Halfway Back Home

Dear friends,

As the title suggests, I have already the halfway of my stay here in the US. I cannot believe I arrived here the last mid-Augost and currently only have 3 weeks left in here. It has been journey with ups and downs, just like every journey worth mentioning, right?

Barely one week after my arrival, I was pushed in front of my new students. It was not my first time as a teacher, since I had taught foreign languages before at several academies back in Spain, while studying here and there. But it was the first one as university teacher, in a foreign country, with unknown colleagues, students, university system… Exciting. I like challenges. I am that kind of person. I did put a lot of effort most of the time, I tried the make my classes entertaining and informative at the same time. Running away from grammar, yet never being able to go without it totally. The basics. Encouraging them to talk, to sing, to discuss, to write… in other words, to be engaged to a subject that was either elective (and supposedly an easy A) or mandatory (for English and International studies majors). In Spain, we do not give As as easily. They are actually pretty uncommon. If you get a B, you are quite good /or lucky. However, it seems that things are different here. So I agreed to be generous, but in exchange, they need to really work hard. Many of them had never failed a Spanish exam… until I got there. Failures and reassessment became no longer taboo. If you wanted a B or an A, you got the opportunities to reach it, but you had to actually achieve the level. And most did. Few quit. But they never took an A for granted after the first exam.

… And then comes the students’ reviews/evaluations: when I realized that about half of my students did not bother giving feedback… come on, what about me not correcting and grading your compositions? And those who did: awarded an A, with no explained reason, or they complained of the hardship and demanding of the instructor. Students can be very mean… I guess we cannot be loved by everyone, right? I especially remember a student’s review saying that she/he experienced anxiety for a subject was NOT even mandatory for her/him, because I was too demanding. Come on! Anyways, It’s good to have an instructor evaluation of some kind… better than nothing. I hope our reviews at my Spanish universities were kind of similar. I did learn things and got ideas to improve. Let’s wait for the next one…

So this semester is another story. Of course I am not an experience instructor, but I do feel more confortable and at easy. I have restructured my classes and intend to be balance between the ‘cultural-fun part’ and the ‘lingusitic-boring part’. They can interchangeable, but that’s boldy how student see it. You can read it from their faces, when you say, now let’s stop talking about the new political panorama in Spain and its many corruption scandals; and let’s talk about reflexive verbs and the particularity of the verb ‘gustar’…  Language is taught differently here. Less focus on grammar, writing and reading, and more on talking and interactive communication. I can abide the 2 last ones, but Reading. We must read to learn the internal structure of languages, to learn how to write,  to develop so many dexterities…

However, not everyting is negative, at all. I have found students to be generally respectful and committted to their studies, and their JOBS! Most of them work and study: this almost the opposite of the Spanish case. And they leave their parents’ home way earlier, at 18, while in Spain, some still wander from dad’s bedroom to the kitchen at 30! Obviously: the job market is not comparable, but even when it was…; and second, tuition fees cost a fortune! unthinkable for a Spanish (and I would dare saying a European or Latin American student: Argentina, Ecuador or Mexico to name just a few,  have university access for free).

Now: what is next? I told you that for the first time I thought about migrating and staying- legally, of course. But, to be honest, living in such a small place, with less than 25 thousand inhabitants and very few distractions… is not very fun. Also, in order to stay and actually have an opportunity to find a job later, I would have to take another master’s in the US. That means: two more years studying while teaching as a TA (a bittersweet figure in the US highe ducation system). Am I desperate to stay?: No. Do I think that I need another master in Education after the one I got in Spain? No. At least not yet. I mean, I am going to turn 28, with 2 bachelors and a master, how much can someone over certify himself before deserving a decent job? I guess it also depends on your specialty. The case is, I want to work. My temporary visa does not allow me to do unless I am sponsored by the exam kind of the enterprise I work for right now… And, I miss my family. Deeply. And the country, the ability to know where you are, how things work and where to put your feets… Maybe I am just too fortunate and I can choose to migrate or not. Anyways, no wonders why the African immigrants in the States are overqualified, standing as the most degree holding immigrants in the US (check it out). The only other African teacher (naturalized American) at the university actually is a clear example: bachelor’s in Togo, another bachelor’s in and master’s in France; another master in the US, and then a predoctoral program, and then a Ph.D. This means, more than 15 years os university studies… Really? Well, if it works for him…

I have already bought my return flight ticket… just in case. The door is open though…


2 thoughts on “Halfway Back Home

  1. Hi!
    I am researching Chicaba, St. Teresa Juliana of Santo Domingo. She was kidnapped into slavery and taken to Spain in about 1685. What’s coming up for me along my path is the lack of information on the African-Spanish descendants slaves. I am finding NOTHING and its making me crazy. Where did the black folk go? Why are the descendants of slaves so invisible in Spain?
    I would love an opportunity to discuss or any links to learn more that you might be able to share. You can learn more about me and my work at my website chicava.com

  2. Hi there, Chicava! I am sorry you are having such troubles with your research 😦 The truth is that I am not surprised. Spain, as many other European countries are proud of the ethnically homogenous past, even though it is documented that Jews and Arabs stayed here for centuries. And with Arabs came the moors, some of which were black, and later on, the slavery also brought more black people to the Iberian Peninsula of Portugal and Spain. But Spain tends to be proud that they ‘did not’ practice slavery, they ‘only’ traded with slavists like Portugal, UK and France… That’s why there is such a historical and cultural limboo regarding black people in the Hispanic culture, especially in Spain. But I know that more and more people are challenging this view, from Barcelona to Buenos Aires. Let me have a look and see if I find something. I recommend the PHD’s data base of the Ministry of Education TESEO, or research centres like http://www.cidob.org/. Good luck!

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