Being the teacher and the student

Two weeks ago I started classes again at the University of Madrid, except this time I’m not learning Spanish (well…directly). It’s a graduate level course about the management of exotic animals in captivity, covering their handling, medicine, and breeding. The course was designed for Spanish-speaking veterinarians, so you can imagine that for me it’s a bit difficult. We’re covering topics that are new to me (like calculating the metabolization of medications in different species) and topics that I’ve got experience with (like water chemistry and life support systems in aquariums). The biggest challenge for me is staying focused and concentrating on everything being spewed to me in Spanish. However, after one week of classes, I think I’m going to survive.

Preparing for the first necropsy of the course

It is weird being a student again. I graduated from college 6 years ago and swore I was done with school. As they say…never say never! Honestly though, this course should prove to be useful for multiple reasons: expanding my knowledge on a wide range of different species, getting to know professionals in the field of animal care, and strengthening my Spanish. Not to mention, making friends here. I was relieved to find that my classmates are really nice people who share a love of animals with me.

Practice with handling scorpions
I never thought I’d willingly hold a tarantula

One morning, we had a lab to learn how to load and shoot blow darts (onto a fake wild pig). I have experience with this from the California Wolf Center’s wildlife handling course, but it was a good review and reminder that blow darts are pretty challenging to shoot quickly and accurately.

Practice with loading darts

No pressure! Just prove yourself by using your breath to make a dart full of water fly 20 feet and land on the thigh of the pig! Nah, it wasn’t horrible, and we all had some good laughs at the failures (including when the darts hit the wall or floor and broke apart).

Shooting a blow dart

The class is very tiring, as it goes from 9 am until 7 pm. We do get a coffee break for 30 minutes, then an hour and a half lunch! The cafeteria has all of the typical Spanish food and even sells beer. Apparently it’s completely normal to drink beer here at 11 am, between classes.

The bar at school

By the time I get home from class, I’m exhausted. It’s a good thing we only have classes once a week per month, and the other three weeks are open for us to do practicals. I’ll be starting mine soon and will be working at a bunch of places, from the zoo to wild animal rehabilitation centers to veterinary clinics.

So that’s what is going on in my student life. I never thought I would get paid to teach, but apparently there is a big demand for English teachers here (and if you’re a native speaker, you are almost guaranteed a job). So in my “free time” I give private English classes. Right now I just have a few students, but it keeps me busy. I enjoy creating personalized lesson plans for the kids and playing games with them. Seeing them improve their English is very rewarding, as is the bond you form with them by seeing them once or twice a week. Sometimes when I’ve had a bad day and I get to the kid’s house and they run down the stairs to greet me before I even get to the door, I can’t help but feel better.

Even with my native proficiency of English, it’s not all that easy to teach it. When you learn a language from birth, you don’t learn it the same way as someone does who starts at a later age. The grammar is complicated and I’m teaching concepts in English that I have never even heard of before now (countable vs. uncountable nouns, continuous present and past tense). Explaining why something is correct in English is also very challenging, especially because a lot of the time it doesn’t actually make sense. In English it just is, and overall, English is a weird language.


Hey, at least we don’t have 6 different subject conjugations for every verb tense.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa Wieman says:

    I just can’t get over that you are in class from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. Even with your two breaks, that is a long, long day!! Glad you are enjoying it!


    1. Yes it is!! It’s a lot of information. One day the professor looked at me and said “you look really tired!” and I was thinking…well, yeah!


  2. Mark says:

    Hey, I used to use a blow gun! It was in class too, and we called it a “pea-shooter!” Oh, and we had moving targets!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s