How I Moved to Spain to Teach Abroad: Part One

Timisha DixonBy Timisha Dixon

Timisha 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. Please stay tuned as she shares her experiences as a preschool teacher in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.