Teaching During a Pandemic: A Teacher Abroad

By Amanda WhittenSelfie of Amanda Whitten while abroad teaching during a pandemic.

Catch up on Amanda’s first interview before joining her for the second part of her three-part interview!

This has been one of the weirdest years ever for me, not just for teaching, but in general. I’m sure that the same could be said for everyone else, as well. It’s been transformative in a number of ways, which I’ll get to in a moment. This year has affected my relationships with my students, my co-workers, and even myself. One thing is for sure: the world is changing and we must adapt to it. Read on to find out how I adapted to teaching during a pandemic!

What is a typical day at your school like? 

Pre-coronavirus, I typically arrived 20-30 minutes before class because of the public transportation schedule. As soon as I arrived, I’d head to the English department room, my safe haven, and hideout. Then, I’d check to make sure that I had all my ducks in a row and that I knew what I was supposed to be doing for each of my classes. I’d also make any last-minute necessary lesson plans or preparations and basically mentally prepare myself to go into performance mode. If I had any extra time, I’d go downstairs to the cafeteria to have a coffee and chat with any of the teachers already there.

This year, classes ranged from about 9:25am to 2:00pm, which is a pretty easy schedule, I’d say. Some days, I’d have a planning period, and other days I’d have a constant stream of classes apart from one break from 11:10am to 11:40am.

Afterwards, I’d rush home, eat very quickly, and then rush back into the world to go to my private lessons, academy classes, or whatever else I had going on. Of course, I had to adjust to teaching during a pandemic, so that all changed. I spent more time doing hobbies such as painting, and am really proud of how much I’ve grown as an artist so far! 

Teaching During a Pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic initially began, I’d wake up an hour early, eat breakfast, shower, prepare my headset, laptop, and generally wait attentively to see if any students needed any help or wanted to talk in general. Other than that, I just uploaded their various activities and scheduled them to appear during class time. Kahoot and Educaplay were invaluable online resources for making quizzes about literally anything that the students could complete. 

After a while, other than the occasional video call, I started waking up two minutes before class because I had discovered, much to my lazy side’s delight, that Google classroom could be downloaded on cell phones. Then I could lazily browse and be “present” in class while laying in bed. A difficult and tiresome job, really.  

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

I interact frequently with a nucleus of about four to five teachers, but usually there are many more who actually teach at the school. At IES Pablo Neruda, I had sixteen classes and therefore, had sixteen working hours. 

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

I considered myself very lucky at what was, until June 30th, my current school. With a good rapport with all of the teachers I worked with, I developed what I would consider actual friendships with at least three of them. I really admire all of the teachers I personally worked with and basically feel that I won the lottery. All I wanted was to feel respected, appreciated, and accepted here in Spain. They did an amazing job of doing that for me. It was and is mutual. Even while teaching during a pandemic, I can honestly say these were the best coworkers I’ve had so far in Spain.

Amanda Whitten and Leganes while Amanda was abroad teaching during a pandemic

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

I would say that I had a few favorite groups that I really enjoyed working with. A bachillerato group I worked with always reacted enthusiastically to my activities whether an introduction to country music (seeing these kids goofily sing Garth Brooks literally made my year) or getting into heated debates, I had so much fun. I also really enjoyed teaching my 1st eso kids, which are pretty much 6th graders. They are still so full of excitement for learning. They loved telling me about their favorite foods and what they did on the weekends. How could I not adore them? 

I have a few favorite students scattered here and there: naughty ones who could make me laugh as well as academic and friendly ones who enjoyed interacting with me. All of these students made my days more enjoyable. While I can’t say that I had a specific favorite part of each day, I can say that I had certain highlights during the week. It makes leaving this part of my life behind all the more bittersweet.

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

It really depends on whichever teacher is in charge. For example, one teacher may prefer to heavily rely on going through the book via a program on the computer. This makes it easy to correct and grade exercises as a group. Others focus on using their book as a guideline, choosing to focus more on activities and conversation. The former may be easier, but it is so much more boring for both me and the students. The latter can be more challenging, but it is so much more fun and engaging, provided the students are interested. 

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

Some classes required no preparation whatsoever. One teacher would give me the page numbers and exercises to correct via the computer program, and that was it. Usually, I was told that I had the freedom to come up with extra activities, but since these instructions were usually given right before class or the day before, I rarely ever knew what we were going to be going over. And for those classes, the activities were meant to “complement” the lesson, not detract. 

For other classes, I would be given a topic to make a presentation on or perhaps a topic to practice conversation around. These practice conversations would be easy enough to research a bit, and perhaps make a PowerPoint if necessary. 

Amanda Whitten pointing at a frog while abroad in Madrid teaching during a pandemic

Still, others would have me go over certain pages in the book, but without an answer key. I usually answered the questions myself before class so that I didn’t embarrass myself in front of the kids, teens, or even literal adults. 

Fortunately for me, I never had to worry about teaching actual grammar at this school, thank goodness. The teachers left the listening and conversation practice up to me, for the most part. And if there’s anything that I apparently have a gift for, it is a gift for gab. 

Do you work at a bilingual school? Is English being taught as a subject or throughout all classes?

I have worked at a bilingual school in the past, but I much preferred working at a traditional school. The reason being is that it’s difficult to teach technical concepts such as art theory or, god forbid, science and math, to even the most academically advanced students. Yes, I much prefer the straightforwardness of teaching ESL English in English classes rather than English through a different subject. I can’t imagine the challenges of teaching during a pandemic at a bilingual school. 

What goals or standards are classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

If the students managed to speak up at all, they would get a point in their favor in the grade book. This would all add up at the end of the year, and it could hurt or help their grade. It was really all about mere participation, with the exception of when students gave rubric graded speeches. I’m sure that the teachers themselves had more extensive ways of measuring progress. However, in my classes, it was all about showing up and speaking up, no matter how quietly or hesitantly. Honestly, it was good enough for me because, concerning foreign languages, it’s not about the destination, but the journey. And that journey is rocky and full of humiliating errors. So if they even dare to take a step, I applaud them. 

Amanda's work station while teaching during a pandemic.
My work station I set up to teach during the pandemic.

 

Looking back at our first interview, what have you learned most about yourself in the classroom this year?

My answer applies not just to our first interview, but also all the way to the beginning of my illustrious teaching career. I have learned to relax, breathe when rattled, not be a hammer, and be a high five. I have learned that having a good time, even if just playing an invigorating game, can be worth fifteen grammar lessons. If a student is laughing and smiling, then they are learning. 

Amanda will share her plans for next year in a follow-up interview. We look forward to hearing what she has to say and where her future will take her, especially considering her success in teaching during a pandemic. Be on the lookout for her third interview.

How to Teach in Thailand

In our last interview, Diego Ambrosio talked about wrapping up his school year by giving final exams. He was waiting to hear more about the COVID-19 instructions from the Thai government. He recalled his first day of class and how much he had grown as a professional. Diego took us on a typical day-to-day life of a Thai teacher and shared his teaching methods and his overall classroom instruction. 

In our final interview, Diego talks about why Thailand and how to overcome initial and recurring obstacles a teacher might encounter during their first years of teaching. 

What has been the most important thing you learned while teaching abroad so far?

“I would say that the first thing I learned was certainly the ability to adapt to a culture and a way of life diametrically opposed to how I lived in Italy or England.

Hand in hand with this, I have learned to acquire greater self-confidence and greater courage in accepting the “great teaching challenge.” This is not simply teaching, but teaching through a language that is not your mother tongue.”

Diego Ambrosio and his School Director

Have you accomplished your goals while living in Phuket?

“It was not easy at all. I believe that together with a large organizational component, a bit of luck was also needed. I, fortunately, had the opportunity to meet the right people at the right time.”

