This time last year I was saving up my money for four weeks of fun in sunny Spain, and maybe a TEFL course on the side. By the first week of March I had finally landed in Seville! When I approached the Irish pub in Plaza de Cuba to gather for a brief orientation, I expected a group of obnoxiously chatty 25 year-olds on the same track as me, but instead I found a woman of about 40 grasping her decrepit suitcase for dear life.I could sense trepidation in her voice while I learned that Iona was from Romania and desperately missed her three young children.As I examined the pink blush applied carefully to her cheeks and her crisp black outfit, I formed the impression that she had never left home before and was on a meticulously planned journey to create a better life for her family. This is not what I had in mind when I pictured my fellow trainees.
Two hours later I was unpacking my bags in a three bedroom apartment shared by Iona and 19-year old American Ashley on a mission to marry her Spanish boyfriend.I was not thrilled with visions of Ashley running off with her boyfriend every night and Iona serving as a mother figure during my four weeks of freedom in southern Spain.Surprisingly though that mother figure proved to be one of my inspirations to forever cherish memories of my TEFL course in Seville.
Not until the second week of class did we learn that Iona left her high-ranking post as a doctor in Israel to pursue a humanitarian lot in life as a volunteer English teacher in Africa or possibly back home in Romania.As I was racking my brain over where to apply for grad school, Iona was worrying about her newborn baby, the job that she left behind, the daughter that stopped talking to her when she divorced her first husband, etc.I watched her weep as she described the heartbreak in the past of fleeing from an unkind husband with her children and later loving a married man that could not return her affection.Aside from these moments, she was also the most entertaining person in the class, making me genuinely laugh more than I had in long time.
Iona is a tough soul with incredible wisdom, yet she was still fascinated by what I, a naïve 24 year old, had to say about life and truly internalized the advice that I offered.She was the most diligent of us all in forming a personal relationship with every member of the course.And while she certainly had her impact on all of our lives, I am sure that our company freed her from her burdens if even for just a brief moment.By the last week, Iona, who would never go out to dinner (which started at in Seville) yet always waited up for us to get home safely, was clapping wildly to flamenco music teaching us how to make tequila boom-booms.Eight months have passed since I last saw her, but every now and then I still wake up hoping to find mamma-Iona in the kitchen to greet me with fresh coffee and my lunch already packed for school.
For those 22 year-olds looking for an excuse to get away from home and hang out with people their age during the TEFL course, don’t underestimate the rewards of having an “older” mentor in your class like I did.And for those who are more mature in age, don’t let the possibility of being the only students over 40 deter you from embarking on this adventure.I guarantee that these four weeks will be infinitely more than teacher training.