Last year, I sat in my classroom holding a card about “Canal de Panama”. We learned about this famous man made construction that finally made transportation possible through this area of the world. Students began to grasp the geography of central and South America, and where exactly Panama lies. We laughed when I asked the class, where is the canal de Panama?, and responded slyly with, Panama!
Months ago, I sat on my yellow chair helping students read the description below the picture of sancocho. We reviewed the translation of common words like “pollo” and “soap”, while practicing new ones such as “apio” and “ñame”.
It wasn’t until my 3rd year of teaching that we began assigning themes to our quarters in Spanish class, such as Flavors of the World, Fiestas y Festivales, or Famous cities. However, from the moment I stepped into the classroom, I started teaching about travel, the Spanish-speaking world, and cultures unknown. These have since been my favorite topics and I believe I know why. These themes light a fire, build a spark in my students. The spark of curiosity–curiosity for the world we share, the people who share it. The people who look like us, who are human like us, but act differently and speak differently. Curiosity for the wonders of the earth that cannot be grasped in one photo or explained in a few sentences. Curiosity that I hope might grow into a larger flame that is a beaming light of understanding and compassion for others, and appreciation and responsibility for the earth.
Today has been a long day. Early morning drive circling around one-way streets and hoping other drivers won’t hit me for going too slow. Busy afternoon searching for American-looking teens who also look like they’re traveling alone and may be slightly lost, being ready to welcome them with a huge smile and the occasional awkward hug. Texting on my burner phone cross countries about pick-ups and whereabouts and ATM difficulties. Missing my leader team because for the first time in two weeks we’ve been separated. Several hours of waiting in the airport with less food options than the crew mess on ships, spotty wifi, and a slight headache from the constant glow of fluorescent lightning.
As I sit at the table of the cafeteria, I take a second to reflect. Enjoying the delicious and warm sancocho, remembering the moment yesterday when I stood aside the Panama Canal, it becomes clear in my heart that I am precisely where I’m suppose to be. The spark within me is strong. And it continues to grow, and burn brighter.

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