Feature Friday: Doug Roma

Doug RomaDoug Roma joined Intercambio in 2013. Since Doug spent time in to Germany after joining the army, he brought his understanding—the challenges of living abroad and learning another language—to the classroom. He and his students have moved through levels 5 and 6 together without stopping during holidays and between-semester-breaks, and will continue on to level 7 in the spring.

Did you have any previous teaching experience?
Being a dad, I learned how to teach to people with different learning styles. I have three kids. They learned that making a mistake or not making the wisest choice was no big deal. Everybody makes mistakes, but the idea is to learn from your mistakes and move on, and try not to repeat the same mistakes.

Doug brings this same attitude to his Intercambio class:
We have a lot of fun in class. If someone makes a mistake it’s very lighthearted. These students have been together and with me for so long that we laugh a lot. People don’t worry about if they’re not being perfect.

Why did you choose Intercambio?
I wanted to be a teacher when I was younger. When I went into the army, I was thinking that when I got out, I could use my education benefits to go to school to become a teacher. Then I went to Germany for 3 ½ years, I got married and had two kids while I was living there. So this experience with Intercambio has been really nice for me. This dream that I’ve had that was asleep for so long—that was kind of on the back burner—I was able to realize it. I was able to become a teacher, and I really enjoy it. And my students enjoy my class.

Doug and his students have moved through levels five and six together, and, to their delight, they will be able to stay together for Level 7. “At the last class, the students were so adamant about wanting to stay with me that they talked to everyone,” said Doug. His students’ ability to express themselves, to rally together to speak up for themselves, was moving for Doug:
What impacted me about that so much was when I first met them last year, a lot of them were unsure with how to deal about a question about a receipt at the grocery store, or how to deal with Comcast, or at the bank, or if you have a dispute on a credit card statement. A lot of them felt very timid or intimidated by those situations. I think using my direct experience of living in Germany and what I struggled with living in a foreign country helped a lot. I’ve watched them become more and more confident with their language skills, and with that comes confidence in themselves and their own ideas and what their capable of in dealing with difficult situations.

After a car accident in January 2014, Dough had to leave his job as construction project superintendent. He describes how volunteering with Intercambio has helped in his recovery:
When you work on a construction project and you’re working on a bridge deck and you see how it’s falling apart. You can see through to the river below—there’s a hole on the bridge deck. So we go out there and fix it and we make it safe. When you finish and look at that, you get this immediate sense of satisfaction.
After the accident, I was out of commission for a long time. When I started feeling better and was able to get that sense of satisfaction through teaching and watching the students’ progress, it’s really meant a lot to me. It’s been a real blessing to be able to have this opportunity and the students that were so appreciative. It’s filled that void that I had, that I relied on all those years of working.

Has teaching with Intercambio changed your daily life or the conversations you have?
The biggest impact it’s had on me is it’s allowed me to gauge my own recuperation from this brain injury. And to see my own progression, how it parallels my students’. I’m having to relearn to do things, and so it’s been helpful to have something to focus on. It’s something that I find I can do.

It also helps me a lot to be able to be of service. I used to be of service to the public by building safe roads and new roads. And now I find I’m able to be of service this way. Maybe I’m not helping thousands of people, motorists or pedestrians, a day, but I’m helping this one group. And for them to be so appreciative. And vice versa. I thank them more than they thank me.