A medio camino de casa… (traducción)

En español

Como indica el título, ya estoy a medio camino de mi estancia aquí en los EE.UU. No me puedo creer que llegara aquí a mediados de agosto y ahora sólo me queden 3 meses para terminar. Ha sido una travesía con sus altibajos, como cualquier otra travesía que merezca la pena mencionar, ¿verdad?

Apenas una semana después de mi llegada, me soltaron en frente de mis nuevos alumnos. No es que fuera mi primera experiencia como profesor, puesto que ya había trabajado como profesor de idiomas en varias academias en España, mientras iba estudiando de un lado a otro. Sin embargo, era mi primera vez como profesor universitario, en un país extranjero, con compañeros, estudiantes y un sistema universitario desconocidos… Emocionante! Me gustan los desafíos. Soy de esa clase de personas. Le puse mucho empeño casi todo el tiempo, intenté que mis clases fueran entetenidas e instuctivas al mismo tiempo, intenté huir de la gramática, aunque no del todo. Había que reforzar la base, animarlos a hablar, a cantar a Juanes, debatir, escribir… osea, engancharse con una asignatura que o bien era opcional ( y supuestamente un Sobresaliente fácil) o bien era obligatoria (para los especializados en Lengua Inglesa o en Estudios Internacionales). En España, no regalamos sobresalientes tan fácilmente. De hecho son bastante poco frecuentes. Si consigues un Notable, eres bastante afortunado. Pero aquí las cosas parecen diferentes. Son clientes que se pueden perder… Es una cuerda floja de la que no se puede tirar demasiado fuerte. Es lo que tiene lo privado (aunque lo llamen Public University). Así que acepté ser geneorso y poner buenas calificaciones, a cambio de que trabajaran realmente duro. No pierdo nada por poner sólo notables y sobresalientes. Pero tenían que ganárselo. Después del primer examen, suspender dejó de ser un tabú. Les daba la oportunidad de recuperar y de mejorar si querían mejor nota: pero tenían que alcanzar el nivel. Muchos estaban en el nivel intermedio con contenidos de básico sin saber… Después de muchos reveses lo conseguimos. Aprobaron todos, aunque unos 6 de 30 con un aprobado. Algunos pocos abandonaron el barco. Pero desde luego, ya no darán por sentado un Sobresaliente en español.

Al final del semestre llegaron las valoraciones de los estudiantes… de todo. Primero, me di cuenta de que la mitad de ellos no se dignaron a opinar. Esto es como lo de las elecciones y las abstenciones, ¿verdad? ¿Cómo se valoran? Y de los que sí lo hicieron, dieron o muy buenas calificaciones, sin explicar por qué, o muy malas, quejándose de lo exigente que era y lo difícil que era. Y algunos comentarios eran claramente ofensivos…. los estudiantes pueden ser muy cabrones, pero bueno, así es la vida. No se puede gustar a todos, ¿no? Con todo, me parecen bien estas evaluaciones. Está bien tener una crítica y poder aprender de ella. Sí me sirvieron para ver lo que les había gustado y lo que no. Ojalá este sistema existiera también en mi universidad en España. Espero que el siguiente cuatrimestre sea mejor… Ya veremos.

Así las cosas, este nuestro cuatrimestre es totalmente distinto. Me siento mucho más cómodo y tranquilo. No es que sea un experto, ¡pero cómo se nota la experiencia!. He cambiado la estructura de mis clases, intentando encontrar el equilibrio entre la parte  cultural/ divertida y la parte ‘aburrida/gramatical’. Y se les nota en la cara cuando paso de hablar de la situación política en España, con sus casos de corrupción, a hablar de los verbos reflexivos o de la particularidad del verbo gustar en español.. Aquí se aprenden los idiomas quizá de una manera más interactiva, y con menos peso del escrito y de la lectura. Hay mucho material audiovisual, gramática automatizada y mucha conversación: y muy poca lectura. No se se lee nada. ¡No lo puedo comprender!

No obstante, no todo es negativo. Estos estudiantes son por lo general muy trabajadores. Casi todos estudian y trabajan paralelamente. A los 18 ya están fuera y se buscan la vida. Todo lo contrario al contexto español (recuerdo ser uno de las pocas excepciones, y no siempre). También es verdad que el mercado laboral no es el mismo, aquí sí tienen trabajo para emanciparse y pagar esas tasas astronómicas para los bolsillos de cualquier estudiante de Europa o incluso de Latinoamérica.

Ahora bien: ¿cuál es el siguiente paso? Ya os conté que por primera vez en mi vida había pensado en emigrar -legalmente, claro-. Pero, siendo sincero, estar en un lugar tan pequeño y con menos de 25 mil habitantes (más de la mitad de ellos estudiantes) y sin mucho que hacer… No tengo muchas ganas de quedarme aquí. Sería posible quedarme en una ciudad más grande y con más ambiente, pero eso implicaría encontrar una empresa que apoyara la extensión de mi visado, dentro de la misma categoría, en otra oportunidad laboral similar… La otra posibilidad es hacer un máster de dos años, con la opción de cambiar mi estatus a trabajador después, ya con un título estadounidense. Y qué quieren que les diga: después de dos licenciaturas y un máster en España, no estoy para otro máster. Uno ya va para los 28 y quiere tener un trabajo decente adecuado a su preparación… No me convence del todo. Por otra parte, echo mucho de menos a mi familia. A mis amigos. Estar en un país que entiendo y sé dónde poner los pies. Ya sé que soy un afortunado por no tener que estar desesperado y aceptar lo que sea. Lo sé. Pero todavía tengo ganas de volver.

