Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to pursue your dreams, Nick Alvarez has some perspective to share with you. After graduating from Goddard High School in 2009, he got busy living.
“I went to college in Socorro,” Alvarez said, “came back to Roswell and worked at Atkins Engineering Firm on Second Street. Then I went to Korea and I returned in November.”
Alvarez has a passion for cultures and history that has driven him to new experiences.
“I have a degree in math, but my hobby would be reading more than writing,” he said. “I love languages. I like culture, and to learn culture you have to look at the literature, the art and the music, and you have to be able to talk to people. Language is the key to all of that.”
His passion has taken him to new and fascinating experiences.
“I love history,” he said. “I have a specific infatuation with eastern culture just because it is so vastly different than anything I’ve ever lived with. This whole idea of group over self, specifically in Japanese culture, they won’t even use the word ‘I.’ If you see them speaking in English they talk about ‘We Japanese.’ They associate themselves with the group. It’s something that I can’t understand, and I don’t want to be them either, but I like to see it.”
One of his more intense and life altering experiences was his time in Korea.
“I moved to Korea in 2015, I was there just over a year,” Alvarez said. “I was an elementary school English teacher. I taught at three elementary schools. I had never taught school before. I am a mechanical engineer. I had done mechanical engineering.”
He found a certification program that helped him to qualify and he never looked back.
“I did a TEFL, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, certification from an online university out of Canada,” he said. “I love kids. I used to teach little kids bible school at Grace Community Church.”
Alvarez went for the total immersion experience.
“I specifically asked for elementary schools in a rural place,” he said, “because if I got put in Seoul, or Busan or Degu or Incheon, the really big towns, Seoul is New York, is Bangkok, is London. They’re all English speaking, all business, all international. I wouldn’t get to learn anything about Korean culture by living in those cities. I wanted to be in the middle of nowhere living with Koreans who don’t speak any English. That’s what I got.
At first it was a bit daunting for him.
“I have never felt so alone,” Alvarez said. “The saying ‘alone in a crowd’ became redefined for me. There you can’t walk down the street without bumping into people and I couldn’t’ even say ‘I’m sorry.’ It was crazy.”
Alvarez is resilient and his courage and determination paid off.
“When I first got there and was excited that nobody spoke English it was great,” he said. “Then, it started setting in. I wondered how I was going to eat, how I was going to pay my bills, how I was going to get around because I didn’t have a car.”
Help can come from surprising places.
“Fortunately, the guy before me left notes with a route to get around the area,” Alvarez said. “I’m not shy so I went to the convenience store and got a bus pass. He didn’t know what I was saying. I didn’t know what he was saying. It took a lot of finger pointing and picture taking but we got through it. I had no problems.”
The payoff is huge.
“I got confidence from it,” Alvarez said. “For the rest of my life I will never be afraid to go somewhere that I don’t speak the language.”
His curiosity kept driving him onward.
“When I got home from Korea the first thing I wanted to do was go to Russia because I didn’t know anybody who had done that,” he said. “They don’t speak English there. I was expecting Moscow to be an international city, it’s not. In Seoul, most people speak at least some English.
“In Moscow, I rode the subway and I never met anybody that spoke English. The only person I met who spoke English was a South Korean woman living in Moscow and I bought a Russian hat from her. That was my only English conversation while I was there.”
Now that he’s back home, Alvarez is looking to continue his education. He sees two potential futures for himself, and is likely open to others as well.
“As a mechanical engineer, I was in a group called the Reduced Cost Heliostat Design Team, that had a patent for the drive system for a heliostat,” he said. “We used heliostats to create solar-thermal energy as opposed to photo-voltaic energy. It takes sunlight, heats up a certain point on the tower and it runs heat for a steam turbine, doing the same thing as a coal plant without burning coal.”
He found the power harnessed by heliostats awe inspiring, but he never lost sight of the big picture.
“We went up to Sandia Labs to see a heliostat,” he said, “and saw it blast through a 12-inch piece of steel in four seconds. I don’t know that I’d continue to work with heliostats per se, but I like energy production. If I were to go into industry I’d like to be involved in something like that.”
His travels have broadened that big picture even more.
“After I went to Korea I started loving teaching,” Alvarez said. “I’ve only taught children, but I want to teach college students.”
Alvarez expressed no regrets and hopes more people pursue their dreams as well.
“Take the jump,” Alvarez said. “Take the leap. It’s too easy to let dreams die. In this day and age the worst thing that could have happened to me, outside of dying, I could have gotten stuck in Korea and got a job in a coffee shop and learned Korean.”
He advises a conscious approach, however.
“Don’t take the leap for a fleeting feeling,” he said. “I wanted to go to Korea for four years, my only regret is that I didn’t go sooner. I’m 26 and I could have been doing this when I was 23. It’s stupid and I know all the kids say it, but the whole Y.O.L.O (You Only Live Once) thing is right. Seize the day. Plan, prepare and do it. If you’re single and you want to see the world and you like children, get a TEFL certification and teach English as a second language.”
Because of his initial investment of courage, Alvarez will take a bigger world view into his future. He knows that courage is its own reward and it just keeps paying dividends.
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.