How to Make Life Changing Decisions

If you read my first article, then you’re probably already a bit familiar with my experience living in LA and my mental health journey. In this three-part follow-up article series, which will be released over the subsequent months, I will share more about my relationship with the “push and pull effect.” I’ll detail how it has influenced a series of life-changing decisions and helped propel my professional and personal life forward. 

What Is the “Push and Pull Effect?”

It refers to the feeling of being pushed away from living in a place- either because of societal problems, lifestyle difficulties, economic factors, etc., while simultaneously being pulled towards living in another place. This is usually because this place is (or at least it feels) inherently opposite. For example, when I made the decision to move to Castelló de la Plana, Spain, in summer 2020, I was simultaneously feeling pushed away from LA while being pulled towards Spain. This feeling of being pushed away from one place while being pulled towards another makes decision-making, particularly risk-taking, easy. In this series of articles, I will reveal the seemingly paradoxical experience which I have lived with the push and pull effect.

Before Diving Into Part One, Here’s a Timeline for Context:

  • August 2020 — Was feeling pushed away from LA, pulled towards Spain. Moved to Castelló de la Plana. (part one)
  • August 2021 — Was feeling pushed away from Castelló, pulled towards Valencia. Moved to Valencia. (part two, coming in spring 2022)
  • December 2021/January 2022 (time of writing) — Feeling pushed from Valencia, pulled towards LA. Making concrete plans to move to LA. (part three, coming in summer 2022)

The push and pull effect has come full circle for me all in the span of a little over a year. In this first part, I will detail the reasons why I felt pushed away from LA/pulled towards Spain in August 2020. Stay tuned for my following two articles to understand how and why everything is coming full circle.

Eli Pozo Negro (nature)

Part One: Pushed From LA/Pulled Towards Spain

If you read my first article, How to Cope With Where You Are Not, you probably already know a little bit about how I feel about Los Angeles, my hometown, as a place. You’re probably also a bit shocked to have just read that I am currently in the planning phase of moving back there in 2022. Allow me to explain from the beginning.

Pushed From LA

Since long before the COVID pandemic began, I never liked living in LA- mostly due to transportation-related frustration, but also because of some personal trauma. When the pandemic began, I was in LA working as a composer. I also worked part-time for Harmony Project (HP), the largest non-profit organization providing free music education to low-income youth in LA. HP’s community was among the hardest hit by COVID in every imaginable sense. 

As an administrator and a teacher, my job quickly transformed into something that nobody in my position could have prepared for. I have never been trained as a social worker, but the work which my colleagues and I did for these families at the beginning of the pandemic was about as close as it gets. As rewarding as it sometimes was to be of practical use for a few families- helping them with access to food security after losing their income, delivering masks and other essentials, assisting with applying for unemployment via phone, etc. —  it was also a devastating experience for me. It made the pandemic hit close to home in the most literal sense possible. Given my empathetic nature, this led me to become severely depressed to the point where I needed to take antidepressants for the first time in my life.

All this left me feeling like there was no path forward for me in LA. I could feel my motivation and passion for things fading to the point where it was no longer fair to the families I was working for to remain in my job when I wasn’t feeling strong enough. Nor was it fair to myself. Fortunately, around the same time, I found out that I could return to Spain in August 2020. I remained in my job at Harmony Project until then with a second wind to keep going with the knowledge that I would soon be able to return to the place I had always wanted to be.

Pulled to Spain

If there’s one question I have learned how to answer in several ways over the last five years, it’s “why do you want to live in Spain?” As someone living outside of the country you were born and raised in, it’s a common question to be asked. In my case, it’s even more surprising to people when they realize that I am a composer from Los Angeles, who doesn’t want to take the seemingly obvious decision to live in one of the biggest music capitals of the world, which happens to also be my hometown.

Eli Boarding Pass moving to Castellon

As I mentioned, there are many ways I answer that question. Depending on the context in which it is asked because there are a plethora of reasons why I wanted to live in Spain. For the sake of this article, I’ll focus on the grounds which I think are most universally understood among people who work in a creative industry with the flexibility to be location-independent.

Creativity and Inspiration

I had studied abroad in Valencia, Spain, twice during my undergrad. Afterward, I landed an internship with a Spanish composer in Madrid. After these experiences, it felt obvious to me that living in Spain had a significant positive impact on my creativity and inspiration. The fascinating history, beautiful locations both in nature and in cities such as Sevilla, Granada, and Valencia were immensely inspiring for me as a composer. 

Castellon hike with friends

Lifestyle

For better or worse, Spain simply has a different view on work/life balance than the US. Fewer work hours, longer breaks (both during the day and for holidays), and greater emphasis on enjoying life easily summarize the Spanish lifestyle. Additionally, the cost of living, especially when compared to a city like Los Angeles, is much more affordable. As a composer (or any type of freelancer), less income is needed to live comfortably.

Apartment in Castellon

Combining it All: Mental Health

Ultimately, my decision to move to Spain in August 2020 was for my mental health. That is to say, as a composer and highly self-motivated individual, I needed to live in a place that was conducive to me feeling inspired and creative. Having an easily attainable lifestyle was beyond important to me. In Los Angeles, those things felt so far out of reach that it was destroying my mental health. Living in Spain as an auxiliar de conversación meant a mere 16 hours of work per week to cover my living expenses (not including my student debt).

Home recording studio in Castellon

Such a work week allowed me to lead the lifestyle that I needed to. I knew that I’d use the rest of my time to get inspired, make music, enjoy life, pursue other projects, and continue towards my goal of financial freedom off of royalty-based passive income.