Planning a new life in a decidedly distant place from your native land requires a lot of preparation.

“First of all, you must consider a minimum budget available to “start the engine,” let’s say. Without an appropriate budget, moving abroad is like trying to start a car without gasoline. Obviously the more gasoline you have available, the longer you can travel before having to refuel. “Refueling” can only be dispensed by a job. Therefore, you need to know how to organize your resources the best you can and have a roadmap calendar for each day of the week, including small or large objectives to complete.

Acquaria Museum

The second really important thing is to be aware of the baggage you are leaving with, which doesn’t just include clothes :). It also, and above all, includes your curriculum vitae and accredited professional skills. Without these, I could hardly have entered the world of teaching in Thailand. So, within the time that was granted to me, I followed all the objectives. I never broke down or became lazy. Whenever I could, I tried to get more and more information. I scoured the Internet and asked people I met every day.

This resourcefulness, together with my “good nose,” was fundamental in being able to slowly plan my future and to transform uncertainties into solid affirmations.”

What has been the biggest challenge of living abroad?

“The biggest challenge has certainly been to find a job in a country with very few job opportunities for foreigners. It should not be forgotten that in Thailand, most professions are reserved for Thai people only. The few remaining opportunities for foreigners are divided between four or five sectors, which fortunately includes English language teaching.

If I had wasted the opportunity to teach English in Thailand I would have had little or no reason to stay in Thailand. The lack of job diversity is one of the main reasons it’s such a challenge to live in Thailand compared to other countries that offer a wider variety of work.”

What advice would you give on how to deal with that challenge?

“As I explained before, this challenge can only be overcome by rigorously accomplishing a series of small objectives. Together with a well-managed budget, professional background, and a back-up organization to support you will increase your success rate. No matter what, there’s always a small chance of failure. However, your chances of succeeding will be much higher if you face the adventure with an organized conscience.”

Do you have any advice for other teachers about to travel abroad to teach for the first time?

“A specific piece of advice that I have not yet expressed is to try, at least in the beginning, to not to rush towards opportunities that are too demanding. It’s more appropriate to always start with small experiments. Don’t travel too far. Test your very first experience in a new country somewhere with a similar social system.

M3 students

I tested my endurance and adaptability initially in England, a country very close to Italy. I managed to gather positive energy and the experience necessary for a bigger adventure. That first step into a new country was the one that brought me to live in Thailand today.”

How has teaching abroad helped with your overall professional goals?

“Teaching abroad has certainly helped me a lot in perfecting my professionalism within the teaching sector. Above all, teaching is itself a job that enriches you daily, not only with exciting experiences but also culturally. The countless considerations of the ever-changing English Language and all the new information I receive every day slowly complete the puzzle of my knowledge. Every day I become more and more confident in myself, and therefore, in my ability to teach English.”

What was your most memorable moment at your school or in class this year?

“It is curious to note that my colleague Bethy, a member of Dreams Abroad and a great friend, and I share a similar indelible memory linked to the moments spent so far in school. I will never forget the day my pupils of the Mattayom Four-level organized a surprise party on my birthday.

It all started with an organized false “skit.” One of my pupils pretended to be sick on the floor while another student immediately ran to my office to ask me for help. Once I arrived, I immediately started to give aid to the pupil. I lifted his legs and asked for a glass of sugar water to help him recover. I was in a state of total panic and felt extremely worried.

It was at that moment that a group of students gathered behind me with the cake and candles ready, singing a very excited and emotional “Happy Birthday.” I had tears in my eyes from a double dose of joy. Realizing that the ill student was just a joke and that they had all gathered there and planned this out exclusively for me is a memory that I’ll treasure forever.”

What parts of your teaching will change next year and what will you keep the same?

“The teaching method is generally not subject to change. In this case, I’m referring to the style, the voice, the stage presence, and my way of presenting my lessons.

What normally is subject to change every year are the courses I teach. They may be courses I have never taught before. This variety leads me to constantly organize new projects and new work material. It’s usually a very exciting and motivating task, since teachers are the main actor and director of what will be presented and what will contribute to the student’s educational growth.

I felt particularly interested when I received the chance to create a “Creative Writing & Speaking” course for students of level M5 and M6. In this course, I inserted one of my favorite fairy tale authors, the Greek fabulist Aesop, with enrichment from figurative language (figures of speech). I also assigned a final project that required a theatrical representation of a fairy tale.”

Waterfall in Thailand

What did you do over the Thai teacher vacation in April?

“Unfortunately, as for the vast majority of people around the world, I spent the month of April under lockdown. The Thai government decided to quarantine the nation in order to contain the global pandemic triggered by the then-novel coronavirus. Spending the holidays cooped up at home is not exactly what anyone would hope for. This was especially so in my case, as I was really looking forward to returning to Italy to spend a little time with my family members I only have the opportunity to see once a year.

Nonetheless, we will survive this. The human being is invincible and always finds a solution to everything. I am sure that we will find the strength and the right temperament to overcome even this sad period of our lives.”

What is the most important tip you can give someone wanting to teach abroad?

“If you really intend to teach abroad, remember that motivation and planning are the essential elements to undertake this choice. Motivation represents the first real starting point. Ask yourself if teaching is really a main goal in your life, or if it is a fallback to achieve other purposes, such as being able to stay in a country and explore it. The most delicate phase is planning, since it includes the collection of all useful and fundamental information before departure. A few examples of things you need to know about include your itinerary, and all the information you can get about your new home country in terms of work, laws, health, lifestyle, customs, traditions, climate, cost of living, and more.

Finally, you must think about the economic budget required for the first few months. You must plan this in advance in order to cover any surprise situations that may occur. The greater the starting budget, the better your quality of life will be, along with fewer worries to overcome.

Finally… I cannot help but to wish you a lot (and I mean a lot!) of luck! :)” 

thai School Formal

Wrap-Up of What It Is Like to Teach in Thailand

Diego will be teaching online intermittently until July. His regular school year starts July 1, 2020, when he resumes classes. He is waiting to hear more instructions from the Thai government and what actions will occur next due to Covid-19. He is optimistic that the future will allow him to teach in Thailand again. Diego has really enjoyed his experience in Thailand and is hopeful that the coming school year will provide another great year of professional growth and memories.

Krabi sunset teach in thailand

 

Day-To-Day Life Teaching at a Thai School

by Leesa Truesdell

Diego AmbrosioDiego Ambrosio and I had the chance to catch up for his second interview Finding the Perfect International Job. He had participated in a few Thai regional tournaments since we last spoke. He went to Bangkok, Thailand to judge a spelling bee competition and a group of his students participated in a music competition in Pang Na. His group won a gold and silver medal in the competition! He wrapped up his school year and is getting ready for exams. Diego has learned so much about what it is like teaching at a Thai school over the last year. He remembers when he first arrived and how much he has grown as a person and as a professional since that day. 

Read more about what Diego said about his day-to-day life teaching at a Thai school: 

What is a typical day at your school like? 

Each public school in Thailand generally follows the same morning routines before class starts. In my school, students must be present in the main square starting from 7:30 until about 8:10 in order to observe and respect the various routine ceremonies. These include a display of rigorous respect for the Thai National Anthem in a “Stand to Attention” position and music performed by the school band, a Buddhist prayer, and finally a list of ten “commandments” to always remember. The morning ceremony ends with the school jingle played by the music band. Each lesson lasts about 50 minutes (a period) and the school day consists of eight periods. Teachers must stay in the office until 16:30. The school entitles teachers to about one hour of lunch break. There is also a school canteen if necessary.

