Ed Gagnon Gets His Kicks on Route 66

edmond gagnonThe years 2020 and 2021 will go down in the record books as the least traveled of our lifetime because of the pandemic, lockdown, and travel restrictions. For those of us who like to travel, it has been a very frustrating time, which is why a road trip along the famous Route 66 may be in order.

Thankfully, as some of our cities and states now re-open, we can now enjoy a staycation while still venturing a bit further afield. While we may not be able to fly anywhere or cross international borders we can nevertheless explore our own country. 

The Mother Road

US Highway 66, or Route 66, has been called the Will Rogers Highway, Main Street of America, and The Mother Road. It’s been featured in the song (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 by the Nat King Cole Trio and in the CBS television series, Route 66, that ran in the early sixties. The nostalgic and historic highway runs for 2,448 miles, from Chicago to Santa Monica. 

Established in 1926, US 66 served as the primary route for those heading west, especially into the infamous 1930s’ Dust Bowl of the Southern Plains. Later replaced by the Interstate system, Route 66 linked important cities throughout the Midwest. While many parts of the old road are still drivable, there are other sections that’ve been gobbled up by progress.

A map of Route 66.

Cross-Country Scavenger Hunt

With the exception of the winter months, any time of year is perfect for driving Route 66. And it can be traversed in either direction. Living across the river from Detroit, it was only a four-hour drive to Chicago. My wife and I started our Route 66 adventure in the Windy City. I can’t even begin to tell you about all the different things Chicago has to offer. We grabbed a beer and burger at the Billy Goat Tavern, strolled the Riverwalk, stayed in the historic InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile, and dined at Andy’s Jazz Club

Route 66 officially begins on the shores of Lake Michigan on Adams Street. A historic Route 66 sign on the corner marks the starting point. We started our trip with breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s (c.1923), before heading west out of the city. Although the old US highway is marked with historic signs and markers, city roads now carry their own names. This is where your GPS and a good road map come in handy. 

Don’t forget to bring a good guidebook, too. We bought the Route 66 Adventure Handbook by Drew Knowles. We found it invaluable for staying on the old road and discovering all the hidden treasures it has to offer. Besides explicit directions, it even gives GPS coordinates to locate certain sites that you’d probably never find on your own. 

Driving Back in Time

Route 66 will take you back in time to America’s teenage years. Refurbished roadside motels, old neon signs, and giant statues make themselves at home. Attractions that seem gaudy now were once huge attractions. On some parts of the road, you can still drive on the original pavement, see once thriving locales that are now ghost towns, and eat-in diners that have been around longer than us.

After Chicago comes Joliet, home of the Blues Brothers. You’ll drive through cool and scenic towns you’ve never heard of and see weird things right out of the Guinness Book of World Records. We spent our next night in Springfield, home of Abe Lincoln, and were awed by the State Capitol building. Continuing west we saw more old neon signs, gas stations, cool bridges and The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle before arriving in Missouri. 

St. Louis was one of our highlights in Missouri. We stayed on the banks of the swollen and overflowing Mississippi River. The Gateway Arch was amazing to see and we enjoyed specialties like spare ribs and pork steak with our craft beers. St. Louis is also home to the Anheuser Busch Brewery, but we enjoyed bar-hopping and trying local brews instead.

The Arch from St. Louis.

West of the Mississippi

As you continue west, the space between cities and towns grows bigger, offering off-road sites like refurbished motels, antique cars, the World’s Largest Rocking Chair, and a replica of the Hubble Telescope. These are the stomping grounds of Jesse James and the James Gang. We also met the self-appointed mayor of Red Oak, an antique village with a collection of turn-of-the-century buildings. Along the highway, be sure not to miss Uranus Fudge Factory for a good laugh. 

The state of Kansas offers more than one chance to traverse sections of the original Route 66 that take you into Oklahoma. We overnighted in one of the 50s era refurbished motels where the likes of Clark Gable stayed. We got to drive over old one-lane bridges and visit historic mansions. The once popular and strangest attraction you’ll ever see is the Blue Whale of Catoosa, a giant blue replica that is the centerpiece of a water park. 

After seeing a 60-foot-high pop bottle, we stayed in Oklahoma City. We felt blown away by Oklahoma City’s downtown canal system and Riverwalk. With live music and an assortment of restaurants along the boardwalk, it was a great place to spend the night. We saw a one-room jailhouse in the tiny town of Texola, before crossing the Texas state line. 

