The Amity Team was thrilled to learn that a group of former interns reconnected via Zoom for the first time in FIVE years due to COVID-19. These Amity Alumni, who were interns together at Clearview Elementary School in 2014-2015, chose this time of great uncertainty to utilize technology and lean on each other once again, as they did during their time in the United States. Amity had the pleasure of chatting with Ángeles Fuentes from Spain, Cristina Ruiz Ripoll from Spain, Sandra Hercules from El Salvador, Blanca Gómez-Arevalillo from Spain and Lucia Campo from Argentina to learn about their life-changing time in Minnesota together. Read more about their stories, and what they each have been doing in the five years since their Amity program, below.
What was the hardest adjustment you made while living in the United States? What was the most surprising thing once you arrived?
Ángeles Fuentes (AF): Well, the hardest adjustment for me was getting used to the schedules. I could say I never got used to them (hahaha). The thing that impressed me the most was how kind everybody was to me.
Cristina Ruiz Ripoll (CR): I remember perfectly the very first day of my experience, and I was confused. I spent a lot of hours on the plane and I didn’t sleep too much. Suddenly,I was in a car with a family I barely knew – only from pictures, emails and Skyping – and answering questions in English (my level was lower back then). It was a little bit overwhelming. But, this passed quickly.
Of course, there were some adjustments to make. The schedule, the food, your habits are different when you live in another country. But, as you could imagine, the most difficult adjustment was to be separated from my family and friends. Luckily, we live in a technological world and some apps make it easier to be in contact with your people. You learn that life keeps going and that the fact that you are far from home doesn’t make other’s life change too. You have to assume that there will be moments and events that you will miss, and that it is OK. You need to be conscious that you are living such a great experience that not only it’s going to benefit your professional experience as a teacher, but you are going to grow up and to see things from a different angle or point of view.
The most surprising thing for me was to see that everyone over there was willing to help you every time you needed it. I felt at home since the first moment, with my host family and at school. At Clearview, everything was easy because I met my friends, the other Amity Interns, and it was good to know that you’re not the only one having this experience. Also at school, we had a great coordinator, Sue, who was always taking care of us. She was our reference person there.
Lucia Campo (LC): The hardest adjustment, I would say, would be the schedules at the beginning and getting adapted to the cold weather of MN (haha!). Also, missing our families back home was tough at the beginning.
Sandra Hercules Rosales (SR): The hardest thing was to get adjusted to the cold weather. However, I discovered that I prefer cold to hot weather! The most surprising thing for me was how kind and nice people were. Moreover, my host family made me feel at home.
What was your favorite part of your Amity experience?
AF: I have no doubts about this question, my co-Amities. Also, the school staff. All of them made of my experience unforgettable.
CR: I had a lot of beautiful and great experiences, and that is one of my favorite part of this whole Amity experience. But for me, the best part of it was the people I met in Minnesota, because each one taught me different things in their way. I mention my host family, my Amity friends, the teachers I worked with, the coordination team at school, my aunt and uncle family, the students at Clearview and the rest of people who made my experience worthwhile.
LC: Living with the host families and sharing experiences with Amities from different part of the world was the best. Working in our wonderful school with the most polite and committed students was amazing. Finally, being able to travel around the USA was incredible.
SR: My favorite part was being able to learn about U.S. culture and ways that people do things. Also, being able to share about my country’s culture and custom was incredible.
What about your experience provided the most professional growth for you?
AF: First of all, my English improved a lot. Also, the opportunity to be part of Clearview Elementary School’s staff gave me a whole bunch of new knowledge. I learned ways to teach, and games for children that I currently use. During the time in Minnesota, I grew as an intern, a person, and a teacher. I had to face some situations that I had never faced before… for instance, living abroad, far from my family and friends. However, my intern experience was the best experience of my life. I would do it again more than a hundred times.
CR: I really grew in different ways. When I arrived in Minnesota, I’d just finished my teaching degree and I was expecting to learn, mainly English, but also different ways of teaching. I wanted to take in as much as possible about how to teach, and use new ideas in my future job. I, for sure, did learn more than I expected to and I was lucky to have great mentors.
I gained fluency speaking in English and more important, I was more confident trying to explain myself in another language. The great thing is that everything I learned from this experience still stays with me when I teach my students now.
This experience taught me to be brave and confident and, best of all, I realize how lucky I am to have had such a wonderful opportunity to expand myself and that I am fortunate to have the people I love close to me, even though I miss the people I met in Minnesota a lot. I also could add some classroom management and teaching tools to my list and I still remember some of those tips when I teach.