 

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

 We currently have nine teachers of different nationalities In the Foreign Teachers English department. There is one teacher from Poland, one from France, one from Morocco, one from Australia, three from the Philippines and one from Canada. The Canadian teacher is the coordinator of the English department. This year I received an assigned eighteen hours per week teaching eight classes for a total of five different courses. However, our contract provides for the possibility of having to cover up to 20 hours of teaching per week. In any case, we must cover the hours of the other teachers if they miss class due to illness or personal reasons.

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

I consider myself a lucky person from this point of view because I was able to immediately establish excellent friendships with my work colleagues.  I consider myself a naturally sociable and peaceful person, as well as extremely empathetic. Sometimes we organized meetings outside of school and ate together on special days of the year. For example, last December 26th, we all had lunch together on Christmas Day.

thai teachers

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

The most pleasant moment of the day is around the first afternoon hours, after lunch. I usually go for a digestive walk around the school campus. The campus has various nature trails. The school has become a lovely place because it sits inside a beautiful natural reserve of mangrove trees.

How is the material being taught to students? Do you use a specific method?

My school follows the conventional teaching method found throughout almost all Thailand English language teaching programs. The lesson plan includes four main phases that we call “warm-up,” “present,” “practice,” and “produce.” 

teacher abroad

The “warm-up” phase is generally short-lived (five to ten minutes) and includes the “call of attendances,” “introduction to the lesson,” a possible “ice-breaker” or “review of the previous lesson.” The second phase, “present,”  is the one in which the lesson is presented. Teachers explain the most important contents in this phase, through the use of projectors, audio-visual material, and obviously, the blackboard. The third phase, “practice,” consists of guided exercises to understand the contents explained, through individual or interactive exercises. Teachers must constantly monitor these activities and assist students the best they can. The final phase, “produce,”  is the final production of the learning contents learned by students. It can take place through the presentation of projects or individual works aimed at the development and improvement of oral skills and content presentation.

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

I always prepare my lessons with care. Preparing ahead helps me feel well-organized. I have everything ready well in advance so that I don’t have to run into unpleasant or unexpected events. As I explained above, I prepare my lessons through a specific template provided by the school which includes the four main processing phases. In addition, I also like to always look for new ideas and materials. Thanks to the Internet, I can always have an endless source of teaching material available. 

Do you work at a bilingual school? Does the school teach English as a subject or throughout all classes?


The English language is taught in all the classes. This means my school is ultimately a kind of bilingual school. However, there are several types of classes that have access to different levels of teaching quality. The two main programs of study for the English language are called the “regular program” and the “English program.” The regular program includes the teaching of the English language, but not through foreign native English-speaking teachers. On the other hand, the English program provides for the presence of native speakers, therefore the enrollment cost is significantly higher.

What goals or standards are classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?


Like any educational institution in the world, Thailand’s school system has parameters for the student assessment during the course of the entire school year. Teachers evaluate students at the end of each semester. My school has two semesters per year. Each student can earn a total value of 100 points. They can earn these with scores from two main units (25 points + 25 points) plus a mid-term exam for a max of 20 points and a final exam with a maximum score of 30 points. Based on the total score obtained, the student will be able to access a grade ranking that ranges from a minimum of 1.5 to a maximum of 4.

I want to clarify an important detail of the Thai school system, namely that students cannot be rejected or repeat the same school year. The school promotes each and every student, no matter what. Whenever a student earns a score lower than 50/100, the teacher becomes responsible for taking care of the student by organizing an extra lesson, project, or exam for the student. The student must complete them as proof of resolution of the low score. Even if the student fails to successfully complete this phase, he will still be promoted. This aspect makes us reflect a lot, since it shows a big flaw in the process of education and growth of the Thai child. There is a very high possibility of an unprepared student reaching the upper levels of an academic course.

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself in the classroom this year?

There is always something new to learn with each passing year. I can still remember who I was as soon as I arrived at this school and how, day after day, I managed to improve the quality of my teaching together with improved creativity and constant participation within various school events.

Recently, for example, I learned that the morale with which you start your lessons has a decisive impact on the progression of the lesson and on the learning that follows from the students. So it is really essential to always start in the right gear and have the best intentions.

Wrap Up Working at a Thai School

Due to the recent coronavirus pandemic, the minister of Thailand mandated that schools in Thailand be shut down until May. Diego wrapped up his final week of classes by giving final exams. He had originally planned to go back to Italy in April for his break. Since Italy is a major epicenter of the coronavirus, Diego will not be able to go home and plans to remain in Thailand for now.

Stay tuned for more on Diego’s Thailand teach abroad adventure.

 

Teaching Trilingual Education in Ontinyent, Spain

 

edgar llivisupaEdgar Llivisupa is halfway through the Spanish school year in Ontinyent, Spain. Catch up on his first interview learning as a teaching assistant. He is feeling good about his work and language learning in teaching trilingual education. Over the Christmas holiday, he decided to travel around Europe instead of going back to New York. He will complete his second year in less than five months. He is achieving his goal of learning Valenciano and practices very hard. His answers to his classroom instruction and school interview were very authentic because he doesn’t have a background in education. His answers are all the more authentic, especially since he is working at a school that is trilingual. Here is what he has to say.

What is a typical day at your school like? Is this different from last year’s schedule? If so, how?

“The biggest difference from last year is that my work hours are more compact. Last year I had multi-hour gaps between teaching two extracurricular classes throughout the weeks. I finished work on Fridays at noon. This year, my timetable is in line with regular school hours. Also, last year at this time I was still adjusting to teaching and finding my role in the classroom. Currently, I am more comfortable in my daily tasks. My role changes depending on which teacher I am working with. With the art teacher, I take a crate of games and activities that include flashcards, charades, bingo and play games with the students. I sometimes have to be creative with the games I am playing in both the rules and explaining them to the students.

Trilingual Education Ontinyent spain

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

I work with the art teacher and the English teacher, who is also my tutor.

I teach 1st through 6th grade in my school. Each class is composed of ten and eighteen students. Each level only has one section, and I see them twice a week. I also have a conversational class after regular school hours for parents with an English B1 and higher certificate.

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

Since this is my second year at this school, my tutor and I have a great working relationship. We understand the proficiency of the students so when we have to organize the weekly activities, I give feedback on the effectiveness and difficulty of the activity. 

Regarding other teachers, our school is small, so the faculty knows one another fairly well. Therefore, other teachers, I don’t usually work with may ask for my assistance with other mundane tasks.

What is your favorite part of the day? Why? 

My favorite part of the day is pati, or playground, which is when the students have 30 minutes to play outside. I usually stray away from the classroom and talk to the other teachers. It’s nice to interact with teachers in the school that I don’t usually have the opportunity to talk to. 

My favorite class is with the adults, as I am more comfortable teaching them. Unlike with the children, I can express myself more freely. Since the students have an interest in improving their fluency, I don’t have to deal with children that aren’t interested in the subject.

Teaching Trilingual Education in Ontinyent, Spain

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

“The teaching resources come from Oxford Education which includes a workbook and class book for the students, a smartboard application, and other items like posters and flashcards. In the books, there are songs, quizzes, and stories in line with other textbooks. 

I’m not familiar with different teaching methods, but I can comment that the students sit in groups of four to five, which is the same throughout all their classes. In the case of the English class, the groups can vary in their level of English. Some groups have strong students while other groups can have mostly students who struggle. Usually, classes start with a song followed by a lecture. Afterward, the students work on an assignment in the textbook or on a teacher-made worksheet.” 

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

It is stipulated in our contract that we aren’t supposed to lesson plan or conduct lessons on our own. I’m lucky that my school has maintained that stipulation.

I don’t have to prepare much for the time I am with the art teacher. The children play  competitively with the games I bring. They never tire of playing the same game against one another.

