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14 posts categorized "Leesa Truesdell"

What Part Of Forever

“Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.” – Margaret Peters

It’s been a while since my last post that spoke about one of my very first posts: Embracing Uncertainty. Uncertainty means “indefinite or not clearly defined.” When we describe life events fraught with uncertainty such as living abroad, time is a theme that pops up frequently. You have the beginning months where everything seems so new and you feel like a tourist, then, you begin work and establish a sense of routine and then, seemingly suddenly, the year is about to end! For our time here in Spain, it’s almost the end and, again, the uncertainty is rearing back up saying, “I am back. Hello, life. What’s next?” I realize that as I get older this type of lifestyle, one that embraces uncertainty, is one that makes me feel like I am growing and learning and not feeling stagnant or misplaced.

With each day that passes, I grow, as a person. With each opportunity that arises, I try to push myself outside of my comfort zone, working towards that growth. My time abroad has shown me that I don’t know myself as well as I thought. Time spent challenging myself has been the reason for my personal growth (and I consider time, although it’s free, to be priceless.)

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I started this journey looking for more answers about who I am; I wanted to know as much as I could about Spain because my ancestors are from Mallorca. During my first day at my school here, I made a presentation to my students called “About Me” in which I spoke about my life, my friends, my country, and most importantly my family. Not too long ago, I was talking to my class and I held up a photo of my grandmother, whom I affectionately call Tata. It was then that I told my students the reason why I came to Spain, and why I teach. Time moves on so quickly and life can change in a heartbeat. And, in my case it did. Looking back, I never imagined that I would not be able to see my grandmother again. Those first days in front of my classes were the beginning of my life in Spain inspired by Tata. It’s been a journey that I will always appreciate because I know that she wanted me to be happy, as she told me in our last happy conversations together. As time moves on, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her sweet smile or soft voice. She is the reason I started to teach English. Her life inspired me. Each day I walk into a class, I carry her with me in my heart. She may not be with us any longer but her story lives on through my work.

Spain taught me some valuable lessons, and one of the most important lessons I have learned so far is that you don’t know what tomorrow might bring. I know that I would not have learned the lessons I needed to had I not come to Spain. My soul opened up and my heart has once again embraced another culture that has embraced me back. I am very grateful to have this opportunity.

I was extremely blessed to have been able to see Tata one more time before she passed. Remember to tell those people in your life how much they mean to you regularly and if they do something to upset you, it’s ok to be upset but remember that at the end of the day, time is all we truly have. There are a set number of days on our calendar that we will be here. Live your life, be well, let go and carry on.

“Cause you never think that the last time is the last time. You think there will be more. You think you have forever but you don’t.” – Dr. Meredith Grey


Thanks for reading,

Leesa with two EE’s

Update: I have been busy with the other CIEE teachers that I interviewed. We have been working on our website called Dreams Abroad. The website will highlight the lives and of expatriates living in Madrid. We will follow each teacher just like I did during my first round of interviews. I am excited for this next journey, and I want to thank CIEE for the opportunity to post my material on their site. It was through this site that my vision began!

Please visit our site: https://www.dreamsabroad.org

A New Year To Remember

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Happy New Year friends and readers! I would like to take the opportunity to say I took a few weeks off to clear my mind and enjoy my holiday vacation. I hope all of you did too! Over the course of my vacation, I was able to visit the United States, my home, Florida and also climb Mt. Teide in Tenerife, Spain. I have become conditioned to live in the moment, so looking back on my journeys over the course of the past five months, I feel blessed. Mt. Teide was a beast! It was certainly a great start to checking off one of my New Year's resolutions.
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One of my very first blog entries was about “Embracing Uncertainty.” It was about my grandmother and how I would handle living abroad while knowing she was ill back home in the States. My visit back home was a memorable one because I spent time with her. She was full of joy and it was as if she waited for my arrival home. She remembered who I was and her mind was lucid.
The following week I headed back to Spain and the day I left to say goodbye she wasn’t feeling well. I won’t forget the feeling I felt getting on the plane because it was if my body’s subconscious was telling me that something was wrong. A few days later my dad called to tell me her health declined and Hospice was at her home. My grandma, Micaela Colon passed peacefully on 11 January 2017.
Looking back at the past five months in Spain, I’ve met some really great people. Some of the best moments have been through meeting new people and traveling to new places. I have also had an incredible journey so far at my school. I look forward to sharing that information through my Series 2 interview.
Here’s a recap of the quote’s from last year’s blogs. I enjoyed rereading them and remembering when each piece was written. I look forward to the upcoming year so that I can learn more about my colleagues and also, continue to feel inspired.  
“Some people pass through our lives in a shorter time frame than we had hoped to teach us things they never could have taught if they stayed.” – Anonymous
“It’s about putting yourself out there to make it the best you can!” —Morgan Yearout
“Madrid especially has won my heart.” – Catalina Valdez-Dapena
“The most important relationship you have in life is with yourself.” – Michelle Nicchi
"It’s time to let go of the long hours and live a balanced life.”—Samantha LoDuca
“It is interesting to see the direct impact teachers have on the community.”—Justin Hughes-Coleman
“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
“Go with the flow.”—Leesa Truesdell
 “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” – Dr. Seuss
“If you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.” – Paulo Coehlo
“What's in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” –William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
With those very inspiring words, I would like to preview what’s to come in 2017.
Teacher Connection: Series 2 will be launched from it’s new home. Details will be coming.  Thank you so much to the teachers who have volunteered their experience and time. This series is going to highlight more of the classroom experiences each teacher is working on now.
Thank you to all of you for reading and sending messages about the blog. Your feedback combined with the memory of my grandma has inspired me to launch some new ideas this year. 
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The view from the top of Mt. Tiede!
Stay tuned!

