Samantha LoDuca Shares Her Five Year Update

Sam in front of some water with a city skyline in the backgroundIt has been a whirlwind half-decade for Samantha LoDuca. She has lived in three different countries, got married, and started new jobs. There was so much to catch up on about her life. Samantha has come a long way since I knew her in Madrid as an inquisitive newcomer who wanted to embrace Spanish culture. Five years on, she’s contemplating signing up for Gaelic lessons from her base in Dún Laoghaire, a coastal suburb of Dublin, the Republic of Ireland’s capital.

Your first Dreams Abroad article was an interview with me in October 2016. You revealed that you studied Spanish for eight years in school. How easy was it for you to adjust to the language in Madrid?”

After consecutively studying Spanish for eight years in high school and university, I was really surprised by how much I didn’t know when I arrived in Madrid. Although I had studied the same grammar repeatedly, I didn’t fully understand how to use it until I heard it being used by natives in everyday conversation. Thanks to the lesson style, my speaking and listening skills were really low when I arrived, but I could read and write enough to get by. All those years studying really helped me have a vocabulary that I could pull from when trying to string sentences together — that was really helpful. Other than that, I would say immersion and forcing myself to speak and listen in Madrid is where I gained the rest of my skills. 

In our second interview, you said you didn’t like to play it safe. What was the riskiest thing you did in 2017?”

The riskiest thing I did was decide to stay and teach English for another year in Madrid. I know that doesn’t sound very risky, but it felt risky to me. It was not a very popular decision among some family and friends at the time. They thought I was going abroad for a year-long adventure and then would return to “real” life. They thought delaying my “re-entry into reality” for another year would make going back so much more difficult. They weren’t wrong, but that second year in Madrid was one of the best years of my life. It shaped what I wanted my “reality” to be moving forward, and I’m so glad I made that decision. 

By 2018, you were well into your second year working in a school. How much had you developed as an educator?”

By 2018, I had learned a LOT about teaching. Before moving to Madrid, I had never studied education or worked in a classroom. There was a lot to learn (like managing classrooms, lesson planning, etc.). The most important thing that I learned was that EVERY single child has so much potential and is really excited to learn. When someone stops believing in a child (i.e., teachers, parents, coaches), that is when you see the child lose that excitement and potential. I never ever wanted to do that to the children that I taught. The best part of the job was seeing them get excited about learning. 

By 2019 you were settled back in Chicago. How much was reverse culture shock still having an effect on you?”

The reverse culture shock was SO bad for me. I honestly don’t think it ever fully went away. As I fell in love with Spain’s culture, people, and lifestyle so quickly and easily, I barely noticed that it happened. Coming home, it was so hard to accept that it wasn’t my life anymore. In Chicago, I tried surrounding myself with people that weren’t from the US and eventually started meeting some Spanish people living in the city. It was great! I was able to share my favorite parts of American culture with them. Additionally, they were able to teach me new things about their cultures. We all could connect on what it’s like to be a foreigner living in a new city. 

In 2020 you relocated to Madison. What did you learn most about yourself or life in general there?”

Relocating back to Wisconsin was a really tough decision for me. Chicago had been my home for five years before I moved to Spain. I thought that it would be the obvious choice to return to Chicago when I was moving back. But, after being in Spain, Chicago no longer felt like home. Most of my friends had moved on to new stages of their lives that I wasn’t quite at. 

I had a yearning to be close to my family (something I had never really felt before). There’s a stigma sometimes to moving back home, especially in US culture — so I was combating that too. Luckily, little did I know it was the perfect decision. I moved in with my parents in late January 2020 while I looked for apartments in Madison. 

When COVID hit, I was still apartment hunting, and I realized this is a chance for me to spend an unbelievable amount of time with my parents, something I never thought I’d have again. I lived with them until October. We went through the worst wave of the pandemic together, but we created some really amazing memories together too. 

You moved to Dublin at the beginning of 2021. How difficult was it to do so during a pandemic? Bonus question: Guinness or Murphy’s?”

Yes! Moving internationally during a pandemic is really hard. When we moved to Ireland, the country was in its highest level of lockdown (which meant only essential places, like supermarkets, were open. There was no gathering with anyone outside your household, and you could only travel 5km away from your home). It stayed like that for about five months, and now things are slowly opening up. 

The hardest part for me so far has been not having a chance to meet people and integrate myself into the culture. That’s my favorite part of traveling and living abroad. Now I’m finally able to start doing those things, and I am really excited about it. P.S. I have to say, Guinness!

