Working at a Catholic School in Medellin, Colombia

Catholic School Medellin Colombia

Lamon Chapman graduated from Hamilton College in upstate New York with a degree in Economics. He originally wanted to be an investment banker. However, Lamon decided to move to Los Angeles, California to pursue his musical dreams instead. He enrolled in music classes at the Musicians Institute. Lamon played for a variety of shows and bands while living in Los Angeles. 

He aspired to learn a different language while living in Los Angeles and thought that moving to a different country would help him with his language learning. Lamon decided to move to Ecuador for two months. He traveled from Quito to Guayaquil and everywhere in between. Then, he headed back to LA. 

Lamon decided that he wanted to become more fluent in Spanish and moved to Medellin, Colombia. A close friend of his told him that Medellin was going to be the next up-and-coming place for urban music. Lamon was ready to give his musical talent a new start. However, he also wanted to have another source of income while living in Medellin. After researching, he learned that teaching English abroad could be a good way to make extra income. 

Lamon volunteered at a library assisting immigrants with their English for six months. Prior to that, he had never taught English. After he received great feedback from his peers and students, he realized he was pretty good at it. That’s when he realized he had a skill for teaching others a language and for teaching in general. Soon after, he made his move to Medellin and lived there for five consecutive years, teaching and playing music. His first job while in Colombia was at a Catholic school for six months. 

Meet Lamon Chapman: 

How did you find your job teaching at a Catholic School?

“I found my job through an old high school friend. They were born in Medellin, but completed high school in the states.”

What was the process of getting hired?

“The process was rather involved. I had to pass a reading, speaking, and listening assessment; not to measure my competencies but rather to ensure I didn’t have speaking, hearing, or vision problems. Also, I had to complete a medical exam and a test in Spanish. Funnily enough, I just sat there during the Spanish test and didn’t take it because I didn’t speak or understand Spanish at the time.”

Who made up the population of students that you taught?

Catholic school“The boys that I taught were aged thirteen through fifteen. I taught four classes with an average class size of twenty. 

In Colombia, if you are single and teach at this particular Catholic school, you can only teach the same sex. For, example, I don’t have a wife, so they only allowed me to teach boys. If I had a wife, then I could have taught both girls and boys. The same applies to single women. If they do not have a husband, they can only teach girls.”

What did you like most about teaching these students? The least?

“For me, the blessing of being an educator lies in the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better and develop positive life-long relationships. There was always a sense of pride and achievement when a student would report to me how an activity or classroom experience benefited their life outside of the classroom. Whether it was translating for their parents at the customs office or simply instilling confidence to use the language, it always felt and continues to feel good to hear those stories.

The only thing I would say that I disliked about my job was being monitored constantly by nuns and priests.” 

What did you find to be the most challenging part of teaching at a Catholic school?

“I had a hard time adjusting to Catholic culture. Things like making sure all kids had dressed according to school standards did not come naturally to me initially. I also had a difficult time receiving negative feedback about group activities from the school administrators (nuns and priests). 

Side note: I never interacted directly with the parents… the school had a specific employee assigned to ‘parent relations.’ All the negative feedback came from the nuns that monitored each class and my superior; they didn’t support my decision to facilitate group activities. Additionally, they often reprimanded me for sitting down. They didn’t allow teachers to sit down.”

What are the differences that you saw while teaching at the Catholic school in Envigado, Colombia compared to volunteering at the library in Los Angeles, California?

South Korea classroom“Prior to teaching in Medellin, I volunteered at a library in Los Angeles. I worked with immigrants who had become US citizens and needed to learn English to live and function in Los Angeles. Volunteering gave me a better understanding of what it was like to teach a second language before moving to Medellin, Colombia.

My first teaching position in Envigado, Colombia was at a Catholic school. If I had to compare the two experiences (in general), here is what the main differences were: 

  • Security: Most schools in Colombia have armed security at the entrance. In the US, and at the library in LA, the immigrants did not have security guard protection.
  • Grading: If a student fails a class, the teacher must be prepared to explain why the student failed. They must also give them an opportunity to take a make-up exam and/or additional activities to pass the course. In the USA, if you fail a course… you fail.”

Explain the motivations of the groups of students for learning a second language. Were the motivations the same? How many classes did you teach?

“I taught at a bilingual school… so students were motivated to learn English because it was a requirement. They didn’t necessarily want to and this was the mentality for many kids at the Catholic school. I taught English, geography, world history, and ethics all in English.”

How did you handle classroom management for these classes? Was it regulated by the school because it was a Catholic school?

“I tried to incorporate group activities versus individual assignments into the classroom. I also tried to incorporate the use of technology in the classroom as well. Unfortunately, school officials did NOT widely accept the use of technology. I had to stop doing group assignments and I mostly assigned individual assignments without the use of technology per the request of the school.”

