The Opportunity to Teach and Travel

by Ellen Hietsch

alex warhall hiking

For a second year in a row, Alex Warhall and I have found ourselves stateside as summer saunters into Madrid. While I’m admittedly glad to be away from the stifling heat, I miss the tranquility that sneaks into Madrid’s normally stuffed streets at the height of summer as most of the city flees to summits and seasides. “Eh, everyone leaves in the summer, you’re not missing much,” friends told me as I complained about being dragged back to the US by bureaucracy yet again. But Madrid in August will always be wondrous to me. It hearkens back to my arrival at the dawn of the month nearly two years ago. Read all about his second interview and teaching at a bilingual school in Madrid, Spain here.

I met Alex on our first day in the city. He appears in all of my most important memories of that magical August. A time when the nightly festivities and languid afternoons spooked away any anxieties we’d had. While aspects of our teaching experiences have diverged, our mindsets about living in Madrid have run parallel from year to year as we’ve grown more attached to the city. What Alex initially considered to be a year-long break from his career stateside has morphed into preparations to teach in Madrid for a third year. Alex has paused from his busy summer job mentoring international high school students in Boston to explain what led to this decision.

What was the most important thing you learned while living abroad?

“The most important thing I’ve learned while living abroad is to enjoy as many moments as I can — good moments and more notably bad ones, too. Living abroad comes with highs and lows. On the one hand, I’ve had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe and beyond. I’ve met new people and built lifelong friendships. On the other hand, I’ve dealt with the stress of apartment hunting while speaking a foreign language. I’ve experienced those awkward lonely moments while solo traveling. I’ve also struggled with being far away from my family and friends back home.

Amid these highs and lows, I’ve seen real growth in myself. When I say that I enjoy the low moments, I don’t mean that I love being stressed out, awkward, or sad. Instead, I mean that I’ve learned to appreciate the moments when I step outside my comfort zone. I know that means I’m becoming the person I set out to be when I moved abroad.”

How have you done with accomplishing your goals while living in Madrid?

“I feel that I have done quite well in accomplishing my goals while living abroad. Living abroad itself has been a goal of mine for as long as I can remember. So that goal is checked off. Learning a foreign language has been another goal of mine. I’m certainly not fluent in Spanish yet. Nonetheless, I have made major progress for someone who has studied for only two years.

Another goal of mine has been to grow more comfortable with performing in public. This year, I proudly played my ukulele and sang at an open mic night with one of my best friends. I’m excited to continue playing at these events this upcoming school year. Lastly, at the age of 23, I told myself that I’d run a marathon by the time I was 25. This year, at the age of 26, I successfully completed my first marathon while in Madrid. Although I did it a year later than my target age, I am still very pleased with the result. In fact, I find it quite poetic that I ran 26 miles at the age of 26. Living in Madrid has given me the opportunity to accomplish many goals I set for myself. I’m excited to see what this year brings.” 

What has been the biggest challenge about living abroad and what advice would you give on how to deal with that challenge?

“The biggest challenge about living abroad for me is definitely the language barrier. Having never studied Spanish in my life until moving abroad, my time in Madrid has been one continuous Spanish lesson. Though I consider myself to be highly motivated when it comes to learning the language, I have my days where I am too tired to translate my thoughts into Spanish. Other days, I prefer to speak in English so that I can express myself more deeply. As a result, I will spend much of my time with my English-speaking friends (mostly because I love their company) because it’s more comfortable for me.

traveling abroad

However, I’ve realized that much of my personal growth in the language occurs when I put myself in uncomfortable situations like going out with my Spanish coworkers despite anticipatory thoughts such as, “What are we going to talk about all night? Will I speak in the correct tense?” My advice for dealing with this struggle is to be confident in the Spanish that you’ve developed, and accept that you may not speak or understand perfectly every time. Making mistakes is the best way to improve. If you do this, it is likely that you will put yourself in situations where you will be able to grow.” 

Do you have any advice for other auxiliars interested in traveling while teaching abroad?

“My advice to other auxiliars who want to travel is to say, “yes.” If you’re unsure or hesitant about buying a ticket somewhere because it doesn’t exactly align with your budget for the month, say “yes.” Buy the ticket. If your coworkers invite you on a trip, but you were looking forward to staying in Madrid for the weekend, say “yes.” Every time I step off of a plane or train or bus and into a new city, I am always glad I decided to say “yes” to that opportunity. If you’re living abroad and you love to travel, but you find yourself hesitating on a destination for some reason, say “yes” to it. I’ve never regretted going anywhere, and I doubt you will. Sometimes it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

How has teaching abroad helped with your overall professional goals?

