Paunise Pierre Talks Getting Her MBA

It takes a lot to graduate from university. You must apply yourself to the demands of the program. Intelligence is all well and good, but dedication is key too. In all my time in education, I have encountered fewer more determined students than Paunise Pierre. Since we last spoke, I’m delighted to announce that Paunise is officially an MBA graduate from Nova Southeastern University.

How does it feel to be a graduate with an MBA?”

It feels surreal because I left Haiti nine years ago with no knowledge of English. I graduated high school within a year of entering the USA. Shortly afterward, I started my college career. I completed my Bachelor of Science in economics, and now I am done with my MBA. Words aren’t enough to express how I feel about completing my education. 

It has always been my dream, since I was younger, to attend university, although I am only halfway through my dream. Having completed my master’s degree, now, I am impatient to serve my community. One of my main goals after graduation is to educate others, especially underrepresented groups, about financial literacy. That is because it is often a subject people overlook.  

What has been the most challenging part of this degree?”

The most challenging part for me was that I had to balance both going to school full-time and working full-time. After my first full-time semester on campus, I was offered a new full-time position at the FSU Counseling Center as a Clerical Assistant while I was attending school. I took FSU up on their offer and moved back to Tallahassee. Therefore, I had to transition from being fully on campus to taking classes online. I started virtual learning before Zoom was a thing, lol. 

What will you take away from your experience at NOVA?”

The thing that I will keep from my experience at NOVA is the importance of hard work. Time management was crucial due to the high volume of coursework and conflict of schedule. My time there taught me that hard work pays off in the long run. 

What are the major differences you’ve noticed between private and public universities in the USA?”

There are plenty of differences between private schools and public schools. One major difference is cost because private universities are more expensive than public universities. They also have smaller class sizes than public universities, and they have limited social activities compared to public universities. However, the main difference between private and public schools that stood out to me was that private universities are more focused on discipline and time management. Meanwhile, in public schools, you have to put yourself out there, which can be intimidating for someone shy. 

What is the most important lesson you learned while studying for two degrees back to back?”

The most important lesson I learned while consecutively studying for two degrees was that you have to keep going. Not only for yourself but also for the people looking up to you and the ones that already left their marks. In my case, I have my younger siblings who look up to me and an older sibling who has already traced the path we are supposed to take. My siblings have been my biggest motivation to not give in despite all the adversity that I faced. I was lucky to have God, my parents, and especially my siblings by my side as motivation when getting my MBA. 

What did your study abroad experience in Asia teach you?”

My experience studying abroad in Asia taught me how to be independent in a foreign country where you don’t speak their languages. It is challenging when you are forced to have conversations with strangers to ask them basic questions such as directions or trying to purchase something. 

How has the pandemic affected your studies?”

The pandemic has not affected my studies much because I was already a distance learning student. If anything, the pandemic has brought me closer to other students in the same program as me. A team member from one of my group projects was living in Antigua while completing her MBA. The pandemic has brought us closer through applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, as well as WhatsApp (a Caribbean favorite messenger app). 

What are your short-term plans after earning your MBA?”

My short term is to find an immediate employment opportunity. Thankfully, I was offered a position at the FSU Financial Aid Office, and I am currently working there as an Enrollment Management Officer focused on students’ financial documents.

How about your long-term ones?”

In the long run, I will continue to enhance my financial knowledge. I will keep on building up my resume and exploring different career paths within finance. This way, I hope to find my dream job. Even though I have an MBA, I will continue to make myself more marketable considering how competitive the job market is. Therefore, I plan on studying for the CFA and/or the CPA exam. I want to become a CPA because I would not mind exploring a career as a public accountant and/or an auditor at some point in my life. While I know that’s quite ambitious, I am an overachiever at heart.

Where will you travel next? What’s your dream location?”

Considering I have just completed my degree, it would make sense that I only focus on finding a new career and adjusting to adulthood. Although those are certainly my priorities, as an avid traveler I already plan on taking my next adventure in the next two years. This time I will not be alone; my two younger sisters will accompany me to Europe in summer 2023. We are hoping all will be alright by then.

