Image of Seila Alonso

Seila always dreamed of traveling to the United States to teach. In August 2011, that dream became a reality when the U.S. Department of State granted her the opportunity to live in Washington, DC and teach Spanish for three years through the J1 Cultural Exchange Visiting Spanish teacher program.

Seila had high hopes for her experience teaching Spanish in America. But after passing the program required training in Spain, she still had no idea what to expect.

“You are not conscious of what you are going to find here,” says Seila. “Be prepared to work really hard and to not understand the education system. It is really stressful but you will find a lot of people who will help you; so you will be able to manage and you will get used to it. But it takes time.”

Another surprise was the language. “The American accent as well as many words and expressions are different from British English, which is what we are used to hearing in Spain,” says Seila.

Despite all of the initial difficulties, Seila was pleased to discover how remarkably friendly Americans can be. “They like to say hello and smile when you walk past them on the street even though it is the first time seeing you,” says Seila. “They are polite with a strong sense of community and they like to volunteer. I could have never imagined seeing so many people working for no money.”

Nowadays, Seila is making the most of her three-year stay in Washington, DC. “I realized what it takes is a willingness to enjoy the experience,” says Seila.

Although sometimes, Seila still misses the simple things from her home country. “It is difficult to find products from my country at an affordable price,” says Seila. “The small apartments in my area are pretty expensive and they are not suited for cooking. But I appreciate the opportunity to be here and explore the country.”

“Although the education system is different, I think you find in both Spain and U.S. teachers who love what they do.”

Seila is grateful for having gained knowledge in her field and admits she has grown professionally since the exchange. “I can analyze more in depth my students’ progress and assess what is working and what is not,” she says. She also notes that Americans invest a lot of money in education and that she has more resources here for teaching than in Spain.