The Language of Connection

I am originally from Lima, Peru, a city that holds around ten million people. I graduated from San Marcos University, the oldest university in South America. My major was Clinical Psychology and my minor was English; I’ve always had a love for this language. In 2002, I had the opportunity to be part of a cultural exchange program here in the U.S.

I had no idea where I was going, I didn’t know anyone in the U.S., and I wasn’t fluent in English. But I accepted the risk, and I took a leap of faith. I completed this exchange program twice. The second time around, I met the kindest man I have ever known. A year later in Peru, we got married, and I permanently moved to the U.S. in 2005.

Once I settled into my new life, I decided I wanted to work in the field of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. I didn’t have any real work experience here, so I had to start building my resume.

I was ecstatic and determined to succeed as a professional in this country. My dream was to become an HR executive for an American corporation. I started at the ground level, and I had to learn everything about employment law in America. I had a steep learning curve, but I was committed to the work. I even obtained a master’s degree in Business Administration while working full-time.

The last couple of years during my decade-long HR career, I worked as an HR manager for a large corporation that was extremely demanding. At this point in my life, I started to question my career decision.

I felt a need to take control of my life, do things my way, and own my future.

I always knew that being bilingual was a valuable skill, and I thought teaching Spanish would be a good business idea. So, I put an ad on Craigslist and found my first student. Right away I realized how much I truly enjoy teaching, and that is when ¡Hola! Learn Spanish was born. I had found something that made me happy. I had created something for myself, and it would become everything I had dreamed.

I also took time to discover what hobbies I liked. In my spare time, I make handcrafted jewelry. Who knew I was creative and artistic? I have an Etsy shop called Peruvian Bonds. I work with authentic Peruvian gemstones and other beautiful gems to create unique pieces of bohemian jewelry. Art is truly therapeutic; it has helped me discover a different side of myself.

I have faced many challenges along the way, but I am grateful for the opportunities available to me in the U.S. I always make the distinction that when you are a visitor in a country, it is a very fun experience. But when you need to start building a life in a country that isn’t yours, the reality is very different and it can be difficult. I needed to learn the system and adapt to a new culture. I had left my family and friends back in Peru, and I had to find my place in this new world. It was isolating at times.

When I was part of the cultural exchange program, my biggest challenge was the English language barrier. Try to get a job when you aren’t fluent in English! I took two different jobs to support myself—cafeteria assistant during the day and dishwasher at night. Those were the best job opportunities I could find.

When I decided to start my own business in 2016, the challenge was creating something out of nothing. I didn’t have a clientele, nor was I known in the community. I had to make a name for myself. I started out with one student and taught one hour per week.

Once I worked with a student long enough, I could ask for a review, and then more students and referrals starting coming my way. Today, between my private classes (in-person and online) and group lessons, I am working full-time as a Spanish teacher, and my business is still growing.

My intention every day is to offer a learning experience that will make each of my students feel empowered. Learning a new language can be very intimidating and it isn’t always easy, which I experienced firsthand. In my classroom, I create a safe learning environment where students can learn how far they can go and where it is OK to make mistakes.

My best moments as a teacher are when students surprise themselves and achieve a milestone in their journey that they never thought was possible for them to reach.

It has taken hard work, dedication, and perseverance to get here. I am proud of how much my business has grown and the positive feedback I receive. This is just the beginning. I am deeply excited to see what the future holds.

This story was previously published here

Dannia Gazley

About the Author | Dannia Gazley

Dannia Gazley is the founder of !Hola! Learn Spanish located in Denver, Colorado. She discovered her passion for teaching Spanish in 2016 after a decade of working in corporate America. Through her experiences of learning English as a second language, she brings a deep understanding of what it takes to master a new language and how it can bring us together.

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