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

  • Learn the culture
  • Learn the language
  • Be patient with the adjustment… CULTURE SHOCK is real
  • Accept the differences… don’t fight it or allow it to disrupt your experience
  • Don’t assume that everyone will understand your culture and viewpoints

Are you still living in Medellin, Colombia, and teaching at the Catholic School?  What happens next?

“Yes, I am still living in Medellin. However, I no longer work at the Catholic School. In 2016, I was nominated for a Latin Grammy music award. Since the nomination, I’ve taken my passion for music and talents to another level. This year, four close friends and I formed an entertainment company in Medellin: PRIMEROS 5 ENTERTAINMENT. Follow us at primeroscincoent. We plan and organize entertainment events that are changing the face of entertainment throughout Colombia.” 

At La Presentation College in commune 12 La América, approximately 150 students learn about caring for life on the road.
Photo by Secretaría de Movilidad de Medellín.

Looking Beyond Catholic School

Lamon stayed at the Catholic school for six months even though the odds were against him. His students misbehaved and he couldn’t provide student-centered lessons. Not to mention, nuns constantly corrected his teaching methods and conduct. Later in the school year, Lamon realized he was the first teacher to stay longer than two weeks. The other teachers congratulated him for his success and informed him that he endured the brutal challenge of teaching and disciplining this specific class of fourteen-year-old boys that no one wanted to teach.

Stay tuned for the second part of Lamon’s teaching English as a foreign language journey in Medellin, where he talks about his career of teaching English at a university abroad.

by Leesa Truesdell

Going Back to Spain as a Tourist: Hot Chocolate


emma schultzEarlier this month, I went back to Madrid, Spain — but just as a tourist this time. I was able to structure my break between semesters of graduate school to spend ten wonderful days there. I was so excited to get back to one of my favorite cities and the first place I called home as an adult. Mostly, I was excited to spend time in my old neighborhood, visit one of my favorite art museums in the world, frequent restaurants and cafes I’d visited often in my time living in Madrid, and see close friends and colleagues.


Shopping, Food, and Friends

I prepared myself for shopping in my favorite boutiques and Spanish chain stores, lots of tapas and churros, and afternoons spent catching up with friends. Fortunately, I did all of those things. But what I didn’t prepare for was how it would feel going back to Spain as a tourist to visit a place I had once called home. To be a tourist in a place I hadn’t been before is one thing. To be a tourist somewhere where I lived for years was another.


I had a bit of a sneak peek of what this would feel like when I went back to Denmark for the first time since studying there for an academic year. It was a wonderful and strange experience to walk the streets I did as a student. However, going back to Madrid where I lived and worked for so long felt even more like a shock. I found myself not wanting to be perceived as “just a tourist.”

I offered up to shop attendants and waiters that I had, in fact, lived in Madrid for three years in the past. Sometimes this made sense in context, but often I volunteered the information with little prompting. Why did I feel the need to prove myself? My Spanish is good, I know the city, and I know the culture. But I still felt a certain pressure to re-prove to people there that I, too, belonged.

Emma Schultz

Forgetting Things That Were Second-Nature

el Roscón de ReyesIn addition to this reaction, I also realized that over time I had forgotten some small things that used to be second-nature, things that had been automatic knowledge for me. One of my first days back in Madrid, I went to a cafe with a friend. We went specifically for a seasonal Christmas cake, el Roscón de Reyes. She ordered coffee with hers, so I decided to get something warm as well.

I’m not a big fan of coffee or tea. So, I decided to let my child-at-heart out to play and ordered hot chocolate. However, I translated literally and didn’t give it a second thought. When the cup of melted chocolate showed up at my table, I remembered that hot chocolate in Spain isn’t the same as the U.S. I knew this very well from living there. In Spain, locals dip churros in the hot chocolate while having it as a winter drink. However, instead of a liquid drink, locals fill the mug with melted chocolate, literally. If I had wanted American-style hot chocolate, I would have needed to order ColaCao, the Spanish equivalent of Nesquik. Fortunately, I didn’t repeat the mistake the rest of the trip. Nonetheless, I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t remembered this detail of custom and translation.

Of course, it didn’t present any real issue for me that I mistranslated what I was trying to order. Fortunately, none of my mistakes while visiting Madrid created big problems for me. It was more of an internal reflection process for me. I realized that I didn’t remember how to do everything I had once done out of habit.

Going Back to Spain as a Tourist

What I realized from my hot chocolate gaff and a couple of others was that we forget over time. We forget how to live in the places we’ve been when they are very different from one another (and maybe even if they aren’t). The day-to-day starts to slip away. We forget some of the cultural or linguistic knowledge we attained when living in that place. And that was difficult for me to come face to face with going back to Spain as a tourist this past month. But I realized something else, too: whatever we forget we can remember. It’s not as if I hadn’t ever learned those things. Even being back in Madrid for ten days helped me remember some of what I hadn’t realized I’d forgotten. And that gives me hope about staying in touch with the places I’ve left, because the ability to reconnect is definitely there.


by Emma Schultz

Life After Graduating from Florida State University

Tally Cat Cafe after graduatingZoe Ezechiels was born in Norway and grew up in Sarasota, Florida. She thrives in an environment that is filled with diversity and challenge. She studied abroad in an exchange program in South Korea for a year. Recently, she graduated from Florida State University with a BA in both Media Communications and in Theatre. 