Ciao for now,

Leesa with two EE's

Cuatro Meses

“Some people pass through our lives in a shorter time frame than we had hoped to teach us things they never could have taught if they stayed.” – Anonymous


A friend who reads my blogs tells me to write like how I speak and think in person, so here it goes. I am sitting here planning my trip home for the holidays while listening to the Killers new Christmas album. I can’t help but think about how 2016 has flown by. So many wonderful events have happened in my life and I have been blessed to meet many new friends. I am thankful!

This past week, I came across a great quote at the right moment, “Some people pass through our lives in a shorter time frame than we had hoped to teach us things they never could have taught if they stayed.”

A friend of mine recently moved back to the United States from Spain. After seeing her to say goodbye, I thought about my first interactions with her and our time in Madrid together. It was not a very long period of time, but we connected instantly. Looking back, I realized that she taught me a lot about myself within a few weeks. Before my arrival to Spain, I had never shared a room with anyone. She taught me the value in going through tough times with a buddy. Our first weeks in Madrid were great, however, like any transition or change in life, it took some time to get adjusted. She was with me and I was with her through those challenges. We did not know it at the time, but we conquered the initial culture shock with each other. We did this by talking through things that at the time were our topic of the day. Looking back, we were going through some tough, tough adjustments. We did not realize it at the time because we were in our routine and day to day life in Spain became our new reality.


Time passes and we move on with our lives. Even when you live abroad! I have been so busy going through the motions of my new routine (post summer) that when I saw her to say goodbye, I did not realize over two months had passed since we last saw one another. For me, a flood of emotions surfaced and memories came back so clearly to my mind. My purpose and reason for being here flashed before my eyes. It was as if I had been in a time warp and all of the sudden reality hit me in the face again. It was my roommate, my friend. She was leaving. Where had the time gone? She was my friend that gave me the idea to write and blog about my grandmother. She was with me when I had hit a moment of despair and homesickness after a phone call with my grandmother two weeks into the journey. She knew what I was going through having a grandmother with dementia since she had just lost hers to the same illness. I am forever grateful for my friend who not only encouraged me to write but also, assisted with the creation of my blog called Teacher Connection.

I looked at my friend one last time and knew that both our journeys have just begun. She went back to the states for personal reasons that have only created the driving force inside me to want to push harder and do better. My time in Madrid has just started and I intend to make it just as impactful as the first weeks we shared.


Over the course of 2016, I realized that I was afraid to say goodbye to friends and family. I always had a fear of saying goodbye because it always seemed so permanent. But, after I saw her one last time, I knew that things were going to be ok. As I get older, I realize that each person I meet comes into my life to teach me something. I consider them and what they teach me to be a valuable lesson. In this instance, my lesson was that it is ok to say goodbye and sometimes we need to in order for our journey to continue the way it is intended.

I have met many people throughout my journey but what I find so interesting is the reflection part that happens after you meet them. Whether you want to think that a person had an impact on you, in a good or bad way, usually they do. It is how you use that interaction to influence that is important. For example, I met someone who encouraged me to start writing about my grandmother while in Spain to help me better harness those feelings of missing her. The writing has helped me and in turn, it’s made me meet a variety of other teachers. My grandmother’s always remembered each time I write a blog. My roommate taught me things that I could not have learned if she had stayed. She has an iron will and she is someone I will consider a friend for life.

This blog is dedicated to the CIEE 4 week immersion group that arrived in August. We have been in Madrid for four months. Wherever you are, take a moment to reflect on all that you have accomplished and think about all the opportunity that lies ahead of you. Be proud.


Photo credits: Nicole Geist 


Ciao for now,

Leesa with two EE's

Teacher Connection: Morgan

“It’s about putting yourself out there to make it the best you can!” —Morgan Yearout

I met Morgan over the summer in our online predeparture course for CIEE part of which required uploading information and writing in a course discussion board. It was there that I got to know Morgan (virtually) through her posts, which were often up within a day or two. I enjoyed reading her posts and it became a weekly routine for me; read the assignment then read what Morgan had to say. 

Over the course of the weeks leading up to our arrival to Spain, we became friends. We would talk outside of the CIEE course framework and discuss our upcoming life-changing journey.

It seemed beyond coincidence that, after arriving at the airport in Madrid, I ran right into Morgan! First impressions mean a lot, and her's confirmed everything that I believed from our online interaction. She’s someone who has a bright spirit, which will uplift your own to new heights.

I used to think of myself as a planner, and then I met Morgan. She brings planning to a new level. A level that makes you think, well, hey she’s got this. Why duplicate efforts? Let Morgan plan the trip since she loves doing it!

Oh and she’s got a laugh that is contagious. HONK HONK!


