ESL Certifications: Where to Begin

by Caroline Hazelton

The world of English as a Second/Foreign Language teachers is a delightful one, whether we are teaching it where it’s the dominant language to non-native speakers (English as a Second Language) or in another part of the world where it is a non-native language (English as a Foreign Language). There are literally so many situations you can find yourself in if you love other cultures and languages. You can:

  • build an American dream in an immigrant child or adult learning ESL
  • teach brilliant international students in English for Academic Purposes programs
  • teach English online in dozens of countries from your own office
  • go abroad… and have a “Dream Abroad!” 

However, every dream has a road, and every road has a starting point. How do you get to all of these places above? After all, you’re going to need some formal training to explain such cases like “I have eaten,” which means “I previously ate, my previous eating still affects me now, and will continue to affect me into the future” kind of grammatical teaching and understanding. 

Where to Begin with ESL Certifications

English as a Foreign Language ESL Certifications

Here are a few steps to gaining ESL/EFL credentials in specific situations.

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s or higher. This is true in nearly every English teaching case. I suggest majoring in ESL Education or in a related field. 
  2. Gain cross-cultural experiences as a volunteer, either abroad or both.
  3. (Recommended but not required) Study a second language. 

Foreign Language teachersSteps 1-3 are your “launch pad.” Once you’ve done these things, you have three other options to figure out where you wish to be:

Option A: Earn your ESOL certificate or endorsement to teach English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in public K-12 schools.

Option B: The universally-accepted TEFL certificate lets you teach abroad or in many online English teaching platforms. In my case at EF, my degree credentials substituted this requirement.

Option C: If you wish to teach ESL in a university or in a college, a Master’s is usually necessary. Again, you can either major in ESL Education or a different field such as linguistics, English, Education, etc. Note that teaching English as a Second Language or English for Academic Purposes is usually for non-credit courses. If you wish to train future English as a Second Language teachers, a PhD in one of the fields mentioned above might be necessary.

My ESL Journey

I want to end this on a personal note, as I realize this article has been on the technical side thus far. Teaching English as a Second AND Foreign Language in my case has been a delightful experience, but figuring out how to get where I wanted to go was overwhelming in my early days of undergrad.

I come from a tiny community in the rural southern United States. There were no opportunities in my hometown that would prepare me to be an ESL teacher. Instead, I had to leave. I had to volunteer in Texas, travel overseas multiple times, and volunteer with international students at my university. This was all in addition to learning Spanish and getting both degrees before I was even truly qualified to teach ESL. I’ve held several positions in different cities and states as my personal life changes. While this field requires a unique set of skills, it also allows flexibility. 

ESL Certifications

Start Seeking Opportunities with ESL Certifications

This guide is coming from someone who knew in the very beginning of undergrad that I wanted to teach both Spanish and ESL. For some of you, you may not have even considered ESL/EFL until recently. Oftentimes, there are many interests, goals, and dreams that might not happen the way we imagine. In other cases, we don’t realize a passion that we have for a cause until later in life. If that sounds like you, figure out the skills and education that you already have and start seeking opportunities to add to your repertoire. For example, a former colleague wanted to teach English as a Foreign Language overseas for the Peace Corps. Despite her education, she was rejected for lack of ESL experience. She made up for this volunteering at one of the last schools I taught at, and I hope she’s gotten where she wanted to go.

Teaching English as a Second Language is both satisfying on the intellectual and humanitarian level, not to mention, quite fun! I hope to see many of our Dreams Abroad readers join me in obtaining their ESL certifications!

Where to Begin with ESL Certifications

Non-Bilingual School Education For My Third Year

by Amanda Whitten

The Third Year’s the Charm When Teaching at a Non-Bilingual School

If you’ve just stumbled onto Dreams Abroad and have somehow made it to my page – welcome! If you’re like me, you probably won’t be interested in going back and reading all of my past blogs just to be caught up to date with my latest posts. Therefore, what follows is a short, proportionally inaccurate timeline so that you won’t be confused when I mention something from previous articles.

time line amanda whitten time abroad

This visual of my time in Spain doesn’t include all the places I’ve gone or the things that I’ve seen that have kept me, at the very least, sane, and at the most, in love with living in Europe. There have been events that seemed horrible, like getting voted to not return to my first school or being asked to leave my au pair position. However, these events ultimately set me on a path that let me explore some of the ins and outs of Spanish education, both bilingual and non-bilingual schools, and Spanish culture.

fountain sunlight

A Toe in the Water

My first school was a public bilingual school. The level of apathy towards learning not only English but in learning in general, appalled me. I was shocked at the level of disrespect that I witnessed. I saw students telling professors to shut up. Kids slept through entire trimesters and never faced any backlash or received extra help. There were kids whose only plan for the future was to go viral on YouTube and get rich. That was their sincere justification for doing nothing at all.

There was a stark difference between the kids who, for whatever reason, had intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. They were intelligent and had an adequate command of English. Many of them had been a part of the bilingual program for many years and cared about their education. However, they were few and far between. To make matters even bleaker, some of the teachers didn’t even want the auxiliars to be there. We were seen as a waste of time and money.

Non Bilingual Education

Wading In

Then I taught at a private, international, democratic school. I encountered students who took control of their educational experience. Of course, there was the occasional lazy kid, but the vast majority was interested in learning English. That school employed a number of methods, including one where they let kids with high levels of English skip the lunch line. If they wanted the benefits of knowledge, all they had to do was apply themselves and make an effort. I saw a rate of transition from non-fluency to fluency that was so speedy that I couldn’t believe my ears or eyes.

