Photo courtesy of Amy Wopat
In Spanish teacher Amy Wopat’s class, it’s easy to sit in your assigned seat and relax to the gentle cadence of her voice and her practiced Spanish. Although Wopat sounds like a native speaker, as her last name suggests, this Spanish teacher actually had nothing to do with the language of her profession until later in her life.
Adopted two weeks after her birth, Amy Wopat was received into a family with a lot of love. “I always knew, there was never a time when I did not understand,” she said regarding her adoption.
Since childhood, Wopat has seen the importance of the family. She remembers activity filled weekends with her family fondly. “Life was different, we did not have cell phones, there was no internet,” Wopat explained, speaking of the times they spent fishing, traveling, walking in nature. “Family is an extremely important part of the identity.”
Wopat described herself as a very inquisitive child. “I was a little foolish,” Wopat explained. “And I was a curious girl. I always wanted to understand how things worked and I wanted to open things up and look at what was inside.” She mentioned that she was certainly sometimes naughty, but never in school.
Though she spent the vast majority of her early life living in Wisconsin, Wopat and her family also had a brief stint in Phoenix, Arizona, where Spanish made its first impact on her life. This is largely due to the diversity of Phoenix, which was different in that respect to Wisconsin.
“There was not much diversity in the city where I lived. In Madison, there was more, but not as much as DC. Almost nothing is like DC, ” Wopat said. In Arizona, Wopat gained an appreciation not only for diversity, but also for Spanish and the Latino culture, which was fueled by her neighborhood and Sesame Street. “It’s part of existence in Phoenix,” she explained.
After their years in Arizona, the Wopat family returned to Wisconsin, where she took her first formal Spanish class with a Puerto Rican teacher. “I really got along with her, and we were in contact for many years, like ten, fifteen years,” she said. Wopat continued taking Spanish classes in high school, but not with such success. She really chose Spanish as the passion of her life when she entered college.
“I knew I was going to attend the University of Wisconsin Madison. I didn’t even apply to any other school, because I knew I could get in, I knew it was something economically obvious and that it was a good university, ” Wopat explained, saying that at the time, she wanted to be a chemical engineer. Luckily for Wilson, that did not last, and soon she turned to pursue a specialization in Spanish and Russian. “When I went to speak with the dean, he told me that it was going to take eight years for undergrad with both languages, so I said I’ll just stay with Spanish and not Russian,” Wopat said with a laugh.
When she got the master’s degree, Wopat taught as a professor at the University of Mexico and Ecuador for two years, but she told us that she prefers to teach high school. Wopat has also taught in Ecuador and Mexico with the fulbright program. “I realized that I did not want to stay in Wisconsin, I wanted to see the world.” With her plan already set, Wopat traveled to many places, including Madrid, Los Angeles, and Ecuador.
After her travels, Wopat returned to Wisconsin and taught at the same high school she attended in her adolescence. “It was very strange because I realized that half of the people were very interesting people, and half of them did not like me when I was a student and still didn’t like me when I was an adult,” Wopat said. After she returned to Wisconsin, she went to Los Angeles. For a time, she considered herself a California girl.
Most students go with EF Tours to see the world, but Wopat came from the world to see Wilson with EF Tours. She met Jeff Schultz, a teacher at Washington International School, who inspired her to come to DC. “Mr. Schultz told me, ‘When you’re ready, you could teach in DC.'”
It has been 13 years since Wopat began working at Wilson. At the beginning of her start at Wilson, Wopat explained that Wilson “was a smaller, even more divided school.” She was particularly fascinated by the faculty and the student body. She has noticed significant change since she first started here. “There is more structure, there is more support, there is more organization, compared to the ‘old Wilson.’ Language teachers know they are in a different world and there is nothing official,” Wopat said.
Wopat cultivates a very active and vibrant life outside of school. She travels so much that she can’t even have pets, and she is also certified as a yoga instructor. “I did not want to teach yoga, I wanted to better understand how it is as a personal experience. I realized that I liked the idea of mindfulness, so I continued with classes.” And the next time you see her, ask her about her experience skydiving.