The Old West

In rural Texas we saw the Leaning Tower of Texas and the very cool Cadillac Ranch, where 10-year-old land yachts have been planted in the ground. It’s a display of living art where everyone adds something personal by spray painting the cars. After cutting through a small section of Texas, Route 66 takes you into New Mexico, home of Billy the Kid. You’ll also pass Santa Fe and Albuquerque. 

For authentic Tex-Mex, downtown Albuquerque offers desert scenery and adobe pueblo architecture that makes you feel like you’re south of the border. In reality this is where you actually cross the continental divide, the home of Colonel Kit Carson and the Navajo Code Talkers.

Entering the state of Arizona on Route 66 is like entering a whole new country. It offers snow-capped mountains in the north at Flagstaff, the wide-open wonderment of the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, and the Petrified Forest. You can ‘Stand on the Corner in Winslow’ or visit an actual meteor crater. And there’s cool little mining towns like Jerome, or the red rock in Sedona. Places like Oatman have been made famous by the wild burros that freely roam its streets. 

California or Bust

Heading west into California brings on the heat, along with palm and Joshua trees. There are cool towns like Barstow with its murals, and Victorville with a Route 66 museum. The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook is a truly unique place to see. You can also visit California’s oldest winery and enjoy tastings at any of the many others scattered throughout the Sonoma and Napa valleys. 

You’ll easily lose track of the old Route 66 in the ever-increasing California traffic as you near the Pacific Ocean and the official end of the road at the Santa Monica Pier. This faux amusement park is lined with restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, and kiddie rides. The sun and surf along the beach are visible for miles, both north and south. 

An Excellent Adventure

They say you can drive Route 66 in about five days if you’re trying to set a land speed record. We took our time. We broke up the journey with trips to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and then San Francisco after driving the most scenic coastal highway in the country. The whole trip took us about a month, with a few more two-and three-day pit stops via Colorado on the way home. 

On the route, we saw motorcycle and convertible clubs as well as mobile homes. We did the trip in our car, bringing along a small barbeque and picnic supplies for roadside lunch stops. For older travelers like us, it was a trip down memory lane. Newer generations should consider this trip to learn what America once was, and how it got to be where it is at today. 

An old-fashioned gas station on US Hwy 66.

If you enjoyed this travel tale and wish to read more about Route 66, please check out the Travel section on my website.

by Edmond Gagnon

Returning to the United States: My Life Story Continues

By Morgan Yearout

WOW! I have so much to be grateful for since leaving Madrid three years ago. I joyfully reflect on my time abroad while also appreciating all that has transpired since returning to the motherland. Here is an inside look at the evolution of my life since returning to the United States.

What have you been up to since returning to the United States? 

“I married an incredible man. We did a pop-up marriage ceremony at the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in San Diego, CA with our immediate family! I helped my Momma as she fought against Pancreatic Cancer and once she passed, spread her ashes in Oahu. I joined a bowling league for a season with my dad and had weekly daddy-daughter dates at the golf course. While in Washington, I hiked, boated, camped, and enjoyed wineries. I drove cross country three times; twice solo and the other time with my cousin.

During the trips, I was able to reconnect with loved ones and enjoyed pit stops in Arches National Park, Antelope Canyon, and Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf! I am working towards my private pilot’s license, but still have quite a way to go. I’ve also been able to celebrate family and friends’ life milestones of getting a house, engaged, married, and/or having a baby! Life has continued to be one big adventure since returning to the United States.

After returning the the United States, Morgan married her new husband at the Sunset Cliffs in San Diego.

With regards to my career, I worked two and a half years as a Regional Senior Director of Revenue for The Lumen and a stunning, independently owned luxury hotel in downtown Dallas called The Joule. I also had the privilege of overseeing the Reservations Team for the two properties. During my tenure, The Joule ranked Top 10 in RevPAR (a key metric in the hotel industry) for Texas hotels. Additionally, I developed my replacement prior to departing. I have since left and am privileged to be part of the opening team of Hotel Drover, a newly built Autograph Collection by Marriott hotel, in the heart of the Fort Worth Stockyards! We are set to open in late 2020 and could not be more excited to welcome guests from near and far!”

How has your life changed since returning to the United States from Spain? 

