“If I were to live my life as a punctuation mark, I always tell people I am a semicolon. Why? Because I just keep going” – Lynnette Aizpurua
When I heard Lynnette speak at our CIEE orientation, I knew she was someone that I wanted to meet. When Lynnette spoke, others in the room wanted to listen. Not only did she have a voice when asked questions, she had a voice of reason, experience, and maturity. As she explained more and more about her teaching experiences in Spain, my interest levels rose. I knew I had to meet her and I did. Over time, I have gotten to know Lynnette; she has become a friend who has helped me navigate through some murky water.
During our interview, Lynnette was very real and sincere about her journey. When I asked her questions, she provided genuine answers. Her answers showed me that she is not only an authentic person but she embodies what is right with our future generations of leaders. She has a voice and she knows how and when to use it.
Meet Lynnette, the veteran teacher:
Lynnette is beginning her third school year in Spain. Her first two years were at the same combined primary and secondary school in Vallecas, Spain. This particular area was an independent village until 1950 when it became annexed into Madrid. It can be compared to areas in the U.S. that we call "Section 8" or government assisted. This school year (2016-2017) will be a change for Lynnette. She will be teaching at a primary school at a new location outside of Madrid.
Her quest to find happiness began with uncertainty, doubt and hesitation about continuing on her current path. After speaking with Lynnette about her journey, it was clear that the answers she, and many of us, are looking for aren’t always directly in front of us. Her journey took determination and the will to continue to search for answers in order to truly find her passion. Even though odds were against her, and her family members were displeased by her choice to come to Spain, Lynnette continued to let her inner light guide. At the time, she didn’t know what she was looking for except a day-to-day plan to get by. However, in the end her passion for life became clear.
Lynnette is a native Texan with Panamanian blood pulsing through her veins. Since childhood she has considered herself to have lived a double life. Her Thanksgiving consisted of a traditional turkey but with Arroz con Pollo. Growing up she would attend rodeos but also had Latin music playing at family get togethers. She considers herself to have the soul of a Panamanian, which is why Spain feels normal to her. She felt sure that the urge to come to Spain was driven by her Panamanian side.
As I continued speaking to Lynnette, her journey unraveled. Looking at Lynnette thinking about each response and recounting the years she’s spent in Spain—in my opinion—answered many of the questions without her even speaking. The depth of her emotion for Spain was clear. When Lynnette answered my questions, not only did I know the answers were genuine, I knew that the journey we are about to follow this year will be an exciting one.
Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?
Lynnette’s last name is of Basque origin. In Northern Spain, there is a region within the Pyrenees Mountains between the Spanish and the French borders that is home to the Basque people where they speak their own unique language, Basque. Lynnette was always curious about her last name. When she was just 13 years old she wrote in her journal that she would move to Spain.
At the time she decided to come to Spain, she felt drained from her job.
She explained, “The idea to move to Spain for certain came to a head when I worked in politics and I realized I had “everything”—a secure job, my own place, independence, a dog – and I was still unhappy. I realized I needed to find that spark for life again. Spain kept popping up in my mind. I kept seeing little signs that made me realize I needed to be in Spain.”
What are your goals while you are here?
Lynnette described her first year to be one of getting accustomed to the city of Madrid and also, learning how to teach. She knew in her third month living in Spain that she was going to try to live here for another year.
She exclaimed, “I was drained from my previous job in politics. My goal was to de-drain. I wanted to live life again.”
She found her second year to be a personally challenging one. She felt very homesick and decided to visit Texas. After that visit, she realized she did not want to move back there. Lynnette was at a crossroads in her life. She felt as if she did not have a home or a sense of belonging in Texas and therefore, she knew her choice to move to Spain was the one she needed to trust.
When Lynnette returned to Spain after visiting Texas, she applied for a Masters program. She did not get accepted into the program that year, but, being the person she is, she persevered. This is Lynnette’s third year in Spain. She was accepted into the International Education program at Universidad de Alcala, and she started her first semester of her Masters program a few weeks ago.
Her remarks show the value of her journey and how they helped her navigate her goals, “little by little I have had been building my life through patience and I did not realize it.”
Have you ever taught before? If not, what was your career field?
Lynnette previously worked in the political sphere in communications. She is a multitasking queen who thrives off a good challenge – no task is too small. In politics, she was considered the “go to” girl – the multitasker and now she is international teacher and graduate student.
What has teaching in Madrid been like for you these past two years?
Lynette’s first two years she taught at the same school in an area called Vallecas. She taught in a combined school, which meant that she taught primary and secondary ages. She explained her first two years of teaching as two very different years. Vallecas has a high concentration of Spanish Gypsies and Moroccans living and attending their schools. For Lynnette, classroom management proved to be one of the greatest challenges amongst her diversified group of students.
