“It is interesting to see the direct impact teachers have on the community.” — Justin Hughes-Coleman
First impressions have an impact, no matter the cultural or social setting. I have noticed that in our CIEE program, there are not as many male teachers as female. Because of this, I knew I wanted to interview a male participant. I also wanted to interview someone who commuted and worked in the north of Madrid. Therefore, Justin was a perfect candidate. I had not had a long conversation with Justin until our first interview. He struck me as a friendly type. Justin is extremely easygoing with a smile that lights up the room. His first impression was a memorable one.
Justin’s experience in Spain is going to be such a fascinating journey to follow. He is going to be an excellent teacher. His enthusiasm and joy for life will brighten up a classroom. The new challenges that Justin seeks are about to unfold. How exciting.
Meet Justin, the Soul Searcher, and Teacher
Justin hails from San Diego, California. He went to California State University San Marcos. and graduated three years ago. Since then, Justin has worked in retail, finance, real estate and in AmeriCorps as a legal adviser to families. As Justin became proficient at each job, his mind would start to atrophy from lack of challenge and overlong hours and his soul remained unfulfilled. Making the decision to come to Spain pushed Justin to take on new challenges.
Before his journey to Spain, he had never taught before. Justin decided to teach abroad with CIEE because of the experience of one of his good friends. Because she had done the exact same program in Madrid, Justin knew she would be a great to consult.
He has two major goals while he is here. Justin would like to learn more Spanish and travel through Europe and see parts of Africa.
Where are you teaching?
“I will be teaching at a primary school in the northern part of Madrid in an area called Tres Cantos. It’s a one-hour commute from where I will be living in the city.”
What do you think teaching in Spain will be like for you?
“I try not to think too much about it before it happens. My mom is a teacher. She has taught my entire life. We can’t walk into a store in town without one person knowing her or saying hi. It is interesting to see the direct impact teachers have on the community.”
What are you looking forward to most with teaching?
Justin looked up with a really big smile and said: “I am looking forward to preparing lesson plans and seeing how my plans impact my students.”
Justin chose to be a teacher abroad to nourish his soul both professionally and personally. He explained: “In the United States I would not be open to creating new lesson plans in subjects ranging from science to American History because I would have a bias as to what a teacher should do and the limitation on the lesson plans they are permitted to teach.
He added: “However, in Spain, I do not know how their school system works and what is permitted. I can teach from a different perspective that might help the students learn in a different way. So, instead of making lesson plans ahead of time that I might have to change or totally get rid of, I am going to wait for some guidance from my school and use the skills I have learned from my mother to help craft lesson plans that will fit the needs of the school.”
Justin’s ease as he mapped out his hopes for the future masked what I didn’t know then, that he had been going through a difficult time.
What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?
“The people and other teachers in Madrid are very friendly. I am not used to that. Even strangers are personable. While looking at a piso, a receptionist at the building started speaking to me and asking me about my day.”
Justin’s perceptions should be tempered by the observation that while Spanish people can be very friendly, they can also be very direct. He has a charm which is instantly endearing as I discovered in the course of our conversation.
What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here? Have you found them to be accurate or inaccurate?
“I thought Spanish people were going to be more “svelte” looking people, like you. But, in general, they aren’t.”
For those of you who do not know what svelte means (me included), it means thin in an attractive or graceful way. I have to say, thank you, Justin (blushing)!
As we built up our connection, Justin opened up more.
What has been most difficult since you arrived?
“Piso-hunting has been the most difficult. People canceled appointments that I reserved minutes before I arrived. They won’t call to cancel the appointment in advance. Now that I have a piso, the hardest thing to get used to is the directness of the Spanish culture. An example of this was when someone told me I looked very messy on the subway (in broken English-Spanish). I was drenched in sweat.
On the flip side, they aren’t very forthcoming with information or specifics. Getting detailed information from potential landlords during the search was extremely challenging.”
What has been the best experience of being a teacher abroad?
“Meeting all the new people and fellow teachers, Americans and Spanish alike.”
How do you feel about the integration of the culture so far? Are there things that you have embraced or are hoping to embrace?
“I have integrated more easily than I thought I would, being a teacher. When I got here, I thought it would be very difficult to get around. But that is not the case. I hope to embrace the soccer culture and understand it better. In general, the Spanish lifestyle is slower. When you go out at night you pace yourself. I feel like in America, you either go hard or go home. It’s about getting drunk. Here, it is about enjoying your friends and enjoying the evening. I’m looking forward to that.”
Justin took the leap of faith to go to Spain to find himself. The self-discovery process in Spain is going to be a great one with Justin. One thing we can be sure of, Justin will be encountering and embracing many new challenges in the upcoming months. He will be making friends and meeting other teachers abroad. We will check back with him halfway to find out more.
Stay tuned for our next connection.