How Athletics Turned Me Onto Travel

Paula winning first place in her athletics competition, the European Junior Cup in Punta Umbria SpainAs a kid full of energy, born in Athens, Greece, I have always been encouraged to train at athletics, study hard, and dream big. At 12, I became a student at a school for young athletes. I chose archery. The Robin Hood tournament for kids brought me my first medal and recognition, after surpassing my peers in shooting balloons and apples in the final. 

Step by step, focusing on training more and more, I made it onto the national team. To become one of the top athletes in the country is already a success. However, to win one of three spots on a team that would represent the country in athletics at an international tournament is a long process. It’s a great challenge for any young athlete who just started competing. Prior to every tournament, our archery association would schedule a tournament. There, the best three athletes from different age categories would be selected. It’s been years, but to this day I still remember the excitement and happiness I felt when my coach informed me that I was going to represent our country at my first international tournament, the European Youth Championships in Algarve, Portugal. If only I knew then that this tournament would completely change my life. 

How Athletics Changed My Life

The first time I competed abroad, I was 15. Together, with my teammates and coaches, we spent a week at the Olympic center for athletes to practice and get ready for the competition. Olympic centers are usually located in small towns where athletes could focus on their training without any distractions. Our center was surrounded by woods and it was a big complex of buildings with swimming pools, stadiums, arenas, and gyms. It had anything and everything athletes needed. Hundreds of athletes from different disciplines would train in this center to prepare for their tournaments. 

Paula at the archery training camp at the Olympic Center, famous for athletics training

The moment we arrived we felt an incredible atmosphere right away. As a young team, we got an opportunity to meet Olympic medalists and famous athletes. This feeling lifted me up, inspired me, and motivated me to train hard. In doing so, I hoped to bring glory to myself and my country. Being part of this unique community of elite athletes, people I had watched growing up, my idols, is where suddenly a dream became more real. As a young team of archers, we created a special bond throughout that week. Together, we took off to Portugal in high spirits with big goals to bring the gold home. 

Arriving as a National Team Member

It was the first time I would travel as a national team member and what an experience it was. Although it was a long day spent at airports, we had nothing but fun and lots of laughs throughout the whole trip because of the great bonds we had. It was the moment when we checked in at our hotel when we realized we were surrounded by hundreds of athletes from all over Europe ready to compete with us in Portugal. It doesn’t happen often that most athletes would stay at one hotel. This was a rare opportunity to see each other quite often and get to know each other better. The athletics tournament would last for a week, starting from official training to qualifications, individual and team eliminations, and all the way to medal matches. 

We usually spent half of the day at the archery field and the rest of the day we enjoyed the time exploring the beautiful Algarve. This lovely town where we stayed was wonderfully picturesque. The first day we arrived in Algarve it was already late, but our coaches decided it would be nice to take a walk after a long day spent at the airports and in the air. 

An Oceanside Athletics Competition

It turned out that our hotel was located only a few minutes from the ocean. When we went, it was a magical starry night. The sky was so clear it looked as if it was right above our heads. Both the place and view felt surreal. Left speechless, we knew the coming week would be one of the best of our lives. Hugging each other from all the excitement, we knew that some unforgettable memories would be made that we would cherish forever. 

At the archery field, every one of us was focused and committed to getting the best results. Although we competed individually, each one of us helped each other and supported one another in order to do our best. Before and during the competition we tried to stay concentrated and calm. It’s a lot of pressure to perform well knowing you’re surrounded by the top athletes in Europe sharing the same goals and desires to win a medal. 

The Opening Ceremony

The first moment I saw all of the participating athletes together was the Opening Ceremony at the stadium. Hundreds of athletes together with coaches, all the volunteers, and the event staff made a huge impression on me. It made me realize that I was part of an incredible event. Seeing all the smiley faces, excited to compete with the unique energy and atmosphere, was exhilarating. This feeling was obvious to each one of the athletes. Although most of the athletes representing different nationalities had never met each other before, everyone was friendly and open to having a conversation whenever the opportunity came. 

We often met in the hotel’s restaurant, at the pool in our hotel, in the lobby, or in places where we could relax a bit after a stressful day competing. During that time we were not athletes but teenagers. We felt happy and excited to meet people from so many different countries. Some of them had never traveled before, nor met a foreigner before. Despite different nationalities, cultures, religions, and languages, after some time we all started talking to each other. We started sharing our stories and eventually made some friendships. 

Going Beyond Athletics

At the end of the day, we were a bunch of kids with the same dreams and goals. As athletes, we would compete against each other. However, out of the field, we enjoyed our time exploring the town together, swimming in the ocean, and experiencing some funny situations. 

The second night after we arrived all the coaches had a meeting. Almost everyone gathered at the hotel’s swimming pool while they met. In the beginning, we only hung out with our teams, but after some time we started talking to each other. We eventually ended up throwing each other into the pool. The casual gathering ended up being a blast. We swam together, played, and got to know each other better. In the end, the security guard informed us we were too loud and the “party’s over”, sending us all to our rooms. 

