It has been the international experience that has drawn Sycamore alum Katherine Shirrell (’05) to continue to look overseas as she pursued jobs and experiences. Currently at the American School in Bilboa, Spain, she’s learned that simple changes in living habit necessitated by living overseas – changes of language, food, and sleeping habits.
In Spain, Shirrell has fine-tuned her Spanish and adjusted to a different way of living.
She’s overhauled daily habits, including her appetite. “Here, the biggest meal is lunch which is eaten around 2-4 p.m.,” she said. “Restaurants then close usually from 5-8 p.m., and then they reopen for dinner. For me, this took quite a bit of getting used to; I was always really hungry but had to wait for places to open!
“The food is different, too. Here, I eat a lot more ham, seafood, rice, and olive oil-based dishes,” she said. “And in the restaurants, beer and wine are less expensive than water or Coca-Cola.”
Shirrell fell in love with international learning while studying Chemistry and Spanish at Duke University. She studied abroad in London and Madrid, and helped other students to pursue international experiences through her work in the Duke University Global Education Office.
After completing her undergraduate studies, Shirrell earned a teaching license for High School Science and K-12 Spanish and accepted her current job as a high school science teacher at the American School. Shirrell is the University Advisor for the school, and helps students to explore and apply for admission to universities in the United States and around the world.
In moving to Spain, Shirrell also learned to adapt her sleeping rhythm to match the local schedule. “Most people here don’t go to bed until 1 or 2 a.m. You can walk the streets at 11 p.m. and still see couples walking their dog or families with their kids out and about. Most people go into work around 10 a.m., go home for lunch and a siesta from 2-4 p.m., and go back to work from 4-8 p.m.
“The notion that Spanish people don’t work because they take a siesta isn’t true,” she said. “They split their workday into two four-hour shifts. Speaking from first hand experience, given that most of Spain has no air conditioning in homes, offices, or schools it is impossible to be productive from 2-4 p.m. because of the sweltering summer heat,” Shirrell said.
Lifestyle differences interest Shirrell.
“Living overseas challenges me daily to confront my own culture. Every interaction forces me to compare, contrast, and reflect on the differences between my culture and that of whatever foreign place I’m in,” she said. “It’s a non-stop learning process and has been critical to my development both personally and academically.”
Shirrell is applying for admission to postgraduate studies. Her classroom experience at the American School of Bilbao exposed her to the power of education technology.
“I used a lot of educational applications in my teaching, I built Google Sites to share material with students and parents, and I fell in love with codeacademy.com and EdX’s online coding courses,” she said.
Shirrell hopes to pair her interest in international education and technology by studying International Comparative Education and Computer Science.
“My ultimate dream?” Shirrell answer when asked. “I would love to start an International Education Technology Company.”