This is Alfredo. He is a vendor selling belts in the park. On Saturday when I took photos there, he seemed to be trying to get my attention. I went over and asked if I could take his photo. He agreed and liked what he saw on the screen on the back of my camera. Later he came over and chatted with me. He speaks no English and I don’t understand everything he says but he likes talking with me. And I like talking with him. He does not try to sell me. And he told me he is there daily.

Sunday, I had this image printed and found him in the park to give it to him. He seemed pleased and proud to showed it to his two friends, also vendors. Now, I have three friends. The park is near the school and I can stop buy on my break to chat a bit. It is not deep conversation. They are curious about life in the US. I have enough language skills to ask about their families and such.

I’m Just Like That Guy

Liz Cakes 2

One purpose for coming to teach in El Salvador was to experience being a person who does not speak the local language well. By this, I don’t mean for just for a two week vacation at a hotel or resort where the staff speak English or you don’t have to worry about things like food shopping or doing laundry. Also, I wanted a place that has a different standard of living and/or customs than in the US. What’s it like? I’ve wondered how it is for people arriving in America from places like Iraq or Nepal or Bhutan.

Luckily, like many immigrants, I have a strong connection here to help orient me. Joaquin from Travel to Teach showed me around, oriented me to things and spent about a half day with me the first few days to help make sure I settle in okay. But then I’m on my own for half a day.

To try to learn Spanish and make this meaningful, I look for opportunities to interact. I buy small things from different people. Unfortunately, I’m just like that guy ahead of you in line at the store who does not speak your native language. Things get mixed up from time to time and it costs the people in line behind me some time. I have no idea that the woman at the lunch counter is asking if my order is for here or to go. Eventually, we figure it out. Of the hundreds of scenarios I covered with my teachers, we missed this one. Remember me the next time you’re behind a person like me at the store, please.

I’m making friends with some of the merchants selling things in the plaza, but have to say “lo siento, no entendi” (sorry, I did not understand) so many times it’s embarrassing. But sometimes, I get the drift; I understand and that feels great. It may have been Tim Ferriss who said that your ability to learn a language is proportional to the extent to which you’re willing to make an ass of yourself trying to speak it. Claro!

Then there is shopping. I bought four items for the house the other day. The detergent was the right brand (which is what I based my purchase on) but the wrong style; it was for a washing machine not hand washing. And this morning after my shower, I used the nice Nivea body lotion I bought. As it began to make suds, I read more closely to discover I bought crema de ducha (shower cream), not lotion. You know, this is fine for me. The lotion was cheap. But what about for an immigrant in the US with few resources and with higher prices? That can’t be fun. (I am hoping my cereal and milk choices were good.)

Despite the challenges, I’m in good spirits. This is what I signed on for. The only thing for me and others in the same situation to do is to just keep moving forward and trying despite the number of errors we make. They say success is getting up more times than you are knocked down.

Note: Liz Cakes is my favorite panaderia (bakery). It is close to the school and is the spot to grab something quick to eat…and they are very tolerant of my trouble answering their questions.

Welcome to Santa Tecla

I am alive and well and living here in Santa Tecla, El Salvador. I spent the weekend getting to know the city. There are traditional markets with individual stalls in which you can buy one type of item (clothes, fresh vegetables, fruits, etc) and a supermarket that rivals anything we have in the US. Walk down any street and you’ll find a pupuseria, making the national dish, pupusas; or perhaps a panaderia selling fresh baked goods. Often these are set up in the front of people’s homes. I’ve learnt how to get from the house where I am staying to the school in which I’ll teach and to the local markets. I’ve eaten way too many times in my neighborhood and need to branch out a little bit.

Today, I thought that I would show you a bit of one of the central plazas called Parque Daniel Hernandez. It is hot in Santa , and I decided to hang out here on Saturday afternoon to take advantage of the shade and cool breeze. A few hundred locals also showed up. Among the crowd were people selling food and clothing. An ice cream cone is $.35, but there is only Neapolitan flavor. You can buy belts, boxer shorts, shirts and socks.
Hanging out, I got to meet some of the locals. I’ll introduce you to one tomorrow.

FYI – My internet access is very spotty. If you comment and you don’t hear back from me right away, my apologies.


Lesson Planning


I’ve spent evenings and weekends for the past few months either studying Spanish or learning about how to teach children English. The photo above shows some of the teaching materials I’ve pulled together for my classes spread out on our kitchen table in New Hampshire. It’s time to pull it all together and pack up and head off. It may take me a day or two to get things figured out on the ground there. I’m not sure what my internet access will be. I’m not sure how often I’ll post. I’m hoping a couple of times a week but I’ll have a better idea after I arrive.

Welcome to New Latitudes

This is the post excerpt.


This is my chronicle of eight weeks teaching English as a second language (ESL) to girls ages 9-15 in Santa Tecla El Salvador.

Who Am I? I’m a 52-year-old man, living with my wife in New Hampshire. Since graduating from college and later graduate school with degrees in counseling psychology, I’ve been an outreach worker, a supervisor at a mental health center, a research coordinator for clinical trials and for the last 13 years the administrative director of a research group at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College. I enjoy photography, hiking, and cycling with my wife.

Why Am I Doing This? Almost two years ago, I began volunteering as a teaching assistant in ESL classes at the International Institute of New Hampshire (IINH) in Manchester, NH. After a few months, it the two nights that I volunteered became the high points of my week. By last spring, I had decided to return to school to earn a degree. Southern New Hampshire University recently accepted me into their Masters of Teaching English as a Foreign Language program. In September, I’ll again be a fulltime student.

I decided that before starting school, I wanted to spend some time volunteering teaching English abroad, ideally in Latin America. This would give me the experience of being in a place and not being a native speaker. Many students at IINH are from Latin America. Living there would help me to understand what life is like there. It would also give me a chance to improve my skills in speaking Spanish (which I began studying last fall) as well as in teaching English. After searching around a bit, I found a teaching placement in El Salvador.

I leave Friday morning and hope to show you all a bit of life there.