Closing the Door on Madrid: Moving Away

Amanda Whitten Moving AbroadBy Amanda Whitten

Catch up on Amanda’s interview series by reading Part One and Two!

Dear reader, my goal is to be nothing if not sincere. I want to answer as honestly as possible and show you the good, the bad, and the ugly — even if the ugly resides within myself. I’m just a person with a dream. I have so many, many fears, some real and others imagined, but my dream keeps me going. It is ever-changing and evolving. I won’t say that if I can do it, then anyone can. 

I have my privileges as well as my traumas, my character flaws, and disadvantages. I hope that my words inspire hope and courage to go out there and do the Thing. Ironically enough, it was a movie villain that once said it best: sometimes you can’t wait for opportunity to come knocking. You have to drag it kicking and screaming through the door. Don’t wait for life to come to you. Go and get it. This is the third and final interview that concludes a big chapter in my life — I’m moving away from Madrid.

Can you remind us what your reasoning was in moving away to Spain to work and teach abroad? Was it to learn Spanish? 

I decided to live in Spain because it’s a Spanish-speaking country. That means I chose Spain more out of convenience than as a method to become fluent in the language. Before moving away to live abroad, I earned a degree in the Spanish language and gained fluency a couple of years prior. That being said, my language skills have improved immensely since being here. 

A photo of a Hibiscus flower, which Amanda photographed after moving away from Madrid.

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

Oh, my goodness. It’s worse than ever, haha! Now that I primarily teach online, I rarely get out of the house except to go to the beach (which I’ll talk more about in a minute). I do need to make an effort, but I find it easier to connect with ex-pats in general. Locals have already-established social circles while foreigners are always on the lookout for a good friend. I’m not complaining, though. I don’t know if I would want to make friends with people who were almost always moving away in the near future. It would be exhausting, I imagine. 

One of your goals in moving away to Madrid was to travel and experience a new culture while teaching. How did you do?

I think that I’ve done pretty well. I’ve traveled more than I ever thought possible. I’ve been able to dip my toes into several cultures. COVID made traveling this year nearly impossible, of course. I was finally going to visit Northern Spain after putting it off since I arrived. It’s sometimes easier and cheaper to travel to a whole other country such as Malta than to go to Northern Spain. Unfortunately, those plans got squashed. However, I recognize that I’m incredibly lucky, regardless. 

a photo of a stack of masks

Where did you travel in your free time from Madrid?

I’ve had the privilege of traveling to several countries. During my first year here, I went to Morocco, Portugal, and Italy. Over the next few years, I went to Belgium, Germany, Malta, and Iceland. I might be forgetting one or two, which is an incredibly weird feeling. 

What have your experiences been with travel during your time teaching abroad? Do you have any advice for other auxiliares interested in traveling while teaching abroad?

In the ministerio de Madrid auxiliar program, you have the choice of taking either Monday or Friday off. I would recommend having Monday off due to cheaper return dates for flying. Also, if you must choose Airbnb for your lodging, please consider renting a room instead of an entire flat. We must be conscientious travelers and not push locals out of their homes

In your previous interview, you mentioned that you were speaking and teaching English most of the time. What can you tell us about learning Spanish through immersion?

I can tell you that true immersion for English speakers is more or less no longer possible. English is too global and too common to become fully immersed in Spain. An exception to that rule is if a person moved to a tiny pueblo where no one spoke English — somewhere outside of any major city center. If you want to improve your Spanish actively, you have to put yourself out there. Go to free language exchanges, take a Spanish class, volunteer somewhere, and date locals that don’t speak English if you’re single. Sidenote, I don’t advocate using people. I mean that one must make it a priority to mingle and make connections with people who speak the target language. It can be mutually beneficial.

a photo of a supermercat in Spain

What was your most memorable moment in class? Do you miss your students?

