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

Travel Tales: Black Dog Cafe

Black Dog Cafe

I loved Tallahassee, even with that inescapable, awful, and sticky heat. It’s been a year and a half since I left. When I close my eyes and think about my stay, I smile. I learned a lot about myself back there. As I’ve said before, I like to make friends. But what I haven’t said is that when you’re in a different country, you’re constantly imagining living there for good.

Being here, I wanted to behave just like a Tallahassian. They have a beautiful city with ups and downs, just like any other city. There are beautiful landscapes, parks, lakes, and equally some scary neighborhoods where the stores close by 8pm. It is like anywhere else on Earth that’s not home. So, you’re a complete stranger. And when you’re strange, no one remembers your name (said a certain lizard king). I wanted some people to know my name.   

An Offbeat Discovery

It was a Thursday or maybe Friday. I remember because I was in the mood for some noise and a beer. That made me want to explore a little bit – just enough to find a cool place to hang. I am not a fan of crowds. A club is not a place I would be by myself, ever. I’m a bohemian kind of guy. This means I like to walk around while singing to myself. Well, correction, I love singing to myself. And that’s exactly what I was doing that day.

My steps took me down towards Gaines Street. A family played in a fountain; they looked happy. I’m a shy person, so I look a lot at the floor which does have its perks – sometimes I find interesting things just lying there. As I peered down on this occasion, I saw a little green snake in the grass. Naturally, I’m scared of the dangerous ones, but equally I think they’re beautiful too. So, I went after the little snake, conscious of his lack of venom due to his species. I followed him through grass that was large enough to hide it but short enough to walk in without any trouble. But soon, I lost him when the grass receded, and the asphalt reappeared. I looked up, and there it was: a little wooden house, painted in blue with purple details.

The Best Things Are Hardest to Find

It was just lying there so fresh, so unaware of the heat; so joyful with that insolent blue and purple in a sea of neutral colors. With a beautiful porch and a little garden with some tables, a big sign gave this small treasure a name: “Black Dog.”  

“That’s a Led Zeppelin reference,” I thought to myself, while my feet forced their way into the house. It was magical, exactly the kind of place where I would like to hang out with my friends or girlfriend. It was a café that offered a bite to eat, a beer, an iced tea or a glass of wine. It had live music, which was great for a bohemian night out. It had amazing soda-pop (avocado pop is heavenly), board games, nice and tasteful decoration, and that great music. They put so much effort into bringing culture to people through their literary nights, concert nights, and open mic nights. It was amazing! 

New Friends and New Experiences

I made some new friends there. My close pal César and I hung out there on my birthday, where we met Justin, a great guy who we talked to about philosophy, poetry, people, and music, and shared a few stories about girlfriends. I hope he’s doing great now, wherever he is!   

At the Black Dog Cafe, I met a group of Tally writers too – a warm collective that supported each other on their journey to being published. I met El Habib Louai, a fantastic poet who reminded me a lot of the Beat Generation. There were awesome strangers, companions in wine who gave me useful advice on life and writing. It’s where I met Jack Levine, another great guy whom I remember with joy. He was so nice to me, and I hope he’s doing well too.  

You’ll find your own Black Dog Cafe on your travels: a place that creates a bond with the city or town you’re visiting.  A locale that creates possibilities, anecdotes, friendships, laughs, and teachings. In Tally, that’s the Black Dog Cafe, in the Industrial District of Railroad Square, between FAMU Way and Gaines Street. And if Justin, Emile or Brittany are in there, taking care of business… tell them Carlos said hi.

by Carlos Balbuena

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Dreams Abroad 2017

A Few of Our Favorite Things

by Leesa Truesdell

It’s no secret that I adored my grandmother and her passion for playing music over the years. I didn’t realize how much she had inspired me until I came up with the idea for this post. I have listened to, “A Few of My Favorite Things” many, many times growing up over the holidays. Tata loved Tony Bennett’s version. The song always reminded me of Christmas and the holidays. We listened to songs and Christmas carols from her record collection throughout the entire holiday season.