Conclusion/Teaser

In August 2020, I finally arrived to live in Castellón de la Plana, a small city about an hour north of Valencia. The city was only a short commute to the town where I was assigned for my 16 hours of teaching. It was exactly what I needed — it offered a comfortable lifestyle, plenty of sources of inspiration, and the mental time and space necessary for me to compose and record my second album. In the next article of this three-part series, I will detail my experience living there and how I ultimately ended up in a similar push/pull situation that led to my moving to Valencia in July 2021. 

Eli second album cover

My journey is a wild one, which on the surface, appears to be u-turn after u-turn. After reading the whole series, you will understand how the risks and decisive actions I’ve taken have all only pointed my life in one direction — forward. My hope is that by detailing my decision-making process, it will help people to make the hard but necessary decisions which they need to make to keep their own lives moving forward as well.

Eli Slavkinby Eli Slavkin

Anna Lech Talks Relocation Abroad

Anna Lech profile in Tenerife, Spain.Fresh ocean air, swaying palm trees, June Gloom, people surfing, skateboarding, or playing beach volleyball. I’ve always imagined mornings to be on California beaches as centers of activity. I took a stroll on the boardwalk to see if my image of the Golden State lifestyle, in which everybody is photogenic, athletic, and surrounded by friends on the beach, is real.  More importantly, I wanted to satisfy my curiosity. I needed to find out why millions around the world dream about a relocation to California

I struck up conversations with local surfers and lifeguards so I could learn more about Californian stereotypes. Now, I’ve always thought that there is no better way to get to know a country than to blend in with locals. Usually, I learn much from these conversations. However, this particular one shocked me; one surfer said he’d never been outside his home state. He loved California so much that he couldn’t imagine ever living somewhere else. But how could he possibly know what he’s missing if he had never left home? 

My Relocation Experience

I was born in Poland and for as long as I can remember, I always wanted to visit other countries, learn foreign languages, try new cuisines, and get to know other cultures.  More than that, I always felt fascinated by the idea of living abroad in as many countries as possible. 

When I was a student, international travel and foreign student exchanges weren’t a thing. There weren’t many countries Polish people could freely travel to. 

When I was 22 years old, I was fortunate enough to take part in a three-month work experience program in Germany. Since this was my first relocation, I played it safe by going to a neighboring country whose language I learned in school. 

This wasn’t the case with my next relocation to the UK. On a whim, I decided to move there with just a few words of English, no plan, and barely any air travel experience. This relocation proved to be very difficult and challenging. Nonetheless, my adventurous soul always wanted to experience a vagabond life, even though it meant operating outside my comfort zone.  

I went from feeling scared to be away from home for three months to falling in love with living abroad in just a few short years.  In the UK, I also learned that “home” is where you make it. It’s not a fixed location. 

Globetrotter

A year before I turned 40, I made one of my biggest dreams come true. I went for a 15-week backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. I ended this adventure in the Caribbean. I’m glad to report I’m now a permanent US resident who now calls Puerto Rico home.  

My main relocation tips would be to go for it and don’t look back. Prepare for things to go wrong, or at least not according to a plan. 

Moving abroad is not for everyone but, in my opinion, everyone should give it a try at least once. I’ve met dozens of very unhappy immigrants abroad. They count their days before their return to their home country. However, none of them ever regretted trying it. They all said that they became more independent, responsible, and learned new things about themselves while living abroad. 

I am not the best person to give advice on how to responsibly and carefully move abroad.  All I had before I moved to Germany was a fax printout with a hotel address.  Leaping into the unknown felt both terrifying and thrilling. I took an overnight bus to Germany followed by a train ride and a boat journey. I did it all without much research ahead of time. 

Fueled by Spontaneity

Moving to the UK was also very spontaneous. I traveled to London for a long weekend, which planted an idea for moving there. After graduating from university four months later, I boarded a plane to Manchester. I went with the flow, without expectations or any plan to return home. 

The older I got, the more spontaneous I became. At an age when most of my friends had settled down, I packed 13 years of my life in the UK into a couple of boxes. I pursued my lifelong dream to backpack around the world for a few months. Five months after I started my trip, I ended up inviting my family to my wedding in Puerto Rico. America became my new home. 

As a child, I spent many holidays in Hungary due to my dad’s work. Often, I would pick up a few Hungarian words or phrases and use them to impress the folks back home. I had so much fun learning something new that I could put to use immediately. I couldn’t say the same about chemistry or physics.

Falling in Love with Foreign Languages  

I started learning German in primary school. At first, it seemed like just another subject to learn. But as soon as I had an opportunity to use what I learned to travel to Germany, communicate with native speakers, and place orders in restaurants, my approach to learning foreign languages changed a lot. It took me a long time, but I stopped being embarrassed, overthinking, or analyzing every mistake I made. I learned to keep talking and not worry about all the grammatical and pronunciation mistakes I made. In addition, I started to take unnecessary trips to different stores just to read the signs and price tags, or start a conversation with salespeople about random products. 

I listened to songs in the new language, watched TV with subtitles, and read newspaper headlines or advertisements. Every time I heard a new word, I wrote it down. Every time I saw a new word, I highlighted it. I often associate new foreign words with a place, color, person, or situation to bring the new language to life, making learning much more enjoyable than rote memorizing with a book. 

Picking Up the Second Language

Learning English in preparation for my relocation to the UK was a real challenge. I only had six months to prep, so I tried to find the most dynamic and fun way to become conversational. Since this was my second foreign language, I knew boring textbooks wouldn’t work for me. My priority was to learn useful daily phrases that would allow me to function in society, such as asking for directions, counting numbers, etc.

I settled on what was back then a very new, innovative English course called the Callan Method. The method focuses on improving students’ speaking and listening skills by repeating foreign words and phrases over and over again without thinking. After six months, I was ecstatic to be able to speak and understand basic English. Unfortunately, after moving to the UK, I had a bitter pill to swallow. I quickly realized that the course hadn’t prepared me as much as I expected. 