Non Bilingual Education

At the same time, I was moonlighting at a semi-private traditional school. My first teaching experience was somewhat mirrored in this newest school. I began to believe that only non-traditional schools were capable of motivating the greater majority of their students. For one reason or another, I wasn’t able to continue a second year at that non-traditional school and I feared another miserable experience. How could a public, normal, non-bilingual school even compare in a positive way to a bilingual public school? I was worried that I wouldn’t make personal connections with the students or that they wouldn’t have learned enough English to be able to relate to me or me to them.

I’m pleased to say that my worries were unfounded. Maybe it’s because my first school was in the isolated mountains. Perhaps it’s precisely due to my theory that being cost-free and bilingual caused parents to send their troubled kids there as a last ditch effort to teach them English. Maybe it’s all a coincidence.

park Non Bilingual Education

Dreams in a Non-Bilingual School

All I know is that here, in Leganes, as an auxiliar in Madrid, I am having the kind of experience I dreamed about when I first arrived in Spain. The kids want to talk to me, especially the younger ones. They think I’m funny and entertaining. They listen to my presentations and we have lots of debates, especially with the older ones. Since it’s a non-bilingual school, I’m able to focus almost exclusively on English instead of having to create art theory presentations that will somehow get these complex ideas across without being above everyone’s English levels. I’m encouraged to tell my point of view on things whether it’s the origins of Christmas, the United States’ political system, or the current immigration situation in the States.

churros chocolate teacher students

I get along with and have almost no issues with any of the staff. I really feel appreciated, more so even than last year. Instead of forcing the puzzle pieces to fit together, they are beginning to fall freely into place. There is an air of positivity here. Maybe it’s because the parents are very involved (before Christmas break, they organized churros and chocolate for ALL of the staff and students). Perhaps it’s my attitude and how I went in determined to be more organized than ever. Maybe it’s just this town.

There are more colegios here than I have ever seen in one place (coincidentally, I’m once again moonlighting at a second colegio through an academy here in Leganes, and it, too, is going exceedingly well). Most importantly, they want me to renew. They want to keep me! I don’t want to jinx it, but it really does seem like the 3rd time’s the charm.

Well, that’s all for now.

Thanks for reading!



Wasan Tawfeeq Talks Teaching and Studying in the USA

Wasan Tawfeeq and I met in 2014 while we were both studying at Florida State University’s College of Education. At the time, we were both taking the same class. I will always remember Wasan’s introduction to the class. Typically on the first day of class in the US, we announce to our classmates who we are and where we are from. There were 10 students in the class. Many were from China, and a handful from the US. And then there was Wasan. She got up, smiled, and said, “I am from Iraq and I speak Arabic. I am getting my Ph.D. in Foreign and Second Language at FSU.”

Until this point, I had never met anyone from Iraq, yet I had heard a lot about the country. Everything I had heard came from family and friends who had been deployed there, and of course, whatever I had picked up from the news. However, meeting Wasan and getting to know her has made me realize that we are very much alike. We both enjoy teaching, learning, and traveling.

Tallahassee, Fl - Entrance At Florida State University's Westcott Plaza.
The Westcott Building on FSU campus

Meet Wasan and Discover Why She is Teaching and Studying in the USA

Why did you choose to come to the USA?

“I chose to come to the USA to get my Ph.D. degree in Foreign and Second Language Education because I wanted to engage with native speakers. Yet I was keen on not only developing my English skills, but also learning more about the culture. Culture and communicating with native speakers is the key to improving your language skills and being fluent in it.”

What are your goals while you are here at FSU?

“While I am here at FSU as a Ph.D student, I have several goals. First and foremost is to get my degree, which is why I am here. Second, is to acquire more experience in teaching, which is what I am doing right now. I am working as a professor at undergraduate level. This is my third semester teaching Arabic at FSU. Before that, I taught elementary students the Arabic language through the STARTALK program. I also worked as an interpreter with the Egyptian delegation with the Learning System Institute at FSU.”

Iraq map

Have you ever taught before? If not, what was your career field?

“My teaching career started in Baghdad, Iraq where I taught English for two years at Mustansiriya University. I taught university students in different departments (Geography, Physical Education, Art Education, and Elementary Education), and advised 14 students on research writing and professional internships. Every student had to complete an internship and a major research project to graduate, so I advised them on project planning, evaluated their efficiency, and academic performance. I still remember my first day— I prepared all the class materials by myself, wrote out a detailed lesson plan, and practiced my entire lecture at home.”

Where are you teaching in the USA? What are you teaching?

“I am teaching Arabic now in the United States, and I am getting a lot of experience through teaching American students Arabic, which is a foreign language for them. I get really excited when I see how my students enjoy learning Arabic and are doing very well.

The Modern Languages and Linguistics department is where I work at FSU. I teach two courses ARA 1121 and ARA 2220. This is my second semester teaching at this department. Some classes I teach are: ARA 1121 Elementary Arabic II – this class introduces extended vocabulary and grammar, and basic conversation is emphasized. Students start conversing in spoken Arabic as well as reading and writing in Modern Standard Arabic. This course also develops the students’ knowledge of Arab culture. ARA 2220 Intermediate Arabic solidifies knowledge of basic grammar and expands the students’ vocabulary. It emphasizes reading and writing in formal Arabic, as well as listening and speaking in colloquial Arabic. Students participate in cultural activities, write compositions, and give oral presentations in class. It may not be taken concurrently with ARA 1120 and/or 1121.