This will be their high school graduation trip as well as a new adventure for me. I have always been fascinated by Slavic culture, especially Russia. Just like my other trips in the past, I have been preparing for visiting Russia by learning their culture from my Russian friends in the Tallahassee area. In addition, I have read a few books about the Russian Royal Family. My most anticipated locations to visit in Russia are St. Petersburg in the hope of seeing the historic Alexander Palace, Moscow to visit the Kremlin, and Crimea for the Black Sea. My dream location is to travel to Egypt to see the pyramids. I would love to visit them because I enjoy learning about ancient history, and the pyramids of Egypt are rich in history.

You said that one of your dreams was to see a united Korea in your lifetime. How optimistic do you remain about this happening?”

I am still optimistic about seeing the two Koreas united. That dream never dies because of the progress made in the past few years between the two nations. For instance, when the two countries competed as one in the Olympics in recent years. Seeing the two countries represented by one flag did nothing but make me even more optimistic about the two Koreas uniting during my lifetime on Earth.

Haiti has been in the news recently; how does someone born and bred in the country make sense of the headlines?”

Unfortunately, Haiti has been in the news a lot in recent days and it is not for great causes. As someone who was born and bred in Haiti, that could negatively affect me in terms of how differently people will see me. However, I do not let the negative headlines about Haiti define who I am. If anything, I used those unfortunate events as one of my main motivations to become successful. I want to prove to others that where you come from does not define the person you are and your ability to be successful.  

As an optimistic person who always sees the good, even in bad situations, I have faith in the Haitian people that they will rise above all odds and break all stereotypes one day. I believe they are stronger and more courageous than they realize. My hope for them is to start focusing on important issues such as education, economic development, and, more importantly, health issues considering the current public health crisis going on around the world. I believe that the Haitian people are much more than the headlines in international news. 

When you have been away from Haiti, what (apart from family and friends) have you missed most?”

Church has always been a big part of my life when I was growing up in Haiti. To this day,  I still practice my religious faith. Growing up, I used to be part of church activities and I have missed this part of my life since I have been away from Haiti. Even though I still attend church here in the United States, my experiences in the Haitian church community were different because I was home and I already had friends. It was hard making friends and adjusting to life in the USA, especially in the church where every church member was foreign to me. To this day, I still miss my church in Haiti. 

Catching up with Paunise, I was struck by her single-minded devotion to go the extra mile in getting her MBA. Paunise recalled returning home after studying late and feeling exhausted. But she never gave in as she wanted to finish what she had started. In a crowded job market, Paunise is intent on standing out. She told me of being a role model to her younger sisters who live in Haiti and looking up to her older sister who works as a doctor in Lamont, Florida. So, if you are ever tempted to slack off, I would urge you to think again and embrace the work ethic of committed professionals such as Paunise Pierre.

by Leesa Truesdell

The Road Back to Spain: Finishing My Master’s in Madrid

Emma Schultz

In January of 2020, I took what I did not realize would be my last big trip for a while. I returned to Madrid for a 10-day visit during my winter break from grad school. I had a great time visiting my old home and was glad to reconnect with a city I love. But I also came with a purpose — to pursue and secure an internship position to finish my master’s in Madrid, receiving a degree in International Education Management.

I had set my sights on doing my internship back in Madrid before I’d even applied for my graduate program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. Leaving Madrid was difficult for me; I had built a life in Spain that I loved and wanted to get back as soon as I could. The opportunity to complete my third and final semester in Madrid was very appealing. I researched where I could do it a full six months before moving back to the US to start my degree. And so, in January of last year, I got on a plane to come back to Spain as a tourist, but also to follow a lead (or, rather, try to create one for myself).

Master’s in Madrid

As luck would have it, the Middlebury School in Spain offered me a position. Many of my predecessors at the Middlebury Institute with an interest in Spain had completed their program internships with the School in Spain. I felt excited to do the same. In our initial meeting, the School Director asked me, “what are your main areas of interest?” I was pleased that my surprising response of “culture, administration, and organization” was well received. We put the process in motion for me to return that summer to complete my internship. I was overjoyed.

