Remembering the Woman with a Heart of Gold: Micaela Colon

Micaela Colon

Pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Leesa Truesdell and I am from Coral Springs, Florida. As I get older, I realize that life means more. What do I mean by “more?” Well, it means three little things which add up to a large sum: tell people what they mean to you often, live with purpose and do what you can often, and finally, remember that every person you meet has a story, so listen carefully as they might only tell you once.

Micaela Colon: The woman with the best laugh, softest smile, and a heart of gold. 

I have made my fair share of mistakes over the course of my life. Nonetheless, it is these mistakes that have made me who I am. It sounds cliché, but let me explain. My grandmother, my beloved Tata, is no longer alive to write about how she would want to be remembered. However, I have a soul full of love and a mind full of memories that still feel so raw and real. Micaela Colon passed on January 11, 2017. Yet, I can still hear her voice and see her smile. Those are the memories that will never fade and are tucked in my heart forever. 

The love my grandmother showed me as a child was the kind of love a child could only dream of. I can still see the red swing that I would run and jump on when she took me to the park by her house. We went to the arcade for hours over the summer. One of my fondest memories is going to the cinema with her and sharing popcorn. We used to go to the cinema a few times a summer. Two movies that remind me of her are Chances Are and Xanadu. Tata enjoyed a movie with a good soundtrack. She played the piano and was passionate about a variety of music.

playing piano with my grandmother

Be Mindful

I am telling you about my memories that live on in my mind because as she got older, I remembered her love and I never forgot her. When I got older and was able to drive, I took her out to lunch. Eventually, when I was in college, I called her on all of her birthdays. When we went to lunch, she usually ordered the soup of the day and a half-sandwich combo at Rob’s Bageland near her house. It was one of her favorite places. After she passed, I remembered the things that I did with her as a child and as an adult when it was my turn to care for her. There was no eradication of the sadness but it helped me through it. 

Let me emphasize this — tell people what they mean to you while they are in your life. They will never forget it and neither will you. When I got home from Madrid and saw my mom for the first time after Tata had passed, she handed me a box with things from my grandma. In the box were cards that I had mailed her over the years. She kept all of them. At the time, I did not realize how much a card meant to her, but clearly, it meant everything and more.

Embrace Being Abroad

My grandparents traveled across the world throughout their lives because my grandfather was an aeronautical engineer. His job meant that he needed to live in different countries for years at a time. My grandparents embraced this part of their lives. They did what they wanted and they lived with purpose. They adapted to environments that did not accept them and taught in places that embraced them with open arms. For example, my grandmother taught English in Kinshasa, Africa in the 1970s while my grandfather made friends at work. He attended Rumble in the Jungle. This is something I was not aware of until my late twenties.

Take Time

What Tata wanted most during the older years of her life after Papa passed was attention. Our roles reversed and towards the last few years of her life, I found myself sitting and listening to her about her childhood in Puerto Rico. When her dementia started to progress, she kept her long-term memory and continued to recall her childhood in Puerto Rico. She just couldn’t remember what she had just eaten. It was important for me to sit and just listen to her during these stages of her life. Unfortunately, with Lewy body dementia, the person knows what is happening to them while it is happening.

Shared Moments

I felt at times helpless that she would fail to remember I was there because her short-term memory would not last. She would talk about Puerto Rico and her sisters over and over again. In the end, I felt like I was the adult and loving grandparent she had been to me for thirty years prior to that moment. These moments made me realize how much people have to tell if you listen. Some might not want to share, but those that do might need a friend or, in my case, their granddaughter, to sit and listen to the same story over and over again. As I look back, it only took a few minutes here and there, but collectively these minutes are some of the best moments I have ever spent.

Remembering Micaela Colon

The legacy Tata left me changed my life. It has made me a more mindful person. I tell people what they mean to me more often, I live with purpose, and listen to others regularly. When I got back from Madrid, I became an international student advisor and my sole role was to listen during this job. I also started Dreams Abroad to help others achieve their goals in life. No matter what I am doing in this life, I am always remembering her and using the love she gave me as a guide in my day-to-day actions. Micaela Colon is sincerely missed and never to be forgotten. 

Her legacy lives on through Dreams Abroad and its impact.

by Leesa Truesdell














Working Diligently Towards the Future

walking around townLeesa Truesdell is a hard-working entrepreneur and the founder of Dreams Abroad. She has worked diligently to get this website off the ground after her grandmother passed. Leesa finds inspiration from her time teaching abroad in Madrid, Spain. She loves to connect with friends (both old and new) over everyday travel woes and triumphs. This passion developed into the community that is the backbone of Dreams Abroad. From a small handful of expats to a collection of beautiful contributors that continues to grow every day, Dreams Abroad has expanded beyond any expectations Leesa had.

Now, Leesa manages Dreams Abroad while also maintaining a full-time job at Florida State University in the International Student and Scholar Office. She has exciting personal and professional plans scheduled for the rest of the year and is excited to share her updates with the Dreams Abroad family!

What have you been up to since moving back to the United States?

“When I moved back to the U.S., I moved to Tallahassee and began working with international students at Florida State University. I assist students with questions on how to maintain their immigration status while studying on their F-1 visa. I also provide assistance on campus by acting as a liaison for our international students and their academic departments. If departments have questions, oftentimes they call our office.”

eating dinner abroad future

What is your best Dreams Abroad memory?

