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The Impacts of Cultural Fluidity in The Educational System – Part 2 of 3

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Gustavo Nader 

An image of Gustavo Nader posing for his staff position at SMHS.
Gustavo Nader – Photo Courtesy of St. Mary’s website

The three part series continues as we explore the experiences of language teachers and professors whose hidden diversity has helped them better understand the world around them, and make them even greater educators.  For part two of the series, we deep dive into the cultural fluidity of high school Spanish teacher Gustavo Nader. 

Those TCK Roots 

Nader was born in Argentina. Although his first six years of life were spent in his hometown with his parents, he grew up in a variety of different cultures. Nader was hearing and interacting with his parents’ cultures in Argentina long before he was culturally immersed in the United States. 

His Lebanese father was born in Alexandria, Egypt. He spoke a wide variety of languages including Italian, Arabic, French, Spanish, German, and English. Nader’s mother was born in Lithuania. She spoke both Lithuanian and eventually Spanish and English. She was on the last boat to South America out of Europe just before World War II broke out.

To display the busy streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina where Nader visits.
A busy street in Buenos, Aires, Argentina. Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Both of Nader’s parents left their birth country separately, met, and then married in Argentina. Nader recalls hearing many different languages in his early years of living in Argentina. “I always had different languages growing up,” Nader said. “I heard Arabic, Lithuanian, and then of course, I learned Spanish.”

When Nader turned six years old in 1963, his family made their way to the United States so his father could teach language at Kent State in Ohio. Nader meaningfully interacted with both Argentine and American U.S. culture before reaching age 18, and was thus a Third Culture Kid. 

The Cultural Experience

Regarding his arrival in the U.S. school system, Nader described how he was just “plopped into a class” and expected to survive. At the time,  there were no established programs to help him acclimate to the English language or culture. According to professor Matthew Hammel, a writer and instructor for Study.com, the first English as a Second Language (ESL) program was initiated in the mid 1960s in Florida. Nader missed the option by that much.  

“You are kind of two people…it’s like you almost have a second personality!”

Gustavo Nader

“Growing up, I came to the United States, and I didn’t know anything!” Nader said. “They didn’t have ESL back then so it’s not like I was taught English in Spanish. But you just kind of survive! Every day was learning something new.” 

Nader described his cultural experiences of adapting to a new way of life, and navigating the U.S. American culture. He began to remember ways in which he tried to blend into his new environment. Later, he recounted a time when he told everyone at school that his name was Gary. (His Argentine name Gustavo was being made fun of). He remembers having to interpret American jokes his parents heard on television. He would even have to explain the meaning of strange American customs, like when kids from the high school would “toilet paper” his house as a prank. 

“What’s in a Name?”

Even to this day, Nader still finds himself explaining his name to both Americans and Argentines alike. He quickly discovered that shortening his name to Gus was the easiest way to avoid confusion with Americans. Although he mentioned how even his last name causes confusion when he speaks to Spanish people. “Nader is a Middle Eastern name,” Nader says. “That’s why sometimes when I introduce myself to other Spanish people, they’re like, Nader? How do you say that, where does that come from?”

Nader is a real cultural chameleon. By the fifth grade, he completely immersed himself in the cultural experience of the United States through cartoons, comic books, music, and sports. He said that he feels his English may even be stronger than his Spanish these days. Whenever he visits his cousins back in Argentina, they tease him about it. 

A sticker name tag to embody how difficult it was for Nader to grow up with his given name.
A name tag symbolizing the variety of names Nader used as a means of fitting in. Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

“I can come off as American… you are kind of two people. If I go back to Argentina, they’ll be like psh! You really can’t speak this language anymore can you?!” Nader said of bouncing back and forth between the cultures.  “My wife says I act differently when I go back to Argentina–it’s like you almost have a second personality!” Generally speaking, Nader’s Third Culture Kid experience was smoother than most. He became an official citizen of the United States when he turned 19. Although he still returns to Argentina to see family every now and then, he truly felt like he was saying goodbye to a part of himself that day. 

“It was weird because you know you’re an immigrant, but you’ve adopted the country. I became a citizen at 19. Even though I hadn’t been to Argentina in a long time, I still felt emotional,” Nader said. “But the funny thing is that when I go back to Argentina they still consider me a citizen there. So I have the best of both worlds!” 

The Educational Impacts of A Cultural Experience

He finds that his cultural experience enriches his ability to float, to dance between cultures. His rich appreciation for other cultures, and in turn, his desire to cultivate an understanding of other cultures for all his students. This is one reason why the Spanish department at St. Mary’s High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., is so successful. According to St. Mary’s High School’s website, the school is known for its rigorous academic style.

But Nader goes beyond the traditional teaching style of mere grammar lessons and repetitive conjugation lessons. He embraces his cultural fluidity and his experiences of growing up among two different worlds, using that as a means of combatting potential ignorance among students. 

A set of open books to convey the importance of cultural education
The importance of a cultural education is symbolized through a few open books. Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.

“It {cultural fluidity} definitely influences my teaching,” Nader said. “It is hard to teach what it’s like to live in another country, another culture.” Halle Smith, a 2018 graduate of St. Mary’s High School, took several of Nader’s classes. She said, “Because Profe Nader interacted with multiple cultures, he knew how to make our Spanish-learning experience directly applicable to a Spanish-speaking country.”

Ultimately, without a Third Culture experience, it’s often difficult to truly understand what it’s like to have truly been a part of more than one culture. But Nader does his best to help his students understand, and his success in doing so reaches beyond letter grades.

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