Plans Change, Especially in 2020

Unfortunately, 2020 had other plans for all of us and I didn’t get back to Madrid that June. The Middlebury School in Spain did not offer an in-person undergraduate study abroad program last semester and my internship opportunity was subsequently suspended. After a lot of reflection, I decided to take a leave of absence from my degree. I pursued work at home while I waited (and hoped) that the spring semester might turn out differently.

Texas Countryside before Emma went to get her master's in Madrid
The Texas countryside in October 2020

During that time I, fortunately, found work as Dreams Abroad’s first Operations Manager and in my hometown’s tourism office. I also made the most of unexpected and precious time with my family. The months passed, and with them, my anticipation and anxiety about a program decision for the spring semester grew. I found out late in the fall semester that Middlebury would still not run an in-person undergraduate program in Spain. Much to my relief the School in Spain had work for me to do. So I happily prepared the visa paperwork to go to Spain for the third time that year and started packing my bags. I was ready to complete my master’s in Madrid.

Flying into a More Hopeful 2021

Just two days into the new year, I got on a plane to return to Madrid for the first time in over 12 months. When I landed, I learned that the area I was moving to was going into confinement nine hours later. We would stay that way for seven weeks.

Later in my first week back, Spain experienced a record-breaking, historic snowstorm that left streets covered in ice and snow for over a week afterward. Christmas decorations didn’t come down until nearly a month after they usually do. Supermarkets ran out of basic provisions because trucks couldn’t make deliveries and everyone rushed to the stores.

It wasn’t quite the return I had expected, even allowing for the global pandemic. But regardless, I was here. I had made it.

After hoping and waiting for this position for so long, being here to do the work and finish my degree is nothing short of a dream come true. I’ve finally met a goal I’ve had for many years: to work in my chosen field, international education and education abroad management, in-country at an institution I believe does good and important work. I’m here now finishing my master’s in Madrid, doing just that and contributing to that work.

Rounding Out My Master’s in Madrid

Madrid Calle Prim February 2021, which Emma took while getting her master's in Madrid
Madrid’s Calle Prim in February 2021

To finish my degree, there are a few basic requirements. First, I must spend the semester working at an organization focused on international education. Then, I need to complete five graduate-level projects for that organization that cover the learning objectives of our degree. Finally, I must participate in a remote class. I’ve nearly completed two of my five projects and am starting the third this week, so I feel well on track for the semester’s end.

I’m confident the work I’m doing here now will shape my future career. It will continue to give me the skills and tools I need to be successful. Although my semester back in Madrid looks quite different than I had anticipated, I also know that navigating the world of education abroad in such an uncertain time will undoubtedly prepare me for future hurdles in a way a more “normal” semester never could have. I feel confident that I can take whatever comes my way next, also a bit uncertain at the moment, in stride.

by Emma Schultz

Christoffer Fredriksen Talks Selecting LSE Dissertation

Christoffer Frederiksen and I met in Medellin, Colombia, while he was completing an internship for his undergraduate degree in International Management at the University of Nottingham. I was lucky to meet the LSE-bound Christoffer; he felt driven to explore and learn. Christoffer has since worked and traveled extensively throughout Asia, Latin America, and Europe.

We touched on his experiences at the London School of Economics, more commonly known as LSE, in his first interview. In this interview, we will learn more about how he selected and refined the focus of his dissertation. As you will see, there is a great intersection between his interests in different cultures and economics.

What was the process of selecting your dissertation at the LSE? Was there a school model that you had to follow?

“We were free to choose a topic relevant to our degree and we had a semester and a half to contemplate potential topics. Then we received a deadline to meet with our tutor, who had to sign off on our chosen topic. The tutor was available to discuss methodology, theories, structure, etc. whenever we needed to.

What did the school support in terms of your dissertation? Was there a class, series of specific classes, or workshops you had to take?

We were able to book our tutors twice within the semester and if we had any further questions we could send emails. Since we had to write the thesis over the summer holidays, we could not receive face-to-face tutoring. We also had a lecture on dissertation rules and guidance for choosing a topic.”

