said energy. For example, the students typically have a lot of residual energy left from playground time and typically need some time to decompress. One teacher that I work with will read them a short story so that they can just relax and listen.”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

“At my school, I’m not responsible for planning lessons. Occasionally, a teacher will ask me to give a presentation, prepare a song on my ukulele, or tell a story for the class. In this case, I will take the time I feel is needed to prepare something of quality. If I haven’t been asked to prepare something, then I won’t. Not out of laziness, but because my teachers are always well-prepared. Most days, just before class starts, the teacher will tell me what they would like me to do with the students during the day and then provide me with the materials to accomplish their objective.”

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

“I do work at a bilingual school. To me, it means speaking English. Always. Occasionally, the students ask me to say “Hola” or “Que tal” or some other Spanish words and phrases. Nonetheless, my job is to continue speaking English with them no matter what—even if they have a low English level. The reason I do so is that if they think that I know any Spanish at all, then they may stop relying on their English skills to communicate with me. To the community of Getafe, “bilingual” means teaching every class in English, except for math and language. It also means speaking English with the students in the hallways, on the playground, and even when disciplining.”

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

city valencia spain“I’m not entirely sure what standards my classroom teachers are using because it’s rarely a topic of discussion between us. However, the work we do with the 5th and 6th graders is aimed at preparing them for the Cambridge Preliminary English Exam (PET). We have been giving them mock exams at the school. I’ve been responsible for evaluating their performances in the four categories of the exam: reading, listening, writing, and speaking. The marks I give them are based on the standards set forth by the Cambridge University English Assessment.”

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

“Whether or not my bilingual school in Madrid has a written document spelling out the shared goals and expectations, I’m not certain, but I do have a strong sense that there are three general goals: build their confidence in English, prepare them for secondary school, and show them how to be well-rounded adults. We build their confidence in English by constantly immersing them in the language. To enhance their language learning, we prepare them for secondary school by giving them frequent exams and homework every night. We also teach them useful study habits that will help them manage their time and be self-reliant. Finally, we show them how to be well-rounded adults by emphasizing manners and kindness inside and outside of the classroom.”

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

“In the classroom, I’ve learned that I struggle with classroom control and discipline. This year, I’ve had a particularly challenging time getting through to the fifth graders. On the whole, they are eager and enthusiastic students. As with any class though, there are a select few who have disinterested attitudes. Getting them to participate, or even listen quietly for that matter, can be an overwhelming task.

As a generally kind-hearted and relaxed person, I find it difficult to dole out punishments, and when I do, it’s hardly convincing. Granted, I’m not expected to discipline at my school. However, I want to be able to help my classroom teachers manage their class when they need it. There are a few talented disciplinarians at my school. I’ve been observing their interactions with the students in hopes of improving in this aspect. Although, I think my reputation among the students as a “funny” assistant will ultimately prevent me from earning their obedience when it comes to discipline.

Outside of the classroom, I’ve learned to let go of my insecurities when it comes to speaking Spanish. I think in the past I’ve missed out on having a lot of great conversations and meeting a lot of cool people because I feared my Spanish wasn’t good enough. I was too fastidious when it came to speaking correctly that I just avoided speaking Spanish altogether. Now, I seek out situations where I can speak Spanish, knowing that what I’m saying is probably imperfect, but understood nevertheless. Consequently, my command of the language has improved and my vocabulary increased. I guess I learned to accept, even appreciate, the failings because those moments are what foster learning.”

What I Learned From This Interview Teaching Abroad at a Bilingual School in Madrid, Spain

Having had a difficult relationship with my school in my auxiliar days, I was jealous when Alex told me about his intercambios and freedom to utilize his creative talents in the classroom. Teaching in a bilingual school in Madrid definitely has so many positives! He has a talent for connecting with everyone he meets that shines at his school too. Combined with his easy adaptiveness to the ever-bouncing expectations of the auxiliar, Alex and his school mutually thrive from the other’s presence. It wouldn’t surprise me if his students were are as thrilled to spend time with him as my friends and I are.

Thanks for sharing, Alex! We at Dreams Abroad are looking forward to your final update at the end of the school year.

 

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.”

 

Teach-USA-Jose-Carasco-student-grad-daugther

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.”