On the other hand, the English teacher and I have a designated hour once a week to prepare for classes. It never takes up the entire hour because of our aforementioned working relationship. We either use the activities in the book or I offer to modify an activity so it relates to the topics being taught in the class.

Do you work at a bilingual school? Is English being taught as a subject or throughout all classes? Describe ways in which English is implemented in class.

valencia art“My school is trilingual, with the languages being Valenciano, Spanish, and English. However, in the main classroom, students use Valenciano and Spanish interchangeably. For instance, the students may speak to each other in Spanish, but the instruction is in Valenciano. The school teaches English as its own subject with its own teacher and classroom. Students and teachers rarely speak English outside that environment. For this reason, in the English classroom, we explicitly avoid speaking any other language. I go as far as to hide the fact that I am a native Spanish speaker and am studying Valenciano so the students are forced to speak English in interactions with me.”

What goals or standards are your classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

“While I can’t speak on behalf of my teachers, my goals are to improve their vocabulary, develop their speaking ability and spark the student’s interest in learning the language. I find it unreasonable to expect more because the students are also learning two other languages. Also, the majority of students are of immigrant descent so they speak an additional language at home. It must be overwhelming for the children, especially since it’s easy to forget that it’s only primary education.

Looking back at our first Teach Abroad interview, what have you learned most about yourself since your arrival to Spain both in the classroom and out of the classroom?

“Growing up, I had a lot of difficulties when it came to language. I started to talk at a very late age. My school enrolled me in speech classes up until middle school to work on my pronunciation of certain phonemes and mitigate my slur. This was on top of dealing with the struggles of being a bilingual learner with parents at home who didn’t speak English. Speaking became an insecurity as people ridiculed the way I spoke both of my native languages.

Now, at an older age, I interact with both English learners and fluent Spanish speakers who continue to point out the peculiar way that I speak. I use that information to improve my speaking abilities in ways that I would have never done otherwise. What used to be an insecurity has become an interest in linguistics and sympathy for other language learners when they stumble on certain parts of a language native learners are oblivious to the difficulty of. In addition, as I’m teaching children, I have to familiarize myself with English grammar that I didn’t have to study previously. I have to consider a different approach to speaking that makes it easier for English learners to understand me. “

Teaching Trilingual Education in Ontinyent, Spain

Edgar is not sure about his future plans after classes end for the summer. He has a few ideas in mind. He continues to travel during every Spanish holiday (there are quite a few) and continues to practice Valenciano. We will catch up with him when his classes end to see what he has planned. 

futbul game

by Leesa Truesdell

Teaching ESOL from Experience

by Caroline Hazelton

caroline hazelton teaching ESOLI wonder how you found this page? Perhaps you found it by Google, by social media sharing, or by mere coincidence. Good for you! Either way, I bet the only way you’ll keep reading after this is if you truly care about teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages. Even at that, because I said the word “experience” you are probably in need of such, AKA “teaching ESOL from experience.” 

Right now I’m on Year 7 in teaching languages. I’m always improving my teaching craft. I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it a certain way. Yet as I handed in my lesson plans this past Tuesday, I realized that teacher jargon doesn’t explain what simple experience can. And yet so much of the way I teach and have been successful from Year 3 onward is because of… experience — that is, “teaching ESOL from experience.”

I originally started this article with a list of teacher advice, but quickly realized you can find that anywhere. Instead, I think it’s best to reflect on the four institutions where I’ve actively taught ESOL and what each ESOL school taught me… through experience. I’ll list each school as “School A, B, C and D” for the privacy of each school.

School A: Finding Your Place as a Professional in School

For Pete’s sake, if you are a new teacher DEMAND A CURRICULUM. You’ll need one to stay organized, maximize learning, and follow the natural flow of language acquisition progression. Furthermore, set boundaries on students. Don’t accept their Facebook requests, don’t let them use their native language in class (even if it is the other language you teach and love) except for emergencies, and if any student starts to cross professional boundaries you must immediately but respectfully set them straight for the sake of your classroom control. Also, especially if you are a young teacher, you must especially look professional at all times.

Professional in School

School B: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions and Set Boundaries

Now that your demanded curriculum is in hand, ask the director/principal specific questions about the curriculum or the school they might be too busy to explain. Make sure to ask questions such as “When does the semester end?” or “How long is the book to be used for?” As much as you love your students, don’t be afraid to correct their English. However, know the goal of each activity and make your corrections specific (like adding a preposition).

Give general critiques (like encouraging students to add more information) so the students aren’t overwhelmed by their mistakes. Again, make sure you set professional boundaries. You love your job, but don’t work for free — make sure you are fairly compensated for your time. If you are not paid on time, immediately contact HR. And finally, always overestimate how long it will take you to arrive to class so you can breathe when you get there.

Ask Questions and Set Boundaries

School C: Use Your Own Experience When Teaching

Own your cultural identity and what it can bring to the classroom. I was the only white teacher in my ESOL department at School C. I owned it. At the beginning, I demanded my intermediate level students only speak in English. I made my students weird American things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I taught them how Americans butcher Hispanic names in English and hate kisses on the cheek.

Make sure to hand the mic over to your students every once in a while. Let them voice both their cultures and the saddening situations that brought them over to the United States. Let them use Spanish… but only in emergencies or during non-instructional time. And finally, as important as that curriculum is, do not underestimate the importance of authentic cultural material that is relevant to the topic. Bring in the country music, clips of The Office, and Super Bowl commercials.

Experience Teaching

School D: Give Yourself Structure and Take Time to Learn

As an unorganized person, having an organized curriculum pre-planned for me each class helped me see just how learning can be maximized with the right pacing and assessment. I tend to get off task, but staying on topic is crucial for the learner. However, the ability to learn and quickly memorize facts about each student builds a good rapport with students. Finding a balance between staying on task and learning about your students should be found. Finally, students need to hear ways to improve their English. Working with a Chinese crowd at this school, I found it helpful to study common mistakes Chinese English Language Learners make, identify them in the student, and quickly address them with go-to examples. 

Teaching ESOL from Experience

I don’t think there isn’t a day where I’m not learning from my experiences. Just tonight, an argument broke out between two students over a political issue (Venezuelan dictator Maduro seizing and selling homes abandoned by Venezuelans fleeing) and a personal issue (these two students did not get along). After resolving the argument and further discussing with another Venezuelan student about the emotional state of those fleeing, I would like to do some further reading about helping refugees process their emotions. Situations like these help shape my responses to future tense situations. After every day that I teach, I make sure to do a nightly reflection. This helps me know what I’d like to repeat for next semester but also steer away from. 

 

Making the Jump Abroad and Teaching Online

 

Michael ToddMichael Todd was born and raised in southwest Virginia. Before making the jump abroad, he worked an assortment of odd jobs. Michael has worked as a barista and a tutor assisting immigrant children with their English skills. He also has worked various gigs in the arts. Entering his third year in Madrid, Spain, Michael is looking for ways to further put down roots and build a life that goes beyond just visiting. He spends a lot of his time writing, attending literary events and concerts, and searching for good iced coffee.

Aside from his search for community, another goal for Michael’s third year is to travel as much as he can. When we spoke, he was getting ready to travel to Lisbon, Portugal to see The Lumineers in concert. He’s also hit up Munich, Germany to attend Oktoberfest, as well as visited some friends in Lund, Sweden. Where else will he end up? Follow his story to find out!

Side note: during our discussion, I asked him to describe himself with three adjectives and here is how some of his friends, parents, siblings, roommates, exes, acquaintances, and some total strangers described him (in alphabetical order) as adventurous, caring, creative, cosmopolitan, crusty, cultured, explorative, fearless, funny, hairy, honest, intelligent, inquisitive, majestic, pale, pondering, queer, questioning, witty, and unique. 

