The Opportunity to Teach and Travel

by Ellen Hietsch

alex warhall hiking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

traveling abroad

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

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

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

How has teaching abroad helped with your overall professional goals?

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

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

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

picture of spain

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

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

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

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

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

The Opportunity to Teach and Travel

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

Getting Back Abroad

After a year in Madrid full of surprises, twists, and turns, Ellen Hietsch is back in the US for the summer. We checked in with her to see what she has been up to these past few months. Her adventures include a West Coast job, moving out of her childhood home, and applying for a student visa during what we like to call “Visa Application Season.” Read on to learn more about her adventures and her next steps.

Where in the world are you this summer?

Berkeley California San Francisco Skyline summer update travel abroad
Exploring Berkeley

I have been all over the place! First, I arrived at my childhood home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. A cabin fire had broken out on my plane home and I subsequently had a canceled flight. Once I made it back, I was home for three weeks before leaving for Berkeley, California, where I’m currently writing this. After my time in Berkeley, I will return to Carlisle at the beginning of August. Once again not for long. My family is moving to upstate New York (like… 30 minutes from the Canadian border upstate New York) in the middle of August. This is also where I’ll be until I return to Madrid. It sounds chaotic, but I honestly prefer it this way. After a year constantly on the move in Madrid, the last thing I want is to be sitting around in one place for three months

Are you working or studying this summer?

In Berkeley, I am working as an RA for Summerfuel College Admissions Prep program. There are students from all over the world. When I’m in Carlisle, I’m going to be busy with my family’s move, a whole lot of networking, and (the always dreaded) Visa Application Season.

Why did you choose to work in Berkeley this summer?

Originally, I had been interested in working for Summerfuel’s Barcelona program, but it was full by the time I was aware of the opportunity. I chose Berkeley instead because I had never been to California before, but it always fascinated me! If I stay in the US for my master’s, I would love to get it on the West Coast. Summerfuel has been great for getting me to think about opportunities that may exist there. Part of my job involves supervising participants on college tours around the Bay Area. I’ve found a few campuses that have piqued my interest.

Does what you’re doing now with Summerfuel fall in line with your main interests for your career?

Yes – I want a career in international education! Summerfuel has been interesting because I have gotten to explore it from the side of foreign students coming to the US for the first time.

Are you applying the skills you developed while abroad in Spain to this job?

The San Francisco skyline

Definitely. After working with students in a Spanish secondary school, the 19 teenage girls on my floor seem like nothing. The patience I developed while working as a language assistant has also been vital. It’s helpful in that it helps me pause to think about cultural differences that could exist between the students and me. It also helps in simply not blowing up if they won’t stop talking during our floor meetings. I also consider my own experiences of being nervous while away from the US, and am sure to check in with the girls to make sure they’re doing okay.

Are you planning to go abroad again?

After some unexpected scares at the end of my first year in Madrid, I can finally say YES (well, given that Visa Application Season goes well, but I feel confident)! I will be attending a Spanish language school program in Madrid for the year, in hopes of leaping towards fluency. In the meantime, I will get 20 work hours a week on my student visa. I am applying for part-time work in international education and doing private English lessons in the meantime. This will keep me floating until I find something more permanent.

Getting Back Abroad

After speaking with Ellen about her summer plans, transitions, and the steps she’s taking to get back abroad, it’s clearer to me than ever that the roller coaster that is living abroad prepares you so well for anything in life. After you’ve been through the day-to-day stress of life in another country and experienced unexpected hurdles there, they always seem easier to tackle back home. Living abroad has a way of showing you that you are more capable than you’d ever imagined. That’s something you can take with you anywhere.

by Emma Schultz

Berkeley California San Francisco Skyline summer update travel abroad


Travel Survey: Summer Vacations

by Cassidy Kearney

abroad starbucks

After several long weeks of waiting, we’re finally ready to reveal the results of our last summer series survey! This time around we offered a $25 Starbucks gift card to those of you who entered their email addresses. We sent an email out to our lucky winner! Keep an eye out to discover if you’ve won a $25 Starbucks gift card. Without further ado, here are our results:

Our survey’s demographics are straightforward: 42.9% of those surveyed are between 30 and 50 years old. The other 57.1% are 19 to 30 years old. This just goes to show that summer vacations aren’t just for kids and retired people! Furthermore, 42.9% of our responders so that they take a summer vacation every year. Meanwhile, the other 57.1% say they sometimes take a summer vacation, but not every year. This could be for a variety of reasons, like work, responsibilities, or timing. One thing is for sure though, all of our surveyors said they love their summer vacations and miss them when they don’t take one.

adventure beach Summer vacations travel survey abroad beach van water

Summer Vacations Can be Wildly Different

Summer vacations can be wildly different depending on the vacationer! A majority of those surveyed (85.7%) said that their summer vacations are typically a week long. There was a minority at 14.3% of those that said they had the whole summer for summer vacation! They’re truly living the dream!