Meet Morgan, the go-getter:

Morgan is from Moses Lake, Washington. In her adolescent years, she grew up in a town called Royal City, Washington. She considers this the place where she grew the most as a person. She later attended Washington State University. “Go Cougs!” as Morgan would say!

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

“I had the opportunity to visit Spain twice in the past four years and Spain captured my heart despite my brief encounters. I longed to return. It’s hard to articulate my feelings with words but essentially Spain is everything and more I could want in a place to visit and reside.  It’s a beautiful country that has unique differences in each region.  Each place varies from the other in terms of food, pace of life, architecture, day-to-day routines, and historical influences. The reason I moved here for a year was because my previous two-week stints weren’t enough to experience it all.  I was also looking for a different kind of challenge.  I am always pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and learning a new language was something that would be a real struggle for me. Duolingo just wasn’t going to cut it!”

What are your goals while you are here?

“My main goal is to feel rooted here and learn Spanish. I want to check off a couple of European bucket list items too. These items include a road trip through northern Spain, going wine tasting in Rioja, visiting Morocco, and Portugal (again) to get scuba certified.”

Have you ever taught before? If not, what was your career field? 

“I was a Senior Manager for Revenue Management at Hilton Worldwide. Essentially, I was responsible for training and developing team members to be most effective at hotel rate setting and supporting them in their career growth.” 

What do you think teaching in Spain will be like? Where are you teaching?

“I think it will be challenging from the perspective that I won’t necessarily know the subject matter well or have time to prepare for a lesson.  I am uncertain about what the political landscape of the school will be but I hope to build relationships with the teachers easily.  Based on my experiences with Spain so far, I don’t think it will be that challenging. I’m excited to be teaching at a bilingual high school though! It’s an age group that I can relate to from my experiences back in the States, I  have done plenty of community service with this age group. My students should have a foundation of English already established.  I will be working in Madrid city center. I do not have too far to commute.”

Why did you choose to teach abroad? Why did you choose Spain over other countries?

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to immerse myself into the Spanish culture, learn Spanish, and explore Europe in a cost effective way! I initially started applying to South Korea because the pay is better and it would be a potential culture shock and a greater challenge for me. Then, I deliberated on why I would really want to teach abroad and what I want to gain from it.  Also, at the time of my application I was in a really rough spot at work, getting sick and nauseas almost every day from stress and lack of sleep. I was looking for a way out to still get paid, take a break, and re-evaluate my life decisions since life flies when you’re doing the “8-5” rat race.”

What would you like to accomplish while you are in Spain?

“The main things I want to accomplish are to experience Spanish culture and not just as a tourist, I want to see what sticks and what doesn’t long term for my own lifestyle changes based on the Spanish way of life. I want to travel extensively, build long lasting friendships, and converse decently in Spanish.”


What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

“So far my perceptions are that it is a hard working city, siestas are necessary to keep the balance of work and family. Locals live a life of moderation in everything they do. For example, working out, drinking and eating AKA not overindulgent (obviously there’s going to be outliers), very community/relationship based, and they are a social society. They have a deep understanding of their roots, appreciation/pride, minimalist, resourceful/conservationists and tons of green space.  I love all the outdoor activities the people of Madrid engage in. Madrid has a plethora of cultural experiences with museums, theatre, matador, monuments, dance performances and classes.”

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

“I typically live in a way where I keep expectations and assumptions low so that I can just experience things as they are and embrace them.  That being said, my perceptions of Madrid I have stated and I have found most of them to be accurate for Spain except I didn’t expect this city to be so vibrant and full of life. I imagined it would be more like a typical big city with a lot of buildings and people; but truly, this city is electric, especially at night! I also didn’t realize how much of an emphasis on work/life balance there is.  Especially when it comes to maintaining strong family and friend relationships.  They really make time for each other and it’s a rarity to see a Spanish person not with at least one other friend or family member unless they are en route to meet up.  It’s a very cohesive society based on what I’ve been exposed to.”

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

“Truly, not much. I think it’s all about perception of the struggles we encounter. I think dealing with the government red tape with getting the Visa, needing a passport to get a SIM card, and the last minute sexual assault form were a nuisance but well worth it!”

What has been the best experience?  

I have several: Running through Retiro Park and seeing new sites every time that take my breathe away, running along the river and enjoying the various vibes of leisurely folk picnicking, the skate park, the playgrounds, the runners, people on roller blades, walkers, and bikers on the trail, and the café vibes; so much variety! Other best experiences have been finding quality friends in Madrid through the CIEE program to explore the beautiful city and other parts of Spain with. It’s beginning to feel like I have a family here in a very short period of time and I am blessed for that.  I also really appreciate my living experience since I am doing Babel Bridges and have a fabulous host family to house me all year.  The parents have a 13 year old and 10 year old boy and they are like my “brothers.” They are so warm, welcoming, and kind.  The Mother and Father are also so pure hearted, sharing, patient with communication barriers, and open-minded.  I have been accepted into the family as one of their own since day one and I cannot be more grateful."

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 feel well integrated based on my time here.  It’s about putting yourself out there to make it the best you can! I have a host family so that by default has helped a lot.  I also am involved in private Spanish courses so I can converse better with locals. But overall, I think I’ve embraced the culture and had a pretty good idea of what I was signing myself up for before I got here.”

