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May 11, 2017

Native of Colombia brings excitement to Cedar Lee

I remember my teachers in school that they were boring, and I didn’t want to do anything. So I know how it feels. Why not change those things for them? Take them away from their routine.
— Hernan Gomez
Hernan Gomez
• Age: 27

• Home: Bealeton; formerly Bogotá, Colombia.

• Work: Spanish teacher, Cedar Lee Middle School since October; high school English teacher in Bogotá, Colombia, 2013-16.

• Education: Master’s degree, applied linguistics, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia, 2016; bachelor’s degree, English and French, Universidad Libre, Colombia, 2012; Instituto el ingenioso Hidalgo, 2006.

• Family: Father, Alfonso; mother, Angela; two sisters, Mary and Adriana.

• Hobbies: Playing soccer, bicycle riding, swimming and photography.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Students in the Bealeton classroom perk up on a Monday morning when they hear their lesson will involve a piñata.

Hernan Gomez, the Spanish teacher at Cedar Lee Middle School, brings enthusiasm to his classroom through hands-on activities and cultural lessons.

On Mr. Gomez’s 27th birthday, he uses games to teach Spanish vocabulary, verb conjugations and culture.

Students find his energetic personality and passion for teaching contagious.

A native of Colombia, Mr. Gomez arrived in the U.S. last year to teach at Cedar Lee through an international program, Participate.

“I can show the American people a little about my culture and what it’s like to live in Colombia and the different traditions we have,” he said. “One of my goals is to be a cultural teacher.”

At Cedar Lee, he teaches five Spanish classes for seventh- and eighth-graders. About 100 students took the elective course this year.

“The main reason I like my job is because I’m surrounded by young people. That keeps you up to date with many things,” Mr. Gomez said. “I like my job because I always have fun while working.

“I remember my teachers in school that they were boring, and I didn’t want to do anything. So I know how it feels. Why not change those things for them? Take them away from their routine.”

Mr. Gomez for three years taught high school English in Bogotá, Columbia’s capital, but wanted to try something different.

“One of my biggest dreams when I started being a teacher was to travel somewhere else and teach my language,” he said.

That dream came true after a six-moth application process and several interviews.

Cedar Lee Principal David Lee in August interviewed him via Skype.

“I loved his positive, friendly and fun personality,” Mr. Lee said. “He seemed to be a perfect fit for middle school students, and we were correct.”

The principal described Mr. Gomez as a “dedicated professional educator.”

Through the international program, Mr. Gomez received a three-year exchange visitor visa to live and teach in America.

He arrived in the U.S. last September and received a few weeks of training in North Carolina before starting at Cedar Lee on Oct. 4.

“It’s interactive and fun,” seventh-grader Jacob Brown, 13, said of Mr. Gomez’s class. “He’s willing to work with people. He connects with everyone in the class.”

The Spanish teacher also serves as assistant coach for the boys and girls soccer teams at Cedar Lee.

“He’s pretty tough, but it’s better for the team,” Jacob said.

Moving to rural Fauquier County from Bogotá, a city of about 8 million people, proved challenging for Mr. Gomez.

“It’s really quiet, and I wasn’t used to that,” Mr. Gomez said. “My city is really noisy.

“If you go to Bogotá . . . the northern part is the high class. In the center, it’s historical. In the southern part, you see the most humble people, and that’s where I’m from.”

His family runs a small café called Empanadas Quindio.

“It’s a huge change in all aspects. In my city, I didn’t have a car,” Mr. Gomez said. “I didn’t need it. If I wanted to go anywhere, I’d go out to the street and take a bus.”

For about a month and a half, he rode a bicycle, purchased at a yard sale, to work. He bought his first car in November.

He lives about a mile from the middle school in a Bealeton house with roommates.

“I love” Fauquier County and its seasonal changes, Mr. Gomez said. “It’s really peaceful, green.

“We don’t have seasons in Colombia. All year it is the same” with a temperate climate in Bogotá.

“I was always told that all Americans were tall. When you see an American in Colombia as a tourist, they are really tall. But, when I came here, people were normal.

“The people have been really nice to me,” Mr. Gomez said. “People have been willing to help. One time, I did some shopping and I was trying to get home on my bicycle. Everything (fell) on the ground and a person passed me in a car, helped me and took me home.”

He took some English in school but really learned the language during a six-month course in Bogotá.

“That’s where I fell in love with English,” he said.

From there, Mr. Gomez earned a bachelor’s degree in English and French and a master’s in applied linguistics.

“I liked to listen to music in English, which probably helped. Most of it I learned practicing myself. I worked part-time in a bilingual call center for Sprint” while in college.

He plans to continue his passion for learning different languages while living in America and hopes to study Japanese or Russian.
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