Meet Zach

ZachMajors and year of graduation: Environmental Science, Spanish Secondary Ed. & Biology Secondary Ed. (Minor); 2012

Hometown: Cedar Springs, MI

Current city: Lima, Peru

Life in Peru

Where do you currently work and what do you do there?

I currently work at Colegio de la Inmaculada in Lima, Peru teaching science courses (biology & chemistry) to 7th and 8th graders.  It is a wonderful school that caught my attention because of its many environmental projects: water treatment, recycling program, biodigestor, apiary, fruit tree orchard, and animal refuge (pumas, jaguars, spectacled bears, emus, scarlet macaws, monkeys, and more!).

As a teacher here, I am in charge of developing and implementing all of the course material, classes and science labs for six different classes; two of 7th grade and four of 8th.  I have really enjoyed working here so far, as it has been a very supportive environment.  My position at the school, has provided me with great opportunities to develop both my teaching and language (Spanish) skills.  In addition, I have enjoyed accompanying my students to do volunteer projects, and I am going on a four-day trip with the7th graders in a few weeks!

Do you have any advice for students seeking employment abroad? (What was your experience like finding a job abroad?)

Volunteering in Peru
Above: Zach and a group of 8th graders working on a volunteer project in El Salvador, a school district in Lima, Peru.

I was actually pretty lucky in terms of finding a job abroad.  I found El Colegio de la Inmaculada through a program in the US called “Creating Ties”, and completed my student teaching here in March and April.  I was then unexpectedly offered a position at the school, and decided to come back to teach for the last half of the Peruvian school year (August to December).

Given my situation, I didn’t have to search for employment abroad directly (as it essentially found me :) ).  However, I would say that getting your foot in the door with a company or organization abroad through volunteer work, student teaching or another means is key.  Just having travel experience of any kind is a big plus. 

I would also say that it is important to explore the options.  It’s exciting to discover how many possibilities there are to work abroad.  I’m sure that with some research you will find a plethora of opportunities that could fit you well!  Just the fact that you are a native English speaker automatically makes you a valuable resource to many countries around the world.  However, finding the place that is right for you requires some investigation.  Lastly, don’t think of working abroad as something that isn’t feasible, or that’s out of your reach.  I think you will surprise yourself at the opportunities you will come across if you are open to change, willing to learn, and ready for a little adventure.

A look back at NMU...

Languages studied at NMU: Spanish

Why did you choose to study Spanish?

When I was in the 8th grade my family had an exchange student, Carles, from Barcelona, Spain.  We became good friends, and after Carles returned to Spain we kept in touch.  Over the next seven years I went to stay with his family in Barcelona numerous times, and he returned to visit us in Michigan.  We still keep in touch to this day.  Getting to know Carles and his family, really inspired me to pursue Spanish and to learn the language well.

When did you begin your language education?

I had my first Spanish class in the 6th grade.  I distinctly remember wondering why Spanish speakers needed four ways to say “the” instead of one!

What do you remember about your NMU language classes? What were they like? Did you have a favorite instructor?

I had very positive experiences in all of my language classes at NMU.  I was lucky, because I really got along well with, and enjoyed all of my professors.  I was also fortunate to work with professors on projects outside of my courses.  For example, I worked with Dr. Ulland as she was the advisor to the Spanish Club while I was president, I played Cuban songs with Dr. Orf at the UNITED Conference and went with Dr. Compton down to Mexico City for ten days to photograph plays. 

2011 UNITED Conference

Above: Professor Orf and Zach Bartel perform "Music from the Spanish-speaking World" at the 2011 UNITED Conference

I would have to say that inside the ‘classroom’ Dr. Joy was my favorite professor.  He was always extremely enthusiastic, positive and engaging.

Overall, my favorite professor was Dr. Compton.  I got to know him quite well and always enjoyed working with him both inside and outside of the classroom.  I had him as a professor both in Spanish and Education courses, and I always enjoyed his calm, but insightful teaching style.  Dr. Compton works extremely hard to bring great opportunities to the students at NMU.

A funny memory from one of your NMU language classes:

I remember helping out with Hispanolandia and watching the students who were put in “jail” for speaking in English.  It was hilarious.  We were all dressed like ridiculous police officers and we’d make a really big deal about anyone who dared to speak in English.  We took to them to the “jail” where there was a guitar for some reason.  One of my classmates started playing the guitar and the students had to sing along to get out!

While still an NMU student, where did you find opportunities to speak the language you were learning outside of the classroom?

While a student at NMU I was quite involved in the Spanish Club and was even the President for a few years.  So, Spanish chats at local restaurants were always a great way to practice my Spanish in a more casual setting.  I would also chat with Spanish-speaking friends online and practice with exchange students on campus.

How have the languages you studied at NMU enriched or enhanced your life, whether personally, academically, or professionally?

Languages have come to be a huge part of my life.  They have always intrigued me and they have enriched my life by opening doorways into other cultures.  The Spanish language especially has challenged me, humbled me (I’ve made a lot of mistakes!), and allowed me to connect to amazing people and places across the globe.  Now Spanish is an essential part of my professional life while working in Peru. 

I have also briefly studied French and Mandarin Chinese.  I would love to become fluent in French, and am currently using Rosetta Stone in an attempt to move towards that goal!

While still an NMU student, did you study abroad? Where did you go, and why? How did the experience enhance your studies? Did it influence your future plans? 

I studied abroad in San José, Costa Rica for the 2009 winter semester.   Studying abroad was something that I had wanted to do from the beginning.  I am always excited to see a new part of the word and to get to know a new culture.   I also saw studying abroad as an essential part of my language education.

The experience was fantastic, and I was lucky to have time to see many of the natural wonders scattered across Costa Rica’s beautiful countryside. 

Studying abroad definitely improved my Spanish, and served as my introduction to Latin America.  It reaffirmed my sense of wanderlust and curiosity, as well as boosted my sense of confidence.  I would say that it makes sense to say that studying abroad helped to direct me to further travels and my current job in South America.

While still an NMU student, did you student teach abroad? Where? Why did you choose that country? How did the experience enhance your studies? Did it influence your future plans?   

I did student teach abroad.  I taught Spanish in Michigan at Rockford Senior High School for seven weeks and then flew to Lima, Peru to finish the last eight weeks teaching science here.

I had been researching opportunities in Argentina, Ecuador and Peru, because I wanted to get to know South America and those were the Spanish-speaking countries that interested me the most.  I ended up in Peru because of the great opportunities that presented themselves through the program Creating Ties.

This experience greatly enhanced my studies by giving me valuable bilingual experience teaching abroad.  It also directly influenced my future plans as I was subsequently offered a full-time teaching position!

A memorable thing that happened to you when traveling abroad:

Climbing the tallest mountain in Costa Rica -  Feeling the cold bite of early morning for the first time in months, and sitting atop a wind-whipped peak with three friends watching the sun rise in brilliant crisp colors from the jagged horizon.

A favorite foreign language word or phrase (and what it means):

Spanish French

“¡El sol no sale para mirarte!” 
“The sun doesn’t rise just to look at you.”

(For those people that think the world revolves around them!  I think it’s a creative way to put it :) )

“Pouvez-vous me dire où se trouve la gare?”  

“Can you tell me where the train station is located?”

(I just like the way it sounds.)

Colegio de la Inmaculada
Above: Zach and fellow teachers from Colegio de la Inmaculada. From left to right: Alfredo Valdez, Manuel Díaz, Jose Carlos Yrigoyen, Zach Bartel, Oswaldo Díaz, Franklin Castro, & Miguel Angel (student).