“I originally arrived in Madrid, Spain back in August 2017. I had just left behind my job as a copywriter in New York in pursuit of travel and good memories. Professional goals were not my main concern at the time. However, after spending two full school years working with the same students, I’ve realized that I enjoy teaching young children my native language. With this realization, I have been taking my job as an educator more seriously. As a result, I’ve improved my classroom management and lesson planning skills. It has become apparent that my main reason for returning to Spain is not for travel anymore (which I still do and value highly). Rather, it is to enhance my abilities as an educator. Truly, teaching abroad has raised my interest in pursuing a career in education.”

What was your most memorable moment in class? How do you feel now that school is ending?

“My sixth grade students and I worked on a performance for their graduation this year. During the final weeks of the school year, the students practiced singing the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” while I accompanied them on the ukulele. After two weeks of rehearsal, we performed the song at graduation in front of their families and friends. It went incredibly well despite the fact that we mumbled one of the verses to the song. At the end of the day, I think we captured the mood of the song by laughing it off together. This performance, to me, was the culmination of all the great times those sixth graders and I had spent in class together. I feel a little sad, but mainly proud. After two school years of working with them, I was proud to be part of their graduation.”

picture of spain

Since you are staying in Spain another year, will you be teaching at the same school? How do you feel about that?

“I will be teaching at the same school next year, making it my third consecutive year at this school. I’m really excited to return for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I get the chance to reconnect with my coworkers that are also returning. The second reason is that I will get to see the growth and development of the students that I have been working with for the past two school years.” 

What is the most important piece of advice you can give someone wanting to Teach Abroad?

“For anyone who wants to give teaching abroad a try, I think it’s important to remember to keep an open mind and limit your expectations. Jump at the opportunity to teach abroad. I learned about Teach Abroad from a friend. When he described the program to me, I was excited to have a similar experience. After I got my school placement and started my job, I quickly realized that my experience was going to different than my friend’s. For example, he was teaching business professionals and only taught three sessions per day. This resulted in a schedule with more free time than mine. I found that my expectations definitely differed from reality. Nonetheless, I found that keeping an open mind allowed me to see the benefits that my school offered rather than fixate on what I didn’t have. 

I have a two hour lunch break where I can practice my Spanish and connect with my coworkers. I also get easy access to tutoring jobs in the neighborhood where I work. Fortunately, I don’t have to bounce around from neighborhood to neighborhood to give lessons in business English. If you’re someone who has discovered Teach Abroad through a friend, just remember that their experience — whether good or bad — will not be your experience. They can give you an idea of what to expect. However, don’t be surprised if your experience is totally different. In all likelihood it will be. Your experience will be unique in many ways that are personal to you. And that’s the beauty of Teach Abroad.”

The Opportunity to Teach and Travel

Alex is a determined person who has found a home in Madrid that fosters the realization of his dreams. After witnessing first-hand the journeys that his open-minded attitude made possible and further understanding his poignant philosophies through our conversations, I’m excited to see what year three holds for him.
If you would like to the opportunity to teach while traveling, connect with our facebook group to ask questions.
mountain view the opportunity to travel and teach

ESL Certifications: Where to Begin

by Caroline Hazelton

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

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

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

Where to Begin with ESL Certifications

English as a Foreign Language ESL Certifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

My ESL Journey

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

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

ESL Certifications

Start Seeking Opportunities with ESL Certifications

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

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

Where to Begin with ESL Certifications

It’s Never Too Late to Go on an Adventure

Justin Hughes-Coleman was raised with the roar of the Pacific as a backdrop. Born in San Diego, California, he now resides, appropriately enough, in the same state’s Oceanside. Justin graduated from California State University San Marcos with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He became eager to explore foreign as well as local shores from an early age. The chance for Justin to achieve his dreams of moving abroad came via teaching English in Madrid, Spain at Ceip Antonio Osuna, a public school in Madrid. He improved his Spanish language skills while navigating a new culture to build bridges with students and coworkers. Justin proved to himself and others that it’s never too late to go on an adventure. 

