Emma Schultz Shares Her Five Year Update

Emma's bio photoThe last half-decade has been a voyage of discovery for Emma Schultz. She has hopped back and forth over the Pond between Spain and the US. The lure of Iberia called to Emma, and it was lovely to meet her again in person in Madrid five years later than the first time. Emma is a Hispanophile who speaks Spanish with the ease of a local, despite her public protestations that her linguistic knowledge is no tanto (not so much). I am so interested in seeing where Emma is in 2021, both physically and emotionally.

Your first article, The Art of Slowing Down, was about relocating to Spain in 2016 and adapting to a new pace of life. Five years later, you’re residing in Spain once more. How much easier is it for you to apply the brakes these days?

In some ways, I feel like it’s easier for me to adapt to a slower pace of life in Spain after living here for five years. Especially when I’ve been here for longer stretches at a time, it comes more naturally. I also find that I’m more flexible about my time and scheduling and feel more relaxed about that being the case than I would have in 2016.

In the same breath, though, I will admit that I still walk very fast by Spanish standards and find that hard to change. I also think that after more time here, I feel more and more comfortable being myself, and I do tend to be more fast-paced than my Spanish counterparts. I think there’s beauty in finding a balance between who I am and the place and culture I’m living in.

In 2017, you experienced the reverse culture shock of returning to Texas and a fresh dose of culture shock upon heading back to Madrid. How disorientating was that for you?

It was very disorienting. There’s something strange about returning home for an extended amount of time and feeling like everything about it is wrong. Even though it’s familiar, it just made my skin crawl because I felt so out of place. It’s also a process of coming to the realization that the only thing that’s changed is you. That can be a beautiful thing. But being nostalgic for the past and missing home, it can be hard to go back and feel like you don’t fit.

Yet, I’d say it’s almost as hard to return to Spain after a long visit home as it is to go home in the first place. Because, without realizing it, you have grown re-accustomed to how things work where you’re from. I felt like I was back on a steep learning curve when I returned to Spain in 2017 after a summer at home.

Four more years later and I still find the back and forth difficult in a lot of ways.

What were the challenges of switching from teaching to studying in 2018?

I place a lot of value on my professional life, so it was difficult for me to feel like I’d lost a part of my identity when I switched to studying Spanish full-time in 2018. But I also love learning and language, so it was a great opportunity to explore those sides of myself more. I was proud that I accomplished my linguistic goals by the end of that year.

A photo of a European building at sunset.

In 2019, you relocated to California. How smoothly did you find the transition from moving from the heart of Spain to the West Coast in the US?”

The summer I returned from living in Spain for three years was full of transition for me. I moved almost everything back to the US, planned a cross-country road trip to get to California, and started grad school. While I probably packed too much into that summer leading up to starting my degree, once I got settled into my place in Monterey, I loved my life there.

My program was rigorous and demanding, but I loved every moment of it. I learned so much more about my chosen field than I ever could have imagined and made some great, lifelong friends along the way.

When you returned to Madrid in January 2020 as a tourist, how much of an itinerary did you have? Were you guided by returning to old haunts? Or stumbling across new finds?”

My return visit to Madrid in January of 2020 was a bit of both. While I didn’t have a strict itinerary I followed day by day, as I sometimes do for other trips I plan, I did certainly have a list of favorite places I wanted to go back to. I also saved time to explore new places, though.

One thing I felt most strongly when I returned was a need to “prove” myself. I was eager for waiters and shop attendants not to see me as a tourist, but rather as someone who belonged. It was important for me to be seen as someone who had lived there before and wouldn’t be grouped in with people on vacation in Madrid for a week. That bit surprised me.

You moved back to Spain in 2021. Where do you see your long-term future and why?”

I came back to Madrid in January of 2021 to finish my master’s degree with an internship in the city. It was a great experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. For now, I’m loving my life in Spain, but as for the future – I’m happy to take things as they come – something that living in Spain has certainly given me the ability to embrace and appreciate.

Emma in front of a beach background

Fast-moving Emma might seem to be pressing pause in Spain. But I know she is always in motion, ready to move onwards and upwards. Her goals continue to be reachable as she strides so purposefully towards them. Go, Emma, go.

by Leesa Truesdell

Samantha LoDuca Shares Her Five Year Update

Sam in front of some water with a city skyline in the backgroundIt has been a whirlwind half-decade for Samantha LoDuca. She has lived in three different countries, got married, and started new jobs. There was so much to catch up on about her life. Samantha has come a long way since I knew her in Madrid as an inquisitive newcomer who wanted to embrace Spanish culture. Five years on, she’s contemplating signing up for Gaelic lessons from her base in Dún Laoghaire, a coastal suburb of Dublin, the Republic of Ireland’s capital.

Your first Dreams Abroad article was an interview with me in October 2016. You revealed that you studied Spanish for eight years in school. How easy was it for you to adjust to the language in Madrid?”

After consecutively studying Spanish for eight years in high school and university, I was really surprised by how much I didn’t know when I arrived in Madrid. Although I had studied the same grammar repeatedly, I didn’t fully understand how to use it until I heard it being used by natives in everyday conversation. Thanks to the lesson style, my speaking and listening skills were really low when I arrived, but I could read and write enough to get by. All those years studying really helped me have a vocabulary that I could pull from when trying to string sentences together — that was really helpful. Other than that, I would say immersion and forcing myself to speak and listen in Madrid is where I gained the rest of my skills. 

In our second interview, you said you didn’t like to play it safe. What was the riskiest thing you did in 2017?”

The riskiest thing I did was decide to stay and teach English for another year in Madrid. I know that doesn’t sound very risky, but it felt risky to me. It was not a very popular decision among some family and friends at the time. They thought I was going abroad for a year-long adventure and then would return to “real” life. They thought delaying my “re-entry into reality” for another year would make going back so much more difficult. They weren’t wrong, but that second year in Madrid was one of the best years of my life. It shaped what I wanted my “reality” to be moving forward, and I’m so glad I made that decision. 

By 2018, you were well into your second year working in a school. How much had you developed as an educator?”

By 2018, I had learned a LOT about teaching. Before moving to Madrid, I had never studied education or worked in a classroom. There was a lot to learn (like managing classrooms, lesson planning, etc.). The most important thing that I learned was that EVERY single child has so much potential and is really excited to learn. When someone stops believing in a child (i.e., teachers, parents, coaches), that is when you see the child lose that excitement and potential. I never ever wanted to do that to the children that I taught. The best part of the job was seeing them get excited about learning. 

By 2019 you were settled back in Chicago. How much was reverse culture shock still having an effect on you?”

The reverse culture shock was SO bad for me. I honestly don’t think it ever fully went away. As I fell in love with Spain’s culture, people, and lifestyle so quickly and easily, I barely noticed that it happened. Coming home, it was so hard to accept that it wasn’t my life anymore. In Chicago, I tried surrounding myself with people that weren’t from the US and eventually started meeting some Spanish people living in the city. It was great! I was able to share my favorite parts of American culture with them. Additionally, they were able to teach me new things about their cultures. We all could connect on what it’s like to be a foreigner living in a new city. 

In 2020 you relocated to Madison. What did you learn most about yourself or life in general there?”