“I have many memories that I would call favorites. The initial start-up phases in Madrid are some of my most special memories. One of my fondest memories was the day a friend and I sat at my laptop and started thinking of website names right after my grandma passed away. At the time, I was grieving but I was also using the grief to be proactive. Starting the Dreams Abroad website helped in many ways. I have many special moments and times abroad with forever friends who will always be part of Dreams Abroad.”

fondest memories

What are your future plans?

“I tend to live from moment to moment. Right now, I am planning to continue to live and work in Tallahassee. Dreams Abroad will continue to grow to its full potential. Meanwhile, I would really like to live abroad again one day in the future. We will see where it takes me.”

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

Center for Intensive English Studies

“I waited a long time to travel abroad mainly because I was afraid of the unknown. Furthermore, I was tied to family and did not want to leave my grandma in her later years of life. I took a chance leaving and have realized that even though she passed while I was living abroad, the way in which things happened, happened. I saw my Tata for the last time on Christmas Eve — her favorite day of the year. She was playing the piano and smiling and the music was bouncing from wall to wall. I remember her that way — a very good way.

Take the chance, feel the fear, and let your heart guide you. Keep going and try not to second guess your decision. Be the best version of yourself that you can be because you only have one life to live.”

A Look Ahead at the Future

Leesa will begin a new chapter of her life this summer working at the Center for Intensive English Studies (CIES) as an immigration advisor and instructor. She is really excited for the future and getting back into teaching since it is something that she has always been passionate about. Leesa has been building the Dreams Abroad community since the start and wants it to continue to grow and flourish in an organic way. Stay tuned for more from Leesa!

by Dreams Abroad

Teaching ESOL, Spanish, and Online Classes in the United States with Caroline Hazelton

Caroline Hazelton is from Jacksonville, Florida. When she isn’t teaching ESOL, lecturing part-time at a university located in South Florida or teaching online classes, Caroline is a wife and mom to two beautiful daughters.

She is one of the best presenters I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Caroline and I met at Florida State University’s College of Education where oftentimes we were asked to engage and interact in meaningful dialogue with our classmates. We studied education, so we pretty much had presentations every other week, and Caroline always had stellar presentations. I remember her specifically as being one of the best presenters in our class. She has a passion not only for Pedagogy and Foreign and Second-Language Curriculum, but for life. Caroline’s enthusiasm is contagious. She is a fourth-generation teacher and once up in front of a classroom, she draws you in with her love of language.

Meet Caroline, the language enthusiast:

What do you like most about teaching international students?

“When you teach international students, you see brilliant thinkers from other parts of the world who possess different talents, perspectives, and attitudes. They also arrive with their own academic strengths and passions from their desired degree programs. Every university student is already a thinker and a learner, or else they wouldn’t be there. And what’s more they can see things very differently from Americans which can be challenging but stimulating. For example, last year at another school, a Chinese student told me that World War II was tragic but helpful. As an American and as a granddaughter of veterans, I could not get my head around the concept of  WWII being “helpful.” But from his perspective, China had benefited from the territory inherited from the war.

Teaching ESOL – teaching languages and cultures to people is my passion. There is something about watching a student  embrace a language. I subscribe to the linguist Noam Chomsky’s theory of  “universal grammar” which asserts that humans have an innate ability to learn languages. It is fascinating to watch someone partake in a process that is more often reserved for small children.

teaching foreign language to US students

It is also amazing to watch a new identity form. Humans tend to isolate themselves into groups that look the same, act the same, and share the same culture. Yet when we learn a new language, we adopt its culture. We cannot simply stay in our own culture with people just like ourselves because we now have the ability to communicate with those who are different from us. I do not want to see people hiding away with clones of themselves. I want to see them mingling with others, celebrating their cultural and linguistic identities. As you learn more about another language, you can relate to another culture and begin to develop multiple “identities.” When we do, we can relate to more people. This makes the world a little smaller and more unified.”

What did you like most about teaching a foreign language to US students?

“Teaching Spanish to non-speakers with mostly American backgrounds meant that these students were discovering a world that had been hidden within their own. Now that they were able to begin understanding, they could now be a part of it. I saw this when I taught university students all the way down to my elementary school students. Spanish is everywhere in the United States. I would have students who could communicate with friends, family, co-workers, or clients and would come to class and tell me about it. Students would find that they could now listen to more music. This was because we would listen to and translate music in Spanish in class. Spanish is simply everywhere in the United States.

Teaching ESOL in the United States

I see myself in my students. As I was learning, I didn’t abandon my first language when I learned another, but in fact, gained a new identity. Of course, my second-language identity is a whole different component than my first. But, teaching Spanish in the United States has helped my students find their own “second identities.” I can help them connect to another world within their own.”

What did you find was the most challenging part of teaching both groups of students?