Zoe is a writer and video editor at Dreams Abroad and currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida. She is also working as a freelance copywriter, part-time barista, and a preschool photographer. Zoe plans to move to Oregon in the new year to continue working as an onsite photographer. Read on as Zoe shares what she has been doing after graduating from Florida State University!

How did you hear about Dreams Abroad?

“I heard about Dreams Abroad in the most random, roundabout way. During my senior fall semester, I took a class about media and the environment. In that class of about 120 people, I only knew two classmates. One happened to be a good friend who I have worked within student theater (among other projects, like a Jonas Brothers Sing-a-long musical). If you haven’t read Grace Perrotta’s article about her Ireland travels, take a minute of your time to check it out. 

It was Grace that told me about Dreams Abroad. We were sharing exchange student tales (she about Ireland, me about South Korea) and We Study naturally fell into the conversation. Before I was overseeing the We Study section, the beautiful Marina was at its helm. She had contacted Grace to do an article originally. And because I had also studied abroad, Grace acted as the liaison between Dreams Abroad and me.”

FSU graduation fountain

Now, I’ve been working with Dreams Abroad in various roles for about a year. First, I began as a writer and video editor then I moved on to working with the We Study program. Currently, I work as a writer and editor again in order to focus more on my journey and travel after graduating from Florida State. We’ll see where the future takes me with Dreams Abroad.” 

Where were you when you first joined?

“I was finishing my final year of university when I first joined Dreams Abroad. I was experiencing major senioritis at FSU as a dual degree student. Specifically, I was in my Media and the Environment classroom, not paying attention to the video that the professor was playing, when I first sent the email to Dreams Abroad.”

How has your life changed since then?

Zoe Ezechiels and her friend

“I graduated from Florida State University with two bachelor’s for one thing. Immediately after joining Dreams Abroad, I got really high grades in that Media and the Environment class. I did really well in my final two semesters of school (by nuking my social life, if I’m being honest). I made a lot of amazing friends and had people leave my life. Fortunately, I got to spend an amazing spring break in Portland, Oregon (where I fell in love — with the city). I grew a lot and have reached new levels of self-love. 

Directly from Dreams Abroad, I learned that my writing has value and I have a strong voice. I have become more confident in my skills (though I still have a long way to go). Overall, the glow up has been real.”

What did you learn from your experience of traveling abroad?

“Oh, where do I even start with this. I think I’d need an entire article for every time that I’ve been abroad. But, if I could cut to the essentials, I would have to boil it down to two main things. 

The first and most important thing is that I know that I’ve always got my own back. This means that I will never give up on myself. No matter how suicidal or depressed I get (medicated and blessed), I will still fight for my own life. Being cold and alone in the dead of the Korean winter taught me that I am my own ride or die. 

The second thing I learned is that wandering is your best bet. This is literal and metaphysical. Getting “lost” isn’t as bad as you think it is. As long as you’re careful and really aware of the time or place where you’re wandering, you have nothing to worry about. Metaphysically speaking, wandering in your mind is wonderful. Questioning everything, getting lost, and going deeper all sound terrifying but it’s super refreshing.” 

Tally Cat Cafe

What have you been doing this year? 

“I’ve been on that hustle. Since the beginning of this year, I have taken various work positions. I’ve been doing Dreams Abroad and copywriting since the beginning. Around March, I began to work at Tally Cat Cafe as a barista. I can make a mean cat-tuccino now. Over the summer, I took the last two of my classes to graduate in August. While I was doing that, I worked with FSU Special Programs as a Peer Mentor. I got to work with wonderful students from Macau, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, and Japan. 

Since graduating, the Special Programs job ended and I started working with LifeTouch as a preschool photographer. The job allows me to get my kid-fix without being 24/7 responsible for my own. It also has awesome travel perks (I’m writing this from a cafe in Gainesville — LifeTouch provided me the resources to be able to photoshoot over 200 preschoolers during a period of three days in a place two hours away from home).”

What are your future plans?

canoeing Graduating from Florida State University

“That’s still up in the air at the moment. I plan to move to Oregon with the coming new year, which is the only for-sure thing I know. Hopefully, LifeTouch will be gracious enough to allow me to switch districts (since I’d like to continue working for them). I also hope to work with editorials, magazines, and publications in order to continue cultivating my writing. 

Eventually, I want to go to graduate school but first I’m focusing on gaining experience and saving money for now.” 