Morgan Camel


Morgan knew from the moment she stepped off the plane (and probably way before that) what her goals were while in Spain. It was clear in her predeparture posts online, and now after we arrived that Morgan wants to challenge herself beyond the point of planning. She wants to go above and beyond what she normally would in order to prove to herself, and herself alone, that she is not only willing but she is able to push herself outside her comfort zone. Morgan has already crossed off two of her bucket list items. She took her road trip to north Spain and she frolicked with the camels in Morocco. I can’t wait to see what adventure and story she has for us next time.

Stay tuned for our next series of Teacher Connections in 2017! We will follow up with our cadre of teacher's that we interviewed already to learn more about their life in Spain.

Ciao for now,

Leesa with two EE’s


Teacher Connection: Cate

“Madrid especially has won my heart.” – Catalina Valdez-Dapena

I will never forget my first encounter with Cate. I met her at the four-week CIEE orientation the morning after we arrived from the United States. While not a very talkative person when you first meet her, once you get to know her she has a sense of humor that can keep you laughing for days.

During our interview, she kept some of her responses short which reminded of the person I first met. Then, when she answered some of the other questions, Cate’s humor came out in full swing. Albeit hilarious, her responses were honest, and real. Most of all, they made me realize that not only is she a woman of strength but she is a woman of resilience. A woman who is strong but who sometimes has a softer side.


Meet Cate, the rock:

Cate was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Wallingford, a nearby suburb. Just before beginning high school, her parents and the four youngest children moved to south Florida where she went to high school and then college at the University of Miami. During her first (of what turned out to be 7 years) of college, her eldest daughter, Kristina, was born. She was a single parent going to school and working, and going to discos several nights a week. It was the 80’s.

After college, Cate and Kristina packed up and moved back to Philadelphia where she attended law school. She describes this as the most challenging (and rewarding) time in her life, being alone in the city with a young daughter and going to school full time. But she made it! She passed the bar exam and worked for several years in the city until her second daughter, Tess, was born. She stayed home with Tess for several years and never went back to practicing law.  She has worked in law firms but not as a practicing attorney and she’s had every manner of job since. The legal field was not a good choice for Cate but she explained there is a stigma attached to leaving it and it was a very difficult time for her personally.

She’s had some wildly diverse jobs since then and has worked with every imaginable type of person. She’s found that what works best for her in a job is a fast-paced environment, lots of contact with people and the ability to leave the job at work. “Essentially, I'm a pretty ridiculous person, and I can't be happy doing anything serious all day. It just doesn't suit me.”

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

Cate smiled,  “One of my life goals is to learn to speak Spanish and several of my family members have been to Spain and loved it. Also important was knowing there wouldn't be a crippling culture shock. I knew that I wouldn't be able to handle somewhere like Thailand.”

What are your goals while you are here?

“I want to learn to speak Spanish on a least a very basic level and to travel as much as I can. Before coming to Spain, I had never been to Europe and I want to take this opportunity to see as much of it as I can. Honestly, I think I may have already achieved my primary goal and that was overcoming the fear I had about moving here! I've always marveled at the adventurous spirit of people who just pick up and go to "foreign" lands. I was terrified to do it and was determined to face, and overcome, that fear.

My goal of learning more conversational Spanish is crashing down around me. As I meet more people through the English conversational groups that I lead, everyone has been so gracious about volunteering their time to speak Spanish with me and it's getting harder and harder to procrastinate. I am very uncomfortable "sounding stupid" (fear again) even though that is a requisite part of learning a new language and it's time I got over that. I am so happy to help other adults with the process, it's time I allowed myself the same grace period.”

Have you ever taught before? If not, what was your career field? 

Cate did not hesitate, "I have been many, many things from a lawyer to a diner waitress but I’ve never taught professionally before; only my own children. "

What did you think teaching in Spain would be like? Where are you teaching?

Cate smirked, “I had no idea what teaching in Spain would be like. But, I assumed it would be similar to the United States educational system. I had, what I now know is a naive notion, that I would be working with curious children sitting quietly, eager to learn. I could not have been more wrong. I am teaching northwest of the city, out in the sierra, in a small public primary school."

Why did you choose to teach abroad and also, why did you choose Spain over other countries?

“I chose to teach abroad because two of my nephews had done the program with CIEE and I followed their "adventures" with awe and envy. I thought teaching abroad through an established program would be a safe and structured way to move to a new country where I knew nothing.”

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

Cate smiled a wide grin, “It's a beautiful country. Madrid especially has won my heart. Since August I have been able to see Valencia and Sevilla and, even Paris, and for me Madrid is remarkable in its vibrancy and gorgeous architecture. When you come up from the metro on a sunny day and see Retiro or the buildings near the Bank of España, it's breathtaking.

I do not, however, understand their relationship with dog poop. Here is a shining example of the achievements of humankind and everywhere you step you're likely to land in dog shit. It boggles my mind. The sidewalks in this cosmopolitan city are dotted with "caca." As kids today say, smh."

At first I wondered why everyone here was so fixated on not wearing their shoes inside their homes... and then I discovered the 'Shit Syndrome'.”

What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here?

“Because I was coming here to work in their school system with an established English-speaking program, I assumed that many people here would speak some English. I also assumed that I would be able to buy most of the same things I could buy at home. Both assumptions turned out to be very wrong."

