How to Get Through Your DELTA Course

It was during my first year teaching English in an academy in Madrid when I first heard about the Cambridge Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (in other words, the DELTA course). I was fresh off getting my CELTA teacher certification, which is the initial course you need to take to teach English abroad. Before I’d even considered the DELTA course, I had already felt like the CELTA course had been tough. The DELTA sounded even tougher. 

My fellow teaching colleagues spoke of the late nights, stress, and overwhelm that they endured during the course. Some complained about the heavy workload and pressure of lesson observations. Others bemoaned the fact that their social life had gone out of the window. Some even spoke about losing their hair due to the high stress of it all!

DELTA Surprises in Store

Needless to say, as a new English teacher, these descriptions did not seem very appealing to me. “You won’t catch me doing that DELTA course”, I used to think to myself. “Not a chance!” So it came as a surprise to me, when five years into my teaching career, I suddenly felt that doing the DELTA course was the next step I needed to take. By that time I already had a lot of teaching experience under my belt and it felt like the moment to throw myself into a new challenge. The idea of studying again and furthering my skills appealed to me. So, I did the very thing I never thought I would and enrolled in the course. 

However, far from being a nightmare experience, I actually enjoyed it! For me, those nine months, whilst being challenging and difficult at times, turned out to be very fulfilling. Even my boss noticed how much of a breeze it had been for me, commenting one day that “out of all the years that you have worked here, this DELTA year hasn’t been your most stressful”. And he was right! Not only that, but I graduated from the course with a Merit, something that isn’t so easy to achieve. 

Tips for Success 

So what was my secret to getting through the DELTA and thriving rather than barely surviving? Read on to find out!

Accept That You Won’t Have Much of a Social Life This Year

The DELTA is a lot of work packed into a short space of time. The idea that you can maintain a busy social life at the same time is a delusion. During my DELTA year, I noticed that those who suffered the most during the course were those who resisted this inevitable reality and thought that they could work and play in equal amounts. The truth is, you can’t, as they soon found out when they were stressed, unhappy, and not getting the results they wanted.

Instead, it is better to follow the lead of those who accepted their unsociable fate and made their DELTA studies a priority. In my experience, they were calmer, more centred, and able to take it all in their stride. Their lack of inner resistance allowed them to suffer less and waste less energy complaining. Therefore they were more productive, got work done faster, and went out for drinks more. So it pays to accept the situation as it is — you may be able to go to that party after all! 

Make Time to Look After Yourself

Whilst it is true that you need to prioritise your studies, it is also vital that you schedule time for self-care. I have seen so many people work so hard that they burn themselves out. They end up doing worse than they would have done if they had just taken an hour out to walk in the park, meditate, or do something creative. 

When I was doing my DELTA, my yoga class was non-negotiable, as was my morning meditation practice, regardless of how much work I had. When people asked me how I got through my DELTA so well, my response was always the same: yoga and mediation!  

Whilst it is true that these things might not be for everyone, I think it is absolutely vital to engage in something every day that feeds you on the inside and keeps your inner tank filled up. That way you can get through your DELTA without the same spiritual exhaustion that so many burn out from, and, instead, get through it with a sense of wellbeing rather than stress.

This also goes for making sure you are feeding yourself adequately! Pot noodles and a diet of pasta and pesto will not support your energy levels sufficiently. Take the time to cook good meals for yourself and you will feel the benefit.

Be Authentic in Your Lesson Observations

For most teachers, the most stressful part of the DELTA is the lesson observations. No one likes feeling like they are being watched at the best of times, let alone when the person watching you is scribbling down notes every few minutes. My advice to you is this: just be yourself. Don’t try to be something that you are not or put on a show.  After all, how can you focus on delivering a good lesson, if you are trying to keep up an act? 

