Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sam's Experience

Sam Lawrence still wanted to share his story, from his experience a couple years ago!  Cheers Sam.  Saludos from El Salvador!

I cannot imagine a better place to learn Spanish.  I often had one on one instruction or had class with
one or two other students – it was a great student- teacher ratio.  I loved that aspect of CIS.  The
teachers are very well trained in both language teaching and in popular education techniques.  I learned so much about people and issues of El Salvador, Central America and Latin America while learning to speak Spanish – It was a perfect mix for me. It was an intense immersion.  I went from nil to fluent enough to use Spanish in my professional life, and it was great for understanding the social landscape of Latin America.

I felt like I became friends with all of my teachers and felt very comfortable with them.  They were not intimidating.  The teachers at CIS are very warm people who made me feel safe to go all out and get out of my comfort zone and I feel like I have lasting friendships and I can Skype and visit with them at any time.

I went to El Salvador with some of the same apprehension other people feel because of how El Salvador is portrayed in the media and having read all the warnings.  I never felt unsafe.  I lived in a neighborhood with a host family that had security in their area and I walked to school every morning and took a taxi home after dark.  I think that CIS staff and my host family and all of my friends were very, cognizant of our fears and very accommodating to make sure we were as comfortable as possible – to make us both feel and be safe.  I had no bad experiences and took the same precautions I took living in New Orleans.  I would come back in a heartbeat if I had the time and funds.

Teaching English was a really thrilling experience.  It has stuck with me and I think I´ll remember it for the rest of my life.  The training program was great – to learn philosophies about language learning and popular education.  I was nervous at the beginning but I found my stride.  And I learned so much from my students – the experience left me with a lot of optimism because my students were so great and thoughtful.  I feel really confident that I can translate the skills to my work in the USA – teaching, leading meetings, bringing groups together to have discussions about important issues in a very exciting way.

I came to El Salvador not knowing how to conjugate a single verb, and when I got home I was ready to use Spanish in my professional life.  I worked for the juvenile public defender in New Orleans and I was able to use my skills to help the lawyers communicate with clients and their families – and now I am using my Spanish skills in my graduate program in Social Work working with Spanish speaking kids and their families in the schools in Siler City, North Carolina.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Jill Stiemsma, retired teacher and volunteer

Made it to the top of the volcano!  I'm in the middle!

Hi.  I’m Jill Stiemsma, a retired college instructor from Wisconsin. I first became aware of CIS when I joined an SOA-Watch delegation that traveled to El Salvador to

honor the 30th anniversary of Oscar Romero’s assassination.  SOA-Watch contracted with CIS to lead this delegation, and it was truly an amazing experience.  As luck would have it, two other members on the trip had previously studied Spanish in a Bolivian language school and encouraged me to do the same. As a 60-year-old Spanish student, I was struggling in basic University courses back home.
So, yes, I spent six months in Bolivia.  But when I returned home, I thought, “What can I do now to keep using my Spanish?”  And in the mysterious ways of the universe, what would appear in the mail the very next day but a letter from CIS, wondering if I’d be interested in teaching English for them.  Would I be interested???  What a silly question!  I immediately applied.
Jill with her first group of Beginner English Students at the CIS
I’m now teaching my fourth English cycle over a five-year span and have made seven trips to El Salvador, all told.  I’ve been an English teacher, a Spanish student (as a CIS English teacher, I pay half price for my classes), an Elections Observer, and a member of one other CIS delegation (the last one for the beatification of Oscar Romero).  Because of CIS’ Cultural Program and organized teacher trips, I have a really good background in the Salvadoran Reality.

Since teachers must pay their own transportation and housing costs here, why would I keep coming back, especially to a country deemed so unsafe?  Quite frankly, I get a lot more out of working and living directly with Salvadorans than they get from me.  When I enter El Salvador these days, I immediately sense that “I am home”.  I firmly believe US citizens owe El Salvador a lot, given our funding of their Civil War and our sending planeloads of gang members back to El Salvador, sometimes daily (and then having the audacity to admonish them for not solving “their” gang problem). 
Getting coffee during election observations
Am I safe?  I think so.  I don’t take public transportation or walk at night; CIS places us in decent (though not fancy) housing in non-gang neighborhoods.  As a gringo, I’m less likely to be harmed anyway (or so I think).  I know enough not to argue with robbers; I’ll just give them what they want.  Here, the teachers’ biggest complaints revolve around taking cold showers, quite frankly!
Please come.  Please support CIS as a teacher, as a traveler, as a language learner.  The experience will change your life.  It absolutely will.