Switching Gears from Teacher to Student While Abroad

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

student abroad madrid spain
Early days in Madrid, August 2016

 

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

Where Does the Time Go?

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

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

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

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

Breaking Away From Speaking English

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

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

The Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena

After Spending Two Years Living Abroad in Madrid

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

by Emma Schultz

A New Me in Madrid

by Amanda Whitten

If I had buckled down and started this blog entry a few weeks ago, I could have written something for you guys that would have been a magical and dreamy limbo of sorts. However, I have already received my placement (among other important events) within the last two or three weeks. Therefore, there is less mystery with which to allude. All I can say is that there’s going to be a new me in Madrid!

A New Me teaching abroad

It would have been epically optimistic and beautiful, I assure you. I would have talked about the endless possibilities awaiting me this Autumn: would I be assigned to the awe-inspiring Canary Islands with their warm weather and majestic views? Would I continue at my current private, international school in Torrelodones, Madrid? A place where I felt respected, valued and appreciated as an independent teacher in my own right? Or, finally, would I be assigned to be a well-paid auxiliar somewhere in Madrid’s center or surrounding villages?

Possibilities, Possibilities

dance-spain-teach-abroad-travel

In different ways, each one of these possibilities would have afforded me with a variety of benefits. You already know from my other blogs how much praise I heap on the diverse islands that are the Canaries. If I had been placed there, I would have not have had to suffer another winter (which I hate, regardless of where I am). Inter-island travel would have been the coolest shit ever. You can get ahold of the 70% discount on flights between islands if you get empadronado (which is where you declare where you live to the authorities) on Gran Canaria and are an EU citizen (they sometimes overlook that last part). Rent would have been cheaper. Not to mention, of course, there would have been the ocean basically in my backyard.

A large part of me also wanted to stay at my cool, international colegio. It is a school unlike few others due to their methodology and creed. In comparison to my last school and others I’ve taught at, the level of student interest in language learning is exceptional. There is almost no apathy towards learning English. This is something I definitely cannot say for other places I’ve taught. I have deep relationships with my students there. I know all of them by name, as well as their interests, fears, hopes, dreams, and ambitions…

Cultural Differences and a New Resolve

About a week or so ago, though, I had the balls to tell them that I needed to be paid more if I was to continue working there. They get very little wrong in that school. Unfortunately, my wage wasn’t meeting my needs. I needed and need to make a reasonable living wage if I’m going to make it in Spain. And then, of course, almost immediately after, they said that they had been doubting whether I was a good enough fit to continue with the school in general.

Focus-on-what-matters-teach-abroad-spain

I got pretty worked up about that, as you might imagine. In the end, I came to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, this is just Spain. I certainly have never experienced this type of reaction towards me/my personality anywhere else. Perhaps, there is just something about me that rubs some Spaniards the wrong way. I had troubles at my last school, and with those au pairs from last year.

Maybe it truly doesn’t matter how hard I try. Perhaps, I will never please the teaching world here in Spain. It could be that I need an attitude adjustment. Maybe I need one that says: “Bitches, I’m here for tapas and to educate your kids. If you don’t like it, you can suck it! I ain’t goin’ nowhere!!!” I would certainly be less stressed out if I didn’t give a flying flip about what anyone thought about me. No positive recommendations? Not going to renew me? No problema, señorita. I’ll be off to my next adventure without a backwards glance. It’s time for a new me in Madrid!

New Place, New Me in Madrid

This brings me to my original point. I recently received an email congratulating me on my assignment to somewhere in Madrid. Cool, alright. I don’t know where yet, but I am looking forward to new faces and new friends but certainly not new problems.

spain-habla-espanol-dreams-abroad

For better or for worse, I am going to be the auxiliar that I want to be. I am not going to take any shit or abuse this year! If they’ve got a problem with that, they can hand me my resignation form right then and there. I’m educated (kindly overlook my use of the word “ain’t” and any double negatives), experienced, and, as long as this English teaching bubble lasts, in HAWT, HAWT demand. It’s out with the old, and in with the new me in Madrid!

Peace out and sayonara bebes!