“It’s important to realize that anytime you are speaking a second language, no matter how much you know of it, you will still struggle to express yourself. Your mind might blank on a word. You might have complex thoughts, but all of your cerebral energy is going to simply put the words out there. Some students are able to be bold and learn despite this insecurity, but this really upsets some. Teachers can ease this anxiety by creating a warm, welcoming classroom environment so students feel comfortable taking risks. I’m happy to say that on my university course evaluations this was something students mentioned. The relaxed environment I strived to create made them feel okay with failing.

student studying in library books

In teaching ESOL, I find it’s very important to show students what you do as a teacher when you stumble on a word or have some other kind of miscommunication. Even in our first language, there are already enough miscommunications. These can range from different intended meanings, different references, body language, etc. which we have to resolve in daily life. Being open about our own mistakes encourages students. In other words, showing students that failure is okay is both a challenge and extremely important.”

What did both sets of students have in common? What was the difference?

“Both groups are trying to communicate in their second language and learn it better. The difference is that with international students, there is more at stake in learning English. In the United States, many students are studying Spanish as a foreign language for a required credit. Most students learning Spanish just need to pass a foreign-language requirement and continue with their studies. For international students in intensive English programs, they usually cannot pursue their degree studies, face visa issues, etc. if they do not pass their English courses. They are actually trying to live in a culture where the language and culture they are learning is dominant. This is actually helpful when teaching ESOL. My Spanish learners were not in that situation. In other words, language-learning issues remain the same, but the motivation levels and stake factors do not.”

students studying in front of computer

Where are you currently working? What are the challenges that your international students encounter?

“Recently, I got hired as an adjunct lecturer on an intensive English program at a reputable university. I am also teaching ESOL – English as a foreign language – online with a well-known language and travel company. Since my experience here is limited, I will reflect on my experiences with international students as a whole.

International students struggle with differences in classroom etiquette. For example, in Chinese culture, students are expected to recite while American students are expected to critique. An American student abroad might come across as loud, opinionated, or arrogant in cultures similar to the Chinese. Likewise, certain cultures are more tolerant of issues such as plagiarism. In the US, plagiarism is grounds for expulsion from the university. It’s important to consider subtle misunderstandings due to language and culture when teaching ESOL. Each language carries certain “attitudes” with it derived from its surrounding culture. Chinese- and Korean-speaking students carry a need for “respectful language” that doesn’t necessarily exist in English. This is different when compared to Brazilian and Portuguese students, who might carry more of a “friendly” attitude. Students aren’t even aware of these minor differences until they begin their second language/culture-immersion experience.”

What challenges do you have working with international students?

“First, there are always misunderstandings due to differences in language, especially when teaching ESOL. To be honest, there are times I cannot understand what a student is trying to communicate due to accent or vocabulary. While I have to be kind, I do have to let the student know I cannot understand them. This is the only way they will be able to improve their language skills. Usually, it is just a grammatical or syntax issue, or possibly a pronunciation error that we can fix together. When handled correctly, you can help students save face for when they are communicating with someone not as “linguistically patient” as their teacher.

Secondly, and I hate to mention this, but any time you are teaching, especially teaching ESOL, you have to make sure to be on the lookout for how your gender plays a role. This is especially true of cultures where gender and sexuality vary from that of your own where you know “what to do/not to do.” I have had students who seemed to develop crushes on me at different schools. You are their teacher, you are their hero, and sometimes you are of a different culture. This can be attractive to some. As a result, I have to watch how I dress. I also have to know who/when/how I am interacting with my students, and when to let my bosses know if necessary. This is true of any school though, and not just of international students. It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the world we live in.”

caroline hazelton teaching ESOL miami


What advice would you give to someone who works with people from other cultures?

“Be patient and get out of your comfort zone!”

quote where the magic happens

What is one example of something you have done differently or some way you have changed as a result of your experiences?

“As a result of my experiences, I try to process headlines from an international perspective. Having regularly communicated with other cultures, it has shown me that one country’s interpretation of events may not be how another country sees it. I try to read Al Jazeera English in addition to The Washington Post and The Atlantic. I will watch Despierta America on Univision in the mornings to see what’s on the mind of Hispanics before watching CBS in the evenings. Once I meet people from the countries I see on the news, I chat with them about what I see. It helps me determine if the reporting I see is my country’s perspective or if there’s some truth to it.”

Caroline is unique because she has taught pretty much every type of learner in each age group. Because she is a self-taught second-language learner, she brings a set of skills to the classroom other than the basics. Her ability to connect culture and fear caused by misunderstandings is what motivates her each and every day when teaching ESOL. We look forward to hearing more from her about her new teaching position in the upcoming months.

A Meaningful Impact of Paris Fashion Week

leesa truesdell paris fashion week travel tales

It felt like the airplane was gliding through the clouds as I looked out the window with anticipation, wondering what this next trip would bring. I couldn’t wait to touch ground and get my feet moving. Since my tour would not start until the next day, where would I go first? What would be the first activity after I stepped off the plane? I did not have anything planned, which was out of the ordinary for me. I used the flight to mull over a general outline of what my day could look like. But nothing in my wildest dreams could prepare me for the unexpected joys of Paris Fashion Week.

