Spanish TA adjusting to Vt. life

Sara Gonzales, left, works on a pinata with Spanish Club students for the Day of the Dead celebration. Photo by Shudder Hurd-Burnell. 

From Sara Gonzalez’s well-heated dorm room, dressing for the day is less of a routine and more of a guessing game. When she looks out her window for clues on what to wear, she sees outfits ranging from winter jackets to shorts and T-shirts.

For Vermonters, this sounds like business as usual, but for Castleton’s new Spanish teaching assistant, the upcoming winter is just the tip of the icicle.

Gonzalez, of Cachi, Argentina, is spending her first time in the United States as a new teacher and student at Castleton University.

She works as the primary teacher of two Spanish language classes, a tutor, and the advisor of the Spanish Club. She also lives, eats and studies here on campus.

Like all international community members, Gonzalez deals with a number of obstacles on a daily basis, the weather being only a minor example.

“It’s the first time I’m abroad and it’s my first time speaking English in real situations, so I’m getting used to that,” she said.

Although she was an English teacher in her own country, she often worries that in America her English isn’t good enough. After years teaching at the primary and secondary school level, she feels that she comes across as too bookish.

But her students feel differently.

“I think, like obviously sometimes it gets hard or whatever, but overall I think she speaks really good English,” said Kathryn Callahan. “At the beginning of the year she told us, ‘The same difficulties that you have in Spanish is what I have in English,’ so like it really helped us out and everyone understands that there’s going to be difficulties either way.”

Delma Wood, a Castleton Spanish professor and fellow native of Argentina, understands the difficulties of adjusting to life abroad and speaking a foreign language.

“Well, this is a very challenging thing for her. Even though she learned English as a second language in her native country, of course it is different,” Wood said. “When you go abroad you realize there’s much more to learn and to practice.”

After graduating college in 2014, Gonzalez has taken a number of courses to improve her English and her teaching techniques. She said these classes were totally different from being at a university again, yet another thing she’s getting accustomed to. Currently she’s taking two classes, both outside the language department.

“Yeah, it’s dealing with a new educational system. It’s hard to adapt,” she said. “And it’s the language barrier … we have to work much harder probably.”

Like her food and housing, courses are fully covered by the Fulbright program. Even though they add an additional workload, she says the classes are purely for learning something new.

And that’s exactly what she’s been doing every day since coming to America: learning.

“From Fahrenheit to Celsius or from ounces to kilograms, everything is new. I feel like I am a child again. Like a 5-year-old child, trying to learn everything again,” she said.

Even grocery shopping has become an adventure for her. The size of the stores and the number of options for every product keep her in the supermarket all day long trying to decide what to pick.

All these things can make a person miss how simple life could be before going abroad. But what does she miss the most from back home in Argentina? She says her family, of course, but she can’t forget about her cat.

“My cat! I haven’t seen a cat in like two months,” she said. “I’m here in the states for two months now and I haven’t seen one. So yeah, I miss hugging my cat.

“This past week has been awful,” she said. “I have got really homesick.”

Even though she misses her home, Gonzalez has found that she’s not quite as sad as she expected.

“It’s like I miss, but at the same time I’m glad I’m here and that I have this opportunity for personal and professional enrichment,” she said. “So I miss lots of things of my country, but at the same time I enjoy this experience I’m having right now.”

As an international TA, Gonzalez found her way to Castleton through the Fulbright program. The program uses a matching process to assign TAs to their preferred universities and vice versa. The candidates are given five choices of colleges to rank, then the universities are given five candidates to rank as well. Castleton wasn’t her top choice, but it wasn’t from lack of interest.

“I didn’t expect to be matched with Castleton. It seemed kind of impossible for me. I saw the profile and I was really interested in the university. But I thought that they, the university, was never going to pick me.”

Though she misses her cat, her car, her family, and the food, she doesn’t regret coming here at all. She’s grateful to have been picked by Castleton and feels that a small community like this is where she can stand out and really make an impact. At Castleton, she feels like she’s part of something.

“I’m glad that I am here. I really love the university. It’s like I have felt this many times, that there was no better place for me than being here. I really enjoy it. It’s like the people, the warm environment that you can feel here. And well also the landscapes. Everything. It’s just, it’s perfect. It fits me.”

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