Spirit recently spoke with Josefina, a Chilean teacher currently instructing a Spanish bilingual classroom in Dallas, Texas as part of Spirit’s BridgeUSA Teacher Program in the United States. Josefina told us about what it’s been like to teach in the USA so far, including her experiences living in Dallas, Texas as an exchange teacher.
Tell me about what it’s been like to teach in the USA so far.
Well, it has been very different honestly. First, the methodology here is a little bit different from my country. Here they use centers, and they use a different methodology that I must relearn. It feels like I’m getting out of college for the first time, because I must relearn everything. My ex-school when I was working in Chile uses project-based learning, so it was very, very different from what I do here.
My Host School does more of a personalized methodology. They help a lot of the kids that have a little bit lower of skills, so it has been a very good experience relearning this–and I’m still learning! I still have a lot of training to do. I really like the methodology here–the centers are great. We have different kinds of centers, for example, technology center, where they go through the iPads and play with shapes and numbers and letters.
They have a library, so they can go there, and a kitchen area so they can pretend to cook stuff. They have many, many centers that I really like. The one that I like the most is the calm center. When they get mad or they want to relax a little bit, they have sensorial stuff in there, so they can go in there and relax a little bit. So, it’s been different but in a good way.
Describe your Host School and the campus. How is it different than your school in Chile?
Well, my school in Chile was more tiny, more small, more compact. We normally have from pre-K to senior—it was like all-in-one. And here it’s different, because they have elementary, they have middle school. Here it’s bigger, so we have more students, but it’s funny, because I have like thirty kids in Chile. It was a tiny school. And here they have less kids, so you can work more personalized.
They have more technology. In my school in Chile, we didn’t use too much technology. We didn’t have, for example, a big touch screen. We didn’t have iPads. Here, they allow us to provide those kinds of things that are very useful for learning. Some people can say that it’s not good enough, but they’re very good if you use it right. And the support is very good here. They support you with every kid that has a problem, or even if the teacher has problems.
I have a mentor here that is guiding me in everything that I have been doing right up until now. It’s different, but it’s a good change. Here I believe that we have more materials to use for teaching.
What is it like to teach in the USA in a Spanish Bilingual classroom?
In my case, I think it’s a little bit special, because I have eighteen kids—sixteen are gen ed, and two are bilingual. But that doesn’t stop how I teach in Spanish to those two kids, since it’s a very personalized methodology. I did work in an English immersion in Chile, so I kind of know how to teach the letters in English, the numbers in English, and after they go to centers where they work on their own, I call my two students who speak Spanish, and I teach them in a personalized way.
The other thing that I really like is that even though they mostly speak English, I do teach some Spanish words, or I call one of the two bilingual kids that I have to share their culture. I share mine too, so it’s like a win-win from English side and Spanish side.
How has your experience been living in Texas? What has surprised you the most?
Well, at first it was very stressful, but who hasn’t been stressed by this big change of saying goodbye to your country and leaving to another one and learning new cultures and everything? But I think what really stressed me out was the highway, the streets—they have so many! I didn’t even believe it until I got here, and I was so stressed because I didn’t know what to take. I always made a mistake.
But besides that, I’ve been learning a lot. For example, I’ve been visiting a lot of places. I’ve been meeting a lot of people. I’ve been learning a lot of culture, because here they’re not all Americans—they’re from Italy or Mexico, and you start learning a little bit of each one of them. I’ve also been learning English or some other words in other languages. So that is my experience so far, but I’ve been enjoying it so much.
What has been your favorite experience or cultural activity?
I went to Palo Duro. It’s in the city of Amarillo, so like six hours away from Dallas. It’s a place where you do hiking. It’s a very, very pretty place. I took so many pictures. It was so fun! Back in Chile, I used to hike a lot, and that’s one of the things that I really miss, because Dallas is very plain. I got here, and they were inviting me to go hiking in Dallas, and I was like “Okay!” I put on the sport leggings, my water—because I was going to hike some mountains—and it was a “walk.” But it’s fun.
The trails here are so pretty, and Palo Duro was my best experience so far. My second one was the Vitruvian Nights. It’s a park that on Christmas Eve they light up—the trees, the path, everything is lit up. So that would be my second cultural activity that I did here.