Life After Graduating from Florida State University

Zoe has been a stellar member of the Dreams Abroad family and we look forward to working with her as long as she is able. We cannot wait to see what her future holds after graduating from Florida State. She also will be working on our upcoming annual holiday video this year. It’s an exciting project for our members and a time for our team to be featured together. Please be sure to check it out — you won’t want to miss out on her video making skills!”

by Leesa Truesdell

Which Study Abroad Program is Right for You?

So, you’ve decided you want to study and live abroad. Congratulations! Studying abroad is a fantastic way to see the world, expand your horizons, and learn something new – in and outside of the classroom. Once you’ve decided to study abroad, your next step will be to decide which type of study abroad program is right for you.

After you’ve made that decision though, what’s next? How do you decide where to go and how long to stay? Once you know which type of program is right for you, here are some resources and ideas to get you started on brainstorming your study abroad experience.

on a school trip

Research the Big Names in Your Program Type

Maybe you’ve decided you want to do a language program abroad to improve your speaking skills. Look into the different companies you could go abroad with. Which seem to have the best reputation/most programs? Where are their centers, and how long do they recommend going for? It’s also a great idea to read student reviews of these programs. Reviews are highly likely to highlight issues you may run into abroad.

You can gather this information relatively easily on the internet. Then, whether you decide to go abroad with a large company or prefer to go with a smaller one, you’ll have lots of perspectives to help you make your decision.

college students

Talk to an Advisor About Study Abroad Programs

If you’re planning a semester abroad as part of your undergraduate degree, talking to a trusted advisor is a great place to start. This is particularly if you will study abroad through your home college/university. An advisor in your study abroad office can tell you what your best options are and which programs are likely to transfer credits towards your degree. They can also weigh in on location, duration of a program, and other considerations like finances, language, and more.

Though this approach might work best for traditional study abroad programs, it can also work for other types as well. Reach out to other types of advisors and mentors. Perhaps a professor of yours might be familiar with language programs. Maybe a family friend knows about a great volunteer program abroad. Having lots of conversations about study abroad will help you find the right fit.

Follow a Passion

study abroad program

If you’re having a hard time knowing where to start when it comes to picking a place, thinking about your passions can help a lot. Perhaps if you’re passionate about history, you could think of what kind or era sparks the most curiosity for you. If you love sports, where could you go to engage in that by joining a local team? Connecting over interests is a great way to become part of a community while living abroad, so it’s not a bad way to help you figure out where to go.

Go Somewhere that Will Help Advance Your Studies and/or Career

It also makes a lot of sense to study abroad in a way that will move your studies/career forward as well. These days, many companies are looking for I. Just going abroad is marketable, but going abroad to attend school or work is a great idea.

Maybe your university has a great business exchange program worth looking into (if that’s the career you’d like to pursue). Or, if it’s advantageous to speak another language, a program that focuses on language skills might be best. Perhaps a volunteer program would give you the necessary management/community outreach experience. Thinking about how your short- and long-term goals will pay off down the road.

Finding the Right Study Abroad Program for You

I knew for a long time that I wanted to study abroad. But finding programs that were a good fit for me involved personal interest, location, academic requirements, and so much more. Doing thorough research, talking to advisors, professors, other faculty and family members, and following my intuition helped me decide what was right for me. With the right tools, you can make an informed decision about where and how to go abroad too – and gain so much from the experience.

study abroad students

by Emma Schultz

University Life Studying Abroad

by Zoe Ezechiels

Mio Matsumoto is a college junior from a school in Tokyo known as Waseda University. She is studying hospitality for a year as an exchange student at Florida State University.

Mio has experienced a very different university life abroad and has grown up in a lot of ways, ranging from learning to juggle school work and a social life, to being completely immersed in a different culture. She has felt the difficulty of getting accustomed to life all by herself but because of the support of her many friends, she was able to have the time of her life and pursue her dream of studying hospitality. The Dedman School of Hospitality at Florida State is one of the best in the nation, and Mio is extremely grateful to be studying there.

University Life Studying Abroad FSU

During her time in the United States, Mio has traveled to New York, California, Alabama, Georgia, and cities within Florida with friends. Because the US is such a large country, there were many opportunities for her to travel and spend time exploring with friends. Even when she felt stressed or worried, Mio is grateful to have a close support group to support her while she is away from her family. Here are her responses to our five questions:

What were your expectations before you left? How have they changed?

“I didn’t have that many expectations; I just wanted to have fun, become independent, and meet new people. Many people have influenced me so far. Even if I have to go back to Japan, the connections I have made in the US will continue, which I think is a great part of having friends in different countries.”

What did you not expect?

“When I lived in New Jersey, there were many Asian people around me. I unintentionally expected the same comfortable environment in Tallahassee.  At FSU, this was not the case. The student body is more diverse than the neighborhood I lived in. Oftentimes, I felt lonely and left out because there weren’t that many other Asian people.

Studying Abroad FSU

However, I met so many amazing people from different cultures and got along with them great, which enabled me to get over my initial hump. Local people taught me cool places to go, eat, and have fun. I decided to study abroad because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. In the end, it’s turned out great!