Justin met Leesa Truesdell, the founder of Dreams Abroad, in the summer of 2016. They were exciting times for them as they were both about to embark on their new Madrid teaching careers. Justin is one of the Dreams Abroad originals. He wears his membership with pride. Justin’s articles stand the test of time by being as inspirational today as they were when he first wrote them.  

The Appliance of Science

When it comes to the world of work, Justin has worn many hats. As well as teaching, he’s been employed in retail, real estate, and finance. Currently, Justin works as a data scientist.

Teaching abroad retaught our video star how much travel meant to him. Upon returning to the States, Justin resolved to find a position that offered enough flexibility to satiate his wanderlust. He began to hone his skills as a web developer in order to secure his long-term goals of relatively footloose-and-fancy-free independence on the work front. In this YouTube video, Justin talks about what he learned through interacting with the rest of the Dreams Abroad community. Being away from home and meeting new people allowed Justin to foster a new self-confidence. Become motivated by watching Justin speak about his experience. 

by Leesa Truesdell

Personal Growth Teaching Abroad

by Leesa Truesdell

Catching up with Lynnette for our second interview was not like any of my other interviews so far. When Lynnette and I initially met at my CIEE orientation in August of 2016, as mentioned in my first interview with her, she was someone I had to meet. When she spoke, people listened. I realized what my immediate desire to speak with her was for: it was a connection. I am sure many others felt this same sense of connection with her over the course of our orientation because of the candor of her character. She is authentic and she wants people to know her story.

Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.” – Farrah Gray

As we look back at Lynnette’s time here in Madrid, we see that her first year of personal growth teaching abroad was a “honeymoon period.” She was in “survival mode” during her second year and from what she explains, an uphill battle for her third year.

What stood out the most about Lynnette after our first interview was her reason for being in Spain. She said she finds joy in helping others. Lynnette continues to thrive on her quest to do just that, but one variable in the equation has changed. She is working to help herself in life so she is better equipped to help others. When I spoke with her and we discussed these last few months, she said, “you can write all this – all of this. I want my story to be real.”

Meet Lynnette, the authentic veteran:

What is a typical day at your school like?

“It takes me about 40 minutes to get to school by train. I usually go over the day and see what materials I need to bring with me for the first two hours of class. When co-teaching, I am in charge of the daily routine which is usually at the beginning of class.

In first grade classes, I’m working on jolly phonics and different games to review their vocabulary. If I have infantil, what we know as preschool, most of our routines take the form of musical play. They are usually my most unpredictable classes but the most fun because the children are learning a little bit of everything and they are more creative.

Second grade classes have a daily routine that is usually more physically interactive. I usually create activities where they have to move around and work in groups. Then I have “coffee break time” which is very important if you are working in a Spanish school. It is a social half-hour for teachers. After the break I usually prepare the rest of my classes. By lunchtime I have all my lessons prepared for the next day. I am currently pursuing my master’s degree, so during my lunchtime I work on my curriculum design for my class or any homework I may have.”

personal growth teaching abroad madrid

How many people do you work with (auxiliars included) and how many classes do you teach?

“I co-teach with seven other teachers and two other auxiliares. Each auxiliar is in charge of a particular grade level. I have infantil which consists of four- and five-year-olds. In primary I have all of the first and second grade levels. In secondary, I teach 4th ESO which is the equivalent of sophomores in high school.”

What is communication like in and outside of school?

“Communication in the school is something that I have to make more of an effort with. I work in a cooperative school, meaning the teachers are on an equal playing field with administrators. This requires a great deal of communication. Outside of school I only socialize with one of the teachers, partly because it is her first year and we have the same teaching methodology.”

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers (auxiliares and teachers)?

“Yes, I am and always have. I think this is the reason I have stayed in Madrid for almost three years. Creating relationships is essential in any job. It also makes the working environment pleasant because you work hard towards common goals you share with your colleagues.”

Are you forming bonds with students?

“I think it’s important and essential to form bonds with your students mainly because students don’t learn well from people they don’t like. Therefore, you have to be sure that if you want to work with children you are able to deal with the responsibility.”

Does the school foster the creation and maintenance of these relationships inside and outside of the classroom?

“I believe the school tries to work with auxiliares in a professional manner. Furthermore, being in a cooperative school means everyone has their own schedule and time is very limited. So the best time to foster those relationships between your co-teachers is coffee break time.”

What is your favorite part of the day?

