Will Nelson

May 22, 2023

A letter to the director and staff of EOI Estepona and all future Auxiliares de Conversación:

Imagine that you’re a dust mite living on the canvas of a masterpiece oil painting. Perhaps you’ve come to understand a small corner of this painting quite well–the way the brushstrokes fall and how the color gradually changes beneath your feet as you scurry along. You’re comfortable on these few centimeters of canvas.

Now imagine that one day, you’re swept off the surface of the painting. For the first time in your life, you can see the painting from above in all its spectacular beauty and complexity. The brushstrokes that you called home are nothing more than a flower’s petal in a vast and sprawling garden, or the hem of a smiling woman’s shirt. You’re overwhelmed by the resounding magnitude–the sheer vastness–of the world upon which you’ve been living for the entirety of your life.

This is the feeling that I experienced in my time at EOI Estepona. The type of intercultural exchange that occurs in language schools is unique. Because of the influence that language has on thought, it’s impossible to even begin understanding another culture without understanding its spoken language. Sharing one’s language with others, then, becomes an incredibly intimate act that draws people together in a way that no amount of tourism and sightseeing could compare to.

This realization was a slow one, for day to day teaching at EOI Estepona is lighthearted and enjoyable. Only now, in May, can I look back and see that all the little discussions about holidays and traditions, all the gifts of homemade pastries and the casual conversations with students around town or between classes, have added up to a remarkable and unique connection and that my relationships with students and coworkers alike has forever changed the way that I see the world.

If you are reading this letter, chances are you’ve been selected to be an auxiliar at EOI Estepona. In this, I offer my congratulations, for you are about to spend the next nine months in one of the most caring, interesting, and enriching environments I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness. The kindness that students and coworkers have shown me here continuously amazes me–from helping me find housing and showing me around the area, to giving me recommendations on where to eat and shop and get my hair cut, and generally making me feel comfortable and welcomed in Estepona and Spain. I’ve developed genuine, deep friendships in this community, and as long as I’ve been part of this school, I’ve never once felt lonely.

Estepona is a marvelous town, and though I didn’t spend all of my time in Spain living there, it still holds a place in my heart. Andalucia as a whole has a lot to offer, but Estepona has a certain character to it that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Regardless of where you end up living, make sure to take advantage of the beach, walk the lovely streets of the old town, and don’t miss the feria of San Isidro!

If I could give you a piece of advice, it would be this: Get to know your students and have fun with them. I’ve learned from practicing my Spanish here that it can be incredibly intimidating to use a language that you’re not proficient at in front of a native speaker. But as intimidating as it can be, being around a native speaker can be incredibly inspirational. Seeing a language pouring out of someone’s mouth as a living, breathing thing is a lot more beautiful than squinting at it through the dusty pages of a textbook. If your students are comfortable around you they won’t be as afraid to speak with you, and that’s why you’re there in the first place. Laugh easily and listen actively. Talk about things that make people want to talk. Be vulnerable with them because every day they come to class and try to communicate in your language, they’re being vulnerable with you.

Now, as a dust mite, I am leaving this little corner of the oil painting and returning for a while to the old one that I know so well. But I carry with me (along with my newfound sense of awe at the beauty and massive complexity of the world’s tapestry) a profound fondness for this place and its people. I hope that you too can experience this feeling, and I wish you well in your travels.

To Ana, a sincere thank you for being my ‘second mother’ here in Spain. As much as my real mother must have appreciated it, I think I appreciated it more. I hope that one day our paths cross again 🙂

With love,

Will Nelson