Before coming to the Basque Country to begin teaching, I knew almost nothing about the culture, language or the people of this small region on the Iberian Peninsula. But throughout my six months here, I have been lucky enough to get to know some wonderful Basque people, both inside and out of the school.
When I first arrived, I was greeted by Idoia and Maite, who picked me up from the bus station in Vitoria and took me out for sandwiches at the Bar Siete. Throughout the coming days they were nice enough to show me around the city, and help me to find a place to live. I had studied in Sevilla, so I had already become accustomed to Spain, but I noticed right away that the people, weather, food, and most notably the language, were all quite different. Over time I came to realize that they were all improvements.
During my time in the Basque country, I was lucky enough to visit a bodega in La Rioja, a cidrería in Guipuzkoa, and many small towns throughout the region, thanks especially to a few of the teachers at the school. I have come to see how proud and passionate the Basque people are, and I also have come to understand why. This is a special place, and it deserves every ounce of pride that its people share.
But more than anything, I came here to help teach English, and that in itself was an interesting experience. My first day at the school I noticed that the students and the teachers seemed rather close, and that they spoke to each other very familiarily. In the United States, if a student calls their teacher by their first name, it is often considered a sign of disrespect. But in Agurain, all of the students refered to the teachers like this. When I asked a student why they did, she told me “Here, we are a family, and in your family, you call each other by your first names.” This is a good example of the type of environment I encountered, and was a part of during my time at the school.
Teaching was often fun, but at times challenging. Especially in the afternoons on beautiful days the students would be restless, as the last thing any of them would want to be doing is sitting inside studying English. But I’m sure they made advances in their English speaking abilities, even if they did end up learning more “American” than “English.” They were understanding as well, and often helped me with my Spanish when they could. I even had the chance to play baseball with the youngest students at the school, and I was quite happy to see that many of them were pretty good! I found that while the students were proud of their own culture, they were more than content to take the time to learn about mine.
More than anything, I saw in the students the passion and life which drives the Basque people, when they happily described to me the meaning of the “lauburu” and the stories behind Basque festivals. They love their culture, and after spending my time here, I understand why. I’m sorry that I only got to spend six months here, but after having been so warmly welcomed by the people, I am sure I will return many times in the future.
Peace out Basque Country! Agur!