Paula and some friends at an archery competition.

Hotel Shenanigans

If that wasn’t enough, on our way back we found a lot of feathers in the corridor. While some of us were playing at the pool, a few other teams started a pillow fight, leaving traces throughout the corridors. Eventually, the official coach meeting was interrupted by the hotel staff informing coaches that the athletes were having too much fun during their free time. Although it wasn’t anything serious it also doesn’t happen often. The information caught our coaches off guard, making them laugh. They had to remind us we should find different opportunities to have fun together. 

In the future, these memories and stories were brought up multiple times making us all laugh once again. My first European Championships would not only bring me and my team our first gold medal but also some great friends I still stay in touch with after many years. One of my best friends was an archer representing the Netherlands; our friendship started in Portugal. Since then we motivated and inspired each other to train even harder in order to compete internationally and see each other again. We were lucky to meet again at the tournaments in the States, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Georgia. After we both retired, we continued to travel together.

How Athletics Inspired Me to Travel

The reason why I decided to write about this particular tournament is that my adventure with sports and traveling started in Portugal. Since that competition, I have competed at the World and European Championships as well as the European and World Cups. I traveled the world chasing my dream, having the best time in my life. I visited Portugal, Spain, Germany, France, Ukraine, Croatia, Italy, Morocco, Armenia, Georgia, China, the USA, and many more. As an athlete, I won five medals at the World Championships, four at the European Championships, and multiple medals at several European Cups. Most of all, I won a chance to travel the world while doing what I love. I made unforgettable memories with some wonderful people. 

by Paula Wyczechowska

Teaching English in Madrid and Extremadura

by Tyler Black

tyler black travelerTeaching English in Spain can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. It certainly was for me. However, there are a lot of factors to consider to ensure you don’t leave Spain with a bad taste in your mouth (school type, age level, English level, etc). One important thing to keep in mind, though, is the location. I’m not talking about north versus south, east versus west, or island versus mainland. I’m referring to big city versus small town or pueblo. 

During my first year in Spain, I taught at two schools in a town called Badajoz in the autonomous community of Extremadura. After a very eye-opening year, I decided I needed a bit of change. I spent the following year teaching English at a school in Madrid. I knew there would be some differences between a town and a big city, but what I experienced superseded all expectations. Thankfully, I didn’t mind the changes too much because I consider myself a very open-minded person. Nonetheless, it’s important to know the differences in order to find something that best suits your preferences. I can’t speak for every region’s towns and villages, but I imagine they’re all relatively similar.

Number of Schools

In Badajoz, there were a good amount of schools in the town and surrounding villages, but only a handful of teachers assigned to the area. Because of this, it was very common for teachers to have multiple schools. One of my schools was a private institution in the heart of the town’s historic quarter, only a few blocks from where I lived. The other was a public primary school in a village just outside Badajoz called Gévora.

I enjoyed teaching at different schools a lot because each day I got a refreshing change of environment. On one day, I would walk through town and enjoy the old architecture with an occasional stop for coffee. On another, I would wait for one of my Spanish coworkers to pick me up and drive me to the village outside of town. It was very common for a fellow teacher to take me to those farther-out schools so I didn’t have to rely on public transportation. 


Public Transportation While Teaching English in Madrid

In Madrid, things are a bit different. Although there are a lot of schools, there are also a ton of teachers assigned to the city. Chances are that your school will be very far away from where you choose to reside. But that’s okay! Madrid’s (and most of Spain’s larger cities’) public transportation is one of the best in the world. My school was located in Alcalá de Henares, about forty minutes outside the city. At first, I dreaded the thought of making that commute everyday. Fortunately, I very quickly began to enjoy waking up with the city as I took the city bus into Alcalá. Instead of rolling out of bed and groggily walking three blocks to my school in Badajoz, I could now let the commute give me a chance to physically and mentally prepare myself by the time classes started.

Curriculum and Responsibilities for Cambridge English Exams

Cambridge English examsBeing the capital of Spain, Madrid’s schools focus very heavily on preparing their students for the Cambridge English exams at the request of the government. I imagine the other major cities in the country do the same. For those who don’t know what the Cambridge Exams are, Cambridge University administers an annual test at schools so that students can earn a certificate proving a certain English level. There are six levels ranging from the lowest skill level to the most advanced: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2.

When teaching English in Madrid, you’ll be responsible for preparing your students for the exam that correlates with the age group or grade. Although the exam at the end of the year was very stressful for me as I prayed I had instructed my students well enough to pass, it was very comforting to know throughout the year what each day would look like: just get the students ready for their certifications.

