From international trade consulting to Spanish cooking, Roanoke College alumni launch new careers after teaching English in Spain

Karl Wienhold, a Roanoke graduate who runs an international trading consultancy, poses with his English students while teaching with the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program in Spain.

Karl Wienhold, a Roanoke graduate who runs an international trading consultancy, poses with his English students while teaching with the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program in Spain.

A teaching program in Spain has inspired several Roanoke College graduates to change their careers.

Brandon Underwood, Karl Wienhold and Amanda Strine all traveled to Spain to teach English with the North American Language and Culture Assistants program after they graduated from Roanoke.

The assistants program pays more than 5,000 college graduates each year to teach English to Spanish students, ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade.

The program started in 2005 as a result of Spain's need for more English teachers in their school systems. College graduates, who participate in this program work as Auxiliares de Conversacion, or assistant teachers, for different schools in Madrid and throughout Spain.

"It is a nice gap year for students who graduate and are not real sure on what they want to do yet," said Dr. Charlene Kalinoski, a Spanish professor at Roanoke who often recommends this program to students. "Why not go to Spain for a year and teach and perfect your language skills? And then you can get on with whatever is next for you in life."

The Spanish teaching program has been a stepping stone to new career opportunities for Underwood, Wienhold and Strine.

Underwood graduated from Roanoke in 2007 and left for Spain several months later. After living there for 10 months, he came back to the United States briefly before returning to Spain to teach private English classes for another year.

"I was there to share American culture and to help the students learn the English language," Underwood said. "I would do a lot of readings, telling stories, and sharing information about where I am from. It was a culture exchange."

Underwood took his love of the Spanish culture to the culinary field when he returned to the United States in 2009.

He earned his culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of America in 2011. Now he works as a chef in New York. Underwood is also in the early development stages of a new business plan for a food project in Virginia.

"The food is amazing. The ingredients are simple but of high quality," Underwood said about the food in Spain. "This influenced me greatly. I started to appreciate and seek good food."

As a result of his time in Spain, Wienhold was inspired to create his own international trading consultancy, Cobia Global Commerce. Even though spends his days working as a marketing manager for 1st Mariner Bank in Washington, D.C., Wienhold hopes to someday run his consultancy entirely from his laptop, so he can continue traveling the world.

In a recent interview, Wienhold said that his time in Spain greatly improved his Spanish proficiency. His ability to speak two languages influenced many aspects of his new company, including the name, Cobia, which he said, "is really easy to pronounce phonetically in English and Spanish."

"Cobia" is also the name of a fish that is found all over the world. It represents Wienhold's past and future travels.

"Employers that I talked to like the fact that I could speak the language and traveled," said Wienhold, who visited various European countries while he was in Spain, including Morocco, Scandinavia and Germany. "It shows ambition. In every interview that I have had since I got back, [the interviewer] has wanted to talk about it."

"It is really nice how [Wienhold] brought together his interest in business with his love of Spanish," said Kalinoski. "Having spent that year in Spain really gave him the confidence in his language skills that he can manage well when traveling in the Spanish speaking world."

Meanwhile, Strine's time in Spain inspired her to become a teacher. She began working at Allstate Insurance after she graduated from Roanoke in 2005. Several years later, she moved to Spain with the assistants program. She never left.

Strine lives and works in Spain as an English teacher. She said the Spanish culture, language and teaching inspired her.

The assistants program continues to attract Roanoke students. Travis Andrews, political science major and a senior at Roanoke, said he recently decided to apply for the program because he was drawn to Spain after he visited Madrid during a May term trip in 2011.

"These programs have worked out so very well," Kalinoski said. "The fact that we have two or maybe three students in line for next year is really terrific."

Wienhold said he recommends the program to anyone who enjoys adventure and wants to live and work in Spain.

"It depends on how much you want to and if you are willing to put yourself in the situation," he said. "Take the initiative."

--Posted Feb. 24, 2012

About the Author

Caitlin Mitchell, a Roanoke College student from Massachusetts, is an English major who is minoring in Education. She is a student writer for Roanoke's Public Relations office and a member of Sigma Tau Delta, an English honor society, and Kappa Delta Pi, an Education honor society. Mitchell, a Fintel Scholar, plans to seek a master's degree in communications after graduation.

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