New on Campus: Elena Fernandez, Spanish Teacher, Upper School

New on Campus: Elena Fernandez, Spanish Teacher, Upper School

What would students be surprised to find out about you?

In 2016, I was a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I started my journey in St. Jean Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees mountains and walked over 800 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela and then on toward the coast. This medieval Christian pilgrimage has its origins in the 9th / 10th century and thousands of people today continue to traverse the Iberian peninsula to arrive in Santiago for different reasons--not necessarily religious ones.

I started my journey alone, but I was never truly alone. I made family with people from all over the world.  Some days you're tired, hurting and in pain so you lag behind, just to meet a new network of compañeros. Some days you're inspired to move ahead and then you encounter others. Other days you walk in silence, just to find yourself. Walking the Camino is a metaphor for life and I learned so many lessons that remain with me today. There are a series of Beatitudes for the Camino de Santiago pilgrim and I'd like to share the ones that resonated with me:

Blessed are you pilgrim.

  • If what concerns you most is not to arrive, as to arrive with others. 
  • When you don't have words to give thanks for everything that surprises you at every twist and turn of the way. 
  • If on the way you meet yourself and gift yourself with time, without rushing, so as not to disregard the image in your heart.
  • If you discover that one step back to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without seeing what is at your side. 


What is your favorite book, movie, and band/performer?

My favorite book is "The Alchemist" by Paolo Coehlo. While it's a simple book, it's incredibly profound. It's all about knowing who you are, recognizing your purpose in life, and then living your life so that you realize that vision. It reminds you that everything you do, every decision you make, and everyone you encounter in life is here to help you along your way. My favorite line of the book and what I truly believe is: "And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

My favorite movie is "Midnight in Paris" by Woody Allen. I never saw a trailer or heard anything about the film, so I had no idea what I was getting when I strolled into the theatre. I was instantly swept away. I was a literature major and this film echoed Latin American Magical Realism, a literary genre that presents a real world that has an undertone of fantasy. People live in a normal world and go about their lives thinking that what we, the audience, considers magical is all very normal. Just like the film's main character, I am fascinated by the Roaring 20s. This decade followed WWI, and the world that people had known for so long was now completely different. When the world was brought to its knees, people had a new, altered perception of reality and this inspired such groundbreaking creativity. It now makes me wonder what wonderful creative thought and expression will be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.


How did your own school experience influence your teaching career?

As I stated earlier, I was always into literature. I loved all my English classes in high school, I went to the Governor's Honors Program in literature and I even started out as a literature major in college.  Everything changed, well somewhat changed, when I took my first Spanish class at Furman University. It was the first time I took a glimpse into another world! Although my parents are Cuban, I never knew anything about the Spanish speaking world outside of my family. In the pages of books I was whisked away on journeys to other countries and times.  I was introduced to different people and cultures. It was in Spanish class that I decided I wanted to show others just how adventurous learning a language can be.


What is the single most important thing you hope to impart to your students?

My favorite word is sonder, "the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own", and through my exposure to other cultures I learned what this word truly means. What separates humans from all other life forms is language, a set of symbols and sounds that come together to create ideas.

When we realize this, we realize what it truly means to be human and how to connect with those around us. People everywhere, all over the world, living in Spain, to Argentina, to Cambodia and the U.S. are all a part of this complex web of perspectives and perceptions. By taking the time to learn another language, you're able to connect with another human so as to exchange thoughts, memories, ideas, dreams, and hopes.