Spanish teacher, architect, math teacher, or linguist? Gabriela Gerstenfeld, a Spanish teacher on The Hill, gives us an insight into her adventurous life of teaching, designing, and travelling.
Could you tell us about the hotel you built in Uruguay?
I’ve built two hotels. I used to build buildings, like apartment buildings mostly but also other projects. And then came the idea of a hotel, and I say ‘Yeah, why not’. So we go to a hotel, and find land, and a group of people that wanted to invest, and it’s a small hotel, but it’s a four-star hotel with ten floors plus a lobby. It has done well, it’s in a nice location, it’s not downtown but it’s very close to the river and the ocean. This was my own company, I was the architect, the designer, and the builder. I still work as an architect in the summer. One project [since I moved to the U.S.] that I did in Uruguay is a place for parties, called La Hacienda, that was the last big project I did. A lot of summers here I buy a house and I flip it. I always need to be doing something. My mother is a stay-at-home mom, but I can’t do that.
When did you move to America from Uruguay?
I moved here eighteen years ago. That morning I went to my hotel where the construction was finished but the furniture was arriving. Until noon I was still receiving furniture, because a hotel is diferent from when you build a building -- you need to furnish it. I was moving [furniture] but I hadn’t packed. I brought one suitcase, and whatever fit inside, that’s what I brought.
Why did you decide to teach Spanish?
So I worked in New York, in an office with long hours, and I worked until the very last week of my pregnancy. After that, it was hard to go back to an office with long hours when I had a baby. I didn’t know what to do. I took a break of maternity leave. Meanwhile, I couldn’t do being without work or doing something. I offered the city to teach some courses during the afernoons just to do something. I started with art courses, because it was what I knew the most. In addition to that, before I became an architect, I used to be a math teacher, because I liked it. Then I got my degree and I didn’t go back to that kind of teaching. We [my husband and I] were about to move from New York to Connecticut, and my husband told me ‘Why don’t you teach Spanish?’ I sent some resumes, and the day afer, Hopkins called me because they needed a substitute for a couple of weeks, and I commuted in from New York [each day], and I loved it. Then I went to Spanish Literature, and I loved it the most.
What do you like better: being an architect or teaching?
I miss being an architect and working through the whole project. I got a little tired and bored when I would work on a project and only do one thing, so every day becomes the same. I used to do the whole thing, from materials to workers -- a little bit of everything, not just sitting behind a computer. When I started as an architect, we would do all of the drawings by hand. When we started using computers, the work turned into many hours behind a computer. I miss the back and forth of being in the construction site, physically with the material.
What’s one thing that people should know about you?
I received a notifcation for deportation in the US one time and I was shocked. It said that I have three months to leave the country, and it was obviously a mistake because I was a legal resident. So whenever I see children being separated from parents, I remember myself. All of a sudden, my life was fipped upside-down. I didn’t know how to explain that it was a mistake, but the government is huge and I didn’t know who to go to and explain that it was a mistake. Finally someone gave me the idea to call the local senator and that person called immigration in New York. That was a very scary moment: I had a son born in New York, a husband from Israel. The other thing that people should know is that my father, my step-father, my mother, my husband, my son, and I were all born in different countries. My family travels together and the passports are from everywhere: diferent colors and languages. And they look at us and say: “Is this a family?”