In one of my academy classes, we had an activity as a part of our daily routine, where each student would write a different thing on the board. One would write the date, the season, the day of the week, the time, etc. The one that they all clambered over was getting to draw the animal. Eventually, we stopped limiting the drawing to animals, and with the permission of the student being drawn, the artist would draw one of their classmates. Eventually, they decided that they wanted to draw — you guessed it — me, the teacher! Their interpretation of what I looked like as a five-minute drawing was pretty awesome and hilariously sweet.

Let’s talk about your school experience: how have you been doing with learning more about the kids’ exams at school? What are your feelings like now that you’re going in a different direction with teaching?

It’s been interesting learning about their college entrance exams. Those tests are a really big deal for the students, and when they tried to explain all the aspects about them to me, I pretty much had a brain aneurysm. When I had my big, important pre-university test in high school, I took the ACT. It covered English, reading, science, and math. Over the years, I’ve found that it’s much more complicated here. 

These days, I’m focusing more on online classes with ESL companies such as VIPkid, Cambly, VIPX, Bling ABC, etc. I liked my job in Leganés, but it’s a relief not having to commute or plan lessons, among other things. I’m also sad, though. My time as an auxiliar was great, and I got to have all of the teaching benefits without most of the downsides. I made lasting connections whereas the barrier with online teaching makes me feel a little bit alone and isolated. It’s a tradeoff to be sure.

Follow up: remind us again what the Cambridge exams are and what ages take this exam?

The Cambridge exams help students enter the universities of their choice and pursue their dreams. The Cambridge exams start with young learners taking the PET and KET. When they are more proficient in English, they can take the Cambridge First and the Cambridge Advanced. Usually, it’s bachillerato students who take the Cambridge Advanced. 

a photo of a child taking a test

What do you miss most about Leganés and Madrid since moving away?

Madrid itself has a lot of personality. I liked it even more than I liked Barcelona. I found that surprising to me since Barcelona is by the ocean, and everyone rightly sings its praises. Each barrio, or neighborhood, in Madrid is unique both in atmosphere and in culture. In contrast, Leganés felt like the perfect place to raise a family. It had and has a certain tranquility to it that I had never quite experienced before. There are school buildings and parks everywhere, and the air of learning and education feels tangible there. 

What will you miss most about Madrid?

Even though Madrid was my home away from home, or perhaps because of it, I started putting down roots, even if I subconsciously did it. I made friends and became comfortable with my neighborhood. My boyfriend’s mom lives there, and I felt as if I was coming home when returning from traveling. I had a favorite coffee shop and places to go when I was feeling down and out. So, I guess that I’ll miss all of that and more. 

A photo of Amanda looking at the sunset

What have you been doing this summer?

This summer, I was supposed to go home to see my family. Unfortunately, COVID complicated everything. I was worried about catching it and bringing it home to my family. Quarantining on both sides of the trip was going to complicate my work schedule and cost me money. I was in the process of making the move to the Canary Islands, and it was all too overwhelming. So, I canceled the flight, worked online, continued to save up, and moved on September 1st. 

What are you up to now?

I’m glad that you finally asked. My boyfriend and I decided to move to Tenerife. Since then, I’ve been teaching on the previously mentioned ESL platforms and adjusting to living on an island. I decided to become autonomo, which basically means that I am officially self-employed and can be my own boss. There has been a lot of paperwork, bureaucracy, and hoops to jump through. Ultimately, this feels like the right decision — at least for this moment in time. Living by the ocean in a place where it’s practically perpetually warm is worth it, so moving away from Madrid was definitely the right call. 

A photo of the beach near where Amanda lives after moving away from Madrid.

Living here is a culmination of everything I’ve ever really wanted out of life. Life is good, and my only regret is not making it happen sooner. But the more that I reflect on my life, the more I can directly connect the dots in my mind’s eye. They make it clear to me that every decision, every choice I’ve ever made in my life — from choosing my single elective in sixth grade, to deciding to study Spanish in college, to moving away to Madrid — has led me directly to this place and time. And I do so love where I’m at, even if at times homesickness eats away at me.