Love always,

Squirrel

 

P.S. My anxiety makes it so I probably won’t have the guts to be as brave as my inner chihuahua/yappy-dog wants to me to be. Unfortunately, as my lame pun implies, I’m usually all bark and no bite. Or all hiss and no scratch. Whatever. A girl can dream, though. A girl can dream.

 

What I Know Now: Emma Schultz

What I Know Now

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

spain culture

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

Open Your Eyes; Learn from the World

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

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

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

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

On a recent trip to Stockholm, Sweden

Know What Keeps You Grounded

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

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

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

Challenges Help You Grow

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

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

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

 

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

by Emma Schultz

Spending Time in Kurdistan, Iraq

I had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time in Kurdistan, Iraq while I was in the military. Most Americans have a view of the Middle East (and Iraq in particular) as a hot, unending desert that is devoid of beauty. Images come to mind of a harsh sand-colored land plagued by dust storms. Like most things in life, there is so much more to this story. My experiences in Kurdistan brought this truth to light for me and I will share some of my recollections with you. Some pictures will highlight these facts.

Kurdistan, Iraq

Kurdistan

I had the opportunity to travel to Kurdistan in 2004. I had been in Mosul until that point. Someone asked me to go to Kurdistan to work with the Peshmerga. While working, I had the chance to travel to Irbil, Dohuk, Sulaymaniyah, and the surrounding countryside. Having not been in Iraq long, I really did not know what to expect. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I had spent a couple of years in the Middle East beforehand, so I had grown considerably in my ability to adapt, communicate and connect with others from the Middle East. I had never worked with or been around Kurds, so I knew I had some learning to do.

I initially arrived in Sulaymaniyah. Here, I was to meet with the Peshmerga I would be working with. As I’d already spent time in Central Iraq and Mosul, I felt shocked by how different it seemed and how different the people acted. The Kurds were extremely welcoming to me. Bear in mind, that the Kurds have suffered as a people for a long time and are still suffering as a culture.

Their hospitality, kindness, and respect that they displayed is something I will always remember. Their dignity as a people, especially in light of all that they have gone through, speaks to their resolution. They welcomed me, fed me, and quickly helped me settle in. They wanted me to see what Sulaymaniyah was, and I had the chance to go into town and see it with my own eyes. I felt like I stepped into another world compared to Central Iraq or Mosul. The Kurds had largely kept the conflict away and so the experience was akin to being in Aman or Beirut.

Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

After Sulaymaniyah, we made our way to Irbil for some additional meetings and training. During our journey to Irbil and Dohuk, I had the chance to see the countryside of Kurdistan. I felt like I was in Switzerland at times: there were rolling hills covered in grain, grazing sheep, mountains, and beautiful lakes. To say that I did not expect this is an understatement. I felt like I was a million miles from the war. I had the chance to let my guard down and relax because the next turn or next day did not feel dangerous. This was such a luxury at the time for me. Having the chance to live side-by-side with the Peshmerga and hear their stories gave me the chance to hear their perspectives on Kurdistan and Iraq.

Irbil, Iraq

These conversations were certainly eye-opening for me and taught me so much. We, as Americans, like to simplify things so we can understand them quickly.  In the case of the Kurds, Kurdistan, and the Middle East in general, this has not served us well. Unfortunately, this was true 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and is still true today. We, as Americans, need to understand that it is wrong to lump people together based on national borders, as the truth about people is very different. Rather than national borders, it comes down to a sense of place and identity.

Canyon in North East Kurdistan, Iraq

Canyon-north-eastern-Kurdistan

Teach English in Spain

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

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

teach english in spain

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

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

What are your goals while you are here?

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

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

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

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

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

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

Ellen at her favorite Madrid cafe.

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

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

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

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

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

What has been the best experience?

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

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

To Teach English in Spain is an Accomplishment!

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

by Emma Schultz

Travel Tales: Black Dog Cafe

Black Dog Cafe

I loved Tallahassee, even with that inescapable, awful, and sticky heat. It’s been a year and a half since I left. When I close my eyes and think about my stay, I smile. I learned a lot about myself back there. As I’ve said before, I like to make friends. But what I haven’t said is that when you’re in a different country, you’re constantly imagining living there for good.