I have taught before at FSU’s College of Education, EDF 1005-004, Introduction to Education.”

Teaching and Studying in the USA: Wasan Tawfeeq
An example from a lesson in her ARA 2220 class.


Why did you choose to teach in the USA? Why did you choose FSU over other schools?

“I chose FSU over other schools because it has a great reputation. I like my major and what they offer. The College of Education offers a Foreign and Second Language Education major for Ph.D. students. Finally, I like how people in Florida are so friendly and I feel at home.”

What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came to the USA?

“As I am from a different country, I was thinking about the differences in educational systems between here and there, and how I could adjust to it. But, when I came here I faced other challenges that are not in my country, like health insurance, car insurance, taxes, and so on. Now, I can say after a year in the USA, everything is okay and I can deal with it without a need to ask somebody.”

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

“I think I had some difficulties when I arrived in the USA. In my country, we speak British English with some American words that British people do not use. So, basically, I had trouble with communicating and making myself clear so Americans could understand what I was saying.”

What has been the best experience about teaching and studying in the USA?

“Overall, I believe that to make learning better, teachers have to motivate their students by planning and modeling activities that encourage their students to understand and think critically about the subject, and to assist them to achieve their goals. My own dissertation research examines the role of directed motivational currents in second language learning among Arab heritage and Arab ESL learners, teaching and studying in the USA. Motivation has a vital role in learning a language, since the longer language learners maintain their motivation the higher proficiency levels they can reach. In a classroom setting, language teachers can apply DMC components such as goals/visions and time, and help their students reach class-level, project-level, and course-level goals. This approach not only helps students increase their L2 practice (second language practice), but gives them a salient and facilitative structure, a clear perspective on learning, and positive emotional loading.”

Teaching in the USA: Wasan Tawfeeq
Wasan Tawfeeq teaching on International Women’s Day


On International Women’s Day, I had the pleasure of joining Wasan in her classroom to see her in action. Not only was it a great joy to see my former classmate teach her own class, but it was heartwarming to share in her achievements on such a special day. Stay tuned to find out more about Wasan’s classes at FSU and what she will be doing post-graduation.

by Leesa Truesdell

A Guide to Private Lessons: Clases de Conversación

So you have arrived in Spain and are looking forward to starting this new adventure. While you are getting settled, one of the main hurdles you will face is how to finance your stay. As a language assistant (auxiliar in Spanish) you will be living at the center of one of the most fascinating countries on Earth, and on the doorstep of many others. This all sounds enticing… and expensive. As a language assistant, you will make around 1000€ in Madrid (about 700€ a month in the rest of Spain), for only nine months of the year.

Now that is sufficient to live on in Spain but only if you plan on staying in Spain for the whole time and only go out twice a week. BUT you will probably want to consider making some money on the side so you can do so much more. There are a variety of options, but the most lucrative is teaching private lessons, either to individual students or to a small group. Here are some pointers if you want to go down this route.

Time Versus Money

Now, at first this process might not seem that daunting; basically, do your day job (helping students learn English) and for private lessons, one-on-one tutoring. This can help supplement your income by hundreds of Euros, but it does come with a major time commitment. You are already working 16 hours a week at a minimum with a two-hour long break in the middle of the day (Spain’s infamous siesta) included and a fairly long commute.

After a full workday of screaming children, then you would have private lessons afterwards, which can be anywhere from one to three hours. That means most days are typically 12-14 hours of tantrums, commuting, prepping lessons, and going on errands. You will make money, but you will be exhausted most of the time. 

Just make sure to consider the time commitment first, because then you can budget for the rest of the year to figure out if you want to take on more private lessons or not. It is best to start looking for tutoring in August or September because a lot of families are looking for long-term and consistent tutoring for the upcoming school year. As the year goes on, it becomes harder to get consistent private lessons.

alarm clock on a desk with a computer Private Lessons

Where To Look for Private Lessons

There are a good amount of resources for finding private lessons. The following are the best.

  • Tusclasesparticulares: This is a website where teachers/tutors can look for students and vice versa. Post a profile in both English and Spanish.
  • Teachers and parents will ask for tutoring at your school, and you can request that your director put up a sign offering private lessons on your behalf.
  • The Auxiliares de conversacion en MADRID (The Original) Facebook group is a great all-around resource and fellow language assistants are constantly swapping details about private lessons.
  • VIPKid: This is a live online tutoring job which you can do anywhere with Wi-Fi. You go through an interview process and then teach in 30-minute class sets.
  • Academies hire English teachers and are a consistent income. Apply early.

Tarifas: Your Fee

Private Lessons

In my opinion, you shouldn’t take any tutoring job for less than 15€/hour, unless it is for more than one hour with the same student. Once you calculate traveling time and lesson planning, anything less is not worth it. It is also better to tutor online as this way travel costs are reduced. I recommend having two tiers: 15€/hour for in-person conversation private lessons; 20€/hour for focused lessons. Most people will opt for the latter because the first seems a bit too expensive for just conversation. This is better for you too because lesson planning is something you can do on your way to your private lessons so it doesn’t take more time out of your day than a strict conversation private lesson.

