From Auxiliar to Studying Data Science


Justin Hughes-Coleman lived in Madrid, Spain for two years where he taught as an auxiliar. While there, he connected with other expats and became part of the Dreams Abroad team. Justin moved back to the US this past summer and is now thriving in San Francisco, California, where he is studying data science. We are excited to share his update with you.

DogWhat have you been up to since leaving Dreams Abroad?

Since leaving Dreams Abroad, I have had a lot of life changes. I moved back to the US from Spain and am currently enrolled in a Data Science boot camp. I live in the Bay Area in California and recently, got a new dog.

What is our best Dreams Abroad memory?

One of my best Dreams Abroad memories is when we met at La Gatoteca, a cat cafe in central Madrid. A few of the DA members, myself included, were really looking forward to spending time discussing our lives and goals in Madrid surrounded by adorable cats. However, many more members were not exactly thrilled to pay to spend time with cats and a few members just waited for us outside. The silly memory sticks out so much because it demonstrates the strong will many members have and it felt like the foundations of what was to come during the rest of our time abroad. I feel many members have grown to have a stronger sense of themselves and it was nice to grow along with them and Dreams Abroad.

What are your plans?

Justin Hughes-Coleman

One of my main desires is to pursue my need to travel. My three-year goal is to start my career as a data scientist so I can work remotely. Once I’ve become established, I hope to begin semi-long-term traveling again. I don’t think I want to live any place for longer than a year. I would like the flexibility to pick up and go live wherever the road takes me.

What would you say to someone interested in traveling abroad to teach, work, study, or just to travel?

If there are any hurdles that seem to make traveling not worth it, trust me. Traveling is worth overcoming every one of those hurdles. Travel, quite literally, opened up the world to me. Every amazing moment I experienced while abroad shaped me to be the person I have always wanted to be; someone that knows their potential and wants to help others reach theirs. All the people I’ve met along the way have made the world seem limitless with possibilities. While traveling, I met families that do nothing but travel and people that make a positive impact while living abroad. Traveling can show you the world and the best way to experience it: with your own eyes.

by Leesa Truesdell

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

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

Madrid Still Has My Heart as an Auxiliar

Looking back to almost one year ago, I never could have imagined that Justin Hughes-Coleman and I would one day be collaborating and sharing information about his upcoming second year in Madrid! Each time I meet with Justin, I learn a tiny bit more about who he is and, most importantly, who he wants to become. Check out his Part two interview about finding purpose while teaching abroad to catch up.

I’ll never forget meeting Justin last August. He was sweating (as we all were because it was AUGUST in Madrid), and I sat next to him and just felt happy. I share this moment once again because it was the very beginning of what I like to think of as this cool ride that we are on and that we don’t want to end.

Justin has been on the Dreams Abroad team since it’s inception and has successfully wowed readers with his first two blog posts. His soul shines when he writes and readers understand both him and his message.

Meet Justin, the soul searcher and auxiliar: 

I am following up on our previous interview and your last blog post on expressing yourself in Spain.

I think we all want to know…

Are you still the “teachers pet” at your school?

“Hehe, that is so funny that I thought that at one point. No, I no longer believe I’m the teacher’s pet. The last two months have been very eye-opening because of my school’s dysfunctional leadership.”

How are things at school since we last spoke? Anything changed?

auxiliar school madrid

“A lot has changed at my school since then. Most importantly I realized that my school is one of the worst in the town that I work in. I figured this out because the schools are ranked every year based on the pass/fail rates of the English exams and my school has been routinely at the bottom under my current top two senior staff members (director and jefatura de estudios.) This has caused the school to have increasingly lower numbers of students since parents choose to put their children at other schools. This has an effect on the staff as well; most staff members only stay one year at my school and request to leave once the year is over.”

Do you think that is why the Comunidad de Madrid is investing in so many auxiliars?

“I do believe the job has a high turnover rate. However, I wouldn’t say it is entirely the fault of the Comunidad de Madrid. All the schools are totally different in the way they are run so no two schools are alike. An auxiliar would have a totally different experience if they were at a different school. I tell people that if I worked at truly badly run school, I would not renew for a second year because so much of one’s experience in Spain is based on their school.”

Even before our second interview you knew you were staying in Madrid, what made you decide to stay?

