Joao Martins Pereira graduated in July 2019 with a BA (Hons) in Hispanic Studies. He is now living in Gijón, a city in the North Spain and working as an English Language assistant in a secondary school.
Describe your career path since leaving Kent.
I applied for a position through the British Council Assistantship programme. Applying for this programme was a fairly straight forward process, however, there were a lot of questions involved, for example, what countries you would like to be allocated, what regions you want to go to within those countries, would you like to live in a city or a village, etc. There were also questions relating to my work history and my knowledge of the culture.
I have to say that in general it has been a very positive experience. The main reason why I decided on this position in the first place is because I was interested in going into teaching and becoming a Spanish teacher in the UK. I thought, “I’m going to go abroad for the opportunity to see what it’s like teaching English as a foreign language”. I know that living in the country of the target language that you want to speak really does help.
What are you doing now?
I am now teaching in a secondary school in Gijón. This is the second year I’ve been working as an English language assistant here.
What do you enjoy about your work?
I enjoy being able to help, inspire and make a difference to the lives of students. They’ll go away and use what you have taught them in lessons, and it makes a difference to their grades and understanding. For me, that’s a great personal achievement. It’s such a great feeling when you’re in a lesson and looking at a roomful of about thirty students (which isn’t as daunting as it might sound), who are interested in what you are teaching. In a recent lesson, I was talking about British food and explaining what ‘Haggis’ was. Lots of the students in the room had faces of disgust, but then those faces would change and lighten up when I’d show them a picture of a Victoria sponge cake! You really are in a position to challenge stereotypes and help students become more open-minded by teaching them things about your country.
Do you have a typical working day?
Every day is different at the school but my main role is to help students with their pronunciation and have English conversation classes with them. Depending on their age, they will have roughly four hours of English a week, one hour of which will be spent with me helping them speak English. For example, you might have a topic – perhaps on the environment, the weather, or maybe shopping – and I normally have a sheet of questions. Based on what the students tell me, I might add extra questions.
The good thing about it is that they are given the opportunity to practice English with a native speaker, so if they mispronounce something, you can pick up on it and correct them. As you’re a native, you also might be able to suggest a different way of saying things like different synonyms that they could use, different syntax, and also idiomatic expressions like ‘it was raining cats and dogs’.
When I was first allocated to this role, one piece of advice was that we should try and imagine ourselves as the British ambassadors to Spain. What they mean by that is that the way we conduct ourselves and behave is the opinion that they may have of British people, but also that we should be there as a cultural reference. Students like it if you prepare a lesson on something cultural from your country. In November, I prepared a lesson on Bonfire Night and Remembrance Day and why we wear poppies. In February, we learn about Pancake Day and gave them the opportunity to prepare their own pancakes and eat them. I’ve also prepared lessons on British way of life, such as TV programmes and the British education system, and on current events. Quite recently, I’ve prepared lessons on Brexit and some of the issues related to that and the things that might change. After this, we moved on to looking at debate language.
Like any job, there are challenges. One of the biggest challenges with this job is that, when you’re planning lessons, you must bear in mind how long the lesson is. All the lessons in my school are 55 mins long. I must make sure that my lessons take up 55 minutes worth of time and no more. I also need to make sure I leave a bit of room for any questions student may have, or I might have to explain the meaning of words to younger year groups. It can also be a challenge when you don’t have as many students participating, but this is incredibly rare.
Did you spend a year in industry or abroad?
During my year abroad, I also worked as a ‘language assistant’ in a Spanish secondary school. I thought that a teaching placement would give me some good teaching experience and allow me to make an informed decision about a possible career in teaching. The experience was so great that I decided to return to Spain after graduating in order to build on my experience, and I was fortunate enough to be allocated the same school again. During my experience, I was able to get a sense of some of the benefits and highlights of teaching which has really served as a motivator for me to go ahead and become a teacher.
As much as I enjoyed my studies at Kent and was looking forward to seeing friends and family upon returning to the UK after my year abroad, it was hard to say goodbye to the students and my colleagues at the school, and the friends I made in Spain. I met many of the friends I made through the local Erasmus Student Network (ESN) branch. They came from all over Europe and from various Latin American countries. The great thing about meeting people from all over the world is that you become more open-minded because everyone is so keen to share their culture and language with you. So whilst my year abroad allowed me to try a lot of different Spanish food, immerse myself in Spain’s incredibly diverse culture, explore the many beautiful landscapes and cities that Spain has to offer and improve my Spanish, it also allowed me to learn a lot of Latin American Spanish (such as idiomatic expressions), and I was able to try cuisine from countries such as Mexico and Columbia. So my year abroad really did give me a good insight into the Spanish-speaking world.
How has your time at Kent helped you in your career?
I already had some knowledge of Spanish when I first started at Kent, but now I have a much higher level, more confidence and a better understanding of the language. Kent has given me the language skills that I need to survive living in Spain. A lot of what I learnt at Kent has also served as interesting conversation topics with friends over a drink, even if its about current affairs in Spain.
Also, through some of the content modules, I’ve been able to see how there’s more to Spain and Latin America than the typical stereotypes we might see at GCSE and A level.
What are your plans for the future?
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Spain but I will soon be returning to the UK to commence formal teacher training and I’m looking forward to it. I can definitely see myself potentially moving to Spain permanently in the future.
What would you recommend about studying at Kent?
I would say the lecturers at the university and the opportunities that Kent has to offer are two great assets. All my lecturers taught modules focused around their research and they have such a passion for their subjects. Whenever I needed some help with an essay, an academic reference or a bit of career advice they were always happy to help. I enjoyed all my modules at university and when I have some free time, I still like to read over some of my old essays and lecture notes. Only recently I asked one of the Hispanic Studies lecturers if she could send me a PowerPoint about an interesting lecture on Cuba delivered by visiting academic at the university.
In terms of opportunities, there are so many at Kent! In my first year, I was given a bursary to go and spend two weeks doing an intensive Spanish course at the University of Zaragoza in Spain over the summer vacation. It was a great experience and I learnt a lot of new vocabulary and idiomatic expressions. This experience definitely helped me later on in my degree. Also, during my final year, Kent paid for me to go to Cuba for 3 weeks and teach English at the University of Havana which was an incredible experience. It was fantastic to walk the streets of Havana and to put some of the things we had learnt about the city back at Kent into perspective.
However, most importantly, I met the target I set for myself before starting my studies at Kent which was to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and the culture and history of Spanish speaking countries. My degree has benefited me & I made the right decision coming to Kent. So I would recommend Hispanic Studies at Kent.
Any favourite memories of Kent you’d like to share?
There are so many positive memories from Kent that it’s hard to choose. One of the best memories was probably graduation because it was such an amazing day and it made me look back and think how all those late nights in the library studying and writing essays were absolutely worth it. However, I’d also say I’ve got some fond memories for the social nights that the department organised. These evenings allowed us to practise Spanish and have a little bit of fun with our classmates and lecturers in a relaxed setting, whilst indulging in some food. The end of year Hispanic Studies party was a particularly fun evening and was a great end to our time at Kent.
Any advice for prospective students?
The biggest piece of advice that I would give to prospective students would be to go and speak to your lecturers. Don’t struggle in silence. If there’s something you’ve looked at in a lecture that you don’t quite understand or you need some help with an essay then go and speak to them. Your lecturers are there to help you and by asking for help you’re showing that you’re a dedicated student that wants to do well and this will serve you well when you need an academic reference for future study or job applications. Also, take advantage of as many opportunities that Kent offers you as they’ll look great on your CV.