Ryan Gomez and I spoke for the first time since our initial interview when he began his journey. I wasn’t sure what Ryan was going to say about his experience so far in Bocairent. He had moved to a small town in eastern Spain that was entirely different from what I had known while living abroad. We had been communicating electronically by text but we finally got the chance to speak over the phone. Ryan has been one busy person teaching abroad. He filled me in on his language progress, his latest trip, and more.
Although Ryan and I met in August 2018, it’s always a pleasure catching up with him. Whenever I talk with Ryan, I always get the sense that he is someone I feel like I have known for years. I remember Ryan’s initial goals that he explained before leaving FSU’s campus. It was so pleasing to hear that not only has Ryan assimilated into his life in Spain, but he has also learned to speak Spanish. He explained that his use of Valencian is mandatory in his small town. There are certain phrases that he uses in town that are not used in other large towns or cities. He had just returned from a trip to Alicante, Spain where he laughed and said, “I would use a phrase that I speak in Bocairent and people would look at me like, ‘huh?’”
Learning the Language
For those who are unfamiliar with Spanish, and language in general, when you live in a pueblo or small town like where Ryan lives, you could have a phrase that literally means one thing but is referred to as another. Ryan explained, “the most common phrase I notice is that in a Valencian bar, one might ask for a tanque when ordering a large beer. In a Castellano bar, the bartender would lift and ask, jarra?
The point of this reference is that it is possible for one word in Spanish to mean two different things, or for one word that means large beer in your vocabulary (in Ryan’s case) is referred to as totally a different phrase and gesture in a couple towns over. For expats and language learners out there, you know exactly what this feels like!
Meet Ryan, the man who knows no stranger.
What is a typical day at your school like?
“The typical school day begins at 9 AM. I usually show up around five to ten minutes before that. The students have two 45-minute class periods followed by a 30-minute esplai (recess). Afterwards, the students line up and re-enter the school for two more class periods. After class, they have extracurricular activities from 12:30–1:15 PM. From 1:15–3:30 PM students and faculty have a lunch/siesta break. Most of the students go home during this time. The ones who stay get fed lunch and have different things to do or play with for a few hours. The typical day concludes with two final class periods and everyone leaves for home at 5 PM. Fridays are different in that the day concludes/the weekend starts at 1:15pm!”
How many people do you work with (language assistants included)? How many classes do you teach?
“I work with four different English teachers throughout the week. In all, there are about 25 to 30 teachers and administrators in total working at the school. I interact with most of them on a daily basis. When it comes to other language assistants… I’m the only one. I am the Highlander, so to speak.
As a language assistant at the school, I work in 10 different classrooms spanning grades 1st – 6th once per week. I work twice per week in four 3rd and 4th grade classes. During the extracurricular blocks, I work with a group of 6th graders to reinforce their English speaking skills and conduct a weekly reading club in the library.”
Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?
“I’d like to think so! They always make me feel welcomed and included when I go to work. I’m proud to say I’ve memorized every teacher’s name! Outside school, I have hung out with a lot of the teachers. For example, a lot of us go out for lunch or dinner at least once per week, and a couple of us guys get together every other week to play paddle ball and have a drink afterwards!”
Are you forming bonds teaching your students?
“These students are awesome. They’re so happy all the time. I’m slowly remembering their names but it’s difficult because the names, surnames, and second surnames are all the same! As the school year continues, I’m learning little tidbits about each student’s personality and how to get reactions from them. Some are more outgoing and willing to stutter out a question in English, while others are more inward and you have to pull it out of them. And some of these little guys are tricksters! One student has yet to give me an official high-five. He has offered his hand and moved it every single time. It’s been five months now.”
Does the school foster the creation and maintenance of these relationships inside and outside the classroom?
“Living and teaching in a small town has definitely helped me build relationships. There’s really no escaping everyone, haha! Whether I’m shopping for groceries, going to the gym, or meeting some friends for a drink, I am always coming across groups of students playing or other teachers going about their day.
The school where I work is pretty special. I can honestly say all the adults get along, across all ages. The only real dispute I’ve witnessed or heard about was between two teachers who were arguing about which song to play in the morning to welcome the students in.”
What is your favorite part of the day? Why?
“Like everyone, my favorite part of the day is recess/almorzar! During the 30-minute esplai, I am free to do whatever I want. I always brew up some coffee and either go out to the schoolyard and chat with the other teachers, or sit at a computer in the teacher’s lounge and read up on the daily news from the US. On some rare occasions, I walk out onto the pitch and dominate the daily soccer or handball match that is being played.