Those lyrics remind me of the days with Tata, but are also perfect nowadays for the Dreams Abroad team. It provides a superb way of saying thank you while also remembering the woman who made such a difference in my life. She is always within in my heart and with that, I give you just a few of our favorite things from this year:

Emma Schultz

“The views of Madrid are spectacular and the sunset reminds me of home – so I get the best of both worlds when I watch it.”

– Emma Schultz, an expat from Texas

Bibi Baktiar

“One of my favorite things to do is stuff my face with good food and surround myself with even better company!” – Bibi Baktiar, an expat from Georgia

Dalal Boland


“My favorite thing to do is wander around in Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Florida. I love taking pictures and eating their delicious chocolate ice-cream from the Plaza ice-cream parlor!”

– Dalal Boland, an expat from Kuwait

Leesa Truesdell


“My favorite thing to do is sit in the window seat and travel to a new place. I love exploring and window seats!”

–  Leesa Truesdell, an expat from Florida

Justin Hughes-Coleman

“My favorite thing about living in Madrid is being able to make new friends over (a very) long night!”

– Justin Hughes-Coleman, an expat from California

Amanda Whitten


“My favorite thing about living in Madrid is finding out more about myself when I thought I already knew who I was. I thought I was living my life before, however, now I see that it was just preparing me for this.”

– Amanda (Squirrel) Whitten, an expat from Oklahoma

Michelle Nicchi

Albert Einstein once said, “The person who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The person who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever seen before.” That being said, my favorite thing to do is endlessly travel. Undoubtedly, I believe that the most beautiful places in the world are lesser known.”

–  Michelle Nicchi, an expat from Arizona

Stephanie Best

“My favorite thing to do is try coffee from around the world. One of the reasons that I love Miami is the Cuban coffee and that it’s socially acceptable to take a cafecito break any time of day.”

– Stephanie Best, an expat from Florida

Cassidy Kearney

“My favorite thing I did in Europe was on the Aran Islands, Ireland. I sat inside the island’s only restaurant and watched the waves and the horses go by as I sipped on Irish Breakfast tea.”

– Cassidy Kearney, a world traveler from Florida


Carlos Balbuena

“The smell of something delicious cooking

The sound of leaves beneath my feet

The lovely smile of my girlfriend

The warmth of my dogs when I go to sleep

The quiet tranquility of being in my room on my computer

The sound of Radiohead through the stereo

The morning light coming through my window, petting dogs and cats and all animals I see

Seeing children playing in the street

Hanging out with my friends

Talking to my girlfriend

Seeing my girlfriend sleep when I wake up

Watching TV series

Smoking in my rooftop with the stars above me

Reading a book in my bed

Writing in the middle of the night

Going shopping with my girlfriend

Cooking for my girlfriend

Talking about A Song of Ice and Fire, or Game of Thrones if they haven’t read the books

People acknowledging when I did a “good job”

These are a few of my favorite things

– Carlos Balbuena, an expat from Mexico



Thank you for reading and we will be back next year!

The Dreams Abroad Crew

Talk To Somebody

Talk To Somebody

Have you ever seen Pulp Fiction? It’s an entertaining movie, and you should absolutely see it. There’s a special scene in that movie that is relevant to this point. There’s this couple at Jack Rabbit Slims, but the thing is…they’re not really a couple. John Travolta who plays Vincent Vega is a charismatic thug and Uma Thurman who plays Mia Wallace is the big boss’s wife. To him, she being the big boss’s wife and all…she’s out of reach, theoretically at least, but he kind of likes her and she likes him. But they don’t know each other, so there’s a lot of gaps in the conversation and more than a few points of awkward silence. Well as much silence as you can get in a 60s-themed dance bar. Then, in the middle of an awkward silence, she says,  “Don’t you hate that?”  “What?” he says. “Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?” She pauses, “That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the (…) up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.”

And that says it all for me. She’s right, I remember the first time I saw that scene and still think the same way today. It is not necessary to be talkative. Most of the time it’s just small talk, people just trying to keep the conversation going, because we don’t tolerate silence well. Being alone with your thoughts it’s hard…and fun, joyful, stressful, all kinds of feelings. Most people will talk to just kill the silence, talking about whatever comes to mind.