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

“There are several things that have been very difficult. The first was unbearable heat of the first two months. I have lived in Miami for fifteen years and have never been as hot as I was in Madrid this summer. And my inability to communicate effectively has been extremely frustrating. It took me seven insane weeks to get WiFi activated at my piso because I couldn’t communicate well with the providers. Lastly, I have found it very difficult to be a "person of size" in this country where everyone is small and shorter than me. Buying my Converse All Stars was a tragic comedy. I ended up in the men's department with the next to largest size they carry and several gawking salespeople gathered around to witness my extraordinarily large feet. Never again.”


What has been the best experience?

“The best experience has been discovering Madrid and the trips I have been able to take since I have been here. Madrid is an incredibly beautiful city and I feel comfortable and safe here. It also seems like a very tolerant society and I like that.”

How do you feel about your integration of the culture so far?

Cate smiled a wry smile,“I have been doing fairly well. It was rough in the beginning with the communication barriers to opening bank accounts and getting WIFI. You know all those bureaucratic things. And I will never be able to adopt the Spanish timetable as far as meals go.” 

We are now in the fifth week of classes, how is teaching going?

Cate gave me “a look”, “I am not doing any teaching. To say I am a teacher’s aide is not accurate. I stand around and observe for the vast majority of the time. The teachers in my school spend a great deal of time on classroom management. There is a shocking lack of discipline.”

Cate persevered through a very difficult start to her Madrid adventure. She lives outside of the center of Madrid near her school. Things aren’t as accessible for her as they are for most who live inside the center of Madrid. However, Cate didn’t give up. She continued to push toward her goals in order to make things happen. After spending time with Cate, and becoming friends with her, I realize that one of the secrets toward her success is her ‘ridiculous’ behavior that she says she has. She embraces life and it’s challenges as they come. Each time a difficult situation would arise, Cate got stronger and wiser about how to handle it. Madrid captured her heart even in the midst of all the chaos she was feeling. I look forward to seeing where she will be in a couple of months. She may not have the ideal job at the moment but with her wit, strength and charm, I am sure a budding opportunity will arise very soon for her that will challenge and fulfill her.


Stay tuned for our teacher connection next week!

Ciao for now,

Leesa with two EE’s

Teacher Connection: Michelle

“The most important relationship you have in life is with yourself.”

 Michelle Nicchi is a selective, outspoken person and with good reason. She believes in enjoying life on her own or with good company, and doing so with a purpose. She doesn’t dwell on the past and instead thrives on adventure. She has big dreams for her future.

As our interview unfolded, I realized that this is a bold woman who knows exactly who she is and she is not afraid to say so. My first interaction with Michelle was a memorable one. She approached me as I was entering the metro after Spanish class and asked, “have you found a piso yet?” I said, “huh?” I had no idea who she was, but she must have recognized me. She smiled and repeated, “have you found a piso yet?” I looked back at her (in my mind thinking, does she know me?) and said, “well, yeah.” I mention this conversation because it explains Michelle’s character so well. She is up for a good conversation and knows no stranger. She is willing to assist whom she can, when she can. She is well rounded, friendly and has a heart of gold.

Since the metro encounter, Michelle and I have become friends. She knew that someone had canceled an interview for my blog last minute and Michelle being the kind person that she is, stepped up and volunteered to help. I didn’t ask her, she knew how much this project means to me and she offered. Our interview took place in Mallorca. I was on the trip as part of a post-birthday celebration and Michelle contacted me. I asked her what her plans were and she said, “hey, I’m spontaneous.” Michelle jumped on a plane and joined me for a day in Mallorca where I was able to interview and get to know her better.

Michelle, you are one of a kind, thank you for being you!

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Meet Michelle, the dreamer:

Michelle is from Phoenix, Arizona and moved to Seattle, Washington to attend Seattle University. She thrives on putting herself in uncomfortable situations where she can learn and grow. She felt the campus environment was free-spirited and welcoming, which resulted in her learning how to be her most authentic self. She explained, “When you are your authentic self, that is when you are liberated and most happy. It is very important not to conform to what society wants.”

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

“I lived in Barcelona for four months during my senior year. I got my Bachelors in Psychology and I told myself I would return after I graduated. It has always been a dream of mine to live in Spain. After I moved, I told myself I would come back. I chose to live in Madrid because I wanted to be away from Barcelona, the party city. Madrid reminded me of New York City in many ways because it has the “big city feel” but it is cleaner. You only live once, I thought why not?”

When I spoke to Michelle about Spain, I could tell how much her dream meant to her. I could feel how much she wanted to make her dream her reality. It was special to share that moment with her.

What are your goals while you are here?

“I want to immerse myself in the culture, become bilingual, travel all over Europe and make friends with locals so I can learn from them.”

The most important relationship you have in life is with yourself. It’s important to love yourself. It’s important to discover yourself by yourself. I am on this journey to do that, we come into this world by ourselves, and we leave this world by ourselves—so it’s important to figure out who you are by yourself.”


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What are your classroom goals?

“I want to inspire the students by teaching them English in a fun and effective environment. I want to do my best to eliminate any negative behavior. I want to inspire them to see learning as fun and beneficial.”

Have you ever taught before? If not, what was your career field?

“ I worked in sales for a communication company and taught customers how to use the product. I did this by teaching one-on-one or in groups.

