Over the last three years, I've been taking Spanish lessons from my teacher, Camila.
Though she's 40 years younger than I am, we have a lot in common.
We've become friends as we've talked about our lives in Spanish and I'm grateful for our friendship.
I always look forward to my weekly classes with my Spanish tutor, Camila. We sit opposite each other in the kitchen of the home in Guanajuato, Mexico, where my husband Barry and I live part of the year, drinking tea and conversing in Spanish. We discuss modismos (slang), the subtleties of advanced grammar, pronunciation, and anything else that comes up. When I make a mistake, she notes it on her portable whiteboard and clarifies it later.
When we bought our house 18 years ago, I already spoke intermediate-level Spanish, having visited Mexico and other Latin American countries where I took classes off and on. But knowing we'd be living in Mexico, and not just visiting, I made a decision: I wanted to become fluent, and ever since then, I've studied consistently with one Spanish teacher or another.
After three years of working together, Camila and I are still going strong. Despite the fact that she's 34 and single while I'm 72 and married, we have a lot in common.
We've gotten to know each other during my lessons
During our sessions, we discuss everything, including family, relationships, friendships, our childhoods, gender, travel, books, Mexican culture, my writing, spirituality, and our professional lives.
Our careers actually follow parallel lines. My first field also involved linguistics — I taught English as a second language part-time for eight years in the US and Canada, while Camila taught Spanish at schools in Mexico for six years before deciding to work for herself.
While I switched careers and became a business trainer, we both became self-employed, and I spent much of my adult life figuring out how to succeed in small business. I enjoy sharing my insights with Camila. We discuss her schedule, her work-life balance (I think she works too hard), and her fees (which I've encouraged her to raise).
She's shared many details about her personal life, including her parents' divorce when she was 12 and more recent personal challenges. Her older sister, an industrial engineer, experienced a huge tragedy last year, when her husband was killed after he fell off his motorbike on a mountain highway. In less than a day, her sister became a single mom with two daughters under five.
For me, listening to personal stories like these, asking questions, and gaining new vocabulary as we chat is the best way to master a language. I'm motivated partly because I'm curious about Camila, because she's very different from our earlier Spanish teachers. When Barry and I first traveled to Mexico in the 90s, the teachers we studied with were almost all married.
In my time living there, I hadn't yet made any young, single friends like Camila. She doesn't currently have a boyfriend, and despite the cultural pressure to marry, she tells me she enjoys being single. She just came back from a glamping retreat at the beach, where she and several other professional women practiced yoga, meditated, and walked.
We share stories about our lives with each other
Just as she shares with me about her life, I tell her about mine. Sometimes, during our sessions, I translate articles I've written, which we then discuss. I also send her my watercolors on WhatsApp, especially the ones with a cat, since Camila loves her two kittens. She's always interested to hear about the places my husband and I travel to, and is eager to see our photos. Although she hasn't traveled outside Mexico, she's very aware of other cultures, having taught students ranging in age from 25 to 85 from all over the US, Canada, Japan, and occasionally Europe.
While I have twin stepdaughters and grandchildren, neither of us are biological parents. She thinks she might want to be a mom, and I think she'd make an excellent one, for the same reason she's such a popular teacher: she's patient, respectful, and a good listener who gives clear, helpful feedback.
I once asked Camila if her parents had ever pressured her to marry or have children. She said her mom used to ask her, "When are you going to sentar a cabeza (settle down)?"
"I am settled down," she would reply. "I rent my own apartment, I have a career, I manage my finances, and I have my own life."
I love her independent spirit and her refusal to conform to expectations. Despite the difference in our ages, she's my kind of woman — it's no wonder we're such good friends.
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