Jack Whitten: Whittens Have a Little Bit of Outlaw in ‘Em

My name is Amanda Whitten. I’m from a small-to-medium town found in northeastern Oklahoma in the USA. I currently live in Madrid, Spain. I don’t meet many people from Oklahoma, or even from the midwest, around here, and I couldn’t tell you why that is. Maybe it’s resources that many Oklahomans lack, or maybe it’s a matter of mindset, but I don’t think that many of us feel like we will ever get to leave unless it’s via the military. Some of us don’t even have the desire to ever do so. Sometimes, I wish I felt that way. Being far from family and friends is not easy, and the part of Oklahoma that my family and I call home is gorgeous. 

I think what allows me to be an exception is that I have a little thing called a Travel Bug (having an emotionally supportive family and a safety net helps, too, of course). It’s a condition that I believe I caught from my paternal grandfather. His name was Jack Whitten. My papa was an exceptional man. I recognize that I say this looking through the lens of familial love and adoration. I really think it’s the truth, though. 

Jack Whitten Origins

Jack whitten and hit wifeWhen he was young, before he met my grandmother, he had an experience that left an impression on him. He upped and left with his family to Oregon to become a logger for the summer. His family left early to go back to Oklahoma, but he stayed on the condition that he would come back when school started. When his dad, my Grandpapa, wrote him a letter telling him come home and finish school, he totally ignored it. Being a young teen, he became accustomed to making money and having freedom. It took a second letter that probably included some strong language and a few threats to get him to return home. He might have hitchhiked all the way back. I’m not sure. The specifics may be fuzzy, but his stories live on inside of me.

Humble Beginnings

His dream was that when he retired, he and my grandmother would take their camper and travel through Canada and Alaska, stopping to fish here and there. It didn’t happen for various reasons. He wanted to go out in style. He wanted to die fighting a grizzly bear. My grandfather died in a nursing home. 

He called me “kid” and “squirt”. He had a very specific dry sense of humor that coincided with mine very well. It was strange, though. I rarely understand other people’s dry senses of humor, but I got his perfectly. He was the wisest person I’ve ever known. He pulled himself and my grandmother out of terrible poverty, and together, they made a comfortable life for themselves. Papa told me that in one of the first places he and Mama lived, the lack of heating and insulation was so terrible that during the winter, a diaper actually froze to the floor.  He was smart financially and had a knack for making the right investments at the right time. 

Jack Whitten

Who He Was

Jack Whitten was honest. When I asked difficult questions, he didn’t shy away from the truth. I asked him about segregation. He told me that at the time he thought it was the natural order of things and that he didn’t want change. I asked him what he had thought about Martin Luther King. He told me that at the time he had thought he was making trouble. My Papa wasn’t a perfect man. In fact, sometimes, he could be downright difficult. He couldn’t be swayed, let alone manipulated. He was a man’s man which came with most of the wonderful pros and cons thereof.

Despite all that, during a time when the majority of people, specifically older people, conservatives and even a lot of progressives, were actively against gay rights, he wasn’t. When I asked him what he thought about gay rights, he said that he didn’t care what people did and that it was their business. I can’t say that he was an ally, but he wasn’t an enemy. Not like the others. He had no poison or vitriol. He was open-minded about the universe and the possibilities concerning religion. I asked him once if he thought that it was possible that humans could have “extra” abilities like clairvoyance. He told me about the time that he had shot his bow and lost an arrow. He had no idea where it went so he closed his eyes and just followed his instinct, and walked right up to his lost arrow.

His Quest for Gathering and Sharing Knowledge

great depressionWhen I had questions, he had advice. He knew the real history and was always wanting to learn. He told me what the Great Depression was like since his dad lived through it. Papa grew up during its after-effects. I remember a story he told about a young boy who stole a handful of flour. I asked if he the child got into trouble for it and thankfully he hadn’t because everyone knew his family was starving. 

When the internet became available, most older folks shied away from computer technology. Papa dived in. He learned all he could. He saw it for what it was: a miracle and a gold mine. Later, when he got Netflix at home and saw all the available documentaries, I’m told that his eyes lit up. I didn’t feel surprised in the least. 

