DARLINGTON—Taking a closer look at American culture and customs, Mario Quinones traded places with the Darlington High School Spanish teacher Dianna Rogers for the 2011-12 school year.
In Pueblo, Izucar de Matamoros, Mexico, Quinones has been the English teacher for the last four years at Utim, the college in that area. Rogers took over Quinones’ position at the college teaching English while he came to Darlington to teach Spanish through the J. William Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program.
Quinones said the program invited all English teachers in Mexico to apply, but only six were chosen to participate.
“It’s different than what I thought,” Quinones said. “I thought it would be easier to teach my own language, but getting into the details is very challenging.”
He teaches writing, speaking, listening, grammar and culture from his native country for six hours of the school day at DHS. He said teaching the culture is the most enjoyable part.
At the same time he’s learning the culture of a new country.
“I get to learn and see how a small community works and behaves,” Quinones said. “There are very nice people in the community. I have had no problems with the people here. They have been very friendly. It’s not like how they show Americans in the movies. I was very surprised.”
Quinones brought his wife, Nancy, and their three children—Mario, 9, and Johan and Maria, 2—to share this experience. He said Nancy has learned more English since she has been here.
Kurt Cohen, math teacher and athletic director for DHS, has been Quinones’ mentor and has helped him and his family travel and experience the various communities in the area. Quinones said he has visited Platteville, Galena, the National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque, Madison and other places nearby.
He said the exchange program has been the new experience he needed.
“I love teaching,” Quinones said. “I always like to take challenges. I don’t like to stay and feel comfortable.”
He said before he came to Wisconsin he was busy working on his masters when his twins were born.
“It’s what makes you grow,” Quinones said. “You know how many goals you can achieve by working hard.”
Quinones has been teaching English in Mexico for eight years and for seven of those years he has also been the computer science teacher. He is originally from Mexico City, Mexico, but moved to Izucar when he was 15 because it was where his mother was from and she wanted to return.
During his stay in Darlington so far, Quinones has learned a little more English and he said he learned to stop thinking of American stereotypes.
“It’s better to experience things yourself,” Quinones said.
He said he is very happy at Darlington.
“I see other teachers working very hard,” Quinones said. “They put in more than eight hours every day. They’re very competitive and they want to do their best for the students. I’ve learned a lot from that.”
Quinones is helping the students prepare for the Cinco de Mayo Festival in Darlington. He said it will be a big party to celebrate when the Mexicans defeated the French Army. The community celebrates with dancing, singing and other performances as well as games for kids and traditional Mexican food. He said it’s a good way to show Mexican culture in Darlington. The students will assist with piñatas and decorated/filled eggs. He hopes the students will be willing to learn a traditional Mexican dance to perform.
While immersing himself in his own culture all day in a strange country, Quinones said it’s hard being away from his family for so long.
“In Mexico, families are close,” Quinones said. “I miss it. But I’ve made some new friends and they try to keep us busy.”
Quinones said he has noticed many differences between America and Mexico. He said they don’t have homeroom in Mexico and they have more days off for holidays, making more long weekends to relax. He also said it is much colder in Wisconsin. He saw snow for the first time while working here. He even took his kids sledding.
Quinones said he appreciates the community’s support of him and his family.
“There are friendly people wherever I go,” Quinones said.