Teach-USA-Jose-Carasco-student-grad-famu

 

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

Teach-USA-Jose-Carasco-student-grad-famu

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

Culture Seeker Abroad

by Leesa Truesdell

I would like to start by saying what a joy it has been getting to know Samantha LoDuca. Sam and I met last August and whenever I asked her to assist in a project, she was always more than willing to help. The year flew by faster than I thought possible. It seems like only yesterday that we were practicing the art of conjugating Spanish verbs in every past tense imaginable. Sam’s goal this year was to immerse herself in culture. Not only has she accomplished what she set out to do, but she has helped others in the process of becoming a culture seeker. In her last blog post, Teaching Private Lessons and Setting Goals, she talked to me about her future. It’s been a pleasure having Sam on the team this year. I look forward to seeing what she will be up to next.

Meet Sam, The Culture Seeker:

In your last post, we talked about your goal to reach out more often to Spanish locals. How are you doing with that?

“Reaching out to the locals? Meaning how to make Spanish friends? It’s going really well, I’m really excited for the summer. Although my American friends will be leaving which makes me very sad, I am planning some trips with my friends from Spain! I’ll be able to improve my Spanish hopefully (fingers crossed).

I didn’t really plan on doing a follow-up to my first article. My plan was to post more articles of advice in order to help people. I wrote it more from the perspective of, after a lot of months or experience here, this is what I’ve learned. In a way, this is more of a wrap up than a working series.”

Did you realize that other auxilars read your post and are going to take your advice on meeting locals?

spanish locals“No, to be honest, I really didn’t realize that others were reading what I was posting and taking it to heart! I’m glad it could help! Sometimes people just need that extra push and I’m thrilled if my article could be that for some people.”

You posted tips about how to meet locals in your blog posts. What have your experiences been?

“Really great! I’m continuing to make lots of new friends and I love it! Honestly, I really haven’t had any negative experiences. I find that I connect really well with a lot of people who live in Madrid whether they are American, Spanish, or International.”

Lets talk about your school experience: how have you been doing with learning more about the exams the kids take at school? What are your feelings now that school is ending?

“I’m a Trinity expert now! Just kidding, but really it’s been an interesting experience, to say the least. There wasn’t anyone at my school experienced in Trinity exam preparations. As auxiliars we had to take the reins and teach ourselves. Then we figured out how to prepare the students.”

Follow up: remind us again what the Trinity exam is and what age takes this exam?

“Trinity exams are exams that students across Spain take each year. This year the grade that took them was third grade. For this age level, it is a 7-10 minute conversational oral exam where the students have to have certain grammatical and conversational abilities.”

trinity exam

Will you be staying next year? How did you make your decision?

“Yes! I decided back in December. I was at an event and someone was talking about doing what you’re passionate about and how that alone makes you happy in life. Although I’m not sure if teaching is necessarily my life’s calling, this experience has made me unbelievably happy. I’ve learned more about myself and I’ve fallen in love with a culture. I’m just not ready to say goodbye to that yet.”

What will going home for the summer be like?

I’m going home for a month to visit family and friends and then will be coming back to Madrid to work the months of August and September before I start working as an auxiliar. I think home will be a reverse culture shock to say the least, but I’m very excited to see so many people I miss and care about!

If you could do one thing different this year, what would it be?

“This sounds strange but honestly nothing. I haven’t regretted or wanted to change a single minute of my time here. If I had to give an answer I’d say I’d watch my stuff more carefully. One of the most difficult things I’ve had to do here is getting a copy of my apartment key made, but even that I think was a really good experience that helped me in the end.”

Continuing To Be The Best

At the beginning, Sam and I sat across from each other during an intense series of Spanish classes. It was during the brutal Madrid summer heat of August, when we focused on a huge range of topics, from the intercambios, to our interview series catch-ups, and all the way to the day she joined our team for the 2016-2017 school year to contribute her own blogs. Sam has become not only a friend but a person I admire for her dedication to continuing to better herself.

Sam made goals for herself this year and each time I met up with her to check-in, she had not only surpassed those goals but she had gotten better and better at balancing her time. She will not have any problems finding balance when she gets back to the states because we know from her first interview that she can work more than 70+ hours a week. Based on her experience in Madrid, she knows what makes her feel most fulfilled as a culture seeker abroad.