By all means, prepare thoroughly for your observations. You should do run-throughs with other classes and even rehearse the parts you feel most nervous about. However, on the day itself, just relax, be yourself, and try to enjoy it. The students and the examiner will notice your authenticity, which will make everyone enjoy it more, including you. So ditch the preconceived ideas of how a teacher should be and just be who you are. It will definitely pay off.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Whilst sharing resources is common practice in English teaching, during your DELTA year, make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. Any kind of competition between you and your fellow classmates is only going to cause you to put more pressure on yourself, leading to more stress and anxiety.

Constant comparison will also have an adverse effect on your confidence levels, leading to insecurity and self-doubt. This in turn will cause you to be less self-assured, which could affect your performance in the classroom. Instead, just focus on doing your best, and don’t waste your time worrying about how well others are doing. Put your all into your studies and you can be satisfied with the result, come what may. Your best really is enough and it is important to remember that.

Keep Perspective

Whilst you obviously need to put your all into your DELTA studies if you really want to see good results, it’s also important to keep perspective. This is not a life or death situation (although it might seem like it at times). Yes, you paid a lot of money, so you naturally want to do well. However, to kill yourself with stress and worry is simply not worth it. Keep perspective of what is important: learning, growing, improving your professional skills, and the sense of achievement you will feel once you have finished. 

The grades and results won’t matter much in the end anyway, so why get so caught up in the details? Just focus on getting through the course and coming out the other side feeling satisfied and proud of what you have achieved.

Final Thoughts

Getting through the DELTA course is an achievement in itself. It requires courage to take on such a big challenge and I commend those who dare to do so. If you follow the advice in this article, I am confident that getting through the DELTA can be an enriching experience for you, just as it was for me. It is just a question of how you handle yourself, your time, and your priorities. Good luck!

Olivia Grundyby Olivia Grundy

What I Know Now About Teaching Primary School

Serenity on top of a mountain during her off time when not teaching primary school.

What I Know Now About Teaching Primary School in Madrid

So, do you think teaching primary school abroad is easy? Think again. Between the constant questions of “teacher, teacher, do you speak Spanish?” and the requests for a last-minute change to your lesson plan, being a foreign language assistant and teaching primary school can be exhausting. 

I spent two years working in a concertado school in Alcalá de Henares. Concertados are basically the same thing as charter schools. They are partially funded by the Spanish government and partially funded by parents’ payments. 

These schools require much more from the average language assistant, as your function in the school is essentially that of a teacher. They pay a higher stipend per month, but the hours are longer. If you are looking to have a professional position within a school, however, this is definitely the way to go. 

My experience in my concertado was difficult but rewarding. Here are some lessons that I learned teaching primary school in Madrid.

1) Always Expect the Unexpected

Here in Spain, everything is done last minute. From the granting of your visa to the server giving you that ketchup you asked for when your burger was still on your plate, the country consistently runs on a timer set 10 minutes slow. School is no exception. 

When I first began teaching primary school, I had absolutely no teaching experience. I was thrown in front of a class of wide-eyed Spanish children screaming my name with no classroom management skills. Boy, did I learn quickly. 

Not only did I learn how to be a teacher in a week, but I also quickly learned that teachers have a tendency to request the moon when you’ve prepared the sun. What I mean is that I would, at times, prepare an entire lesson on the opposite topic of what the teacher wanted that day. 

What I learned was to always be prepared with simple games that could be easily adapted to any topic. One of my favorites was a game where I would have the kids make paper planes. We would have a competition where the students would say a grammatical structure. If they were correct, they could throw the plane to attempt to get a point for their team. 

Kids never behave like you think they will. Sometimes, a class will be so quiet and perfect that you have 10 extra minutes at the end of your lesson, and other times you won’t even get halfway through by the time the bell rings. It’s important to always roll with the punches, and keep your cool. 

2) Teaching Primary School Can Be Fun!

Teaching primary school, despite how taxing it can be at times, is an absolute delight. Younger primary kids love to sing, whilst older primary students love a good old-fashioned competition. Basically, your multiple personalities get to shine depending on what class you’re teaching. 