She smiled and then explained her first year, “I thought the schools would be very similar to how they are in America. You learn according to your environment. I was contacted the week before class started about logistics for school but nothing else was shared about job expectations. What surprised me the most was how loud the kids were in the classroom. Classroom management is not as consistent as it is in the United States. Also, the children were very affectionate and I would say to myself, ‘in the States too much affection could get me fired.’ Then I asked the other teacher, ‘What do I do when a student hugs me?’ The teacher told me, ‘hug them back.’ By the end of the year, I was comfortable wiping noses and being closer to the kids.”
Lynnette’s second year at the same school was great. She was used to the students and established a great working rapport with the teaching staff. Most specifically, she had a phenomenal English coordinator at her school and all of the teachers worked well together.
During my series of questions, I asked Lynnette more about the Spanish Gypsy and Moroccan culture within her school. She was very inspired by all of her students. Working with two cultures opened her eyes to a new language, Arabic, and also a new culture, which she needed to be aware of. The two cultures and languages are very different in many ways.
Lynette stated, “One of the things I took from my experience was getting a glimpse of Spanish Gypsy culture and Moroccan culture. My school was heavily influenced by these cultures. I was impressed with a lot of my Moroccan students who were learning how to write in Spanish and on top of that they could answer in complete English sentences. Which made sense since they were already learning Arabic while at home. Arabic is the second most difficult language to learn.
Despite being unfamiliar with Gypsy culture somehow I managed to establish great relationships with my students. I felt what worked with all my students was showing them responsibility and accountability and expecting nothing less from them."
Because Lynnette has lived and worked in Spain for going on her third year, I had a unique set of questions for her. I enjoyed hearing her responses about her upcoming year.
Where are you teaching for your third year in Spain?
Lynnette is teaching outside of Madrid at a primary school. She is teaching infantil (3,4,5 year olds) and 1st and 2nd grade.
What will you take with you to the new school this year in 2017?
“I will take with me the ability to use free range in the classroom. I will offer great activities and apply learning to those activities. I will not always use a textbook.”
What do you want leave behind when you leave Spain?
“I want my students to remember their English teacher as someone who made learning English fun for them. They say, hey, the reason I continued studying English is because Lynnette made it fun for me.”
What do you love about the experience of teaching in Spain so far?
“I learned about Spanish teaching culture through my colleagues. I learned teaching methods. It’s essential in order to be a good teacher. You need to know all the methods and how to use them in order to be a good teacher.”
What else would you like to accomplish while you are in Spain?
Lynnette looked up at me with a wide-eyed grin and knew immediately what her goal is for her time while in Europe. She told me, “My ultimate goal is to step foot on all continents and to create my own travel guide company and assist others with some of the many adventures I have traveled.”
What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here? Have you found them to be accurate or inaccurate?
Lynnette looked up with a wry smirk and shared, “I assumed that everyone was going to be very open. But in reality, it’s regional. According to whatever region you are in there are going to be different subcultures to navigate. It is better have no expectations to be honest.”
What has been the most difficult time since you arrived?
For Lynnette this question was not difficult to answer. She looked at me and said, “At the end of second year, I thought I might have to move back to the U.S. But, my heart was telling me what I wanted— I wanted live in Spain.”
How do you feel about your integration into the culture so far? Are there things that you have embraced or are hoping to embrace?
Spanish people enjoy taking a long lunch every day, especially on Sundays when they are at home not returning back to work. Family owned shops typically close for 2-3 hours in the afternoon. The Spanish enjoy being social. It's a huge part of their culture. They wake up eat a small breakfast that consists a “tostada” and coffee and have their large meal, lunch or "comida" with friends and family.
“My lunchtime is the most sacred time of the day. I enjoy having my two-hour lunch. It is important to me.”
Towards the end of my final question, Lynnette paused and said, “Moments... This culture has taught me to live in the moment. At the end of my second year, I realized that patience was guiding me. The added pressures of that year taught me to live in the moment which encourages someone to be more flexible and patient.”
Lynnette’s bubbly yet strong personality shines like a candle beaming in a windowsill on a dark evening; the candle that we look for to guide us home at the end of a long journey. At the end of the day, Lynnette’s strong will and desire to continue on her journey by putting one foot in front of the other, day in and day out, ultimately led her to one answer—her passion. Lynnette spoke to me with enthusiasm and clear conviction for her choices in life and when she revealed her passion she herself realized at that point that this journey was clear. She had worked in politics with a drive to help others, however that was not fulfilling. It was exhausting. It was this exhaustion that led her to Spain in the first place. In the end, Lynnette found her Panamanian soul and her passion in Spain. She finds joy in her life by helping others. Helping others through teaching, blogging, being an Orientation Leader for CIEE, or just being a friend to a new expatriate drives her passion and happiness. Lynnette shines like a candle and once you meet her it is abundantly clear that the light or ‘spark’ she found is the purpose and calling she was born to follow.
Join us next week for our third connection.
Ciao for now,
Leesa with two EE's