Blanca Gómez-Arevalillo (BG): This adventure to the USA was definitely one of great professional growth for me. It took me to a place where I had to use another language, and teach in a completely different way. I would say that to be an Amity Intern taught me that teachers must be learning all the time. To quote John Cotton Dana: “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.“
LC: Getting adapted to a new way of teaching with more technology was very challenging and fulfilling. Teaching my mother tongue and sharing my culture was a unique experience. My internship made me gain independence, making my own decisions all the time. Also, being in contact with people from different parts of the world (Amities from Spain, El Salvador, EEUU, Chile) and learning from them about their different cultures gave me perspective of the world.
SR: This experience allowed me to grow and change the way that I teach. I had the opportunity to be with two wonderful teachers that really helped me to improve my teaching skills and classroom management. The internship also helped me to realize that I am capable of doing a lot of things. Furthermore, it helped me to grow as a person, because I learned how to be more independent and see that many things can be done in different ways.
How did your friendships with one another help you during your Amity experience? Why was this an important part of your time in the United States?
AF: They were my main support in the USA. We were together for the good and bad days. We traveled around the United States and did lots of fun things as a group with our host families. Some of them were like my sisters during that time.
CR: It is wonderful to have other people to share your thoughts with. First thing is that we, the Amity Interns, were Spanish speakers and we could have our little break talking and telling stories in our native language. We shared experiences and it was really nice to have friends that were of similar age as me. We were lucky too, because the at the school, people were very thoughtful and we had Amity meetings once a week where we could share worries, doubts or different happenings.
Our relationship was special because we knew no matter what, we could rely on the rest of the group. We shared special moments that will remain in our memories forever. We know that, even though we don’t see each other or we don’t chat very often, we have friends around the world. We would be delighted to see each other again no matter what part of the world.
BG: I could say that it was my favorite part of my experience as an Amity: all the people that I met. The other Amities, the families and teachers of the school, but above all my host family. They will be a part of me forever.
LC: We bonded and created a close relationship with the other Amities, which really helped sometimes when I was feeling alone or missing home. The other Amities happened to have the same feelings, so it was really easy to relate and not to feel alone anymore. The families were so affectionate too, and that really helped. My host family (we still FaceTime today) made me feel at home, and that is something I will never forget.
SR: Our friendship helped a lot during this experience as we took trips together and supported each other. It was really important to make connections with other people who were having the same experience, because we could share our feelings and help one another if we got homesick, sad or sentimental. It was wonderful to learn about their cultures and get familiar with each other’s accents and ways to say things and words that have different meanings according to each country.
What have you been up to since your Amity experience? What are you doing professionally as your career?
AF: At the beginning, I taught English to children in summer camps and gave extracurricular classes. Currently, I am a full-time teacher of toddlers in a school.
CR: After my Amity experience I decided to prepare for an English exam because, in Spain, we need a C1 level of English to teach in schools. After Minnesota, it was the perfect moment to prepare for the exam. I spent a lot of time as a tutor and English teacher for some students, which helped me to get some teaching experience. I also had a part-time job in a Nursery School (0-2 years old kids) and I’ve been – and still am – a Scout Instructor.
Eventually, I got a full-time job as a kindergarten teacher with children from 3 to 6 years old. I love my job and I am very grateful to have it.
BG: Nowadays I am a kindergarten teacher in a school, so I would say that my dream came true.
LC: I’m teaching English at a secondary school and I loved it! Through my time as an intern, I gained confidence in my teaching style. It gave me more tools to teach and opened my mind, it helped me to gain creativity and a different approach to teaching my classes. The approach that Clearview used through neuroscience and emotions was an incredible insight for me.
SR: I have been teaching. The opportunity that I had with the Intern Program helped me to find a job, because in my country, it is not easy to get a teaching job. Currently, I am actually teaching at Clearview Elementary School, where I was an intern! Years later, I came back as an International Teacher with Amity. It has been wonderful, because I can experience both sides as a student and as a teacher.
How did you keep in touch with your friends/host community after your Amity experience?
AF: I keep in touch with them thanks to social media. The years pass, and you lose some touch with people, we do not talk usually… but Facebook and Instagram are ways to see how they are doing. Our Amity group is made up of girls from Spain, El Salvador, Argentina and Chile. Maybe if there wasn’t a pandemic, we would not have done our video call. Now, we are planning a reunion next year! I cannot wait to see and hug them again. It has been a very long time. Also, I would like to go back to Minnesota and visit my host community.