Touchdown to Paris Fashion Week

The wheels hit the ground around 10:00 AM and I made it to the hotel around noon. Much to my surprise, I was informed it was Paris Fashion Week 2017, and the city was jammed packed with events! This softened the blow when I was told that my room could not be reimbursed from the night prior because it was booked through I was going to have to call them directly and work out a room reimbursement (note: it was a nightmare trying to get this resolved through

Prior to hearing about Paris Fashion Week, I thought about touring the Louvre and checking out the Seine river scene, but hey, Fashion week sounded like the plan. Plan B: throw out Plan A, the plan I had meticulously crafted on the plane.

travel blog paris abroad

Much to my surprise, my luck got better – my hotel was right in the thick of Paris Fashion Week. I decided it was time to not have a plan at all. I went to my room, unpacked, then went and took a chance. That chance was just what I needed – I found what I was looking for without even knowing that I was looking for it.

Going in a Different Direction

As I started to walk down the streets near the Madeleine, I happened to meander down a street not realizing that I had been distracted by window displays. After looking up from the window display, I realized I was in my own nostalgic world. I felt myself reminiscing way back to the days when my passion for fashion started in the late 1980s. The iconic sequins and heavy shoulder pad days of the ‘80s were in full throttle. I was probably seven when the movie, Mannequin, was released. However, this movie, including the window displays in the movie, had a pretty significant impact in my life. Not to mention, Kim Cattrall was absolutely stunning in her early years!

ralph lauren quote fashion week travel

Back to the window displays: I walked down a side street and happened to glance up. There it was… the grand opening of Kate Spade Paris, happening right in the middle of Paris Fashion Week. I paused and stood there. Then, I took a step, and then another. As the actor says in Mannequin when he finds his Roxy, “it’s a miracle.” He thinks he finds a mannequin that came to life too. And in that moment, I felt the same way! This was such an epic and totally unexpected moment that had perfectly tied my childhood movie fantasies to a real-life window display fantasy. I couldn’t believe my luck!

Kate Spade has been a part of my life for decades. My very first Kate Spade bag was the iconic black nylon make-up bag that never wore down. It lasted my entire undergrad college career. Of course, there were other Kate Spade items that were eventually added to my collection—her wallets have always been my favorite! The opening of the store during Paris Fashion Week was probably one of the best finds on that trip. Touchdown!

The Meaningful Impact of Kate Spade

kate spade paris fashion week travelingLooking back now that Kate Spade has passed, being at the Paris opening of her store during Paris Fashion Week means so much more to me now than it did before. It reminds me to never stop telling those around you how much they mean to you. Spade’s passing was sudden and tragic, and no one will ever know what she had going on in her life. Her tragic passing reminds me even more that one small act of kindness can go very far.

In one of my earlier posts, I stated this quote; I refer to this frequently, as it makes so much sense to me:

’Cause you never think the last time is going to be the last time – you think there will be more. You think you will have forever but you don’t.”

My Kate Spade moment happened on my first afternoon in Paris. After the first day, however, most of my itinerary remained on schedule.

Find out what’s next for Leesa as she continues her adventures in Paris.

eiffel tower travel abroad tips paris france

Madrid Still Has My Heart as an Auxiliar

Looking back to almost one year ago, I never could have imagined that Justin Hughes-Coleman and I would one day be collaborating and sharing information about his upcoming second year in Madrid! Each time I meet with Justin, I learn a tiny bit more about who he is and, most importantly, who he wants to become. Check out his Part two interview about finding purpose while teaching abroad to catch up.

I’ll never forget meeting Justin last August. He was sweating (as we all were because it was AUGUST in Madrid), and I sat next to him and just felt happy. I share this moment once again because it was the very beginning of what I like to think of as this cool ride that we are on and that we don’t want to end.

Justin has been on the Dreams Abroad team since it’s inception and has successfully wowed readers with his first two blog posts. His soul shines when he writes and readers understand both him and his message.

Meet Justin, the soul searcher and auxiliar: 

I am following up on our previous interview and your last blog post on expressing yourself in Spain.

I think we all want to know…

Are you still the “teachers pet” at your school?

“Hehe, that is so funny that I thought that at one point. No, I no longer believe I’m the teacher’s pet. The last two months have been very eye-opening because of my school’s dysfunctional leadership.”

How are things at school since we last spoke? Anything changed?

auxiliar school madrid

“A lot has changed at my school since then. Most importantly I realized that my school is one of the worst in the town that I work in. I figured this out because the schools are ranked every year based on the pass/fail rates of the English exams and my school has been routinely at the bottom under my current top two senior staff members (director and jefatura de estudios.) This has caused the school to have increasingly lower numbers of students since parents choose to put their children at other schools. This has an effect on the staff as well; most staff members only stay one year at my school and request to leave once the year is over.”

Do you think that is why the Comunidad de Madrid is investing in so many auxiliars?

“I do believe the job has a high turnover rate. However, I wouldn’t say it is entirely the fault of the Comunidad de Madrid. All the schools are totally different in the way they are run so no two schools are alike. An auxiliar would have a totally different experience if they were at a different school. I tell people that if I worked at truly badly run school, I would not renew for a second year because so much of one’s experience in Spain is based on their school.”

Even before our second interview you knew you were staying in Madrid, what made you decide to stay?

“Despite my school, Madrid still has my heart. They recently held World Pride that was two weeks long and it showcased what is best about Madrid, the people. Everyone in Madrid is so open-minded and interested in really getting to know people of all backgrounds. That is something I haven’t found back in America.”

world pride madrid

Have you talked to your school about your role next year? Will you be teaching 8 classes and a homeroom?