Meet Michael:

Why did you choose to Teach Abroad in Spain and Europe? 

“I’d always wanted to travel aroundand possibly live inEurope. Finally landing in Spain as my home base was a bit of an accident. My best friend back home recommended I look into an Associazione Culturale Linguistica Educational (ACLE). ACLE is a summer camp that teaches English to kids in Italy. She’d done the same program during university and thought I’d be a good fit for it. Plus, Italy was basically at the top of my list of places to visit. 

Once they accepted me to teach for that summer I thought, why not try and stay longer? I researched some programs for Teaching English as Foreign Language (TEFL), keeping in mind that I needed some sort of visa assistance if I wanted to stay in Europe longer than the three months allowed with an American passport. One of the more promising programs I found was here in Madrid. I reasoned a popular metropolitan city with good travel connections (and very gay-friendly to boot) fit my interests perfectly. To top it all off, I’d studied Spanish during high school. I hoped that integrating into life here would be a lot simpler than, say if I went somewhere like Germany. I would later discover this was not actually the case, but I still feel pretty happy with my choice regardless!” 

Have you ever taught before? If not, what were you doing before you decided to move abroad?  

streets of spain“I’d never really thought teaching would be part of my career path until around my sophomore year at university when I was offered a few gigs around the city. I mostly worked doing summer camps in the arts or by giving specialized workshops in things like prosthetic fabrication (stuff like body parts for theatre productions). That was enough to show me that teaching wasn’t always a grudgingly difficult process like it always seemed to be in high school. This really opened me up to adding teaching to my toolbelt, so to speak, when it came to pursuing a life in the arts. 

Before I moved abroad, I worked freelance in several jobs: barista, figure model for art classes, theatre designer (props, set, and makeup), writer (magazines and local papers), and, yes, teaching. Directly before moving, I worked for about six months as an assistant at elementary and high schools helping children of immigrants with their reading and writing skills. Most of them spoke English very well and just struggled with the written element. Virginia, where I lived, was all about test scores.

I’d also taught a few writing and theatre workshops around Richmond. Some classes I taught were a class on fabricating severed heads (yes, there is a market for that, apparently) and a writing course for LGBTQ+ teens in the area. 

All this is to say, teaching is much like Spain was for me initially. It was an accident I’ve come to love as a supplement to my personal creative practice.”

What did you think teaching abroad would be like? 

“Honestly, much easier, haha. I envisioned effortless classes and loads of free time exploring Europe. Which isn’t to say that teaching English is always difficult, or that I haven’t traveled at all. But our language is slippery and flexible, which can make it challenging to teach at times; there was a ton that I knew without knowing why I knew it, so the first year was a lot about teaching myself before I could teach my students.

More than once I had to honestly tell my students, “I’m not surelet me look into that and we can talk about it next class.” And that’s the hard reality of it: if you haven’t, say, majored in English or some type of education, you’ll probably have a steep learning curve if you decide to go into ESL. Nonetheless, I found that as long as I told the truth about what I did or didn’t know, my students were patient with me. And by the second year, I had significantly fewer gaps.”

Where have you been teaching? 

“I taught my first two years at an academy about 45 minutes outside of the city. Based on my group of friends here, I’d say this is pretty normal. You’re lucky if you land a nice academy gig in the center of the city, or if you get placed at a high school close by. The academy I was at had some amazing teachers but some pretty toxic management. 

michael todd

 

During the second year, I started transitioning to teaching online and left academy life entirely this past June. It’s been so much easier and less stressful to work from homethe preparation has been reduced by probably 80%, and I’m paid better than when I worked in academies here, even with the exchange rate and taxes. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t teach in an academy or as an auxiliar. There are some amazing academies and an auxiliar job can be perfect if you get a good school. However, if I’d known that teaching online existed upon moving to Spain, my first two years here may have looked significantly different. I very much support educating yourself on all your options.” 

What are you doing now? Will you be teaching online this year?

I am teaching online with a company called VIPKid. I teach lessons that range from about 25 to 30 minutes. It’s much more convenient because I can choose my own schedule. Being in the European timezone, my workday much more resembles a regular 9:00 to 5:00 job versus in academy life, where my hours were closer to 4:00 to 10:00 PM. This also means that if I want to go on a trip or something, I don’t have to worry about asking for time off.

What expectations did you have before you came here? Were you afraid to travel far from home?

“I really didn’t have clear expectations. It’s hard to imagine a new life you haven’t lived yet in a place you’ve never been before, even with looking at pictures, watching films, or talking to people who are already there. I was lucky enough to chat with a few people before moving abroad about what their lives were like, where I should look for housing, what pay was like, and so on. If I had any expectations, it was that my life here would be easier and happier than back home (which is not to say that I was terribly unhappy, but rather that I had a very romanticized idea of life abroad). 

As for if I was afraid to travel far from homenot at all. I’d dreamed of it for years. I don’t think anyone felt particularly surprised when I finally made the jump. I think a lot of people thought, “Ah, finally, he did it!”

What were some of your accomplishments of your first year?

“Surviving, haha. Teaching can be a difficult gig sometimes. I spent a lot of my time feeling unsure of myself and feeling like a champion if I got through a class without actually sweating. 

Besides that, I did a fair amount of traveling in my first year. I went to Scotland with a friend for a long weekend, visited my ex in Paris, and also hit up Italy, Germany, and Portugal. I’m also really happy with the fact that I stuck with my Spanish classes on top of teaching. 

Really, probably my biggest “accomplishment” was deciding to stay a second year when I wasn’t sure that this was the right fit for me. Spain, again, was coincidental, and I didn’t necessarily love the experience the first go-round. Plenty of people leave after the first year, or even earlier if they’re that unhappy. I really considered calling it quits, but I’m glad I decided to stick it out.” 

What do you want to achieve for your third year? 

My third year is about traveling more, establishing more friendships, seeking out community, and strengthening the ties I have. Madrid is a pretty transient city. People come and go often, sometimes they feel unhappy, they find other jobs, decide to try other countries, marry, go to grad school… The list goes on. What I mean is, it can be hard to anchor yourself. Initially, I thought I would be more nomadic, moving each year or traveling more frequently. But I’ve learned through leaving America and coming here that community is important to me, and so that’s a big goal for me this year. I’ve found a great writer’s group here through a trilingual bookshop called Desperate Literature and I’ve started auditioning for local productions after probably six years without acting, so I’m excited to see how those things develop. 

What advice would you give to other participants about their first year? What are some of the things they must do and some things they must absolutely not do? 

“That’s a great question… If I had to answer this question as if I were talking back to myself as a first-year, I would say, be kinder to yourself. Stop obsessing over the perfect lesson plan, because it doesn’t exist. Be flexible and focus more on the students themselves than what you’ve told yourself you need to teach. Get out of your apartment more. Madrid is an amazing city for many reasons: it has an NYC vibe in that there are always people out there are always things to do. I didn’t do nearly enough my first year, so don’t make that mistake. Go to the open mic nights, join a sports group, go on hikes, go to intercambios… Don’t forget why you came here in the first place.” 

Italy michael todd

How do you feel about your integration into the Spanish culture so far? What are the steps you have taken to prepare yourself? How did you prepare before you arrived? 

“I did basically nothing before arriving beyond looking at some old Spanish notes from high school, haha. Probably a mistake. But since coming here, I’ve done as much as my life as an English teacher will allow. It can be difficult to fully integrate into this culture when half of your day is in English. But I’ve really stuck with my Spanish classes, and I’m somewhere between B2 (upper-intermediate) and C1 (lower-advanced). It’s a very fuzzy place to be, but I love pushing my limits. Spanish people are also very warm in many ways, but also somewhat flaky. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t immediately line up to be your best friend. If you’re patient and persistent, you can wiggle your way in, and at that point, they’re really loyal. That will be a big part of my whole community-building goal this year.”