CR: Well, keeping in contact hasn’t been the strong part of this. When I came back to Madrid, I did Skype and I exchanged texts way more often than I currently do. Somehow, life gets in the way, and we are always so busy that it seems we don’t have too much time available. Nonetheless, I have Skyped several times with my host family, and I got to see them in person when they came to visit Spain almost two years ago. It was a very exciting moment and I was delighted to see them. It was like time hadn’t passed. I also spent time with my Amity friends from Madrid and Sue, our School Coordinator when she came to visit the city. And I met my friend Lucía too, who is one of the teachers I worked with. She is from Madrid like me and she was an Amity Intern too. These encounters were very exciting and they are one of the good things this experience has brought me. You still love the people you met, even though you don’t usually see them or talk with them.
The highlight of this year was the Amity meeting we had last month by video conference. It had been five years since we saw each other at the same time and it was really exciting and moving. It is curious how this whole pandemic situation makes us think of people we are fond of, and it reminds us how lucky we are to have them in our life.
LC: At the beginning, communication was very frequent through Whatsapp and Facebook. Throughout the years, we’ve had less contact, but now with new technologies we got in touch again (all the Amities), which was very emotional and exciting. Staying in touch with my host family through FaceTime and video calls has also been really exciting; to see my host sister growing makes me very nostalgic and emotional.
How has COVID-19 impacted you?
AF: When we first heard about COVID-19, I thought it was something happening very far away. Then, we started to see how the numbers increased in Italy, and suddenly Spain was in the same situation. One day, we had to leave the school without knowing when we will come back. Now, I have Father’s Day presents hanging in my class still waiting to be given (in Spain we celebrate Father’s Day in March 13th). I am teaching online, trying to give my best to my pupils every day. I am not afraid, but it is very difficult to handle the uncertainty we are living with. This is history, and this is something we will remember for the rest of our lives.
SR: What is happening is something completely new and different. It helped me to realized how import and valuable it is to have a good relationship with your family, friends and community. I rediscovered myself because I always thought I was an outgoing person, but the truth is that I am more of an introvert.
What is one piece of advice that you have for a current Amity Intern?
AF: Don’t be worry about living far from home… you’ll find a new home in you host school and family. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s worth it.
CR: If I met a current Amity Intern now I would say to her or him that it is necessary to be open-minded to enjoy this kind of experience. I think that the most important thing is to enjoy every moment. You also need to be conscious about the fact that you are the one who will be living in a foreign country and the one who has different habits. Even though there will be tough moments, you need to make the most of this opportunity, because you don’t know if you’ll be able to repeat it someday.You will be able to turn bad moments into good ones if you keep thinking this is something that needs to be lived intensively.
I would say to them that do not forget that people there are giving you a lot and that you should always be grateful. Of course, I would also say: Travel as much as you can while you are in the States! ‘Travel is the only thing that you buy that makes you richer’.
BG: If you are thinking about applying to the Amity Program, do not doubt, DO IT! It will be the best experience of your entire life!
LC: Just try to enjoy the experience, keep an open mind, never judge other cultures, but instead try to connect with it, and enjoy as much as you can while learning about the different lifestyles out there!
What is the most profound impact that your internship had on your life?
AF: Since my internship, I have never been the same person. During this time, I was able to meet my true self and become my own best friend.
CR: The most profound impact the internship had on my life is that I truly lived a dream. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life! I think of Minnesota every single day and I know a part of me is still there and it will always be. This whole experience is an important part of me. I did learn A LOT and it really changed my life.
I only can say THANK YOU, Amity Institute, for giving me this opportunity and THANK YOU to all the people I met in Minnesota, especially the school team and my wonderful host family, the Johnsons.
LC: My host family was so warm and sunny and they made me feel I belonged, and that love is completely universal. It doesn’t matter how different our cultures were, they made me feel loved and at home in a completely new culture, being far from home. I am forever grateful for the way they made me feel… I’m getting emotional writing this right now, as I miss them so much and I think of them a lot. The friendship with the other Amities made gain a new perspective regarding life and culture. I feel I really grew personally and academically… I am never going to forget it.
SR: My internship changed my mindset and way of seeing things about the world in general. It helped me to realize how lucky I am that I had such an astonishing experience. It encourages me to think of way to help others.