I also tutored kids in math in Arizona before I moved to Madrid.”

What do you think teaching in Spain will be like? Where are you teaching this year?

Teaching will be fun and exciting. It will be a life challenging experience in a good environment. I am working at a school in Majadahonda, Spain. It is northwest of Madrid. I am teaching primary levels 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th. My English coordinator created my schedule. I teach English in natural science and social science.

(This interview occurred after Michelle’s first week of class so I was able to speak to her about her schedule and first week of classes.)

How has your experience been so far after one week?

“I love my school. I feel everything happens for a reason and I am very grateful that I was placed in a positive teaching environment with teachers that are providing positive reinforcement. I feel like I will develop great relationships with the other teachers. The director is extremely nice and is helping me achieve outside employment opportunities. I like that I have the opportunity to experience working with different teachers in different subjects. It will provide the opportunity for me to learn and experience different teaching methods.”

Why did you choose to teach abroad and also, why did you choose to teach in Spain over other countries?

“ I always wanted to live in another country for a longer period of time than I did in Barcelona. I wanted to live my dream of living in Spain for a longer period of time. I see Spain as my starting point in Europe and I plan to develop other career opportunities over the course of the year. Teaching is a starting point and a great skill to acquire. I want to learn to be bilingual over time and feel comfortable living in another country on my own. Then, perhaps move to another country and become trilingual.”

What would you like to accomplish while you are in Spain?

Michelle smiled, “I want to ride the wave of life and not take life so seriously. I want to enjoy my experience.”

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

Michelle said, “Madrid is a beautiful and diverse city full of endless opportunities.”

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

Michelle smiled a big smile, “My younger brother lived here for 13 weeks. He expressed how much he loved the city and thought I would too. I only had good expectations.”

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

“The language barrier in the beginning was the most difficult for me because normally, it would be easy to move to a new city without knowing anyone because I am outgoing and I could develop friendships. So, when it’s hard to communicate with other people, it is hard to make friends and establish relationships and friendships.”

What has been the best experience?

It is everyday living in Spain. For example, being exposed to new beautiful neighborhoods. Being able to travel whenever—spontaneously being able to travel to Milan or Mallorca.”

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

It took Michelle a second to answer, “There has been a huge difference with my comfort level from my first day living in Spain to my second month. For example, I was nervous speaking to Spanish to people when I needed to communicate, and now I feel completely comfortable and happy going to strangers and having random interactions with locals.”


Michelle’s interview took place outside of Madrid and it was different than my previous interviews because I added some additional questions about her first week of classes to our list. I enjoyed speaking with Michelle because I knew every response she gave me was authentic to her journey leading into our moment in Mallorca. We all have dreams that start as an idea, and then it’s up to us to make them a reality. What I found so inspiring about Michelle’s journey in Spain is that it’s her dream and she knows it’s hers. She won’t let the influence of anyone else detract her from her destiny. She is dedicated to her path and she is focused on her dream. That is her reality. The rest is history.

We will follow up with Michelle on her journey half way through the year. It will be so interesting to see how far she’s come on her goals.

Stay tuned for our next connection!

Ciao for now,

Leesa with two EE’s

Teacher Connection: Sam

"It’s time to let go of the long hours and live a balanced life.”—Samantha LoDuca

Samantha who goes by “Sam” recently spoke to me about her studies in Rome and why she enjoys European culture. She is an ambitious goal seeker who has met the goals that she set for herself. She calls this her “self pact.” She thrives by putting herself into situations where she is learning. Her interview taught me more about who she was and who she wants to become while she is in Spain.

I met Sam in my Spanish class and she is also a CIEE participant. Because we were in the same class, I got to see a side of her that was eager to learn yet vulnerable at times. We only knew each other by name and whatever Spanish topic was discussed that day. I didn’t know who Sam really was until our interview. After we spoke, I realized how committed she is to learning Spanish by immersion.

Sam is dedicated, sophisticated and takes pride in her appearance. Her skirts billow past her knees and she is always perfectly accessorized and her authenticity shines when she speaks about her goals. That unique, authentic aura is why I wanted to highlight her favorite quote which she shared with me after our interview. When I read it, Sam's outlook was clearly reflected.

"Every one of a hundred thousand cities around the world had its own special sunset and it was worth going there, just once, to see the sun go down" - Ryu Murakami


Meet Sam, the culture seeker:

Samantha LoDuca is originally from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin but, for the past five years she has been living in Chicago. She went to Loyola University and, immediately after graduating, she got a job working in HR at a large corporation in Chicago.  After about two years of working 60-plus hour work weeks, Sam decided to seek her destiny in Spain —a new life immersed in a culture that she longed to be a part of.

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

Sam smiled, “I always wanted to live in Europe ever since my first visit when I was 15 years old. I developed a love for learning about languages and culture after my family vacation to Italy. During my last year of college, while visiting Japan, I made a pact with myself that I would be living in Europe three years after graduation. I call this my ‘self pact’.”

What are your goals while you are here in Spain?

“My primary and most important goal is to learn Spanish. I would like to become fluent. My secondary goal is to force myself out of my comfort zone by integrating into Spanish culture as much as possible. I will do this by meeting and speaking with Madrilleños. Finally, I would like to get the most out of the teaching experience by making a connection with my students. I want to make an impact in their lives.”