Dicho esto, ahora entiendo por qué los africanos que residen aquí están sobrecualificados. Es una condición para poder quedarse (es un hecho, comprobadlo). Un ejemplo claro es el otro único profesor africano que hay en mi Facultad: licenciatura en Togo, otra más en Francia, luego otro máster y doctorado en EEUU… Dios bendito. ¡Son más de 15 años de formación universitaria! Bueno, si a él le sirve… De momento ya he comprado el billete de vuelta… aunque la puerta está abierta. Ya os iré contando.

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…

It won’t bring me down!

 

Zorroza

Bilbao by day

First of all, I would like to thank you people, who share my thoughts and experiences far beyond Spain. Above all, I write this because I think that us, the African Diaspora in the world, we should unite and share ideas and experiences in order to improve our situation where we live and, and therefore, where we come from.

Yes, I’m kind of Pan-Africanist. Viva Nkwane Krumah!

Secondly I would like to give you some quick insight on my Spanish daily life today.

This week I’ve been studying African History at University, and can see that even in the academic world, people still think of African people as children they can patronize; they look at this continent as a chaos that can hardly stand over its feet. It’s sad and dreadful. But, they won’t bring me down.

I have decided to drop off one of my small jobs at the end of May, because I need to focus on my university papers and final exams. People would say that, it’s a privilege I should not take, specially bearing in mind the current figures about unemployment rate in this beloved country. Newspapers report today that we have reached more than 6 million people in dole. It’s scaring!

It’s scaring for young people who are graduating along these years. They say that, for the first time ever, Spanish population has decreased. More than 200 thousands people flew away last year. And immigrants are returning home, especially those from Ecuador. But also, many people who chose to settle in Spain years ago, are re-emigrating to other European countries such as France, Germany or Norway– and of course the UK.

I can swear that in these recent years I have seen so many African people leaving Spain for France or Belgium that I’m not really surprised of these figures. From my inner circle, 5/12 people of my relatives have moved to France. Only those who were really ‘rooted’ here remain.

 

In a broader scale, many immigrants, mostly from Latin American countries, get the nationality and then move to another country taking profit as their new status as European citizens. Such is life down here. And you would read comment of Spaniards complaining about this. I can’t understand their point.

From the recent national census, I have also learned that from the overall 5.5 million foreign people who live in Spain, non-European citizens are over 60%, that’s to say, more than 3 million people. From these people, African descents are still the smallest group, and we are highly represented by Moroccans.

So, some people who ask why I leave my job within this context… Well: I’m gonna be double-graduated in a few months. I have managed to study away from home by taking 4 small jobs, the so-called “minijobs”. They pay very little, so I have had to work as an English teacher for almost illiterate adults (3hours/week) and as an extra-curricular activity for school kids (3 hours/week) or as an occasional interpreter-translator (hardly)… And I volunteer as a Spanish teacher for foreigners, that’s my non-profit contribution to the community.  That’s to say: 6-7 hours/ week. And I should be grateful, they say, as I got a job and I do not have to beg for charity. Well, all I see is that taking these jobs was a way to pay my bills while living and studying out of home. Done. I needed to discharge my mum.  She’s done enough. All I see is that I have accomplished my part of the deal, I was the best student of my High-school class, I successfully finished a University degree, I managed to learn a new foreign language more or less– to enhance my possibilities in the labour market, but all I can do is to accept jobs like these to survive or  leave, as many friends of mine do. My best Spanish friend has just accepted an offer to work as an Engineer in Italy. There is no job in the construction sector here, no more.  It’s sad, indeed.

Imagen

Barcelona by dawn

But, I also think that we should be able to keep our expectations high. I’ve been in more than 10 different jobs during my short life; I worked as a basketball referee, as a private lessons teacher(Philosophy and History), a trainee journalist, a trainee translator, an Interpreter, a French teacher, English Teacher , Spanish Teacher, shop retailer, and so on.

From now on, I can keep on studying, which is maybe one of the best things to do in a short term, but I don’t see the need to get a doctorate nowadays apart from being a university teacher…  I can also start working as a freelance journalist-translator meanwhile I decide if I wanna be a teacher of Spanish abroad or French teacher in a State funded Secondary School, in order words: a civil servant. Being a graduate civil servant still worth it, they pay well enough to live above the average, but we don’t know how long this will be possible, due to the tough economic crisis and the more than likely future bailout of the country’s economy. I’m happy I could prepare myself to work in so many professions and in different countries. I never imagined languages would be so crucial in my life.

As you can see, Spain today is difficult. But, as I always say, they won’t bring me down!

PS: If it doesn’t work as it should, then I may announce you my emigration process in a year. Who knows?