Intercambio (it means exchange in Spanish!)


When we first moved to Boulder back in July (I can’t believe it’s been that long!) I felt like I was kind of sitting around like a bump on a log. But being my usual type-A self, I got involved in a few different things and now I feel like my schedule is seriously jam-packed until 2012. I always do this to myself; I have a lot of different interests and my nature is to overcommit. I’m feeling tired this week, but I know that it’s my own fault for not getting to bed at a reasonable hour due to blog reading/writing/Pinterest-ing. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s done that though!) But even though things are a little hectic right now, I genuinely do enjoy being involved in a lot of different things and I’d rather be busy than not. So before this post digresses into unnecessary complaining about how exhausting my no kids-one dog-really not that stressful life is, I wanted to talk about one of the commitments currently on my plate that I’ve been excited to share for awhile now.

Intercambio. What is that? Well as the title of this post indicates, the intercambio means exchange in Spanish. But what is it? Well, I’m glad you asked! Intercambio is a non-profit organization based out of Boulder that provides low-cost English classes to adult immigrants, as well as cultural trainings and events for the community. But before I tell you about it, I suppose I should back up a little bit to how I got interested in it in the first place. So lately, I’ve had this urge for Cam and I to pick up and move overseas somewhere, possibly to teach English. This is in large part due to the fact that working at the travel store, I come into contact with other young people who are doing this on a regular basis and it’s really inspired me. And although I don’t know how likely it would be for Cam and I to actually do this, I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ve shared my feelings with Cam and while he’s not completely against the idea, he thought that if this is really something I’m interested in that maybe I should try teaching English here in the United States before he ya know, quits his job and we move around the world.

Fair enough, I suppose.

Anyway, about a month and a half ago, I saw a posting for Intercambio saying that they needed volunteers so I decided to sign up for an orientation. Back in September, I completed two 3 hour sessions on how to teach English and I found it extremely interesting. (My mom was actually in town during one of the orientations, so she tagged along with me and really enjoyed it too!) Intercambio offers both group classes as well as one-on-one English classes where you go into someone’s home, usually if they don’t have transportation to a group class or have small children and no childcare. At the volunteer orientation, they told us that most people would get placed in a one-on-one situation versus teaching a group. The majority of the students who take classes through Intercambio are native Spanish speakers, and I indicated that I was interested in working with a more advanced level student being that I speak zero Spanish. After completing my orientation, I eagerly awaited to find out who I was going to be matched up with.

Much to my surprise, they emailed me and asked if I would be interested in teaching a level 1A group class twice a week. Level 1A is beginners who don’t speak any English. Ummm. I was a little apprehensive at first and even though I emailed them again saying that I don’t speak any Spanish, they assured me it was fine because their philosophy is they want the lessons taught 100% in English. So reluctantly I agreed; for October and November, I would be teaching English.

The first class was last week, and I was super super nervous and was wondering what I had gotten myself in to. The classes are 90 mins long, so I was really worried about filling up the time as the lesson plans they gave me seemed very simple. But I just tried to keep reminding myself that for as nervous as I was about being out of my comfort zone, I knew that the students were probably just as nervous. For an adult to go take a language course, there is a definite level of vulnerability and it can be very very frustrating. I can relate to this first hand thanks to U of M’s requirement that you had to take four semesters of foreign language. Learning a language did not come easy for me; I ended up taking 5 semesters of Italian, thanks to the fact that I failed one semester, and I still don’t speak Italian. So basically, I knew how the students were feeling coming in to class, but I was still a little freaked out.

Thankfully, the first class ended up going by really quickly and it was actually a lot of fun. I have a group of seven students, 3 men and 4 women, and everyone seems really nice. Their English skills are very limited, but they are eager to learn and seem to get the gist of what I’m saying (most of the time). I still have a lot to learn about lesson planning and what works and what doesn’t in a classroom setting, and I’m hoping that by the end of November, we’ll have all learned a lot. I really just want the students to enjoy learning English and feel like they’re getting something out of the class in hopes they’ll continue on with their studies. I’ve taught three classes so far, and although I still get nervous, I’m definitely getting more comfortable as the class progresses.

This is experience is definitely pushing me outside of my comfort zone, but I feel like that’s a good thing for personal growth. It’s definitely made me realize how challenging it would be to teach English abroad, but I can also already see how rewarding it is as well. So while the jury is still out on whether or not an international move is somewhere in our future, for now I’m really enjoying getting involved in my local community.

I’ll keep you posted as the class goes on, and if anyone is an ESL teacher and has any tips/ideas/suggestions for me, I would LOVE to hear them!! Hasta mañana amigas! xoxo

PS: The guy who founded Intercambio is a University of Michigan graduate which I think is SO awesome…and ironically, he was driving out to Portland, OR after he graduated from U of M and stopped to visit friends here in Boulder and decided to stay here…I found all this out at our orientation, and felt a lot of connection to his story 🙂