An update from Alejandra Villalobos, ’14, who majored in Spanish education.
I am currently working as an English Teacher Trainer at an Instituto de Formação de Professores, or teacher training college, in Mozambique with the Peace Corps.
My undergraduate major switched to Spanish teacher education after a semester abroad and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. The second best decision was to join Sigma Delta Pi (Spanish) Honor Society, then later serve on the board.
My primary project is teaching three courses and coordinating Práticas Pedagógicas (student teaching) for the 30 teacher candidates in the English Program. (Which is growing to 40 this 2017 school year!) My secondary project is organizing and facilitating literacy programs at one of the local primary schools. A group of teachers and I are currently renovating an abandoned building into a school library via the PC grant process. I know it sounds typical—idealistic Peace Corps volunteer moves to a village and builds a library—but I promise you it is far from romantic. Data input, grant writing, and meetings with community leaders are not what I expected when I volunteered to teach nursery rhymes and vowel sounds, but it is a specialized skill set I can provide, thanks in large part to Sigma Delta Pi activities.
In applying for service, my plan was never to “save the world” as many believe volunteers expect. I love teaching, traveling, and languages and the Peace Corps life offered two years of all of that plus much much more, for tiny sacrifices, like running water (seriously not bad) or reliable public transport (CTA/Amtrak, I miss you). Working with young teachers, the next generation of leaders in a developing education system, is equal parts exhilarating and daunting. Working with teacher trainers from Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia challenges me to understand complex perspectives in education, community, and family. Navigating a world with a “primary” language familiar enough to comprehend but foreign enough to limit my input has forced me to choose my words wisely instead of rambling.
My Spanish studies have helped me tremendously in learning Portuguese. At this point, I speak more ‘Portañol’ than either of the languages but my host country counterparts appreciate the effort and my community members aren’t picky about language since most primarily speak Chewa or a Chewa/English hybrid. In the end it is not about the language you speak but the message you communicate with your actions and attitude.
The Spanish teacher education program at Illinois State gave me all the tools to carry out my work as an educator; from teaching Spanish at a suburban high school to teaching English in a remote town in sub-Saharan Africa. The hands-on undergraduate experiences in the Bloomington-Normal community with the UNITY Community Center and Sigma Delta Pi, coupled with student teaching in diverse neighborhoods in and around Chicago, eased the transition from the American school culture to the complex Mozambican school culture. The challenges I face here are not much different from challenges faced by teachers back home; lack of administrative support, lack of materials, cheating, pressure around standardized tests, etc. With the continued support from my mentors, advisors, and alumni peers I never feel alone. I am confident that the small work I am part of, and that the Spanish teacher ed program prepared me to do, will have a positive lasting impact in my community.