Being here, I wanted to behave just like a Tallahassian. They have a beautiful city with ups and downs, just like any other city. There are beautiful landscapes, parks, lakes, and equally some scary neighborhoods where the stores close by 8pm. It is like anywhere else on Earth that’s not home. So, you’re a complete stranger. And when you’re strange, no one remembers your name (said a certain lizard king). I wanted some people to know my name.   

An Offbeat Discovery

It was a Thursday or maybe Friday. I remember because I was in the mood for some noise and a beer. That made me want to explore a little bit – just enough to find a cool place to hang. I am not a fan of crowds. A club is not a place I would be by myself, ever. I’m a bohemian kind of guy. This means I like to walk around while singing to myself. Well, correction, I love singing to myself. And that’s exactly what I was doing that day.

My steps took me down towards Gaines Street. A family played in a fountain; they looked happy. I’m a shy person, so I look a lot at the floor which does have its perks – sometimes I find interesting things just lying there. As I peered down on this occasion, I saw a little green snake in the grass. Naturally, I’m scared of the dangerous ones, but equally I think they’re beautiful too. So, I went after the little snake, conscious of his lack of venom due to his species. I followed him through grass that was large enough to hide it but short enough to walk in without any trouble. But soon, I lost him when the grass receded, and the asphalt reappeared. I looked up, and there it was: a little wooden house, painted in blue with purple details.

The Best Things Are Hardest to Find

It was just lying there so fresh, so unaware of the heat; so joyful with that insolent blue and purple in a sea of neutral colors. With a beautiful porch and a little garden with some tables, a big sign gave this small treasure a name: “Black Dog.”  

“That’s a Led Zeppelin reference,” I thought to myself, while my feet forced their way into the house. It was magical, exactly the kind of place where I would like to hang out with my friends or girlfriend. It was a café that offered a bite to eat, a beer, an iced tea or a glass of wine. It had live music, which was great for a bohemian night out. It had amazing soda-pop (avocado pop is heavenly), board games, nice and tasteful decoration, and that great music. They put so much effort into bringing culture to people through their literary nights, concert nights, and open mic nights. It was amazing! 

New Friends and New Experiences

I made some new friends there. My close pal César and I hung out there on my birthday, where we met Justin, a great guy who we talked to about philosophy, poetry, people, and music, and shared a few stories about girlfriends. I hope he’s doing great now, wherever he is!   

At the Black Dog Cafe, I met a group of Tally writers too – a warm collective that supported each other on their journey to being published. I met El Habib Louai, a fantastic poet who reminded me a lot of the Beat Generation. There were awesome strangers, companions in wine who gave me useful advice on life and writing. It’s where I met Jack Levine, another great guy whom I remember with joy. He was so nice to me, and I hope he’s doing well too.  

You’ll find your own Black Dog Cafe on your travels: a place that creates a bond with the city or town you’re visiting.  A locale that creates possibilities, anecdotes, friendships, laughs, and teachings. In Tally, that’s the Black Dog Cafe, in the Industrial District of Railroad Square, between FAMU Way and Gaines Street. And if Justin, Emile or Brittany are in there, taking care of business… tell them Carlos said hi.

by Carlos Balbuena

Who Says You Can’t Go Home

by Stephanie Best

“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

Before moving to Spain to teach abroad, I refered to Orlando, Florida and Nashville, Tennessee as home. I had lived many years in both of these cities. I felt a deep level of familiarity and connectedness to these places. Living abroad changed me, and I didn’t realize how much it had until I returned to the United States. I could not merely go back to the person I was before and live the same life that I had lived before. I had changed, but the world that I left behind felt largely the same. We often talk about culture shock in addressing adjusting to a foreign country. However, reverse culture shock of former expatriates reintegrating into their home country after being abroad for an extended period of time is just as daunting of an experience.

Moving Back Home to the United States

When I first moved back to the United States, there were many things that I missed about Spain; the beautiful people, the tranquil culture, efficient public transportation, easy access to travel, international curriculum, late nights spent sipping sangria on a terrace, and beautiful churches just to name a few. However, missing Spain was not the most challenging aspect of reintegrating into the United States. The most challenges aspect was actually viewing the U.S through a new lens; a lens that seemed to be only visible to me.