Teaching Online and What the Future Holds

In addition to staying for a fourth year, Michael is also currently looking into graduate programs as an option for the near future. He plans to earn an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Michael will spend the month of April doing a creative writing residency in northern Vermont. He is currently participating in the Writer to Writer Mentorship Program with AWP, which brings together burgeoning and established writers. Michael will be writing for Dreams Abroad so visit our site frequently to see what he will be sharing about teaching online and being abroad. 

by Leesa Truesdell

Roundup of Our Best Articles of 2019

It’s that time of year, where we post our winter round-up best articles of 2019. If you remember from our summer round-up series, you, our readers, decided our top five pieces.  Some of our writers have made it back for our final review, the best blog posts of 2019.

This year we have seen a variety of ideas from our writers. Some members from our Travel Abroad team wrote about places like Iceland, Mexico City, as well as Kuwait City, just to name a few. Our Teach Abroad members have provided resources on teaching in the USA, abroad, and online. In addition, they have given guidance on how to get abroad through pre-departure tips (do’s and don’ts). We are especially proud of our Study Abroad team’s inaugural year. We certainly have a great group who started this year and they shared guidance on many different ideas pertaining to studying abroad, the steps to take, tips on scholarships, and finding the best study program that fits your goals.

Finally, our community, you, have read a year’s worth of content. Based on what and how many times you read it, here is what you decided as Dreams Abroad’s Best Articles of 2019.

Teaching ESOL, Spanish, and Online Classes in the United States

spanish esl teacher teaching in the us

Leesa Truesdell’s interview with Caroline Hazelton made the “best of” list in June. It kept its spot as one of the top five articles of 2019. In this interview, Caroline spoke in detail about the differences in teaching English as Foreign Language (TEFL) online, teaching English as a Second Language (ESOL), and teaching Spanish to non-speakers with mostly American backgrounds in the USA. She gave an especially great piece of advice to all learners from different cultures: “Be patient and get out of your comfort zone!” 

This piece covers content ranging from cultural identity to Noam Chomsky’s theory of “universal grammar” that states humans have an innate ability to learn languages. Additionally, she talks about the struggles international students face while in the USA and touches on her own personal development as a teacher. She provides tips and guidance on what she has done differently over the years. This interview is a must read for teachers in any profession. Caroline has been teaching languages for many years and is a fourth-generation teacher. We can see why this interview is in our top five viewed.  

How Did I Get to Thailand to Teach?

Emma Higgins discusses the reasons she chose to move to Thailand after graduation with an English Literature degree from the University of South Carolina. She doesn’t recall what exactly made her think Thailand, but remembers seeing a friend who taught in Bangkok, Thailand and remembered thinking that she could do it. 

buddha statue

In this piece, Emma provides guidance on how she researched teaching in Thailand. She explains that the more she researched, the more it undeniably confirmed her desire to travel abroad and live a life in Thailand. Emma suggests doing the proper research before traveling abroad because of the different visa types offered in Thailand. 

In addition, this article provides guidance on how to book a ticket to get to Thailand and suggests how to prepare before you arrive. Emma explains that the most difficult part about the “how do I get to Thailand to teach” is deciding to come.  

Iceland Travels: A Land of Nonchalant Spectacularity 

Iceland Travels A Land of Nonchalant Spectacularity 

Amanda Whitten talks about her recent Iceland travels with her friend throughout the northwest part of Iceland. Amanda discusses the unquestionably impressive landscape and epic paths she travels with her friend in their rental jeep, providing pointers for your next trip to Iceland. During her Iceland travels, she takes you on a play-by-play of her trip through the fjords, past the volcanic lava fields and into the next leg of her six-day adventure. Amanda emphasizes things she would do again and things she would not do again. This is a very helpful piece for anyone looking to travel to Iceland and roadtrip in the summer by Jeep. 

Pre-Departure Teaching English in Seoul, South Korea

 

epik teach English Program in Korea

Zoe Ezechiels interviewed Paige Miller in a two-part interview. Paige graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology from Florida State University in August of 2018. While at the university, Paige was an active part of the Korean American Student Association. Her cultural interests both in Korean culture and teaching inspired her to apply to Epik, a Korean (TEFL) recruiter.  

Because of her interests in both Korean culture and teaching, Paige decided on teaching English in Korea after graduation. In February 2019, she began to teach in Seoul, South Korea at Seoul Dongho Elementary School. Zoe’s interview explains her pre-departure process of teaching English in South Korea. She provides insight and pointers from Paige, who is still living in South Korea. 

Top Kuwait Tourist Attractions

Dalal Boland is a Ph.D. student from Kuwait City, Kuwait. Dalal lives in Tampa, Florida. She will return to her home country to teach at a university once she completes her Ph.D. Dalal is extremely proud of her home country and birthplace. In this piece, she explains the top Kuwait tourist attractions. Dalal notes that Kuwait is a small country but lists some of its most dazzling tourist attractions. Check out her recommendations.

Kuwait Towers Best Blog Posts of 2019

Thank You for Reading Our Best Articles of 2019

We thank you for reading, commenting, and being part of our best articles of 2019! We have seen an influx of comments coming in on our content. It’s been particularly great to see the engagement — we enjoy collaborating with our community. Thank you for reading and influencing our best articles of 2019. Please continue to give us feedback throughout 2020 so that we can understand the content and ideas you enjoy reading most. Thanks again and may you continue to live your dreams abroad!

by Leesa Truesdell

A Career Pathway to Obtaining a Ph.D.

By Leesa Truesdell

Dalal Boland has been studying at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida for three semesters. She is working on Curriculum and Instruction in English Education coursework and has two semesters until she begins her dissertation. Dalal enjoys her program very much. She is thriving at USF and really enjoys the sense of diversity on campus. Compared to Florida State University where she got her master’s, Dalal feels that USF has a thriving international community. “There is just the right balance for me. Cultural immersion is not as difficult at USF because I have Americans in my classes. I hang out with the decently sized Arab population after class and on weekends.”

Dalal is on a sponsored scholarship that lasts up to five years to complete her Ph.D. She plans to finish her degree in about four and a half years. She anticipates getting back to work in Kuwait after she graduates. Right now, she enjoys working at a university teaching English.

Here is what Dalal had to say about her career pathway to obtaining a Ph.D.

kuwait city study abroadWhat was it like growing up in Kuwait City, Kuwait? For example, what was the education system like? Did you go to a primary school and a secondary school?

“I did all of my schoolings in Kuwait at a public school up until I reached university, which was a private school. All public schools in Kuwait are segregated and subject areas are taught in Arabic. In high school, I focused on science in my educational track.  However, I decided to become a liberal-arts major at the university level.”

Did you take a gap year? Or, did you go straight to Gulf University for your undergraduate studies?

“After obtaining my high school degree, I immediately enrolled at the Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST), Kuwait. I majored in English education and felt thrilled to start my new journey.”

Where did you study for your undergraduate and graduate degrees? How long did it take to get a diploma for these degrees? Did you work in the field before you went back for a Ph.D.?

“I received my undergraduate degree from GUST back in 2012. I then took about a year off working as a teller at the National Bank of Kuwait with the purpose of saving up some money in order to continue my studies. However, I was lucky enough to obtain a scholarship in order to pursue my graduate degree.

Since FSU offered an excellent graduate program in Curriculum and Instruction, it sparked my interest when browsing for universities. I decided to apply and was lucky enough to receive admission. I spent a total of four years on my undergraduate degree and a total of a year and a half doing my master’s at FSU. After obtaining my master’s degree, I went back to Kuwait to teach English as a second language to native Arabic speakers at the college level. I spent a total of three years teaching English until I recently received another scholarship to continue my education in order to obtain a Ph.D.”