How did you identify your dissertation? 

“I asked myself a series of questions and hoped they would intersect:

  1. What excited me the most about political economy?
  2. What am I really curious about? 
  3. And, what would I like to be an expert on?”

How did asking these questions help refine the overall product and final research conducted?

“Those questions were useful in identifying the topic that interested me, but it was also important to narrow the scope of the research question to make it feasible for a dissertation. I had to break it down into sections of arguments. Here, I discovered what research would be necessary to make those arguments credible and convincing.”

What was your dissertation?

“I wanted to gain a better understanding of economics, particularly those aspects that affect society the most. I also wanted to learn more about non-western emerging markets and how they differ from markets in high-income countries. The topic I chose linked these interests — I chose to write about economic crises in emerging markets. I looked at the waves of theories explaining them and noticed that recent learnings from the financial crisis in 2007-2008 were absent.

Existing theories were predominantly based on neoclassical economics, where quantitative models perfectly explain reality. I saw that I could apply recent learnings about the role of social conventions and ideas in human behavior to close the gaps in existing theories’ ability to explain the causes and depths of the crises. I used the case of the Asian financial crisis of the ‘90s to demonstrate my points.”

Looking back, what would you have changed about selecting your dissertation at the London School of Economics?

“Overall, I am happy with my choice. However, I could have spent more time contemplating different research questions within the same topic. This would have required a great deal of preliminary research and I chose to go with the first thing that felt right. The downside to that is that I might have missed something with the potential to be outstanding.

My dissertation was a great way to conclude my time at the London School of Economics. It allowed me to combine all that I had learned with a topic that I truly felt was relevant and timely. Putting this all together gave me a sense of pride about what I had accomplished at school and learned along the way.

Writing my dissertation helped me better understand the global economy. Furthermore, since I enjoy following international news and discussing where the world is heading, I am very happy that I chose to dive into the topic of emerging market crises.”

Chris is enjoying his position as a business partner working at Novo Nordisk and looks forward to many years to come. He believes that his time at the London School of Economics was well-spent. The time it took him to select, work on, and defend his dissertation aided in developing his leadership skills. Earning a master’s degree has helped him make progress on his personal goals and growth. It also allowed him to meet international friends who have significant roles at other international companies, nonprofits, and government agencies. Chris applies the skills and new ways of thinking that he gained through his master’s coursework and dissertation at the London School of Economics to his work at Novo Norvodisk by using frameworks to understand factors impacting the business beyond the market.

Interested in other tips and advice for college students? Check out this list of some of the career benefits you could enjoy by studying abroad.

International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies


emma schultzEmma Schultz has been a Dreams Abroad member since 2017 and has always had an interest in international education. We took the opportunity to catch up with her about how she’s been doing since moving from Madrid, Spain to Monterey, California. She is pursuing a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

How did you hear about Dreams Abroad?

“I was a friend of Leesa’s when she founded Dreams Abroad. She had talked about wanting to start her own website for some time, and it was really great to see it come to life. I was excited to start working with her as a writer in February of 2017 and have enjoyed other roles with the team since then. It’s been a joy to watch the project grow, change, and flourish over time. It has become such a great resource for anyone interesting in international education.”

Where were you when you first joined?

“I was teaching English in Madrid, Spain when I started writing for Dreams Abroad.”

apartment madrid spain
The view from my first apartment in Madrid, Spain.


How has your life changed since then?

“My life has changed a lot since then. I started writing for Dreams Abroad when I was in my first year of teaching English as a foreign language, which was also my first year out of college. I continued my time as a teacher in Spain for a second academic year and then transitioned back to part-time study. Furthermore, I was a Spanish student in Madrid during my third year and also worked at an internship. Also, I was a dual nanny/English teacher to a lovely two-year-old boy.

My biggest transition happened this past July, however, when I made the big decision to move back home to the U.S. I decided to pursue a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

It was a hard decision to make and an even harder transition. A lot went into my choice to come back to the States — what I felt I had gained in Spain, what I thought I was missing there, and what I thought I might find back at home. Ultimately, I decided it was time for me to pursue a master’s degree. I have long known that I want a career in education abroad management. I knew that I needed to get a higher education to make that possible for myself.