“Despite my school, Madrid still has my heart. They recently held World Pride that was two weeks long and it showcased what is best about Madrid, the people. Everyone in Madrid is so open-minded and interested in really getting to know people of all backgrounds. That is something I haven’t found back in America.”

world pride madrid

Have you talked to your school about your role next year? Will you be teaching 8 classes and a homeroom?

“I haven’t spoken to my teachers about next year or any other auxiliar. It will probably be the same process as my first year where I just show up and the administrators scramble to come up with a plan.”

What are your plans for this summer?

“This summer I’m going on a different type of adventure. I am living in Greece for two months. For the first month, I am working on an endangered horse farm on the Greek island of Skyros. The second month I am helping build a yoga studio on the island of Rhodes. It will be such a new experience for me and I don’t know what to expect but I am looking forward to it!”

How did you find these places to work abroad?

I found out about this website called where people who are looking for volunteer work can post an ad and in exchange for the help they usually provide room and board for the volunteers. I knew for the summer I wanted to be by a beach (seeing as how Madrid is quite literally landlocked and I didn’t want a repeat of last summer) so I searched for situations that were near beaches and I stumbled upon the endangered horse farm and yoga retreat in Greece.

workaway info


What was the best experience you had this school year? And the most memorable?

“The best and most memorable experience is when two other auxiliars and I performed a dance routine for the entire school and all the kids ran up and mobbed us after the performance. It was absolutely crazy!”

Tell us more about Justin Time for Life your blog. What are your plans for the blog?

“My plan for this blog is to reach out to those who don’t feel like they really belong in America. I was to give them a perspective of what it is like to live abroad as an auxiliar. I know that all my posts are only my experience and they won’t be the same for everyone that goes abroad but I want to give people a “running head start” in their journey abroad. Moving abroad was the best decision I have ever made in my life and I want people to know that despite whatever challenges they face, it is worth it.”

Auxiliar Abroad and What is to Come

Justin has not only walked the walk from the USA over to Madrid, but he is going to be talking to and assisting others through his blog about how to do the same abroad. The person that I met that scorching August afternoon was and is one very courageous man. Dreams Abroad is ecstatic to be working with him and together we are a team ready to better equip our readers on open-mindedness.

I can’t wait to hear all about Justin’s summer in GREECE! If you are an auxiliar abroad we want to hear from you! Join our LinkedIn group to stay on top of all the amazing Dreams Abroad developments.

by Leesa Truesdell

Finding Purpose While Teaching Abroad

“The only thing I know is this: I am full of wounds and still standing on my feet.” – Nikos Kazantzakis

Last time I sat down with Justin Hughes-Coleman, it was August in Madrid. Although we were both sweating bullets at the time, my first impression of Justin stuck with me. I spoke about it in the first article of the Teach Abroad series. Justin and I did not know each other but he quickly revealed himself as someone who was using this time abroad to search within to find his purpose.

The Justin sitting in front of me five months later appears different to how I left him in August. His Madrid story was just beginning then. Now his goals are more defined. He went from soul searching to soul defining.

I asked Justin to think about his favorite quote for this series. When he sent me this, at first, I did not understand why. Why did this sunny-side-up, laid-back, enthusiastic young man send me this quote?

Here is his response to the quote listed at the top of blog

“I only found this quote shortly after arriving in Spain. When I was scrolling online, this quote popped up next to a drawing of a woman sitting in her bed in what appeared a very pensive mood. The quote resonated with me and my battle with depression over the years. It represents my growth from thinking I had to be perfect to forgiving myself and fully accepting who I am. The quote isn’t overly optimistic and fits my personality type, positive but pragmatic.”

arriving in Spain

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Justin and agree with him  that we all need to be more aware of those around us. We should take the time to understand our friends’, families’, and students’ needs. The bottom line is that looking at Justin from the outside, you would never know that he has had his battles with depression.

Justin is doing great in his job and he was excited to share his journey with us about finding purpose teaching abroad. He is exploring new ideas and defining who he wants to become a little bit more each day.

Meet Justin, the soul searcher

Finding Purpose in schoolWhat is a typical day at your school like?

“Each day I have a totally different schedule. So my days are pretty distinct, but usually I have one class that I see every day so I consider them my “homeroom” students.”

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

“I think there are around 15-20 teachers at the school. There are also lunchroom staff and groundskeepers but I don’t know how many. There are three other language assistants. I teach eight different classes at different frequencies each week.”