Relocating back to Wisconsin was a really tough decision for me. Chicago had been my home for five years before I moved to Spain. I thought that it would be the obvious choice to return to Chicago when I was moving back. But, after being in Spain, Chicago no longer felt like home. Most of my friends had moved on to new stages of their lives that I wasn’t quite at. 

I had a yearning to be close to my family (something I had never really felt before). There’s a stigma sometimes to moving back home, especially in US culture — so I was combating that too. Luckily, little did I know it was the perfect decision. I moved in with my parents in late January 2020 while I looked for apartments in Madison. 

When COVID hit, I was still apartment hunting, and I realized this is a chance for me to spend an unbelievable amount of time with my parents, something I never thought I’d have again. I lived with them until October. We went through the worst wave of the pandemic together, but we created some really amazing memories together too. 

You moved to Dublin at the beginning of 2021. How difficult was it to do so during a pandemic? Bonus question: Guinness or Murphy’s?”

Yes! Moving internationally during a pandemic is really hard. When we moved to Ireland, the country was in its highest level of lockdown (which meant only essential places, like supermarkets, were open. There was no gathering with anyone outside your household, and you could only travel 5km away from your home). It stayed like that for about five months, and now things are slowly opening up. 

The hardest part for me so far has been not having a chance to meet people and integrate myself into the culture. That’s my favorite part of traveling and living abroad. Now I’m finally able to start doing those things, and I am really excited about it. P.S. I have to say, Guinness!

As Ireland eases back into its laidback way of life, Samantha can’t wait to explore what the country has to offer. She’s looking forward to gaining a more authentic taste of the country, starting with a visit to Cork, Ireland’s second-largest city. There is so much regional diversity to discover within a relatively small space. You can get from one end of the country to another in less than three hours, and Samantha is excited to get to know this miniature paradise better.

by Leesa Truesdell

Morgan Yearout Shares Her Five Year Update

Morgan YearoutSo much has happened in the past five years for
Morgan Yearout. In fact, a lot has happened since her last article in 2020, which reflected on her return home to the United States. Morgan also mentioned that before diving deep into the last five years, it’s still insane for her to fathom that her hop across the pond was that long ago! She uses the moving abroad milestone to benchmark other events in her life and often thinks it was just three years ago… Time sure does fly when living out your dreams!

First, let’s rewind to 2016. What was the most significant thing that you learned?”

The most significant thing I learned in 2016 is we can’t believe all the lies we tell ourselves. In my case, the lie I kept telling myself as I prepared to quit my reliable and engaging corporate role to be a language assistant was: “I will never be gainfully employed doing what I love again.” 

Our brain likes to play tricks on us and magnify the risk tenfold. I’ve learned over time that the more we subject ourselves to “fear-inducing” things, the better equipped we are to challenge our thoughts because we have a personal history of success. I like to call it micro-dosing on my fears. It gets me out of my comfort zone and expands my realm of understanding in many facets of life. Had I trusted those thoughts, I wouldn’t be where I am today with five years of incredible experiences while being gainfully employed doing what I love!

What caused a shift in your thinking in 2017?”

The most significant thing that shifted my thinking is when I started to have grace for myself. I know it’s such a cliché, but honestly, I used to be incredibly critical of myself. I’m naturally a high achiever, and if I missed the mark on something, I’d dwell on it. However, if other people underperformed or let me down, I would rationalize and justify it in their favor. 

The time abroad gave me space from everything I knew to be “true.”  It enabled me to reevaluate my life and the key drivers behind why I was so hyper-critical of myself. I have learned to see the beauty in the messy and be joyful because I’m not ruminating on past transgressions. I now evaluate my snafus for learning with a much kinder lense and move on quickly. 

How will you best remember 2018?” 

I experienced the whole gamut of emotions, from the high highs to the grief-filled lows. My mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer again; a death sentence. I expedited my pop-up wedding in San Diego so that our immediate family could have a vacation together. Despite knowing that this year would be her last, our time was filled with love, and we made beautiful memories. Soon after, I was approved to work remotely. I spent 70% of my first year married back home in WA, tending to mumsie. 

My mom passed away in September, and the support I received from family and friends was immense. I was grateful to have my husband jump on a flight the next day to help me through the grief by being present. I’m not much of a talker when it comes to deep emotions. I mainly just need hugs, time in Mother Nature, and to run. There were many tears shed on the treadmill. 

In 2018, I also celebrated the pregnancy of a friend and my own. I drove cross-country; reuniting with friends and family along the way. I spread my mom’s ashes in Oahu, surrounded by immediate family, and planned her Celebration of Life. I scuba-dived for a second time since becoming Open Water certified. And, I subsequently broke the record for revenue highs at the hotel that I was revenue managing, landing us in the Top 10 of all Texas hotels. See, high highs, and low lows. Life is crazy beautiful, and I always look for the silver lining, especially since I’ve experienced quite a few devastations in my life. 

What was your major personal/professional development of 2019?” 

I grew a baby! That’s a big deal I hear. Professionally, I toyed with the idea of leaving a perfectly fine role to open a newly built Marriott hotel upon returning from FMLA. I reflected on my life with the current property and where I wanted to go long-term. It was a lot of deep contemplation because the team I worked with was incredible, true experts, and great humans! 

It would have been easy to rest on my laurels, but I really didn’t want to keep living the same day on repeat for the next 20-30 years, and I was up for a new challenge. I interviewed a couple of times for the Director of Revenue position at Hotel Drover, an Autograph Collection by Marriott, in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards, and officially started in February 2020.  

Where did 2020 take you?”

I officially started the role of Director of Revenue at Hotel Drover in February of 2020! In retrospect, it was divine timing since COVID-19 hit Texas hard in mid-March. The new hotel was still under construction with limited staff, and plenty of operational planning, budgeting, sales, and system configuration required to prepare for our 2021 Grand Opening. I remained gainfully employed throughout 2020, despite so much hardship in the hospitality industry. 

A central American pyramid

When COVID-19 first hit, our offices closed for a month, allowing me to work from home, an environment I thrive in. I even started taking a daily lunch break, something I rarely do when in an office. This time allowed me to walk my sweet little baby, listen to podcasts, and enjoy nature more frequently. I even found myself logging overtime because of the flexible work environment. It’s easy for me to get carried away on projects and lose track of time when working at home. I become so engrossed with projects that I lose all track of time as a result of interruptions being rare and there not being a looming commute. 

A photo of a swimming pond in Vallodolid, one of the highlights of Morgan's last five years.

We also had friends move in for a few months. We often drove to Houston to visit the in-laws. Constantly surrounding ourselves with company resulted in daily entertainment and a deeper sense of connection than in a typical year. It really makes me think that having multiple generations and/or quality roommates later in adult life isn’t such a bad idea. Another plus was to have extra hands to love our child.

How would you sum up how your life has gone so far in 2021?”

Revenge travel is definitely a thing these days, and I’ve been making up for “lost” time celebrating life and adventuring! I have been to four weddings this year (three domestic and one in Mexico). I jumped on a flight to visit a former language assistant in Arkansas, ventured to Washington to visit friends and family, and celebrated the hubby’s birthday with friends in Fort Lauderdale. Finally, I had a former language assistant and roommate from Madrid visit me, had a childhood best friend visit from WA, attended three baby showers, and welcomed children from dear friends and family into the world! On this personal level, I am so incredibly grateful to be healthy and participate in all these things!