Transitioning into being more than a full-time student has been challenging, but it is absolutely worth it. I know I am gaining hard skills that I will use for a lifetime. I don’t think I could have picked a better program for my interests and goals.”

international education management at middlebury institute
The Middlebury Institute of International Studies campus in Monterey, California.


What did you learn from your experience living abroad?

international education management college“Living abroad did so much for me. It helped me to understand the world better. It helped me to understand myself better. I was able to explore pre-existing interests and engage new ones; I experienced new ways of seeing, interpreting, and understanding things. After three years in Spain, I can say I really feel that I have a connection to the country, its people, and its culture. The degree of love I feel for what has become one of the many places I can call home isn’t something I would trade for the world.

I loved my life in Spain — the balance between my commitments and my personal life, my incredible friendships, the beauty of the country, the warmth of its culture, and so much more. Leaving was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Coming to the decision to leave took me a long time.

When I moved to Spain, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted my place in the world to be. In my three years in Madrid, I built something there for myself that mattered. I had a home, a life, and a strong love for where I was in the world. I learned, grew, and changed so much.

Why I Had to Leave

In the end, I think I had to leave Spain because of all of those discoveries. I wanted to stay, but for lots of other reasons I needed to go. I wanted to advance in my professional life. Plus, I needed to feel more stable and grounded. I needed to feel secure in a way that temporary visas didn’t provide. I needed to feel like I was working towards a life that I could make well-rounded.

Even though I loved Spain, sometimes I ended up feeling stunted. I felt like I didn’t have enough to engage my mind or fill my time. It was a limitation I had because of the restrictions of the visas I was able to use while there. It was a reality for me nonetheless.

monterey ca rocks on the water
This all led to the very challenging and definitely bittersweet decision to move back to the U.S. and pursue a graduate degree. I felt that by doing so, I could find my way to more professional fulfillment. Ultimately, I wanted to feel more balanced and grounded in my life. I hope to work towards feeling stable here or back abroad someday.”

What have you been doing this year?

“This academic year, I have been focused on my master’s degree and all of the work it entails. Choosing to go for a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies was one of the bigger decisions I’ve made in my life; I gave up a life in Spain surrounded by people I love there to pursue it.

Although I miss Spain and the life I built for myself there, I can’t say for a second that I regret the shift. I know that I am in the right place doing the right thing and that it will propel me towards the future I know I want.”

International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies

Emma has been in California for almost two months now and may need some more time to feel like it is home too. But she’s hopeful that the skills she gains and connections she makes will help guide her forward to the next step after this. Hopefully, she can find all the things she’s looking for. Be on the lookout for Emma’s next pieces on how her life has changed and follow her journey!

city on the water
Fisherman’s Wharf Monterey, California.


by Emma Schultz

Getting a Master’s Degree Abroad


kenny obiora Getting a Master's DegreeKenny Obiora was born in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria, Africa. He lived the majority of his formative years living with his uncle, aunt, and grandmother in Nigeria while attending school. He returned to the US during his school breaks before moving permanently to the United States for grades 8-12.

When we asked Kenny about his parents’ decision to send him “home,” he answered, “they wanted me to have a good upbringing.” He later explained that this meant that his parents wanted him to be culturally immersed in his day-to-day activities and life. They wanted him to be part of the Igbo tribe and learn the Igbo tribal language. Kenny speaks three languages: English (which is the dominant language in Nigeria), his tribal language, Igbo, and French, which he studied throughout his academic career. 

Kenny is currently living in Paris, France on an APS visa. This visa class means that Kenny will have to work in a field in which he studied. Kenny recently graduated, getting a master’s degree abroad in health economics and is pursuing a career in the field. 

What was it like growing up in Milwaukee, WI? For example, your education system. Did you go to a primary school and a secondary school? 