3 Tips For Lesson Planning

If you are helping students with their homework and tests, or just have conversation private lessons, you won’t have to lesson plan too much. However, if you are giving a structured private lesson, these tips might help:

  1. Tailor lessons to each student for maximum progress. For example, if a student has a sufficient level of vocabulary but their pronunciation isn’t that good, work on a pronunciation lesson, instead of teaching more grammar. Once that student has pronunciation under their belt, the student’s progress will soar.
  2. Split the class into segments. Consider an hour-long class divided into two or three 20- or 30-minute sections. One section for focusing on that particular student’s weakness, another for conversation, and a third for them to present something to you in English. This makes the class go by more quickly and the student has something to focus on between private lessons.
  3. Remember not to reinvent the wheel. There are plenty of online resources for English Second Language (ESL) resources online that will help you build a structured lesson. For children ages three to 13, I also recommend including some games with your lesson plan.

Hit The Ground Running!

In the end, private lessons can really benefit you financially while you are in Spain but they do take their toll. The perfect scenario would be a student or students who want daily private lessons for more than an hour. You have something consistent. But however you piece together your tutoring schedule, just ensure it works for you and don’t be afraid to pass a student onto a fellow language assistant if it becomes too stressful. Good luck out there and happy tutoring.

Sunset on Spain's coast.

by Justin Hughes-Coleman

Teach English in Spain

In the spring of her senior year in college, Ellen Hietsch decided to apply to teach English in Spain. After an incredible study abroad experience, she was eager to see how living and working abroad could continue to broaden her horizons and her options moving forward. Ellen was excited to challenge herself personally and professionally and engage with the world in new ways.

Ellen and I met for the first time in Madrid – surprising as we both attended the same small, liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, studied similar subjects, and both studied abroad in Denmark (admittedly at different times). The similarities don’t stop there, though. Imagining that we had similar motivations for teaching abroad in Spain, I asked her for some of her thoughts on the process and her experience thus far. These were her answers.

teach english in spain

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

“After a life-changing experience studying abroad in Denmark, I started considering a career in international education during my senior year at uni. I had a background in Spanish from high school and was put in contact with Emma. She raved to me about her teaching program, so I decided to apply and was accepted. I had lived in the same small town my whole life and was feeling the reverse culture shock after living in Copenhagen. Plus, I had wanted to live in a large city after graduating. A placement in Madrid was perfect!”

What are your goals while you are here?

“I want to strengthen my Spanish language skills. I’ve made… mixed progress (I may be cringing right now after dangerously messing up a verb tense while talking to a Spanish friend at my favorite cafe a few minutes ago. What’s living abroad without a little public embarrassment?). I’ve definitely improved since arriving in August though, and am feeling more confident speaking about deeper topics in Spanish! Learning a language through immersion has helped me in other unexpected ways as well. It has given me patience in the classroom. Plus, I’m more patient with personal projects I would have easily given up on in the past.

Have you ever taught before? If not, what was your career field?

Unless you count tutoring some children while I was at uni, I had never taught before. I’m interested in pursuing a master’s degree in international education however. Working with students will definitely be something I do in the long run.

What did you think teaching in Spain would be like? Where are you teaching?

“I am teaching at IES La Fortuna in Leganés. When I found out I would be working at a secondary school, I was excited. After the excitement, there were a few flashbacks to my middle school horror stories. It has ended up being nothing like my nerves had expected however. I love being able to work with older students who have a higher English level. I am able to form deeper connections with them. The younger students especially are so full of joy every day too, and it’s the sweetest thing.”

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

Ellen at her favorite Madrid cafe.

Oh man, I’m in love with Madrid. It’s huge, but so easy to make your own. I love  being remembered in my regular cafés each time I walk into them. When the crowds get a little much, it’s easy to sneak off to a side street where you will be the only one wandering around. I just bought a bike. I am so excited to use it once it gets warmer and I can discover even more of this wicked city.”

What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here?

Having such a seamless transition when I studied abroad was both a blessing and a curse. It left me excited to be gaining experiences outside of the United States again. I was also open-minded to whatever came my way. However, I don’t think that I ever considered how challenging living abroad would be when not at a school with all American students. When I was at my most homesick, I often found myself making unfair comparisons between Madrid and Copenhagen. I had assumed that this would be an easy transition as well. I am able to stop myself from doing this now that I have found more balance. One assumption that luckily turned out to be easier than expected, however, was making friends. It actually comes a lot easier for me here than at uni.

What has been the most difficult since you arrived to teach English in Spain?

While coming to Madrid through CIEE gave me an American support group, especially in the first few months, I am the only American at the school in which I am working. This can be an anxious experience, as I have to be constantly considering culturally appropriate responses when resolving workplace conflicts as well as the usual challenges of navigating relationships with co-workers. I am a non-confrontational person in general, but at work, it can be largely driven by fear of “messing up,” which is something I have had to constantly work through for the sake of doing the best job that I can for the students. I genuinely love working with all my classes, and they are a driving force for me to be consciously improving myself.

What has been the best experience?

It may sound ridiculous, but going to my favorite café a few times a week is the best decision I have made here. I always regretted not branching out from American groups more in Denmark, and spending a few days a week at this cafe has given me the opportunity to make up for this in Spain. I’ve made friends from outside the US just by starting conversations with people sitting next to me (SO easy to do in Madrid), and at this point am greeted with “Hi Ellen!” when I arrive.