Every once in a while, movie or TV characters will talk about a childhood summer vacation spot that their family went to every year. This is certainly not the case for our surveyors! 100% of our surveyors said that they don’t go to the same place every summer. They all prefer to explore and adventure in new places. Even if they go to different places every year, everyone looks forward to something during their vacation. Although 57.1% of those surveyed said they looked forward to spending time with friends and family, exploring stores, restaurants, and nightlife, and hanging out, each of the other categories was still popular! The other categories were exploring new places and meeting new people, finding fun outdoor activities, and unplugging from electronics to zone out and relax. Each of these categories had 14.3% of participants say they looked forward to that particular category most.

Summer vacations travel survey abroad beach life

Fun in the Sun

Finally, it wouldn’t be a summer vacation without summer activities! However, our surveyors were almost torn on what to do to have fun in the summer sun. The first two popular categories were exploring cities and finding things to do outdoors. These both earned a response from 28.6% each from our participants. None of our surveyors thought summer was too hot, and none selected watching movies, reading, and staying indoors as their favorite summer activities. The majority of our surveyors, however, at 42.9%, said that they loved doing all of the above! They found city slicking, outdoor exploration, and even the occasional summer blockbuster to be equally fun!

Most of our surveyors must be from somewhere hot, as most of our participants said they wanted to go north! 42.8% of participants said they wanted to go to Canada, with another 28.6% saying that they wanted to go somewhere up north. Finally, 14.3% of participants wanted to go to Iceland, while another 14.3% wanted to hop over the pond and explore some European countries.

As always, reading over the results of our survey was great fun! We look forward to hearing from our readers in our next survey series, which will be in a few months. Keep an eye out for the congratulatory email and stay hydrated as you enjoy your summer vacations!

beach sun rise

Another Year, Another Summer: Back to Texas

I feel like I blinked and the 2017-2018 academic year was over. It feels like just yesterday I was returning to Spain for my second year of teaching English as a foreign language in a small town north of Madrid. With another year of wonderful experiences, exciting travel, new discoveries, and fond memories under my belt, I’m off to Texas again for a summer at home.

On a field trip with my students in my first month of teaching.

The summer transition is an interesting one. Last year, reverse culture shock slapped me right in the face. I’m not sure we fully realize all the changes we’ve undergone until we return to a place we’ve been away from for awhile. That’s what going home was for me – the realization that I had changed, coupled with the realization that home didn’t feel quite the way I had expected it to.

Having these realizations is important, but it can be a difficult experience. From my time at home last summer, I know that the way for me to tackle it best is to fill my summer with meaningful projects and experiences. Putting my time, energy, and passion into things helps me readjust anywhere, anytime. Here’s how I’ll be doing it this time around:

1) Focus on the Future

While I’m home, I’ll also have my eye on the horizon. Next year, I’ll be returning to Spain to study Spanish and complete some internship work in the field of international education, and there is plenty to prep for that. I’ll also continue researching graduate school programs and planning visits accordingly.

2) Remember to Stay Present, Too

Focusing on the future doesn’t mean trying to live there. While I’m prepping for my next steps, I’ll also stay connected to the here and now by spending time with friends from home, my family, and the places I’ll be during the summer. After all, my time at home is pretty limited these days, and I want to enjoy it.

The view from home in Texas.

3) Give Yourself Some Structure

As appealing as a fully relaxed summer at home might sound, I know I’d get about a week in and go stir crazy. I know that, especially for me, structure is really important. I need to have something to put time and energy into consistently. This is why I’ll be working in my small town’s Visitor’s Center for the second summer in a row. My projects are always different and there is always something to do – a perfect fit to help me transition back to being at home.

4) Make Some Exciting Plans

Life abroad is a whirlwind – I travel much more than I would otherwise. Because most things are unfamiliar, I have new experiences more often. One of the challenges of moving home for a summer is that most things are familiar. There is so much comfort in that, but it can also feel like a huge drop-off from what I’m used to. Last summer, I was glad I saved a little time and money to travel. I’m looking forward to a couple of small trips this summer, too. It helps keep things dynamic.

5) Use the Time to Reflect

Going home is a great opportunity to reflect on your past year. What were your biggest accomplishments? How did you grow? What do you want to change moving forward? Returning to your roots gives you the chance to answer these questions and more. Take that insight into whatever your next steps might be. It’s always been easier for me to process things like this from a distance.

However you’ll be spending your summer and whatever changes you might be making in your life moving forward, summer is a great time for transition and change. I’m looking forward to spending my upcoming weeks in Texas and enjoying a bit of home before I go back to Spain for year three!