“I had a mixed childhood. Before I was fourteen, I lived in Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. I attended a private boarding school. I returned to the United States officially to complete eighth grade and high school. When I arrived, I attended a public middle school in a suburb of Milwaukee, and then a private high school in Milwaukee. 

The education system in Milwaukee is very broken. Most of the public schools are lacking — whether in quality teachers or in funding. Due to this, students are negatively impacted. My parents enrolled me in a program in Milwaukee called “Open Enrollment” which allowed me to be bussed into another school district. This program was only by application and there were selective spots. I was only able to finish middle school through the program. Afterwards, my parents decided to place me in a private high school.”

Boston CollegeDid you take a gap year? Or, did you go straight to the university for your undergraduate studies? 

“No, I went directly to the university. I was fortunate to attend a college-preparatory high school, which pushed us to apply to a wide range of universities. I was most looking forward to the exciting majors and clubs at Boston College.”

Where did you study after high school? How long did it take to get a diploma for your undergraduate studies?

“I attended Boston College (BC) in Chestnut Hill, MA. It’s funny that BC is neither in Boston nor a college! It took me four years to receive my diploma. I received a B.S. in Biology and a minor in French. College changed me in many ways. I learned independence and what it meant to do things for myself. Laundry was no joke!”

Why did you decide on getting a master’s degree abroad at Sciences Po Paris ? 

“I decided to leave the United States and move to France for a few reasons. After I graduated from college, I spent a year working part-time in a lab in the Boston area doing clinical research and working part-time as a Resident Director and Diversity and Inclusion Assistant Director at Emmanuel College. My goal was to apply to medical school during this time. However, after I was accepted officially to Sciences Po Paris, I knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime. I hadn’t studied abroad during my college years, and I knew that getting a master’s degree abroad in Health Economics would be a complement to my bachelor’s studies. The price point of a university in France was also very attractive. With all these decisions I decided to pack up and head to France!”

What sparked your dream study abroad?

Getting a Master's Degree Abroad in france“I’ve always considered myself to be a wanderer. I spent many years of my childhood in Nigeria. When I didn’t have the opportunity to study abroad as a university student, I knew that getting a master’s degree abroad was a priority. Studies in France are very attractive. For example, schools are much cheaper than they are in the United States and there are many opportunities to do dual programs in other countries.”

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the   location and what changed after having completed the program?

“I was an International Assistant at Boston College, which was a program that paired together international students and BC students to make the transition smoother. I was paired with a few French students. To be honest, they tended to stick with their friends from their country and thus, I thought the French would be exclusive. While this was somewhat true at the beginning, I did learn that the French value friendship a lot. While they can be closed-off at the beginning, once they opened up, they were very kind. 

I also didn’t expect the amount of bureaucracy in France. I was so used to the efficiency of the United States. You applied for something and you could receive that service in a short period. This doesn’t happen in France. Everything takes so much time to happen and is very difficult for foreigners. Getting an apartment, healthcare, a bank account, and visa are all long processes that took weeks to months.”

What did you not expect about living abroad and getting a master’s degree abroad in Paris? 

“I expected that university life would be similar to how it was in the states. You live and learn in the same environment. I was expecting that I would have classes right next to where I lived and wouldn’t have to rely on public transportation. In Paris, the school was just for studying. Clubs and student residences were far and many students lived on their own in the city. In my first year of working on my master’s degree, I lived in a flatshare thirty minutes from school.”

What have you done since you got your graduate degree?

“I am currently looking for a job in my field in Paris. Also, I have been keeping busy giving English lessons to families and companies in the Paris area. I have been applying to pharmaceutical companies in the Paris area in hopes of working in the healthcare field. Since graduation, I’ve been involved in acting classes in Paris. It’s a fun outlet to express myself and meet other expats and students with similar interests in Paris.” 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad in Paris?

