And to start it off, I think I need to go back to the beginning. I mean waaay back. Let's say to middle school in Elkhart, IL.
Suffice it to say, middle school is usually hard for everyone, but growing up in a small town can be especially tough. Especially when you never really fit in. Ok so nobody really "fits in" in middle school, but everyone is trying so hard to, even though we are all so different. But I was a particularly willful child, and trying to fit into something I wasn't just didn't come easy to me. I spent a lot of time with my nose in a book instead, filling my head with far-off lands and "daring" adventures. High school was more of the same. I was devastatingly shy by this time, and wanted desperately to fit in, but I didn't know what to do or how to act, and I never felt I had anything interesting to contribute. I always felt like I would say or do the wrong thing and people would think I was weird. And really, that's probably because I was, by Mt. Pulaski standards at least. I relied mostly on my sister in social situations. It was a very symbiotic relationship for a while. I was labeled as the smart one, and she was the social one, and we helped each other out a lot. And it worked mostly.
It was also in high school that I started taking one intriguing little class called Spanish. Here was a class that actually transported me to one of those far-off lands from books. And more than that, it was a class that focused around grammar and language, something I had always secretly found fascinating, but never admitted back then (I was already geeky enough without throwing in the fact that I loved grammar). I remember sitting in Spanish class and learning about the structure of "me gusta" (we translate it as "I like" but literally it means "it pleases me", so to say "me gusta comer" translates as "I like to eat" but literally means "Eating pleases me") and thinking that this was crazy fascinating. The Spanish language was using a completely bizarre, by English standards, grammar structure, but they were essentially conveying the same meaning. It was like I had been living in a language box, and now I could step outside that box and look at two languages separately and objectively. I was floored, and from there grew my passion for language. But that wasn't the only thing I was passionate about. In fact I liked learning about most things. Except math. Math was always a struggle. But science and history and agriculture, and even chemistry and physics (thanks Miss Gross!) were always interesting. And so when I had to decide on a career path in college, it was a huge struggle. How could I decide on just one thing to do for the rest of my life, when I loved so many different things? Would I have to give something up? Not to mention, I was told I needed to choose something in which I could earn a living, after all why go to college to study something I couldn't turn into a career? Whelp, there went the journalism idea. And also my career needed to be something that allowed me to have a family too, because I was led to believe it was the woman's place to take care of the children and the household. At least that's what society was pushing and my parents were hinting at. So I researched and researched. I spent hours looking into different careers on the internet on top of my other homework. It was exhausting and overwhelming. But I finally settled on Nursing with a minor in Spanish. A good "womanly" career that let me still study biology and language. But the nursing admissions office had different ideas. You can't have a minor with nursing they said, the nursing program is very intense and you won't have time to take other classes. I loved Spanish, I didn't want to give it up, but it seemed I couldn't pursue all my passions. So I headed to the nursing office to pick up an application for the nursing program. The lady at the front desk was less than receptive, "You know you that getting into the nursing program is extremely difficult," she said snootily. I had dressed in sweats that day and was looking a bit disheveled from running back and forth to all my classes and trying to get my major changed, so I probably wasn't making the best first impression, but still, who was this lady to judge, "You have to have excellent grades," she sneered. Obviously I did not look like someone capable of accomplishing excellent grades. "Um ya, I know," I mumbled, "thanks for the warning." I left the office feeling put off by the woman´s rudeness and less than enthused about entering the nursing profession. I decided right then that I was changing my major. I didn't really want to give up Spanish anyways.
So Spanish it was.
Now that I had decided on Spanish though, what the hell was I going to do with it? And so because I had no idea what else to do, and because Illinois State University was primarily a teaching school, and because teaching sounded like a good profession to have if I wanted a family some day (I was oddly preoccupied with having a career that would be good for a family back then, even though I've never been great with kids and the thought of having my own child any time soon is terrifying), my major became Spanish education. And things were good for a while.