A Vacation

In the summer before my 10th grade, he and Mama took my cousin and me with them on vacation for two weeks. We went to Maine and a few surrounding states. That trip gave me a big taste of travel. I was surprised to see that the countryside in Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee, and the Virginias was so beautiful. 

The first thing that I remember when I stepped out of the camper in Maine was the smell of pine trees. We got to see Niagara Falls and ride in the Maiden of the Mist boat. We stopped on the way and spent the night in a park in Salisbury, Massachusetts. I made a point of remembering the name because I liked the place so much. The sound of the wind and the smell of the sea at night made an impact on young-me for sure. 

Shaping Who I Became

My grandmother and I got up at 5:00 AM many times to look for seashells when the tide went out at a few of the beaches we visited. One time, my Mama, my cousin and I tried to catch the little crabs, but they kept pinching us so we tossed them back and forth between us, trying to catch them in the folds of our clothes. I feel a little bad for them now, but I also remember our peals of laughter and shrieks of joy. 

Jack Whitten and family

There was no real plan. Papa just drove and where we ended up is where we ended up. It was one of the best times of my life. During this trip, I feel Papa made a definitive impact on my personality. When Mama asked me to cut a cantaloupe, I must have been feeling a little lazy, selfish, or even afraid of using a large knife. I told them that I’d do it when I was twenty. I don’t know what kind of logic that was. Papa said, “If you won’t do it now, you won’t do it when you’re twenty.” I felt unbelievably embarrassed and, of course, I cut it up for everyone. He didn’t slap me or get angry. He just used his logic and words to make an impact. 

Dealing With the Loss of Jack Whitten

Papa died about three months after I arrived in Spain. After that, I imagined him with me in spirit. I wondered if he would get to experience my travels through me. I think he would have made the perfect traveling companion. There is a part of me, perhaps a selfish, egocentric part, that believes that he died because I left. I don’t mean that my leaving had an overwhelmingly negative effect on him. Quite the opposite. 

I told him something that we aren’t supposed to tell people. I told him that I wasn’t ready for him to die — that I needed him in my life. This was when his cancer was starting to get a little more serious. There’s this part of me that believes that he let go because he knew that I was finally going to accomplish my dreams and carry on for him in a way. It’s more likely that the timing was a coincidence. He was a survivor until the end, and he fought tooth and nail for every scrap of life that he had. There were times at my lowest that I wished that I could have gifted him the remaining years of my life. He wanted to live so badly.

Jack Whitten Lives On

a big fish

His love of travel and adventure lives on through me and many others in the family. Also inside of me is a quality that I’m not quite sure how to name. I have, in my opinion, the ability to see any avenue, no matter how minuscule, that may lead to any given goal of mine. I have the urge and wherewithal to follow it, full steam ahead (with the exception of giving up chocolate and cheese. Luckily, I got that from him, too. Thanks, Papa! Haha!). And one time, he told me that what he liked about me was my curiosity and my desire to learn about history, for example. I definitely think that we shared that trait. 

Jack Whitten left his intelligence and knack for survival instincts to my uncle. My sister joined the Navy when she was seventeen. I think he gave her boldness and inner strength that I may never quite possess. He left his talent for good advice and honesty in my father. I see him everywhere I go. When I see tobacco pipes in the Madrid shops, I remember the smell and I feel a twinge of regret for not having bought him one when I had the chance.

When the sun rises and I feel the cool morning air, I think of when I was a little girl. After staying the night at my grandparents’ house, I would get up to sit in his lap and we would watch the sunrise together. When someone tells a dry joke that I don’t get, I can’t help but think that he was funnier and would have delivered it better. When I’m traveling to a new place, I know that even though it may not have been his preferred destination, I still think he would approve. Jack Whitten wasn’t a perfect person, but he was a perfect grandfather.

by Amanda Whitten

Using Only the Target Language in a Foreign Language Classroom

by Caroline Hazelton

caroline hazelton teaching ESOLHow did a Southern, non-Hispanic begin her bilingual journey in an English-only rural town? 

Solo español,” replied my Spanish 2 teacher who spoke to us in almost no English right from the beginning.

How have I taught nearly every grade level of Spanish/ESL ever since for seven years?