A Different Way of Life

It is all too easy to take norms from one’s own culture for granted as “just the way things are.” That is until you acculturate to a different way of life. You then come home with more questions.

When I lived in Spain, there were things that I missed about the United States. Now that I am back in the United States, there are things that I miss about Spain. There are definitely some mindsets that I have adapted from living in Spain. For instance, it is often said in Spain that “Americans live to work and Spaniards work to live.” I personally can have a tendency to overcommit and stretch myself far too thin. This often leads to burnout. While having a strong work ethic is certainly a positive personal quality, I have come to see value in finding balance. There is a certain beauty in being able to sip sangria on a terrace with good friends and conversations for hours. To be truly present to those that you encounter means to not constantly be thinking of everything on your agenda.

Miami and the Unofficial Language

Upon moving back to the states, I ended up moving to Miami. Miami can best be described as a cross between Spanish and U.S culture. In many ways, this is what I enjoy most about living in Miami and has made reassimilation a bit easier. Spanglish is the unofficial language, Cubans actually do cafecito better, dancing is commonplace, and the concept of time is still circular. I am growing to appreciate the privilege of having all of the benefits and conveniences of living in my country of citizenship, while still living in a multicultural city that carries a strong international vibe.

Although reassimilation for former expatriates can present challenges of feeling like a foreigner in one’s own home country, I am grateful for the experiences that have broadened my worldview, taught me to question my assumptions, and have afforded me the empathy and understanding to serve international and immigrant students more effectively. Personal growth only happens outside of one’s comfort zone. Vale la pena.

 

 

Coffee con Leche: You Can’t Teach

Bebe Bakhtiar

YOU CAN’T TEACH

Yes, you read that correctly. You. You, who has never studied the art of teaching (which is an art). You, who has never stood in front of 20+ people eager for you to teach a new topic. You, who has never had to adjust lessons to benefit different learning styles, think of activities to keep students engaged, nor deal with administrative politics. I swear to you; you can’t teach.

The Problem:

Through my five and half years of working within classrooms in the States and in Spain, I’ve noticed a concerning pattern. People outside of education think teaching is easy.

“Well, if a kid doesn’t pay attention, can’t you just make it fun? Like, do a game or something.

For the sake of discussion, I am going to call people like this, “Bob.”

How do you not internalize that teaching requires real skills, theories, and practices (or pedagogy, as some of you know)? Listen, Bob, any baboon can get up in front of kids and have “fun.” Here is a little secret for you: they have to learn.

Teach Bebe

 

What Bob does not understand:

 Let’s imagine we are all teachers and we have a simple task in front of us: make a seating chart.

  • Jane needs to sit up front because she cannot see and her family cannot afford glasses.
  • Joe cannot focus unless he is close to the teacher.
  • Alejandra does not like sitting near the windows because she is always cold.
  • Mateo tends to fall asleep unless near the board.
  • Amir talks to any student within 10 feet of him.
  • Tonya and Raquel are best friends and do not pay attention when together.
  • James and Ryan both have special needs and require to be close to the teacher’s desk for extra support.
  • …did you really stop reading these? Because that’s only 9 students, and the typical classroom has anywhere between 20-30

But wait a minute there, Bobby! That’s only your seating. Do not forget you have to make your lessons accommodate your kids! Some are auditory learners, visual learners, kinesthetic learners, and some may even need direct, personal attention every 10 minutes of class!

 

And when you have finished your lessons, make sure you create those activities, worksheets, tests, and quizzes. But no, no, no, no, Bob-O. They cannot all be the same! Remember! Different styles of learning means you need to modify all of the above (meaning, varied versions for different kids).

Oh, me! Oh, my! I cannot believe I almost forgot to wish you Happy Grading on top of all of that, dearest Bob!

What you don’t see, Bobby:

Teach abroad: student drawingsDespite your false perspective on how easy the job is, you have missed the most important aspect of it all. Teaching is worth it.

Bobert, is your desk covered with drawings, letters, and thank you cards from the lives you have changed? Have you ever seen the smile a student gives you when you reward them with a sticker or “A+” for working on an assignment?