With the little ones, I used to love to find songs related to our lesson plans and do a live performance. I would force all my students to stand up, sing, and dance with me. I also used the program GoNoodle, which is a fantastic educational website that offers various activities like dances and brain breaks. 

It is important with younger kids to provide a daily routine. Mine always began with a song or dance in English. For them, it subconsciously signified that it was time to start English class and that we would not be conversing in Spanish. I also learned that younger kids don’t have an attention span of more than 15 minutes. Activities that are longer than 15-20 minutes will inevitably cause classroom disturbances.  

The older kids don’t need as much structure, as your presence in the classroom will be enough to get them in the mood for English. Upper primary students love games and competition, although rules of respect must be set far in advance. Sometimes, they are a little too competitive. 

Teaching will be as fun as you make it, so it’s important to get your creative thinking cap on when you’re lesson planning. If you do it right, the kids will literally chant your name when you come into class. That’s because they know that you are a break from the monotony of other teachers. 

3) Your Kiddos Will Need Lots of Love

If you are from the United States like me, the physicality of countries like Spain will shock you. Pre-COVID, I would have at least five children come up to me and hug me before the class started, and normally at least two after class had ended. Here in Spain, teachers believe that children need a lot of love. It is okay to show them appropriate affection like hugs, or kisses for the babies. 

It is important to remember that children are often products of their environment. Unfortunately, this means that many kids who act out or are disrespectful, are often taught to do so at home. No child is actually “bad,” rather they are modeling behaviors that they have learned at home or from something they’ve been exposed to on TV.

One of the most important lessons that I took away from teaching primary school in Madrid is to always try and meet kids where they’re at. That doesn’t mean that you have to cave for them if they are being disrespectful, but you should always try and see the child as a person. 

No child is stupid, annoying, or hard to work with when you are in the classroom. Save your complaints for closed doors. You just might be the reason that a child, who all of the other teachers openly hate on, believes in themself and tries to be better. 

4) The Power of the Justificante

After moving to Spain, I discovered that this country is a mix of two really frustrating things; disorganization and bureaucracy. Justificantes are a Spain-specific type of paperwork. Essentially, a justificante is a piece of paper stating that you were at a doctor’s appointment, visa appointment, etc. They are the only way that you can be excused from school if you have either a medical problem or some sort of issue with paperwork. 

Without a justificante, a school can deduct your pay for a day that you skipped, even if you actually were at a doctor’s appointment. They are incredibly important to the school system. However, there are some ways around the justificante if your school coordinator (aka your boss) is nice enough to offer. At my school, if we ever had to miss a day without a justified reason, such as cheaper flights a day after the school holiday ended, we were allowed to stay an extra day at the end of the year to make up for our lost time. 

When working and traveling in a new country, it is incredibly important to be aware of the specific guidelines of that country, particularly when it comes to paperwork. The justificante was a concept that I was unaware of until I got to Spain. However, it is incredibly important to your job when you fall ill or need to get some paperwork sorted. Always do your research when you travel, particularly when it comes to paperwork or visa guidelines. You never want to get caught on the wrong side of bureaucracy. 

5) Don’t Forget to Explore a Little

If you go to another country to teach, it is super important to explore. Ask your colleagues about interesting places to go in the area. Do some research. 

While I was in Madrid for two years, I made it a point to get out every weekend, even if it was just for a simple walk or a tapa. I researched the best places to go in the community and asked around. I learned a great deal more about exploring my city and the community of Madrid by simply reaching out to people and asking. 

Even though I was a teacher, I learned a lot by forcing myself to meet people and experience things that I was not necessarily comfortable with. I never thought that I would eat an octopus, but now I can say I have tried it (although I was not the biggest fan). By learning about the area that you are living in, you will have the most authentic experience possible abroad. You will find the places that people actually go to eat, rather than the tourist hotspots. You will find a quiet corner that you never knew existed, and now feel that belongs to you. 