Only in the language that I am teaching… with some exceptions. I’m here to challenge you both with experience and science for using the target language (the language you are teaching) as much as possible in your classroom. And believe me, you can use it a lot more than you think you can.

Why only the target language?

Learning to listen and speak a language occurs the same way babies learn to talk. They listen to in the language constantly, with images and context to teach them meaning. Then, after hours upon hours of exposure, the babies are ready to speak. As their brain develops, they are able to form more complex phrases, sentences, and ideas as they age. Our second languages are learned in the same way. Our brains absorb grammar through repetition. they absorb meaning through context created by situations and visuals. Finally, they absorb pronunciation through constant exposure and confidence via experience. Because we “acquire” language (that is, to soak it up through the ability to speak and listen, then in our ability to write and read in it), we cannot teach language in the same way that we teach other subjects. We must mimic a caregiver teaching a child to speak.

Enter the language classroom. In the case where the teacher and students both speak the students’ first language, many teachers do not speak in the target language. They do this to get through the lesson faster, to avoid frustrated students, or to build rapport with students. Other times, they simply do not know how to teach in the target language. As a result, you see students who have textbook knowledge of the target language but who are unable to communicate in it.

Remember Phonics?

abc PhonicsWithout appropriate communication in the target language, students haven’t developed an ear for how the language sounds; they haven’t learned enough vocabulary in natural context nor have they developed the confidence to speak the target language. Additionally, students don’t have the opportunity to form an identity in the new language they are trying to learn if they aren’t being exposed to it or being forced to use it — they rely only on their original, or L1, language/identity. Finally, if they don’t see how they are able to communicate in the target language they lose motivation. They feel as if they aren’t learning it. However, a student who is forced to speak the language feels that they are actually learning.

I speak from experience. It started in my high school Spanish 2 classroom where my teacher uttered not a word in English for two hours a day, five days a week. The instructor spoke in an incredibly simple way. He would not answer anyone in English, and only in Spanish. He spoke with gestures, dramatic emotions, and cognates. 

Speaking From Experience

By the end of the semester, I (Caroline) had not only studied Spanish, but could actually speak basic Spanish. I learned more in that semester of high school Spanish alone than I did in any other community college course I took. In those courses, the instructor used a mix of Spanish and English. They missed opportunities to give their students the true ability to communicate in our second language. After moving from my small town to attend a state university to study Spanish and second language acquisition (SLA), I saw more examples both as a Spanish and SLA student of why teachers should use ONLY the target language.

I speak as a teacher. When I speak in the target language at first, I see students of all ages initially very frustrated. I ALWAYS have students who are hesitant to learn the language and resist. However, I insist upon only using the language I am teaching. I have seen their progress. I have seen students score higher on proficiency tests than their level indicated that they would. Ultimately, I have seen my resistors eventually change their ways. 

Success in the Classroom

Every semester, I have ESL (English as a Second Language) students who request to join my class because I insist on using only English. As a university instructor, students have changed or added majors and minors in the language I taught. My students have returned to me bragging about how they asked their counselors to speak to them in their target language. Some of my ESL students took jobs in English. I have taught China’s brightest professionals that they STILL have more to learn because they could only communicate in English and realized that they couldn’t as they wished. Finally, I have had a student upon student thank me at the end of every semester. 

So, How Do You Teach? 

Be your normal teacher self… in the target language. Notably, you are not going to speak like you would speak to native speakers. Aim for a much slower, simpler pace with tons of visual clues to help convey your message.

You first have to speak in the simplest way possible. For example, “We’re all set, so could you please hand in your papers?” becomes “pass the papers.” In the beginning classes, use gestures, gestures, gestures. In intermediate classes, say, “Please pass the papers — we are finished! Thanks!” I suggest sticking to a handful of common requests or words that are most repeated in the target language or in a classroom setting. 

Change Your Expectations

You’ll also have to change your expectations according to the natural stages of language development and to what level of communication each level can reasonably do in the language they are learning. You should try to have low/beginning students listen as much as possible. They should respond non-verbally until they have the confidence and the feel for the sounds of the language to speak. Even then, it will be very similar to a child learning how to speak — first with one-word phrases, then two, etc. From knowledge I’ve gathered from my graduate studies, the development of language is the same for everyone in terms of language stages and whether it’s a first or second language.