There is such a beauty to teaching. Form the moment a student crosses the doorway into your classroom, you have the opportunity to transport a student. A doorway that takes them to another world where knowledge is power and the only problem is whether they raised their hand quickly enough to answer a question. This is what you give when teaching. It is an opportunity to be somewhere else and love something else. Teaching saves lives as much as it changes lives.


My message to you:

Teach Abroad: BebeTo all you non-teachers and Bobs out there,

Learn to respect the art of teaching. Teachers work tirelessly for their students. Most days, it isn’t even about teaching. Sometimes, it is about building relationships and caring for your students and their success. It isn’t a job for everyone, by any means. We work in the school, out of school, during vacations, and even fall asleep thinking about activities and lessons. All to be paid maybe half of what we deserve. The job is not for everyone, but for some of us, it is our true calling.

So, please, get rid of that “if you can’t do, you teach” phrase. Because there’s one thing you should never forget: “if you can read, it’s because you were taught.

by Bebe Bakhtiar

Surviving the Storm: Part Two

From uncertain to a certain future plus fond memories

In part 1,  I spoke about memories that I was able to focus on during turbulent times. I hope you fall in love with them as I have.  There is one memory that stands out among the rest.

But first, let me tell you about something.  One time when I was kayaking on a river in my beloved Oklahoma, after rowing about 12 miles, having been burnt to a crisp, surviving off of gatorade and protein bars, I began to hear what sounded like old gospel hymns far away.  Being on the river, water clear and cold as ice, surrounded by mountainous hills, wildlife and forest, is already a near spiritual experience for me.  I feel closer to the creator more there than anywhere.

So I laid my paddle down, horizontally across the kayak, and listened intently.  The nearer the flow of the river carried me to the music, the more intently I listened and the more the sound grew. I distinctly remember feeling like I was being serenaded on something like the river styx on my way to heaven, instead of, you know, Hades, underworld of Greek mythology for those that do not recognize the reference.

About a year later, I had a similar sensation close to the coast of Africa, somewhere out in the Atlantic ocean on an island called Tenerife. It was so freaking cold in Madrid, but there on the island, it was summer.

I was playing in the ocean by myself.  The wind was in my hair and the ocean smelled of salt.  It was all the typical cool stuff that happens when one is in a warm, oceanic place.  The difference is in the details.  Ancient black sand punctuated now and again by little pieces of green glass, little reminders of past volcanic activity, past danger and current respite.  An excitement in the air for the coming New Year and Three Kings festivities.  Surrounded by warmth, breeze, surf and wave looking up and seeing in the distance the island’s only mountain, capped white in snow.  A pause in time, the contrast of standing in the midst of summer while observing ruthless beautiful winter, close enough almost to touch.

Reminiscing about Tenerife and dreaming of the day when I could go back, got me through some hard times and it was hard for me to imagine a place that could top it.  While that is still true, I had the chance to experience Mallorca, a place of tourism (I am a self hating tourist, I admit) but also of raw, unadulterated beauty.  Words can’t even so I’ll just leave this here with this photo…

While in this place, I often felt a sharp pain in my heart accompanied by a foreboding of deep and intense regret in having to leave a new-found paradise.  I specifically recall that I was treading water and felt overcome by one such moment of torture.  It was too much.  Why hadn’t I arranged for myself to live in a place like this?  Why did I have to go back to the mainland when I so obviously lived and breathed for moments like this?  I tried to absorb it all at once again and failed.  And then it hit me.  I’m not one for meditation, but in that instance, still treading, surrounded by rocky cliffs, looking out into the horizon at the boats and the deeper blue/green that evolves from a transparent mixture of hues from H2O and the brilliant white sand, I decided that I was not me.  I was all of what I just mentioned and more.  The fishes below, the coral plants that I lack the words to describe, the air above.  All of it.  Breathe and repeat. Breathe and repeat.  Finally, when two recently acquainted companions called to me see if I was ready to go back, surprisingly I was.  Lucky for me that I was so overcome with peace and tranquility because we ended up getting lost and walking over an hour to a bus stop.