Sam has certainly shared many inspiring lessons as a culture seeker with us and her first year abroad has been a journey of self-discovery through authentic cultural immersion. Go SAM! Keep going and please let us know how things are going in the future.

Living Abroad and Teaching English: Part Three

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that the subject of my interview for this piece is, in fact, a close friend. Leesa and I met during the orientation week held by CIEE. We were both (as were many of us) overwhelmed by jet-lag, the newness of the place, the task ahead of us, the ungodly heat of Madrid in August, and the sheer amount of paperwork. At one of the pre-arranged get-togethers, Leesa and I found ourselves seated on either side of one of the orientation leaders (the lovely Lynnette A., a contributor to this blog and angel from heaven for newcomers to Madrid). Leesa mentioned that she was from a smallish town in Florida and it just so happened to have been where I had lived before. The ensuing conversation turned into a new friendship, fueled by adventures through Europe on planes, trains, and automobiles.

Despite a not-inconsiderable age difference (she being the age of my eldest daughter), we have managed to form a true bond. While I may have known Leesa well before, I learned even more about her during the following interview. Readers, may I reintroduce Leesa, the founder and fearless leader of Dreams Abroad. To catch up, take a look at Leesa’s last interview about teaching in the Community of Madrid. It goes over daily activates, lesson plans, and brainstorming ideas.

You’ve traveled a great deal since you began your adventure in August. What was one of your first trips?

“I went with a friend to Mallorca. While there, I saw the cathedral in Palma. It was the first Gothic cathedral I had seen since visiting Spain.”

Did you feel any sort of connection to Mallorca while you were there?

mallorca houses on the water“I would say that I did. I have relatives from Puerto Rico, and it was easy for me to relate to the island lifestyle. Although it’s nothing like the Caribbean, being on the water and, of course, having the Latin rhythm of life, helped me feel a connection. Going with a friend, and sharing this experience with her, made it even more special and impactful.”

You spoke at length about your “tool kit” in your first interview. Do you feel that you’ve added anything to it in your time here?

“I feel like I’ve added many things to my toolkit since I’ve been here. With regard to my profession as an educator, I certainly feel more empowered to speak and communicate more effectively in front of a class. I am able to understand the needs of students and can listen to what students are telling me. As I mentioned in the first interview, listening as a skill is very important to me; important in my own language and in Spanish as well. I’ve been honing that in both the classroom and in the interviews I’ve been conducting for Dreams Abroad. My writing has come a long way since I’ve been here. I attribute that to my focus on improving my listening skills.

In fact, I may have overcompensated on listening when it comes to my Spanish learning. I think I can understand 90% of what I hear in Spanish now. However, this has been at the expense of practicing my speaking, which is not where I’d like it to be. I meet now with a conversation tutor to try and practice speaking more.”

You came to Spain with an open mind. How’s your mind now?

“My grandmother passed away recently. Her passing has made me realize a lot about life. I’m trying to remember the good times while, at the same time, continuing to go with the flow. There was a point just after her death that I was really, deeply grieving and my mind wasn’t open. I had shut out this whole experience because I was feeling so sad. It got to the point that I was actually rejecting the culture of Spain and everything around me because I was so focused on my loss and the past. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was hypercritical of everything around me and could only think of the past when she was alive, and all that entailed.”

plaza major madrid spain abroad

You’ve now lived and worked abroad in both Colombia and Spain. How would you compare them?

“Colombia was my first experience living abroad. It will always have a very special place in my heart. It’s a loving, welcoming culture that’s full of opportunities for those who want to learn a beautiful version of Spanish. There needs to be a structure put into place, but I think that’s what makes the school system so unique.

Thinking about my time there makes my heart smile. I will always have such fond memories of Colombia. At the time, I was still studying for my masters. I was able to visit so many schools, meet so many children, and see so many classrooms. Each had unique methodologies with the same goal of trying to teach and learn English. None of them had a very high proficiency level at the time. Nonetheless, they were all trying to do the best with what they had. That is what made it such a great experience for me.

