I realized that I never shared my experience about teaching English in Spain with you all. It’s because of this job that I was able to confirm my passion for teaching, travel to different countries within Europe, and fall in love. That tale I will share with you at another time, but please feel free to reference this post as a guide so that you can optimize your experience abroad.
After graduating from college, a few of my friends traveled abroad to teach English in different countries. Thailand, Korea, and Spain were the most popular among my group of friends. After my undergrad, I took a different route and decided to serve as an AmeriCorps member in New York City. I extended my stay an extra four years before deciding to move back and settle in my home state of California. It wasn’t to long after (6 months), that I decided I was to young to settle in my hometown and needed to experience more of life, perhaps, teaching abroad would be my saving grace.
I was late in the game, hectically searching for programs that would interview late applicants and wouldn’t charge me a fee. I found one, I interviewed, I passed, and with three months to prep paperwork, obtain a visa, and pack my belongings, I ended up moving to Burgos, Spain to teach elementary students.
So without further ado, I will share with you seven tips that helped me adapt and thrive at my job in a new foreign city.
Plan Far in Advance
Please don’t be like me and apply and interview last minute. Give yourself at least six to seven months to properly research which country you would like to work and live in. There will be a number of programs that you’ll come across when you type in “teaching English abroad” online. It can be overwhelming seeing how many countries you are able to do this in, so narrow it down to a continent, and eventually a country. Your time is precious, so make sure you select a country that you feel you can give your best in and one that you feel you will have a wonderful time in.
Once you’ve narrowed down where you would like to teach, select a program that will place you in the country of your dreams. Most programs require a bachelors degree, but take your time in reading up on what you need to fulfill to qualify. Read reviews and posts from past or current teachers, and don’t hesitate to contact the program to speak to them directly. Keep in mind the pay, benefits, housing, time frame, and earning of any certificates such as the TEFL or TESOL. Once the interview process is done and you get selected, you will get guidance on how to obtain a visa and how to prepare for your move across the sea.
The initial website I went through is called Spain Internship, who then placed me with ACTIVA. Please check them out, I had a great experience with them.
Get to Know Your School Staff and Always Say Yes to an Invite
Congratulations! You have officially accepted a position as an English Teacher and have moved into your new spot. Most programs expect you to move a few weeks before the school year begins to attend training’s and to settle into your new room or apartment. Not all programs will house you, like mine, if you have any questions regarding room/apartment searching, please contact me. It is very likely that if you were housed, you will be rooming with other native English speakers.
This is all well and good, and it will help your transition into your new home a lot easier but please, go out of your way and introduce yourself to the school staff, as these are the people you will be seeing every day during the week. Many of these teachers are locals, or have been living in the city for some time now. They will give you insight as to how the school is run, what they expect from you as a teacher, and how to get around the city.
My colleagues were amazing people that truly took me under their wing. They always invited me out to a café, to a bar, or social event, and it helped me ease into the new culture. Always say yes when invited out, you can thank me later.
Hang With The Locals
This ties into the previous tip, but it is the only way you will get to know your city. Locals, whether they are your colleagues or not, know about the best kept gems in the city. From food, music, history, and more, locals will offer you a perspective that may be hard to get online. On top of that, they can help you out with learning the new language.
In my case, my Spanish easily improved by being around the language at all hours outside of school, except for in my apartment, my roommate was British, but still!
Listen, learn, practice. By no means does this mean to unfriend your native speaking friends, but don’t get in the habit of only hanging out with them, trust me, your experience won’t be the same.
Hop on a Dating App
One of the most asked questions I got from my friends in the states was about the dating scene. This is also worth it’s own post, which I will write later on, but for now I will touch on the basics. Just like hanging with the locals, dating will also allow you to enjoy the city differently. Whether you date locals or expats, romance in a new country is thrilling and worth a shot.
Strategically Plan Out Your Holiday Breaks
Depending on the province you live in, you can expect to have a number of three day weekends within the school year, not including the major holidays. Spain is a Catholic nation so many religious days are observed in most cities. You can take this opportunity to stay in your city or travel. Keep in mind that if you stay in your city, there is a high chance that many of the stores will be closed. At night, usually around 8 the town or city livens up, but during the day, be prepared to sit in an empty plaza.
In total I received around six three day weekends, two major holiday breaks, and five random days off. Coordinate your schools calendar with the provinces religious days of obligation so that you can optimize on your European travels. It would have been nice if I traveled a bit more throughout Spain, but I preferred to leave the country and visit new cities as often as I could.
My recommendation is visiting cities within the same country on shorter holiday breaks and saving the country hopping for your winter, spring, and summer breaks. Spain has beautiful villages and towns all around. Don’t shy away from taking a bus, train, or BlaBlaCar to the village next door.
Make Some Extra Cash Tutoring On the Side
Something I learned from other teaching assistants, which was truly super helpful, is tutoring as a side hustle. Now I know, you may be asking yourself, “Why would she recommend working after work”, well let me tell you, on a weekly basis I earned an extra 40 to 60 euros.
My recommendation is to ask your local colleagues if they know of anyone looking to practice their English. Most residents just want the opportunity to speak to a native speaker. I never taught formal grammar, it was just an hour of conversational English. Due prepare your hour lesson in advance, perhaps divide the hour into four segments such as weekend recap, last week’s review, new topic, and questions. This is the format that I used and it worked perfectly for adults.
I did tutor children, which for me was a bit more difficult, but I just used my school lesson plans, and they worked just fine, plus the children always had fun. You are your own boss, so pick a rate that is fair, you can compare your rate with other teachers in the area. Teaching three to five lesson per week will earn you extra cash for groceries, or shopping, hey even a bus ticket to another city. Give it a shot, you have nothing to loose!
Last but not Least, Get to Know Your City!
There’s nothing worse than running into someone that can’t recommend some things to see or do, especially if they live in the city. Don’t be that person. Step out of your apartment and go explore, it’s okay to “get lost”, if you have a phone, you’ll find your way back, if not, ask a local for some help. I lived in a city that was about 250,000 people. I lived in one of the most liveliest plazas and it was so fun stepping out and wandering the streets, even people watching can be a blast. Shop at the local market, sit out in the main square, browse through the boutiques, go dancing, get your exercise on, speak the local language, and lastly, enjoy!
Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions, I will get more into detail with answers, but in the meanwhile, hopefully this can serve as a basic guide.