Also, the weather: I thought it was never going to get cold or rain, but both happen…! Have your umbrellas ready! In addition, I didn’t expect the campus to be so huge that I have to use the bus to get to my classes. Lastly, even though Tallahassee is a college town, many things were expensive (food, school supplies, etc.), so I had to plan out a budget and stick to it.”

What’s your next step?

mio and friends

“I have a dream of working abroad at an internationally-known hotel or with an international airline. I am able to speak Japanese and English, and at the moment I am also studying Spanish. Although I am a hospitality major, I still need more experience. To achieve my goals, I think getting an internship will serve as a bridge between Japan and somewhere else. This way I can ultimately achieve my dream of working at an international company.”

What advice would you give to a student with the dream to study abroad?

“The culture, how you study, the language, etc. is different from place to place; you can’t expect a study abroad experience to be easy. Being able to speak English is just one of the many, many tips for fitting into university life studying abroad. However, studying abroad is a totally eye-opening experience because you can experience it all — from the good to the bad.

Try new things, travel to new places, and be with the friends you feel comfortable with. Even if you’re alone, take part in activities so you can make friends there! Be courageous during class and raise your hand to state your opinions. Everyone is accepting and they look forward to your ideas from a different, international perspective.”

Talking with Mio was an immense pleasure! Stay tuned for her VLOG on 5 tips on university life studying abroad.

studying abroad Mio Matsumoto


Five Ways to Study Abroad


books for collegeStudying abroad has become more popular than ever in recent years, but the ways in which students are engaging the world is changing. While a semester/year-long study abroad used to be normal, more and more students are going abroad in other ways. If you’re thinking of studying abroad, there are so many different paths for you to consider. Read on to learn about some of the best-defined ones.

1) A Traditional Study Abroad Semester/Year

During a semester or academic year abroad, students – often in their junior year of college – spend time abroad in a formal program for university credit. Fewer students are choosing to study abroad for a semester or full academic year now than in years past. Regardless, this is still the most traditional (and often most immersive) way to study abroad. Whether you do a program through your home university or a study abroad provider, choosing to go abroad this way is a tried and true method.

2) Short-Term Study Abroad Programs

Some students choose to go abroad on short-term study abroad programs. These are typically also organized through their home universities or partner programs. These may be summer programs or courses that include educational travel during a winter or spring break. These programs offer the opportunity to study abroad while being more flexible in terms of time commitment and money spent.

college students in class

3) Doing a Gap Year

The concept of a gap year is rapidly growing in popularity, and I’m a big supporter of the idea. A gap year is a year that students take off from studying in the traditional sense, most often after high school but sometimes at other junctures as well. During this year, it is popular to travel, complete not-for-credit study, or work. Formalized gap year programs where students complete a combination of studying and working are becoming more and more common. Whether you spend a gap year studying, learning a new language, volunteering, or otherwise, it’s a great opportunity to engage the world and learn something new outside of the classroom.

students studying over coffee

4) Learning a Language

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, students are seeing the value in learning a foreign language. Companies looking to hire students are also looking for this aspect. Choosing to study anywhere at a language academy is another great way to go abroad. Whether you do so as part of a gap year or at another point in life, learning a language is an invaluable skill, and getting to do so onsite is a great way to get to know another culture.

5) Taking Time to Travel

Although often part of a gap year, traveling abroad deserves recognition in its own right as well. Although far from a traditional study abroad program, traveling extensively teaches you a lot about the world and helps prepare you for later studies in any field.

ways to study broad student

Studying abroad is at an all-time high. People all over the world are looking to have experiences in other countries. Whether you choose to study abroad for the year in a college program, learn a new language for a few months, or something in between, studying abroad will provide you with the opportunity to learn something new about the world and something new about yourself.

by Emma Schultz

Resource Guide for Teachers: Non-Bilingual Students

I spent the summer before my first year of teaching English in Madrid tossing lesson ideas back and forth with secondary school teachers I knew, and saved a spot in my suitcase for activity books with creative writing prompts and unique vocabulary words. However, being placed at a non-bilingual school with a generally lower English level meant that I would have to shift my lesson planning focus. While this took some time, through trial and error I found compromising teaching methods that were both enjoyable to older students and English level-appropriate. Here are a few of my favorite ESL lesson planning tricks to serve as a resource guide that could be a success at any type of school:

Presentation Resource Guide for Non-Bilingual Students

Ah, PowerPoint. I still remember getting so excited about making my own backgrounds and adding only the wildest animations to my presentations in elementary school. But after 5th grade, my fear of public speaking was more powerful than my love of rainbow gradient backgrounds.

resource guide make teaching plans fun

By learning to tailor my presentations to my students’ needs, I was able to engage them thoroughly and gain confidence in my public speaking when they reacted well to my lessons. My presentations included a little bit of everything.