I applied to study abroad, and I worked my ass off applying for scholarships and working as a tutor to help pay for the expenses, and I went to Spain. And it was awesome. I loved it. I was thrilled to be on my own for the first time in my life. And although I missed my family very much, it was nice to be away, and to have that time to grow as my own person. Having been a relatively shy student in high school and the beginning of college, I was still growing into myself and learning who I was. And since I was on my own, I couldn't rely on my sister to form friendships and then join her social circle. But this was a great thing, because most of the people studying abroad were like me, they all loved language and they were all trying to form friendships because we needed each other to survive in this foreign country. For the first time in my life I realized I had interesting stuff to say. And I could be funny. I had never been funny before. I gained a tremendous amount of confidence in Spain, especially in my English language conversation skills, which is ironic since I went there to study Spanish. My Spanish skills improved a lot too.
But not enough.
I came back to the U.S. with a new sense of self and continued my Spanish education. And I loved my Spanish classes, because they focused a lot on grammar and linguistics, but that was the problem. It was assumed that I would learn all my Spanish conversation skills when I studied abroad in Spain, so there were no continuing conversation classes when I got back. I studied abroad my sophomore year, which meant I was never really provided with another good opportunity to improve my Spanish conversation skills for the last two years of my education. And even though my other Spanish classes were taught in Spanish, I was able to get good grades because I excelled in written work and grammar. I just barely squeeked by my state-required oral tests though. Still, those state tests didn't go on my transcript and I graduated suma cum laude in Spanish Education in 2009.
Now I faced the difficult task of finding a job. But I wasn't really ready to join the work force. What I really wanted to do was go live abroad again. I knew my Spanish skills weren't as good as they should be and secretly, I was embarrassed. I had always been a person who had excelled at everything I put my mind to, but here was something I had no plausable way of improving without being submersed in a Spanish culture. I looked into a couple teach abroad programs and even had a phone interview with a school near Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. But they weren't really looking for someone who had a degree in Spanish Education, afterall, they already knew how to speak Spanish there. In any case I ended up accepting a middle school Spanish job in the tiny town of Tuscola, Illinois.
It wasn't ideal. I didn't want to go back to a small town, I had already spent most of my life in a small adventure-less town. I wanted something more! But the economy was tough and sometimes you just have to deal with what you've got. So I settled. Never settle people! Never! In any case, teaching in Tuscola did have the added benefit of being a middle school job, which meant it was basic level Spanish which I was completely fine with teaching. And I worked extremely hard to come up with fun and interactive lesson plans to make up for anything that I may have lacked in my language knowledge. Since I was the first middle school Spanish teacher there, I built the program up from scratch and I got to be super creative, which was awesome, and I did gain some valuable teaching experience. But the entire time I was there I kept feeling like this is not where I needed to be. The job and the town were slowly sucking the life out me. Finally after 3 years (in which I was forced to take on more classes than I could handle and to sit through numerous meetings about the poor financial state of our school), it was time to move on. I had finally found a teach abroad program that was a semester long, and it was in the Dominican Republic. Most of the other programs I had looked into had required a year or more, which I wasn't sure I wanted to do. After all, moving to a foreign country completely on my own was a huge step, and this was the time in my life in which society was telling me I needed to be settling down and starting a family, not gallavanting off to some far-away land. So I found this teach abroad program through CIEE, and because I had amassed enough savings from my 3 years as a teacher, I felt confident in leaving everything behind to scrape a living by as an English teacher in a developing country. I applied for the job, and to my great amazement, I got it!
For the first time in 3 years, I was so happy I nearly cried.
And so now I'm here. And its thrilling, and confusing, and terrifying, and wonderful.
The other day a man asked me why I had "escaped" to live in the D.R. but that wasn't the right word. I wasn't trying to run away from anything in the U.S. Instead, I feel more like I'm trying to run to something. I'm not sure what that is still: adventure maybe, a life less traveled, continued learning, the hope that maybe I will discover what my true passion is here. I don't know. But I'm happy to be here and find out.
I'm sorry I made you sit through all of that rant.
Sometimes you just have to let stuff out, ya know?
Ok so here are some pictures from Centro Leon, the cultural museum here in Santiago that features not only exhibits about the indigenous Taino indians and Dominican history, but also famous works of art produced by native Dominicans. I only got to snap off a few pictures though before security tracked me down and warned me not to take any more.
For a country in which there is a general lack of laws and regulation, they sure can be sticklers about the little things!
Iván is helping me out with my Spanish, and we decided to take our tutoring session to Centro Leon this past week, because we are classy like that :)
Rule of thumb: If you are going to a concert here, be prepared dance!!