Teaching primary school in Madrid has been one of the most rewarding and interesting experiences that I can boast of in my professional career. Teaching abroad and working with children is rewarding, and one of the easiest ways to have an authentic cultural experience. You will be exposed to a country in a way that only comes from living there.

by Serenity Dzubay

How I Became a Language Assistant in Japan

In my youth, I had never manifested any interest in Japanese culture. My knowledge was limited to the stereotypical images of ninjas, samurai, and geishas shown in films. My only “real-world” experiences came from my love of eating out at sushi restaurants in my hometown, Toronto. No one close to me would have predicted that I would spend three years of my life as a language assistant in Japan.

I heard about the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme from a student of mine while I was teaching ESL at a language school in Toronto. I hesitated in applying at first. In my first 25 years of life, I had barely traveled and never lived abroad. How would I fare living on my own in a foreign country? Would loneliness consume me and leave me feeling unhappy and unsatisfied? Would I be overwhelmed by not being able to read or fully understand my new surroundings? Should I just buckle down, find a nine to five job, and dive headfirst into the societal definition of adulthood? All of these questions fluttered around in my mind before I decided to apply to become a language assistant in Japan.  

The Decision to Become a Language Assistant in Japan

In the end, three factors propelled me towards my decision. First, a friend of mine spoke highly of his experience as a JET 10 years before. Second, my sister gave me some advice on what she considered failure to be. She said that failure wasn’t having to return from Japan because of unhappiness or dissatisfaction, but instead, that failure would be not trying. In other words, I had to give it a shot no matter what the outcome. Lastly, I had just finished my master’s, and I wasn’t feeling motivated in my first post-university job. So, what did I have to lose? Nothing. If anything, the job would give me the opportunity to live and travel the world, which excited me. So, I decided to try my luck and apply for a position in the programme. 

The Application Process

The key eligibility requirements for JET programme candidates are: they must be a native English speaker; demonstrate an interest in Japanese culture, society, and the educational system; hold a bachelor’s degree; and be a citizen of the English-speaking country where recruitment takes place. The application process took around six to eight months and involved three main steps.  

First, I submitted a paper application. This included my personal details, what region I wanted to be placed in, and a short essay on why I wanted to be a JET.  After they reviewed my application,  they called me in for an in-person interview. Here, they asked me why I wanted to teach in Japan, gauged my ability to deal with potential culture shock, and asked me to give an impromptu lesson on the topic of body parts (I performed my best rendition of “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes”). 

I left the interview feeling a bit iffy. Why? I had mentioned that in the future, I wanted to complete my PhD in History, and one of the interviewers said, “You’d be great teaching adults.”  I automatically thought that they didn’t think I had what it took to teach small children or teenagers (turns out, I was wrong). 

As a final step, all the chosen candidates submit a medical and criminal record check. The latter, in Canada, takes about four to six weeks. Success! I managed to make it through the whole process. 

Pre-Departure Preparation

Before I departed, the Consulate-General of Japan in Toronto offered free Japanese language classes to all candidates (on a first-come, first-serve basis). I got a spot in the class, and I was on my way to learning basic Japanese expressions and how to ask basic questions (unfortunately, I did not have time to attain a level where I could understand the answers to these questions, but, you know… baby steps). The best part of these classes were the connections I made. I forged some wonderful and long-lasting friendships with some fellow Torontonians. While only one of the people I met ended up being placed in the same town as me, I was able to visit the others all around Japan during the three years I lived and worked there.

Furthermore, I attended a mandatory pre-departure orientation in Toronto. Here, the instructors gave a basic introduction to the JET programme. They explained the basic duties of a language assistant and gave important pre-departure information (i.e., if you needed to ship personal belongings, bring prescription medication, etc.). Also, they held various seminars led by former JETs on how to adapt to life in Japan. 

Without a Second Thought

What I remember most about the orientation was everything I should bring from home. I needed to bring a small gift for all of the teachers at my main school (it’s customary in Japan) and a bigger gift for the Principal, Vice Principal, my Supervisor, and even my landlord.