A Different Ballgame

Learning English turned out to be much tougher than German, mainly because I haven’t had any foundational language knowledge from school. But, more importantly, the UK is a very multicultural place and it took me a very long time to comprehend international accents. None of the English courses back home could possibly prepare me for this. 

Now that I find myself in a Spanish-speaking place, I have no choice but to start all over again. Luckily, these days there are plenty of language-learning apps and websites that are extremely handy. I already know from experience that I am not looking forward to struggling with multiple varieties of Spanish.

Living in a foreign country surrounded by unfamiliar customs can be very challenging, but by leaving your comfort zone behind you may discover a new and happier way of life that suits you better. 

Relocating abroad might not be on your bucket list at the moment, but have you ever wondered why some people move abroad and never return home? Or do you love to listen to stories about their time abroad and wish they were your own? If so, don’t waste any more time and make it happen! Don’t be like the surfer I met years ago in Hermosa Beach. He’s probably still never left California and wouldn’t have anything new to say about himself if I ran into him today.   

by Anna Lech

Moving to Tenerife: A Paradoxical Paradise

Amanda Whitten Moving Abroad

I was out on a tourist pirate ship dolphin-tour one midwinter afternoon in 2016, and the water was just the deepest sapphire blue. The waves crashed about like small avalanches of pearls. Although I didn’t see any dolphins that day, I still had the ultimate blast as I flew from the boat via rope and into the open sea, as carefree as I had ever been. That day I told my sister half-jokingly that I wanted to try moving to Tenerife. 

The day that I truly fell in love with Tenerife, though, I was standing on the black sandy beach, Playa Jardín, with the Atlantic water lapping at my calves and the weather warm and comforting when Mt. Teide caught my eye. It was capped in snow. My first year in Madrid was one of the most stressful of my life, but that memory stayed with me, helping to center me in times of strife. 

Moving to Tenerife and Discovering What Living in Paradise Really Means

“Imagine living here” is something that we all say when, or if, we find ourselves fortunate enough to holiday in an extraordinary place. We rarely get to make it a reality, however. Moving to Tenerife seems like a crazy, impulsive, reckless thing to do even to this day, and yet here I am. With the two suitcases I packed, one backpack, and a half-baked plan, I got on a plane. The original idea was to get assigned as a teaching assistant on the islands, but it didn’t work out. I wasn’t deterred. 

Living on the island is definitely a little different from vacationing here. During my initial nine-day stay, I traversed nearly the entire perimeter. I’ve been here now since September 2020, and I’ve barely left Puerto de la Cruz — the town I now call home. Part of it is due to the pandemic, yes, but it also comes down to my personality. I’m adventurous in short bursts, but otherwise, I’m a homebody. That said, I’d like to share with you a few things about living here in this paradoxical paradise.

The Cons and a Few Small Heads-Ups about Renting an Apartment Here

  1. If you do move here, and you don’t have a Spanish-based income, regardless of your savings, people will hesitate to rent to you. I make pretty stable money from VIPkid and Cambly, but that didn’t really matter to prospective landlords. 
  2. If you want to rent an apartment alone without a partner, you will have a hard time. They will fear losing money should something happen to your income. In this way, I was, and am, lucky to have my boyfriend. They also prefer to rent to older retired folk with a pension.
  3. The weather in Puerto is finicky. It’s definitely warmer than in Madrid, but it often changes from hour to hour, if not even faster. It’s best to dress in layers because it could be absolutely cloudy one minute, and a bright, clear, sunny day the next. 
  4. Everything is uphill and steep. Somehow, I conveniently forgot about this or didn’t realize it my first time around. Prepare to sweat.

A Few Good Places to Eat

  1. Pizzas Magic Corner — You know those places that look slightly off the beaten path, a bit like a dive bar, but they always have the best, yet cheapest food? That’s how I would describe this place. Forget the fancy-schmancy pizzas from the Italian eateries. This joint’s pepperoni and mushroom pizzas are out of this world. And if you don’t like mushrooms, I only have one thing to say to you: How dare you?!?! (They have other options, of course).
  2. La Croquet Deli-Café — This place is in the center of it all. Believe the hype you’ll see in the reviews. Their gorgeous desserts and elegant coffees are 100x better than Starbucks. And this comes from a loyal Starbucks fan. If you aren’t an SB fan, and you’re maybe not all that impressed, consider this: The hot fudge brownie with a scoop of coconut ice cream will infuse your senses and skyrocket you to heaven. They have other crazier options, but that is now my go-to favorite. 
  3. Any place on Calle de la Verdad, translated to “Street of Truth.” This little side street is easily missed if you blink for too long. Should you find it, however, you will notice that it is generously decked out in all kinds of plants, giving it a really nice, quiet atmosphere. You’ll love sipping a glass of Vermouth here at any one of the little terrace restaurants while escaping the heat of the day in a veritable street garden. 

