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Karla Padawer Solomon

College: Macaulay Honors College | Queens College
Awards: Fulbright U.S. Student Program, 2014

Teaching English, Loving Spanish

In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sent Columbus on his westward voyage, reunited Spain under Christian rule by vanquishing Muslim forces and ordered Spain’s 200,000 Jews to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. Fearing the Inquisition, which used torture and burning at the stake to stamp out heresy and ensure the orthodoxy of converts, many conversos submerged their heritage so deeply that their descendants didn’t know about it.

Flash forward to 2013, when Karla Padawer Solomon was in Madrid, studying Spanish at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos and sharing Sabbath meals with Spaniards who in recent decades had discovered their pre-Inquisition roots and converted back to Judaism.

“We grew very close as we learned about each other’s backgrounds,” says Solomon (Macaulay Honors College at Queens College, B.A. in psychology, minors in Spanish and linguistics, 2014), who was raised in a New York Orthodox Jewish community. She made other friends when she “had the guts to take on native Spanish speakers in a local poetry contest.”

Flash forward once more to Fall 2014, when she is back in Spain on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. Anticipating this work, she said she intended to use American literature, music and dance as the basis of discussions in which students could develop their oral and written English skills. Her goal is to “promote cross-cultural dialogue, as any work of art is an invitation to learn more about the creator and culture from which it emanates.” She also intends to explore Spanish-Jewish history.

Her fascination with Spanish language dates to childhood, when her mother would put her to sleep recounting her memories of having hitchhiked across Spain in the 1970s. By kindergarten, Solomon counted to 100 in Spanish. “This beautiful language helped me cultivate my individual identity in a homogenous environment,” she says. “Reading and writing also allowed me transport myself to faraway places.”

In 11th grade, Solomon explored her Jewish heritage in a science program in Israel, which she followed with a gap year of study after high school. “My year in Israel was the first time that I voluntarily studied Jewish texts and Hebrew language without being required to do so by my parents or teachers,” she says.

Her love of language is pointing her toward an eventual master’s degree in applied linguistics. She began preparing for a career teaching long before starting her Fulbright. While in high school, she volunteered at a public school for physically and mentally challenged students aged 5 to 21; she says she learned to take instructional cues from the students and to not immediately correct their mistakes.

At Queens College, where she also earned 30 credits in the creative and performing arts, she worked in the Writing Center for more than two years, particularly with non-native English speakers. “Together, we examined their individual ideas, beliefs and relationships through the writing process,” she says.

Reached at the Fulbright orientation conference in September before leaving for Spain, Solomon said that it appeared that she would be coaching 14- to 16-year-olds in their English skills as they write position papers, debate and learn about global issues for Global Classrooms Conferences, which resemble the Model U.N. in U.S. high schools. “I took a wonderful public speaking class with Lisa Bernard at Queens College, and I’m hoping to utilize the skills I learned there to coach these students as best I can.”