Once your students get past the low/beginning stage and into intermediate or high/beginning, they can start to communicate basic needs. The goal now is to increase their confidence in the language. Have students speak in small groups and with yourself as the teacher as much as possible. You should require that all communications with you and their classmates be in the target language with some exceptions so students can make the most of every opportunity. 

Because all teaching is about creating meaning, you need to try to provide as much context for language as possible… visuals, gestures, and culturally authentic material. Creating meaning is important because you want to be teaching at a level slightly higher than the students’ current level. This way they are challenged and can advance forward in an attainable way. 

first language puzzle

So, When Is the First Language Okay?

You never want students to lose their identity. Therefore, I have found that when students (particularly in ESL courses) are speaking about their native countries, idioms, or cultures, the use of their mother tongue is powerful. Plus, some words don’t quite translate the same.

You also have to recognize that speaking a second language requires more brainpower from students. If you want them to do some higher-order thinking that they don’t have the language skills for just yet, you might allow them to use their first language to think through the task, then use the second language once they have the activity mastered. 

Criticisms of Only Teaching in the Target Language

One criticism that gets mentioned of teaching only in the target language is that you don’t want students to miss out on important information — and I agree. For beginning students, you don’t want them to miss out on key information, so I think it’s okay to FIRST say the information in the target language. If, after multiple attempts to clarify their understanding they still don’t understand the concept, it is okay to use their first language. However, just explaining the concept in the first language immediately takes away the opportunity for growth.

I have also seen the usefulness of translation, despite what current language teaching methods (the communicative method) say. When I’m teaching grammar, second-language students often literally translate the grammatical rules of their first language into their second. It can be helpful to compare the differences. I also run into the issue when teaching vocabulary that while it’s better to reply with a synonym or image to stay in the target language, sometimes there is no image or similar word that students know, so a translation can be handy. 

Knowing these situations, my rule with my low/intermediate students is “Only English… except during grammar activities, cultural celebrations, group projects, or if you ask special permission.” 

A Conclusion About Using Only the Target Language in a Foreign Language Classroom

By purposely speaking only in the target language to students, we make language an acquired ability instead of a memorized subject. With careful exceptions, we can also respond to our students in a sensitive way. 

 

The Opportunity to Teach and Travel

by Ellen Hietsch

alex warhall hiking

For a second year in a row, Alex Warhall and I have found ourselves stateside as summer saunters into Madrid. While I’m admittedly glad to be away from the stifling heat, I miss the tranquility that sneaks into Madrid’s normally stuffed streets at the height of summer as most of the city flees to summits and seasides. “Eh, everyone leaves in the summer, you’re not missing much,” friends told me as I complained about being dragged back to the US by bureaucracy yet again. But Madrid in August will always be wondrous to me. It hearkens back to my arrival at the dawn of the month nearly two years ago. Read all about his second interview and teaching at a bilingual school in Madrid, Spain here.

I met Alex on our first day in the city. He appears in all of my most important memories of that magical August. A time when the nightly festivities and languid afternoons spooked away any anxieties we’d had. While aspects of our teaching experiences have diverged, our mindsets about living in Madrid have run parallel from year to year as we’ve grown more attached to the city. What Alex initially considered to be a year-long break from his career stateside has morphed into preparations to teach in Madrid for a third year. Alex has paused from his busy summer job mentoring international high school students in Boston to explain what led to this decision.

What was the most important thing you learned while living abroad?

“The most important thing I’ve learned while living abroad is to enjoy as many moments as I can — good moments and more notably bad ones, too. Living abroad comes with highs and lows. On the one hand, I’ve had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe and beyond. I’ve met new people and built lifelong friendships. On the other hand, I’ve dealt with the stress of apartment hunting while speaking a foreign language. I’ve experienced those awkward lonely moments while solo traveling. I’ve also struggled with being far away from my family and friends back home.

Amid these highs and lows, I’ve seen real growth in myself. When I say that I enjoy the low moments, I don’t mean that I love being stressed out, awkward, or sad. Instead, I mean that I’ve learned to appreciate the moments when I step outside my comfort zone. I know that means I’m becoming the person I set out to be when I moved abroad.”

How have you done with accomplishing your goals while living in Madrid?