Some Historical Legends

Tenerife and the rest of the Canary Islands are so much more than popular holiday destinations. They are a place with their own rich history, culture, and even myths. For example:

  1. Legend has it that the islands originated from the mountain tops of the lost city of Atlantis
  2. Guayota was/is an evil entity said to have made his home in the bowels of Mt. Teide. It’s said that Achamán, all-powerful god of the Guanches, the pre-Spanish Berber-descending inhabitants of Tenerife, fought Guayota and this explains why Teide has been less active. 
  3. Guacimara, a Guanche Princess of Anaga and an amazing warrioress, fought off the Spanish invaders, and at the last moment, rather than being taken hostage, threw herself off a cliff, and became a mermaid who lives even until this day.
Mount Teide, Tenerife
Teide, Spain’s tallest mountain, does a mean impression of Mount Fuji

A Trio of Random Things

  1. There is a butterfly sanctuary and it’s delightful. It’s not in Puerto, so you’ll need to head towards Icod de Los Vinos. It’s a village a bit to the south and it’s super nice in its own right. You can also see the 1,000-year-old “Dragon” tree while you’re there. 
  2. Something you might not notice if you’re merely vacationing here is that there are a lot — and I mean a lot — of cats here. I think I’ve counted at least five black neighborhood cats in particular. The locals feed them and they are just the sweetest things. I already have two “friends” who sometimes wait for me on my evening walks, and they compete for my attention. Additionally, a lot of people not wanting to go through the hassle of moving with their pets abandon a lot of them on the islands. If we end up staying here permanently, I think adopting one would be a lovely thing to do. If you would like to know more about rehoming your pet on the island, check out the Canary Island Pet Re-homing Service group on Facebook. The group has dedicated itself to helping out strays from all over the Canary Islands. 
  3. Islands do Christmas right. Usually, by the end of the holiday, I’m so over it. I never wanted it to end after moving to Tenerife. There were lights up everywhere and they had lovely holiday music blasting in the streets. It was pretty cool, to say the least. 
Inspired by moving to Tenerife, Amanda painted some flowers on a trellis
The Canary Islands are as pretty as an Amanda Whitten picture

Only time will tell what happens after moving to Tenerife. This is one of the first occasions I’ve ever felt so safe and secure in my living situation. I find it so comforting to simply exist in a place filled with so much beauty. I find ample opportunities from which to draw my artistic inspiration. There are so many gorgeous flowers on the walls, in the ravines, and on the wooden trellises that populate the streets everywhere. The people are very friendly. It’s enough to make even the most unpoetic person (like myself) desire to compose something. Speaking of which….**Ahem**

Haha just kidding. I wouldn’t subject you to all that.

Thanks for reading…

Squirrel Girl

A Language Assistant’s Guide to Moving to Spain

Moving Abroad

Moving abroad is certainly challenging, and may seem overwhelming. To help manage the stress and confusion of moving to Spain, I created a guide to break down each step of the process in an easy and comprehensible way. 

What to Bring

The first challenge after getting accepted into a language assistant program and successfully processing your student visa is simply knowing what to pack for your move abroad. You’ll of course need to bring clothes, medications, and personal items such as laptops. If you’re taking any medication that will need to be refilled in Spain, ask your doctor to give you a prescription stating the name of the drug and its components so that it will be easy for a local doctor to find and prescribe you a Spanish equivalent. You will also need enough money to cover you in September since most teach abroad programs do not begin paying until October. That means you’ll explicitly need sufficient funds to see you comfortably through the first couple of weeks.

Beyond the absolute essentials, what else should you bring? My recommendation is as little as possible. Spanish stores are not drastically different from American ones, and you can find almost anything you need right here in Spain. Of course, not everything is the same, so my advice is to pack only the things that you can’t live without before moving to Spain.

For information on how to process your student visa, see my previous article

Joining Groups

Undeniably, one of the best resources for language assistants are Facebook groups. These groups provide important information, general advice, and housing opportunities. There are groups for each individual teach abroad program, as well as a general group for Madrid, Auxiliares de Conversación en Madrid. Apart from these, there are a plethora of groups for expats, students, and more. Join as many as you like and start making friends before you arrive in Spain.

Bank Account

Right after moving to Spain, one of your top priorities should be opening a bank account. Signing up for a bank account in Spain is a fairly simple process. In theory, you should only need your passport and some money to do this. However, many banks refuse to give foreigners an account without a physical identity card. Be prepared to be turned away by the first bank you walk into. By all means, ask fellow language assistants who they bank with and start there. It is important to open a bank account as soon as possible because you will need one to rent an apartment or room.

Moving to Spain requires a Spanish Bank account to deposit your euros!

Housing

After you have opened a bank account, your foremost concern is probably where you’re going to live. One of the best ways to secure a room is by being a part of the language assistant groups on Facebook, where many available rooms and apartments are posted. If you prefer to complete this process on your own, two of the best websites to use are Idealista and Fotocasa. You can also seek out a local rental agency and ask about the apartments they have for rent. Keep in mind that many agencies and landlords do not speak English, so you may need to ask someone to help you contact them.

Source: capl@washjeff.edu || Apartment for Rent Sign in Spanish
Source: capl@washjeff.edu

Empadronamiento: Registering Your Residence

Registering your residence is absolutely essential for most government services. As soon as you have an apartment, visit your local ayuntamiento (town hall) to register. To complete this process, you’ll need proof of your identity (your passport), proof that you live at your address (signed contract or bill in your name), and a signed and completed copy of the registration form

Due to the pandemic, most ayuntamientos now require an appointment to process the empadronamiento, so check your ayuntamiento’s website or call beforehand. You can look for appointments in Madrid on the City Council website

Cell Phone and Internet

Depending on your living situation, you may need to set up your phone and Internet service. To do this, you’ll need proof of your identity (your passport), a bank account, and sometimes proof of residency (an empadronamiento from the step above). With these three things, you should be able to sign up for a cellphone and/or Internet plan with ease. Unfortunately, as with the banks, some companies refuse their services to foreigners without a physical identity card. As before, I recommend asking fellow language assistants about their experiences before choosing. 

A photo of a wallet, which is where you should keep your important cards

Public Health Card

Although most language assistant programs provide private health insurance, it is important to obtain public health insurance, as well. Some of the benefits of public health care include lower prescription costs and temporary paid leave from work for a medical reason, such as surgery or serious illness. 