“I haven’t spoken to my teachers about next year or any other auxiliar. It will probably be the same process as my first year where I just show up and the administrators scramble to come up with a plan.”

What are your plans for this summer?

“This summer I’m going on a different type of adventure. I am living in Greece for two months. For the first month, I am working on an endangered horse farm on the Greek island of Skyros. The second month I am helping build a yoga studio on the island of Rhodes. It will be such a new experience for me and I don’t know what to expect but I am looking forward to it!”

How did you find these places to work abroad?

I found out about this website called where people who are looking for volunteer work can post an ad and in exchange for the help they usually provide room and board for the volunteers. I knew for the summer I wanted to be by a beach (seeing as how Madrid is quite literally landlocked and I didn’t want a repeat of last summer) so I searched for situations that were near beaches and I stumbled upon the endangered horse farm and yoga retreat in Greece.

workaway info


What was the best experience you had this school year? And the most memorable?

“The best and most memorable experience is when two other auxiliars and I performed a dance routine for the entire school and all the kids ran up and mobbed us after the performance. It was absolutely crazy!”

Tell us more about Justin Time for Life your blog. What are your plans for the blog?

“My plan for this blog is to reach out to those who don’t feel like they really belong in America. I was to give them a perspective of what it is like to live abroad as an auxiliar. I know that all my posts are only my experience and they won’t be the same for everyone that goes abroad but I want to give people a “running head start” in their journey abroad. Moving abroad was the best decision I have ever made in my life and I want people to know that despite whatever challenges they face, it is worth it.”

Auxiliar Abroad and What is to Come

Justin has not only walked the walk from the USA over to Madrid, but he is going to be talking to and assisting others through his blog about how to do the same abroad. The person that I met that scorching August afternoon was and is one very courageous man. Dreams Abroad is ecstatic to be working with him and together we are a team ready to better equip our readers on open-mindedness.

I can’t wait to hear all about Justin’s summer in GREECE! If you are an auxiliar abroad we want to hear from you! Join our LinkedIn group to stay on top of all the amazing Dreams Abroad developments.

by Leesa Truesdell

Culture Seeker Abroad

by Leesa Truesdell

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

Meet Sam, The Culture Seeker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

trinity exam

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

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

What will going home for the summer be like?

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

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

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

Continuing To Be The Best

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

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

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

Teaching in the Community of Madrid: Part Two

by Leesa Truesdell

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

Teaching Abroad  in the Community of Madrid

Teach Abroad is a three-part series that shares the different perspectives of native-born English speakers teaching abroad. In part two, my Dreams Abroad colleagues here in Spain discussed their roles at their schools and what it is like to teach in, and for, the Community of Madrid. Over the course of the school year, we’ve visited several different cities and shared the teachers’ stories. If you missed my first part of the series which I speak about how I adjusted to teaching abroad in Madrid, please take a look.

Meet Leesa, Dreams Abroad Founder:

What is a typical day at your school like?

“Each day at my school is different in the Community of Madrid. I work with a different class and a different grade level each hour of each day. I see my students typically once a week. If they are in my theatre class I see some twice a week. It’s important to make a note of this in the beginning, as my school is not a bilingual school but is a part of the program.

We teach English as a subject which means that I am teaching English grammar or assigning English reading projects. I am not teaching English in science or in any other subject in the student’s curriculum. Since I have a master’s degree in education that specializes in English as a Foreign Language, I feel blessed to be at this school because each day I am using the English language in ways that I never thought I would. I love what I do.”

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

“I work with my vice principal who also teaches English, seven teachers (English coordinator included), and one auxiliar. Auxiliars are language and culture assistants hired by the Community of Madrid to enhance the language acquisition process. Typically, the teacher in the classroom is not a native English speaker. The auxiliar acts as a native speaker and is there to assist with language and culture in the classroom. This, of course, is speaking generally. Some auxiliars are doing more and some less.

I am fortunate to work with a variety of teachers. I have learned a different style or method of teaching from each one. They all use a similar method of teaching however their approaches to teaching are unique. For example, one of the teachers has been teaching English grammar for a very long time and knows how to teach it better than I do. When we work together, we each use our own approaches to teaching. This creates a great rhythm in the classroom. I am so grateful to be working with skilled teachers who know their craft but who are also open to new ideas. This is when teaching and learning become not only beneficial to the student and the teacher but also is fun!”

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

forming bonds with students

“We have an online group chat where we ask one another questions or send out community information. However, we do not get together outside of school. Most of my colleagues live in the southern part of the community of Madrid, where we work, but I live an hour north, in the city center. Because we live far from each other, it makes it difficult to do things outside of work. In addition, my coworkers have families with children. On the weekends, they are usually spending time with their kids, being parents.

At work, however, we have a very strong bond with one another and have learned to work well together. I know their methodologies and respect them so I can adapt my lessons to complement their style of teaching. Because there is a level of trust among us, we share lessons and give one another feedback regularly.”

Are you forming bonds with students in the Community of Madrid?