Have you experienced any culture shock? What happened and how are you handling it?
In Chile we normally call the teachers by their name, and here they call the teacher by their last name. They say, like, “Ms. Ortega” in my case. Maybe we do it in Chile because it’s a way to be closer to your students who call you “Miss Josefina,” “Miss Jo”—like a nickname. Here they don’t do that, so that’s the culture shock that I have. I want to bond a little bit more with my students. I would love for them to call me “Miss Jo,” “Miss Josefina.” Here I asked, but I must respect the culture here. If they like for them to call them “Ms. Last Name,” that will be okay.
In Chile, we also have a law—a healthy law. They don’t let you feed the kids with something that is unhealthy. Fries, hotdogs, hamburgers… you cannot eat that. They cannot sell you that inside the school in Chile. It’s a law. And here, in my opinion, it’s not healthy what they eat. They eat tacos—they eat like a bunch of cheese, hamburgers, hotdogs—everything in the morning, because my kids eat lunch at 10 A.M. Imagine eating tacos, a very heavy meal, at 10 A.M. So that would be one of my culture shocks too.
Tell us about your colleagues and their role in your exchange experience so far.
Well, it’s been great. I think to be at work with a good work environment—including my colleagues—it’s the thing that makes your year. You can change the kids’ behavior and everything, but if you have a bad relationship with your colleagues, and they’re adults, you cannot change that. But everybody cooperates. If they want help, they always help you and vice versa, so it’s a good environment. I really like it because I can, for example, let out some worries that I have without fearing something.
I have, like, a lot of trust with my colleagues, and that’s very good. I have a mentor—he’s almost my age, so we hang out a lot, we talk a lot, so it’s a very good relationship in the work environment. I think that’s the most important thing when you start working at a place you don’t know with different cultures.
What is something that you’ve shared with your students about your own culture this year?
We did a Chilean Week. We did a display and everything. I taught them some traditional dances that we have. Chile is a very long country, so we have North, Central, and South, and they have different types of traditional dances. I showed them and invited them to copy those dances, and it was very fun. It was something like the video game Just Dance. I put the video on, and they tried to copy the traditional dances.
It was a long week—we did the traditional flower of Chile, and on Friday I baked them some traditional dessert from Chile. They had to taste it, and we had to talk about what did they feel: if it was good, where was it from. And of course, we did the flag with some papers—all the colors of my flag. They were having a lot of fun that week.
Tell us about what your cultural exchange activity plans are for your students this year.
We’re going to share with my students in Chile and my current students. For that I was planning for my Chilean students to do a “show and tell.” They can bring some object that is traditional from Chile, and with my students from here, I want to do almost the same. They can bring a flag—they can bring the Texas flag so they can see, because it’s very curious that the Texas flag is almost the same as Chilean flag.
I want to ask them, “Do you think they’re the same? Are the two of them Texas flags?” so they can start discussing what’s the difference between those two flags.
What is some advice you can give to other international teachers who are coming to the U.S. in Fall 2022?
I would say to be risk takers. I think that’s one of the things that I did most here. When I was in Chile, I was very shy, and I got here, and I had to be a risk taker. I had to do stuff that I don’t really like because I was shy and everything, but everything has a process and always has a reward on everything you do. I did things, I tried to socialize with people, tried to learn stuff. It’s really rewarding as a professional and as a person, because you start growing—growing every day.
So I would say just to dare to do things, because I know it’s not easy to say goodbye to their family, to their friends, to let go of most everything—to the work, everything—to go to another country you don’t know. You don’t know the educational system, you don’t know the health system—it’s scary honestly, but you must risk it all. You must be a risk taker.
Thank you Josefina for sharing your experience and photos with us!
Spirit Cultural Exchange’s Teacher Program allows international educators to teach in the USA full-time at accredited primary or secondary schools while sharing their culture with American schoolchildren. Whether teaching in a Spanish bilingual classroom at an elementary school or instructing high school students in advanced chemistry, Spirit’s BridgeUSA J-1 Visa Teacher Program has a lasting impact on our participants’ careers and on the lives of many in their host communities.
If you are interested in participating in our Teacher Program, please click here.
If you would like more information about hosting an international teacher in your school or district, you can learn more here.