  • Templates
      • Google Slides: This was my go-to. Its format is straightforward and easy to use.
      • Prezi: A little more complex than Google Slides, students will be amazed by its signature, unique transitions between slides
  • Questions: Adding a question to info-heavy slides gets students involved and keeps their attention
      • ESL Conversation Questions: if you’re at a loss for ideas, this website has discussion question ideas for a wide variety of topics
  • Videos: including a video is a great way to add variety to a presentation! They are great for practicing listening skills and sharing a bit of your own culture.
      • LearnEnglish Teens: I love British Council! Their entire LearnEnglish Teens website is interesting and relevant, especially the Video UK section (under the UK Now heading). Its videos are divided by skill level, so you can easily find something that any class would enjoy.
  • Grammar: If you include review exercises every few slides, new info is certain to stick.
      • English Club: Groups of exercises with a wide range of difficulties and topics. These can break up long stretches of teaching. My students loved getting to come up to the computer to solve a problem.
      • ESL Games World: If students picked up on a lesson really well, I would reward them with a game week. They loved the chance to beat their classmates! This works best with smaller groups so that everyone gets a chance to participate.
  • Projects: I like to conclude my presentations with a project that involves all the new skills students have learned. Students can review everything while getting to express a bit of creativity. Here are some of my personal favorites:
  • Talent Show: Have students write a little description of a talent they have that must include a number of relevant grammar or vocabulary. Then, they can each present for the class. This can be done periodically throughout the year, as they keep adding to their English skill set.
  • Memory Book: Give the students a theme to write about, such as vacations, birthdays, or their school year. Have them pick four specific memories related to the theme, each of which must include a different past verb. They can draw pictures if they want, or if they are completing the activity over a longer period of time, bring in their own.

Contact YOUR Teachers

When I began to encounter situations in the classroom that wouldn’t occur at a bilingual school, I reached out to my high school teachers with whom I am friends with on Facebook. They ARE professionals in the field, after all! Even if your former teachers have never taught ESL, they have years of experience with lesson planning, discipline, and engaging all types of students. They can act as excellent support systems and mentors if you find yourself overwhelmed by the expectations of working at a non-bilingual school. They can serve as your own interpersonal resource guide.

students teaching abroad lesson plans

Competitions for Non-Bilingual Students

A fail-proof way to motivate students is winning, and what’s a better way to do that than through competition? After my competition-based lessons, I’d be able to hear the winning team bragging to their friends for minutes afterward. Alongside the joys of winning, students get to practice teamwork skills in the process. A wide variety of strengths can shine together while playing a game. No resource guide would be complete without these classics.

Here are a Few of My Favorites for Students:

  • Categories: divide the class into teams. On the blackboard, write a theme: this can be literally anything, from general grammar points like adjectives or present continuous verbs, or a specific vocabulary topic. Each group then gets two minutes to think of as many words as possible that fit this category. Students receive points based on the number of correct answers. Whichever team has the most at the end of a few rounds, wins!
  • 20 Questions: this is a great game for students who are just getting started with English. I have even played it before with kids who are on their first lesson, but it can be a great way to introduce new vocabulary to anyone. Divide the class into teams, and give them a word. The teams then take turns trying to guess the definition by asking yes-or-no questions. Whichever team guesses the correct definition gets a point.
  • Scavenger Hunt: this game is best for classroom vocabulary, but if you can get permission it can really be played anywhere on school property. Divide the class into teams and give each one a vocabulary list of things to find and label. If the game is taking place in a larger space, have each team take photos of what they have found. Whoever finds and correctly labels the most things on their list wins.  Bonus: if the game does take place in the classroom, you can keep the labels there for the year and encourage students to always refer to these things in English.

Practical English Lessons

I think one of the most exciting things for me while learning Spanish has been being able to use the language in my daily life. Having yourself in the classroom as a native English speaker gives your students this same unique opportunity. Conversational lessons can be one way to incorporate this well, but teaching practical skills in English can go beyond simply asking students questions.

The best thing to remember in this resource guide about practical English is that just about any topic being studied in class can easily have real-world applications. To practice food vocabulary, have them design their dream menu and then act out a restaurant scene. If they are learning directions, have them tell you how to get to their favorite place in their town. If possible and with permission, you could even start a pen pal program with a class at one of your old schools to practice letter writing: this is a practical English assignment that would actually have an effect in the real world! When students build confidence in various practical interactions, their general conversational skills will improve as well.

Creativity is a Must for Students

Having just graduated from college when I started teaching (and therefore not having been too far removed from high school either), I remember how long the school day could feel. Often, the last thing that students want to do is sit through yet another lecture or complex project.

art class teaching abroad lessons

When I could tell that my students were restless, a creative lesson would be the most productive means of teaching. Mixing up the routine got students enthusiastic and less likely to drift away as the class went on. Students also enjoyed getting to use their language skills to do something other than taking notes.