One time I scored a goal that was so epic even I was impressed. The entire courtyard went into a frenzy as students swarmed me from all sides. We were all cheering and jumping! I was throwing kids up into the air. If they could’ve lifted me up onto their shoulders, like in Rudy, they would have. The student body had to be corralled back into the building with whistles to be heard over the endless shouts for “RRAAAYYYAAANN!!! RAAAAYYYYAAAANNNN!!!!” We chanted our way back to class and countless high-fives were given. Defeating a bunch of eight-year-olds does wonders for self-esteem.”
How is material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?
“Every teacher I work with has their own method of teaching. Most follow the units in their class and activity books. The books come with CDs that contain many different ways to deliver the content, most of which center around interactive games that make the students follow along in their books.”
How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?
“I am not supposed to be preparing the lesson plans for my classes; I only assist with the implementation of them. However, at least every other week, I am asked to prepare a presentation for the classes or conduct one of the lessons. My presentations are usually on American holidays and our culture. An example of a lesson I’ve taught was teaching the “h” sound in English, which the Spanish language does not have. We used different types of interactive games that forced the students to make the sounds. “Horse. Holly. Helicopter!”
Do you work at a bilingual school? What does that mean to you? What does that mean according to the community of Bocairent?
“I don’t work at a bilingual school. All the classes are taught in the Valencian language at my school. The students do have a castellano (Spanish) class and English class built into their curriculum, but we don’t qualify as a bilingual school.”
What standards are your classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?
“Teachers measure their students’ performance using mostly standardized tests. There is an exam at the end of each unit. An exam might be out of a possible 40-50 points and each question is worth a specific amount. The teachers and I also check the student’s activity books frequently to make sure they’re keeping up with the daily class work and homework. I don’t give the students their marks unless I’m conducting the “Speak to the Teacher” portion of the exams.”
Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help their students succeed?
“Our shared goal is to show and teach the students that we care about them and their education. When they feel loved or cared for, it gives them more confidence to continue. When my students want to show me their work, I pretend it’s the most important thing in the world. They usually turn around with a big smile on their face, go back to their desk, and continue working.”
Looking back at our first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to Spain and/or Europe both in the classroom and out of the classroom?
“This adventure in Spain was all about leaving everything I knew behind and discovering who I really am. I have always lived within close proximity to my friends and/or family members. For the first time in my life, I am in complete control over how I spend my free time and thoughts. I’ve come to realize that I’m actually a pretty bad-ass dude. I like the man that I am. There will always be haters out there. But for the most part, I know I have a positive impact on the people I interact with.
Patience is Possible
I’ve also learned a level of patience I never knew was possible. Learning Spanish while teaching English has been something that happens poco a poco each day. When I first flew here with my father in September, I could barely muster a few words to the airline worker in Miami checking my bags in. By November, I had my first five-minute conversation with another teacher, entirely in Spanish.
By December, I was having daily engagements with neighbors and strangers in my favorite restaurants. Last week, I gave a bilingual, hour-long lecture on American culture to over 100 people. Basically, I can speak Spanish now! I can’t wait to see how much more I improve before I leave. I’ve also managed to pick up over a dozen words and phrases in Valencian too, so that’s always fun to throw out there while conversing with the locals. This is just the beginning. If anything, my experience in learning a new language has shown me that I’m capable of learning other things too! It just takes time and patience.”
“I came to Spain to experience another culture and learn a new language. In the future, when meeting somebody for the first time, I want to be able to tell them I lived, survived, and thrived by myself in another country.” – Ryan Gomez (first interview)
Wrap-Up of Teaching Abroad
Overall, “Raaaaaaayaaaaan” sounded optimistic and like his happy-go-lucky outgoing self. Most importantly, he sounded enthusiastic about his teaching experience. We spoke about life in a small pueblo in Spain and how a south Floridian acclimatized to his surroundings.
Ryan is thriving while teaching abroad in Bocairent, Spain. He has become the town English speaker, teacher, coach, and friend who not only teaches at the primary school but also guest lectures at the secondary school on his days off. He not only has met his initial goal of learning a new language, but he has also learned to live and speak the valenciano dialect and its colloquialisms. Stay tuned for our third interview with Ryan to find out what his future holds.