All of us feel the need to talk to others about what’s important to us, but often times we don’t know how or to whom we should talk. But every now and then we can find someone to open up to. The life lesson that took me too long to figure out is sometimes these deeper conversations can begin with a little small talk. Philosophy, at least the Greek one, starts with dialogue, which is required in order to discover or achieve knowledge. We are not alone- that we are not islands but rather, are part of a larger community- humanity is a big family of human beings. So then why is it so hard to talk to people sometimes?

Unfortunately, the irony of this post for me is that I am writing this at a point in my own life when I am relatively isolated. I would be totally disconnected from the outside world if it weren’t for my girlfriend. I am thankful for her help and I am glad I was more adventurous when I was in Florida.

What did the trick? I knew that I couldn’t go all the way to Florida just to be quiet all the time. I didn’t want to go there and stay in my dorm. Traveling someplace else new is a chance to improve yourself because no one knows you. They don’t know if you’re an introvert or an extrovert. You have a chance to make a lot of first impressions. A lot of great history lies within strangers all around you. A potential good friend could be in the coffee bar next to you, a good laugh, an interesting idea, topic and/or conversation. Who are we to deprive ourselves from the others? We won’t learn anything from closing ourselves off in our rooms.

In my college there’s the possibility of graduating by just taking classes on the internet. This is intended for people who can’t make it to school for whatever reason, but they are missing the incredible experience of engaging with your classmates. And that happens outside school as well. Engaging people goes beyond those in your peer group. It´s not gratuitous folk wisdom that says one should listen to their elders. Potentially, all the people in the world know something you don’t, and vice versa.

We should take our chances and try to improve ourselves through others, get the most of a trip and talk to the locals, smile and listen. The best thing someone said to me in Tallahassee was that I really listened. He said that most of the people in town didn’t do that anymore. Which is sad. Silent people like me enjoy listening to people: the ones who have something to say, who talk with their soul rather than their brains, that really live and breathe, who scream when they scared and shout when they’re happy, that never get you bored and who make you laugh. Most of all, those who aren’t afraid to say what they really think, who are desirous of living and willing to really live.


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

Dreams Abroad: Surviving the Storm

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




Surviving the Storm

Dreams Abroad: Surviving the Storm

Hello, it’s me again (Adele pun not originally intended), your local, friendly, hopefully not-too-hipstery nomad.  (I absolutely loaaattthhhe hipsters but all the internet quizzes tell me that I am one. So Grrrr. ) Originally I had planned to talk about my six month stint as a live-in au pair, but I have discovered that I cannot at the moment do this.  Everytime I try to think of a witty, clinical, cut and dry process to talk about the cultural differences and the conflicts that followed, I find myself just wallowing and wanting to mostly verbally bash the family.  That’s not fair because the problems we had weren’t just their fault.  I think.  ANYWAYS, I said all of that to tell you to stay tuned for next time or the next ( or the next next next time) if drama and negativity is your thing.   Instead I want to focus on something different, lighter perhaps, but no less significant for me.  

A photo of me in Oklahoma before my trip to Spain began.

For Better or Worse

Whatever my experiences here in Spain have been, they have been nothing if not rich.  Perhaps at times they were rich in pain and despair or perhaps rich in joy and wonder, but always poignant nonetheless.  For every moment that I have cried myself to sleep, I have found myself in breathless wonder.  I shall try to convey my meaning as precisely as possible but if things turn out cheesy instead capturing the artistic feeling that I desire, I apologize ahead of time.

The first 10 months of my time in Spain were very difficult for me.  After having gotten settled into the perfect apartment that I found in  Idealista, a popular website for rentals, set up in the perfect village and reveling in finally living in my perfect dream, I got kicked out.  It turned out that the landlord’s mother was going to come live in the apartment and didn’t want to share which is understandable.  I have a hunch that I was being illegally subleased to because after two months and after excuse after excuse, my roommates never did give me the landlady’s contact information.  I suspect that they knew from the beginning and just wanted extra money.  They themselves were in their own strange situation.  They were a couple from Chile with a small daughter.  The mother was supposed to go to England to study English but since she didn’t speak said English, when customs asked if she was there to work, she allegedly misunderstood the question and answered, “Yes.”  They *permanently* denied her entry and turned her away even though the dad and baby were already through the gate. Therefore, they came to Spain for three months before having to go back. Naive, trusting Amanda had no contract, no rights, and barely any money aside from my monthly income and I already had bills back home. That was completely on me.