“My favorite part of my day is working with my two more challenging classes, and they are complete opposites. First, my five-year-olds in infantil because they are unpredictable and learn so fast. Second, my 4th ESO class (15-year-olds) because they keep me young and I learn from them. These 15-year-olds are in that stage of life where they just want to be heard.”

student five year old painting

How is material being taught to students?

“I had two weeks of observation at my school. I went to classes on my current schedule and observed the teachers, figuring out how I would best work with each of them. I was proactive and asked them what they see my role being in their class. I have been lucky to be with teachers who believe in cooperative learning. However, as auxiliares, you have to be very perceptive, understanding that some teachers just teach from the book. There are two reasons for that. One is the mandated law that the teachers finish the books. Secondly, you have to understand Spain’s history. Spain was under a dictatorship for 40 years. The educational system that was in place at the time was meant to teach basic necessities like sewing classes for women and the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Thinking outside the box was definitely frowned upon. The teaching style in that time was very teacher-centered.”

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

“I am a planner by nature so even on my first day I arrived at school with an animated video and an icebreaker game. For my weekly plan I usually try to organize my different grade levels and plan one grammar game or phonics exercise. I always work on ready activities like popcorn reading. Each week I introduce the new subject and by the end of the week I am doing either a summative or formative assessment.”

Do you work at a bilingual school? What does that mean to you? What does that mean according to the Community of Madrid?

“I work in a school that is certified bilingual according to the Community of Madrid. However, I have to say there is a very interesting thing that my school does in order to not have a disparity caused by learning the natural science materials in English: they also teach a natural science workshop class in Spanish.”

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

students books abroad learning

“That really varies by teacher. Some of the teachers use summative assessment meaning they have an exam and they give a grade. Some of the younger teachers use formative assessment, which is more informal. It really depends on the teacher.”

Does your school have a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help their students succeed?

“The school was established in 1985 so they do have a clear vision and I feel very spoiled with my school. The teachers meet every week to see if they are sticking to the curriculum. The policy is that each grade level is supposed to cover the same material at the same time and that both teachers must take the exam on the same week.”

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

“I have learned that personal development is never-ending. Specifically, I was recently diagnosed with stress anxiety disorder brought on by the number of changes I have gone through in the past two-and-a-half years. However, despite my issues, I still would not want to be anywhere other than Madrid. I feel that I am learning a lot about myself and the culture around me.

Working through the more challenging facets of personal growth I feel that, despite everything, I have adapted well. As part of this process I am learning to respect and retain my authentic self while allowing for growth and development.”

What are your new goals, and/or modifications to previous goals, for 2017?

“My goal is to finish my Master’s in International Education. In a couple of years I can see myself helping and consulting people to be better teachers and students of English as a Foreign Language. I would like to provide seminars on how to guide students through learning as well as helping EFL teachers adapt to their new home.”

Personal Growth Library

While speaking with Lynnette I realized that some of her initial goals are changing and Lynnette is, too.

I followed up with Lynnette about her concerns for possibly losing, or somehow altering her authentic self. She shared that she has realized that self growth is going to happen and she welcomes it, but the pace of the process has caused her “stress related anxiety” about which she spoke. Growth, while always positive, is not always painless.

Personal Growth Teaching Abroad

In the end, Lynnette has been using this third year to hone her teaching craft. She realized that she had ‘skated’ through her first two years, leading her into the harsh awakening she experienced at the beginning of her third year. For many of us, it’s often that we cannot see what is actually happening until our body lets us know. This was the case for Lynnette. Lynnette’s autopilot burned out and she needed to resupply herself with the mental resources needed to live abroad. The transition happened and for Lynnette, like most humans, she was trying to survive and adapt while simultaneously trying to hold on to who she was two years ago back in the U.S.

Lynnette’ personal growth has come a very long way in three years teaching abroad. She is enjoying both her Master’s degree work and the work at her new school. She says her new school has embraced her and given her the responsibilities of a teacher. With the responsibility, Lynnette has been able to focus on her own methodology while using what she is learning with her masters.

While some of Lynnette’s goals have changed since our first discussion, what’s been most eye-opening for me is the transformation of a young woman finding her way abroad in a new professional environment. Since the first time I met her at orientation, up until now, I would compare Lynnette to a caterpillar that is just about to break free from her cocoon to become a butterfly. She is well on her way to personal growth teaching abroad and her new dream aboard.