“I would tell them to go beyond a semester study abroad program. A full bachelor’s or master’s degree would not only be enriching, but it would save them a lot of money and really allow them to immerse themselves in the culture! Getting a master’s degree abroad really changed my life.”

kenny obiora paris france

Starting a Professional Career After Getting a Master’s Degree

Kenny is actively looking for a professional career in Paris in the healthcare field. While looking for this position, he has experienced firsthand how competitive it is in his field. He has also realized how being from a different cultural background has its disadvantages. In this field (Kenny can’t speak for other industries), he has noticed that Parisians tend to work amongst themselves and often exclude outsiders. This isn’t just because of the need for a visa. It’s also a cultural familiarity amongst workers. Parisians tend to prefer working with other Parisians in big pharmaceutical companies in the Paris metropolitan area. Kenny just started interviewing and is teaching private English lessons at his college for extra money. His life is thriving at the moment, and he hopes to break through the cultural barrier during an interview soon. 

by Dreams Abroad

Personal Growth Teaching Abroad

by Leesa Truesdell

Catching up with Lynnette for our second interview was not like any of my other interviews so far. When Lynnette and I initially met at my CIEE orientation in August of 2016, as mentioned in my first interview with her, she was someone I had to meet. When she spoke, people listened. I realized what my immediate desire to speak with her was for: it was a connection. I am sure many others felt this same sense of connection with her over the course of our orientation because of the candor of her character. She is authentic and she wants people to know her story.

Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.” – Farrah Gray

As we look back at Lynnette’s time here in Madrid, we see that her first year of personal growth teaching abroad was a “honeymoon period.” She was in “survival mode” during her second year and from what she explains, an uphill battle for her third year.

What stood out the most about Lynnette after our first interview was her reason for being in Spain. She said she finds joy in helping others. Lynnette continues to thrive on her quest to do just that, but one variable in the equation has changed. She is working to help herself in life so she is better equipped to help others. When I spoke with her and we discussed these last few months, she said, “you can write all this – all of this. I want my story to be real.”

Meet Lynnette, the authentic veteran:

What is a typical day at your school like?

“It takes me about 40 minutes to get to school by train. I usually go over the day and see what materials I need to bring with me for the first two hours of class. When co-teaching, I am in charge of the daily routine which is usually at the beginning of class.

In first grade classes, I’m working on jolly phonics and different games to review their vocabulary. If I have infantil, what we know as preschool, most of our routines take the form of musical play. They are usually my most unpredictable classes but the most fun because the children are learning a little bit of everything and they are more creative.

Second grade classes have a daily routine that is usually more physically interactive. I usually create activities where they have to move around and work in groups. Then I have “coffee break time” which is very important if you are working in a Spanish school. It is a social half-hour for teachers. After the break I usually prepare the rest of my classes. By lunchtime I have all my lessons prepared for the next day. I am currently pursuing my master’s degree, so during my lunchtime I work on my curriculum design for my class or any homework I may have.”

personal growth teaching abroad madrid

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

“I co-teach with seven other teachers and two other auxiliares. Each auxiliar is in charge of a particular grade level. I have infantil which consists of four- and five-year-olds. In primary I have all of the first and second grade levels. In secondary, I teach 4th ESO which is the equivalent of sophomores in high school.”

What is communication like in and outside of school?

“Communication in the school is something that I have to make more of an effort with. I work in a cooperative school, meaning the teachers are on an equal playing field with administrators. This requires a great deal of communication. Outside of school I only socialize with one of the teachers, partly because it is her first year and we have the same teaching methodology.”

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers (auxiliares and teachers)?

“Yes, I am and always have. I think this is the reason I have stayed in Madrid for almost three years. Creating relationships is essential in any job. It also makes the working environment pleasant because you work hard towards common goals you share with your colleagues.”

Are you forming bonds with students?

“I think it’s important and essential to form bonds with your students mainly because students don’t learn well from people they don’t like. Therefore, you have to be sure that if you want to work with children you are able to deal with the responsibility.”

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

“I believe the school tries to work with auxiliares in a professional manner. Furthermore, being in a cooperative school means everyone has their own schedule and time is very limited. So the best time to foster those relationships between your co-teachers is coffee break time.”

What is your favorite part of the day?