Make sure to get your health card when moving to Spain

Getting your public health card is overall quite simple. Call a local health center and ask them which particular center you should go to. Centers are assigned by zones, so your official health center may not be the one closest to your apartment. Then, drop by your assigned center with your passport or identity card (NIE/TIE), an empadronamiento issued in the last three months, and proof that you are eligible for public health care. To prove you’re eligible, complete the Health Application and print it. 

Processing Your Visa

Finally, you’ll need to finish processing your visa. You will be granted 90 days from the start of your program to process your physical card. In order to do this, you will need to complete the EX-17 form, pay the modelo 790 código 012 tax, provide a 2X2 inch photo (these can be done at a photobooth, found at many metro stops). Bring copies of all your important documents to the government office your appointment is located at, including the photo and visa pages of your passport, empadronamiento, and the EX-17 form you filled out. 

Before you go, you will need an appointment. You can book one here on the Spanish government website.

Just One More Step…

After submitting your documents, you’ll be asked for your fingerprints and given a paper called a resguardo stating that you are approved for a physical NIE/TIE and can come to pick it up after 30-45 days. Do not lose this paper. Make copies of it as soon as you can, because you need it to pick up your physical card.

Make copies of all your important documents when moving to Spain

After the 30-45 days pass, make another appointment using the website above in the same government center where you did your fingerprints. Bring the paper given to you at the previous appointment along with your passport. After standing in line for somewhere between five minutes and three hours, you’ll submit the paper and receive your physical identity card! With that, you’re done, and you are an official resident of Spain for the rest of the academic year.

In Conclusion

The above steps and processes needed to live comfortably and legally in Spain may seem daunting, so my advice is to take care of them one at a time. Complete just one or two tasks each day rather than attempt to tackle all of them at once. If it becomes overwhelming, remember that moving to Spain is not unlike moving to another city in your own country. Mentally framing the obstacles as familiar ones can help manage stress. 

Most important of all, remember that you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help from other language assistants, friends, or the administration of whichever language program you are part of.

Use this checklist to help organize yourself. Good luck.

Moving to Spain To-Do List

  • Join groups on Facebook
  • Find housing
  • Bank Account
    • Bring:
      • Passport 
      • Money to open account with
  • Empadronamiento (Registry of residency)
    • Bring:
      • Passport
      • A bill in your name at your address or a signed rental contract
      • The completed form
  • Cell Phone and Internet Service
    • Bring:
      • Passport 
      • Bank account information
      • Empadronamiento (sometimes requested)
  • Public Health Card
    • Bring:
      • Passport, NIE or TIE
      • Proof that you are eligible for public health care
      • An empadronamiento issued in the last 3 months
  • Visa
    • Step 1: Fingerprints
    • Bring:
      • 2 copies EX-17 form
      • Tax 790 012 paid
      • Passport and copy
      • Empadronamiento and copy
      • 2X2 in photo
    • Step 2: Picking up the visa:
      • Bring:
        • Resguardo
        • Passport

An aerial photo of the streets in Madrid.

How I Moved to Spain to Teach Abroad: Part One

Timisha DixonTimisha Dixon is a trained journalist turned EFL instructor who moved to Spain. She has lived in Madrid for eight years. Timisha originally hails from Queens, New York, and had worked unhappily in corporate America until moving to Madrid in 2012. Her story is not similar to many who live abroad.  Most who begin teaching abroad start by going through a program of some sort. This is not Timisha’s story, and we are excited to share hers with you so you can see that there are more than one means of achieving your dreams while living abroad.

When you moved to Spain, why did you choose to teach?

“It was completely on a whim. I was at a point in my life where I felt extremely burnt out. The nieces of a close family friend of mine (a man who I refer to as my godfather) approached me with a suggestion. Both of his nieces, who are my age, have lived in Europe since the early 2000s. Things were not working out the way I wanted in NYC, so I took them up on their offer. I was literally overweight, depressed, and desperately in need of a way out of my misery. Don’t get me wrong, I have a loving and supportive family, always have, but let me fill in the gaps.”

A photo of a metro sign in Madrid during sunset. Hopefully Timisha gets to use the metro just as much since she moved to Spain!

The Pressure’s On

“I come from a single-parent household, so an incredible work ethic was instilled in me from an early age. When I graduated college during the economic crisis in 2008, my mom was putting pressure on me to earn money and/or go back to school. There were literally no jobs, and I wasn’t about to go back to school. Back then I felt that many of my friends didn’t experience the same pressures as I did because they had both parents. They were well-off enough to stay at home with their parents and figure out life. Meanwhile, I started working at Macy’s. I then got a temporary position working for a telecommunications company that became a permanent one. That slowly killed my spirit and led me into a depression. 

I worked from 2:30pm-11:00pm in a call center and had little to no social life. The odd hours of my shift were crushing. At the time, I was also still trying to follow my passion of becoming a journalist. Luckily, right out of college, a headhunter found me and gave me the opportunity to write for a website. It was for pennies, but I got exposure because my writing resonated with their readership. I developed relationships with lots of media professionals and began covering concerts, stage plays, and more. I was doing that after my full-time job on odd days off, and it began to take a toll. While I loved the fact that I was pursuing my dreams, I hated my full-time job. I often cried before I had to leave the house to head there.”

A photo of the pond at Buen Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain

Have you ever taught before you moved to Spain? 

“My late grandmother was an educator. I have two uncles who are also educators and administrators of education. I fought it for years, and to be honest, I was more concerned about being a writer/journalist. It was the environment that I grew up in, nothing more than that. Teaching seemed too safe, too boring for me to pursue. I’m a product of that environment and never had tried my luck at it until I came abroad. It began as a way of securing a guaranteed income on a regular monthly basis.”

What did you do before you moved to Spain?  