“The major change has been returning to a full-time career in Revenue Management that I love. I really enjoyed my year in Spain teaching English, traveling incessantly, and living with a host family, but there is something so pivotal about working in a field that you are passionate about day in and day out! Traveling has slowed a bit and I am coincidentally more rooted and enjoying “domestication,” too. I am at peace with where life is and enjoy the “mundane” of walks around the neighborhood, home projects of painting the walls, staining the pergola, building furniture, laying new flooring, eradicating fire ant mounds, playing yard games, etc.”

What is the biggest difference between your life in Madrid versus Dallas? 

“Prior to living in Madrid, I felt super uneasy, as if I was “settling” for the big-city rat race of a 9-5, despite loving the work I did. I had a nice house, nice car, a motorcycle, lovely relationships, etc. You know, checking all the boxes so to speak. Nonetheless, I felt as though there were personal interests that I would leave unexplored by committing to that lifestyle for.ev.er. I also grew up with an immense amount of self-imposed pressure to excel at anything and everything that I did. So much so, that I withheld personal grace and had not fully invested time and energy into self-exploration.

Picture of a waterfall taken while Morgan was on a hike after returning to the United States 

Moving to Madrid allowed me to detach from the “supposed-to-dos” and be on an adventure of self-reflection while also immersing myself into other lifestyles. Madrid provided the space, time, and slower pace of life to wrestle with my cognitive dissonance; providing the freedom to dig deep into who I really am. Through the process of deciphering, breaking down, and rebuilding long-standing beliefs, I removed layers of shame and self-imposed expectations. It was incredibly hard, but also freeing. The self-work continues until this day.

Another key difference is that despite Madrid being more densely populated than Dallas, my lifestyle there felt much more relaxed. I really enjoyed the commutes via metro because I was able to read so much! In Dallas, I drive an hour each way for work, and it requires me to be hyper-focused in order to preserve my life. I listen to podcasts and audibles, but it is not the same as leisurely reading while riding the metro.”

What do you miss most about life in Madrid? 

“I alluded to it above, but I definitely miss the pace of life and the metro as a main form of transportation. I also really enjoyed all the green space amidst exciting eateries, shopping, art, pop-up markets, etc. Living in the Dallas area, a commute is required most of the time to experience those things since it is not very affordable to live in the city.”

A picture of lily pads in Seattle that Morgan took after returning to the United States

How did living in Spain change or enhance your professional life

“It helped me settle into myself and acknowledge that I am not a person to yield sub-par results. Instead, I’ve learned to be kind to myself and really tap into my energy levels. For example, when I am feeling super creative, I channel that towards creative, thoughtful work. When I am feeling low on energy, I do mundane and less critical tasks. When I feel super energized, I use that energy to crank through projects that I may have been avoiding and need to hone in on to bring to completion. Spain gave me a year to fully know myself, practice self-awareness, give me courage to maintain my identity in the workplace, and speak up when things are unjust.”

What does your professional life entail now? 

“I am a Director of Revenue for Hotel Drover in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. The hotel is under construction and set to open in late 2020! We are currently selling rooms and event space for the first half of 2021 and will continue to roll in inventory as we draw nearer to next year. 

We are embarking on mass hiring in preparation for the hotel’s opening as well. I will aid in the interview and onboarding process and am excited to welcome many new faces to the team! It is incredible that Hotel Drover can provide job opportunities despite the world being wrought by dire times.”

What do you enjoy most about living in Dallas? 

“To me, it is not about where you live that makes a place enjoyable; it is the relationships you foster. I really enjoy the friendships inside and outside of the workplace that I have been able to cultivate over the years. It also helps that Dallas is unbearably cold to me for only two months out of the year, allowing me to gallivant outdoors often! “

Morgan walking across a bridge with her husband.

Have you traveled since returning to the United States? If so, where did you go and what did you do? 

“I have! I went on three cross-country drives, as I mentioned before, two of which were solo. During those trips I traversed through Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas. I have done several trips within Washington, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma, as well. 

I went to Oahu and hiked, lounged on beautiful beaches, scuba dived, attended an immersive luau hosted by the Polynesian Cultural Center, and ate lots of delicious seafood. We ate and hiked our way around San Francisco with friends. While in San Diego for my wedding, we had a couple of fancy feasts, hiked, enjoyed beaches and visited the San Diego Zoo. I have spent time with family in and around Portland, Oregon. Hoyt Arboretum and the beach in Newport, Oregon are great! I ventured to Minneapolis for a work trip. Additionally, I went to Florida for a girl’s trip in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando for a friend’s wedding.”After returning to the United States, Morgan visited Antelope Canyon and took a picture of a natural skylight.

