Hey there! My name is Jeydelyn Martinez and I’m a proud first-generation, low-income graduate from Marquette University who was awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship in 2015. In the fall semester of my senior year, I embarked on my study abroad at Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain. Following graduation in 2016, I worked as an ESL educator in Spain, as well as China, and took every opportunity to continue my travels. This 2020-2021 school year, I am serving as one of the Gilman Scholarship’s Alumni Ambassadors.
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Studying abroad and experiencing life and all its complexities in another country was a promise I made to myself that I would accomplish during my undergraduate career. However, taking on multiple leadership roles throughout the years and navigating the higher education system as the first in my family, in the busyness I lost sight of that promise. I was selected as a student participant and interpreter for my university delegation to go to San Salvador, El Salvador to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the UCA martyrs. It wasn’t until I was presented with this opportunity to engage in international dialogue surrounding this history, that it reignited the necessity I felt to experience international education. Shortly after returning from El Salvador in the fall of 2014, I set up a meeting with a study abroad advisor and discussed my options to finish my degree on time, as well as what financial aid I could seek to make this a reality. She mentioned I would be a great candidate for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, and little did I know that my life would transform because of it the following year.
Promises turned into reality
Arriving at Madrid felt like a rush of adrenaline, with a mix of anxiety. It wasn’t until I roamed Puerta de Sol and walked endlessly in Retiro Park, it set in that this would be my home for the next four months! I had made it and I was going to make the most of my time spent in this amazing, international city. As I attend an American institution, I knew I had to go out of my way to not get trapped in the American bubble. As part of my service learning for my Global Health class (the only class I took in English during my time at SLU-Madrid), I signed up to volunteer weekly at a local food pantry that primarily served newly arrived immigrants from Latin America. It was great to connect and hear the stories of what brought these families and individuals to Madrid. I scoured the university boards for locals who wanted to do language exchange (and still keep in contact with two of my exchange buddies until this day!) and on that board, I came across a flyer that noted the university hosted free Community ESL classes to locals in the area. They were looking for teachers! After convincing one of my friends from my home institution to co-teach with me, shortly thereafter we began every Tuesday and Thursday teaching Advanced English to a group of adults. I enjoyed every single class and grew so close with our students, going out often for a bite and drinks. This experience would prove to be transformative because as the weeks went by, I realized I wouldn’t be ready to leave. So, I began to ask myself “What would it look like if I stayed? What other opportunities available to me?”
When one door closes…
As we know, all good things come to an end and I shed more than a few tears when I left my beloved Madrid. However, I knew that it wouldn’t be the end. Just before leaving, I set up an appointment with Career Services at my host institution. I explained how much I wanted to come back, but wasn’t sure how to navigate that process if I wasn’t a student. The advisor recommended me various programs, one notably run by the Spanish Ministry that had Language and Culture Assistants positions to teach ESL in public schools in Spain. She walked me through the application process, and there a seed was planted. For three years I worked as a Language and Culture Assistant, working with all age levels in Valladolid, Aranjuez, and Malaga. Later, I made the transition to Shenzhen, China to teach ESL at an International Kindergarten. I am certain, had I not been awarded the Gilman, this wouldn’t have been my trajectory. For that, I will always be grateful and also proud of myself, for keeping that promise and making such bold leaps.