Professionally, we successfully opened Hotel Drover in March 2021! It was no small feat attempting to open a hotel amidst the pandemic, but we did it, and we are honored to welcome many guests each and every day. I shared this labor of love with friends and family during the pre-opening celebration. These types of accomplishments can’t be done without a strong support system, and I am so thankful for those that rallied behind me because heavens knows the past year wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. 

Taking the time to slow down and reflect deeply on the last five years has been insightful for Morgan. This interview allowed her to look in from the outside. Reviewing her thoughts at length for pivotal decision times and visualizing the “most” impactful scenes, as if in real-time, has been hard on occasion. However, Morgan still finds herself smiling with gratitude because she is so proud of the evolution of her mind and the strength of her heart over the past five years. The journey has been a wild one and Morgan will continue to dream big dreams and challenge her fears with proof of success from lived experiences. They say “proof is in the pudding” and Morgan couldn’t agree more. 

by Dreams Abroad

Justin Hughes-Coleman Shares His Five Year Update

August 2021 has arrived. It has been five years since the events that lead to the birth of
Dreams Abroad at a Spanish language school, TANDEM. To recognize this anniversary, we have asked founding members to look back at each year in turn. What have they learned? Where has their life taken them? Do they still work abroad or work remotely?

I remember meeting Justin Hughes-Coleman for the first time in Madrid, on a sweltering day in the Spanish capital. My initial impression of his character was of a reserved but, at the same time, happy-go-lucky individual. He exuded a warm, bubbly personality with a lust for life and a smile that bounced off every wall in a room. Getting to know him better, I discovered more complexities webbed throughout Justin. He is an intricately layered professional who has known his fair share of pain as much (if not more) as pleasure.

Let’s rewind to 2016 first. What was the most significant thing you learned that year?”

During 2016 I learned that if I shift my focus to my goals and break down those goals into smaller achievements, I could live the life I want. Getting to Spain required so many little and big things to be in place, from finances to storing my belongings. Actually, living in Spain opened up another world of goals. My passion has been to travel and explore the world. Now I am focused on making that a long-term, sustainable lifestyle. 

What caused a shift in your thinking in 2017?”

During my second year in Spain, I tried to focus on both maximizing my limited time left in Spain while also planning for the future. I knew I wanted to have a career I could work remotely in so that I had the option to travel. During 2017 I networked with many technology professionals to find a career path that suits my desired lifestyle. 

How do you best remember 2018?”

Bittersweet! In June 2018 I left Spain. I ended a chapter of my life that I never thought I would experience and that changed me forever. In Spain, I made incredible friends that are still close to me to this day. My students and teachers sending me off in style is something I won’t ever forget. I will also remember 2018 as the year I realized I really need to put my goals first or else I will never achieve them. 

Justin in 2018 with friends

What was your major professional development of 2019?”

I enrolled in a professional technology program that was supposed to lead to a job in the tech industry. It was meant to be the first step to living abroad long term. The boot camp was in Data Science and I was instantly immersed in a new world. I’ve really enjoyed the field so far. Not only is it challenging and innovative, but it also has a real-world impact. 

A photo of computer code.

Where did 2020 take you?”

My boot camp concluded a mere month before the pandemic so I really struggled to find a job. I was offered two positions that were later rescinded. Eventually, I took a step back and started doing more freelance projects just to keep my skills up to date. 

How would you sum up how your life has gone so far in 2021? Have you begun to work remotely?”

First and foremost, I am very fortunate. No one in my life suffered from COVID and I had the financial means to not need to worry about money during the pandemic. At the moment I do feel a little lost as I am still looking for a permanent full-time position in my field. However, I am committed to moving this year and my area of specialty allows me to work remotely. I am exploring American cities that will make a good home base for my travels. Right now I’m looking at Atlanta, GA, Miami, FL, and New Orleans, LA. Any feedback on any of these places is greatly appreciated!

Justin sitting outside during sunset, ready to start work remotely

Justin left Spain three years ago. However, his Iberian memories still burn bright. Moving forward, Justin has plans to discover his native country more by securing a position that allows him to work remotely. We wish him the best of luck and look forward to hearing about his next five years and beyond. Dreams Abroad is honored that Justin was one of our first members and we appreciate all his contributions.

by Leesa Truesdell

Leesa Truesdell Shares Her Five Year Update After Living Abroad


As August 2021 approaches and the world slowly opens again, I smile about the happy memories leading up to the moments before, during, and while living abroad in Madrid, Spain. After living abroad for a year, I began working and then didn’t stop. Then, the pandemic approached while I was moving to start the next phase of my life in a new city. The world feels different now and might remain this way for quite some time. What we must not forget is that life will always have ups and downs. It is in those moments of uncertainty that we truly understand our character. Our most trying times are sometimes the best, at least for me they are. I’ve thought a lot as my life has changed drastically over these last five years and this is what I would like to highlight.  

How do professionals who want to travel, work, study and/or move abroad handle a change? Here are the first five answers that came to mind after living abroad. There has been one for each year since August of 2016. 

Year One: 2016-2017 

My Arrival — Go With the Flow Because Nothing Feels Normal

I arrived in Spain on a sultry August day. I didn’t expect things to be like the USA. However, I also did not feel equipped to understand how different the culture and lifestyle is from the American way of life. It’s the complete, total opposite. Americans appreciate a more fast-paced way of life and thinking (especially the younger generation). We have three meals a day, generally. The traditional family eats dinner at night. It’s a bigger meal than lunch. In Spain, it felt like everything was “traditional.” Let’s face it, they’re the land that conquered many others. So, in reality, their way of life and thinking is very conventional in a sense. It’s family-driven and lunch is at 2 PM. It’s the largest meal of the day, and don’t forget your siesta. I felt so turned around but eventually managed to accept the things I couldn’t control and embrace them. 

Year Two: 2017-2018 

The Passing of Tata and Life After Living Abroad

The Resilience Abroad series started when I lived in Madrid. While I was grieving about the loss of Tata, I was also reflecting on what she meant to me and how her living memory would never be forgotten. At the time, I was in a foreign place. I didn’t know it back then, but I was living the life I was supposed to. I was grieving abroad and blessed with time to get to know myself better for the latter half of what was to come that year. 

Later that November, I moved back to my college hometown and began work in a field that was new to me. In this role, I worked around the clock either in my mind or physically at work. It was the job where I took home the issues that went unresolved. I thought about them all the time when not working. Hence, around the clock.  I didn’t realize this while it was happening, but not only was I still grieving, I also experienced the opposite again.

Reverse Culture Shock

I was re-learning the American way of life but now it felt more intense because I had just experienced living abroad during my first real experience with death. While I had been resilient, I hadn’t learned about reverse culture shock. It’s real and somehow I was too busy to see the signs. I had put myself in a situation where I ignored signs and tried to move on the best way I knew how. This job enabled me to focus on work at the expense of these larger issues in my life. 