“Yes, I am forming bonds with students in most of my classes. In particular, my second eso classes and my second bachillerato classes. The students in my middle-range classes (such as third and fourth eso), are at that age where they are constantly playing around during class with classmates. In the U.S. this is around 9th grade and 10th grade. Once the fourth eso students pass all required classes and exams, they complete secondary school.

students abroad

Junior and senior year (bachillerato) are optional for students once they pass fourth eso. Students who plan to attend a university must complete all levels of secondary school. This age group, in particular, has been a hard group for me to establish a connection with. No matter how fun I make the lesson their mind is not on English, it’s somewhere else. Most of the time, I can see they are focused on friends in class. Sometimes they’re more interested in what’s happening during a snack or recreo break or with passing notes.

I realize that this is a challenging age and, initially, I felt that perhaps I lacked control of the class. However, since I teach in someone else’s class, I can only use a limited amount of discipline for control and management. In most classrooms, it’s the teacher’s role to know when to let things go and when to step in. Learning is supposed to be fun; however, there are times when students try to test those boundaries. That’s when I become silent. When my students get too loud during a fun conversation, I won’t speak until they get quiet. At first, this made me frustrated, but now, I feel like my students understand that being loud and talkative when I am explaining something they are excited about is considered poor manners.

Establishing Bonds

Overall, my students, in the Community of Madrid, are great and the bonds we established will be some of the most memorable. For example, my English theatre students are all very good students. They work hard so I choose to give them the lead on how they want to work on the play. I go to class and listen to their ideas about what I had previously outlined for us to work on that day in the syllabus. The only way to really get your students to love a language is for them to want to use it.

I use a student-centered approach in this class and it has worked so far because my students come to class with smiles from ear to ear, ready and eager to work. For example, the bachillerato students have been assisting me in co-directing while the younger students have helped with play editing and modifying character roles. I am proud of this group because it is the first full school year class that I have taught while living abroad since receiving my degree.”

Does the school foster the creation and development of these relationships with the students inside and outside of the classroom?

“Yes, my school encourages students to participate in seventh-period activities. I have spent the year working with around ten students in a theatre class. We are working on a play where the students have been able to assist with its production.”

What is your favorite part of the day?

“I don’t have any specific part that is my favorite. However, I truly enjoy working with the bachillerato first and second students. They are at the level where they can really work with the language in creative ways. For example, I worked with a group of students (generally, ages 16-18) on skits, job interviews, debate, and most recently, news reporting. They enjoy these types of creative activities and also work well together in pairs and groups. The more proficient students are able to assist lower level students.

language in creative ways

I also enjoy working with my theatre class students. I work with them once a week for 7th period, which is technically after school. This class is the only class where I am able to teach on my own. It is an extracurricular class and probably the class my students enjoy the most. It’s a great point of pride when a student says they look forward to your next class. I am proud of my work so far with this group and I am certainly taking notes on my curriculum.

I ask myself: if each class were fun and not graded, would every student pay more attention and want to attend? Are we forcing students to do things they don’t want to do and therefore getting poor results (i.e. students with anxiety and stress disorders that lead to bad tests results and poor attendance)?”

How is material being taught to students?

“Each English teacher is different with regard to how they prepare and teach. Therefore, when I am asked to prepare a lesson, I collaborate with the teacher ahead of time on the unit and topic. If grammar is the focus of the week, I make sure that I stick to the grammar point and only the grammar point. Then, at the next class, I work with the grammar in conversation. For example, I just finished teaching the present continuous tense to the youngest group of students in the school. When I teach grammar points, I make sure I have an activity and a worksheet to go along with the grammar point.

Student-Centered Lessons

Because I rotate between classes, I make sure that I am always keeping the lesson as student-centered as possible. On the other hand, most teachers at my school have a tendency to be teacher-centered. Since I do not have full control of the class, I have to modify as best as I can. Sometimes I have to compromise if the teacher wants me to teach the grammar point in a teacher-centered way then create a student-centered activity afterward. For a student-centered activity, I will, for example, get the class paired into groups of two or three and ask for examples of the topic.

This week, I have assigned two different classes two group projects. From there the students will have two weeks to prepare the topic to present in class before our spring break. These projects include bachillerato first presenting their weather reports as news reporters to the class and third eso presenting their Incredible Journey to class. This is a project where each group had to research four to five places they would like to visit and tell the class why, for how long, and what they will do in each place.”

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

“I prepare for each lesson a week before that class. When the class finishes, I take notes about where we left off that day in class and then I coordinate with the specific teacher about my idea for the next lesson. He or she will give me their input and then I make my lesson. I prepare between 10-12 new lessons a week and then continue with the same topic in some of the classes that are doing group work or presentations. Each week, I have about three to five extra hours of planning added on to my work schedule for new lessons. In addition to the lesson planning, editing and directing the play takes about an hour to two hours of planning.

Brainstorming  Ideas

We are now getting into the acting portion of the course so the edits are more or less over. However, each week I brainstorm ideas and think of other ways we can do things before the big production day in May.

brainstorm ideas being a teacher Community of Madrid

I enjoy lesson planning for all of my classes because it means that I have control of what I will be teaching. I like going through each class and designing what I teach. It allows me to be creative but, at the same time, it also keeps me organized week by week. There are many things about teaching that you cannot control however, when it comes to lesson planning, I always have my initial lesson plan in sync with a back-up lesson plan. For example, my school encourages the use of technology in the classroom. But, eight out of ten times, I go into a classroom where the computer is broken or the Wi-Fi has a weak signal. On these days, the back-up plan is used.”