When I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, I can go and know that in a few hours, everything will be okay again after a bomb ginger tea and talking music with friends who work there. If we’re being honest, not being able to go there regularly is what I fear the most about having to return to the States for the summer!

To Teach English in Spain is an Accomplishment!

Ellen came to teach English in Spain with a clear head and concrete goals – much more than I can say for myself at the same point. She focused on the ways in which she wanted to change and grow, and because of that, she has been able to accomplish many of her goals thus far. I’m excited to see how she will continue to do so in upcoming months. Stay tuned for more on Ellen’s experience in another post, coming soon.

by Emma Schultz

Coffee con Leche: You Can’t Teach

Bebe Bakhtiar


Yes, you read that correctly. You. You, who has never studied the art of teaching (which is an art). You, who has never stood in front of 20+ people eager for you to teach a new topic. You, who has never had to adjust lessons to benefit different learning styles, think of activities to keep students engaged, nor deal with administrative politics. I swear to you; you can’t teach.

The Problem:

Through my five and half years of working within classrooms in the States and in Spain, I’ve noticed a concerning pattern. People outside of education think teaching is easy.

“Well, if a kid doesn’t pay attention, can’t you just make it fun? Like, do a game or something.

For the sake of discussion, I am going to call people like this, “Bob.”

How do you not internalize that teaching requires real skills, theories, and practices (or pedagogy, as some of you know)? Listen, Bob, any baboon can get up in front of kids and have “fun.” Here is a little secret for you: they have to learn.

Teach Bebe


What Bob does not understand:

 Let’s imagine we are all teachers and we have a simple task in front of us: make a seating chart.

  • Jane needs to sit up front because she cannot see and her family cannot afford glasses.
  • Joe cannot focus unless he is close to the teacher.
  • Alejandra does not like sitting near the windows because she is always cold.
  • Mateo tends to fall asleep unless near the board.
  • Amir talks to any student within 10 feet of him.
  • Tonya and Raquel are best friends and do not pay attention when together.
  • James and Ryan both have special needs and require to be close to the teacher’s desk for extra support.
  • …did you really stop reading these? Because that’s only 9 students, and the typical classroom has anywhere between 20-30

But wait a minute there, Bobby! That’s only your seating. Do not forget you have to make your lessons accommodate your kids! Some are auditory learners, visual learners, kinesthetic learners, and some may even need direct, personal attention every 10 minutes of class!


And when you have finished your lessons, make sure you create those activities, worksheets, tests, and quizzes. But no, no, no, no, Bob-O. They cannot all be the same! Remember! Different styles of learning means you need to modify all of the above (meaning, varied versions for different kids).

Oh, me! Oh, my! I cannot believe I almost forgot to wish you Happy Grading on top of all of that, dearest Bob!

What you don’t see, Bobby:

Teach abroad: student drawingsDespite your false perspective on how easy the job is, you have missed the most important aspect of it all. Teaching is worth it.

Bobert, is your desk covered with drawings, letters, and thank you cards from the lives you have changed? Have you ever seen the smile a student gives you when you reward them with a sticker or “A+” for working on an assignment?

There is such a beauty to teaching. Form the moment a student crosses the doorway into your classroom, you have the opportunity to transport a student. A doorway that takes them to another world where knowledge is power and the only problem is whether they raised their hand quickly enough to answer a question. This is what you give when teaching. It is an opportunity to be somewhere else and love something else. Teaching saves lives as much as it changes lives.

My message to you:

Teach Abroad: BebeTo all you non-teachers and Bobs out there,

Learn to respect the art of teaching. Teachers work tirelessly for their students. Most days, it isn’t even about teaching. Sometimes, it is about building relationships and caring for your students and their success. It isn’t a job for everyone, by any means. We work in the school, out of school, during vacations, and even fall asleep thinking about activities and lessons. All to be paid maybe half of what we deserve. The job is not for everyone, but for some of us, it is our true calling.

So, please, get rid of that “if you can’t do, you teach” phrase. Because there’s one thing you should never forget: “if you can read, it’s because you were taught.

by Bebe Bakhtiar

The Struggles of Expat Life

Adventure abroad Justin Hughes-ColemanPicture this: I need to renew my Spanish identification card (known as T.I.E. in Spanish) and after gathering ten different papers and scheduling an appointment that is not at all convenient for anyone with a day job, I show up at the Comisaría de Extranjería y Fronteras, the Spanish social security office for foreigners and have no idea where to go. I walk up to the “help desk” a.k.a. “give out daily dose of attitude” pitstop and I say “Hola, tengo una cita por renovación de T.I.E … ¿Puedes decirme donde ir, por favor?” He responds with his face contorted like I just interrupted his wedding speech and grimaces out a “¿de qué?” That’s merely the start of a two-hour trek that results in me having to do the whole thing again because… razónes

The logistics of moving abroad are not easy. Figuring out how to afford the move, completing all the necessary paperwork perfectly (and on time), and possibly making last-minute trips to government offices that are a two-hour drive away on the same day as take-off are all situations that one needs to consider. But what they don’t tell you is what happens after one has been in the country for a while; after the wanderlust fades and the mundanity of daily expat life sets in. Now what? Now, one has to deal with all the pressures of life… but in a foreign language and culture.

An Outsider Living Inside

When I left the USA, I missed my friends but I knew that they were only a phone call away and I would make new ones in Spain. This was the case, but after a year you realize it’s just not your loved ones that make a place home. I was missing the connection to a larger community, a culture. As much as I love the Spanish way and pace of expat life, I couldn’t help but feel that it’s not for me and never really will be.