“My favorite part of my day is working with my two more challenging classes, and they are complete opposites. First, my five-year-olds in infantil because they are unpredictable and learn so fast. Second, my 4th ESO class (15-year-olds) because they keep me young and I learn from them. These 15-year-olds are in that stage of life where they just want to be heard.”

student five year old painting

How is material being taught to students?

“I had two weeks of observation at my school. I went to classes on my current schedule and observed the teachers, figuring out how I would best work with each of them. I was proactive and asked them what they see my role being in their class. I have been lucky to be with teachers who believe in cooperative learning. However, as auxiliares, you have to be very perceptive, understanding that some teachers just teach from the book. There are two reasons for that. One is the mandated law that the teachers finish the books. Secondly, you have to understand Spain’s history. Spain was under a dictatorship for 40 years. The educational system that was in place at the time was meant to teach basic necessities like sewing classes for women and the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Thinking outside the box was definitely frowned upon. The teaching style in that time was very teacher-centered.”

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

“I am a planner by nature so even on my first day I arrived at school with an animated video and an icebreaker game. For my weekly plan I usually try to organize my different grade levels and plan one grammar game or phonics exercise. I always work on ready activities like popcorn reading. Each week I introduce the new subject and by the end of the week I am doing either a summative or formative assessment.”

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

“I work in a school that is certified bilingual according to the Community of Madrid. However, I have to say there is a very interesting thing that my school does in order to not have a disparity caused by learning the natural science materials in English: they also teach a natural science workshop class in Spanish.”

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

students books abroad learning

“That really varies by teacher. Some of the teachers use summative assessment meaning they have an exam and they give a grade. Some of the younger teachers use formative assessment, which is more informal. It really depends on the teacher.”

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

“The school was established in 1985 so they do have a clear vision and I feel very spoiled with my school. The teachers meet every week to see if they are sticking to the curriculum. The policy is that each grade level is supposed to cover the same material at the same time and that both teachers must take the exam on the same week.”

“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 outside of it?

“I have learned that personal development is never-ending. Specifically, I was recently diagnosed with stress anxiety disorder brought on by the number of changes I have gone through in the past two-and-a-half years. However, despite my issues, I still would not want to be anywhere other than Madrid. I feel that I am learning a lot about myself and the culture around me.

Working through the more challenging facets of personal growth I feel that, despite everything, I have adapted well. As part of this process I am learning to respect and retain my authentic self while allowing for growth and development.”

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

“My goal is to finish my Master’s in International Education. In a couple of years I can see myself helping and consulting people to be better teachers and students of English as a Foreign Language. I would like to provide seminars on how to guide students through learning as well as helping EFL teachers adapt to their new home.”

Personal Growth Library

While speaking with Lynnette I realized that some of her initial goals are changing and Lynnette is, too.

I followed up with Lynnette about her concerns for possibly losing, or somehow altering her authentic self. She shared that she has realized that self growth is going to happen and she welcomes it, but the pace of the process has caused her “stress related anxiety” about which she spoke. Growth, while always positive, is not always painless.

Personal Growth Teaching Abroad

In the end, Lynnette has been using this third year to hone her teaching craft. She realized that she had ‘skated’ through her first two years, leading her into the harsh awakening she experienced at the beginning of her third year. For many of us, it’s often that we cannot see what is actually happening until our body lets us know. This was the case for Lynnette. Lynnette’s autopilot burned out and she needed to resupply herself with the mental resources needed to live abroad. The transition happened and for Lynnette, like most humans, she was trying to survive and adapt while simultaneously trying to hold on to who she was two years ago back in the U.S.

Lynnette’ personal growth has come a very long way in three years teaching abroad. She is enjoying both her Master’s degree work and the work at her new school. She says her new school has embraced her and given her the responsibilities of a teacher. With the responsibility, Lynnette has been able to focus on her own methodology while using what she is learning with her masters.

While some of Lynnette’s goals have changed since our first discussion, what’s been most eye-opening for me is the transformation of a young woman finding her way abroad in a new professional environment. Since the first time I met her at orientation, up until now, I would compare Lynnette to a caterpillar that is just about to break free from her cocoon to become a butterfly. She is well on her way to personal growth teaching abroad and her new dream aboard.