With Spain, when I arrived here I had already lived in a foreign country and so had already overcome any uncertainty or doubt about speaking in a foreign country. I didn’t have any fear of making my way through the city after having lived in Medellin. I love my school and the classroom that I have now. However, if I had to compare the two, I would say that at the school in Colombia is a model that needs to be developed and that’s a process that I enjoy very much. I love big ideas and creating, developing and forming things into their fullest potential and I feel like there’s still that opportunity there.
school teaching studying classroom-spain

In Spain, they are building a foundation in which there is a lot of controversy and negativity. It’s spiraling into strikes by teachers and students and there’s not one clear path. Educators, politicians, and the general public are not on the same page and there’s a lot of hostility as a result. Students remain in the system only because they aren’t sure what’s next for them and teachers remain in the system beyond their years of peak effectiveness.”

How do you like teaching at the secondary level?

“This is my first experience teaching at this level, which is around middle and high school, and I really like it. I especially enjoy working with the students who have studied and put in the time to attain such a high level as to put on a play in English! From casting to rehearsals, stage crew, and props… all in English — it’s been a really cool experience.”

How has it been with what you called your “new family” of friends that you met through CIEE?

“It’s been an interesting eight months. I developed some friendships that have come and gone and some that will last forever. Those that have come and gone have done so for a reason. The friends that will last forever have proven themselves through life-challenging situations. There are times when you need someone not even two weeks from now, or maybe even in the middle of the night. It’s then when the depth of a true and lasting friendship is proven. The size of my new, extended family is definitely smaller. It’s become refined through some challenges, but I still cherish the large circle of people I met during our 4-week program! We will always remain bound by that amazing, unbelievably hot month in Madrid.”

spain madrid teaching abroad

How are you doing with “Spanish Time?”

“It’s funny, we were just discussing this in one of my classes. Some of my students are planning hypothetical trips to different parts of the world and I asked them if they had taken the potential differences of time into consideration. Dinner time is not going to be at 10:00 PM everywhere! That is something that I will never get as an American living here in Spain. I still eat dinner at 7:00 or 8:00 PM. I still can’t adjust!”

Leesa is continuing to work on new ideas with the Dreams Abroad team for the next school year and is very excited to see where the journey will take her. She plans to return home in July to see her family for the first time since the death of her beloved and inspirational grandmother and will continue exploring new ideas for traveling, teaching, and living abroad. Stay tuned for the next chapters of Dreams Abroad. Please join our Dreams Abroad Facebook group to share stories and photos.

by Cate Dapena

Learning Spanish and Making New Friends Abroad

“I stopped telling myself that I’m lost. I’m not. I’m on a road with no destination, I’m just driving with the hope that I’ll find a place that I like and I’ll stay there. I know I’m not lost, I’m on my way.” – Ahunnaya

My interview with Cate was similar to our first interview in that her answers were short and, of course, her humor came out in full swing again. However, this time it was especially different because she was more settled into her life in San Lorenzo de El Escorial. She has become acclimated in a short time. She continues to persevere by learning Spanish and also making new friends abroad.

Looking back at her first trimester goals, I asked some specific follow-up questions.

In reviewing our first interview, I noticed the theme of learning Spanish. I know it is a lifelong goal of hers. I asked, “How are you learning Spanish?” Cate replied, “I see a Spanish tutor once a week and I go to a Spanish Conversation Group for foreigners. My tutor recommends I read aloud in Spanish. So I do that for about an hour each day. I feel the process is excruciatingly slow.”

Sounding Stupid Learning a New Language

What stood out to me from Cate’s first interview was that she mentioned “sounding stupid” when trying to learn a new language. Personally, I know; I have been there, and anyone reading who has attempted to learn and speak a foreign language probably can relate to it as well. So I followed up to see if that feeling had subsided. Her response was very interesting, “ I feel ashamed to speak in Spanish because I was raised to speak grammatically correct in English. My brain is having a very hard time letting go of those constraints and just… speaking, regardless of the correctness.”

While living in Madrid, I have been interested to know how many teachers are learning Spanish through immersion. Cate’s town is further away from the tourist areas in the center of Madrid that have a tendency to have more English speaking areas. I asked, “Has learning Spanish helped with the immersion process in your town?” Cate replied, “It has helped a little with my Spanish but I spend a lot of time helping Spanish people with their English. Now, I am developing friendships in town, which is helping me learn Spanish while becoming immersed in the culture. It has been a slow process,” she said.

learning Spanish and making friends

Cate’s main goal is to have a basic, conversational level of Spanish without having to concentrate on each word. As Cate was saying this to me, I was thinking to myself, “this woman really is incredible.” She just had a conversation in Spanish with the server in the restaurant. I guess her perceptions of conversations and what others see as a conversation are altogether different. Cate is well on her way to achieving her life-long goal of learning Spanish.

