Group Leader Reflection - 2022

I moved to Spain three years ago when I decided to take a sabbatical from my decade-long career as a K-12 Visual Arts teacher. Now that I have had the chance to live, work, and even study again (to complete a second master’s degree in Spanish Literature) while being 100% immersed in Spain’s language and culture, I have renewed faith in the power of experiential learning and an immersive environment to catapult personal and academic growth. 

LITA, by design, asks its participants – students and Group Leaders, alike – to step outside of their comfort zones and explore new ways of being themselves in another language (( Who are you in Spanish? )) and of being “at home” while far away from home. For some students, this trip with LITA could be their very first time abroad, their first time abroad without the company/comfort of their families, and/or the first time that their conventional classroom Spanish skills will be tested in non-stop, immersive, real-life situations for three/five weeks. 

Jordan and his team hand-pick hidden gem-like experiences that are “off-the beaten path” to nurture the LITA immersive language bubble and show students the incredible diversity in Spain’s geography, language, history, and culture. This means that, as Group Leaders, we end up doing a lot of “active teaching” or pausing LITA’s Spanish collaborators to create space for students to ask their own questions. It was so awesome to see students speak up and ask farmers (for example, when we went to two olive oil fincas, a cheese factory, a pig farm that made sausage, a vegetable farm that grew most of the vegetables in our meals, etc.) to explain vocabulary words/phrases or bits of history/culture that they did not know. 

But LITA also invites its Group Leaders to reveal for students the vulnerability, humility, and persistence that is required whenever one sets out to try something new for the first time – especially if the task happens to be learning a new language and culture, one in which we, too, sometimes make mistakes and do not know everything. In this way, “active teaching” also means pausing LITA’s collaborators for us to ask our own questions and essentially learn alongside our students. In this way, we not only guide students through Spain but also serve as role models for how to walk a path of lifelong learning. For me, building bridges for students between American and Spanish cultures by having a hunch for exactly where they could be coming from with their questions and then explaining things in a way so they could understand, reinvigorated my love of teaching. It also reminded me that languages are alive and that maintaining fluency is an active commitment to an adventure sinfín (without end).

By the end of the program, witnessing such incredible GROWTH among our students was so fulfilling for me! When it came to the “final projects” that students presented, for example, it was so inspiring to see how students identified dimensions of Spanish life that personally interested them and then conducted interviews with Spaniards to learn more: one student presented a self-produced rap song in Spanish, where each couplet maintained the right rhythm with proper pronunciation; another student investigated the history of Judaism in our homestay town and the contemporary Jewish community in Spain; another student voraciously tried to learn everything she could about traditional medicine (los remedios de la abuela, or grandmothers’ remedies) while also comparing the modern Spanish healthcare system with the American one! One very memorable moment was when a student interested in Spanish politics asked me to accompany her to an interview with a local politician, who ended up presenting the student with a painting that he had made at the end of our time together as a souvenir! What’s more, it was so moving to see how that small, personal gesture set off the wheels turning within the student’s head as she reflected upon and compared different cultural priorities she had observed between Spain and the US. 

While it is true that LITA asks Group Leaders to be much more than traditional teachers, I found the rewards of working with LITA to far surpass the expectations I had previously held from traditional teaching experiences. I am so grateful for the chance to have guided LITA students as they expanded their comfort zones and adopted a second “home” here in Spain.


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