Every year, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of Spain offers the opportunity to teach English in different educational scenarios throughout Spain. College graduates, seniors and juniors can apply for the very competitive Cultural Ambassadors Program for North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain in November /December (dates vary) for the following academic year.
During late spring of 2011, Anne Foster (Hispanic Studies & History ’11) was delighted to find out she had been selected by the Program to teach English in a High School in Madrid during year 2011-12. She describes her experience as follows:
“In four years in the Hispanic Studies program I focused heavily on issues and research in the Americas. My freshman seminar was Mapping Cuba with Professor Stock followed by Mexican Cinema with Professor Buck. The closest I came to taking a class on Spain was my senior seminar with Professor Terukina in which we discussed Spain as a colonial power, but even so it was more of a class on philosophy and colonialism than Spanish culture.
“So when I heard about the Spain Cultural Ambassadors Program through Professor Buck I was unsure if it was quite what I was looking for. On one hand I thought it would be a great opportunity to travel to a new country and a new continent. At the same time I thought—I know so little about Spain! My hopes of travel and employment trumped my doubts and I added the Cultural Ambassadors application to the whirlwind of applications I was working on in the spring of 2011.
“The application process was a little daunting. To apply I had to submit documents such as a notarized copy of an FBI background check. Obtaining some of the documents meant navigating a maze of bureaucracy but it was for my own good. The Spanish Embassy required me to submit these documents so that when I went through the process of obtaining my visa, I would be ready to go. A few months later, the program offered me a placement at a school in Madrid, and I had to proceed to the visa application. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that I already had all the necessary documents for the application.
“But navigating the application and visa process were small feats compared to actually teaching. The Cultural Ambassadors Program explained the guidelines and roles of the foreign teaching assistants in Spanish schools. However, the specific duties of the assistant depend on the needs of his or her school. Some assistants work one on one with students or small groups, some work alongside Spanish teachers. I, however, found myself instructing classes of ten to twenty high school students on my own. The first month made me rethink my ideas about teaching and social responsibility. And gave me a new appreciation of every teacher I ever had growing up.
“A recurring theme of my job and travels in Spain was that of defining the Spanish nation as well as trying to define America. My students were often eager to hear about the United States and they asked me open-ended questions such as, Does everyone get a car when they turn 16? Is everyone fat? What’s prom like? They were just as eager to share with me their concepts of Spain: Spain is party. Spain is lazy. Some of them said. Every time the class discussion turned to the country comparison game I couldn’t help but remember my Introduction to Hispanic Studies class in which we studied the concepts of imagined communities and nations. The very concepts were playing out right in front of me as Spanish high schoolers and me, a young American, tried to describe entire countries with a mere few adjectives…lazy, rich, independent, extroverted. But as we discussed in Intro to Hispanic Studies, these imagined national personas are nothing more than that: imagined. Instead of encouraging these national stereotypes in the classroom, I looked instead for the things that my students and I had in common. Music was a common class discussion. I discovered that my students and I shared a fondness of Queen and ABBA, which are ironically neither American nor Spanish bands. Another popular class activity was the “phrase of the day”; I would share an English phrase and the students would try to find a similar phrase in Spanish. For example, one day I chose the phrase, I’m fed up. And my students shared with me a Spanish phrase that expresses the same idea—hasta las narices (literally, up to the nose).
“I realized after a few months of teaching that, even though I didn’t have much hard knowledge on Spain before I arrived, I had been well educated in the ways of critical thinking. My studies focused on Latin America, but Hispanic Studies as a concentration taught me how to question and critique my own country and to look beyond the façade of the nation-state. In the end these qualities prepared me for work abroad not only in Spanish speaking countries, but anywhere in the world.
While at W&M, Anne received the Howard M. Fraser Award in Hispanic Studies. This award recognizes the graduating Hispanic Studies major who has made significant achievements in the area of research and service related to the field of Hispanic Studies.