Go-To Games: a Resource Guide

  • Mad Libs: everyone, including me, seemed to be obsessed with these when I was in elementary school. The basic concept is that there is a story with blanks throughout it. Students select a word from a word class to complete the story without receiving any details of the story. Then, read the story with students’ word suggestions: it’ll likely make no sense! If a student has a high enough English level, they can then write their own Mad Lib. There are plenty of templates online, but you can write your own as well and cater them to specific lessons.
  • Pictionary: another classic that can be played with any lesson. Divide students into teams, and give them words to draw. The rest of the team has to then guess what the student is drawing. If the student who is drawing’s team cannot guess correctly, the other team gets the chance to guess and win a point

art by non bilingual student


Get Personal With Lessons

During conversational lessons, I would get excited when students started asking me questions about myself. To an extent, I was an open book with them: toward the end of the year, I even asked one of my older classes for opinions on houses my family had been looking at buying when we moved to New York. Having someone new and from a different country in the classroom is exciting for students, and in my experience, they were super curious about my life.

Even if you’re not willing to share a lot about your personal life with students, there are ways that you can use a personal touch to spark interest in conversational English. If you have a talent, share it with your classes. I often brought my ukulele to classes. If they completed lessons without problems, I would play them a song.

Grammar Lessons – a Resource Guide in Finding Structure

Have your students get personal in their speaking lessons too! During grammar lessons, I included writing assignments that incorporated the topic and always had students share something about themselves. Games like Two Truths and A Lie can also add structure to speaking lessons: have students think of three things about themselves, two of which are true and one which isn’t. Then, make the class guess what each lie is. By encouraging students to direct lessons toward their interests, conversations will happen more organically.

Final Thought For Our Resource Guide: Non-Bilingual Students

Most students I worked with were excited to have someone new in the classroom, especially from a different country! With a strong knowledge of what works–and doesn’t work–for your audience, tapping into your students’ curiosity to make the most of your time together will be simple. I hope this resource guide provided new opportunities for you and your students!

private lessons abroad ellen hietsch
Dress-up from my Halloween private lessons—Marceline the Vampire Queen.

José G. Carrasco Talks Teaching in a Miami-Dade Public School

A week after José’s last day of the 2017-2018 school year, I had the pleasure of speaking with him about his first year working in a Miami-Dade public school. The most difficult thing José discovered about teaching in a public school was deciding which methods to use and when to use them. It became especially important as he worked alongside staff and with the administration. José was trained to use methods he learned from his master’s degree. However, teachers in his Miami-Dade public school handled things differently than what he had been accustomed to.


Since the last time we spoke, I could hear a new tone of happiness in José’s voice that hadn’t been there before. As our conversation went on, I got the sense that the happiness stemmed from a sense of accomplishment. He gave examples of how his students had achieved higher scores each week, and soon, each month. While José was talking, I could feel his excitement reaching new levels.

José also discussed many things that he learned throughout his year in a Miami-Dade public school. As I listened to José talk about getting his own classroom and teaching his own class, I understood just how much he truly cares about his job. José expressed that the most rewarding part of his year was how his students showed 5% increase or more in their overall learning objectives.

Meet José: Mr. Positive

 “At the end of the day they are kids. They want someone there to say: I care about you, and I want you to succeed.” – José G. Carrasco

What is a typical day at your school like?

“The students go to homeroom for 10 minutes at the beginning of the day. First period is 60 minutes. All other class periods during the day are 50 minutes long. I teach 4thand 5thgrade math. My first three classes were 4thgraders who were all on task. None of these classes were failing when I arrived in December.”teach-usa-jose-event-miami-dade-students

“After lunch, I taught two 5thgrade classes. One was an upper-tier class and the other was a lower-tier. The higher-tier math class was ill-prepared when I first arrived. The teacher before me was not prepared to teach math or science. She was a good teacher, but she specialized in neither math nor science. After I arrived and began challenging them, they went up six points or more in their level that year!”

“My lower-tier 5thgrade class didn’t have adequate training in basic, fundamental skills such as reading, writing, and simple math (adding and subtracting). Some days I felt like I was teaching English to English speakers. This group of students spoke a lot of slang and needed the basics broken down.”

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

“I teach six periods, so, I teach a total of six classes that are all math in English.”

Are you forming any working relationships with coworkers?

“Yes! For my first year, I worked with leadership and math program coaches. I also worked with the Sunshine Club to create comradery amongst other teachers.”

Are you forming bonds with your students?

“Of course. My students are the most important part of my job. I make it my priority to understand their needs, as well as who they are as people.”

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

“Yes, I am a member of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project. This club teaches boys how to be gentlemen and good members of society.”

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

“Testing. I like to see my kids shine and to see the fruit of my labor as soon as possible. I like to give them an exit question before they leave, which is usually something to go home and think about.”

How is material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

“I don’t shoot out material and have them take notes simply to take notes. I use a student-centered approach. This means that we add as we go. I also use a conceptually-sound approach, which means that they don’t have to memorize formulas. The goal is for my students to know how to formulate ideas for themselves. I don’t want them to memorize formulas and then just forget them after the year is over. I want my students to remember what is being taught to them.”