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

“I do not work at a bilingual school. My school has an English department with certified English teachers who teach English as a subject. Since English is part of the core requirements under LOMCE law, all of the students in the school must take English at every level. It is not an elective course.”

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

Spain uses the Common European Framework of Reference (CERF) for languages. The framework states that students must have at least two foreign languages in addition to their native language. Therefore the standards are applied by grade level according to the CERF standards. My school follows these standards in addition to La Programacion (our school guidelines) which they send out to the parents at the beginning of the year. This lets the parents know the aims and specific goals for each department.

My school, in the Community of Madrid, uses performance-based learning assessments, which are quarterly exams based on the book information that has been taught to assess a student’s proficiency. In a student’s fourth year (fourth eso) the student’s proficiency will be tested based on CERF standards. All four skills will be tested (reading, writing, speaking, listening) to asses the student’s overall academic competency. At the end of fourth eso the student has the option to graduate and move on to work, vocational school, or continue on to the next level in secondary school. The next two levels are called bachillerato first and second. The student’s proficiency level at this age in their academics is important in order for them to continue their academic studies should they choose to. Foreign language is a requirement in bachillerato one and two per CERF standards.”

With regard to lesson and unit standards:

 lesson planning Community of Madrid

“Before each lesson, there are no written descriptions of what students are expected to know or be able to do. The aims and objectives are listed in the textbooks and each teacher explains the objectives in their own way with regard to trimester tests. For example, we will have an exam in December on chapters one through four. These cover present simple and past continuous tenses. Obviously, the student should be able to know this material.

The standards are not written on the board and the syllabus does not list a rubric with standards itemizing what each standard is for each chapter. The chapter identifies the aim for the student and the school selects the textbooks based on stages of proficiency outlined by CERF. Each level has specific content that will be taught to the student of a specific proficiency level.

Students are assessed by exams that are given in December, March, and May or June. Standards are not applied to content used in classrooms.”

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

“Yes, each department meets before the school year to discuss the needs of each student. The classes are formed and each department creates their section for La Programacion. This is the main document for the school that allows for collaboration among faculty. In addition, the English department meets once a week to discuss what is needed to ensure the success of its students.”

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

“Since my arrival to the Community of Madrid, I have learned to think on my feet and realize that life does not always go according to plan. If a lesson plan changes due to a technology issue (and it will), I always have a back-up or maybe two. I have also used humor a lot in the classroom. The ‘go with the flow’ mentality that I adopted a few months ago has served me well. A year ago, I would not have been as casual about things that didn’t go according to plan. Now, I realize that I cannot control many of the elements around me. I can only control how I react to them. My job is to be the best EFL teacher I can be in the Community of Madrid.

Continuing to reflect on how to improve while being here has also been very beneficial. I know I make mistakes, we all do, but it’s how we learn from those mistakes. Afterward, is where real opportunity occurs. Then, growth happens. I see this process on a day to basis in my students. That is when I know that they are learning.”

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

Community of Madrid

“My goals are to continue working hard in the Community of Madrid. I will become a better person than I was yesterday. Each day I am trying so very hard to reflect and continue to listen to others about life, dreams, and perspectives. I believe that if we all share consciousness and purpose by communicating frequently than maybe there will be a less negative outcome in our daily lives. Overall, the Dreams Abroad website has been my biggest accomplishment so far. My team is great and I couldn’t ask for more.”

Teach Abroad: Part Three will be the last series for this school year. We will be sharing the series over the summer!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more updates on our favorite Dreams Abroad members very soon! If you have any questions about the Community of Madrid please join our Facebook group.

Living Abroad and Teaching English: Part Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

plaza major madrid spain abroad

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

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

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

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

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

How do you like teaching at the secondary level?

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

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

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

spain madrid teaching abroad

How are you doing with “Spanish Time?”

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

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

by Cate Dapena

Learning Spanish and Making New Friends Abroad

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

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

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

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

Sounding Stupid Learning a New Language

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

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

learning Spanish and making friends

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

What is a typical day at your school like?

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

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

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

Communication in the school and outside of school:

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

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

learning Spanish

Are you forming bonds with students?

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

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

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

What is your favorite part of the day?

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

How is material being taught to students?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living abroad and teaching

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

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

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

Knowing What You Want and Learning Spanish

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

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

by Leesa Truesdell

Teaching Private Lessons and Setting Goals

by Leesa Truesdell


In my second interview with Sam Loduca, I immediately noticed a change in her. Check out her first interview about why she enjoys European culture. The holidays passed and she was more determined than ever. When we initially spoke, she had objectives. However, she had not clearly outlined her cultural immersion goals in Spain. This meeting was different because Sam talked to me about her future.

In our initial meeting, I remembered her saying what she thought teaching would be like: “I am taking the approach of not thinking what teaching will be like. I am not setting expectations for myself.” Keeping this approach in mind, Sam is well into her second semester at her school. She told me that she is returning for another year because she is not ready to leave. She loves what she is doing at her school and she adores the culture and her life in Spain!