I feel like a tourist who lost his passport and has been waiting for a replacement… for two years. I love and adore my Spanish friends and they have made my time in Spain absolutely wonderful. Still, it’s hard to sit on the Metro day in and day out and only understand bits and pieces of a conversation. Sure, my Spanish is better by the day and I need to “immerse” myself to fully appreciate everything Spain has to offer, but Spain would exist with or without me so it’s up to me to determine how integrated I can become.

“¿Qué haciendo, hoy?” – What are you doing today?

Another roadblock was understanding work culture. I work at a bilingual school where I am supposed only to speak English. However, speaking only English is rarely the case and the language assistants, like myself, are often the last to know of any information. We would frequently get frustrated reactions from other teachers who were in the meeting if we didn’t understand something. This happens on a weekly basis. If my Spanish was better and if my entire legal status to stay in the country wasn’t tied up with the school, I could voice my concerns without fear of repercussions. It makes working abroad very precarious, and that’s from the perspective of someone who was on the job hunt in America!

The Struggles of Expat life

”¿De Qué?” – What?

Remember when I said how stressful it was in America to get the paperwork completed in a timely fashion just so that an employee might mess it up and you have to go back into the office and do it all over again? Yeah, well imagine that, but in another country! I was already fighting the gnawing anxiety that made me shaky just by going to the Spanish social security office for foreigners. And, on top of that, depending on who you get, you will be given totally different information regarding which forms to complete and the exact number of copies for each document. Hate the idea of walking around with four copies of your passport, your T.I.E. plus the physical version of both? Get used to it! I had to carry around eight copies of these two documents in my handy padfolio for the last two years.

Feelings of Isolation and Loneliness

This all leads to the overwhelming feeling of isolation and loneliness that is a common expat experience. It leaves one wanting a friend to go through this struggle as support. However, at the end of the day, these problems are no one else’s.

A used soccer ball

One could, of course, call their friends Stateside and complain about the growing pains of expat life. It will come across to them as a two-year-long humble brag. One could always confide in their friends one has made abroad and most likely they will be the ones to help one battle the crushing sense of anxiety. Unfortunately, they also have their own issues to deal with. And when it comes to getting your T.I.E. renewed, it was a bit too difficult to have a friend tag along.

Stay Humble – The Struggles of Expat Life

The Struggles of Expat Life

With all that said, I have to be grateful for my expat life. I have a stable job, an apartment, the know-how to navigate the city, and a network of companions that I can count on. I couldn’t imagine doing any of this without one of those foundations to lean on, much less none. It taught me humility that, after the “honeymoon” phase, Madrid was not here for anyone. To anyone tackling the challenges of being an expat with or without the support groups I’ve mentioned, more power to you! I truly don’t think anyone can relate until they’ve done it themselves. I want to offer my wholehearted support to anyone who feels like the entire experience of living abroad is reaching a critical point of exasperation.

by Justin Hughes-Coleman

Surviving the Storm: Part Two

From uncertain to a certain future plus fond memories

In part 1,  I spoke about memories that I was able to focus on during turbulent times. I hope you fall in love with them as I have.  There is one memory that stands out among the rest.

But first, let me tell you about something.  One time when I was kayaking on a river in my beloved Oklahoma, after rowing about 12 miles, having been burnt to a crisp, surviving off of gatorade and protein bars, I began to hear what sounded like old gospel hymns far away.  Being on the river, water clear and cold as ice, surrounded by mountainous hills, wildlife and forest, is already a near spiritual experience for me.  I feel closer to the creator more there than anywhere.

So I laid my paddle down, horizontally across the kayak, and listened intently.  The nearer the flow of the river carried me to the music, the more intently I listened and the more the sound grew. I distinctly remember feeling like I was being serenaded on something like the river styx on my way to heaven, instead of, you know, Hades, underworld of Greek mythology for those that do not recognize the reference.

About a year later, I had a similar sensation close to the coast of Africa, somewhere out in the Atlantic ocean on an island called Tenerife. It was so freaking cold in Madrid, but there on the island, it was summer.

I was playing in the ocean by myself.  The wind was in my hair and the ocean smelled of salt.  It was all the typical cool stuff that happens when one is in a warm, oceanic place.  The difference is in the details.  Ancient black sand punctuated now and again by little pieces of green glass, little reminders of past volcanic activity, past danger and current respite.  An excitement in the air for the coming New Year and Three Kings festivities.  Surrounded by warmth, breeze, surf and wave looking up and seeing in the distance the island’s only mountain, capped white in snow.  A pause in time, the contrast of standing in the midst of summer while observing ruthless beautiful winter, close enough almost to touch.