How do you prepare your lessons for each class?

“I have a topic I want to speak about each class. I know my student’s strength and weaknesses. After I introduce the topic, I break them up into groups based on diversified instruction.”

Do you work at a public school? What does that mean to you? What does that mean according to the state of Florida or the people you work with?

“Yes. Public school for me means that you want to work with a broader demographic pool within the community. You aren’t cherry picking your students. Rather, you are teaching the students that live in the area assigned to that school. This reaches a broader teaching audience, I feel.”

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

“The Florida Standard Assessment. This is a standardized test used at the end of the year for elementary schools.”

teach-usa-jose-carrasco-miami-dade-students-smilesDoes your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for the knowledge and skills that will help their students succeed?

“Yes. My school believes in “leading our own lives with astute scholarship and well-rounded character. We will be kind, own our responsibilities, and work to achieve the highest levels. We are building our future at an ‘A’ school under construction.”

Looking back at our first Teach USA series interview, what have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to your school? Has anything changed?

“Since our first interview, I have learned that I am up for any challenge. I am even more energized by my students from this year than ever. Also, I will be working at the same Miami-Dade public school next year. However, the administration will be changing. Things will continue to get more systematic and structured. At the beginning of last year, I worked at a charter school in Miami-Dade, and it was the opposite. I felt as if I was all over the place on most days, mostly due to the lack of guidance and support. They seemed to have a mentality of a free-for-all, and a figure-it-out-yourself attitude.”

Final Thought About Teaching in a Miami-Dade Public School

After speaking with José for the second time, I knew he found the right location. As an international educator, or an educator in general, the first years are the hardest. You work to find your school, then to find the rhythm of the school, parents and most importantly, your students. José found that out and in record time. He became a role model and a leader for the young men at his school by participating in the 5000 Role Models project. José helped out when asked and was rewarded by receiving his own class for the 2018-2019 school year. He will not be teaching different levels. José will be teaching all subjects to one class of students.

This summer he will be taking professional development classes offered by Miami-Dade public school system and will also be spending time with his two daughters.

by Leesa Truesdell


A Remarkable Experience Studying Abroad in Tallahassee, FL

by Dalal Boland

So, the day had finally arrived and I will be Studying Abroad in Tallahassee. After overcoming multiple obstacles, from the F1-visa not being issued on time, to me rebooking another ticket because of that, I finally managed to get on that airplane where a subtle feeling of comfort had struck me as it was time for takeoff. After an overall flight of more than 16 hours spent on multiple airplanes, I landed in the beautiful capital of Florida, Tallahassee. Due to the overwhelming feeling of excitement, I immediately went on a tour around campus. My acquaintances and I drove under the hot sun of August witnessing the students’ joy of starting their new college adventure. After that, I rented an apartment where I dropped off my luggage and went grocery shopping to buy a few things. After running all of those errands like getting into an American line for grocery shopping, and opening up an American bank account, it was time to settle into the new place I called home: Tallahassee.

studying at FSU

Making Friends and Learning Culture

When school started, I encountered some hard times making new friends, especially since I appeared to be a closed-off person due to my formal behavior/encounters with others. Because of that, I had the chance of becoming close to my instructors. They had the kindest hearts that made me feel like I have a family away from my home country. Then, with time, I started to get to know my classmates. The type of class activities that my classes were based on encouraged me to open up to people, especially since most of the activities involved group work and discussions. To me, each class was viewed as a tool to establish and bolster my social grounds with the people around me. Moreover, I had the chance to learn more about different cultures and even pick up a few words in Chinese and Turkish, because my classes included people from different parts of the world.

Studying Abroad in Tallahassee Has Come to an End

TallahaseeThe time had passed and the chapter of living in Tallahassee was about to come to an end. Even as I am writing this piece, my heart still remembers the difficulty that it felt saying goodbye to my friend that I cherished so much, Mr. Michael Magro. Even though we keep in touch from time to time sharing posts and pictures about our lives, I miss the days that we spent laughing about certain inside jokes that no one understood but us, and the intense feeling that we shared of having to work for late hours in the library with the purpose of putting together a class project.

Leaving This Beautiful City

Finally, the day was here and it was time to pack and leave. Although I did not spend more than two years living in Tallahassee, the memories that I made are priceless. Yes, I admit that there were days I spent sobbing and crying my eyes out because I was missing my family, yet the purpose of going home with a diploma to make them proud always made me hang in there. I would describe the time I spent in Tallahassee as a remarkable experience. It is true that I had left Tallahassee, yet the beautiful memories and the friendships that I have made will forever stay with me.

Learn more about Dalal studying abroad in Tallahassee, Florida in upcoming posts!


First Day of an Internship in Madrid

by Hisham Tammam

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

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

first day internship madrid law office

Lunch at an Internship at a Law Firm

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

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

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

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

madrid church down town

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

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