Have you ever taught before? If not, what was your career field?

Sam paused, “No, I have never officially taught. In high school, I worked as a tutor through Catholic organizations and in college, I worked as nanny with a family. I tutored the kids in the family. I worked for two years with the same large corporation. I was an intern in my senior year then worked for one year with the same company in human resources.”

What do you think teaching in Spain will be like? Where are you teaching this year?

“I am teaching in San Augustine del Guadalix. It is located north of Madrid. I am taking the approach of not thinking about what teaching will be like. I am not setting expectations for myself. The biggest challenge will be not to associate my past experiences of corporate job expectations. For example, how we are used to doing things the right way and at a fast pace. Corporations care about the most efficient way, and in Spain they care if the job gets done but it does not have to be the most efficient way.”

Why did you choose to teach abroad and also, why did you choose to teach in Spain over other countries?

“Teaching abroad is a great opportunity to travel abroad and to experience another culture. I chose Spain because I studied Spanish for eight years throughout school. I visited Madrid once before and loved it. I knew it would be a great spot to live and I could see myself living here.”


What would you like to accomplish while you are in Spain?

In Chicago, I worked way too much. I worked 60-70 hours at the corporation plus 20 hours being a nanny at night and on weekends. I did not have time left during the week for a social life. I did not take the time to enjoy life. In Spain, I want to accomplish taking the time to enjoy life. I want to take the time to be “Spanish” by going to dinner and socializing with friends. I want to have free time. It is time to learn how to let it go. It’s time to let go of the long hours and live a balanced life.

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

Sam paused, and then looked up assertively, “it is great and it is very different than Italy. They are both cultures derived from Latin roots but very different. In Italy, it was hard to connect with the locals for two reasons. First, it was hard to practice the language with locals because Italian people used English all the time. Second, in Italy, it’s hard to integrate into the culture. They don’t accept you immediately into their social circles. You must not be too willing or be too eager to be accepted in to the Roman circles. When they see you are not trying too hard, they meet you half way and embrace you. Because of this social dynamic, it was hard for me to integrate into the Italian culture in the three months I was there. Also, I was not very willing to be cold to people in order to be accepted. I am a friendly person by nature; therefore, I did not integrate as well as I would have liked.

In Spain, the social barriers are different from those in Italy. I can be myself and people accept me into their social circles right away. Also, people do not speak as much English in Spain as they do in Rome. Here in Spain you can practice the language. They appreciate you trying to use Spanish.

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

“I thought more people would know (speak and understand) English than they do and they do not. Also, I assumed I would be afraid to speak Spanish and thought it would take longer to get over the fear to speak. But, after two weeks, I wasn’t afraid and I said to myself, 'I am going to give it my best shot. I am going to try and if they don’t understand, they don’t understand. I know I tried and that’s what matters.'”

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

Sam looked at me with a smirk, “I am going to knock on wood. I have not had a moment where I have been fed up. The hardest thing has been getting used to the Spanish sleeping and eating schedules. I am not sure how I am going to adjust during work or how Spanish people do it.”

The Spanish eat their meals at entirely different times than Americans. They eat a small tostada when they wake up, then at 2:00 p.m. they eat a large ‘comida’ comparable to the American dinner but always more social. Dinner is around 10:00 p.m. For most Americans, this is typically the time when most are getting ready to go to sleep to get up for work the next day.

What has been the best experience?

 "I do not have one moment or one “best.” Retiro Park is my favorite place in Spain. Going to the park is a different idea for me. I would never do that in the states. I never had the free time to do it. No matter how you are experiencing Retiro, with people or alone, there is always something new to see or do.

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

I have loved the integration part so far. I think I have a lot more work to do; especially, during the next few weeks while I am on break before I start to teach. If I am not exhausted by the time I go to sleep then I am not trying hard enough to integrate into the culture. Other areas that I focus on are really recognizing that the culture is different by not reacting to it. For example, I try not to get frustrated by the unorganized slow paced government that I have had to work with on a weekly basis since I arrived.”


Since my interview with Samantha, I’ve been fortunate to get to know her more. Her desire to enjoy more free time this year reminds me of Lynnette’s goal when she first moved to Spain two years ago. She has a completely different story but the two women had similar goals once they arrived—to “chillax.”

Sam is a driven and determined hardworking woman. She knows what her goals are yet she is learning how to switch gears and take some time for herself.  The next time I check back with her, I plan to see just how immersed she has become and how she is enjoying her free time.

Stay tuned for our next connection!

Ciao for now,

Leesa with two EE’s


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 


Teacher Connection: Lynnette

“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


Teacher Connection

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


Teacher Connection: Leesa


“Go with the flow”—Leesa Truesdell


Teacher Connection:

In the upcoming weeks, I am going to post a series of  interviews titled Teacher Connection. Each week,  I will introduce a new teacher and the area of Madrid where he or she will work. I will be asking each teacher a set of questions. I am starting the series with information about myself. Throughout the year, I will follow up with the teachers updating their information and experiences.

Here is my story:

Meet Leesa, the writer:

My name is Leesa Truesdell. I am from Coral Springs, Florida. I recently graduated from Florida State University with a Masters in Education. I have always wanted to work assisting others to fulfill their dreams.



Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

My family is of Hispanic heritage. I have wanted to teach abroad since my undergraduate studies. After getting my Masters, I realized that I wanted to come to Spain to learn more about the culture because my ancestors are from Mallorca. Generations ago, they traveled to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, which is where my grandparents were born.

 What are your goals while you are here?

While living in Spain, I have several goals for myself. It is my intention to continue this work throughout my life. I have a professional toolkit and in my kit I consider my tools my skills. I am always up for learning more and adopting new ideas about teaching from others. While in Spain, I would like to immerse myself in the Spanish culture to practice my Spanish conversation skills, understand more about where my family is from and, most importantly, continue to learn. I thrive on learning from others in all aspects of my life, both social and professional. The greatest skill I can hone in my toolbox is the art of listening; my number one priority while I am living in Spain is getting better at communication.

Have you ever taught before? If not, what was your career field?

Yes, I recently taught English as Second Language (ESOL) at Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University with their Continuing Education Department. Before that, I taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Colombia while doing my summer internship. Before earning my Masters, I was a substitute teacher where I learned different teaching methods and classroom management. I chose to substitute over having my own classroom because I wanted to better understand how different classrooms in Florida public schools operated. I also wanted to better understand what skills each student was learning and at what age.

What do you think teaching in Spain will be like? Where are you teaching this year?

Since I’ve spent the past two years studying Curriculum and Instruction, it will be interesting to see how that applies in Spain, especially, when it comes to English as a foreign language. I did not know what to think when I went into public classrooms in Medellin, Colombia and after that experience, my mind is pretty much open. I learned so much from that experience; it made me better understand how to adapt to whatever situation might arise in a classroom.

I will be teaching in a suburb south of Madrid called Alcorcón. I am looking forward to teaching secondary or high school. This will be a new age for me to teach. I’ve taught adults over the age of 18 and elementary age levels. High school will be a fun challenge.

Why did you choose to teach abroad and also, why did you choose to teach in Spain over other countries?

I chose to teach abroad because I want to learn more about immersion for second language learners (SLLs). In Spain, I am the second language learner who is learning Spanish. When I return to the United States, I will have a better understanding of what challenges ESOL students face before and during classes. As a teacher, one of my main goals is to understand the needs of each student. I believe having experienced being an SLL myself, I can be a better teacher. I chose Spain because I wanted to learn Spanish as a second language and because Spain has importance in my family lineage. I felt this was the best place to start my journey on how to be the best teacher I can be.

What would you like to accomplish while you are in Spain?

While in Spain, I would like to learn how to communicate in Spanish effectively. Speaking and listening are my priorities while I am here. I can read and write pretty well and with practice those two communication skills can be done from anywhere. I also would like to get a better understanding of myself while living in the Spanish culture. Self-awareness and improvement are always necessary throughout life because while I am learning- I am growing. Growth requires awareness then change, which in the end requires self-improvement.

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

Madrid is a great city. Every time I go out for a walk, I am always finding something new about the city that has it’s own unique charm. My favorite part of the city is Retiro Park—it never gets old. I can walk through the park twice a day and see a plethora of sites along the way: dogs, babies, street performers, people on roller blades, kids playing in the grass during a birthday party, a couple on a first date, or my favorite thing to see—the sunset from the statue at the boat pond—best view in the city.

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

Before I came, I thought I was going to have a hard time understanding what people were saying to me. My summer in Colombia definitely helped me with my language skills and getting over the initial language barrier. My first couple of days, I felt a bit rusty. After that, I felt like I could start asking for the things I needed. If I could not remember a word, I just pushed through it. In Colombia, which was my first experience living abroad, I had a harder time pushing past the barrier.

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

The most difficult experience for me was the heat and not having air conditioning (AC) to sleep at night. I managed to get past it, and in Colombia I got used to it as well. However, Madrid feels hotter than Florida and Colombia combined. This past August was very hot. In Florida, it’s extremely humid and hot during the summer. However, we jump from AC building to AC car to AC building and so on. I managed to survive the heat and a few sleepless summer nights. It was totally worth it!

What has been the best experience?

The best experience so far has been meeting my friends and now, my extended family here in Madrid. We all arrived at the same time in August so it feels like we have morphed into what is now a family. It is hard to imagine that I have been here almost two months. Time is flying by.

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

The integration into Spanish culture has not been difficult for me. Adapting to other people’s schedules was the hardest part for me. Spanish time is exactly what it means in the States, “Spanish time.” In Spain, things are more laid back, in general. People typically arrive within a 15-30 minute window of the expected time of arrival. Also, normally I am a type A personality, especially with my calendar and planning. However, the old motto “adapt or die” has served me well. There is NO consistency. Therefore, you must go with the flow and adapt to not having control of things that are affecting your life such as appointments, etc. It will happen when it happens and just go with the flow. I have embraced this new concept of go with the flow and quite frankly, it has helped me live in the moment.

The people I meet and experiences I encounter contribute to my writing. I feel very fortunate to be on this journey and look forward to sharing the experiences of my friends and colleagues in the upcoming weeks. On a personal note, I would like to take a minute to thank the interviewees who have taken the time to meet with me. Also, a special thanks to my editors and photographers. I have learned so much from speaking with each of you. Stay tuned for our second connection.

Ciao for now,

Leesa with two EE's

Photo credits: Diana Taylor and Nicole Geist 



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