Also, there were things that  I wouldn’t have even given a second thought to — from deodorant (the Japanese equivalent just doesn’t cut it), to makeup (not all skin tones available), to curly hair products and shampoo, to toothpaste (no fluoride in Japanese brands), and even tampons (apparently hard to find if you live in the inaka aka rural Japan). What I know now is that you can find almost anything if you look hard enough. It’s probably even easier now with the existence of Amazon Prime.

Tokyo-Bound

Before I boarded my direct flight (paid for by the JET programme) from Toronto to Tokyo, I was scared. The moment had arrived; I was actually going to be a language assistant in Japan. At the airport, my father hugged me goodbye, looked at me, and said, “If you’re not happy, call me, and I’ll buy you a ticket home.”  The support he gave me at that moment helped get me, fear in tow, through customs at Pearson International airport.

A three-day orientation session was offered to all incoming JETs in Tokyo. We were put up in a decent Tokyo hotel, breakfast and lunch included. They bombarded us with information sessions (the jetlag made it a bit harder to process). They further explained our roles as language assistants, describing the effects of culture shock, and even gave us teaching tips from former JETs. 

A statue of three monkeys mimicking the hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil phrase in Japan.

I met who would be my supervisor for the next three years and the other teachers (from all over the world) who were placed in my host city. To tell you the truth, what I got most out of my three days in Tokyo was the opportunity to explore (and party in!) the city with the friends that I made both in Toronto and in the very hotel I was staying at. At the end of three days, I boarded a minibus headed to Gunma Prefecture: my home for the next three years.

The First Big Step on My Road to Travel

I often think about what my life would have been like had I not left Canada for Japan almost 14 years ago. I know that the JET programme changed my life. It started what would be my life “on the road,” my life as an expat, my wanderlust. The process of going to Japan was long, and the decision to leave Canada wasn’t easy. In the end, with all the knowledge and experience I have gained, it was worth it. Flying abroad to be a language assistant in Japan undoubtedly changed my life.

by Maria Perez

What Does It Mean to Be a Good Teacher?

Sarah Perkins Guebert Winning WednesdayAs a child, I always thought that my teachers were magical beings that somehow had lesson plans already prepared and never did any work outside of the classroom except to grade assignments; and that, at least in my mind, never took long. They had the summers off work and could call a substitute teacher whenever they needed one. I was completely wrong in my assumptions, of course, but my true appreciation for teachers — especially good teachers — did not come until I had graduated from college and began working with them.  

What Makes a Good Teacher?

After studying education and observing my own teachers and coworkers, I’ve decided that a good teacher is an obsessed fanatic with what they do; a parent, a tyrant, and a slave.  First and foremost, the teacher has to enjoy their job. They have to be passionate about the subject they teach, in addition to being passionate about teaching itself. They watch their class with a careful eye and foster a positive learning environment. But, the moment the students cease to give their attention, the teacher must call them back to the material with a firm hand and keep them focused throughout the course of the lesson. 

Furthermore, a teacher must be completely and utterly devoted to their work. They must work tirelessly to create new lessons, to better old ones, to grade student work, and to improve themselves as a teacher. In my own experience, I’ve spent sleepless nights perfecting an activity for class or grading exams, encouraged my students to challenge themselves, and had my temper tested on several occasions when students were particularly problematic. It’s chaos, maybe even Hell, but I love it. Am I crazy?  Perhaps, but I’d prefer to say that I’ve caught the “teaching bug.”

Students' feet lined up in a line. What makes a good teacher?

Always Growing

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a great teacher, or even a good teacher. Even with seven years of experience, I’ve discovered that I have a lot to improve in every way imaginable. Despite that, I would venture to say that I have the potential to be a good teacher. Being a good teacher, however, requires a lot of hard work and willpower.  Nevertheless, I am collecting all the tools that I’ll need to become one. So, what have I learned over the course of my career other than the exact ratio of milk to coffee to get me through a long night of grading essays?  