“I was working for an educational company called Kaplan. Many know them for test preparation and tutoring for higher-education learning. I also ran my own website and worked in the entertainment industry conducting interviews and getting exclusives. I attended many events and red-carpet affairs. Those were fun times, but doing both was exhausting.”

A photo of a woman with a book on her face.

What did you think teaching abroad would be like?

“I honestly had no idea. Like no single idea. Looking back on the state I was in when I moved to Spain and how trusting I was (especially of one individual — I took her word for exactly what she said) it still amazes me. I literally had done no research and just went off of what my “play cousin” told me. My godfather’s two nieces had been encouraging me to make the move over for a long time. When I finally felt fed up with my life, I decided to go for it.”

Where have you been teaching?

“I have been teaching for an educational business for the past eight years. I, fortunately, landed the job because I followed a lead I got on Lingobongo and I met my boss. It was the best job and the best employer I’ve had to date. The owners remodeled the facility, which looks like a little house, so that you can see through it, sort of like a greenhouse. It’s a magical place for learning. It has everything a kid could dream of: costumes, toys, art supplies — you name it, they have it. I’ve also worked for three additional academies. One of them was the International Institute, an American organization in Chamberí. Just recently, I accepted a position with a private school here in Madrid, which is pretty new and amazing! It’s called Colegio Madrid and I teach ages three through five in their preschool (infantil) division.”

A photo of the Palacio de Cristal in Madrid, one of the perks Timisha experienced after she moved to Spain.

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

“Up until recently, I was unemployed and collecting unemployment benefits due to the pandemic. But my work ethic enabled me to bounce back. I’ve always had more than one job at a time as I have a lot of energy.”

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

“I was super excited with no expectations. A lot of people asked me if I ran away after I moved to Spain, but I never thought of it that way. I just wanted something new. I felt so discouraged at a dead-end job that it made me feel like there was no out from the situation.  My mantra was and still is, “show me something new.” I was so young and so nonchalant when I first got here. If you had seen me then, you would have noticed how completely laid back and open to any and all possibilities I was.”

What did you think of Madrid during your first year after you moved to Spain?

“I wasn’t really actively analyzing or overthinking it. Back then, I was more active in my personal experiences. It had been a long time since I had been happy. I just wanted to just bask in the joyful part of the relocation. I found that people acted super kind, so I remember feeling very loved and supported.”

A photo of people walking into the sunset in Madrid, which Timisha saw after she moved to Spain.

What were some of the accomplishments of your first year?

“I can’t really pinpoint anything. As I had moved around a lot, I was still trying to find my footing. My work situation was pretty stable, I can say that. Meeting the boss I would have for eight years was really a blessing. I can also say that my jumping into Spanish classes was very helpful. I was not one of those girls who immediately found a boyfriend to translate for them.

A lot of women who share their stories of being abroad almost always have a love story behind it. I went into my lessons knowing that I didn’t want that to be my case. Sure, I have had some romantic encounters while living here, but I have never been dependent on a man in that capacity. So I did things on my own, and am glad for it. Having moved to Spain and carved my own path, I feel more confident than ever.”

What do you want to achieve this year?

“I want to work more for myself and continue pursuing my creative endeavors as far as my website and blogging goes. What I’d like to do is to facilitate and plan more events on the new web application I’ve been collaborating on. I’m also super excited about finally working in a school setting, as this is a first for me. Traditionally, people come here as auxiliares. I got lucky with employment and a visa sponsor. Nevertheless, I had to earn my position. I really didn’t have time to complain and sob over online message boards because I was gainfully employed and pounding the pavement.”

A photo of one of the streets of Madrid, where Timisha moved to Spain.

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

“I would say worry less about sharing your experiences with others on social media. Take your pictures, but don’t forget to look up and see where you are and be present in that moment. There’s always time to share that stuff. Keep some things just for you and your memoirs. Also, try to make friends with the locals… even if that means just going to the same place on a regular basis and interacting with the people there. People miss you when you’re gone. I have gone to have coffee at the same bar near my job for eight years. That kind of consistency will help you develop relationships with the people there. And as for the do-not-dos… just never completely close yourself off to new experiences.”

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

“I’m definitely not Spanish, but I do love the nature of the people that have found me cosmically here. While I don’t think that Spain is a perfect place, it has helped me grow into such an independent spirit. Just learn the damn language. Never fully rely on someone to do things for you which you can do for yourself. If you don’t know the language, you’ll feel isolated. It clips your wings.”

A photo of pre-school supplies

Throughout the course of this interview process, a private school in Madrid offered Timisha a position. It is truly an exciting time for her. Being inside of a school as the teaching staff has always been something that she has wanted to add to her list of accomplishments while living abroad. 

Interested in learning more about other travelers’ experiences teaching abroad? Check out what one writer learned while teaching English in Korea and Taiwan.

Teaching During a Pandemic: A Teacher Abroad

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

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

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

What is a typical day at your school like? 

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

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

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

Teaching During a Pandemic

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

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

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

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

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

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

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

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Making the Jump Abroad and Teaching Online

 

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

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

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

Meet Michael:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did you think teaching abroad would be like? 

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

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

Where have you been teaching? 

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

michael todd

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What were some of your accomplishments of your first year?

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

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

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

What do you want to achieve for your third year? 

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

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

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

Italy michael todd

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

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

Teaching Online and What the Future Holds

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

by Leesa Truesdell

Teaching Abroad in Madrid, Spain

by Ellen Hietsch

Meeting Alex my first week in Madrid set the stage for an exciting year. After missing the last metro of the night, we navigated back to our hotel together, only breaking from the conversation in order to sing songs we’d realized we both like. I knew quickly he was someone I’d want to be friends with.

