In both my junior and senior years of high school, Mrs. Nemer was my Spanish teacher. Her enthusiasm for teaching and effervescent personality made Spanish seem especially inviting. Junior year wasn’t always so much fun because it was filled with written exercises and more grammar than you could shake a stick at. And when we got tired of exercises, there were more exercises. Senior year was a lot of work, but I remember it being more enjoyable. With such a large class, there often wasn’t time for discussion, but the time we did have was memorable. Mrs. Nemer loved her job and loved the language. That any of us might go on to study Spanish further filled her heart with joy.
With these memories in mind, before I left for Argentina in the fall of 2006, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I were to go back to Fargo South and talk about Argentina and learning Spanish in a foreign country. Today, that’s what I did.
(I almost didn’t go today because of how I was feeling. I slept very little due to a sharp pain in my stomach. With the way I was feeling, it was difficult to think about doing any presentation. Around 7:30 a.m. I called Mrs. Nemer’s house to ask her forgiveness and see if I could go in another day and if she could come up with a last minute lesson plan. However, she had left already and I was unable to reach her. I didn’t want to leave her and the class hanging, so I got ready and headed toward the school.)
The motivation for doing such a presentation was multifaceted. To be fair, my reasons were not altogether altruistic. First, doing the presentation entirely in Spanish had seemed impossible before I began the language school. Being able to come back to the U.S. and do it comfortably would be extremely gratifying. Second, I wanted to thank Mrs. Nemer publicly for what she had given us and to affirm her as a teacher. Third, I wished to inform younger students about the option of a language school, which had been a good fit for me. And because not everyone needs or wants to study at the university level, it could be a good fit for some of them as well. Finally, I wanted to provide a quick overview of Argentina since most people default to studying either in Spain or Mexico.
I walked into classroom 32C and was almost overwhelmed by all the signs on the walls and the materials crowding every corner of the room. There were fewer students in these classes and it was a good thing with all that stuff! Mrs. Nemer greeted me with a smile and a hug and we talked briefly about their class format. We tried out my few PowerPoint slides and then it was time to start.
The first senior class worked its way in and one of the especially friendly girls even said hi and asked who I was. That helped take the pressure off since I knew at least a few of them would be paying attention. Both the senior level classes went very well and I used every one of the 40 minutes made available to me. There was too much to say and not enough time to say it, but I believe I condensed it fairly well.
Since I wanted to keep their attention and raise expectations, after quickly explaining the slightly different Argentine pronunciation, I started off with photos of places to see in Argentina. I covered Iguazú, Buenos Aires, Puerto Madryn, El Calafate, El Chaltén, Bariloche, Mendoza, and Salta. I kept it brief and gave them a taste of what was available. After this, my rough outline covered: Why I went to study, why a language school, reasons for selecting Argentina, how a language school & homestay works, pros and cons of my experience, and an encouragement to go abroad, regardless of where it might be.
Mrs. Nemer took me to the cafeteria, where the food was much worse than I remembered it being. She bought me lunch and we headed back to the teachers’ area to eat. There I met an older German teacher as well as a woman my age who taught Spanish and a man in his 30s who taught French. Our break for lunch was over an hour, but passed quickly. Now it was back to class for 3 afternoon presentations to the junior classes.
I kept the material the same for the juniors and was pleasantly surprised at their attention. The only adjustment I made was to translate a few more of the words after having said them in Spanish. Since they had one less year of study and slightly less comprehension, I tried to help them understand. It was the afternoon, so there was plenty of nodding off, but I couldn’t complain. There were several “go-to” students who were engaged and upon whom I could depend for eye contact, smiles, and affirmation.
I chuckled as one guy, before I got up front, couldn’t believe that a male was there to speak. He had become so used to most of his classmates and language teachers being female.
The final class of the day was my best presentation, as it should have been. The previous class had been drowsy and this animated me to liven it up and engage them more. They responded and I especially enjoyed that particular class.
One redheaded girl in the back right had been paying attention even more than the others. As I talked with her and Mrs. Nemer, she said that she had wanted to do something like what I had done. Her parents were wanting her to stay close to home, but she wanted to study outside of Minnesota or North Dakota. I told her she still had a year to convince her parents and encouraged her to go for it and find a way to work it out with her parents.
Mrs. Nemer and I said goodbye. She thanked me and said this experience had been perfect for her students. She didn’t know much about Argentina or language schools and would keep them in mind for her students’ futures. Her face lit up as she talked and I hope it did her heart good to see the affect she had had on a former student. I thanked her for allowing me to fulfill my goal and help others at the same time.