Life After New College: Teaching and Traveling in Spain

Talk about a transition year! Many New College graduates apply and are accepted into English language teaching programs run by the ministries of Spain, France and Japan. In fact, 25 graduating seniors since 2000 have taught and traveled abroad under these prestigious government grants. Typically lasting eight months, these teaching assistantships never fail to inspire our alums when they return home to pursue either graduate school or career paths. Many say it is a life-changing experience.

This year, two May 2012 graduates packed up for France, and two for Spain. Heading to the Iberian Peninsula are Kristen Michelle Leahy, an anthropology major from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., who will teach in the region of Andalucia, and Rebecca Ryan Keenan, an economics graduate from Pelham, New York, who has been assigned to a secondary school in Cartagena, Spain. The women are two of only 2,000 American and Canadian participants selected to teach English and North American culture in Spanish public K-12 schools.

Michelle Leahy has traveled to Mexico (twice, most recently to conduct thesis research on natural dye use in Mayan textile cooperatives) and Ireland, and has lived in Alaska, California, Idaho and Florida. She is counting on her experience integrating into new environments to make her “the perfect cultural assistant” in Spain.

“Living in many places has taught me to be self-reliant and not to make assumptions about the culture with which I am engaging,” says Leahy. “I can provide a unique perspective on American life and styles, and will put this knowledge to good use in the classroom.” She plans on asking her friends to write postcards and letters from different states to the classroom, or individual students, in Spain. “After the children receive a letter of correspondence, I’ll ask them to find the location on a map, as a fun way to teach geography,” she explains.

Leahy has worked with various learning styles, and knows how to accommodate people of various cultural backgrounds. “My experience in libraries and in creating exhibits has given me the skills to present information for different audiences and groups, and encourage interest in active learning,” she notes. She also worked in a Montessori preschool, where many of the children did not speak English as a first language. “I have a knack for understanding non-verbal communication, especially with young children,” she says.

Long-term, Leahy is interested in working in a museum environment, where she plans to put her anthropology studies, diverse cultural experiences and library skills to good use as a curator.

While in Spain, Rebecca Ryan Keenan hopes to be an ambassador for her country and build connections between her students and the United States. Keenan says that while she has been taking Spanish language courses since high school and studied abroad in Barcelona during the fall of her third year, she is most excited to gain true "full" fluency.

“When I feel immersed in the culture and capable of taking on a third language (aspiring French-speaker), I will consider myself a fluent Spanish speaker,” she says.

Keenan’s love of learning and sharing knowledge encouraged her to earn a certification in English Second Language tutoring from the Literacy Council of Sarasota. While at New College, she was a Language Resource Center assistant in the library, a writer for the New College newspaper, Catalyst, and founder of the Spanish club. She also tutored foster children through Next Step, a program supported by the 12th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida and served as a resident counselor for the Duke University Talent Identification Program hosted by New College.

Keenan believes that New College prepared her well for her year in Spain. 

“My economics thesis, which required continuous research and edits, honed my ability to write, think and observe carefully, and to try and arrive at questions that helped my thesis dive deeper,” she states. “Furthermore, the eclectic culture at New College provided an atmosphere that constantly challenged me to critically analyze my thoughts and opinions in areas of research outside of my field. This exposed me to other topics of interest that I might not have discussed or read about otherwise.”

Keenan is interested in the fields of marketing, sales and journalism, and plans to attend graduate school in the next three years. She hopes one day to work for National Public Radio (NPR). “I love their news coverage and original program ideas,” she says.

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