Unfortunately, I focused too much on the new work to understand the complexity of reverse culture shock. I couldn’t explain the reverse of what was happening to me and didn’t know it at the time. Instead, I tried my best to adapt to a new job in a location that was nowhere near what it resembled before I left for Madrid. The experience changed me. Moving back to a city I once knew and outgrew wasn’t a recipe for success. Live and learn. 

Year Three: 2018-2019 

Complacency is Not OK. Speak Up and Do Your Best.

I knew I was trying my best not to downsize the person I had become and the person I wanted to be. Living in the same place again while losing who I was made me feel complacent. One thing I knew for sure was that my core principles and integrity would never be compromised. I was tested on multiple occasions. Sometimes, when you’re given tests in life, you realize later on that passing might not be feasible. If the test is rigged from the beginning and you are answering the questions correctly, then there might be something else going on. 

Pay to play happens frequently in the states. It’s unfortunate. I spoke up about this repeated inadequacy that I was seeing and instead of getting a thank you, I got a no thank you. Sometimes, life doesn’t respond the way we expect when we follow the moral code we’ve had since elementary school. In our formative years, we’re taught “stranger danger,” D.A.R.E., and how to be a good person. The end result was a tough concept for me to wrap my head around. I lead with principle and teach others to be honest and respectful. Speaking up will always be the best decision I ever make, no matter the consequences. 

Year Four: 2019- 2020 

Accept the Things you Cannot Change and Move on as Quickly as Possible. Life is Calling. Pick up the Phone. 

What I’ve learned is that the past is the past and you can’t change it. You can be bitter and resent something that you can’t change or you can move on and perhaps be a positive influence. It’s easier said than done. You get scars, and the record plays over and over in your mind on how you could have fixed it. But, in time, you learn after one full record or two that it’s time to let go and live for now. 

The transition from 2019 to 2020 was a tough year. The pandemic didn’t make it any easier, but Dreams Abroad did. I focused my energy on all of the positive things I saw in the people who made my life better through this effort. This included the last trip I took before the pandemic. This was the most important trip of my life, and the one I kept putting off because I didn’t have the time allotted. This life event was the most meaningful and therapeutic — the one I needed to take the next step in my life. Don’t wait too long — when life is calling — pick up the phone.

Dreams Abroad became the uplifting resource I needed when others were contributing each week. Thank you to those of you who are reading, your articles not only assisted our community, but they spoke to me too. 

Year Five: 2020-2021 

Embrace Change

I moved to Washington, DC, and learned that the program I moved for wasn’t exactly the best fit. Maybe it would have been had the instruction and research been face-to-face but, hey, it’s OK to say no and move onto the next chapter. If what you thought isn’t serving you, move on as quickly as you can. Many of us can say that the pandemic has closed doors and opened new ones. Embrace it. I’ve learned that what will be will be. Sometimes things are within our control and they aren’t. Recognize the two and embrace change. Remember to always keep the go-with-the-flow mindset if at all possible. We’re halfway through 2021 and things are opening up again. We can do this. 

Wrap Up

Dreams Abroad has become something more than just a website. The last five years after living abroad have been a way for me to meet like-minded, talented individuals of all ages, backgrounds, and principled belief systems. Each person that I have interacted with has touched my life. For that, I feel forever grateful. Nothing can ever replace the loss of a loved one. It’s been one of the hardest things in my life. There is no manual on how to handle your situation. 

One thing I know for certain is that working with this tight-knit group has given me new memories. I feel so very blessed to have found the lives of so many fulfilling and achieving their dreams. It makes my heart smile and soul feel more alive than ever before. This is what makes a good day, good. This is why we are still here after all of this time. 

We want to hear from you! If you want to be a part of our team or have a resource to contribute to our website, please contact us.

by Leesa Truesdell

Looking Back: How to Teach English in Thailand

Eric Haeg Course Director of TEFL Campus

Interview with Eric Haeg

The first time we met Eric Haeg, TEFL Campus Phuket Course Director, the world was a very different place. It was July 2nd, 2019, and the pages of The New York Times weren’t dominated by COVID-19. Instead, they were going big on the USA beating England in the FIFA Women’s World Cup to reach the final (spoiler alert: they went on to win that too). 

Another good news story from the UK’s The Guardian.  They gleefully shared the news of the German defense minister becoming head of the European Commission and French politician/lawyer Christiane Lagarde assuming the presidency of the European Central Bank. “Women to head top EU institutions for First Time” splashed across the headlines.

Eric himself has changed since our initial meeting, at least in terms of appearance. Gone is his distinctive bushy beard. He’s now as fresh-faced as a schoolboy. Eric’s debut article was all about teaching English in Thailand, so let’s find out what else has changed since July 2019. 

The last time we spoke you were in Phuket, Thailand. Where in the world are you now?”

My family and I left Phuket for a one-month vacation to the States back on March 3rd. More than eight months later, we’re still here in Minnesota because Thailand closed its borders to international travelers in April. While we are now eligible to get back on repatriation flights chartered by the Thai government, we have to stay here due to the US$12,000 price tag. We’ll be able to return once our airline can honor our return flights, and the cost of mandatory quarantine accommodation goes down. It’s ultimately put a pause on my ability to help teach English in Thailand.

When heading to teach English in Thailand, you'll be met with the age-old departure sign

How have you adapted to relocating while waiting to go back to Thailand?”

I’d like to think I’ve adapted well. Most of the credit to my wife’s unofficial sainthood, and my children’s ability to adapt to major life changes like little champs — including having to enroll in US schools! I also feel my 16 years of living in Thailand has helped me deal with accepting things that are well outside my control. An added benefit has been my new-found appreciation for living in the West. My time away has provided a much-needed perspective, allowing me to appreciate just how good we have it here in the States. 

What are you missing most from not being able to teach English in Thailand?

I miss being able to interact with TEFL course trainees the most. I’ve always loved exchanging ideas with the cosmopolitan groups of trainees we used to train every month. Unfortunately, I haven’t had those exchanges for quite some time now. I also miss our Thai ELLs and the laughs they provided during class. 

thai students abroad
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

Following your own experiences, what advice would you give your others about how to teach English in Thailand?”

My best advice now is the same as it has been for years: do not come into any school and start thinking you’re going to change anything when you come to teach English in Thailand. There’s no shortage of things that desperately need to change, but trying to affect change as a foreigner is never going to work out well. When you’re met with challenges, decide if it’s something you can accept or not. If you can accept it, stay where you are and make the best of it. If you can’t, remember that no one’s making you stay.  

What effect do you think the pandemic has had on teaching English abroad in Thailand?”

Because Thailand has had virtually no COVID cases since mid-June, everyday school life is pretty much back to normal. However, there have been major changes affecting air-travel restrictions, entry requirements, and visas. Those hoping to teach English in Thailand in the near future need to conduct extensive research into these changes and ensure they can afford the added expenses associated with new regulations. As just one example, foreigners need to prove that they have insurance with COVID coverage of at least US$10,000.

TEFL in Thailand

To what extent will this lead to new remote teaching positions for foreigners?”

Based on what I’ve seen from our trainees, there are those who want to teach in a classroom, and there are those who want to teach online, with very few in the middle. Perhaps there’ll be a spike in online teaching until borders open, but once they do, there’ll be a flood of teachers into Thailand from those who’ve been waiting to get in. 