Why did you decide to go to the University of South Florida (USF) for your Ph.D.?

“I chose USF to do my Ph.D. because the college of education at USF is known to be one of the best colleges nationwide. They offer excellent degree-seeking programs and have accreditation by my sponsor. Moreover, USF is a research-driven university. I believe this would best help me in executing my research ideas in order to acquire more expertise in the field of English education.”

USF-University-of-South-Florida-Bulls-PHD

What is the University of South Florida known for with regard to education?

“The College of Education at the University of South Florida has multiple nationwide-recognized awards for its role in research and education. Also, USF’s College of Education received accreditation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Furthermore, the Florida Department of Education approved the Educator Preparation Programs.”

In your opinion, is USF a good university?

“Without a doubt! USF offers a variety of opportunities. They encourage working with professors who are understanding and passionate about what they do. There is also a variety of students that come from different backgrounds that add a unique flavor to the academic settings.”

career pathway

You attended both Florida State University and the University of South Florida. Is USF a better university? What are some of the similarities and differences?

“Once a Seminole, always a Seminole and there’s no doubt in that! FSU has paved the way in making me the educator who I am today. USF is helping me build on the training that FSU provided. I would never make a comparison between the two universities as both are extremely qualified universities that should attract students to their programs.”

What sparked your dream study abroad?

“I have always wanted to study abroad ever since I was a teenager. However, I only got the opportunity to do so after obtaining my undergraduate degree. I believe that studying abroad makes a person grow on multiple levels. Those that study abroad are immersed in a rich culture. This experience offers different opportunities to explore not only the culture but oneself, too.”

ucf college of education

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the location and what changed since being in the program?

“My expectation before I left Kuwait was that the program was going to be challenging yet very informative. My expectation was certainly met. I was blessed enough to be part of a university with a department that works with capable teachers who have valuable information in the field of English education.”

What have you done since you began your doctoral program? Are there any tips you want to share with any candidates about to start their own doctoral program?

“From the very beginning (and several times early on in my first semester as a doctoral student), I sat down with my advisor. We came up with a projected course of study in order to have a plan that would create the best path for my adventure as a doctoral student. I advise whoever else who has started this journey to have this plan done from the very start. It is so helpful to refer to it when it comes to classes that you need to take that also align with your research interest.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad in the USA for an advanced degree?

“For those who are studying abroad, my ultimate advice to them is that they must constantly remind themselves of why they chose to leave their family and country behind and embark on this new journey. There are times where a person will feel homesick and overwhelmed with the coursework, especially as a doctoral student. However, one should keep in mind that struggle is temporary and a doctoral degree is forever! It doesn’t matter how bumpy the ride is. What matters most is that one reaches his/her designated destination.”

A Career Pathway to Obtaining a Ph.D.

If you are thinking about getting a Ph.D., Dalal talks about five steps to take before leaving for the USA. She went back to Kuwait last summer and plans to return again this summer. I asked her what she misses most about Kuwait while living in the US. She explained that she misses the professional part of her life — the part of being a teacher. She wants to apply the techniques she has learned in attaining her Ph.D. on her students. More specifically, she wants her students back home to learn how to make their voices heard when applying the English language. We will be keeping up with Dalal to see how her final classes go and also discover what her dissertation will be!

 

Learning as a Teaching Assistant in Ontinyent, Spain

edgar llivisupa profile photoEdgar Llivisupa is a native New Yorker completing a dual degree in Business Journalism and Spanish Literature and Language. His goals while teaching abroad are to improve his Spanish, test his capabilities as a teacher, and to travel. 

Edgar has been living in Ontinyent, Spain for one school year. Ontinyent is located in eastern Spain near Valencia. He is a teaching assistant at a primary school and will be returning to the same school this September. He enjoys learning Valencian and interacting with the locals. 

Edgar is looking forward to returning for another year. He wants to continue his progress with his students and dive deeper into the Spanish culture and lifestyle.

Meet Edgar 

Why did you choose to come to Spain and Europe? 

“There were many motivations for me to live abroad. Firstly, it had been rare in my life for me to venture outside New York. In fact, I had traveled out of the tri-state area only a handful of times, so I was itching to leave. Secondly, after failing a calculus course I switched my major to Spanish and started taking more intensive coursework. During a literature class, the professor flagged up  the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program. As an American, there was already an innate curiosity to visit Europe. As a descendant of Hispanics, I was also inquisitive about Spanish culture and how much it influenced Latin America. Thirdly, I had a brother living in Madrid. This put me at ease after reading online testimonials from other participants in the program.”

Why did you choose to teach abroad? 

“While I had considered studying abroad in the past, the costs made it seem out of reach. I was never the type to look for grants or scholarships to aid my studies. Alongside that, I would have to pick courses that would grant me credits at my college. Instead, this program gave me the opportunity to work abroad, which made me more comfortable rather than going abroad as a student. I hadn’t considered teaching before, but regardless, I have approached my tasks and responsibilities with an open mind and strived to do my best.”

Have you ever taught before? If not, what were you doing before you decided to move abroad?  

“I’ve never taught before. Rather, I was working very close to home at a pharmacy. It had nothing to do with what I was majoring in, but I wanted some work experience and a reference for the future just in case. Earning my own money felt rewarding as it lessened my dependence on my parents and when I decided to participate in the program, it meant I could start saving for my year abroad.”

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

“I am an English teaching assistant at a primary school in Ontinyent, Spain, located in the Valencian Community.

I had a feeling that teaching abroad would be extremely difficult as I had no previous experience. And I had been put off it as a career by what my public school teachers had to say about it.

I also had no idea what my students’ proficiency level would be so thank God for the chance to do some homework on them on the Internet. The school’s online blog gave me a great insight into the faculty, the students, and what the school looked like. There were documents on the English classes, their textbooks and other learning materials. I was also heartened to see that the school had recently embarked on a cultural exchange with public schools in Africa. So my arrival wasn’t going to be jarring as they had already opened their hearts and minds to another culture.”

What expectations did you have before you came here?

“I had no expectations coming to Ontinyent. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t looking forward to it. Knowing I had finally made it out of New York meant I was aware that I would have a good time regardless of where I wound up.”

cityscape ontinyent spain

What were your perceptions of Ontinyent during your first year?

“Again, I had the Internet to thank for discovering that it wasn’t amongst the most isolated towns in the region (looking at you there, Bocairent). I saw there was a decently-sized shopping mall with chains like Zara and GAME (an equivalent of GameStop), as well as a movie theater. All of the major Spanish banks were there. And most important of all, there was a train station to Valencia. 

By the end of the first year, I had learned that family is highly valued in Ontinyent. At least once a week, regardless of work or social schedules, the family, from grandparents to grandchildren, will share a meal together.”

What were some of the accomplishments of your first year?

“Moving and living abroad is a big accomplishment in itself with all the changes it has brought  me. I had never lived away from home or on my own before. Suddenly in my own flat, there was no one to clean up, cook, or pay the bills. Those responsibilities all fell on me.

Ontinyent newspaper

Many people had warned me that the town isn’t ideal for young people with few nightlife options or places to hang out. Instead I just traveled to the major cities before returning to the calm of Ontinyent. It was a great balance for me.”

What do you want to achieve for your second year? 

“As much as I strive to plan my life (after all, I first heard of this program three years ago), I have no idea where it is going. This year, I am going to lay foundations  in case I decide to relocate to Ontinyent for good. This includes continuing to study the local language, Valencian, which is a dialect of Catalan. 