Morgan at Antelope Canyon after returning to the United States.

What does the year ahead hold for you? 

“I am focusing on opening Hotel Drover so we can welcome guests! Personally, I will continue to appreciate mother nature and the great outdoors. I remain active with running, working out, and meandering down trails. I enjoy cooking, engaging in beach activities, riding my motorcycle, as well as educating myself on racism, politics, and police reform. Social distancing is also important to me. We have new roommates and enjoy family time as a way to break up our routine.

We do have a trip planned for Aruba this year, but we shall see if that happens. One of my cousins is planning on getting married in Washington as well, so hopefully we can have some family bonding time up there come this Fall! Overall, this is a year of taking it as it comes and enjoying the slower pace of life. I have been embracing the lack of “control” over plans.”

Statue of a horse with mountains in the background

Morgan has not slowed down since returning to the United States three years ago. She is preoccupied with the opening of Hotel Drover in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards while leveraging her energy levels to complete a variety of tasks. Morgan has grown more accepting of things she cannot change and embraces the outdoors as the pandemic alters travel plans and traditional socialization activities. She is utilizing this year’s slower pace to educate, invest into her wellbeing, and complete home improvement projects.

The Cambodia Killing Fields

by Edmond Gagnon

To truly understand the country of Cambodia, one must first understand its past. Forty years after the massive genocide committed by the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), more commonly called the Khmer Rouge, I endeavored to do exactly that. Having an interest in the Vietnam War, I’d heard about the mass killings in the neighboring country of Cambodia. It wasn’t until I watched the 1984 movie The Killing Fields, that I had a better understanding of what really happened. 

The Khmer Rouge

Despite the massive bombing campaign by the United States, the Khmer Rouge won the Cambodian civil war that ran from 1970 to 1975. They eventually took political control of the country. Their goal was to maximize production by making everyone farmers. To reach their goal, they eliminated an entire social order that included political opponents, doctors, lawyers, teachers, civil servants, and all other upper-class professionals. 

massive genocide cambodia

Nobody knows the exact numbers, but some estimate the Rouge arrested, tortured, and killed anywhere from 1.5 to 3 million people — a whopping 25% of Cambodia’s population. The Khmer Rouge caught civilians and loaded them onto trucks. From there, they brought their victims to remote areas known as the Killing Fields. Here, their executioners sentenced them to death and buried them in shallow mass graves. 

To save the cost of ammunition for such a large task, executioners used poison, shovels, clubs, knives, as well as sharpened bamboo sticks to get the job done. Some executioners took young children to a large tree where they smashed their heads against it. The idea here was that they wouldn’t avenge their dead parents later in life. 

killing tree

This politically ironic catastrophe happened because China and the U.S. trained and supplied the Khmer Rouge with weapons and intelligence to counter the power of Vietnam and the Soviet Union. Sadly, it took thirty years for the monsters the world powers created to fade and finally be brought to justice. 

victims of killing fields

Learning About the Past in the Cambodia Killing Fields

None of what I’d previously read hit home until I visited the Cambodia Killing Fields monument. It sits about ten miles out of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. I felt overwhelmed by a sense of grief. I felt like I should remove my shoes to walk on the sacred ground. Constructed of concrete and glass, the towering monument contains stacks of human skulls. It was as if I could see the faces of the multitude of victims parading through my mind. 

killing fields Cambodia temple

I felt afraid to speak or ask questions as I quietly explored the marked grave sites. Signs explain to the visitors what exactly professionals found in each mass grave — naked women or headless bodies or children. A knot formed in my stomach; no other place on earth evoked such a strong emotion from me.

victims of mass murder

The result of this mass genocide undeniably set Cambodia back decades. With most of the country’s professionals executed, the financial, educational, medical, and political systems were in chaos, with only young and inexperienced people to fill the void. I witnessed the effects of this first hand. It’s something the country is just now almost fully recovered from. Many still consider Cambodia as a developing country, partly because of its past. Nonetheless, there are many other beautiful things to see and do there.

