Janie Mitchell ’17 and Priya Shah ’17
These past few weeks Tower Hill has had the opportunity to host both Australian and French students, thanks to our global initiatives program! As the THS community welcomed the exchange students earlier this week, we decided to ask one of our own to reflect upon her experiences from studying and living abroad. We chatted with Señora Folmar, one of Tower Hill’s beloved Spanish teachers, not only about her trips abroad, but also her favorite memories from right here at Tower Hill. Señora Folmar will be leaving Tower Hill after this school year to return to Virginia with her husband.
What drew you to study Spanish?
“My Spanish III-AP teacher in high school was incredible. She inspired me to travel to Ecuador because she had always fondly spoken about the times she had there. We kept in touch all throughout my high school and college careers, and when I told her I would be studying abroad in Ecuador, she asked me to bring a gift to her old host family and gave me the address. I soon realized why I recognized the address – I had the exact same Ecuadorian host family as my teacher from high school!”
What has been your favorite trip abroad and why?
“I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to many countries, but living in Ecuador was the most life- changing experience because it was the first time I had ever lived in a Spanish-speaking country. It opened me up to a whole new world, which I know sounds cliche, but it truly did. I squeezed SO much into that semester—like taking salsa lessons, volunteering at an orphanage, visiting exotic sites like the Galápagos and the Amazon, and ordinary ones like indigenous farms and artisanal markets. I immersed myself in Latin American politics and telenovelas, took a weaving class, and tasted every local delicacy I could. Perhaps most notable from my time there was how much more independent I became, being away from my parents and friends who only spoke English. If I found myself lost in Quito, I had to ask the Ecuadorians for help in my second language and hope that I would find my way, and when a taxi driver tried to rip me off, I was on my own to defend myself—and I did! There was no one there to take care of any of that for me, and I am better for it. Challenging myself like that developed my independence and confidence, and of course, language skills. Students who have had me in class would be surprised to know that I was shy before living abroad.”
Since you spent time in both Spain and Ecuador, what did you notice was the largest difference between the two countries?
“The people. Latin Americans are much warmer and more inviting, which is not to say that people in Spain are unkind. I lived in Madrid, and as is common in bustling capital cities, people tend to be less open. But with that said, I am convinced that NO Latin American country can make a better café con leche than Spain!”
Why did you decide to come to Tower Hill?
“There were more opportunities to teach advanced levels of Spanish at Tower Hill, and I liked the proximity of Tower Hill to New York, Philly, and D.C. Being from Virginia, it was also nice to be only a four hour drive away from family.”
Why do you like about Tower Hill?
“I went to a public school, and when students willingly participated or answered questions in class they were often viewed negatively by peers. At Tower Hill, I think it’s refreshing that students are eager to learn and want to participate. The culture is very different.”
What was your favorite memory from Tower Hill?
“My favorite memories from THS would have to be leading student trips. Whether I’m taking my Café Español students to a tapas restaurant in Newark, or leading a group in Costa Rica, it is always exciting and fulfilling to watch my students put into practice what they learn in class.”
Quotes from students and fellow teachers:
“If I could describe Señora in one word it would be: ¡ánimo!” (enthusiasm, or excitement)
“I’ll never forget when ‘Señora sassy pants’ stood up to a stranger in the Spain Metro; she showed her street smarts when the stranger tried to scam us, but Señora Folmar wouldn’t fall for it. We could hardly understand her quick Español, but we knew she was fired up.”
“When I came to THS to interview for the Language position, the time I spent observing Kara teach her Spanish III class was a tremendous learning experience for me. Her enthusiasm for the material, ability to engage with students, and high expectations were qualities that I wanted to model in my own teaching. She’s been a wonderful friend and colleague to me, and I will miss her mucho next year!”
¡Adiós, Señora! Thank you for encouraging and motivating us to never give up (even if sometimes it was the fear of finding our name written on La Lista Negra). We wish you the best of luck in Virginia! Tower Hill, especially the Language department, will be left to fill a great void after your departure. Enjoy your last quarter as a Hiller, although you will always be one at heart!
Señora with her host family in Ecuador.
Senõra volunteering at an orphanage in Ecuador.
Señora in the Amazon.