Just when 74-year-old Larry Pett might be enrolling in senior classes and dusting off his golf shoes, he and his wife Adele are heading to Spain for a six-month program that typically attracts 21-year-olds.
Beginning Jan. 7, Pett, a retired remodeling contractor specializing in Intown properties, took on a new gig as a cultural and language assistant at IES Sapere Aude, a bilingual coed high school in Villanueva del Pardillo, a community outside of Madrid.
“I think I am probably the oldest person ever to do this, just guessing; but in looking at pictures of some of the other language assistants, I think most of them are between 23 and 30 who want to travel before settling down. That doesn’t bother me. I still have the energy to travel around, and why not?”
His job will be assisting the teachers and students with conversational skills in English, helping with classroom activities, and working with the teaching staff. The organization, CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange), is headquartered in Boston and runs a variety of programs all over the world, including teaching and language immersion.
Their online mission states: “We foster the development of understanding and mutual respect between communities and nations by promoting the exchange of ideas and experiences. We help give students, teachers and young professionals from across the world skills that make them active and responsible global citizens.”
There are no qualifications to enlist other than being an American citizen, having at least a bachelor’s degree, and being a native English speaker. There is no age requirement, and no requirement to be a teacher, or to speak Spanish.
Pett speaks an intermediate level of Spanish and hopes to pick up more depth and fluency there. When asked if he is cramming now to brush up on his Spanish, Pett said, “No, that’s the whole point: all my communication at school is to be in English. That’s why they need me. Also, since this is a high school, most of these students have a decent English foundation on which to build.” He will be paid a modest salary.
Pett’s work schedule will be four days a week, four hours a day, plus additional administrative time. Wife Adele plans to shop, do work projects remotely, and take cooking classes while he’s in school. The Petts have rented a two-bedroom apartment in Central Madrid in an old colonial building. He said, “Madrid has a great transportation system and we can get anywhere without a car. We already have eight friends and family members booked coming to visit.”
The school is an hour commute outside of Madrid. Larry will take public transportation by bus and train, then walk to get there. “I am taking on an additional project, while riding the train. I have purchased a copy of ‘Don Quixote,’ in Spanish, 1,000 pages, and will try to read and translate it while I’m there. I doubt I’ll finish, but I’ll give it a good try. Quien sabe?” (Who knows?).
On weekends and the 10-day spring break, the Petts will take excursions to nearby cities like San Sebastian and stay in Airbnbs. Larry was last in Madrid over 50 years ago. “We both like flamenco music and eating, and the Spanish food is unbelievable. I have been to Spain four times, Adele three times, but mostly in southern Spain. So this will be really special.”
He continued, “I figure even though I am kinda old to be doing this, I have the energy, and a long list of places to visit before I can’t do it any more, and hopefully that is a long time from now. Life is short and we have to make the most of it!”
Pett, a loyal Atlanta Jewish Film Festival evaluator, said, “Hopefully they will have me back in 2021.” That is, unless he signs up for another teaching assignment in Japan or Africa.