Alumni Spotlight: Julie Friedman

Stories That Shaped Us: How Studying Abroad Made me a Passionate Language Teacher

Julie Friedman studied abroad with ISA in San José, Costa Rica Fall 2007 and is an alumnae of The College of New Jersey. Currently, Julie works at Chatham Middle School in Chatham, NJ as a Spanish and French teacher. Julie shares how her experiences abroad have influenced her passion for travel, teaching and cultural immersion. We reached out to Julie to learn more about the stories that have shaped her!

When did your passion for travel and exploring other cultures begin?

Being born and raised in France, traveling to other places was always an important part of my upbringing. The way many Americans might travel to Florida or Pennsylvania, I was fortunate to travel to Germany or Italy for vacations instead. My parents, who are both formal educators, would make sure my sister and I learned about the places we visited, the music we heard and the food we tasted. We always took fun pictures and journaled whenever we went someplace new. Traveling was a real learning experience, and is a big reason behind why I became a world language teacher. 

What inspired you to study abroad in both Spain and Costa Rica?

My first experience with study abroad was spending the summer in Madrid. Because I was a student-athlete, going away for the summer was a perfect fit. As a Spanish major, I was able to learn not only about the language, but about the history, geography, and culture as well. In my senior year of college, I decided to end my career as a student-athlete and spend an entire fall semester abroad. I chose Costa Rica because I wanted a Spanish-speaking country that was different from anywhere that I had been. It was my first time visiting Central America, which is full of natural beauty unlike anything I had ever seen!

What was different about these experiences? What was similar?

Both experiences were similar in the way that I learned so much about myself, expanded my knowledge of Spanish, and opened my views of the world. However, from a closer lens, they were extremely different.

In Spain, I lived in the dorms and traveled with college professors and classmates from The College of New Jersey. Each weekend was organized and structured with outings all over Spain, and the experience felt fast-paced. In Costa Rica, I lived with a local family, about a mile from the university. I did not know anyone when I left and yet I returned back home with incredible friends! My host family spoke very little English, so the experience was incredibly immersive and authentic. A few excursions were organized, such as a visit to the Pacific coast, rain forest, volcano, and Caribbean coast, but there were still plenty of weekends for me to decide and plan my own travel. In Costa Rica, I felt like I was really living and spending time with the locals, and being there for a whole semester was an unforgettable part of my college experience. 

What did you learn about yourself through these experiences and how did your time abroad impact your understanding of the world?

Overall I feel like I grew so much, not only in my independence and confidence, but also in discovering other people and cultures. Especially with my experience in Costa Rica since I was immersed in a completely new culture unlike the United States or Europe. I volunteered as an English teacher in one of the local schools, went out with my host brothers and sisters to experience the nightlife, and went white-water rafting in scenes from where Jurassic Park was filmed. I even slept in a hammock hotel called Rocking J’s, which I still have the poster of hanging in my Spanish classroom. The experiences I lived are memories that I will always remember and made me the passionate language teacher I am today. 

Have you always wanted to be a teacher? Did your time studying abroad influence your professional development?

I knew I always wanted to do something with world languages. I grew up bilingual, French and English, and loved learning Spanish for its culture and music. For a while, I thought I would become a journalist, or maybe travel around and make documentaries. My first job out of college was actually working as an editor in a publishing and translating company.  However, I quickly realized that teaching really is a part of who I am and brings me the most joy. I love sharing my love of travel and language with my students and continue to be amazed by their curiosity, resilience, and love of learning. 

What’s your favorite part of teaching Spanish and French to middle schoolers?

I love teaching middle schoolers because I find that they are at the perfect age where I can still share silly stories, songs, and dances, yet they are also old enough to have a broad level of understanding and maturity. I love seeing how much they change from the beginning of 6th grade, to when they graduate in 8th. In my twelve years of teaching, I  have actually taught every grade, from 1st to 12th, but always seem to gravitate to 6th! 

Inspired by Julie’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in an abroad experience? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!

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