What’s your next step?

I honestly don’t know. The future is an open canvas, and I have never been freer. In a way, I feel that Tenerife is the true adventure. I wasn’t in any way boxed into choosing it, and I’ve come here more or less alone. I didn’t have a regular job waiting for me upon my arrival or any other connections, for that matter. Despite all that, I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be except with my family. I see now that my time on the mainland was a very big stepping stone, and moving away from Madrid was the right decision. 

A photo of the beach near where Amanda lives after moving away from Madrid.

If you could do one thing differently than you did this year, what would it be?

This year looks so different from the last that it’s nearly unrecognizable. However, last year, I wish I had followed my own advice a little bit more. Take the pastries to the break room. Speak to at least one new coworker a day. Put yourself out there. See what happens. 

We are so excited to see what Amanda can accomplish after moving away from Madrid and to Tenerife! Keep an eye out for Amanda’s next post about her adventures abroad.

Working During a Pandemic: A New Job

Jonathan Metrick

By Leesa Truesdell

Since Jonathan’s last interview, he’s been undeniably busy. That’s to be expected for someone living Jonathan’s life. At the end of 2019, he accepted a new role at a different company located in Toronto, Canada. Jonathan spends his time traveling back and forth between Toronto and New York City, New York. Since he’s switched jobs, Jonathan’s traveled back to NYC for work and some fun. He’s currently back to working during a pandemic in Toronto (and in quarantine). Jonathan took his new job knowing that it would combine Jonathan’s two passions — travel and travel. Well, almost. On top of travel (squared), he also focuses on marketing and business, too. As you may remember from our last interview, Jonathan studied business during his Harvard Business School years. He has built a life and steady career not only in international business but in a niche that has enabled him to be flexible and dynamic during these uncertain economic times. Jonathan has not only embraced the change — he’s making the most of his new job and new life of splitting his time between New York and Toronto. Let’s learn more. 

When we last spoke in 2019, you were living in New York City — where has life taken you since? Have you been working during the pandemic?

“I recently took on a new role as Chief Growth Officer at Portage, a fintech-focused venture capital firm. My role is to help our portfolio companies with marketing. I split my time between Toronto, Canada and New York City, New York.”

How does your new job differ from your past one?

“In my previous job I was the CMO at Policygenius, where I led and built out their marketing function. In my new role, I advise over a dozen companies within our global portfolio on marketing and growth. I also work with the investment team to help decide which new companies we should invest in.”

Wallpaper with LED lights that say "Wake up in the city that never sleeps"

How are things in Toronto, Canada? 

“Things in Toronto have been great. The pandemic has definitely changed things but we’re handling it well. Canadians took the pandemic very seriously. The government supported the wearing of masks early and the case counts as a result were generally well controlled. I’d also forgotten how great the summers in Canada are. Being 350 miles north of NYC means there’s summer sunny weather but far less humidity. Makes for a more pleasant outdoor experience for patio hang-outs and bike rides around the city.”

How has it been working during a pandemic? 

“Like everyone else, the first few months of COVID were challenging. I started my new job in mid-March, the week everything closed down. As such, I was mailed a computer and onboarded to my new role virtually. I haven’t been to my office once. It was definitely a unique way to begin a new job, but you adapt and move on. The companies we invest in are startups in the financial services industry. After a few weeks of rapid re-forecasting and pausing marketing budgets, thankfully most of our fintech companies have rebounded. Most have surpassed their pre-pandemic growth levels.”

A picture of a leaf that Jonathan took while working during a pandemic.

It’s been years since you lived in Canada — how does it feel to be back?

“I left Canada thirteen years ago when I moved to Boston to get my MBA at Harvard. The city has changed a lot since 2007. Last year, Fast Company called out Toronto as North America’s fastest-growing tech market. It’s been exciting to see the city go through so much change. There are new developments coming up everywhere — it feels like Toronto is having a moment, and it’s great to be part of that, even if I’m just working during the pandemic.”