Communication in the school and outside of school

How are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

“This is actually a funny question. Apparently last year my Director didn’t like any of the language assistants and didn’t talk to them much. This year I am constantly asked by her if I can help on projects and I tutor my Director’s son once a week. The other language assistants make fun of me and call me “teacher’s pet”.  I get along with all my teachers even though communication can be extremely difficult at times due to the language barrier. My fellow language assistants and I exercise together twice a week and are planning a vacation together this spring.”

Are you forming bonds with students?

“I love kids. However, I honestly didn’t think I would love these kids as much as I do. I’m very close with many of my students and they are always saying hi and coming up to me outside of school. However, I do need to work on being stricter. Yet I know I can because I see other teachers who are strict with the kids and the kids still want hugs after class.”

auxiliars students abroad

What does the school do to foster these relationships inside and outside of the classroom?

“I don’t know if it is just my personality but I really don’t see the “mean” side of Spaniards I have been warned about from various people, including one of my fellow language assistants. Now I don’t know if teachers talk about me behind my back but to my knowledge all my teachers are very friendly and professional. If they see something I can improve on, they come up to me and tell me directly.”

workbooksHow is material being taught to students?

“The students do the vast majority of their work from workbooks, either hard copy or on iPads. They do have projects they do for each class, about once a month where they have to work with a group in the class.”

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

“I don’t plan many lessons but teachers will ask if I would like to lead the class on a certain day. So I try to come up with fun activities for the kids. That way they learn the material in a high-energy state. For example, I was teaching the kids numbers so I made a bingo game and the kids were so excited. On the exam, most of them got all the numbers questions correct.”

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

“I do work at a bilingual school in Tres Cantos, a suburb in northern Madrid. I like the concept of bilingual schools and wish we had them in the USA. There are some flaws with it, for example teaching Spanish history in English makes it feel distant for the kids, but overall I think the concept is excellent.”

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

“Other than overall competency of the material, the 3rd, 5th and 6th-grade teachers are using the Cambridge Assessment language proficiency materials to measure the kids’ English skills. The test preparation pretty much dominates the time I spend with the kids and it is a measure that determines which secondary school the kids go to after primary.”

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

“I am not quite sure. The teachers definitely coordinate their intended lessons for the kids with other teachers but I’m not sure if there is an overall shared goal with the teachers.”

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

“I have definitely become more confident in my overall ability just to live life. Looking back, I got an apartment in a country where I don’t know the language. Every day I am talking to Spanish teachers and sometimes Spanish parents about different materials and lessons for their students. I travel to different countries, and around Spain, without the aid of a travel guide. Also, I have learned to trust myself more and allow myself forgiveness if I do make a mistake. I have made friends easier with people while abroad and can even maintain friendships back in the US.”

What are your new goals and/or modifications to previous goals in the new year?

“My new goals this year is how to stay a second year, especially survive over the summer without a steady income. I would love to run a half marathon, also. Furthermore, setting a personal goal of becoming 100% fluent in Spanish is on my list. I am continuing to work towards my overall goal of being a data scientist when I return to the States.”

Finding Purpose and goals

Finding Purpose Is Just the Beginning

After speaking to Justin about his first semester at school, it was clear that he has settled into his life in Spain. Finding purpose while teaching abroad is not the easiest. I recall Justin in August scrambling over finding a piso and five months later it’s irrelevant. Although his piso hunt is history, his journey has just begun. I asked him his thoughts about his journey now compared to our first interview and he smiled. He knew for certain that he was going to reapply for a second year in Spain. All in all, Justin looked great, sounded happy, and is working on defining the purpose of his soul searching while staying true to himself.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Mr. Brightside. Stay tuned to find out more. Finding purpose can be a struggle, so join our Facebook page. You can keep up to date with our articles and members.

by Leesa Truesdell

The Impact Teachers Have on the Community

“It is interesting to see the direct impact teachers have on the community.” — Justin Hughes-Coleman

First impressions have an impact, no matter the cultural or social setting. I have noticed that in our group of language assistants, there are not as many male teachers as female. Because of this, I knew I wanted to interview a male participant. I also wanted to interview someone who commuted and worked in the north of Madrid. Therefore, Justin was a perfect candidate. I had not had a long conversation with Justin until our first interview. He struck me as a friendly type. Justin is extremely easygoing with a smile that lights up the room. His first impression was a memorable one.

