Up on the blog today we are taking a break from our usual posts and welcoming a guest writer—Lexa Muehlbauer. Lexa is one of the voices behind Sippin’ Sangria, a website dedicated to travel, study abroad, and global experiences. She is a Butler graduate from Michigan and she met her co-creator, Caroline, while studying abroad in Spain. The two have since shared many adventures in Spain, the US, and around the globe!
We are honored to collaborate with the girls at Sippin’ Sangria and to bring more of Caroline and Lexa‘s voices to our readers at Sincerely, Spain through upcoming posts. Today, Lexa opens up about her experience volunteer teaching in Valladolid, Spain during the fall of 2017.
Without further ado, we would like to present Lexa:
Teaching abroad as my gap semester was always my #1 choice: it’s not physically demanding, the schedule is flexible for travel, and you work with kiddos, which is something I felt extremely comfortable with. But there were so many unexpected surprises that came with being an English Assistant that greatly challenged me and ultimately made it incredibly hard to leave.
A Little Background:
I was part of CIEE’s Teach in Spain Volunteer program, which ran from October through December. As volunteers, we weren’t paid. In exchange for working 16 hours at our school, we had free meals and board provided by our host families, which is a great deal! Instead of having our own classroom, we were paired with a different teacher each hour. What I love about the program is its mission to expose the kids to native speakers in hopes of making them more excited (and more knowledgeable) about learning and using English.
The first few weeks were an absolute whirlwind. I was jumping from classroom to classroom trying to gauge each teacher’s teaching style and what the kids responded to best. A perk of being an English Assistant was that a teacher is always in the room, which took a lot of pressure off of me to discipline them. So I got to focus on the fun stuff-like creating presentations, making up vocabulary games, and sharing my experiences in the U.S.
The relaxed schedule was tough to adjust to. Like every American, I live by my watch and value punctuality. Sometimes I’d arrive in a classroom and the teacher didn’t show up until 10 minutes later—which led to some awkward silences between the kids and I. Eventually I used this time as a way to get to know them on a personal level, like asking how their weekend was. This was a great opportunity for them to use English in a natural setting.
Another obstacle was not being in the loop. Sometimes the kids would have field trips that I didn’t know about or activities in different locations. This usually led me on a man hunt, looking like a deer in the headlights, as I tried to find my class. While it can be frustrating at times, this is just how Spaniards live. The only way to keep up and not go a little crazy is by adjusting. Once you embrace the Spanish lifestyle, it’s hard to let go. Suddenly you’ll find that time doesn’t hold a power over you and having a flexible mindset is a huge strength when unexpected things happen.
Bonding with the Kids
Initially, I didn’t think I’d become so attached to the 100+ kids I taught. How much can you bond with someone that you see only twice a week for three months? A lot. It was crazy how quickly I knew who were the jokesters, the troublemakers, and the little geniuses. They’d share with me stories of their families, their struggles, and their dreams. I became invested. Their joy made me smile and when they were hurt, I was too.
My last day of teaching was an emotional punch in the gut. I’m not a crier, but boy did I shed tears that day. Their handwritten cards telling me how much they learned and enjoyed our English lessons made me realize that little ol’ me made some kind of impact on them. Maybe they too would travel to the U.S. someday and have a special connection to a foreign country like I do with Spain. Maybe they too would fall in love with a bunch of sassy kids on the other side of the world. Teaching has opened my eyes to how different our country’s educational systems are, helped me empathize with how hard teachers work to educate kids (each on a different part of the learning spectrum), and baffled me with how quickly you connect with their stories, even with a language barrier.