A laptop and tablet on a video call

Why teach English in Thailand or abroad? What are the pluses?”

The pluses are largely down to each individual and what they want to get out of it. For me, the plusses are prolonged, meaningful, and rewarding exposure to foreign cultures. Living abroad forces one to challenge so many of our culturally-ingrained assumptions, and I think that those challenges help us build a better understanding, or better perspective, of how other cultures see the world. A lot of people, certainly not just Americans, could use a bit of this perspective. 

And the negatives?”

I think the negatives are related to the positives. So many of the new teachers I’ve met since 2004 simply cannot adapt to, or accept the cultural differences to which they’re being exposed. They experience culture shock and can’t deal with it, or they’re stubborn and refuse to make basic compromises. I’ve also seen cases where prospective EFL teachers simply didn’t do enough research on their host country and found themselves living in a place for which they were never ready. We all have to learn from our mistakes, but some mistakes prove more costly than others. Moving abroad, only to relocate or return home, isn’t cheap. 

A plane taking off into the sunset. Take the leap to teach English in Thailand.

What has been the biggest single influence on your career and why?

When I come across tough situations at work, I often ask myself, “What would Pete do?” He was the Course Director of my TEFL certification course back in 2004. He believed in my abilities and offered me my first position as a course trainer in 2008. In all the time I interacted with him, he was unflappable, and probably the most patient supervisor I’ve ever had. I don’t always do what he would have done, but when I don’t, I usually wish I had. 

Old Phuket is one of the many perks of going abroad to teach English in Thailand

Finally, you previously revealed to us that you chose Phuket because it sounded like f*ck it. When was the last time you uttered this expletive and why?”

Ironically, it was probably when I decided to buy tickets for my family vacation back to the US. Both decisions had me staying far longer than I had anticipated. My “Phuk-et” approach to world travel has proven to be a vicious cycle — and I wouldn’t change it for the world. 

At Dreams Abroad, we treat our members like family. It’s always great to catch up with them to see what’s been happening with their lives. If you’d like to join, drop us a line.

Training at Police Academy After Teaching Abroad

Ryan Gomez during Police Academy training

Ryan and I met when he called my office looking for information about his visa paperwork for his 2018-2019 Language and Culture Assistant position in Bocairent, Spain. It was the first and last time anybody asked me this type of question while working in this position. Fortunately, it wasn’t the last time I heard from Ryan. While we were on the call, I was able to take his contact information and we soon became Dreams Abroad colleagues for life. Ryan said goodbye to both FSU and Tallahassee, and hola to a place in the Spanish sun. Two years passed since Ryan left to teach abroad. Let’s have a look at what Ryan has been up to since he left that August on his Iberian adventure to Spain. After settling in and readjusting back to life in the States, Ryan has an update on his past year.

How has life been since moving back to the US and starting work at the Plantation Police Department?

“I’ve been back in the US for over a year now. I think it’s safe to say I’m back in the swing of things. From the day I moved back home, I had been putting all my focus into getting hired by a city, preparing for the Police Academy, getting through the Police Academy, and now trying to learn how to properly do this job at the Plantation Police Department. My life has been very focused and goal-oriented over the past year. I’ve been able to have some fun with my friends in between (you know… before the whole COVID business), but there’s always been something in my schedule with a strict deadline.”

How was the Police Academy and training?

“One of the cool things about this job is that the training never ends. There is always something to work on to better hone your skills. It’s one of the factors that drove me to this profession.

Physically, the Police Academy helped put me in the best shape of my life. We were doing physical training every day. I could’ve filled buckets with all the sweat, haha. The defensive tactics training we received was a little outdated, but it was a good foundation for helping to get comfortable going hands-on with another person and learning to control your breathing and adrenaline. We received a ton of firearms training as well, which was pretty cool because I had only fired guns a handful of times before the Academy.

Ryan with his class from police academy

BUT, even though learning about fighting and shooting was a lot of fun, it was always stressed to the cadets that our ability to communicate and de-escalate is our greatest weapon. Talking to different types of people in various scenarios is something I get to do every day at this job.”

What are your aspirations after you finish up at the Police Academy?

“My Academy class had only three weeks left before COVID-19 hit us. It ended up taking another three months to graduate… which really sucked. Regardless, when it was all said and done, I finished 2nd overall in the class. I even received the Academic Excellence award for having the highest GPA in the class. Woohoo!

I’m currently in Phase Three of Field Training. The Police Academy was a controlled environment. This is the real deal. The streets don’t wait for you to get over the growing pains of learning a new trade. My only aspirations at this point are to get through field training and learn how to do better at this job. The veterans tell me it takes about five years before you actually feel like you have a firm grip on being a police officer. I’ve been a cop for  21 eleven-and-a-half hour shifts… I have a LONG way to go.”

How has living in Florida been during COVID-19?

“Living in South Florida during COVID-19 has been a disaster. Everything I like to do to unwind has been shut down. Beaches closed. My gym closed. Bars closed. Sports are coming back a little bit but were gone for months. Concerts canceled. There might not be football this year! Meeting new people in 2020 was never a thing. I can’t wait till we get this election out of the way in November so life can go back to normal. I don’t even care who wins at this point. Only in America can people politicize a pandemic.”

Ryan in Spain with friends before going to police academy

How has your Spanish helped in your new job?

“Practicing Spanish definitely took a hit during my time in the Police Academy. Most of the time and energy I used doing Rosetta Stone and watching telenovelas was spent studying for the Academy. Nevertheless, my current level of Spanish has helped immensely on the job. I’ve used more Spanish in the past six weeks than I had since moving back to the US. I can’t conduct a long, confusing investigation, and can’t really tell when somebody is lying to me in Spanish… but I can do basic communicating. I understand like 60% of what is being said to me. Being able to speak another language has helped keep me, and fellow officers, safer in at least two dangerous situations up to this point. I’m excited to continue learning. Spanish might save my life someday.”

What do you miss most about Bocairent, Spain?

“The simplicity. The mountains. The eight-hour nature hikes. The cheap alcohol. The sound of people speaking castellano around me. Giving blind trust to strangers.”

Ryan in Spain before going to Police Academy

Did that experience help you become a better person? After being back, do you still feel the same as you did in the quote above?

“I’m a better, more holistic person as a result of my experience abroad. No doubt. And yeah, I’d say I still feel the same as I did in that old quote. Having patience and being comfortable in uncomfortable situations is a vital part of my job now. Eight out of every ten people I talk to on the street are lying to my face. Even though I know they’re giving me the runaround and wasting everyone’s time, you have to take them for their word and let them communicate their side of the story across.

It takes a lot of patience. And I can’t think of any other profession where you can see a drowned toddler, a woman with a swollen face defending the guy who beat her up, and a drunk dude driving 98 in a 40 with two babies and an AK-47 in the backseat… all within the same shift. We come across countless uncomfortable situations and have to be professional through it all. My time abroad has helped me better manage my emotions.”

How did the experience change your outlook on life?

“My outlook on life has become simpler as a result of my experience. Thanks to the Police Academy, I’m in the best shape of my life. I have a great family and a small, solid group of friends. I have a career that challenges me every day. Plus, I drive a 2020 Jeep Wrangler. And once the country opens back up, I can start having hobbies again. Life is great!”