truck stop cambodia killing fields

The Royal Palace and surrounding grounds are a must-see while in Phnom Penh. Close by, on the river, colorful boats offer a waterside view of the capital city. The passage of time, lessons learned, and experience gained has led to Cambodia entering the 21st century successfully. If you’re visiting Thailand or Vietnam, Cambodia is close by and a cheaper alternative to absorbing the Southeast Asian culture


What I Know Now About Being a Ph.D. Student

My departure date had finally arrived and it was time to leave Kuwait. I was about to embark on my new adventure as a Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida. The last few hours I had spent back home were pretty emotional, bidding farewell to family members. It was especially hard to say goodbye to my parents. Yet, I knew that with great things, sometimes, come great sacrifices. In this case, that meant living a great distance from my family.

When I arrived in Tampa, I instantly fell in love with the city. The urbanized area had so many places to explore. It offers great opportunities for self-development, both personally and professionally. One of the things that I liked most about Tampa is its big Arab population, unlike Tallahassee, where I studied for my Masters. And I knew that would help ease my homesickness. On top of what I recommended in Pre-Departure From Kuwait to the United States, here are some tips to help every Ph.D. student to pursue their degree.

1) Attending the Graduate Student Orientation Is Crucial

Mark your calendar and write down the date you have to attend the graduate student orientation your school holds. By attending orientation, you will gain a lot of valuable information about your visa status, deadlines for tuition payments, and other important things. It is also crucial for you to in order for your registration hold to be removed. Once that is removed, you can go ahead and enroll in classes.

usf library classroom

2) Checking for Other Holds Is Key

There could be other holds on your student account that could disable you from registering for classes. Some examples are things like not submitting your historical immunizations record or not providing a valid health insurance plan.

early class registration student

3) Don’t Miss the Dates for Early Class Registration 

Well in advance of starting your new school, check their academic calendar. Write a note for yourself to remind you of the day you are able to register for classes. In case you miss that date, you could still do so in the add/drop week. However, keep in mind that most of the classes by then will be filled; so the earlier you register, the better (don’t forget the early registration dates!). In order to know which classes you can take, look up your program’s course plan, as it will have a list of the classes you have to complete in order to obtain your degree (such a plan is available on your college’s website).

manage your time

4) Manage your Time to Get Things Done

When school starts and you begin your journey as a Ph.D. student, you will feel overwhelmed with the amount of reading and assignments that you have to do. However, time management does wonders! Don’t postpone your work and try to get things done as soon as they are assigned to you. By doing so, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or stressed.

5) Be Patient!

It is very important that you keep reminding yourself WHY you began this journey in the first place. Recall the goals that you want to reach whenever you feel like giving up. Remember that it is OK to feel stressed at times (most of the time to be honest, especially as an international student away from home). Even so, it is important for you to KEEP GOING. Focus your energy on the good feelings of what it would be like to hold the doctoral degree in your hand and how everyone will be so proud of you when show friends and family on your return. Simply, live for that day and DON’T GIVE UP. 

dont forget to breath relax What Every PhD Student Needs to Know

Wrap Up

You are not in this alone. If other people have done it, so can you! Stay positive. You can do this. Don’t ever forget that. A little bit of self confidence will do you the world of good. I hope these tips about what every Ph.D. student needs to know help you to follow in my footsteps. 

by Dalal Boland

José G. Carrasco Talks Teaching in Miami-Dade Schools

José G. Carrasco was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and moved to New York at the age of five. He speaks three languages: Portuguese, English, and Spanish. José is currently teaching Mathematics in the inner-city Miami-Dade public schools system. He received his undergraduate degree in microbiology from the University of Miami. José worked in a lab for a few years, conducting research, and later moved to Tallahassee to be closer to his daughters.

Teach-USA-Jose-Carasco-student-gradWhile in Tallahassee, he completed his master’s in curriculum and instruction and earned an education specialist degree. José moved back to the Miami-Dade area to once again live closer to his daughters, and teach full time as he conducted research to complete his dissertation for his Ph.D.

For those of you who do not know him, the best way to describe José would be that he’s a smart, kind kid at heart. If you aren’t laughing when José is around then you must be in trouble – with him!

“I want to make a difference in that one kid’s life — that one kid who doesn’t see what we all see.” – José G. Carrasco 


Why did you choose to come to the USA?