Having fallen in love with traveling in college, Alex decided to give living abroad a shot. He decided to teach English in Spain. His outgoing personality was a natural fit both at the primary school where he works and while getting to know Madrid. Alex and my experiences at our respective schools have been quite different, but our similar passion for Madrid has strengthened our friendship. Curious about his thoughts heading into his second year of teaching, I decided to ask Alex some questions about his teach abroad experience. These are his answers.

Why did you choose to come to Spain and/or Europe?

“In the spring of 2012, I left the United States for the first time and visited Barcelona for a week-long vacation. This experience greatly broadened my worldview. Experiences like seeing the Sagrada Familia church, getting lost in the ungridded streets, drinking beer legally for the first time, snoozing next to the splendid sounds of park fountains, and yes, falling in love with a girl made me realize, for the first time, that there are so many incredible things to see in this world and so many different ways to live life.

Traveling immediately became my passion. I wanted to learn about the world and the countries in it by experiencing life in those places. After this trip, I went to Paris, Florence, Venice, Rome, Napoli, Dublin, London, Edinburgh, and Prague. I enjoyed being in these places, but while there, I never felt that same revitalizing feeling of novelty and excitement that I felt in Barcelona. I suppose my return to teach abroad in Spain has to do with recapturing that sensational feeling.”

barcelona sunset teach abroad alex warhall

Why did you choose to teach abroad?

“My decision to teach abroad was rooted in my love for traveling. I had visited many European cities on vacation, but I had never studied or lived abroad before. I wanted to take my passion for travel to the next level and live overseas. Teaching English in Madrid provided me with the opportunity to create a life in a foreign city with a job that sounded fun and rewarding.”

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

alex warhall friend traveling teacher overseas“I have never taught in a classroom setting before. When I was a teenager, however, I spent five consecutive summers in my home state of Connecticut teaching children (ages five to fourteen) how to canoe and kayak. From this experience, I was confident that I would enjoy working with younger kids in a classroom because I liked their natural energy and curiosity. Right before moving abroad, I was working as a pharmaceutical copywriter for an advertising agency in New York City.”

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

“I thought teaching English as a second language in Spain would be challenging, but also rewarding. Even before I went to Spain, I found that it wasn’t always easy to communicate with adults, even though we both spoke the same language! Therefore, I surmised it would be even more challenging to communicate with primary school students whose mother tongue is different than mine. I also thought it would require enthusiasm. Young children tend to have approximately thirteen solar-orbits worth of natural, unrepressed energy (fact, not verified). It is my experience that matching their energy is an effective way to keep their attention.

I am currently teaching at a primary school in a small town outside of Madrid called Perales Del Rio. I work with most of the grades at the school, from second to sixth, and it has been verified that these primary school students do indeed have thirteen solar-orbits worth of natural, unrepressed energy, on a daily basis.”

spain architecture church cathedral teach alex warhall

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

“My mother once told me, “Never assume anything because it makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me.’” This motherly wisdom has always been a guiding principle in my life. This is especially so during those times when I have embarked on new journeys. I honestly had no assumptions or expectations before moving to teach abroad in Madrid. This helped me keep an open mind to the novelties of the city and its culture.”

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

“My perception of Madrid is that it has so much to offer everyone. Also, the locals are very helpful and friendly. With these two perceptions in mind, I would say that Madrid is an inclusive city, at least in my experience. If you want to relax, you can enjoy one of the many parks here. Personally, I liked sauntering through Parque Retiro or running through Parque Oeste. If you want to go out, you can stay out until the time when you normally wake up. And that’s still probably too early for a Madrileño. Typically, when I am out late and the metro lines have closed, I take shelter at San Gines — the 24-hour service chocolatería — until the metros reopen. You can do these things all while making friends with the Madrileños.”

What are your goals while you are here?

teach abroad goals tips blog

I have many goals, but the main ones are not to make too much of a fool of myself while I try to learn Spanish, make friends along the way, and explore as much of Spain as I can.

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

“The most difficult thing about my teach abroad experience has been staying committed to the process of learning Spanish. This particular difficulty is odd because the Spanish language is everywhere. It permeates the air. Yet, there are also many native English speakers living in Madrid. So much so, I often find myself spending more time with other English-speakers. Because I spend my time either teaching English or hanging out with my American friends, learning Spanish has been a challenge. I know that this isn’t the best way to improve my Spanish skills. To help, I take a weekly Spanish class (with my American friends, of course) and try to participate in intercambio events. But hey, poco a poco, right?”

What has been the best experience?

“This is a tough question because it seems like every day I find something new about my teach abroad experience that I appreciate greatly. Some days, I can make someone laugh using my limited Spanish skills. Whenever I get something right enough for my joke to come through, I swell with pride. Other days, I travel to a distant area of Spain and maybe take a dip in a thermal bath. Their thermal baths make me marvel at just how many “hidden” gems Spain has waiting to be discovered.

alex warhall mountains traveling blog goals madrid

There are some days I simply go for a walk in a park and I’m overtaken by equanimity. Other days a co-worker will ask me about the English language and why we say certain things. This forces me to think about my own language and ultimately say, “Hmmm. English makes no sense.”

How do you feel about your integration into the Spanish culture so far?

