Marielle Torrefranca

Marielle attended the Toronto Go Global Expo in 2017, and found herself teaching in Spain shortly thereafter. A panel discussion at the Expo gave her the insights she needed to set off with confidence - and since she returned home, she has been volunteering with another organization she met at the event!

Name: Marielle Torrefranca
Location: Toronto, Canada
Age: 23
Organization: TEFL teacher, Not Just Tourists
Instagram: @marielletorr
Attended the 2017 Toronto Go Global Expo

Did you attend Go Global Expo looking for anything specific?
Yeah. I was going to Spain, and it was the first time I was going to be teaching abroad, or teaching in general. I just got my TEFL certification in September, and I was really afraid that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I just wanted any kind of guidance, some sort of support – someone to tell me things were going to be okay! I went to find some insight from people who had been working abroad and I definitely, DEFINITELY found all that and a little bit more at the Go Global Expo.

What kind of resources were at Go Global that you got that support from?
The main resource that stood out to me was the keynote panel, “Careers for Globetrotters”. It wasn’t TEFL-specific at all, it was just different people who had worked abroad and had some insight on what it was like to be in this new world, as a person who may or may not fluently speak the language, and finding ways to fit in.

Since this was my first time living abroad, no matter how short it was (I was in Spain for a month!), it was interesting to hear their insight. They discussed how if you live in a place for some time you’re not going to necessarily feel like a local, but you’re not going to feel like a foreigner. You’re in this weird limbo. I think it helped me prepare for that. Sometimes I would wake up and feel anxious to think about how I was going to order breakfast, or how to get from one place to another. They discussed the fact that when you keep moving around, you may not know where ‘home’ is. You may not feel Canadian anymore, even if you were born there. You may not feel Spanish, even though you’ve been living there for some time. The panelists shared insight into realizing that’s okay, and offered some ways to deal with it.

Careers for Globetrotters taught me that home can be a habit. Home can be a certain thing you do all the time, like ordering a coffee and drinking it on your balcony every morning, or going to the lake and sitting by the water. It’s easy to feel at home anywhere when it’s something that you hold inside of you.

Did you connect with an organization through the Go Global Expo?
When I was making my rounds through the different booths, I saw this particular group called Not Just Tourists. I don’t know why they stood out to me – I think it was because they had really interesting news articles about people that were just travelling on vacation, but they were doing something beyond that. I’m someone who loves travelling, but always wants to find some sort of greater purpose with it, so it struck me immediately. Not Just Tourists packs suitcases full of medical supplies and whenever someone is going on vacation to a place where people might be in need, that tourist takes the suitcase with them and delivers it to a clinic. Even if you’re on vacation, you can do some sort of small thing to help out. I work in the news, and at the time I connected with Not Just Tourists, it was fresh off the two Mexican earthquakes and the hurricanes. Just seeing the kinds of destruction and the things that people deal with, and how short of resources that they are, makes you want to play a bigger part in whatever small way you can. On Wednesdays whenever I can, I volunteer and pack with them. I really hope to go to Mexico in the near future and drop off some suitcases!

What did you do abroad, and how long were you there for?
I was an EFL teacher at Academia Solidaria, and basically it gives discount classes to adults. It’s kind of charitable in the sense that native-English speaking teachers come in and work for free while the students pay discounted classes. It’s always adults from elementary to intermediate level, and I taught Monday-Friday.

Tell us about your international experience.
Spain – oh my goodness – Spain is so beautiful! I lived in Valencia, which is a coastal city. The people are so wonderful. Like I mentioned, there was anxiety about feeling like too much of a foreigner, too much like I didn’t belong. Even if I didn’t fluently speak the language, nobody made me feel out of place. The city is beautiful, you have the beaches, and this culturally, architecturally rich city with beautiful cityscapes. But what really stayed with me were the students. As someone who is learning Spanish, I feel nervous talking to native speakers because I don’t want to mess up. They’re so brave, keen, and willing to learn. Whenever they could, they spoke English.

What’s your favorite story from your time abroad?
I’ll never forget my last day with one of my elementary classes. They knew it was my last day, and when the class was over I said, ‘That’s it! Okay, we’re done!’ and they didn’t move. I said, ‘You guys know you can go, right?!’ and they said, ‘We’re sad!’ I know with this school, they cycle through teachers all the time, but I feel like this class and I really connected. It broke my heart, but it made me feel so good that you can have that effect on a class, and they can have the same effect on you. They took my email, and we chatted about Canada and maybe when I could come back. I won’t forget it.

Did you overcome any challenges during your time abroad?
Firstly, getting a hold on teaching. It was my first time, and even though I was in this really beautiful city and I should have been spending a lot of time exploring, I overcompensate for nervousness by overplanning! So I would spend full days lesson planning; not exploring, not going outside, only sneaking in sightseeing when I could. I may have overdone it, because after a while lesson planning and teaching become easier and you can skim down the amount of work you have to do. So that was the first thing, but I think I overcame it by adapting fast and getting the hang of the whole teaching thing.

The second challenge was more of a language barrier – I ended up getting really sick in my last week in Spain, and had to call in from some of my classes. I tried to teach in the morning but felt like I was going to vomit all over my students… so, I had to go! I had to find a way to see a doctor or get some medicine, but I didn’t know the vocabulary to explain how I was feeling. I hadn’t eaten in three days, and I had to fix the problem because I wanted to make the most of my last few days in Valencia. I had to look things up, write myself a script and go to the pharmacy. I was surprised how easy it was to get antibiotics! But it was really nerve-wracking for a bit.

Where are you now?
I’m back in Toronto for the foreseeable future. I’m a broadcast journalist for the CBC. I write the news for the 24-hour channel News Network, but specifically CBC Morning Live. Early mornings! I wake up at 3am, which actually worked out for the time difference and jet lag.

What personal goals did Go Global Expo help you to fulfill?
The Go Global Expo helped me to kick something off my bucket list. I knew I wanted to work abroad and live abroad. I know that I want to live abroad again, and the Go Global Expo was a good stepping-stone and starting point. It also helped me to be multifaceted. Media has been all I know how to do, and stepping out of that zone and trying TEFL was really huge for me.

Do you feel the Expo directly or indirectly impacted your life?
Yes! I really do think about the Careers for Globetrotters panel discussion every day. I’ve moved every year for my entire life, for as long as I can remember, so I never really knew what felt like home. I knew the feeling would be amplified going country-to-country, never mind city-to-city. Now that I’m branching out to different places in the world, I knew that feeling of ‘I don’t know where I belong’ would impact me. That panel taught me it’s okay to feel that way, that home can be a habit, that you can carry your home inside you wherever you go. That’s what the Go Global Expo gave to me.

Would you recommend Go Global Expo?
Come to the expo with an open mind! You may be surprised at what you find. Come with your own questions, an outline of what you want to know and your goals… but also come with an open mind. Take all the cards and pamphlets that interest you because you never know. Ask a lot of questions, soak in all those stories, because even though everybody’s experience travelling with a purpose is different, you can still learn from everybody. Definitely come!

Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m just so happy I did it! I’m so happy I went. I feel a little bit more whole. Before I left, I felt like I was sitting at a desk, seeing all these horrible stories happen and wondering, ‘How can I help sitting behind this desk?’ Even if it isn’t directly putting buildings back together in Mexico or doing something hands-on like that, being out in the field, talking to people and communicating is worthwhile and fulfilling to me.