Are you staying near where you grew up or where your family is? 

“When I’m in Toronto, I live about thirty minutes from my parents’ home. My parents still live in the same house where I grew up. It’s great to be able to pop back to their place for a quick dinner or a weekend visit.”

Toronto's skyline from a park, which Jonathan can visit while working during the pandemic in Toronto.

Have you had the chance to reconnect with old friends or see your family on a regular basis? How are you adjusting to your new life?

“Most of my family still lives in Toronto (except for my brother and his family who live in Tokyo, Japan). I also have many friends in the city from high school & college. They have made the transition back to the city much easier. When I was living in NYC, I came back to Toronto three to four times a year for holiday, Canadian Thanksgiving, and during the summer. I kept up my network which made working during a pandemic in Toronto much easier.”

Jonathan Metrick visiting friends from Toronto while working during a pandemic

Jonathan continues to achieve his goals while working during a pandemic by not only adapting to the norms of today but by embracing them. How? He doesn’t stop engaging online and will always travel when permitted. In order to live in a society that is dealing with uncertainty — shouldn’t we embrace change? We will catch up with our superstar fintech CFO in 2021 to see how things are going. Please be sure to check in then.

Life in Medellin, Colombia During Lockdown

In June 2020, Lamon and I were in our own separate spaces lounging a responsible six feet apart as he told me about his latest single Spotlight and finca life in Envigado, Colombia. Well, fast forward to September and Lamon has more to share. After the release of his latest single, he has been busy again working on a new track that he’s excited to promote. I also found out that not only does he have a background in teaching but he is an entrepreneur. He and his four business partners make up a company called Primeros Cinco. During lockdown, he’s been working on some promising opportunities using Medellin, Colombia as his home base. 

The last time we spoke, Lamon had me in tears with his Lamonda story. I needed a good laugh and, oh, how we laughed. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time. If you’ve lived abroad or speak more than one language — it’s a story you will find funny too. 

Our recent catch-up call was more about — how are you? What’s going on down there? Are you ok? Most of us are feeling the same way at this point. It’s been six months of living with cabin fever and well, we’re just not feeling like ourselves. Let’s face it, the world is fighting a pandemic and we are all trying to survive and manage. Lamon, well, he’s making music and chillin’. Find out how he is doing with the most recent update from his apartment in Medellin, Colombia: 

Where have you been living? Tell us about your living situation in Medellin, Colombia.

The last time we spoke, I was staying at a finca in Envigado. It was great during the first two months of the lockdown. Now, I’m back in my apartment in Medellin, Colombia, which has its pros and cons. During my stay at the finca, I didn’t see anyone for two months with the exception of the staff and chef. Every day, I was able to exercise outdoors and enjoy fresh air and nature. Here in Medellin, I see more people. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of exercising outside or going on nature walks; that’s been a difficult adjustment.

A picture of Lamon wearing a mask and large headphones in Medellin, Colombia

What have you been doing to keep yourself occupied? Work? Exploring? Exercise?

I’m a strong believer that there is always opportunity in chaos. Since the start of the lockdown, I’ve focused a lot on mind development. Every day I read for 30 minutes when I wake up. Following that, I exercise. Right now, I’m committing a lot of time to flexibility and mobility workouts. I signed up for Portuguese classes via italki and released a new song called Kiz Kiz, which is available on all digital platforms.

Do you interact with friends or are you not allowed?

I speak with my friends/business partners often via Google Meet; we still have a number of businesses to manage and are working on new projects. Because we are on complete lockdown, it’s somewhat difficult to catch up with each other in person. We are allowed to go out once a week for groceries, banking, and other necessary errands, which can easily take up your entire day. Trying to visit friends on those days is difficult.

What is the COVID-19 situation like in Medellin, Colombia?

I’m always amazed as to how the situation is being handled here versus the States. For example, every two weeks we receive a notice informing us which days we are allowed to go out. The system is based on the last number of your local ID/passport. For example, if the last number of your local ID/passport is 6, officials will inform you that you can leave your home on Wednesday. 