“I feel that I have done quite well in accomplishing my goals while living abroad. Living abroad itself has been a goal of mine for as long as I can remember. So that goal is checked off. Learning a foreign language has been another goal of mine. I’m certainly not fluent in Spanish yet. Nonetheless, I have made major progress for someone who has studied for only two years.

Another goal of mine has been to grow more comfortable with performing in public. This year, I proudly played my ukulele and sang at an open mic night with one of my best friends. I’m excited to continue playing at these events this upcoming school year. Lastly, at the age of 23, I told myself that I’d run a marathon by the time I was 25. This year, at the age of 26, I successfully completed my first marathon while in Madrid. Although I did it a year later than my target age, I am still very pleased with the result. In fact, I find it quite poetic that I ran 26 miles at the age of 26. Living in Madrid has given me the opportunity to accomplish many goals I set for myself. I’m excited to see what this year brings.” 

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 about living abroad for me is definitely the language barrier. Having never studied Spanish in my life until moving abroad, my time in Madrid has been one continuous Spanish lesson. Though I consider myself to be highly motivated when it comes to learning the language, I have my days where I am too tired to translate my thoughts into Spanish. Other days, I prefer to speak in English so that I can express myself more deeply. As a result, I will spend much of my time with my English-speaking friends (mostly because I love their company) because it’s more comfortable for me.

traveling abroad

However, I’ve realized that much of my personal growth in the language occurs when I put myself in uncomfortable situations like going out with my Spanish coworkers despite anticipatory thoughts such as, “What are we going to talk about all night? Will I speak in the correct tense?” My advice for dealing with this struggle is to be confident in the Spanish that you’ve developed, and accept that you may not speak or understand perfectly every time. Making mistakes is the best way to improve. If you do this, it is likely that you will put yourself in situations where you will be able to grow.” 

Do you have any advice for other auxiliars interested in traveling while teaching abroad?

“My advice to other auxiliars who want to travel is to say, “yes.” If you’re unsure or hesitant about buying a ticket somewhere because it doesn’t exactly align with your budget for the month, say “yes.” Buy the ticket. If your coworkers invite you on a trip, but you were looking forward to staying in Madrid for the weekend, say “yes.” Every time I step off of a plane or train or bus and into a new city, I am always glad I decided to say “yes” to that opportunity. If you’re living abroad and you love to travel, but you find yourself hesitating on a destination for some reason, say “yes” to it. I’ve never regretted going anywhere, and I doubt you will. Sometimes it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

How has teaching abroad helped with your overall professional goals?

“I originally arrived in Madrid, Spain back in August 2017. I had just left behind my job as a copywriter in New York in pursuit of travel and good memories. Professional goals were not my main concern at the time. However, after spending two full school years working with the same students, I’ve realized that I enjoy teaching young children my native language. With this realization, I have been taking my job as an educator more seriously. As a result, I’ve improved my classroom management and lesson planning skills. It has become apparent that my main reason for returning to Spain is not for travel anymore (which I still do and value highly). Rather, it is to enhance my abilities as an educator. Truly, teaching abroad has raised my interest in pursuing a career in education.”

What was your most memorable moment in class? How do you feel now that school is ending?

“My sixth grade students and I worked on a performance for their graduation this year. During the final weeks of the school year, the students practiced singing the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” while I accompanied them on the ukulele. After two weeks of rehearsal, we performed the song at graduation in front of their families and friends. It went incredibly well despite the fact that we mumbled one of the verses to the song. At the end of the day, I think we captured the mood of the song by laughing it off together. This performance, to me, was the culmination of all the great times those sixth graders and I had spent in class together. I feel a little sad, but mainly proud. After two school years of working with them, I was proud to be part of their graduation.”

picture of spain

Since you are staying in Spain another year, will you be teaching at the same school? How do you feel about that?

“I will be teaching at the same school next year, making it my third consecutive year at this school. I’m really excited to return for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I get the chance to reconnect with my coworkers that are also returning. The second reason is that I will get to see the growth and development of the students that I have been working with for the past two school years.” 

What is the most important piece of advice you can give someone wanting to Teach Abroad?