Reminiscing about Tenerife and dreaming of the day when I could go back, got me through some hard times and it was hard for me to imagine a place that could top it.  While that is still true, I had the chance to experience Mallorca, a place of tourism (I am a self hating tourist, I admit) but also of raw, unadulterated beauty.  Words can’t even so I’ll just leave this here with this photo…

While in this place, I often felt a sharp pain in my heart accompanied by a foreboding of deep and intense regret in having to leave a new-found paradise.  I specifically recall that I was treading water and felt overcome by one such moment of torture.  It was too much.  Why hadn’t I arranged for myself to live in a place like this?  Why did I have to go back to the mainland when I so obviously lived and breathed for moments like this?  I tried to absorb it all at once again and failed.  And then it hit me.  I’m not one for meditation, but in that instance, still treading, surrounded by rocky cliffs, looking out into the horizon at the boats and the deeper blue/green that evolves from a transparent mixture of hues from H2O and the brilliant white sand, I decided that I was not me.  I was all of what I just mentioned and more.  The fishes below, the coral plants that I lack the words to describe, the air above.  All of it.  Breathe and repeat. Breathe and repeat.  Finally, when two recently acquainted companions called to me see if I was ready to go back, surprisingly I was.  Lucky for me that I was so overcome with peace and tranquility because we ended up getting lost and walking over an hour to a bus stop.

It has been merely coincidence that all of these instances have involved water.  Perhaps it is getting a bit redundant.  We don’t want to shoot an already dead horse, as it were.  Here are a few glimpses into what makes an overly fidgety, always on the move Amanda pause is like:

Standing among the mists of time and history, Rome, Italy:

The Coliseum








Standing in places that seemed to exist only on television (i.e Vatican City):

At the Vatican…


The moment when you do something incredible and it brings back a childhood memory of when you first learned about that special something.  In my case this was the Tower of Pizza (a kid’s dream am I right) and not only that, but having been able to see this thing in a different light, perhaps at night.  (I know it is the Tower of Pisa. God.  Give me the benefit of the doubt, already )  The actual town of Pisa was pretty cool, too.  Don’t listen to the haters. It’s just that the rest of Italy is so epicly amazing, that other parts that are only mildly epic in contrast, appear lame to some weirdos.


And that is all for this time. Things are so much better for me right now as I have found a fulfilling amazing job and become a bit more relaxed and conformed to my environment. I shall always remain grateful for the opportunities to experience light in the coolest of places during what I felt were dark days with an uncertain future. Even when I eventually go back to the states, I will always have the Canary Islands and Tenerife to dream about, Mallorca’s crystal clear waters to reminisce about, and Italy to help me remember that I can do anything because I have already done the extraordinary.  I hope you like the pics and if you have any requests for me to talk about or questions to ask, just leave them in the comments. I can recommend places to go and places NOT to go!

Love forever,

Amanda (Squirrel)

Recommended travel links:

Moving around The Canary Islands Guide




A Remarkable Experience Studying Abroad in Tallahassee, FL

by Dalal Boland

So, the day had finally arrived and I will be Studying Abroad in Tallahassee. After overcoming multiple obstacles, from the F1-visa not being issued on time, to me rebooking another ticket because of that, I finally managed to get on that airplane where a subtle feeling of comfort had struck me as it was time for takeoff. After an overall flight of more than 16 hours spent on multiple airplanes, I landed in the beautiful capital of Florida, Tallahassee. Due to the overwhelming feeling of excitement, I immediately went on a tour around campus. My acquaintances and I drove under the hot sun of August witnessing the students’ joy of starting their new college adventure. After that, I rented an apartment where I dropped off my luggage and went grocery shopping to buy a few things. After running all of those errands like getting into an American line for grocery shopping, and opening up an American bank account, it was time to settle into the new place I called home: Tallahassee.

studying at FSU

Making Friends and Learning Culture

When school started, I encountered some hard times making new friends, especially since I appeared to be a closed-off person due to my formal behavior/encounters with others. Because of that, I had the chance of becoming close to my instructors. They had the kindest hearts that made me feel like I have a family away from my home country. Then, with time, I started to get to know my classmates. The type of class activities that my classes were based on encouraged me to open up to people, especially since most of the activities involved group work and discussions. To me, each class was viewed as a tool to establish and bolster my social grounds with the people around me. Moreover, I had the chance to learn more about different cultures and even pick up a few words in Chinese and Turkish, because my classes included people from different parts of the world.

Studying Abroad in Tallahassee Has Come to an End

TallahaseeThe time had passed and the chapter of living in Tallahassee was about to come to an end. Even as I am writing this piece, my heart still remembers the difficulty that it felt saying goodbye to my friend that I cherished so much, Mr. Michael Magro. Even though we keep in touch from time to time sharing posts and pictures about our lives, I miss the days that we spent laughing about certain inside jokes that no one understood but us, and the intense feeling that we shared of having to work for late hours in the library with the purpose of putting together a class project.

Leaving This Beautiful City

Finally, the day was here and it was time to pack and leave. Although I did not spend more than two years living in Tallahassee, the memories that I made are priceless. Yes, I admit that there were days I spent sobbing and crying my eyes out because I was missing my family, yet the purpose of going home with a diploma to make them proud always made me hang in there. I would describe the time I spent in Tallahassee as a remarkable experience. It is true that I had left Tallahassee, yet the beautiful memories and the friendships that I have made will forever stay with me.

Learn more about Dalal studying abroad in Tallahassee, Florida in upcoming posts!


Resilience Abroad: Month Three

This soul-searching series showcases my grieving process over the course of the most harrowing and heartbreaking six months of my life. It offers a window into how I worked through the processes of loss and resiliency after the passing of my beloved grandmother. Perhaps it will be of benefit to you if you are struggling to cope with a similar situation.

Tidal Wave 

Leesa Truesdell

As I mentioned in the last article, the waves kept coming and almost engulfed me. I felt like a surfer on the north shore trying to ride huge waves with a ragged, water-logged surfboard. It wasn’t until the third month after my grandmother passed that I realized what was happening. 