What is a typical day at your school like?

“I arrive at 9:15, have a break with all of the other teachers from 12:00 to 12:30 and leave at 1:45. Typically I have one free period a day. I work together with the school’s bilingual coordinator who teaches Natural Science and Arts.”

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

“I work directly with only one teacher and spend the entire day with him. It’s a small school with only one class of students per grade (1st through 6th) and additionally, there is one other auxiliar.”

Communication in the school and outside of school:

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

“I have a decent working relationship with the one teacher with whom I spend my days. There is a cordial relationship with most of the other teachers but I see them only during the break.”

learning Spanish

Are you forming bonds with students?

“I like to think so! With some of them at least. I live and work in a very small town and all of the students live within a half-mile of me and the school. Every time I leave the house to go anywhere I run into at least some of them and am greeted very warmly.”

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

“I wouldn’t say that they foster them, no. What relationships do occur happen organically.”

What is your favorite part of the day?

“Leaving! Five hours in a primary school is draining.”

How is material being taught to students?

“For Natural Science the students have textbooks. For Arts classes, all grades usually color pages that the teacher provides. Occasionally they are asked to draw an original picture. With the first graders, there is a lot more interaction as we teach them “actions.” The school also uses videos for English vocabulary and the majority of the rest is teaching from the textbooks with the accompanying video displays (smart boards.)”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

“I prepare for class by taking several deep breaths (and sometimes a prayer.) My contribution is just reading from the book either text or questions so there is nothing to prepare.”

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

“I do work at a bilingual school. To me, it means that the students are being exposed to English on a daily basis and that for some, a spark will be ignited and they will want to continue studying it. For most of the students at my school, their primary language is Arabic, Spanish is their second language and so English is actually their third. I presume that to the Comunidad of Madrid, providing bilingual educations offers their students a chance to be more competitive in the global job market.”

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

“The students are graded by typical tests taken from their textbooks and their classroom behavior is weighted as well.”

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

“I have no idea. I assume that amongst the teachers and the director there is a shared set of goals.”

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

“I have learned that I am most definitely NOT meant to be a primary school teacher. I love playing with children and I love their innocence, curiosity and unspoiled playfulness. Something I do not love is trying to keep them in their chairs and paying attention. I have a whole new level of respect for teachers as a group. Outside of the classroom, I’ve learned that, apparently, frustration can’t kill me, because I have experienced levels of frustration that I never knew existed. I have learned that I don’t like to travel to new places alone as much as I thought I would and that there is no graceful way to face plant on cobblestone.”

Living abroad and teaching

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

“I am redoubling my efforts with my Spanish studies and there are several more places in Spain that I absolutely have to see before I leave!”

In Cate’s first interview, she mentioned her ideal job description as being in a fast-paced environment with the ability to leave the job at work. She said, “essentially, I’m a pretty ridiculous person, and I can’t be happy doing anything serious all day. It just doesn’t suit me.” The role of teaching seems like it would fit this job description pretty well.

Knowing What You Want and Learning Spanish

What don’t you like? Cate answered, “I never wanted to be a manager or disciplinarian at work. I want to play with the kids- not discipline them.” Hearing this answer from Cate made me realize how much she has evolved since our first meeting at orientation. Now, she had made the decision that not only is she ridiculous and ok with it but she likes to have fun with kids. Cate has come a long way! She’s checking off her list of “to dos” and goals day-by-day and is thriving in her environment.

I looked up at Cate and realized that I have watched her evolve from day one at CIEE orientation; I know our time in Spain is coming closer to an end as we are being asked to continue our contracts. Some will either decide to leave and some will decide to stay. Cate hasn’t determined that answer yet. Time will tell and things will certainly be very different the next time I speak with her. She will either be staying or heading back. Stay tuned to see what “the rock” will be doing. I am really looking forward to hearing where she will be traveling next in order to use those basic Spanish conversational skills and making new friends!

by Leesa Truesdell