In orientation, they strongly suggested we get a contract but apartment hunting in Madrid in September specifically and, well, also year round (except in August) is a bitch so I settled. So, after a month of desperately searching for cheap accommodation, I found work as a live in au pair.   I am grateful but I should have just tried to live in hostels for a while. While all of that was going on, two people in my family passed on, one from a drug overdose and the other from cancer.  Complete and total devastation ensued for a time. One death took me completely off guard and ruined me for awhile. The second death was somewhat expected but still very difficult as the person, my grandpa, was and is my favorite person. It is from him that I got the travel bug in the first place. He deserves a post of his own so I will leave it at that for some other time.  Needless to say, these sad events probably manifested in toxic and subtle ways that made interacting in such a new physical and cultural environment more complicated than it had to be.  The last blow came circa April when I found out that the teachers at the school did not want me to come back.  I can not pretend that it was all their fault. I have made mistakes.  But this was a huge shock and disappointment.  With this auxiliar program, if you don’t renew in the same school, then you can’t work in the same region as an auxiliar.  They wanted to send me far south to Murcia!!! The only good thing about that would have been teaching near the ocean and Andalusian culture but even that was thwarted because they assigned me to some dry, isolated desert school.  On top of that, payments to auxiliars in the south of Spain are NOTORIOUSLY 2 or 3 months behind. I had found love and a new life in Madrid just for it to about to be taken away.   I could not afford to get uprooted again and this time so far away.

Needless to say, I was broken hearted for a majority of my first year.  Fortunately, I was able to travel and those experiences among others and the ease of having them are what originally convinced me to stay a bit longer.  Otherwise, before I met Esteban, I probably would have given up and gone home.

What follows is a mezcla of memories that I was able to focus on during these turbulent times. Stay tuned for these memories in my next post!

Love forever,

Amanda (Squirrel)

To see more of Amanda’s posts, click here. Thanks for reading and keep living your Dreams Abroad!

by Amanda Whitten

When Culture Shock Meets Reverse Culture Shock

Back home in La Grange, Texas

Two months ago, I wrote a post about what it was like to return home to small-town Texas for two and a half months after living in Madrid, Spain for a year. I’d been through reverse culture shock once before and imagined that would prepare me to face it again. I was sorely mistaken.

There’s a specific kind of uncomfortable that you feel when everyone around you expects you to come home and just “get it.” I didn’t. I had grown accustomed to a different way of life – one that had, at the start, felt very strange to me. But at the time I went home, strange felt normal and normal felt strange. It felt like I had all my wires crossed.

Over the course of my long summer at home, I eventually fell into a pattern. I reconnected with old friends, spent time with family, and had a meaningful summer job. All of these experiences helped me adjust and feel comfortable back home again. And then, it was time to return to Spain.

Returning to life as an expat isn’t something I have experience with. In the past, I’ve moved abroad and then moved back to the U.S. and left it there. When I boarded my plane back to Madrid on September 31, I had no idea what returning to Spain would be like. I knew I wouldn’t feel culture shock like I had when I first moved there, but that was about all I knew.

What I ended up feeling was almost a strange combination of culture shock and reverse culture shock. I simultaneously felt out of place and like I couldn’t remember things that I should have known how to do.

I am an American in Spain. So I felt out of place in some usual ways – physically, linguistically, and culturally. And simultaneously, I felt like an American in Spain who had lived here for a year already but couldn’t quite get a hold of how to be here again. I remembered pockets of the language I’d used all last year, some of how to navigate my life in this foreign country, and how to work my job as a North American Language and Culture Assistant at my primary school in the mountains. But putting all the pieces together to make a life was difficult at the start.