It has been merely coincidence that all of these instances have involved water.  Perhaps it is getting a bit redundant.  We don’t want to shoot an already dead horse, as it were.  Here are a few glimpses into what makes an overly fidgety, always on the move Amanda pause is like:

Standing among the mists of time and history, Rome, Italy:

The Coliseum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standing in places that seemed to exist only on television (i.e Vatican City):

At the Vatican…

 

The moment when you do something incredible and it brings back a childhood memory of when you first learned about that special something.  In my case this was the Tower of Pizza (a kid’s dream am I right) and not only that, but having been able to see this thing in a different light, perhaps at night.  (I know it is the Tower of Pisa. God.  Give me the benefit of the doubt, already )  The actual town of Pisa was pretty cool, too.  Don’t listen to the haters. It’s just that the rest of Italy is so epicly amazing, that other parts that are only mildly epic in contrast, appear lame to some weirdos.

 

And that is all for this time. Things are so much better for me right now as I have found a fulfilling amazing job and become a bit more relaxed and conformed to my environment. I shall always remain grateful for the opportunities to experience light in the coolest of places during what I felt were dark days with an uncertain future. Even when I eventually go back to the states, I will always have the Canary Islands and Tenerife to dream about, Mallorca’s crystal clear waters to reminisce about, and Italy to help me remember that I can do anything because I have already done the extraordinary.  I hope you like the pics and if you have any requests for me to talk about or questions to ask, just leave them in the comments. I can recommend places to go and places NOT to go!

Love forever,

Amanda (Squirrel)

Recommended travel links:

Moving around The Canary Islands Guide

 

 

 

Coffee con Leche: The Big Question

Bebe BakhtiarJust FYI

Moving is a challenge, y’all. No es fácil. The simplest tasks become a problem. Imagine going to a store to buy a “hanger,” but you don’t know the word in the language. Guys. I was always the worst at charades. I wanted a percha and the lady went to the back and brought back curtains. Attempt number 2: She brought back clothespins. Attempt number 3: She brought back a drying rack to hang clothes. In the end, we both learned an important lesson: always refer to Google translator before you leave the house.

Coffee con Leche: The Question

With these daily challenges describing my day-to-day life, the question I get all the time without fail:

So, like, are you fluent now or what?”

*Sighs loudly*

I’ve been here for two years and a few months. I can comunicarme and expresarme easily; however, there’s still a large thinking process that happens when I have a conversation. Here’s a flow chart to help you understand #TheStruggle:

Listen > Comprehend > Analyze > Formulate Response > Respond

My child, in all that time you could’ve baked a dozen cupcakes and served it up with some coffee con leche. Sheesh. The process is slower than slow!

LISTEN, LINDA, LISTENNNN

coffee con leche

Why exactly does this question bother me so much?

  1. Expectations vs. Reality – You expect your expat friends to master an entire language in a short time, but in reality… I still forget the word for “hammer.” (Yes, I just Google translated it to remember, dang it.)
  2. I practice with my local friends, have immersed myself completely, and continue to push myself daily… but complete fluency takes a very long time, and it’s frustrating. Hearing this question heightens my self-awareness that I’m just not there yet. Your intentions may be well, but now I’m self-critiquing my level of proficiency to try and answer your question.
  3. Based on how you ask, the question can seem a bit impatient and judgmental. If I answer no, I feel the need to justify why I’m not quite there yet because I feel judged for saying no. If I answer yes, well, my friends are the type who will immediately try to quiz me with something ridiculous. “Alright if you’re fluent, how do you say ‘the zombie jumped into the bird’s nest to steal some grapefruit custard?’” Yes. Those are my type of friends.

As you can see, the question is a lot deeper than you may think. Of course, I understand some people may ask this question out of simple curiosity, but imagine being asked this by the majority of your friends back at home. It can cause quite a bit of anxiety after a while.

coffee con leche

Sí Se Puede

Regardless of all my silly Spanish aventuras, I still remain optimistic. Heck, I’ll forever know the word percha without any problem. Just like the song, des-pa-cito, I’m internalizing that the journey doesn’t happen overnight. Every time I’m asked this question, it motivates me to push myself harder. One day, I will absolutely be able to answer it with a solid, “.”

When is that fluency going to happen for me? Who knows. But, the day my wildly hilarious humor translates properly into another language, I will then consider myself fully fluent. Until then, I’ll keep trying, even if no one will even throw me a fake laugh at my jokes in Spanish…

by Bebe Bakhtiar