The Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off the coast of northwestern Africa, is a well-known vacation destination, and one Valencia County native is heading there to spend nine months on a Fulbright Scholarship to help people improve their English skills.

Jane Kirkpatrick, of Adelino, was selected as a 2022-23 Fulbright Scholar to teach English in the Canary Islands next school year.

Spending nine months on an island chain to teach isn’t something most people expect to do, and Kirkpatrick said it wasn’t on her radar either. After graduating from the University of New Mexico in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish, she was seeking a new career path.

“I did an internship with (Sen. Martin) Heinrich in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021,” Kirkpatrick said. “I was interested in doing more internship and fellowship work and I knew I wanted to go abroad.”

With plans to take a gap year after graduation before pursuing her graduate degree, she heard about the Fulbright program and it sparked her interest in language and education, especially after taking a class on secondary language proficiency from UNM professor David Wilson.

“I really loved the subject,” she said.

When applying for the Fulbright, Kirkpatrick said she was required to gather three letters of recommendation from people who could attest to her ability to teach, something she initially didn’t feel she’d done.

“But when I started looking at the volunteer work I’d done, it actually was a lot of teaching,” she said.

Her freshman year, Kirkpatrick worked with the Refugee Wellbeing Project in Albuquerque to help children learn English.

“It was mostly having conversations with them, talking about the cultural differences they could expect,” she said.

She then studied abroad in Costa Rica, where she taught English to 5 and 6 year olds. She also volunteered at UNM to help her fellow students improve their language skills and was a peer tutor at UNM-VC’s writing center.

Applying for the grant was an extensive process, Kirkpatrick said, taking about six months to complete and included writing a series of essays as well as a statement of the grant’s purpose, outlining what she would be accomplishing during the nine months.

“They want to make sure you’re not just going on a year-long vacation,” she said with a laugh. “There was also a personal statement, basically one page explaining who you are. That was daunting, especially when you’re 21 and don’t really know who you are yet.”

The Canary Islands actually wasn’t Kirkpatrick’s first location of choice. In the ranked list of three locations she preferred, the islands were third. Her first choice was the city of Galicia, which is more urban and centrally located in Spain, followed by the Principality of Asturias.

“It was a mix of urban and rural. Kind of a Spanish Los Lunas,” she said. “The Canary Islands were kind of a whim.”

Kirkpatrick will leave in September and return in June, after spending most of the year at Universidad de la Laguna.

She will have a position that is the equivalent of a teaching assistant at a U.S. university. Kirkpatrick said she originally wanted to work with young children, having a passion for young, bilingual learners, she ultimately decided to work with students her own age.

“At the university, I can maybe make friends and will be working with students my own age. We can only work 16 hours a week legally, but we’re required to do a supplementary project,” she said. “It has to be with members of the community, a community engagement project, so mine will be cooking and reading novels; kind of a book club.

“It will be fun. That’s kind of the driving force. You can have very rich life experiences and those experiences can be fun. The two things can be true at once.”

A Fulbright grant allows recipients to “meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences,” according to the organization’s website.

While pursuing the Fulbright grant was a challenge, Kirkpatrick encourages others to pursue the opportunities that come into their lives.

“I am very much a Valencia County girl. I’ve lived there all my life, lived on an alfalfa farm, so I wrote about the acequias and  how important water is,” she said. “I would tell anyone, ‘You are intelligent enough to compete for really hard and sought after awards.’

“Your experience in your community builds you and makes you a complete person. People seem down on being from New Mexico. I am fortunate enough to have experienced a lot of travel in my life, and what makes you the coolest person in the room is that you’re from New Mexico. It’s a unique place to live and people are fascinated by that. The people of New Mexico are the most unique and amazing I’ve ever met.”

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.