“The toughest job you’ll ever love”

Photo by Rachel Du
Photo by Rachel Du

To say that Laurel Orduña is just a Spanish teacher would be a massive understatement. Right out of college, Orduña joined the Peace Corps, an organization run by the US government to promote world peace,  as a business volunteer in Slovakia. When that ended, Orduña grew antsy and approached a local high school for a teaching position, and thus began her experience teaching in the Peace Corps program.

At an early age, Orduña already showed an interest for the Peace Corps.

“I really liked the advertisements when I was a little girl. There were these TV commercials with a really heavy drumbeat and showed all these really interesting images and the tagline was, ‘The toughest job you’ll ever love,’” Orduña said.

Orduña had now officially transferred from the business to the teaching program. She taught in a remote village in the northwest corner of Slovakia, near Poland.

Having had prior experience teaching Spanish through a program called “Amigas de las Americas,” Orduña naturally taught English and Spanish.

At the school Orduña taught at, there were no textbooks or photocopiers. Despite having to copy everything down by hand, her students didn’t complain. They were happy to do so and were “extraordinarily respectful.”

One event to raise money for textbooks was a bake sale that turned into a Halloween dance.  The whole town contributed and the school managed to get a DJ and even host the dance at the Town Hall. Kids from other villages would parade through in their costumes and attend the dance, where people paid for tickets and for cakes, contributing to the funds for the books.

Since they had no stores like Spirit to buy pre-made costumes, the students came up with their own creative outfits.

“One boy, he had a fantastic costume. At the time in Slovakia, the bathrooms were outside the house. It was a WC [water closet], so it was sort of like a little wooden shack and the toilet was in there. He had a big box out of cardboard, and he made it look like a WC, and when the door would swing open, you would see him there and he had these pretend legs coming down as if he were sitting on the toilet, and it was extremely creative if sort of gross,” Orduña recalled with a smile.

In this small village in Slovakia, Americans were rare. When Orduña first arrived, the entire town greeted her warmly.

“When they announced my name I felt like Michael Jackson. All these people were cheering and clapping, but it was kind of difficult. Everything I did represented America to them,” Orduña said.

Often times, there were misunderstandings due to the language barrier. Orduña recalled walking into a store and daringly buying a red soda can marked with Slovak words and a big sunflower, only to discover once she got home that she had gotten herself some tomato paste.

When she finally returned home to America, Orduña settled down and raised her daughter. Deciding that teaching would be a good career to have with a family, she worked on getting a degree and found that her two years of teaching in the Peace Corps earned her a lot of credits.

Orduña now teaches with the insight she gained in Slovakia.

Junior Andrea Chen enjoys Orduña’s interactive learning style.  “She has us learn a lot of songs and do a lot of verbal activities, which helps with learning to speak the language,” she said.

“Usually in a language class you only learn grammar and such, but here you learn to actually communicate,” said Chen.

“I think that any time you go and live in a culture, a culture that’s different from yours, there can be lots of trials and tribulations, but you have such a feeling of accomplishment and your confidence really grows after that experience. Even the negative things have something positive to offer and are fun or funny. Even the things that were bad end up good in retrospect,” Orduña concluded.

One thought on ““The toughest job you’ll ever love”

  • March 25, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Glad to see Maestra getting recognized for all the great work she does. She makes Spanish not only easy, but fun, too.

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