This past spring, I embarked on an incredible journey to Valladolid, Spain. As a student at Jamestown Community College, I was able to travel to Spain for a semester as part of a credit-bearing international internship. While there, I taught English-speaking classes and lived with a host family.
When I first arrived in Valladolid I met my host family and they were absolutely incredible. I had a host mother (Elena), father (Mariano), sister (Elena), brother (Eduardo) ... and dog (Indy). They are really interesting and generous people. I met up with Heather Espeso, the owner/director of United Cultures S.L., who acted as my internship site supervisor. She gave me my schedule for the English classes that I would be assisting with and conducting.
During the week when I did not have a class to teach, I filled my time by making preparations for classes, spending time with my host family or exploring. Sometimes I would have an hour or so to kill between classes, and I loved exploring the city during these times. Valladolid is a gorgeous, historic area, filled with old churches and buildings. There are also many fantastic restaurants and coffee shops. I definitely tried to visit these locations when I had free time. The people are very helpful and friendly, which made me feel a lot more comfortable, too.
Among my many adventures in Valladolid, I rode down to the city center on the back of a friend's motorbike, and went with my host sister to see flamenco dancing at a beautiful, old theater. We also visited Madrid, which is such a stunning city. We went to museums, parks, stores, plazas, and restaurants, and even got to ride on a little paddleboat in one of the parks' lakes. We didn't arrive home until about 2 a.m.
Springtime in Valladolid is stunning. The skies are so blue, and there are gorgeous flowers growing everywhere. It made my walks from class to class much more enjoyable. One beautiful sunny day, I was in the city center with my group of friends. We were all sitting around the city's cathedral, talking and enjoying the warm evening. There were people everywhere and all of the terraces were filled. It was great to see the city so alive and happy.
I taught a variety of classes and age groups, and to be honest I was a bit nervous at first. But I knew that once a few weeks passed by I would get more comfortable with my new routine. Teaching two classes a day-and planning for them-definitely kept me occupied. Soon enough, I found myself looking forward to seeing my students and teaching them English.
We covered a variety of topics with all of my age groups. I did Easter activities with my classes, which was a lot of fun. I also got to discuss the traditions of Semana Santa (Holy Week) with my adult classes. They were able to tell me more about how each city in Spain celebrates the week, since each city has its own distinct traditions when it comes to Semana Santa.
My younger students also learned about spring. We made little bunny and chick finger puppets in class, while learning many new spring vocabulary words. For my classes with the adults, I usually prepared more specific lessons according to what they wanted to learn. These classes were always very nice because we could have conversations and understand each other (something a little bit more difficult to achieve with 3-9 year olds). The adults were always very dedicated and interested in learning, and because of this desire to learn, I loved teaching them.
My last two weeks of teaching were very bittersweet. Entering into my classes and knowing it was for the last time felt especially strange. It was extremely sad for me to end these classes. I created such great friendships with each and every one of my students. It was so incredible to me because I had been noticing so much improvement in their level of English overall. For me, that was very special. It made me feel so proud of my new teaching ability and myself. I was also delighted by how kind each of my students was. They were so much fun to teach, and I could not have asked for better groups. Some of them even got me/made me thank-you/goodbye gifts.
I was also able to be a part of various meaningful extra activities in my final weeks. This included viewing and helping out in a kindergarten class and speaking to the group of Spanish children going to the United States (with Heather Espeso's organization, United Cultures S.L.) this July.
First, I went with Heather to view a kindergarten class at the International School in Valladolid. It was a special week where the students learned a bit of information about a different country. Conveniently enough, their topic on this day was the United States. During class, the kids were taught some interesting facts about the U.S. and then were dressed up as little Statues of Liberty. It was very cute and fun. I loved going because it gave me the chance to observe and assist in a real kindergarten class, and I'm very glad that I had the chance to spend some time with them. Then, I went with Heather Espeso to meet and speak to her group of students. These kids are 11-18 years old and will be spending their July in America. Since I have a lot of experience with living abroad with a host family, I was able to give them tons of advice. They are a really great group of kids, and it was an honor to meet and talk to them.
Overall, I cannot express enough how grateful and appreciative I am to have had this amazing opportunity. So many great things have come of this time abroad, and I have learned so much. Studying abroad is definitely an opportunity that I strongly suggest to everyone, and something I would do again in a heartbeat. Thanks to Heather Espeso's incredible help, advice, and assistance, I am now completely confident in my ability to create lesson plans and to conduct classes. I hope to continue using these new skills somehow in my future - either teaching English again or Spanish.
Before departing for Valladolid, I had no idea what to expect. I was already comfortable with Spanish culture/language from my Rotary exchange to Spain in 2011, but teaching English was a whole new experience.
At first, I was very anxious, but I remember telling myself to go into this experience with an open mind. I've learned not to worry too much about what may happen, because no matter what things will be different (and usually better) than what you've imagined. Take each day slowly so that it can be enjoyed more, because before you know it, it's all over too quickly.
This experience has not only opened up my eyes to new fields of study, but to new cultures as well. Travel is so incredibly important to me and allows a person to see, think, and feel differently. Not only are you able to learn more about the world, travel also helps you learn more about yourself. Traveling makes you more aware, and makes you appreciate life more. Also, thanks to this opportunity, I was able to create strong connections with numerous people, family members and friends. My Spanish host family was fantastic, and I could not have asked for better people with whom to live. I know I will continue to keep in touch with them for the rest of my life. My Spanish friends are also incredible, fun, and caring people who I will remain friends with forever.
Dana plans to return to Jamestown Community College next fall and continue working toward a degree in individual studies with a concentration in the humanities. While in Spain, she also wrote entries for JCC's student blog. You can read her posts at ambassadors.sunyjcc.edu. To find out more about JCC's internship opportunities, including those in Spain, visit www.sunyjcc.edu/internships or call 376-1381.