Hiking on a recent trip to A Coruña, Spain


Now that a few weeks have passed, I am feeling back at home here, too. What I’ve realized is how important a pattern is to readjusting – no matter where in the world you are. Your work, your daily routines, and your friendships will keep you grounded while you figure out the rest.

by Emma Schultz

What I Know Now: Amanda

We asked Dreams Abroad members five things that they would do differently if they were starting out on their adventures now. After a year working as an auxiliar (language assistant) in Moralzarzal, Spain, here’s what Amanda had to say:


Here are five things that I know now about working as an language assistant:

1. It was my experience with CIEE in Argentina that led me to choose them for my Spanish adventure. CIEE  is a non-profit company that allows students and teachers to become United States ambassadors. Let’s all just take a brief moment to laugh about the “non-profit” aspect of that. I put two grand on a credit card thinking that was my ticket out of the US once more. CIEE is a middleman and provides support to people wanting to become a language assistant in the likes of Madrid.

Little did I know that the Ministerio de Educación accepts language assistant applications for potential candidates at no cost to many regions in Spain. Pretty neat. So that’s probably my number one thing I would do differently.  I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have used CIEE’s mostly stellar support system, but it would have been really nice to know about this other option.


2. This Facebook group will help you with housing, finding work, legal advice, you name it. It only applies to Madrid, of course, but there are other similar resources covering different areas if you search for them. I went about eight months without knowing that it existed, and it is awesome. Just, please, for the love of all that is holy, follow the rules and search in the previous posts. Chances are that if it hasn’t been discussed in that group already, you are living in a fairytale world where rainbow-colored unicorns roam on candy-coated mountains. Can I come?


3. When I first moved here, I discovered a little Spanish village I fell in love with and moved in.  The rent was cheaper and the village was about 100x quainter than anything I had ever seen in my whole life. Was I right to move there? Absolutely not.  Without a car, it is nearly impossible to get to the Madrid airport in the wee hours of the morning (cheapest flights) without a taxi (which would cost extravagant amounts of moolah). If you have friends in the city, or are wanting to travel, stay within the city borders of Madrid. Here is a little secret: you will fall in love with allllllll of the little villages in Spain. It is actually a constant struggle for me. Not long ago I was teaching in Mataelpino (Kill the Pine!), a little town in the mountains, and it took everything I had not to call my boyfriend right then and there and tell him that his commute to see me was about to get a lot longer. All, or most of them, have old-fashioned bakeries, cobblestone streets, beautiful mountain scenery, purer air, are cheaper to live in, tons of local festivals and have truly friendly atmospheres. All of which is directly opposed to the meth-riddled trap houses and racist-infested small towns in Oklahoma. I’m looking at you, Porum! 

Helpful hint: Don’t be shy about taking on private students in the afueras (Madrid outskirts). From there you can explore those little villages without actually living there. Also, it helps to remind yourself that in the winter, those little towns cease to be anything but cold, sad little igloos where nothing and no one exists outside save to poke your head out once in a while or run to a bus stop to go somewhere warmer and more interesting. Remember, most of those perfect little summer villages around Madrid are in the mountains, and it is FREEZING in December. Sunny Spain? Not in the damn mountains during winter, it isn’t. Ahem!

4. Not only should you get a contract when you rent an apartment, you should make sure that it is valid. My current landlord had me sign an invalid contract and I only found out when I tried to register with the office to become an empadronado. This is a fancy legal term that means that you tell the bureaucrats where you live so you can get access to a few legal rights/benefits. In a few days when I go to get my deposit, hopefully she won’t try to mess me over!

Update: She didn’t, but there are tons of horror stories out there, so I consider myself lucky as usual. In fact with all the good fortune I’ve had, I am considering making ‘Lucky’ my middle name!

When I first moved to Spain, I moved to the pueblo of San Lorenzo del Escorial. Like a big ol’ dummy, I didn’t demand a contract. Three months later, I found myself working as an au pair, taking care of the world’s meanest seven-year-old while combating her demanding parents, all while working my day job so as to survive after having to leave suddenly and move elsewhere. An au pair position is a whole ‘nother can of worms with its own share of horrors and wonders, so we won’t get into that right now!


