Tommy Wiaduck

RLL alum Tommy Wiaduck (B.A Spanish & Organizational Studies ‘22) is finishing his first year as an Auxiliar de Conversación through Spain’s North American Language and Culture Assistants Program (NALCAP) and is looking forward to continuing for a second year.

Tommy teaches in a primary school in Getafe, Spain, outside of Madrid. As an Auxiliar de Conversación, Tommy teaches classes in English, art, natural science, and social science to 150 third- and fourth-graders, while working closely with the teachers at the school.

“My favorite part is working with the students,” Tommy said. “They make me laugh, and I learn a ton of Spanish from them. Sometimes I think they’re teaching me more than I’m teaching them. I really enjoy being able to experience the day-to-day culture in the school.”

“I frequently find myself having more and more freedom and responsibility depending on which classroom I’m in and which teacher I’m teaching with, which is really nice for me because I’m interested in teaching and education overall, especially at the intersection of language teaching and learning,” Tommy remarked.

“I’ve been able to learn a lot about teaching, learning, and education in working with the Spanish teachers, and I’ve also been given the freedom to explore my own teaching style and figure out things I struggle with or excel at,” he said. “The teachers give me feedback and push me in the right direction, and there is a lot of brainstorming that goes on between us.”

Through his position and through living abroad, Tommy said he’s experienced tremendous growth, both professionally and personally, over the course of the last year.

“I’m building my career, and building myself as bilingual and bicultural. I’m expanding my perspectives, developing my language skills, making connections with people from all over the world, and growing as an educator,” he said. “I have grown in so many ways: patience, understanding, and thinking of how to explain something when you think there’s no other way to explain it.”

He said when he first moved to Spain, he found it stressful to attend to all the tasks necessary to establish his life there. Tommy mentioned that completing governmental paperwork, trying to find accommodations during a housing shortage, and figuring out how to master everyday tasks like buying groceries and going to the doctor, was more difficult than he anticipated.

“My first two and a half weeks were some of the most challenging, but now in retrospect, rewarding, weeks of my life,” he said.

“Since then, it was really a lot of ups and downs for me, because it is so easy to look around and say, ‘oh my gosh, I’m literally living the dream: I’m living in Madrid, I’m speaking and learning Spanish, I’m meeting people from all over the world, I’m doing a job that I love,’ but then you also get really homesick, which is what people don’t always talk about when they share their experiences from moving abroad,” Tommy said.

“I moved here in September, and after about mid-January, the challenging parts became less and less frequent,” he said. “I think a big part of that is taking time and making space for yourself, and acknowledging that, giving yourself what you need, whatever form of self care, even if it is just watching something in English for a little bit, it is really important.”

As he’s more settled into his life in Madrid now, Tommy said a new challenge he’s encountered is feeling an urgency to make the most of every moment of his time abroad.

“I constantly feel like I have to be doing something new all the time, but then I remember, I can live a normal life, I can do normal things, I don’t have to travel every weekend, I don’t have to go to eight million museums in one month,” he remarked. “ Kind of like ‘slow down, enjoy it, really embrace the local culture’ is what I’ve found has been most helpful to me,” he remarked.

Once he completes a second year with NALCAP, Tommy is planning to return to Ann Arbor to pursue a Master of Arts with Secondary Teaching Certification through U-M’s School of Education, with an endorsement in Teaching English as a Second Language. He said he would like to gain experience teaching in the U.S. public school system.

Tommy teaching in his classroom in Getafe, Spain

“Everything is always changing for me, but right now, I hope to go back to the U.S. and teach in a way where I can still use my Spanish, whether that be as a Spanish teacher in a high school or middle school, or maybe preferably, living and working in a predominantly Spanish-speaking community, and offering support to those who are learning English as a second language,” he said.

Even further in the future, Tommy said he would like to pursue an advanced degree that combines his interests in teaching, learning, and applied linguistics.

“I’d love to study school systems and how second language English speakers participate in those school systems; the advantages and disadvantages they have,” he said. “Also, improving our teaching and learning models because there is always room for improvement.”

Tommy remarked that many RLL faculty members, including Yeray Ramos-Silgado, Mar Freire Hermida, Nicholas Henriksen, Lorenzo García-Amaya, Javier Sanjinés, and his CGIS study abroad faculty from Granada, Spain have positively impacted his life and played a significant role in where he is now.

“I can see so many positive elements of my life now that I attribute to my experiences with UM’s Spanish program and the opportunities it has given me the way my professors and mentors from RLL pushed me, and the questions they encouraged me to consider. All of this has led to me moving abroad and becoming the person I am today,” Tommy reflected. “If you asked me two or three years ago, I wouldn’t have pictured myself doing what I am right now.”

Tommy encourages current U-M students to embrace their language and cultural studies as much as they can. “Take the class, apply for the study abroad, watch Spanish shows or TikToks and listen to Spanish music. Seek out opportunities to interact with speakers of your target language and don’t ever be afraid to make mistakes,” he advised. “As I tell my students, ‘mistakes are proof you’re trying, and trying your best is how you learn!’“