Has it impacted your relationships at work, home and all of the above?

“For sure. I’ve been a genuinely happier person since coming back from Spain. I think that good energy rubs off on everyone.”

Ryan with a group of friends

Do you plan to visit your school and village in the future when travel gets back to normal?

“The first thing I’m doing once I’m off my probationary period (one year from my swear-in date) is booking a two-week vacation to Spain. I want to see my family again. Also, I want to visit some of the places I didn’t get to see last year. And of course, I have to make my grand return to Bocairent and see all my friends from school. The auxiliar who was assigned there last year didn’t end up going. I’m literally the only one to ever show up. That’s why I will forever be a legend there, at least in my own eyes.”

Ryan Gomez is one example of our team members who have returned home and changed their careers. He’s a part of our Dreams Abroad alumni network and will be forever. For more information on how to join our team or share your story, reach out to us. We look forward to hearing from you.

by Leesa Truesdell

Returning to the United States: My Life Story Continues

By Morgan Yearout

WOW! I have so much to be grateful for since leaving Madrid three years ago. I joyfully reflect on my time abroad while also appreciating all that has transpired since returning to the motherland. Here is an inside look at the evolution of my life since returning to the United States.

What have you been up to since returning to the United States? 

“I married an incredible man. We did a pop-up marriage ceremony at the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in San Diego, CA with our immediate family! I helped my Momma as she fought against Pancreatic Cancer and once she passed, spread her ashes in Oahu. I joined a bowling league for a season with my dad and had weekly daddy-daughter dates at the golf course. While in Washington, I hiked, boated, camped, and enjoyed wineries. I drove cross country three times; twice solo and the other time with my cousin.

During the trips, I was able to reconnect with loved ones and enjoyed pit stops in Arches National Park, Antelope Canyon, and Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf! I am working towards my private pilot’s license, but still have quite a way to go. I’ve also been able to celebrate family and friends’ life milestones of getting a house, engaged, married, and/or having a baby! Life has continued to be one big adventure since returning to the United States.

After returning the the United States, Morgan married her new husband at the Sunset Cliffs in San Diego.

With regards to my career, I worked two and a half years as a Regional Senior Director of Revenue for The Lumen and a stunning, independently owned luxury hotel in downtown Dallas called The Joule. I also had the privilege of overseeing the Reservations Team for the two properties. During my tenure, The Joule ranked Top 10 in RevPAR (a key metric in the hotel industry) for Texas hotels. Additionally, I developed my replacement prior to departing. I have since left and am privileged to be part of the opening team of Hotel Drover, a newly built Autograph Collection by Marriott hotel, in the heart of the Fort Worth Stockyards! We are set to open in late 2020 and could not be more excited to welcome guests from near and far!”

How has your life changed since returning to the United States from Spain? 

“The major change has been returning to a full-time career in Revenue Management that I love. I really enjoyed my year in Spain teaching English, traveling incessantly, and living with a host family, but there is something so pivotal about working in a field that you are passionate about day in and day out! Traveling has slowed a bit and I am coincidentally more rooted and enjoying “domestication,” too. I am at peace with where life is and enjoy the “mundane” of walks around the neighborhood, home projects of painting the walls, staining the pergola, building furniture, laying new flooring, eradicating fire ant mounds, playing yard games, etc.”

What is the biggest difference between your life in Madrid versus Dallas? 

“Prior to living in Madrid, I felt super uneasy, as if I was “settling” for the big-city rat race of a 9-5, despite loving the work I did. I had a nice house, nice car, a motorcycle, lovely relationships, etc. You know, checking all the boxes so to speak. Nonetheless, I felt as though there were personal interests that I would leave unexplored by committing to that lifestyle for.ev.er. I also grew up with an immense amount of self-imposed pressure to excel at anything and everything that I did. So much so, that I withheld personal grace and had not fully invested time and energy into self-exploration.

Picture of a waterfall taken while Morgan was on a hike after returning to the United States 

Moving to Madrid allowed me to detach from the “supposed-to-dos” and be on an adventure of self-reflection while also immersing myself into other lifestyles. Madrid provided the space, time, and slower pace of life to wrestle with my cognitive dissonance; providing the freedom to dig deep into who I really am. Through the process of deciphering, breaking down, and rebuilding long-standing beliefs, I removed layers of shame and self-imposed expectations. It was incredibly hard, but also freeing. The self-work continues until this day.

Another key difference is that despite Madrid being more densely populated than Dallas, my lifestyle there felt much more relaxed. I really enjoyed the commutes via metro because I was able to read so much! In Dallas, I drive an hour each way for work, and it requires me to be hyper-focused in order to preserve my life. I listen to podcasts and audibles, but it is not the same as leisurely reading while riding the metro.”

What do you miss most about life in Madrid? 

“I alluded to it above, but I definitely miss the pace of life and the metro as a main form of transportation. I also really enjoyed all the green space amidst exciting eateries, shopping, art, pop-up markets, etc. Living in the Dallas area, a commute is required most of the time to experience those things since it is not very affordable to live in the city.”

A picture of lily pads in Seattle that Morgan took after returning to the United States

How did living in Spain change or enhance your professional life

“It helped me settle into myself and acknowledge that I am not a person to yield sub-par results. Instead, I’ve learned to be kind to myself and really tap into my energy levels. For example, when I am feeling super creative, I channel that towards creative, thoughtful work. When I am feeling low on energy, I do mundane and less critical tasks. When I feel super energized, I use that energy to crank through projects that I may have been avoiding and need to hone in on to bring to completion. Spain gave me a year to fully know myself, practice self-awareness, give me courage to maintain my identity in the workplace, and speak up when things are unjust.”

What does your professional life entail now? 

“I am a Director of Revenue for Hotel Drover in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. The hotel is under construction and set to open in late 2020! We are currently selling rooms and event space for the first half of 2021 and will continue to roll in inventory as we draw nearer to next year. 

We are embarking on mass hiring in preparation for the hotel’s opening as well. I will aid in the interview and onboarding process and am excited to welcome many new faces to the team! It is incredible that Hotel Drover can provide job opportunities despite the world being wrought by dire times.”

What do you enjoy most about living in Dallas? 

“To me, it is not about where you live that makes a place enjoyable; it is the relationships you foster. I really enjoy the friendships inside and outside of the workplace that I have been able to cultivate over the years. It also helps that Dallas is unbearably cold to me for only two months out of the year, allowing me to gallivant outdoors often! “

Morgan walking across a bridge with her husband.

Have you traveled since returning to the United States? If so, where did you go and what did you do? 

“I have! I went on three cross-country drives, as I mentioned before, two of which were solo. During those trips I traversed through Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas. I have done several trips within Washington, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma, as well. 

I went to Oahu and hiked, lounged on beautiful beaches, scuba dived, attended an immersive luau hosted by the Polynesian Cultural Center, and ate lots of delicious seafood. We ate and hiked our way around San Francisco with friends. While in San Diego for my wedding, we had a couple of fancy feasts, hiked, enjoyed beaches and visited the San Diego Zoo. I have spent time with family in and around Portland, Oregon. Hoyt Arboretum and the beach in Newport, Oregon are great! I ventured to Minneapolis for a work trip. Additionally, I went to Florida for a girl’s trip in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando for a friend’s wedding.”After returning to the United States, Morgan visited Antelope Canyon and took a picture of a natural skylight.