“From a physical perspective, I look the part of a Spanish twenty-something: I pierced my nose, grew my hair out, and bought tighter fitting clothing. I look so Spanish that I am often asked questions about where things are: “¿Dónde está la jháf kudhígkh slwöøocnhf?” My answer, in butchered Spanish, is, “Sorry. Could you repeat that slowly? My Spanish is very limited.” From a linguistic standpoint, my integration needs more work. Seriously though, poco a poco.”

never stop learning teach abroad traveling

Wrap Up

Having spent the weeks leading up to my first year in Madrid fairly anxious, I admire Alex’s open-mindedness about his teach abroad experience. His ability to dive into new experiences with a smile and no assumptions has led to a fulfilling life abroad that will only continue to develop in the year to come. Check back in the months to come for more updates from Alex!

cityscape spain madrid teach abroad

 

The Next Chapter: Life After Spain

 

“Cada uno escribe su destino con sus actos y no tienes que dejar que los demás te lo escriban .”  -Spanish Proverb

I have been taking notes and making edits to this post for the past seven months. It is hard to believe that back when I was just getting settled into my second Spanish apartment I was already thinking about what to do once I leave. Alas, it is what must be done.

There was so much to consider once I decided to leave Spain and not stay another year. I decided to break the problem down based on my five-year goals and the best course to achieve those goals. Now that I have lived abroad and traveled to many countries, I know I definitely want a career where I have the option of traveling. There are so many routes to being a “digital nomad” or someone who works remotely. It allows them the freedom to live anywhere in the world as long as they have an Internet connection.

cibeles-Life-After-Spain-travel-abroad

Realize What’s Important To You

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With this in mind, I have ruled out some options that might work for others, but for myself, aren’t the priority. These last two years have helped me realize that as much as I miss my family and friends, I can always get in touch with them wherever I am. I can always stay close to them whenever I’m working in the USA, too. I also realized that I do love living in a vibrant city. As much of an annoyance as it is to always be surrounded by thousands of people, it is outweighed by the closeness of everything and how easy it is to connect with others.

After much consideration, I have decided to return to the USA for no more than a couple of years until I can develop my skills as a web developer. I want to be able to financially support myself without having to work at an office. I will be living near family and friends so I will have the support I need to focus on my goals.

Change Can Be Difficult

This is all to say that it is still hard to stay in the present and focus on the fact that I am still in Madrid. I’m really sad about the notion that I’ll be leaving everything around me: Spanish friends, my students, my co-teachers, my morning commute, the cafe I get lunch from a couple times a week. They will all be a memory very shortly.

am still taking Spanish lessons (with what seems like little progress) and it still feels as if it is all a waste. I am also studying web development for several hours a day to prepare for my mid- and long-term goals. However, I’ve decided to focus on the aspects of living in Spain that I thoroughly enjoy in order to make the most of my time. This means more cañas (beers) and walks around the city for the time being!

Looking to the Future, Life After Spain

Now that I have a plan on enjoying what’s left of my time in Spain, I’ve decided to spend only an hour or two every few weeks on the actual logistics of returning to the USA. The first thing to always consider is my budget. As much as I love my life in Spain, it comes at the expense of my bank account (quite literally!). As an auxiliar I make enough to live in Madrid, but certainly not enough to hit the ground running back in California. Thankfully, I have friends that are willing to help me until I get on my feet. For most people who are moving back home, staying with family for a few months is common. It’s a good way to re-acclimate to living in USA.

As my time in Madrid comes to a close, I think of the times I’ve turned a random corner in Madrid and just had to stop and look at the beauty ahead. It does stir a mix of emotions, but I now have a plan to focus on the steps I can take after I leave Spain. This frees up mental space to live in the present and understand that life is a journey. I have made amazing connections here in Spain, whether it be with my coworkers, students, friends or the culture as a whole. My goal when I came to Spain was to figure out what mattered to me most and to not be afraid to pursue those dreams even in the face of adversity. When I look at my time in Spain from that perspective, I have achieved my goal. It’s time for the next chapter.

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by Justin Hughes-Coleman

Advantages of Living Abroad

We asked Dreams Abroad Members what they would do differently if they were just starting out. This, we thought, would shine a light on the advantages of living abroad. After finishing up his first year abroad as a language assistant in Madrid, here’s what Justin had to say.

What I Now Know About Living Abroad

1. I Need to Align My Goals

I know I can be more assertive in getting my point across in my advantages of living abroad. Now I understand that in order to get what I want I don’t need to be obsequious or aggressive. I just need to align my goals with those of the person I am asking for help.

2. Friends are Amazing 

Friends are amazing, but what you really need is a circle of respect. I love my friends, they are always there for me when I’m feeling down and are up for a fun night out. However, when things need to get done, be it for your job or finding an apartment, what matters most are those who respect you and will work with you. Friends don’t always fit the bill in this regard.

friends under sunset

3. If You’re Traveling Abroad You Will Make Mistakes

I have allowed myself to make mistakes. After all, this is my first time abroad. I am in a foreign country. Whenever something doesn’t work out as planned (missed flights, ferries, buses, etc.) I learned to not beat myself up. I am learning throughout this entire experience. Research only helps so much. Hell, that’s why I am writing an article about it.

4. Plan for Yourself and Your Advantages of Living Abroad

When I travel with friends I need to make sure I have my own plan and express my goals. At the end of the day, I really need to take care of myself. Throughout this first year, I realized that my feelings or intentions are not the same as others. Not even friends. This is not necessarily a bad thing. My friends and acquaintances aren’t malicious in their decisions.

explore different cities countries

5. Explore the World Around You

Allow yourself to explore. The advantages of living abroad will always remind you of your first experiences. Living in Madrid has allowed me to take chances that I never would have dreamed of in America. Take a surfing lesson, sure. Go to a horse farm on a Greek Island (more to come). Go for it! Nothing is as hard as it seems once you sit down and research what you need to do to accomplish it. Some things might still be nearly impossible (can I get into Stanford Graduate School, probably not) but at least at that point you have allowed yourself to dream, plan, and grow.

Justin is based in Madrid and just completed his first year as a language assistant and will be working in the Spanish capital for another year. You can follow his work and read more about him on his Dreams Abroad page.

by Leesa Truesdell