My first year in Badajoz was vastly different. Although there were one or two higher end schools in town that participated in the Cambridge Exam, the large majority did not have the funds to do so. Therefore my role in day-to-day class was very variable. In the private school in Badajoz’s historic district, I was in charge of creating an activity pertaining to that week’s lesson. One example was when the class was learning about cities like London and New York City. I stood in front of the class and called on students to read a paragraph in their textbook. Afterwards, I asked them questions about what they had read in order to garner discussion. Lastly, to make things more fun, I let the students choose five vocabulary words and draw them in their notebooks. 

students in madrid

No Teaching Background, No Problem

I won’t lie, it was very stressful at first, especially since I didn’t have any teaching background or any idea how to lead a group of children. To say it was daunting is an understatement. But after a couple of months, I discovered many online resources that greatly aided me. I figured out what worked and what didn’t. Don’t let challenges like this dissuade you. You’ll learn very valuable skills along the way.

In my primary school in the village of Gévora, things were a tad bit simpler. The professor led the class the majority of the time, and I was only there to correct grammar and pronunciation mistakes. As you can see, each school can bring a different experience in smaller towns since they don’t have the government breathing down their necks. They have more freedom with directing your role as an auxiliar in the classroom. Depending on your past experiences or preferences, the challenge of a small town might intrigue you rather than teaching English in Madrid where things are more structured and concrete.

teaching in Madrid

Expectations and Relationships of Teaching English in Madrid

Your relationship with the staff and their expectations of you will be a complete 180 between larger cities like Madrid and smaller towns. In Badajoz and Gévora, I found the staff to be very laid-back. Obviously I was expected to arrive on time and perform the tasks that I was assigned. However, if I was ever feeling under the weather, I could shoot a text to one of the teachers letting them know I wouldn’t be in, and that was that. Filming your students on your phone and taking selfies with them was not uncommon, either. It made things more personable. 

In Madrid, if I called off, I was expected to bring a valid doctor’s excuse the following day or risk not being paid. Luckily, I’m not one to get sick very often, but it would have been nice to take a mental health day now and then. At this particular school, cell phone use was a big no-no. No videos or pictures of the students were allowed unless under special circumstances.

Towns and Villages Throughout Spain

In towns and villages throughout Spain, there’s a good chance that you’ll be the only English assistant at your school. I found the teachers to be very accommodating and willing to integrate me with the rest of the staff. I was invited to school events, holiday dinners, and even the occasional night out for drinks. One teacher even took me into Portugal for the day with her husband. It was great for me because I really wanted to improve my Spanish and be integrated into the Spanish lifestyle. I still keep in touch with a couple of my fellow teachers from Badajoz to this day.

teachers abroad

On the other hand, when teaching English in Madrid, you’ll most likely work with a few other English assistants. At my school, we had five assistants. Because of this, we tended to congregate near each other in the breakroom instead of interacting with the other teachers. Furthermore, because we were in a big city, many of the other teachers all lived in different areas of the community. Depending on the school, there may not be any holiday dinners, nights out, or friendly excursions with the Spanish teachers. Although it was relieving to vent in English to the other assistants about my day, I truly did miss the authentic Spanish relationships I made in Badajoz.

Private Classes


Private classes, or “clases particulares,” are a very common way to earn a little extra cash on the side. But like everything else I’ve mentioned, you’ll notice some stark differences between large cities and small towns. In towns like Badajoz, you’ll find that most families will likely pay you €10 for an hour of class. That doesn’t seem like much (and it really isn’t), but the thing to remember is that word travels fast. You may only have one class a week, but eventually that family will tell their friends about you. And that next family will tell their friends. And the cycle will continue. At one point I had about nine private classes a week. Just be careful. Money is great, but don’t burn yourself out. Free time is important. After all, you’re in a foreign country. Take advantage of that.

When you offer private English classes in Madrid, your starting rate will be around €20 an hour. I can already feel your eyes getting wide. As they should! You can make a pretty penny if you plan your classes right. Here’s the downside though: classes are hard to come by in the big cities. I had to rely on websites like and to get in touch with families. Word of mouth did not exist. Furthermore, your travel time between classes will be greater than in a small town. It’s difficult to accept many offers if they don’t fit both parties’ schedules. However, like I said earlier, if you’re able to strategically plan your schedule, you can walk away each week with a nice supplemental income on top of the government stipend you receive.

Teaching English in Madrid is Worth It

Feliz navidadNo matter which type of location you choose, there’s going to be pros and cons. In order to make the best of your experience teaching English in Spain, you must align your preferences with those pros and cons. There’s a lot more that goes into it than just your monthly salary (for those that are curious, teaching English in Madrid pays €1,000/month and everywhere else pays €600). This will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for you. Make sure you do your due diligence. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing experience in a small town and in a large city. However, I do know people who didn’t enjoy their time in Spain because they were unaware of what each location offered. Be smart and resourceful, and you’ll walk away with a life-changing and unforgettable adventure.

These experiences are based on the schools and locations I taught at. There are always going to be different situations anywhere you go. There could be small towns where only English teachers congregate in the breakroom, and there might be schools in Madrid where Spanish teachers integrate you into the Spanish lifestyle. Perhaps there may be a school in a small town with multiple English assistants, and only a couple in Madrid. Just know that whatever situation you find yourself in, it will be well worth it!