Teachers from Spain visit New Zealand on an AFS Educator Exchange

By Raquel Marty

New Zealand has recently hosted three teachers from Spain, thanks to the AFS educator exchange programme. AFS is known globally as the most prominent facilitator of student overseas exchanges, and a growing part of AFS’s programme is the facilitation of educator exchanges. AFS invites teachers from around the globe to travel abroad and visit schools in other countries, to experience foreign education systems and expand their teaching skills.

Imma Llort Juncadella, Capilla Ramírez, and Elisa Echavarren travelled from Spain to New Zealand to spend one month living with host families. Ramírez and Echavarren stayed with families in Auckland, and spent time in local schools. Ramírez divided her time between Green Bay High School and Massey High School, and Echavarren at Macleans College and Pakuranga Intermediate School. Juncadella travelled to Wellington, where she experienced life in the capital and spent time in schools within the region.

Proving that AFS remains an influential part of its alumni’s lives, both Echavarren and Juncadella had previously taken part in AFS exchanges. Juncadella’s daughter has also taken part in an AFS exchange to Denmark, and she has hosted AFS students in Spain. Ramírez has welcomed AFS exchange students into her classroom in Spain, and was urged by a friend to take part in AFS’s educator exchange programme.

The teachers all highly recommend AFS exchanges to their students. ‘Living in another country for a year – when you are still a teenager – makes you grow as a person, be a more mature and understanding person… I think every young person, and not so young, should spend a year in another country trying to integrate into another culture because it always helps you to live your own life more consciously and with a more open-minded view of the important things,’ says Ramírez.

Juncadella agrees that opportunities to live abroad should be taken advantage of.  Juncadella participated in her AFS exchange at high school, and spent time living in India during her university education. She now considers herself to be a global citizen, and hopes that her children will do so too.

The teachers highlighted the issue of cultural change in Spain as part of their motivation for visiting New Zealand. Higher rates of immigration to Spain mean that the face of Spain is changing to become more multicultural. Promoting acceptance and cultural understanding in their students is a key issue that faces Spanish teachers, and Ramírez, Juncadella and Echavarren hoped that visiting New Zealand would equip them will better skills for cultural integration in the classroom. They hoped to learn from the New Zealand education system’s embrace of multiculturalism and take those lessons back to Spain.

Thanks to AFS’s connections with schools throughout the country, the teachers were able to become part of the faculty at the schools they visited. This inclusion meant that the insights the teachers gained about New Zealand’s education system came from first-hand experience and discussions with colleagues. Being included in this nature was highly beneficial for the teachers’ professional development as they can now apply the pedagogical concepts they learned in New Zealand schools to their classes in Spain.

The teachers admired the holistic nature of education in New Zealand. Echavarren noticed that in New Zealand classrooms, the students’ lives outside of school were as important as their school work and the cultural differences and similarities between students enriched the classroom atmosphere. She thought that Spanish teachers could learn from this approach and Juncadella agreed.

“The Spanish education system is very focused on academics – students are expected to study very hard. However, their personal lives are not really acknowledged by many teachers, which is a shame.” Juncadella also thought that Spaniards could learn from the innovative nature of New Zealand teachers, and hopes to take some of the practices she learned back to her classroom in Spain.

Echavarren felt very inspired by her experiences at Pakuranga Intermediate School. She particularly enjoyed seeing students of many different cultures participate in a Kapa Haka group and celebrating Māori waiata. Ramírez admitted that before coming to New Zealand, she was unaware of Māori culture, and was inspired by the integration of Māori language and culture in the classroom.

In return, the teachers thought that New Zealand could learn from the Spanish education system, and hoped to host New Zealand teachers in Spain one day. Echavarren felt that New Zealand students could benefit from more comprehensive language learning. In Spain, English is a compulsory subject, while in New Zealand foreign languages are available as options.

“Just because you know English, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn another language. Learning another language introduces you to a new way of thinking, and that is important for growing as a person,” said Echavarren.

Ramírez agreed, “Knowing different languages and cultures is always a way [to fight] against intolerance, fanaticism and prejudice.”

Juncadella, as an advocate for pacifism and intercultural understanding also agreed that learning a language can be an eye-opening experience that positively influences a person’s view of the world and foreign cultures.

The Spaniards have left their mark on New Zealand by gifting Kiwi students with their own unique knowledge. Echavarren enjoyed teaching Spanish to students at Macleans College and Pakuranga Intermediate School, and sharing their joy in the language. Ramírez also enjoyed teaching Spanish to Kiwi students, discovering that once initial embarrassment at speaking a foreign language was overcome, she was able to connect with the students on a deeper level.

Juncadella made use of her background in community theatre by co-ordinating a creative workshop titled ‘The role of young people in building peaceful communities’, in conjunction with Save the Children. The participants role played scenarios involving cultural interaction, and brainstormed solutions for overcoming cultural adversity. This creative approach to intercultural learning is inspirational, and a gift to Wellington students.

Ramírez, Echavarren, and Juncadella have taken advantage of their time in New Zealand to travel around the country. Juncadella plans to travel through the South Island. .  Echavarren plans to travel by campervan throughout the North and South Island for several weeks before returning to Spain. She hopes to visit again in the future with her family.

The travellers were impressed with New Zealand’s scenery, and Ramírez said that she is pleased that New Zealanders place importance on conservation and preserving the natural environment. Ramírez regrets that her time in New Zealand was not long enough, but hopes to visit again.

Thanks to AFS’s educator exchange programme, New Zealand teachers and students are able to interact with educators from abroad and gain inspiration to learn foreign languages and take part in exchanges themselves. The visiting teachers look forward to travelling to New Zealand again in the future. They will encourage their students to take part in an AFS exchange to New Zealand, so that they too can experience life in multicultural New Zealand.