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Teacher Connection: Justin

“It is interesting to see the direct impact teachers have on the community.”—Justin Hughes-Coleman

First impressions are impactful no matter what the culture or social setting. I have noticed that in our CIEE program, there are not as many male teachers as there are female teachers. Because of this, I knew I wanted to interview a male participant. I also wanted to interview someone who commuted and worked in the north of Madrid, therefore, Justin was a perfect candidate. I had not had a long conversation with Justin until our first interview. He struck me as the friendly type. After our meeting, I realized he was extremely easy going with a smile that lit up the room. His first impression was a memorable one.

After our first meeting, I walked away thinking what a great guy. His experience in Spain is going to be such a great journey to follow. Additionally, I thought he is going to be a great teacher. His enthusiasm and joy for life will brighten up a classroom. The new challenges that Justin seeks are about to unfold. How exciting! 


Meet Justin, the soul searcher:

Justin is from San Diego, California. He went to California State University in San Marcos. He graduated three years ago. Since that time, he has worked in retail, finance, real estate and also, in Americorp as a legal advisor to families. He decided to make a change with his professional path because he needed a new challenge. Once he became proficient at each job, his mind would start to atrophy from lack of challenge. Because he worked long hours, he felt that his brain was shut off for the majority of the time. His soul was not fulfilled because he felt his work had no meaning. Making the decision to come to Spain pushed him to confront the challenges that he had not faced.

Before his journey to Spain, he never taught. He decided to teach abroad with CIEE because one of his good friends had done so the previous year and said great things about it. Because she did the exact program in Madrid, he knew she would be a great resource.

He has two major goals while he is here. He would like to learn more Spanish and he would like to travel through all of Europe and see parts of Africa.

Where are you teaching?

Justin smiled, “I will be teaching at a primary school in the north part of Madrid in an area called Tres Cantos. It’s a one hour commute and I will be living in the city.”

What do you think teaching in Spain will be like for you?

“I try not to think too much about it before it happens. My mom is a teacher. She has taught my entire life. We can’t walk into a store in town without one person knowing her or saying hi. It is interesting to see the direct impact teachers have on the community.

What are you looking forward to most with teaching?

Justin looked up with a really big smile and said, “I am looking forward to preparing lesson plans and seeing how my plans impact my students.”

Justin chose to teach abroad to fulfill his desire to nourish his soul both professionally and personally. He explained this at the beginning of our interview. He added to this, “in the United States I would not be open to creating new lesson plans in subjects ranging from science to American history because I would have a bias as to what a teacher should do and the limitation on the lesson plans they are permitted to teach. However, in Spain, I do not know how their school system works and what is permitted. I can teach from a different perspective that might help the students learn in a different way. So, instead of making lesson plans ahead of time that I might have to change or totally get rid of, I am going to wait for some guidance from my school and use the skills I have learned from my mother to help craft lesson plans that will fit the needs of the school.”

As I watched Justin breeze through these next questions with such ease and charm, especially during a time of what he considered to be his difficult time in Spain, it showed me just how much he truly wants this experience. Even though I later learned he was going through a difficult time at the moment, I had no idea at the time because he was so at ease.

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

“The people in Madrid are very friendly. I am not used to people being so friendly and helpful. Even strangers are personable. While looking at a piso, a receptionist at the building started speaking to me and asking me about my day.”

I would like to highlight Justin’s response here by saying there is a difference when it comes to Spanish people’s personalities versus their behavior. Spanish people can be very friendly but also, very direct.


Justin’s response to this next question made me laugh. It was funny and also, it was flattering.

What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here? Have you found them to be accurate or inaccurate?

“I thought Spanish people were going to be more “svelte” looking people, like you. But, in general they aren’t.”

For those of you who do not know what svelte means (me included), it means thin in an attractive or graceful way. I have to say, thank you, Justin (blushing)!

While answering the next question I saw Justin’s character shine during his personal storm.

What has been most difficult since you arrived?

“Piso hunting has been the most difficult. People cancelled appointments that I reserved minutes before I arrived. They won’t call to cancel the appointment in advance. Now that I have a piso, the hardest thing to get used to is the directness of the Spanish culture. An example of this was when someone told me I looked very messy on the subway (in broken English-Spanish). I was drenched in sweat.”

“On the flip side, they aren’t very forthcoming with information or specifics. Getting detailed information from potential landlords during the search was extremely challenging.”

What has been the best experience?

 “Meeting all the new people. Americans and Spanish alike.”

How do you feel about the integration of the culture so far? Are there things that you have embraced or are hoping to embrace?

“I have integrated more easily than I thought I would. When I got here, I thought it would be very difficult to get around. But, that is not the case.

“I hope to embrace the soccer culture and understand it better. In general, the Spanish lifestyle is a slower lifestyle. When you go out at night you pace yourself. I feel like in America, you either go hard or go home. It’s about getting drunk.

Here it is about enjoying your friends and enjoying the evening. I’m looking forward to that.”


Justin took the leap of faith to come to Spain to look inside himself to find out more about who he is and where this journey will take him. The self-discovery process in Spain is going to be a great one with Justin. One thing we can be sure of, Justin will be encountering and embracing many new challenges in the upcoming months. We will check back with him half way to find out more.

Stay tuned for our next connection.

Ciao for now,

Leesa with two EE's

 Photography: Nicole Geist 



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