Primarily, I have discovered that language teaching is difficult, because learning a language is an environment in which mistakes are normal and even encouraged. Learning another language is about more than just the language itself, but also a culture, mannerisms, history, and mindset that differ from our own. 

Students working on a craft project

Students have been taught that they should be ashamed of and try to avoid errors or failures while learning, and this instills in them a deep-set fear of attempting to use knowledge that they do not have an absolute mastery of.  As a result, they develop vergüenza, a fear/shame of using the language. I have noticed this in my students, as they are very hesitant to make use of linguistic structures they do not fully understand or control. For this reason, I think that it is essential to develop an open, friendly environment in the classroom that fosters a growth mindset.  

Hidden Capabilities

Many of my students walked into the classroom with the belief that they simply weren’t good at learning languages, or that they simply didn’t have the capacity to learn a language. Moreover, many of them walked in assuming that they wouldn’t enjoy English as a subject. However, many have commented over the years that they were surprised to succeed or enjoy the class. Even when they didn’t correctly utilize the linguistic structures we learned, they were still enthusiastic about activities and quickly discovered that complete mastery of those structures was neither expected nor realistic. In this way, the students were learning and did not see their mistakes as failures. It is my belief that this is one of the most important elements to a successful language classroom.    

Throughout the course of my career, I have been privileged to observe and work with some of my peers in order to better myself and my classroom. After watching and working together with them, I have been able to take away elements of their teaching styles and activities that I thought were effective, and take note of the elements that weren’t. This has also helped me to reflect on my own teaching style and to better myself. 

In doing so, I have realized something that I consider essential: Alone, I can become a successful teacher. I can be an effective teacher. What I cannot be alone is an outstanding teacher. After working with my peers and sharing and developing ideas, I have seen how strong we can be together, and how much more dynamic and complete our activities are as a result of collaboration. 

Finding Balance

Of course, not every element of a language classroom will be perfect. This is especially true in my case.  Sometimes I become too ambitious and attempt to teach concepts that the students are not ready to learn yet. Moreover,  I sometimes find it difficult to avoid focusing on the grammatical features of the language. Methodically learning grammar is the way I was taught languages in school, and it is difficult to break free from the examples shown to me as a learner. 

A good teacher must find balance

I find it quite challenging to avoid relying on what I have learned from my past teachers. I’ve made it my goal to develop a classroom that does not necessarily focus on explicit grammar, but rather challenges the students to think critically in the language. Of course, it seems as though there’s never enough time to develop outstanding activities that foster this kind of thinking. This brings back the point I mentioned earlier: collaboration is key.  When working together, I believe that teachers are capable of accomplishing the impossible.

A Long Path Ahead

All of this said, where does that put me as a teacher? Where do I see myself in the future?  I’ve certainly changed a lot of my beliefs and perspectives throughout the seven years that I have been professionally teaching. During my first year on the job, I was nervous to be in charge of a class of students. I didn’t want to do them a disservice, or be the sole person responsible for their language education. Now, however, I am aware of my weaknesses and continuously work towards improving them. 

I intend to continue working with my peers in order to better myself and to develop a classroom that helps the students to succeed and challenges them to think critically in a foreign language. I intend for them to make mistakes, and a lot of them. However, I don’t want them to see those mistakes as failures. Most importantly, I want my students to walk out of my class at the end of the semester and, even if they dislike English, say “I really enjoyed that class.”

by Sarah Perkins Guebert

Finding Resilience: Working Without Pay Abroad

Kevin Mascitelli in front of a fort.No matter how often you travel, you’re bound to have unexpected challenges. We sometimes revel in these obstacles. Learning how to navigate a new place is exhilarating. Small, menial tasks suddenly offer a newfound sense of accomplishment — navigating public transportation, chatting with strangers, going to the grocery store, and so on. It’s great. What’s not so great? Working without pay for months on end while living in a foreign country.

