Juli Goff; Pioneer, Business Owner, Retiree



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se habla low 2By Susan Fogel

“ …I had no idea 18 years ago, how this venture would turn out. It has been quite a ride, a wonderful ride…” So says Juli Goff founder, and now retired owner of Se Habla…La Paz, the premier Spanish Immersion school.

While Goff humbly said that she did not see why an article should be written about her and her school, those of us that know her, those of us that learned our initial Spanish grammar at Se Habla know what an ongoing contribution Goff and her school have made to La Paz. Jilene Roldan owner of Tailhunter International Sportfishing, the popular Tailhunter Restaurant sums it up beautifully:

“Juli Goff… an indomitable spirit and a true pioneer. A leader in the foreign business owner community (we founded and co-chaired this group for years), her insight and connections were always shared and available to all that cared to pay attention.   Se Habla La Paz was a school that had no peers and will be impossible to replace. We faced many of the same obstacles, and her ability to persevere remains an inspiration. She helped and encouraged our philanthropy through her own community service. She, however, is first and foremost my friend, and I rejoice with her on her retirement and looking forward too many more lunches and hearing many more years of that infectious laugh and all the details of her new adventures! Salud my dear. Very, very well done! “

Back in August, friends, teachers, students, doctors, and home-stay families danced to mariachis and celebrated for and with Juli that she was retiring. But we were a little sad; the school is such a landmark. In the first weeks of our new life in La Paz, My Beloved and I spent five mornings a week for three weeks at Se Habla learning good grammar, popular phrases, and Mexican culture that has helped us till today.

One day in summer 1998 when she and a colleague both in the medical profession, Juli as a hospital administrator and her friend as a physical therapist, found themselves at one of life’s crossroads. They floated in a pool and ran through ideas for a new path.

Looking back at their work in a hospital in Tucson, they found their idea.

They knew from experience that medical professionals, nurses, doctors, and aides needed to speak Spanish with their patients. Goff said that when a Mexican man came to her hospital in cardiac distress, the staff would have to find a janitor that was bi-lingual to help with the consultation. Equally when a pregnant woman that spoke only Spanish arrived, a maid would be called.

“This was bad medicine,” said Goff. “And risky.” She brought this to the attention of the risk management department in her hospital. Their response was one of no interest. But two women needing to change their lives and wanting to make a difference had a lot of interest.

The colleague stayed with the school for two years, and then moved on. Goff stayed and created magic.

Never did she realize that her idea for a business would become a cultural bridge.

I asked her if it was difficult finding homestay families that would like to host American students studying Spanish and doctors that would like to have these same students observe and listen and learn.

“When I explained that these Americans wanted to learn Spanish and learn about Mexican families, and to observe Mexican doctors so that they could better serve their Hispanic patients back in the U.S., they were surprised, touched and honored.” She goes on to say “But I was honored. I was honored that they opened their homes. That the doctors welcomed the observers, that they trusted me.”

The original concept was to teach medical Spanish, for those working in hospitals and clinics that serve the Hispanic community in the US. Not long after the school opened, Goff realized that there was a demand for general Spanish education. Sometimes it was the spouses of the students in the medical program, other times it was people that for one reason or another wanted to learn Spanish. And so the school expanded to teach general Spanish. And later even offered a program for legal professionals.

Instead of Mexican medical practitioners only being the recipient of cast off American medical equipment, Mexican medical practitioners were teaching Americans their language, their familial culture, and how to work with patients. They were sending something invaluable back to America: cultural exchange.

“Not only did Juli have Spanish taught by qualified Mexican teachers but she taught the culture and customs of Mexico.” Said Judy Petersen, Legal Representative of Fundacion Ayuda Ninos de La Paz (FANLAP) . “Juli has been an untiring advocate of education and philanthropy. Even though her school has retired, Juli will still be an active part of our community.”

Every Tuesday afternoon the school presented a cultural presentation completely in Spanish. Open to the public and free, the presentations were well -attended and always relevant to current events.

Through her work with the doctors and her homestay families, Juli became well known and liked in La Paz. She was invited to join the La Paz Rotary. “I was the first woman; I broke the glass” says Goff.

Summing it all up, Goff says that she learned so much. The warm welcome of the families and doctors kept her going. “It was a lot of hard work. But I gained so much. I have made lasting friends, I have built a home, I am home. The honor is mine.”

And Jonathan Roldan, Juli’s friend for over 20 years gives us another glimpse:

“I have been working and living in La Paz more than 20 years and cannot remember a time when Juli Goff was not a part of my life in some way as a friend, confidant, mentor, associate and always the source of more smiles than I can remember.

 

I can still remember the first time I took her fishing with my fleet and what a grand day we had NOT catching fish!  I learned then what a joy it is to be around her and how infectious is her spirit and energy.

 

She has been a pillar to this community and has done so much to help others, not just because of the language school, but in so many intangible ways and for so many, like myself, our lives are better for it.

 

Thank you, my friend!”

 

A naturalized Mexican citizen, Goff has no intention of returning to the U.S. She is going to enjoy her home that also housed the school, spend her Sundays at the beach with her “girls” her two dogs, and continue to be a part of the La Paz community.

Throughout our conversation Goff stressed that foreigners coming here need to learn the language, try to understand the culture, the traditions. Remember that you are in a foreign country. Enjoy it, respect it.

I ask every interviewee what they would like to tell the readers. Goff’s answer:

“Be nice.”

Susan Fogel is an observer of life and writes to tell you what she sees. Visit her blog mexicomusings.com

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