Going to the supermarket or mall in Medellin is like checking in at the airport. When you arrive at a supermarket or mall, they first take your temperature to see if you have a fever; before you’re allowed to enter, you must disinfect your shoes and hands. Then, your ID is checked to determine if you have permission to be outside that day. If you have approval, your ID is then registered. Upon exiting, you must register once more that you are leaving the premises.

A picture of Lamon wearing a face shield and mask in Medellin, Colombia.

What has helped you stay optimistic about the situation?

With the exception of not being able to perform at night and clubs being closed, nothing has really changed. My daily routine and life have stayed the same. I work from home and have a home base. During the day, I work out and always have used exercise to stay positive. This keeps me focused and helps me stay optimistic about my life’s goals.

Do you have any news on when you can come home?

Medellin, Colombia is home (hahaha). At the moment, I don’t have any plans of traveling to the US. From what I’ve seen on the news and conversations with friends and family, it’s best to camp out here for a while. The reason being is to stay healthy. I feel safer in Medellin than I do stateside.  

Are there options to come back to the USA now? I have heard that repatriation flights can be extremely expensive from South America. Is this true?

Two months ago, humanitarian flights were expensive. However, I believe the prices have stabilized a bit. According to recent news, domestic flights will reopen in September and international flights will reopen in November. We’ll have to see what happens, but I’m in no rush to travel.

A picture of Lamon in Medellin, Colombia

How are the locals in Medellin, Colombia coping with COVID-19?

For the most part, locals are doing their best to cope with the situation and the majority are following protocol. Of course, there are certain neighborhoods that are not complying with all of the protocols, but that’s to be expected. I haven’t heard of any locals not wanting to wear face masks or protesting, which has been rather common in the US.

How has your family dealt with this situation?

My mom lives in Georgia. She tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized for three months; including three weeks in a coma. Naturally, my family had a difficult time dealing with the situation. Fortunately, she was able to pull through and is in recovery.

Lamon's mom, a coronavirus survivor.

Can you share any memorable situations? 

To help people deal with home confinement, sometimes the local police and/or local musicians have gone to different neighborhoods/apartment buildings and played music outside. Julio plays for an hour and a half. Check out the video at the end to see one of these performers. 

How has living in Medellin, Colombia changed any future plans that you might have?

The situation has presented some new business opportunities that I’ll be happy to share with you once we launch. 

Each time I speak with Lamon, I feel more and more excited to see where his journey will take him. I feel this same sense with many of our contributors. Nonetheless, with Lamon, I feel like he is about to take off. I met Lamon in 2015 and saw a man who was incredibly dedicated to working hard in his classroom. Today, I see a man with even more of a vision and a dream. Let’s see where Lamon will take us next.

By Leesa Truesdell

Studying Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark

Ellen Hietsch is a Dreams Abroad team member who is returning to Madrid to teach abroad for her third year. Before living and working in Madrid, she participated in a study abroad program. Ellen found the program through her bachelor’s curriculum at Dickinson College. She studied abroad for one year through the Danish Institute and participated in a core course that focused on migration sociology. This course allowed her to meet with organizations who had connections to migrant issues in Denmark and Sweden. Ellen found her master’s program due to this experience. While studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, she lived with a host family. The main transportation infrastructure of the town were bike paths. They remain friends to this day.

What sparked your dream to study abroad?

“I can’t say there was a single spark. I remember coming into college not knowing what my major would be, nor any career paths that interested me. But, I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of studying abroad. I chose my alma mater partially for its renowned programs overseas.

Looking back before college, I can spot little nudges toward wanting to study abroad. Funnily enough, I didn’t leave the US until I studied abroad at 21. Before that, I had gathered snippets from all corners of the world through some serendipitous circumstances in my tiny hometown. Carlisle was not only in the same town as my future college, but also the host of the US Army War College. New military families from around the world arrived each summer to call Carlisle home for the year. Frequently, their children attended my schools.