“For anyone who wants to give teaching abroad a try, I think it’s important to remember to keep an open mind and limit your expectations. Jump at the opportunity to teach abroad. I learned about Teach Abroad from a friend. When he described the program to me, I was excited to have a similar experience. After I got my school placement and started my job, I quickly realized that my experience was going to different than my friend’s. For example, he was teaching business professionals and only taught three sessions per day. This resulted in a schedule with more free time than mine. I found that my expectations definitely differed from reality. Nonetheless, I found that keeping an open mind allowed me to see the benefits that my school offered rather than fixate on what I didn’t have. 

I have a two hour lunch break where I can practice my Spanish and connect with my coworkers. I also get easy access to tutoring jobs in the neighborhood where I work. Fortunately, I don’t have to bounce around from neighborhood to neighborhood to give lessons in business English. If you’re someone who has discovered Teach Abroad through a friend, just remember that their experience — whether good or bad — will not be your experience. They can give you an idea of what to expect. However, don’t be surprised if your experience is totally different. In all likelihood it will be. Your experience will be unique in many ways that are personal to you. And that’s the beauty of Teach Abroad.”

The Opportunity to Teach and Travel

Alex is a determined person who has found a home in Madrid that fosters the realization of his dreams. After witnessing first-hand the journeys that his open-minded attitude made possible and further understanding his poignant philosophies through our conversations, I’m excited to see what year three holds for him.
If you would like to the opportunity to teach while traveling, connect with our facebook group to ask questions.
mountain view the opportunity to travel and teach

Wasan Tawfeeq Talks Teaching and Studying in the USA

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

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

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

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

Why did you choose to come to the USA?

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

What are your goals while you are here at FSU?

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

Iraq map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

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

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

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

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

 

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

by Leesa Truesdell

Going Back to San Lorenzo to Teach

I didn’t think the time would come where I would be writing a wrap-up on Cate’s Madrid adventure. Or, am I? When I said my goodbyes to Cate in June (a goodbye I won’t forget), I knew our time to laugh together would come again soon. What I didn’t expect was that it would be in Florida! Yes, that’s right — Florida! The very place that ignited our first conversation over a year ago and started our friendship. It was great to catch up and see each other outside of Madrid. Read along and see what she has planned next!

Your main goal in coming to Madrid was to learn Spanish. How did you do?

My primary goal in coming to Spain was to learn enough Spanish to be able to have a basic conversation. If I really focus on the concept of “basic,” I think I achieved that. Barely. I certainly added a huge amount of vocabulary and some grammar. However, with less than half of my time there left, I had only just started to try to string together actual sentences. As it is for so many struggling second-language learners, getting out of my own head is my biggest obstacle.”

You also spoke about traveling. Did you get to see many countries while living abroad?

I was much more successful with my goal of traveling! I’m pretty proud of this list, so here it is… I went to: London, Paris, Copenhagen, Gibraltar, all through Ireland, Amsterdam, spent an hour in Tangier (crazy story), and saw a lot of Spain by car and train. Being able to see so much of Europe in such a short time was absolutely mind-blowing.”

In your previous interview, you mentioned that you were speaking and teaching English most of the time. What can you tell us about learning Spanish through immersion?

teaching students in SpainThe process of learning Spanish, or attempting to, was certainly not what I had expected. To be completely (and embarrassingly) honest, I thought that merely by living in Spain for 10 months, the language  somehow would seep into my brain and I’d speak it without even realizing how it happened! Wrong.

First of all, I found the four-week immersion class practically useless, for me anyway. It was too much all at once and I wasn’t able to digest virtually any of it. What progress I did make came from private, weekly lessons and the homework I received. And when everything was said and done, the ONLY thing that caused any of it to “stick” in my brain was actually using it (with Spanish friends). Some people received the gift to easily pick up new languages… I’m not one of those people, but I keep plugging away.”

What was your most memorable moment in class? Do you miss your students?

“There are a few students that I miss and one that I have kept in touch with. For the most part, however, I didn’t form any real bonds with most of the kids. Schools strictly forbade auxiliars from speaking Spanish with students. The language barrier at my school felt virtually impenetrable. I’m sorry to report that the most memorable occasions all felt extraordinarily negative. I saw some extremely challenging students who created some unforgettable scenes. It seemed unfortunate for everyone involved.”

