Every month, Fulbridge interviews an ETA from around the world to get a glimpse of life in different placements. This month, Sojourner White, a 2016-17 ETA in Spain, talked with Idia Irele, a 2016-2017 ETA in Andorra.
1. Why Andorra?
I had already lived in Spain for two years and I was curious about the little country to its west that hardly ever gets mentioned. As someone who enjoys learning languages, I was fascinated by Andorra’s multilingual education system and multinational population. At the end of my year abroad in Madrid, I decided to visit Andorra for a weekend and knew immediately that I wanted to apply for a Fulbright there!
2. Where are you located and what school/university do you teach at?
I live in Andorra la Vella and work at the Andorran Batxillerat. It’s an upper secondary college preparatory school.
3. Since every country ETA program has different requirements, what all does your grant entail?
I teach alone in the classroom for 12 hours and am expected to work 3 extra hours of preparation. This includes planning our curriculum, grading, and attending department and school-wide meetings.
4. What does a normal weekday look like for you?
I usually begin class at 8am and have about three or four classes a day. Most days I take the bus home or a fellow teacher will offer me a ride to the city center, (my school is literally in the middle of a mountain!) In the evenings, I tutor some of the locals in English, I usually have about three lessons every evening, except for three days a week, when I have Chinese class at the university and private French lessons. After that, I head to my favorite place in Andorra, Caldea — the largest thermoludic spa in Southern Europe— where I take spinning classes, workout, and then relax in the spa section. By dinnertime (no earlier than 9pm in Andorra!), I am back home at my host family’s house, which is conveniently located right next to the gym. My host family is Andorran and I help them with their English. At dinner, there is an English-only rule and they’ve really stuck to it! It’s really nice to see how much they have improved over the year and I love learning about Andorran culture in their home.
5. If you have, how have you gotten more involved with the university outside of the classroom? How have you gotten involved with the community?
Though a side project isn’t required for Andorran grantees, I really wanted to do something with my students outside of the classroom, so I had the idea of having a conversation and leadership group during the half hour morning break. Many students have asked me for help with applications to English programs abroad, so this group has evolved into a resume/application writing workshop. Outside of school I’ve gotten to engage with the community through my host family and the families of the kids I tutor. I’ve attended their community events, such as Escudellas and Calçotadas. These are both really fun Catalan traditions where communities gather for a communal meal. The kids that I live with are also very active and they invite me to a lot of their extracurricular events, like ski competitions and dance recitals. I often run into my students from school at these events too, and its really cool to see them do the activities they love outside of school.
6. What have been some challenges?
One big challenge for me in Andorra is that Andorrans are generally more socially reserved than people in other countries that I have lived in. They pride themselves on being ‘mountain people’ who are less socially active than their Southern European neighbors. Because of this I have become involved in the international community in Andorra, which is primarily made up of people from Spain, France, and other parts of Europe. Every Thursday evening, a good friend of mine hosts a language exchange for both Andorrans and internationals and it’s really fun. It’s been a great way for me to still feel like a member of the community while meeting tons of new faces and maintaining an active social life.
7. What have been some highlights?
I’ve met some really great people during my time in Andorra and I’m excited to maintain these new friendships. Because Andorra is such a small country, everyone has an interesting story to tell about what brought them here. There are very few places in the world like this!
8. What was your best lesson plan?
In all of my lesson plans I try to allow space for my students to explore their identities, using English as a tool for that. Because the population is so small, most of my students have known each other since they were babies, so they’ve really settled into their social dynamic. In one lesson I had all of my students write down a short story or a fact about themselves that no one else in the classroom would know, without including their names on the paper. At first they all insisted that there was nothing that they didn’t know about any of their classmates, that they knew each other too well. Eventually I got them to write and I collected all of the stories in a bin. One by one, we read each of the stories and had a blast trying to guess who wrote what. They wrote about such interesting things, spanning from love, to future plans, to how they’ve changed since childhood. It was truly amazing to see them learn more about each other and get excited about sharing their stories with me!
9. What will you miss the most?
One of my favorite things about Andorra is the breathtaking views. I cannot deny that I will miss looking out my window to see the Pyrenees mountains, or being able to take a hike into the mountains and marvel at their beauty. In general, I tend to gravitate towards cities, but the natural beauty of Andorra is incomparable. I will also miss many of the friends that I have made in Andorra! My year would not have been half as enjoyable if it weren’t for them!
10. Why should prospective grantees apply to Andorra?
Though it’s been almost seven months since I arrived in Andorra, I am still intrigued by it every single day. It is truly a fascinating little country where you can really detach yourself from the outside world, if that’s what you’re looking for. As an American from a multinational family, it has also been interesting to see another country that is made up of primarily immigrants. It’s so fun to tell people that I live here and witness their amazement as I tell them about this tiny country in the Pyrenees that I have learned to call home.
Idia Irele is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in International Education Policy at Harvard University. Her professional experience is rooted heavily in education and non-profit work, having worked as a social justice educator and community organizer in Boston, and an English language teacher at the high school and university level in Spain and Andorra. Drawing from her experiences living and working across the globe, she hopes to dedicate her career to serving the world’s most vulnerable populations through the use of cross-cultural collaboration. This cross-national engagement, she believes, is the key to sustainable peace.