The new arrivals were a fascinating twist from the mundane that tends to hang over small Pennsylvania towns. I greeted them with curiosity and excitement. The college itself was also a source of international exchanges. A first grade classmate’s mother was a Spanish professor. She would come to our classroom a few times a month to teach us the fundamentals of Spanish. My first few units of Middle School Spanish were a breeze thanks to these mini lessons.”

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

“Honestly, I was scared. I had reached the moment in which I realized what had drawn me to my college, only to linger back at on-campus orientation crying to the Copenhagen program assistant. After two and a half years, I was finally starting to find my place at college. There I was, about to voluntarily leave for four months. I feared that my foundation would shatter in my absence.

Sunset at the beach

Copenhagen solidified that foundation, and helped make it applicable beyond college. Through my core course on migration at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad, I had the opportunity to study across borders. We had conversations with key players involved with immigration policies in three different countries. It was at a time when it was a heated topic locally: the week I arrived in Denmark, the Danish government passed a series of controversial immigration reforms. Through this class structure, I could witness sociological topics play out in daily life rather than simply reading about them behind university walls.”

What did you not expect?

“I could have never guessed how comfortable I’d feel in Copenhagen from Day One. It wasn’t even a comfort developed through challenge and compromise. Little differences were wondrous. My hodge-podged neighborhood of whimsical playgrounds, quaint houses, and lush fields reconstructed what I believed a suburb to be. My entire time in Denmark was a treasure hunt for change. Even nuisances like face-numbing morning bike rides became an awe-inspiring reward. In the States, it wouldn’t be possible to bike wherever I wanted!

In Denmark, I finally found a way of life to which I could relate. Cultural differences embraced me through the vessel of my host family. We’d share dinners with the grandeur of home cooked meals and lit candles each night. They instantly welcomed me into the inner circle of family gatherings, of which there were a few each month. The Danes I knew cared about their careers, and work shared a place at the table with their social lives and personal passions. I envied their balanced lives, especially since I grew up and went to college in the fast-paced Northeastern United States. It is a lifestyle that is now stitched into my own value set.”

studying abroad in denmark

 

What have you done since you studied abroad?

“I now live in Madrid, Spain, where I am teaching English to students of all ages. Returning to the US for my senior year was the beginning of my quest for an international career, on which this is a stop. I hope that obtaining my master’s in a subject like political sociology will open up more permanent opportunities abroad. This is opposed to being caught in yearly cycles of paperwork to maintain a lifestyle in which I thrive.

Thriving isn’t simple, however. Gone is the gentle hand that guided me through study abroad’s classrooms full of Americans and carefully curated host family matches. Madrid has matched me up against some of the greatest challenges of my life. It’s all been in the name of the international career I crave. Yet, I find myself handling each roadblock with greater grace, and have built up resilience reserves that I couldn’t have imagined for myself three years ago. Through it all, the grand prize of living internationally remains luminous.”

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

“Disconnect from life Stateside as much as possible: friends, family, and the foods you’re craving will be there when you return. Of course, it’s important to manage the presence of these two worlds rather than ignoring one or the other, but if you must lose yourself somewhere, choose where you are in the moment. Appreciate the tiny differences and seek to understand the complexities of those that present challenges. These challenges are not insurmountable. However, viewing them through strictly an American lens is another means of getting lost in translation.

studying abroad in copenhagen denmark

During my early weeks of studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, I was constantly in contact with my friends back at home for innocent reasons. I wanted to share my awe with the people who mattered most. I was often frustrated when their reactions to my tales of Copenhagen didn’t match my own. Focusing on relationships with my host family and friends abroad eased my frustrations. Even when disagreements arose, we could have more complex conversations about them since we were living through this unique experience together. Difficulties became more navigable as I learned how and with who I should bring them up.”

Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark is an Experience

Ellen shared that studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark changed her life for the better. It not only helped her form a more internationally-focused mind. It also gave her a different perspective that she might not have had, had she not lived in such a different culture. Her host family continues to inspire and encourage her. She looks forward to her next steps after her third year of teaching in Madrid, Spain. For now, she is enjoying her moments abroad soaking in Spanish fiestas, tapas, and cafes!

 

Teach Abroad Orientation After Arriving in Spain

meet leesa traveler and teacherby Leesa Truesdell

“What’s in a name that which we call a rose? By any other name would smell as sweet.” – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

It’s been one week since my arrival in Spain. We just wrapped up our teach abroad orientation. Here, we learned many things which will help us around the city of Madrid. For example, how to use the Metro — easily one of the cleanest I’ve ever seen. Also, I got to see my very first Flamenco show. What a beautiful dance, what sensual music.

Thought-Provoking Questions

There are around 70 of us in this orientation group; therefore, we have been trying to get to know one another each day by doing different activities. On our first day at dinner we paired up with a partner in our group — my group was number eight. In this exercise, we asked each other some pretty thought-provoking questions such as what was your most embarrassing moment or if you could invite someone to dinner, living or deceased, who would it be? When my partner asked the question about who I would invite to dinner, the first person that came to mind in a split second was my grandfather. There are so many questions that can be answered over a meal and also, it would be such an honor to sit and speak with him as an adult.

Grand father

My grandfather loved to cook, so of course, as an adult, it would also be such a treat to taste his cooking just one more time. The goal of this exercise was to get connected with your partner. But, also, the exercise helped us get in tune with some of the things we hadn’t thought about before. For me, it made me think once again about the memories of my childhood and how much I truly love my family.

Teach Abroad Orientation Exercise

The most interesting orientation exercise and one that connected me yet again to my grandfather was the exercise that we practiced when we discussed culture. This exercise involved pairing up with a partner and asking them about their given name. Each participant asked the same set of questions to each other. For instance, my partner asked who named me, why they named me, what my name means to me, and what others think about my name.

What I learned about my partner, who happened to be our group leader, was that he was from the south of Spain, from a city called Sevilla. In the south of Spain, it is traditional for your first-born son to be named after the father of the family. Since my partner was the second born, his mother chose to name him after her father, or his grandfather. His name was Luis. For Luis, his name carried a special honor to him because his grandfather was seen as a very intelligent man.

Learning to Live in Spain at Our Teach Abroad Orientation

After speaking to Luis, I realized I have so much more to learn about others while living in Spain. I am going to try to reflect upon the interactions I have with Spaniards and other Americans in order to understand more about them and myself. I need to make a commitment to pause and reflect while being abroad. Often in our daily lives we are so busy that we miss the meaning of what things really mean. Or, maybe we don’t realize the importance of why something means so much to someone else when it may seem so irrelevant to us. Every day we say multiple names as we greet one another but have we really stopped to think about who that person is or where they come from? Or, perhaps thinking about what makes up their life story.

Everyone has a Story

Everyone, no matter how old they are, has a story — at birth, we start off with a story given to us by our parents who in turn have been given a story to them by their parents — our grandparents. That’s personal history. After you finish reading this, think about what your name means to you. Also, what does your name mean to others in your community? What’s your story? Has anyone that you interacted with lately made the effort to find out? Or, vice versa?

Anticipate the Next Chapter Living Abroad

As we anticipate the next chapter of our immersion program, we are excited about the challenges that await us. These challenges for some mean renting their very first apartment after post-undergraduate studies all while in a foreign country and speaking a different language. They are using foreign currency… working at a new job… meeting new coworkers… finding new transportation and so on. For others, it means learning a new language and exploring a city that doesn’t get dark until about 10:00 pm. For all of us, it means making everlasting friendships and preparing to teach abroad very soon!

teach abroad orientation
This was Group Eight at orientation. There were eight of these groups and Luis (standing) was our group leader. He was Spanish.