I want to attend Spanish language courses. While I know enough to be considered a native speaker, I still lack confidence. So it would help to be more proficient and understand the basic facets of the language. 

Also, while I can assume I did a decent enough job to warrant a warm and lovely “see you soon!” party at my school, I do feel that there is a lot I can improve on. Since I’m returning to the same center, I don’t have to spend the first few months meeting the faculty and students or familiarizing myself with the town. Like I told some of my co-workers, I come back ready to work!”

What advice would you give to other participants about your first year? What are some of the things they must do and some things they must absolutely not do? 

“The most important thing to realize about this program is that it is going to take a while to adjust to living in Spain if you’re not in a major city. You’re not going to easily find foreign cuisine or people who want to, or can, speak English. By the time I acclimatized to living abroad, which for me was around the New Year, I was already at the halfway point of my tenure. Keep that in mind if it takes you longer to adjust to a new surrounding.

Another piece of advice I have, and this is more personal, regards technology. Yes, it makes us all connected but while it is great to talk to loved ones back home, attempt to disconnect once in a while. Enjoy your newfound independence in a different setting.”

How do you feel about your integration into the culture so far? How did you prepare before you arrived? 

“Before my arrival, I explored the town’s tourism website and looked at the traditional dishes, holidays, and festivals celebrated throughout the year. Being in a small town helped me integrate easier than a tenure in Madrid or Barcelona. There aren’t fast-food chains to satisfy my American tastebuds. The stores in Ontinyent close around 8pm. And my town is also multi-generational.

Now that it’s a year later, I can say it was a great change for me. I am happy to be away from New York. Ontinyent was the perfect size for me. Living in big cities can cause anxiety if you don’t have a big weekend planned or spend too much time at home. Choices are limited in a small town. Most weekends entail a simple football match or drinks at someone’s apartment. I appreciated simple living. When I went on trips during vacation or long-weekend excursions, I had a greater drive to explore and enjoy my time away.

Culture Shock Made Easy

Since I am of Hispanic descent, there wasn’t much of a culture shock. The passion for football extended to my family, so I ended up attending a match at every stadium of the eight La Liga teams based in Madrid and Valencia. I was even able to attend the trophy ceremony for Valencia CF’s triumph in the Copa del Rey, the Spanish domestic cup competition.

The lack of a language barrier also made it seamless to fit in. I didn’t have much of an opportunity to stand out as a foreigner. However, with my co-workers and their family and friends, it was always fun to let them introduce themselves in English. I would always follow in Spanish and leave them astonished. It meant I was able to meet everyone in a more personable fashion. They would ask me about my life in New York and how I was adapting. Meanwhile, I would ask them about their life in a small town.

teaching abroad

Looking Forward to a Future in Ontinyent

Alongside that, learning Valencian has helped a lot. Understanding a conversation between two native speakers, saying that I was taking classes, or just switching from Spanish to Valencian continually impressed people. They couldn’t believe a New Yorker was not only interested in their language but was making a serious effort to be proficient in it even as they considered it “useless for my future in the country.” Even today, weeks removed from Ontinyent, I still think in Valencian.   

I had an enjoyable year in Ontinyent, and I’ve met some of the most generous and accommodating people. Because I have traveled around so much, I’ve seen more of Spain in one year than most people I know who’ve had the opportunity to visit in all their years of living in Spain. While I have a hard time measuring how well I’ve integrated into my new town, it has been enough that a few months away is difficult for me. I am eagerly looking forward to my second year.”

An Expat Living and Working Abroad in Ontinyent, Spain

Edgar shares details about his first year abroad living and working in Ontinyent, Spain. He provides guidance for first-year teachers who are just arriving. Expat life is not easy. It can take longer than one expects. After having lived in the Ontinyent area for a year, Edgar feels as if he has made friends at work and started to better understand the language. He is trying his best to learn and understand Valencian and they appreciate his willingness to do so. It takes time. Sometimes expats live abroad for years and still don’t feel a sense of full familiarity within their new home. Edgar plans to try his best in his second year to understand the culture better by perfecting Valencian.

We look forward to hearing more about Edgar’s second year in Ontinyent. Stay tuned for his second update in the late fall. 

by Leesa Truesdell

Arrival to Seoul: English Program in Korea

paige miller stranger things English Program in KoreaWith a passion for teaching and no definite plans after graduation, Paige Miller embarked on a journey to become an English teacher in South Korea. She began her application on August 2018 through the EPIK (English Program in Korea) program. She was accepted in December and flew to Seoul in February.

Paige has been teaching in Seoul, South Korea for about six months now. She has been instructing students in the English language at Seoul Dongho Elementary school. If you missed her last article, check it out about her pre-departure to teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. Keep reading to figure out how she’s been adjusting and what her first couple of months have been like.

Why did you choose to teach in South Korea with EPIK compared to other countries that offer similar programs?

“One of the reasons I chose Korea was that, for the longest time, I’d been dying to travel to Korea. During undergrad, there was no room for me to study abroad. Going to Korea did not fit into my major. The idea of going to a country I’d been interested in forever as well as working in a field I enjoyed was a win-win.”

Why did you choose to work with EPIK specifically?

“I chose EPIK specifically because they gave me a sense of security. This was my first time going out of the country by myself. I was extra cautious about applying through any random job listing. English Program in Korea made me feel at ease. They are super involved in the process of matching teachers with schools and giving them apartments to live in during their contract. Also, the accommodations and training they provide were definitely a huge plus.”

What kinds of services does EPIK provide? (What is the company mission, etc.)

“First, EPIK provides you with a one-time settlement allowance. This is money to help adjust to moving to a foreign country. Next, the MOE/POE (district office) you are signed under provides a leased apartment. The rent is provided, however, the utilities and maintenance fees are the responsibility of the teachers. They also provide severance pay for when you complete your contract. Entrance Allowance and an Exit Allowance are for when you are coming into the country and for when you officially leave.

Depending on what region you’re in, you can receive a contract completion bonus. You can accept a renewal bonus (unless you’re in Seoul) at the completion of each contract. As far as medical insurance goes, your MOE/POE covers 50% of your premiums. Lastly, they host an orientation with resources and tips to adjust to teaching and life in Korea.”

Did you have to pay for EPIK services or are they paying you?

“For the most part, EPIK pays for most services for you. Teachers have to pay utilities and maintenance fees for apartments. They also have to pay for transportation to and from school. Furthermore, they have to pay for any extra travel they wish to partake in.”

How involved is EPIK in helping you prepare for teaching abroad? Did they help you land an interview or get placed in a school; was housing and assistance acclimating to Korea provided; will you be staying in accommodations provided by EPIK when you first arrive?

teaching english abroad

“EPIK was the program that I initially interviewed with, instead of the school. They were the ones to send out my application and paperwork to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. From there, the SMOE looked over my information and had the option to either pick me to be under them directly or, to send my information back to EPIK. If the SMOE had rejected my paperwork, EPIK would send it to a different Office of Education.

As far as housing goes, EPIK only provides a settlement allowance to help get settled into the new space. The SMOE chose my living space and they pay for the rent. The only living accommodations EPIK actually provides is during New Teacher Orientation.”

South Korea classroom English Program in KoreaWhat are your immediate accommodations upon arrival?

“I arrived a few days before orientation, so as a result, I was responsible for my own accommodations. During orientation, EPIK provides dorm rooms for teachers.”

Is your orientation directly through EPIK or do they leave orientation up to the school you are placed in?

“Orientation is directly through EPIK.”

How long will you be teaching abroad?

“Each contract through the English Program in Korea is minimum one year abroad. After that, you can choose to renew towards the end of your contract term. Right now, I intend to stay for two years and have already re-signed.”

walking dwontown in korea

Teaching English Program in Korea

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