(The picture is the letters my students made me on my last day)
In 2016 I took a big leap and moved to Spain to partake in my university’s study abroad program. Wanting to get involved in the community, I attended the activities fair at the school I was studying at. There were a ton of great options, but what intrigued me the most was the chance to teach english to middle schoolers. I signed up on the spot. I did not speak much spanish (at all) and I never imagined teaching as a possibility, I certainly was not qualified. Yet I felt really drawn to this opportunity, and I am so glad that I did it because it was the most fulfilling aspect of my time abroad.
Here are some of the things I learned in my 5 months teach english to students in the 1st, 2nd, and 6th grades
Opportunity: During orientation with the school’s principal, he continually emphasized how much opportunity understanding english would provide these students. To be able to speak, read and write such a largely spoken language would give them more of a chance to take on travel and career opportunities they may not have had considered. It was really gratifying to think that I could provide an opportunity for these students, but then the tables turned. I had the opportunity (unknowingly at the time) to learn so much from the kids that I taught and the teachers I worked with. They taught me things about the language and culture of Spain that I would have never figured out on my own.
Public Speaking: I never really minded public speaking but it was still nerve racking to get up in front of my peers and give a presentation or a speech. It’s even more intimidating to get up in front of pre-teens ready to mock you at any point (luckily, the 6th graders went easy on me). For three days of the week I would get up in front of about 25 students and teach them an admittedly difficult language to learn. Returning back to my university, getting up and presenting in front of the class was something I no longer thought twice about because I had gotten so used to being in front of a judgemental crowd.
Intercultural Communication: As previously mentioned, I did not go into this fluent in spanish. I knew really basic words but I wasn’t about to strike a conversation with these kids in espanol anytime soon. This was initially difficult because when the students had questions, how could I help? Using pictures and working with the teachers and writing things out were a few of the ways we communicated when there was a language barrier. My favorite exercise with the students was to play “Simon Says” because I was able to speak english while pointing at things or acting something out. That was the most interactive way to get the students to learn particular things I didn’t know how to put into a more serious lesson.
Community: The Spanish are actually known to have very tight knit circles and it’s hard to get in on those circles when you don’t know the language or culture. The faculty and students made me feel apart of their community even though I stuck out. On the last day of my classes the students were surrounding me with love and hugs and trying to get me to follow them on Instagram. It was a really touching experience overall being apart of their community.
I really can’t stress enough how awesome my experience was. My students made me feel so loved and I even got to introduce them to my best friend and my little sister when they both visited so I felt like the students got to know me really well.
For those planning on studying abroad or just taking a gap year, teaching english or getting involved in some other way is an amazing opportunity to gain new skills and make lots of new friends while also working on intercultural communication skills.