Justin’s experience in Spain is going to be such a fascinating journey to follow. He is going to be an excellent teacher. His enthusiasm and joy for life will brighten up a classroom. The new challenges that Justin seeks are about to unfold. How exciting.

Meet Justin, the Soul Searcher, and Teacher

Justin hails from San Diego, California. He went to California State University San Marcos. and graduated three years ago. Since then, Justin has worked in retail, finance, real estate and in AmeriCorps as a legal adviser to families.  As Justin became proficient at each job, his mind would start to atrophy from lack of challenge and overlong hours and his  soul remained unfulfilled. Making the decision to come to Spain pushed Justin to take on new challenges. 

Before his journey to Spain, he had never taught before. Justin decided to teach abroad because of the experience of one of his good friends. Because she had done the exact same program in Madrid, Justin knew she would be a great to consult.

He has two major goals while he is here. Justin would like to learn more Spanish and travel through Europe and see parts of Africa.

map of tres cantosWhere are you teaching?

“I will be teaching at a primary school in the northern part of Madrid in an area called Tres Cantos. It’s a one-hour commute from where I will be living in the city.”

What do you think teaching in Spain will be like for you?

“I try not to think too much about it before it happens. My mom is a teacher. She has taught my entire life. We can’t walk into a store in town without one person knowing her or saying hi. It is interesting to see the direct impact teachers have on the community.”

What are you looking forward to most with teaching?

Justin looked up with a really big smile and said: “I am looking forward to preparing lesson plans and seeing how my plans impact my students.”

Justin chose to be a teacher abroad to nourish his soul both professionally and personally. He explained: “In the United States I would not be open to creating new lesson plans in subjects ranging from science to American History because I would have a bias as to what a teacher should do and the limitation on the lesson plans they are permitted to teach.

Tres cantos teaching abroad
Tres Cantos, Spain


He added: “However, in Spain, I do not know how their school system works and what is permitted. I can teach from a different perspective that might help the students learn in a different way. So, instead of making lesson plans ahead of time that I might have to change or totally get rid of, I am going to wait for some guidance from my school and use the skills I have learned from my mother to help craft lesson plans that will fit the needs of the school.”

Justin’s ease as he mapped out his hopes for the future masked what I didn’t know then, that he had been going through a difficult time.

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

“The people and other teachers in Madrid are very friendly. I am not used to that. Even strangers are personable. While looking at a piso, a receptionist at the building started speaking to me and asking me about my day.”

Justin’s perceptions should be tempered by the observation that while Spanish people can be very friendly, they can also be very direct. He has a charm which is instantly endearing as I discovered in the course of our conversation.

teachers-teaching-studentsWhat assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here? Have you found them to be accurate or inaccurate?

“I thought Spanish people were going to be more “svelte” looking people, like you. But, in general, they aren’t.”

For those of you who do not know what svelte means (me included), it means thin in an attractive or graceful way. I have to say, thank you, Justin (blushing)!

As we built up our connection, Justin opened up more.

What has been most difficult since you arrived?

“Piso-hunting has been the most difficult. People canceled appointments that I reserved minutes before I arrived. They won’t call to cancel the appointment in advance. Now that I have a piso, the hardest thing to get used to is the directness of the Spanish culture. An example of this was when someone told me I looked very messy on the subway (in broken English-Spanish). I was drenched in sweat.

On the flip side, they aren’t very forthcoming with information or specifics. Getting detailed information from potential landlords during the search was extremely challenging.”

teachers in spain

What has been the best experience of being a teacher abroad?

“Meeting all the new people and fellow teachers, Americans and Spanish alike.”

How do you feel about the integration of the culture so far? Are there things that you have embraced or are hoping to embrace?

“I have integrated more easily than I thought I would, being a teacher. When I got here, I thought it would be very difficult to get around. But that is not the case. I hope to embrace the soccer culture and understand it better. In general, the Spanish lifestyle is slower. When you go out at night you pace yourself. I feel like in America, you either go hard or go home. It’s about getting drunk. Here, it is about enjoying your friends and enjoying the evening. I’m looking forward to that.”

Justin took the leap of faith to go to Spain to find himself. The self-discovery process in Spain is going to be a great one with Justin. One thing we can be sure of, Justin will be encountering and embracing many new challenges in the upcoming months. He will be making friends and meeting other teachers abroad. We will check back with him halfway to find out more.

Stay tuned for our next connection.

by Leesa Truesdell