Sam is implementing her goals according to a weekly timeline. For example, her primary goal is to learn Spanish. Since January she has enrolled in two Spanish classes with an additional speaking activity per week. Additionally, she made plans with a group of Spanish friends to have lunch/dinner or attend an intercambio. An intercambio is a group language exchange where native Spanish and native English speakers go to converse in the language they are trying to learn. For example, Sam attends so she can practice her Spanish and in exchange, she speaks English half of the time with a native Spanish speaker.

Sam Finds Balance

Beyond this, Sam has created the opportunity to teach private lessons to a group of fourth-grade students each week. While teaching, her school requires her to speak Spanish to correct the student that needs assistance with an explanation. Sam’s private lessons are providing her with additional cultural immersion and Spanish practice while teaching English.

Sam’s goals are crystal clear and she is thriving! She mentioned in her first interview that she is most content when she is learning. Sam created a lifestyle where she feels happy and challenged while also seeing friends and socializing. It appears as if she has found balance.

Meet Sam, the culture seeker:

What is a typical day at your school like?

“It’s really interesting and exciting working at my school because we work with all the different grades and a lot of different teachers! This allows us to have great relationships with everyone throughout the school.”

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

“The first semester I worked with two other auxiliars, but our school was looking for another one to join the team. This second semester there are four of us. I work with about nine teachers from all different grade levels. I have worked with almost every class in primaria, however, currently, I work with about 12 different classes and teach a total of 21 classes a week (I am mostly with fourth grade and have grades 1-4 currently).”

street in spain

Communication in the school and outside of school:

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

“Yes! I get along great with the other auxiliars and even teach private lessons for one of the teachers at the school.”

Are you forming bonds with students?

“Yes! This is probably my favorite part of the job! I have formed so many great relationships with students of all different ages and English levels. For example, I primarily work with 4th graders. I’m teaching private lessons with three of my fourth graders and it is amazing to get to know their families and be welcomed into their home.”

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

“Yes! We were welcomed to many different staff holiday parties and events. We are also included in various meetings to help ensure that our voices are heard within the school as well!”

How is material being taught to students?

“Material is mostly taught lecture-style, with a lot of interactive activities. The books that are used are great because they include a lot of review and fun activities to do with the students. We spend a lot of time doing these with the students. We also spend a lot of time taking a few students out one at a time and practicing general conversation skills with them.”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you do not plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

teaching private lessons in spain“Lesson prep for classes is different depending on the teacher and the grade level. For first grade, I do a lot of prep with flashcards and posters and make things very visual. For older grades, I focus more on grammar prep and creating activities centered around conversation and listening.

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

“Yes, I work at a bilingual school. For me and the Comunidad of Madrid, a bilingual school means that the priority to learn English is very high. They are teaching the students all of the subjects in English except for Math and Spanish.”

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

“They use a lot of written exams to measure performance. There is not as much of a focus on homework grades as I remember there being in the United States. It’s much more of a big-picture focus to make sure that they really understand the concepts.”

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

“I think overall, yes. More meetings with the teachers could help us improve that all students and teachers are on the same page. I think they will try to incorporate that into this next semester.”

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

“I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned that I really enjoy teaching and creating relationships with the students and teachers. Mostly, I have learned a lot about how to use time wisely. In my old role, I was constantly doing a thousand things at once, and I rarely had a minute of free time. In this position, there is a lot of self-directed down-time. You can choose to take a break, or you can choose to create lesson plans, organize student books, or research more information about the exams.

teaching private lessons books

I have learned that I can have more than one passion. I really enjoyed working in HR. This role could not be more different than that one, yet, I still realized that this is something that I am passionate about. Most importantly, I have learned to love a new culture. Every day — and I mean every day — I catch myself smiling on the way to work or on the way home from the Mercado. Don’t get me wrong, things still frustrate me, but it’s even a pleasant feeling to be frustrated here. The Spanish people have welcomed us into their culture with open arms and are constantly offering helping hands, advice, and language practice. I truly mean it when I say that I have found a home here and that every day I am striving to get more and more immersed in this culture that fascinates me so much!”

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

“I am really hoping to improve my Spanish further. I am able to communicate and generally understand everything these days but know that I am not using the correct grammar. Before I leave, I would really like to improve this.

I would also like to focus on learning more about the exams that the students need to take. By learning more about what these contain, I will be able to better incorporate these objectives into my lesson plans and class-led activities.

Finally, I am hoping to make more connections with locals. I already have a lot of friends, but I feel like I stopped reaching out and trying to meet new people the closer it got to the holidays. This, I would love to change.”

Catching up and learning about teaching private lessons and setting goals

Catching up with Sam made me realize how quickly time passes. She is doing extremely well and certainly is not wasting one minute of her time.

Sam plans to immerse herself even deeper into the culture as she completes this year and plans her next. She is taking her time finding a hobby she would like to try in Spanish. Part of Sam’s journey abroad is to find balance in her life; her imbalanced life in Chicago did not allow for her to even think about a hobby let alone participate in one.

“I would rather Die of Passion than of Boredom,” — Van Gogh

This quote was chosen by Sam to express her desire to go out and do something she loves rather than something that is comfortable. My favorite part of our interview was when Sam opened up and said, “ I would rather go out and do something risky because I love it and am passionate about it than play it safe to be comfortable.”

We cannot wait to see what the future holds for our enthusiastic culture seeker teaching private lessons in Spain. Join us to find out in a couple of months!