Morgan at Antelope Canyon after returning to the United States.

What does the year ahead hold for you? 

“I am focusing on opening Hotel Drover so we can welcome guests! Personally, I will continue to appreciate mother nature and the great outdoors. I remain active with running, working out, and meandering down trails. I enjoy cooking, engaging in beach activities, riding my motorcycle, as well as educating myself on racism, politics, and police reform. Social distancing is also important to me. We have new roommates and enjoy family time as a way to break up our routine.

We do have a trip planned for Aruba this year, but we shall see if that happens. One of my cousins is planning on getting married in Washington as well, so hopefully we can have some family bonding time up there come this Fall! Overall, this is a year of taking it as it comes and enjoying the slower pace of life. I have been embracing the lack of “control” over plans.”

Statue of a horse with mountains in the background

Morgan has not slowed down since returning to the United States three years ago. She is preoccupied with the opening of Hotel Drover in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards while leveraging her energy levels to complete a variety of tasks. Morgan has grown more accepting of things she cannot change and embraces the outdoors as the pandemic alters travel plans and traditional socialization activities. She is utilizing this year’s slower pace to educate, invest into her wellbeing, and complete home improvement projects.

Moving Abroad While Pursuing My Dream


Au Pair Madrid Spain Amanda WhittenAmanda Whitten has been a writer for Dreams Abroad since September 2017. During the 2020 Coronavirus lockdown in Madrid, Spain, she had plenty of time on her hands after moving abroad and living there for several years. She has given teach abroad interviews before, but we wanted to share her experiences moving abroad while pursuing her dreams, too. Amanda is from Oklahoma and has been abroad in Madrid since 2016. She is currently a language and culture assistant at a school in a town called Leganés and is pursuing her dream of living abroad in a different country. 

She was asked similar questions that we ask our first-year teachers but we are still excited to hear about her experience!

When did you arrive in Madrid?

“I first arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in mid-September 2016. I’ve been here for about three-and-a-half years.”

Why did you choose to teach abroad in Spain?

“I chose to teach abroad in Spain for a number of reasons. First, Spanish was the language that I had chosen to learn by default — my high school only offered Spanish. The university I attended offered several languages, but Spanish was the only one with a full major. Because of that, I knew that I wanted to go to a Spanish-speaking country. I studied abroad during 2012 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and I became aware that they offered teach abroad programs around the world. Since I had already been to South America, I decided against applying to teach in Chile. I came to the decision that my destiny lied ins Spain.”

Had you ever taught before? 

best memory at EAFIT

“Technically, I had taught one or two classes when I completed my practicum after earning my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. Other than that, I was wildly inexperienced and clueless.”

If not, what were you doing before you decided on moving abroad?  

“I had known for the latter part of my teens and my twenties that I wanted to go somewhere special like Spain to teach English. My best friend’s parents had mentioned it to me in passing when I was in college around the time I was 18 or 19. They explained that I could go practically anywhere in the world to do so and get paid for it. I felt intrigued, and the idea stuck to my brain ever since.

I knew for a long time that I wanted to try moving abroad. From 18 until 28, and until I finally accomplished The Dream, I worked in everything from pizza to retail to social services. It finally dawned on me when I turned 26 or 27 that I was going to be 30 soon and that I somehow had to make it all happen. Hello, extra credit card debt! It’s hard to save up for something that feels like an unattainable goal. That being said, before I left, I did manage to save up a little bit for expenses. Now, I fortunately have everything paid off. It was a good investment.”

What did you think teaching abroad would be like? Where are you teaching? 

“I had very vague ideas about everything. I have to admit that I didn’t actually do a lot of research about Spain. In college, I wrote practically all of my essays and papers about Argentina. I had this very broad, ideal notion that moving abroad would be very dreamy and poetic and that all the men would act and look like young Antonio Banderas, which I think I mentioned in another one of my articles.

When one of my friends suggested that I save up, take a vacation, and go to Spain first to see how I liked it, I felt flabbergasted. I mean, how could I obviously not fall in love with Spain? It was, like, in Europe?!?! All I could imagine was the running with the bulls (which I am now ironically staunchly against), afternoon siestas, lots of walking (which wasn’t far off base haha!), and street-side cafes with terraces and outdoor seating.”

How did you prepare for your teaching abroad job? What steps did you take? 

“I prepared by getting my TEFL a couple of years ahead of time. When actually packing my suitcases, I brought some things from home to show the students (like a yearbook and US dollars). I think planning a bit more would have been a good thing. Nonetheless, the whole venture was so overwhelming and exciting, that I basically just winged everything.”

teaching abroad

What are your perceptions of Madrid?

“My perceptions have evolved somewhat over time. I’m in quarantine now because of the Coronavirus. Something that gave me a sense of pride and belonging happened when people started clapping and cheering outside their windows and doors as a sign of respect and support for healthcare workers every night at 8:00pm. The solidarity is amazing and I have a new-found respect for this city.

Aside from that, Madrid is fast-paced. They are not as generous with their tapas and tap water as other cities such as Granada. The air often has a lot of contamination. It is a multicultural metropolis with an amazing history, jaw-dropping architecture, and a lot to do. Rent is high, but groceries are cheap. There are bad people here, like in any place, but I also feel very safe and secure here. I’m glad to be here, but I definitely am looking forward to possibly changing regions in exchange for a slower pace of life and new, rich experiences.”

What are your goals while you are abroad? How have they changed over the years?

“In the beginning, I thought that I would spend a year abroad, and that would be that. I would move back to the US, buy a house, and adopt a dog. I still have those illusions, but a year has become nearly four, and I don’t really know what is going to happen next. If Bernie Sanders wins somehow and Medicare-for-all gets passed, I might really move back home.

As it is, I have become accustomed to having my taxes count for something that tangibly affects me in a very positive way. I’m also in love with the easy, cheaper travel and the lifestyle that I lead here. It’s really nice, and I don’t have to worry about the disaster waiting for me around every corner. This is not to say that I don’t love the United States. I do, but for right now, all of this is better for me personally.”

Update: Welp. That idea is out the window (concerning Bernie Sanders). Is there still any hope at all out there for a single-payer healthcare system for the US?

What has been the most difficult since you arrived? 

Amanda Whitten art“I would say that navigating the unspoken, unwritten rules of Spanish society and culture that are a given to anyone actually from here has been the most challenging. Example: If you don’t greet every single person that you come across at the school or if every time you enter or exit a room you don’t give a general Hola/Buenos dias/Hasta luego, you will come across as a cold, rude person. This was a mistake that I made constantly for the first year that I was here and even after I learned. I continued to make this error because it’s hard to change a lifetime of little habits.

Second example: I didn’t know that as a new person, I would have to try to ingratiate myself into the lives of Spaniards. I was accustomed to living within a culture where people make an effort to include the new person, where the responsibility does not lie with them, but the veterans of whatever place that they are new to. My advice to newcomers moving abroad is to bring treats like little croissants or pastries to the break room. Make conversation and put yourself out there! Spanish people are so very friendly, but we have to navigate their norms. We are in their country, after all. 

