Each summer, select students from Thomas More College travel to Cuenca, Spain to work as English teachers at Camp Pius XI—a camp designed to form, in the words of Saint John Bosco, “good Christians and useful citizens.”
“I never realized I would teach in Spain, study at Oxford University, break into the things I really love at a school that is so small,” said senior Elena Thelemann who worked at the camp in 2011. “I’ve always wanted to go to Spain, it’s been a dream, but I never expected to be able to go at all and certainly not during my college years.”
Among the numerous and unique internships offered through the College, the Spain internship is certainly one of the most challenging. Students are thrown into a foreign culture of complete strangers most of whom speak little English. In this setting, they are expected to perform all the duties that come with the territory of being a teacher: lesson plans, classroom activities, behavioral management, student assessment, and so on.
Moreover, the campers whom the interns teach are ages seven all the way through seventeen, they come from a range of economic backgrounds, and their knowledge of English widely varies.
Despite these challenges, however, Thomas More College students embrace the task and succeed. Whether it be through slide shows, bananagrams, or incorporating English into the Mass, the interns impart to the campers a greater knowledge of English on every level—comprehension, composition, pronunciation, and vocabulary.
“It was challenging,” admitted Elena. “You are exhausted at the end of each day because even the simplest tasks take so much mental energy when the language you are communicating in isn’t second nature to you.”
Oliver Domina, a junior who participated in the program this summer, expressed a similar sentiment, “Every morning I’d have to resolve to make the constant effort necessary to understand what people were saying. Communication is really at the heart of what it means to be human—communication with each other, and communication with God—so when it doesn’t come effortlessly, day to day life is a huge challenge.”
As is often the case, experiences demanding the greatest character and perseverance affect the maximum growth and even joy. The Spain internship is no exception.
“I was dependent on others for everything, and people were extremely hospitable and charitable. That caused me to constantly ask myself the question, ‘how can I serve?’” explained Elena.
“I was not working for money,” she continued, “but that didn’t matter. My flight and living expenses were paid for, I was ready for an adventure, and though it was difficult, it taught me to see that my life is not my own. The whole experience was an exercise in learning to live that maxim.”
Spain offers a great deal more, however, than teaching at a small summer camp—beneficial as that may be. Either prior or subsequent to their time at Cuenca’s Pius XI Camp, students are free to explore the wonders of Spain. For example, Elena attended World Youth Day and Oliver toured Northern and Southern Spain. There is rich history, the famous Santiago de Compostela, and countless other sites and activities for the tourist and pilgrim alike.
Following graduation, alumni who have participated in the Spain Internship are given the option of returning. They are offered a full time, paid teaching position at a Catholic high school in Spain for a two year period. This path promises a number of benefits: the support of a Catholic community, work experience, a salary to cover the cost of student loans, and the incomparable expansion of the mind and soul that results from exposure to new places, cultures, and languages.
“Teaching in Spain, studying at Oxford University, interning for news agencies in the Vatican—these opportunities are not easily come by,” said alumna Aja Cowhig. “Thomas More College offers something indispensable: an education, not just a degree, but an education, something that is rarer than most of us realize. And then, it opens avenues to gain experience in and contribute to any sphere from the world of academia to the world of business.”