What do you miss most about San Lorenzo de El Escorial?

“I miss everything about San Lorenzo except for the ubiquitous dog poop everywhere. I miss being able to walk to everything. Undoubtedly, I miss the vistas of the mountains and the monastery, the cheap whiskey and wine, and the antiquity of it all. It’s certainly a magical little town.”

What have you been doing this summer?

“This summer… what have I been doing? It was so disorienting to be back that it took me several weeks to really feel ‘normal’ and completely unpack (shame). I went up to spend a few days with my sister in Cape Cod. I’ve helped one daughter and her husband a bit around their house. I helped the other one move to Boston for a new job. Lately, I’ve been driving for Uber on the weekends.”

I think we all want to know… Will you return to San Lorenzo for Round 2?

It looks as if I am going back, for a few reasons. First of all, I have a job there and that’s more than I can say for here. Secondly, I’ll have medical insurance there and that’s a huge deal for an old broad like me. Then there’s the Spanish that I still want to learn and the lifestyle of Spain that I enjoy so much. I’m just not done “adventuring” yet.”

Going back to San Lorenzo to Teach

while living abroad in spain

And, here we go! Of the people I interviewed, Cate was certainly the one I thought would have a different ending. When I asked her for her quote for her second interview, she provided this one, “I stopped telling myself that I’m lost. I’m not and am on a road with no destination, I’m just driving with hope that I’ll find a place that I like and I’ll stay there. I’m not lost, I’m on my way.” – Ahunnaya

After one year of knowing Cate and having the pleasure to call her my friend, I can say without a doubt that she has found her way and is headed back to her “place,” San Lorenzo, to continue her Dreams Abroad.

by Leesa Truesdell

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

First Day of an Internship in Madrid

by Hisham Tammam

First Day of an Internship in Madrid was interesting, to say the least. Obviously, I wanted to make a great impression at my internship at a law firm. I arrived early (luckily, because there was no number on the gate so I had to determine it was the right building by deduction.)

After ringing the bell of a stylish wooden door with golden handles, I was greeted warmly by the person whom I was told to ask for and given the grand tour of the two-floor Madrid law firm that would be my place of employment. I was to sit on the upper floor with an associate who arrived as I was researching past cases handled by the firm. After that, one of my supervisors, a partner at the firm, gave me a rundown of an international arbitration case concerning the Arabic aspects of a law that I was to assist on. I was later handed the case file by another associate with whom I was going to be working. Familiarizing myself with the details was actually quite riveting.

first day internship madrid law office

Lunch at an Internship at a Law Firm

For lunch, my supervisor took me and two co-workers to an authentic Galician seafood restaurant. They spoke about Brexit, a popular topic among lawyers in Europe, and how crowded Madrid is with tourists and foreigners. So, although I felt a little awkward, it was still lovely, fancy, and almost surreal.

I had been nervous about starting a four-month internship at a law firm. It was daunting because I’ve never worked at a firm for that long before. However, I decided to take it one day at a time (if not one hour at a time.)

I was planning to delve into literature, philosophy and poetry writing (my passions), but I barely have any time because I work from 9am to 7pm every day. On the other hand, because of this, I tend to enjoy them more when I do get a chance. It sure beats living at home where, even when I had all the time in the world, I wouldn’t touch a book (due to a vicious cycle of what I call “apathetic stagnation.”) At least now, thanks to The Intern Group, I feel useful and productive, going to work and transcending fears.

Working settles the existential need to have a purpose – doing things of value, feeling more fulfilled. Even though I am a chronic insomniac, I have manage to overcome this and other obstacles with determination and willpower. Plus, I have the privilege of learning a new language – perhaps never to the extent that I will be able to read Don Quixote in Español (whose hometown we visited) – but I can gladly say I now know more than just ‘manzana’, (which means apple and is one of the few words I learned before I got here).

madrid church down town

My Take Away From My First Day of an Internship in Madrid

I truly had an excellent first day of work in Madrid. It was full of promise, and so is life right now after applying for a paralegal job in London. It will be challenging to leave Madrid since it feels like home. I can honestly say it has been a wonderful adventure. I can’t wait for the next chapter of my life. Here’s to my first day of an Internship in Madrid.