5. And finally, had I known that my one true love was over here, I would have gotten my butt in gear, saved up harder and faster, and come over quicker! This is cheesy, I know, but he’s super cute. We met on an application called Happn if anyone wants to know. It’s a cool little app that lets you see the people that you almost bump into daily.

P.S. Download the apps BlaBlaCar and Moovit. Between them and Google Maps, you should be set in getting around efficiently.

Amanda was living her second year in the city center of Madrid with her boyfriend. She is teaching online courses and loving life! Amanda’s first segment explains the beginning of her travels leading up to her adventure in Madrid. Make sure to check out where Amanda is today!

The Adventure Continues of my Summer in Greece

by Justin Hughes-Coleman

Ifigenia and I

After a month on Skyros, I was ready for the next stop in my summer adventure in Greece: Rhodes!

Rhodes is a totally different experience from Skyros. Where Skyros had a population of about 3,000 people, Rhodes is a much bigger island with 115,000 residents.  On Skyros there were more goats than people but Rhodes has miles upon miles of hotels and resorts on the coasts. It was definitely a lot to take in at first. I had done some research on Rhodes but I didn’t expect it to be that much of a bustling vacation island.

Yoga Club Rhodes

I began my next adventure; helping out in a yoga retreat. Luckily, my new workaway was tucked away on the west side of the island, away from all the bad quad drivers and screaming children (honestly how is that a vacation?)

My duties included helping plant new trees and flowers, (which is actually harder than it looks), helping clean the facilities, setting up tents and assisting with events. On one occasion, I was asked to help with getting a guest to pay for their stay. It is odd, Greek people can be very direct except when it comes to asking for money for goods and services rendered. As an American, I have no problem with it. Time to pay up!


If there is one thing I will never get sick of it’s picturesque towns in Greece, and Theologos is no exception! I had to walk through through town everyday to get to and from the beach (Remember: Goal #2 of this whole summer!) and the villagers were always so friendly and would offer up a “kalimera” and “yassu” every time I would walk by.

Another beautiful Greek restaurant, closed during the day.
This church sits at the entrance of Theologos and welcomes you into the beautiful town.


One of the best things about walking to and from the property was these three angels greeting me each time. They would run up to me and I would play with them for about 10 minutes! If I was trying to catch the bus into Rhodes City, I would actually leave an additional 10 minutes early just so I could play with them! I would then spend the rest of the walk to the bus stop thinking of ways to smuggle them back to Spain.


They would lay on my feet and make those adorable faces.


Rhodes wasn’t all strollers and luggage running over my feet, there were some truly stunning natural landscapes. The Valley of the Butterflies was only three kilometers from the yoga retreat. This lush environment is home to only one species of butterfly and it is nocturnal. I bring this up because while there I ran into a lady who was throwing large rocks at the sleeping butterflies in order to get pictures of them flying around, never mind that she killed a dozen or so in her effort for the perfect Instagram picture. See, tourists ruining everything!

Hundreds of butterflies PEACEFULLY sleeping.


There was a sad moment when my travel buddy of two months had to leave. Even though we were going to see each other again in about a month back in Spain, we were still super emotional! We had been on some wild adventures together. Something about camping and doing deep breathing exercises just tears down all the emotional walls!

A month is too long!


Although I was here longer than I had been on Skyros, my time in Rhodes seemed to almost fly by. Almost. Fun Fact: did you know that about 20% of people are more prone to mosquito bites than other? Guess who is a lucky member of that 20%? There I go again, being exceptional!

Mythical Greece

The end of my time in Greece almost felt surreal. One has to take ferries to get around to the different islands and each island feels like a world on its own. When I made it back to Athens, it felt as if I were already back in Madrid in my normal daily routine. Greece will always have a place in my heart; the people are strong-willed and generous, Greece’s natural beauty definitely lives up to the wonder that has inspired millennia of writings, and don’t even get me started on how great the food is! I will miss Greece with all my heart, but I’m lucky enough to leave one amazing place for another. Time to head back to Spain!

A beach within a stone bay!
Olive Groves for miles