I had a friend point out how I had reacted about something. Shortly after this interaction, a tsunami of grief hit and it came crashing down harder than anything I had experienced before. My insides felt like they were on fire but really it was my nerves. 

I was angry. Why? I don’t really know. It is not as if it was happening all the time. The anger came in spurts and occurred for reasons that I can’t even explain. It would start with little things and then, the little things escalated into bigger things. Then, I just simply stopped caring. One of the most important persons in my life was gone, and I couldn’t process it. Period.

At this stage, my work was the only area of my life that was consistent each day.  It was the highlight of my day and, looking back, some of my best memories in Madrid were made at my workspace. I looked at each day in the classroom as my opportunity to channel my inner Tata, which gave me the strength that I needed to move past the sadness and return to the path to feeling semi-normal again.

A New Normal

I couldn’t talk about Tata or what I was feeling in my heart because it was too painful to bring up memories while I was so far from home. Instead, I built intricate walls for protection. I didn’t realize the walls were as strong and high as they were until they caused problems in my social life. 

I lost two friends because of my behavior and realized at that point that I needed to make a change. A bit thereafter, my social life started to come back to a state of normalcy. I began to open up more and the walls slowly came tumbling down.

mareez reyes quote

Month Three: Walls

“I guess it’s like a voice inside my heart; reminding me that there is nothing to fear in the things that I am afraid of.” Tove Lo

Day after day, I walked the streets of Madrid and rode the Metro listening to music on my way to work. I was going through my days trying to work through my loss. The more I walked, the more the music meant to me. 

There was one specific song on Tove Lo’s album in March that really touched my soul one morning on the Metro. It’s called Imaginary Friend, and the quote above is from that track. The song makes you think she has an imaginary friend that she calls on when she is going through a hard time. However, at the end of the track you realize there is much more to the story. This was an important insight for me, understanding that things go beyond the surface. It was a useful lesson that helped me through this time.

Tove Lo: Imaginary Friend

March was difficult in the beginning but it got better. I was on the path to building resilience. My personal life suffered because I was suppressing grief. My friends didn’t know how it was affecting me because my walls were so high. I was not as thoughtful as I could have been about how I handled certain exchanges between us. 

One of my close friends was strong enough to point out how I was reacting to certain things, and pretty much from that point on, I was more aware of things like my deliberate avoidance of using the Spanish language or becoming negative about certain things in life (that I am usually not negative about). Looking back, it was her good-natured spirit that made me alert to what was happening. I became aware of my actions and myself; I realized that I needed to make changes. Shortly thereafter, I signed up for private lessons with a Spanish conversation tutor, Enrique, who quickly became a firm friend.

There Is No Can’t In Resilience Abroad

Enrique and I

During my grief process abroad, I had a tipping point. Before the death of my grandmother, I signed up for Spanish classes at a private academy upon returning from my winter vacation. After a few lessons and the week after my grandma’s death in January, the instructor approached me after class and asked me in Spanish if I would consider moving down a level. With tears in my eyes, I turned to her and said: “Lo siento, eres muy mal profe.” 

I walked out of the academy feeling a bolt of pain in my heart that I think also contributed to the disconnect and soon detachment that I started to feel with the language. But this taught me a valuable lesson which I still draw upon as a teacher. It is so important to get to know your students and their needs.

The instructor did not realize that I was one week out from the recent death of my grandmother. It was so hard to try to make it to class, let alone try to communicate in a foreign language. I tried my best and in the end, it all worked out because I met Enrique. I realized in my first few sessions with Enrique that the previous teacher had caused me to doubt myself and subconsciously I was stalling with words that I had never had trouble with before. 

However, this was an important lesson learned for my self-growth and most importantly, my growth as a foreign and second-language teacher. I mention this part of my journey in month three because this tipping point added to my self-doubt, frustration, and anger. When the tsunami hit, there were many outside factors that contributed to the anger and frustration that I felt while living abroad. I just didn’t know why at the time.

if it doesnt open its not your door

Lesson Learned

If a student is struggling, find out more. Don’t assume it’s their proficiency level right away. Most important, don’t tell them they can’t. Many times we are so quick to doubt or blame others for their shortcomings. ENCOURAGE your students to try their best! Look beyond the surface.

Building The Essential Checklist

Here are some helpful tips that I developed as I dealt with the grieving process abroad

  1. Go out and talk to friends and coworkers etc. Try to retain as normal a routine as possible. You don’t have to share your grief, but it does help to make new memories to help the pain subside.
  2. Cry when it hurts, but don’t let it consume you. Suppressing feelings is not natural. It only results in delayed, and sometimes counterproductive, outcomes.
  3. Seek professional counseling if you feel like you can’t follow your everyday routine and you’re finding that things aren’t getting better.
  4. Avoid internalizing your sadness. Write to your family and friends back home or even to a stranger. Maybe talking to someone you don’t know as well as someone you do will help you release some of the hidden feelings you are experiencing.
  5. Take up a new hobby and find a way to focus on making it as meaningful as you can while you are abroad.
  6. Listen to feedback from friends and family. Be aware of what they say and note whether or not you need to adjust your lifestyle choices. Resilience abroad begins once you understand your behavior and its effects, and how you should adapt to be able to recover from grief in order to become your better self.

March was an incredibly complex month which is why I have broken this piece into two parts. Check out part two for more details.

students abroad

teaching abroad

by Leesa Truesdell