“This is a tough one. My parents separated when I was five years old and my mother brought me to the States without my father’s permission. He was furious and made arrangements to bring me back home. It took him almost a year to get me back. My parents eventually got back together and decided to live in Bristol, Connecticut.”


What are your goals while you are teaching in Miami and studying at FSU?

“My goals are to conduct more research in teaching and eventually finish my Ph.D. I see myself teaching for another six to seven years in the public school system, and eventually teaching at the college level. The hands-on experience that I am able to attain in the classroom will allow me to have a better grasp of how educational research can be used in the field.”


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

“Before I went into teaching, I worked in a lab as a research assistant. After going through a divorce, I decided to make a change and decided to transition my career into teaching. I went for a higher degree (M.Ed. and E.Ds.) at Florida State University in Curriculum and Instruction. Before accepting my current position two weeks before Christmas break, I was working in a charter school. That experience was okay, but the administration was not helpful and the school was very unstructured. The school that I’m working at now is better organized. They want me to be a classroom teacher next year, so I may have a new experience. So, instead of teaching two subjects, they would rather I teach a self-contained fifth-grade class.”


Why did you choose to teach and also, why did you choose FSU over other schools?

“I had friends and connections at FSU that work there and encouraged me to apply. I actually almost went back to the University of Miami, but I was offered a better financial aid and a research assistant job at FSU, so it made more sense for me to go there.”


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

“When I moved to New York as a child, I was very surprised by many people’s lack of knowledge about the rest of the world. When I would tell people that I was from Brazil, they would ask questions such as What part of Puerto Rico is that in?and So you speak Spanish?’. I do speak Spanish, but Portuguese is the primary language in Brazil. Puerto Rico is actually part of the United States. I was very surprised by many people’s lack of knowledge.”

“My biggest culture shock was actually moving from New York to the South. The differences between the various parts of the U.S was very surprising to me. My perspective is that the education system is much better in New York than in Florida. This is at least true of the schools that I’ve been to. The differences in the education system within the United States are very surprising.”


What has been the most difficult since you began teaching?

“The most difficult thing is dealing with the negativity from other teachers. Some of the older teachers are really passing down a lot of negative attitudes to newer teachers. Another challenge is that a lot of new teachers from programs like Teach for America are really unprepared and quickly realize that teaching is harder than expected. Also, in Miami, the mentorship program is not nearly as strong as it is in Tallahassee. In Tallahassee, all new teachers get a mentor. It’s not like that in Miami. Some teachers seem to just be following a script. Also, the lesson planning and planning for differentiated instruction takes a long time.”



What has been the best experience?

“My favorite part of teaching is seeing students learn. I really enjoy connecting with the students and making my lessons engaging. Before I began teaching, I had experience in an afterschool program and mentorship through my master’s program. That was really helpful to make me feel more prepared. I teach because I love sharing knowledge. To see students and see their progress. I like to be the one that inspires my students to be passionate about acquiring knowledge. ‘Teaching by any means necessary’ is my motto.”


How has standardized testing affected your teaching experience?

“Data collection programs such as i-Ready take up a lot of instructional time. It’s sad that sometimes we just have to teach kids how to take tests. Instead of teaching basic math skills, I have to teach [my students] how to answer standardized test questions.”



As a teacher in the Miami-Dade schools, how has the current political climate affected your immigrant students?

“Whether they came to the U.S. legally or illegally, they are happy to be here and are taking advantage of the opportunities that they have. There is anxiety and hope for the DREAM Act to pass, but I think that my students really do feel like their school is a safe haven. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho originally came from Portugal and overstayed his visa. He was undocumented and stands up for immigrant students.”

Wrap Up


After speaking with José, it’s clear that he is passionate about seeing his students succeed. He teaches because he truly enjoys his craft. There are teachers who teach to get a paycheck, and then there are teachers who do their job because they love what they do. José is clearly the latter of the two. He spends his free time with students in the Miami-Dade schools who struggle with the material just to ensure that they know there is a solution, and a way to overcome whatever it is that is stopping them from achieving their highest potential.

José and I will continue our interview after he completes his first year as a Mathematics teacher. We will hear about how his first year went and if he plans to stay in the public school system in the Miami-Dade area. Stay tuned for more with José in a couple of months.

by Leesa Truesdell

What I Know Now About Studying Abroad in the US

Carlos Balbuena finished an intensive English course in 2016 at Florida State University. He returned to Mexico to complete his degree. Here’s what Carlos had to say about what he’s learned about studying abroad in the US.

