A Spanish Teacher of Many Cultures: Magda Hess

Magda Hess discusses her life before Berkeley and what she likes to do when she’s not teaching

Kaitlyn Mang, Staff Writer

Magda Hess is a new Berkeley faculty member who teaches Spanish. After graduating from Rutgers University with a Master’s degree in Spanish and Portuguese, Hess taught in New Jersey for about 20 years before moving to Florida. The Fanfare asks Hess about her life before becoming a teacher, her thoughts on Berkeley and her favorite parts about teaching. 

BACK IN BRAZIL: A couple years ago, Magda Hess went back to Brazil to visit her family that she had left behind when she moved to the United States. Picture from Magda Hess.
FAMILY TIME: Madga Hess is pictured with her mom and younger sister in front of araucaria trees which are native to the region she was born in. Picture from Magda Hess.

Q: First, tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are your grandparents from? Where were you born?

A: I was born and raised in Brazil until my early twenties. When I was twenty-two, I moved to the United States from Brazil and left my family behind. I came to the U.S. where I already had one of my sisters. She was living in New York at the time so I went to live with her. I come from a big family. I have seven siblings. Most of my family still lives in Brazil except for my sister who lives in Florida. 


Q: When did you realize you wanted to become a teacher? Is there someone who inspired you to teach Spanish specifically?

A: I realized I wanted to be a teacher in college when I was taking an Italian class during my first year of college in the United States. I had been to college before in Brazil, but I dropped out to come to the U.S. and then went back to college.


Q: Did you teach anywhere before Berkeley? If so, where did you teach?

A: I taught Spanish to grades eight to twelve for a few years before going to another public school in New Jersey. And then 10 years ago I started teaching at a private all-girls Catholic school. And that’s where I’ve been before I came to Berkeley. Overall, I’ve been teaching for about twenty years. 


Q: How do you like Berkeley so far?

A: I love Berkeley. I think you know there’s so much diversity here, not only from the faculty side of things, but also the students just by engaging through teaching and conversation in the classroom. I think it’s a very nice environment to interact with other people and learn about their backgrounds. What I’ve noticed is that when I was in my orientation, which started in August, and I was surprised to see that most teachers were also from other parts of the country so I think this is kind of a big melting pot of very highly educated people and kids.


Q: What’s your favorite grade to teach?

A: [Juniors] are my favorite [to teach] because they are a little bit more mature and still a little goofy so you can joke around with them. They’re not as stressed out as seniors. […] I always did better with students who are a little older, that’s why I teach high school and not elementary or middle school.


Q: Have you taught anything other than Spanish?

A: Yes, I taught Portuguese, which is my native language, but that was not in a high school setting. I taught Porteguese at Rutgers University my last year as a senior there. […] They offered Portuguese and Spanish as a major in one of the departments and since I was a senior, my professor invited me to take up one of the courses for Portuguese because I had majored in Portuguese. 


Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share? Like what are your favorite hobbies?

A: I love all sports, but my husband is a fan of football so he taught me all the rules, and now I think I enjoy watching it more than he does. I love traveling and doing outdoor stuff and being active. Traveling is one of the things I love the most because I get to go to different places while learning [about] different cultures and engaging with other people.

FLORIANOPOLIS: Magda Hess ate at a restaurant in a fishing village that she used to visit all the time when she lived there. Picture from Madga Hess.


Q: What’s your favorite place you’ve traveled to?

A: My favorite place I’ve been to was Italy. I would say Capri, the Amalfi Coast because it was a very magical place to be. There are a lot of places I love but in Rome is when I felt like I really connected with the culture. One thing I like to do when I travel is learn about the place and engage with the native people there. 

TRAVEL BUDDIES: Madga Hess travelled to a wine country in Southern Brazil with her husband Joe. Picture from Magda Hess.


Q: Do you think Florida students are different from New Jersey ones?

A: “I think Florida students are a little bit more relaxed, but it also depends from school to school. I think there is a difference if you go from a public school to a more private setting. I do think that I was in an environment where there was a lot of stress and pressure from parents and students because they were in a very competitive environment. Here, I think it is the same to a certain extent, but I also think they are a little more relaxed. Maybe it’s the weather, but I think the environment plays a big role in how a student does. I also really like how the students in Florida are more chill.”