Life Under Quarantine

Another challenge has been enduring quarantine while in Madrid. It’s a big city so it’s taking us longer than other places to return to a more normal life. If I were at home in Oklahoma, I’d be able to go outside into the woods. A positive from this uncertain time is that it’s given me a chance to reestablish good habits and to start new projects. I’ve been making art projects and investing time in myself.

For example, I finally dusted off my old watercolor paints from college, started painting with them. I made a Facebook album titled “Quarantine Art” that I’ve filled up with paintings. One of my favorites is an elephant that I think perfectly captures the melancholy that I was feeling at the time. It’s simultaneously pretty to look at, if I do say so myself.  In addition to that, I made an album called “Quarantine Rainbows” because I noticed during this long stay-cation that I seem to see a lot of rainbows from the window of my room. It kinda makes me happy to randomly look up and see an unexpected rainbow there. I wanted to share that feeling with other people. Therefore, I’ve included a couple of photos in this blog for you to see, as well.”

What has been the best experience?

“Before the quarantine began, I would have had to choose between scuba diving in Malta or navigating the island of Tenerife solo. But the applause and solidarity that I mentioned above happened in a moment of anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. It may not have just been the best experience that I’ve had in Spain, but perhaps in my entire life. I’ve never felt something so grand — something that was so much bigger than myself — in my life. It encompassed all of the experiences that I’ve had in Spain as well as a few in my life before. Before this, I had never quite felt at home in Madrid or that I fit in quite as well as I’d wanted, but now it really feels like home.”

How do you feel about the culture so far? Do you feel like you have immersed yourself into the culture?

“I speak English almost every day at high school and I live with people who are originally from Ecuador. I would say that I immersed myself most when I was an au pair for a short time in 2017, where I learned a lot about Spanish culture and the lifestyle of the mid- to high-rollers. It would be very beneficial for my Spanish speaking skills to work for a while as a waitress or at a supermarket, but I have to admit that I am afraid to do that.

I’m afraid of making customers or coworkers upset by fumbling my Spanish or not understanding them correctly. I already worked in customer service in the US, and it was horrible!!! I can’t imagine doing it through my second language. But, I’m getting a little off track. No, I don’t feel like I’ve truly immersed myself. Nonetheless, I’m living the life that I want, and I get to experience a little bit of everything. That’s much more than enough for me.”

Wrap Up of Moving Abroad While Pursuing My Dream

Amanda is waiting to hear if she will continue her role as a language and culture assistant. She has applied for a different location in the Canary Islands as her first choice. The placement letter will inform her as to if her location has been changed or not. If it’s not the region she prefers, she will reject it and try to work with an academy, or perhaps teach online classes — or both. She is anxiously waiting to hear back so that she can plan for her future living abroad in Spain. 

by Leesa Truesdell


International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies


emma schultzEmma Schultz has been a Dreams Abroad member since 2017 and has always had an interest in international education. We took the opportunity to catch up with her about how she’s been doing since moving from Madrid, Spain to Monterey, California. She is pursuing a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

How did you hear about Dreams Abroad?

“I was a friend of Leesa’s when she founded Dreams Abroad. She had talked about wanting to start her own website for some time, and it was really great to see it come to life. I was excited to start working with her as a writer in February of 2017 and have enjoyed other roles with the team since then. It’s been a joy to watch the project grow, change, and flourish over time. It has become such a great resource for anyone interesting in international education.”

Where were you when you first joined?

“I was teaching English in Madrid, Spain when I started writing for Dreams Abroad.”

apartment madrid spain
The view from my first apartment in Madrid, Spain.


How has your life changed since then?

“My life has changed a lot since then. I started writing for Dreams Abroad when I was in my first year of teaching English as a foreign language, which was also my first year out of college. I continued my time as a teacher in Spain for a second academic year and then transitioned back to part-time study. Furthermore, I was a Spanish student in Madrid during my third year and also worked at an internship. Also, I was a dual nanny/English teacher to a lovely two-year-old boy.

My biggest transition happened this past July, however, when I made the big decision to move back home to the U.S. I decided to pursue a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

It was a hard decision to make and an even harder transition. A lot went into my choice to come back to the States — what I felt I had gained in Spain, what I thought I was missing there, and what I thought I might find back at home. Ultimately, I decided it was time for me to pursue a master’s degree. I have long known that I want a career in education abroad management. I knew that I needed to get a higher education to make that possible for myself.

Transitioning into being more than a full-time student has been challenging, but it is absolutely worth it. I know I am gaining hard skills that I will use for a lifetime. I don’t think I could have picked a better program for my interests and goals.”

international education management at middlebury institute
The Middlebury Institute of International Studies campus in Monterey, California.


What did you learn from your experience living abroad?

international education management college“Living abroad did so much for me. It helped me to understand the world better. It helped me to understand myself better. I was able to explore pre-existing interests and engage new ones; I experienced new ways of seeing, interpreting, and understanding things. After three years in Spain, I can say I really feel that I have a connection to the country, its people, and its culture. The degree of love I feel for what has become one of the many places I can call home isn’t something I would trade for the world.

I loved my life in Spain — the balance between my commitments and my personal life, my incredible friendships, the beauty of the country, the warmth of its culture, and so much more. Leaving was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Coming to the decision to leave took me a long time.

When I moved to Spain, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted my place in the world to be. In my three years in Madrid, I built something there for myself that mattered. I had a home, a life, and a strong love for where I was in the world. I learned, grew, and changed so much.

Why I Had to Leave

In the end, I think I had to leave Spain because of all of those discoveries. I wanted to stay, but for lots of other reasons I needed to go. I wanted to advance in my professional life. Plus, I needed to feel more stable and grounded. I needed to feel secure in a way that temporary visas didn’t provide. I needed to feel like I was working towards a life that I could make well-rounded.

Even though I loved Spain, sometimes I ended up feeling stunted. I felt like I didn’t have enough to engage my mind or fill my time. It was a limitation I had because of the restrictions of the visas I was able to use while there. It was a reality for me nonetheless.

monterey ca rocks on the water
This all led to the very challenging and definitely bittersweet decision to move back to the U.S. and pursue a graduate degree. I felt that by doing so, I could find my way to more professional fulfillment. Ultimately, I wanted to feel more balanced and grounded in my life. I hope to work towards feeling stable here or back abroad someday.”

What have you been doing this year?

“This academic year, I have been focused on my master’s degree and all of the work it entails. Choosing to go for a master’s degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies was one of the bigger decisions I’ve made in my life; I gave up a life in Spain surrounded by people I love there to pursue it.

Although I miss Spain and the life I built for myself there, I can’t say for a second that I regret the shift. I know that I am in the right place doing the right thing and that it will propel me towards the future I know I want.”

International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies

Emma has been in California for almost two months now and may need some more time to feel like it is home too. But she’s hopeful that the skills she gains and connections she makes will help guide her forward to the next step after this. Hopefully, she can find all the things she’s looking for. Be on the lookout for Emma’s next pieces on how her life has changed and follow her journey!

city on the water
Fisherman’s Wharf Monterey, California.


by Emma Schultz