As Ireland eases back into its laidback way of life, Samantha can’t wait to explore what the country has to offer. She’s looking forward to gaining a more authentic taste of the country, starting with a visit to Cork, Ireland’s second-largest city. There is so much regional diversity to discover within a relatively small space. You can get from one end of the country to another in less than three hours, and Samantha is excited to get to know this miniature paradise better.

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.

Study Abroad Programs for College Students

by Samantha LoDuca

I first met Maria in a busy Starbucks in downtown Chicago right after rush hour. I remember walking around scanning the room for a girl who looked “Spanish.” I wound up spotting her eventually, and remember thinking that all my anxiety about meeting her was pointless because she was so sweet. That was almost two years ago! Little did I know that it would be the beginning of an amazing friendship.

A Little About Maria and Her Wanderlust

Maria was born in Madrid, but all of her family is from Cadiz (a beautiful southern city in Spain). She recently graduated from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid en CIU with a degree in Architecture. She is a sweet, kind and hilarious friend. Her travel and determination to master the English language inspire me every time I see her.

While Living in Chicago

She was only living in Chicago for a few months. While she was there my roommate at the time and I developed a fast friendship with her. She was fun and up for anything. Whether that was staying out until 4am (little did we know this was nothing compared to fiestas in Spain) or painting our nails and watching One Tree Hill on our living room floor. When we had to say goodbye to her at the end of the summer, I knew that we would not be seeing the last of one another… and boy was I right.

While Living in Chicago

Study Abroad Programs

Erasmus – Study Abroad for Either a Year or a Semester

Erasmus, for those of you who don’t know, is a European study abroad program where Europeans are able to go to other countries to study for either a year or a semester. This has amazing study abroad programs for college students.

Maria, with her hunger for traveling, decided to study in Zagreb, Croatia (talk about a culture shock!). While there, she really developed her English speaking skills because all her classes were taught in English and this was the primary language of communication amongst the international Erasmus students. From Croatians, she experienced kindness and generosity that she had not expected. In addition to this, living with people from all over Europe allowed her to learn a lot about cultural differences and customs, too! Overall, this experience really shaped her passion for wanting to travel and live abroad and experience even more different places and people… which leads us to her next adventure.

Study Abroad Programs for College Students

Nepal and IAESTE – International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience

Study Abroad StudentAfter Erasmus, Maria returned to Madrid to finish up her studies, but she could not seem to shake the yearning for different worlds. After some consideration of her options, she has decided to do join Iaeste in Nepal, India. IAESTE is a group that helps young professionals find international work experience opportunities, so Maria will have a chance to utilize her degree in Nepal while gaining experience.

This will be the most “foreign” country that Maria has been to yet, with different languages, traditions, religions, and style of life. She assumes that the way of living will be more relaxed than in Madrid. She will be lacking certain amenities that here she considers basic (think working electricity).

For her, these challenges are exciting and what makes traveling worthwhile. Learning how to change your routine (food, weather, clothes, everything) is a humbling and very eye-opening experience for her. She is excited to add Nepal to the list of places abroad that she has lived. Each place she goes leaves an imprint on her mind. She constantly thinks back to the cities, friendships, and memories that she has made in all those unique places.

What does the Future Hold for this Young Traveler

Where does she see herself in the future? Eventually, she thinks she might want to settle down in Madrid, but I think she put it best,”What I want to do in the future is always changing. What I tell you today will be different than what I would tell you tomorrow. We are free and we are young… I do not have anything keeping me here at the moment, so why not go explore?”

A year after meeting Maria in Chicago, I decided to travel to Spain. Since my arrival here, we have seen each other so many times that I have lost count! Seeing her improvement in English from when we first met her in Chicago, has truly been an inspiration to me in my own Spanish language development. As I am getting ready to say another goodbye to my adventurous friend, I take her words to heart. Whether it is across the Atlantic, the Mediterranean or the Arabian Sea, she will continue inspiring me. Those around her will explore the world one crazy culture at a time!

Samantha LoDuca

Culture Seeker Enjoying European Culture

by Leesa Truesdell

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Sam, the European culture seeker:

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

Rowing in a boat in Spain

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

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

What are your goals while you are here in Spain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

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

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

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

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

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

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

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

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

What has been the best experience?

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

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

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

Final Thoughts on European Culture and Studies in Rome

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

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

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