1) Reach Out to New People

A genuine interaction with another person is just a greeting away. Most of the time we are wrapped up in ourselves. When we’re on the street, we tend to be on defense. A smile is all it takes to disarm that defense. One thing that works for me is using T-shirts from TV shows or bands. If you come across someone that likes the show or band on your tee, it is more likely he or she will be open to talking to you.

2) Put Yourself Out There

Get out as much as you can. Visit as many coffee shops as possible: you can learn a lot about people by watching how they live, what they do, and what they’re interested in. The same applies to art galleries and malls. Be aware of your surroundings, enjoy them, and start a conversation with a friendly stranger.

3) Listen

Pay attention. No one likes a person who’s just waiting their turn to talk, so take interest in others’ lives and they will be more likely to see you as a confidant. Most people are eager to have a meaningful conversation, so your goal should be to start one. Progress step by step. You can’t talk about life with a stranger without finding some common ground first.

4) Grab Some Sneakers

Walk everywhere and anywhere. You don’t need a cab and you don’t need to wait 30 minutes at the Greyhound station. If you invest the time to explore the town on foot, you will be amazed by all of the things you could find. Take as many pictures as you can. Photography is a tourist’s best friend as it will make memories more vivid when the adventure is over. If you find a place that seems interesting, maybe a shop, a flea market, an antique shop, or a cigar club, just go inside if you feel like it. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

5) Travel!

Traveling is the best way to get to know yourself. Enjoy your time alone, sit on a park bench, and enjoy the moment. That’s what this is all about: enjoy your time abroad, have fun, learn, watch, and imitate.

I found myself often thinking about how my life would be if I had continued studying abroad in the United States. It’s a fun exercise that makes me think about the things that I want in life and where I see myself shortly. Being present in the moment makes you appreciate the value of the people around you and the ones waiting for you in your hometown. Cherish these moments.

Wrap Up

Carlos writes from Mexico City. He studied at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and recently graduated. Congratulations, Carlos.

by Carlos Balbuena

Live For Now and Embrace the Spanish Culture

by Leesa Truesdell

Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory Dr. Seuss“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” – Dr. Seuss

As each week passes, our “foreigner shells” crack open piece by piece. Each piece that breaks off, allows us to let go of old preconceived thoughts about the unknown, or doubts of Spain. The more we embrace the Spanish culture by exploring the unknown it becomes our new known.

There are cultural and societal norms that take place by tradition, which means they exist and they are the standard for Spain. For example, part of the Spanish culture and tradition is not to live in the past or the future but to live for the now. This aspect of their culture is a trait that I am looking forward to practicing.

Don’t Let Past Performances Impact Future Relationships

Personally, I believe as a North American I tend to worry too much about how past performances can impact future relationships with regards to employers. For example, I know for many of us, “what if” statements can cause unwarranted stress and serious spiraling into unnecessary places. Does this sound familiar, “If I do X now will it bring me the results I need for Y later?” Really? What if X explodes and Y is nothing more than an anomaly? What then? This is an exaggerated example of spiraling. We tend to overburden ourselves by focusing on what could be or could have been. Living for now is a novel concept that I believe will make all of us healthier happier people while living here.

Live For Now

In Spain, teachers generally are openly affectionate with their students. They hug and kiss their students. Whereas in the United States, it is prohibited to engage in similar conduct with students. For American teachers, this will be an adjustment.

In general, Spanish people are more hands-on culture. For example, they greet with a kiss on both cheeks. Whereas in the United States a greeting is a handshake and maybe a hug. It will be interesting to hear the perspectives of CIEE teachers that we will be following in Madrid. Hearing their cultural observations and experiences at their schools will help everyone understand Spanish culture. For example, if we live in the mindset of thinking for now then there is a lot that can be accomplished over one school year with – our students and our CIEE teachers — today.

Live For Now Including Teaching Experiences

Grand Parents sitting at a park

Seven new CIEE teachers (two of which were a couple traveling together) and one veteran teacher spoke about their teaching and other experiences in Madrid this school year. Tune in for our upcoming We Teach to read about our veteran teacher, Lynnette’s experiences. She will be touching on Spanish culture in and outside the classroom. She will also share her love for Spain and why she can’t bear to leave.