Culture Seeker Enjoying European Culture

by Leesa Truesdell

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Sam, the European culture seeker:

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

Rowing in a boat in Spain

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

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

What are your goals while you are here in Spain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

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

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

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

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

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

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

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

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

What has been the best experience?

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

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

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

Final Thoughts on European Culture and Studies in Rome

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

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

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

Teaching and Learning Abroad in Spain

In the upcoming weeks, I am going to post a series of interviews titled Teach Abroad. Each week, I will introduce a new teacher and the area of Madrid where he or she will work. I will be asking each teacher a set of questions. I am starting the series with information about myself. Throughout the year, I will follow up with the teachers updating their information and experiences.

Here is My Story Teaching and Learning Abroad in Spain:

My name is Leesa Truesdell. I am from Coral Springs, Florida and recently graduated from Florida State University with a Masters in Education. I have always wanted to work assisting others to fulfill their dreams.

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

“My family is of Hispanic heritage. I have wanted to live abroad since my undergraduate studies. After getting my Masters, I realized that I wanted to come to Spain to learn more about the culture because my ancestors were from Mallorca. Generations ago, they traveled to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, which is where my grandparents were born.”

What are your goals while you are here?

“While living in Spain, I have several goals for myself. It is my intention to continue this work throughout my life. I have a professional toolkit and in my kit, I consider my tools my skills. I am always up for learning more and adopting new ideas about teaching from others. While in Spain, I would like to immerse myself in the Spanish culture to practice my Spanish conversation skills, understand more about where my family is from and, most importantly, continue to learn. I thrive on learning from others in all aspects of my life, both social and professional. The greatest skill I can work on is the art of listening; my number one priority, while I am living in Spain, is getting better at communication.”

Washington Monument selfie

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

“Yes, I recently taught English as Second Language (ESOL) at Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University with their Continuing Education Department. Before that, I taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Colombia while doing my summer internship. Before earning my Masters, I was a substitute teacher where I learned different teaching methods and classroom management. I chose to substitute over having my own classroom because I wanted to better understand how different classrooms in Florida public schools operated. I also wanted to better understand what skills each student was learning and at what age.”

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

“Since I’ve spent the past two years studying Curriculum and Instruction, it will be interesting to see how that applies in Spain, especially, when it comes to English as a foreign language. I did not know what to think when I went into public classrooms in Medellin, Colombia and after that experience, my mind is pretty much open. I learned so much from that experience; it made me better understand how to adapt to whatever situation might arise in a classroom.

I will be teaching in a suburb south of Madrid called Alcorcón. I am looking forward to teaching secondary or high school. This will be a new age for me to teach. I’ve taught adults over the age of 18 and elementary age levels. High school will be a fun challenge.”

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

“I chose to teach abroad because I want to learn more about immersion for second language learners (SLLs). In Spain, I am the second language learner who is learning Spanish. When I return to the United States, I will have a better understanding of what challenges ESOL students face before and during classes. As a teacher, one of my main goals is to understand the needs of each student. I believe having experienced being an SLL myself, I can be a better teacher. I chose Spain because I wanted to learn Spanish as a second language and because Spain has importance in my family lineage. This was the best place to start my journey on how to be the best teacher I can be.”

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

“While in Spain, I would like to learn how to communicate in Spanish effectively. Speaking and listening are my priorities while I am here. I can read and write pretty well and with practice, those two communication skills can be done from anywhere. I also would like to get a better understanding of myself while living in the Spanish culture. Self-awareness and improvement are always necessary throughout life because while I am learning- I am growing. Growth requires awareness then change, which in the end requires self-improvement.”

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

learning abroad sun rise silhouette travel

“Madrid is a great city. Every time I go out for a walk, I am always finding something new about the city that has it’s own unique charm. My favorite part of the city is Retiro Park—it never gets old. I can walk through the park twice a day and see a plethora of sites along the way: dogs, babies, street performers, people on roller blades, kids playing in the grass during a birthday party, a couple on a first date, or my favorite thing to see—the sunset from the statue at the boat pond—best view in the city.”

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

“Before I came, I thought I was going to have a hard time understanding what people were saying to me. My summer in Colombia definitely helped me with my language skills and getting over the initial language barrier. My first couple of days, I felt a bit rusty. After that, I felt like I could start asking for the things I needed. If I could not remember a word, I just pushed through it. In Colombia, which was my first experience living abroad, I had a harder time pushing past the barrier.”

What has been the most difficult experience since you arrived?

“The most difficult experience for me was the heat and not having air conditioning (AC) to sleep at night. I managed to get past it, and in Colombia I got used to it as well. However, Madrid feels hotter than Florida and Colombia combined. This past August was very hot. In Florida, it’s extremely humid and hot during the summer. However, we jump from AC building to AC car to AC building and so on. I managed to survive the heat and a few sleepless summer nights. It was totally worth it!”

What has been the best experience?

“The best experience so far has been meeting my friends and now, my extended family here in Madrid. We all arrived at the same time in August so it feels like we have morphed into what is now a family. It is hard to imagine that I have been here almost two months. Time is flying by.”

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

“The integration into Spanish culture has not been difficult for me. Adapting to other people’s schedules was the hardest part for me. Spanish time is exactly what it means in the States, “Spanish time.” In Spain, things are more laid back, in general. People typically arrive within a 15-30 minute window of the expected time of arrival. Also, normally I am a type A personality, especially with my calendar and planning. However, the old motto “adapt or die” has served me well. There is not much consistency. Therefore, you must go with the flow and adapt to not having control of things that are affecting your life such as appointments, etc. It will happen when it happens and just go with the flow. I have embraced this new concept of go with the flow and quite frankly, it has helped me live in the moment.

The people I meet and the experiences I encounter contribute to my writing of learning abroad. I feel very fortunate to be on this journey and look forward to sharing the experiences of my friends and colleagues in the upcoming weeks. On a personal note, I would like to take a minute to thank the interviewees who have taken the time to meet with me. Also, a special thanks to my editors and photographers. I have learned so much from speaking with each of you. Stay tuned for our second connection.”

“Go with the flow” – Leesa Truesdell

Please check out part two where I describe my experiences teaching abroad in the Community of Madrid, Spain. I discuss challenges and how I manage daily tasks in the classroom!