Thrills and Chills of Traveling

If things go wrong, they eventually become glorious battle scars. Travelers can’t resist sharing their disaster stories, whether it’s being trapped in an airport for 12 hours or an infamous food poisoning saga. These situations are unpleasant but they’re par for the course.

Knowing all this from past experience, I felt like a confident, seasoned traveler. But when I started teaching English in Spain, what I wasn’t prepared for was working without pay for nearly five months.

The Customer is Always Right

Embedded within the cultural ethos of the United States is the phrase, “the customer is always right.” From Sears, to Amazon, to the mom-and-pop pizza place down the street, this saying influences how people treat each other in transactional situations. People don’t always act like this, of course, but this idiom establishes an expectation within the United States.

I knew that outside the land of stars, bars, and backyard BBQ, the relationship between client and server or worker and employer doesn’t always favor the “customer.” Nonetheless, I had built up an intrepid confidence in my abilities to adapt. This was put to the test when I decided to return to Spain to teach English.

Kevin Mascitelli looking down at the street from the roof.

Working Without Pay Abroad

In October 2019, I returned to Valencia, Spain to teach for a reputable English exchange program I had worked for in the past. Although I was warned about delays in payment, I trusted that things would be fine. Besides, my paperwork was flawless. Documents notarized, background checks completed, and files delivered to the proper authorities. But by December I hadn’t received a single Euro. As my savings dwindled, I became worried.

My first instinct was to visit my bank. Maybe they delivered the wrong account information to the government. In Spain, no matter what anyone tells you, banking is mostly done in person. Yes, there are apps and online account portals, but these programs don’t allow you to change or sometimes even verify critical information. This can only be done in person at your bank branch — not just any bank branch — the bank branch where you first opened your account. Because I had previously lived in Valencia, my bank branch was, of course, on the other side of the city. Very convenient.

Euros.

I visited my bank so many times that I thought about getting my banker, Edu, a Christmas present. Eventually, I discovered that the bank had done everything right. There shouldn’t be an issue, and I should be getting paid shortly. When this didn’t come to fruition, I knew I needed to move up the bureaucratic food chain. My next stop: the Spanish Ministry of Education and Sport.

January

Kevin Mascitelli looking down from the rooftop.

My new year’s resolution was to get paid. I was running out of money, and frustrated because for months I had continued to work without pay. A new year forced me to reevaluate the financial stress this was causing. I considered packing my bags for a return trip home. At this point, persistence was my only shot at salvaging this mess.

The Spanish Ministry of Education and Sport was the agency that administered my English teaching program. It took me many exciting hours of combing through government websites to locate their Valencian office — a harbinger of sorts.

When I finally arrived at the office, although I felt very nervous about having such a serious conversation in my second language, I felt a sense of relief. Speaking face to face with the officials gave me hope that someone would act. Once I got through this conversation, a weight would be lifted off my shoulders.

“Two More Weeks”

Plastic seats in a waiting area.The program administrators told me to wait two more weeks, and everything would be fine. When two weeks had passed, nothing changed. This was obviously not a reassuring sign. It was not an easy choice (because I dislike conflict), but I decided to visit the office each week until I was finally able to stop working without pay.

These visits were uncomfortable at best, each time I left feeling embarrassed and desperate for a fix. In high school Spanish class, there’s no lesson on arguing with a bureaucratic system for your salary. Under pressure, my Spanish didn’t feel natural. I stuttered more and couldn’t remember the right words quickly enough. What bothered me the most was that I couldn’t use words to bring levity to the situation. All I could do was ask for help.

Pessimistic thoughts gathered like drops of rain in a puddle. One thing that kept me motivated was believing that messy situations make you stronger in the long run. Displaying grit in a situation fraught with setbacks “builds character.” It wasn’t until a group of English teachers publicly protested in front of the city’s main government building did the program act to resolve the salary issues. When the paycheck finally hit my bank account, it was late February 2020. I thought my days of working without pay in Spain for the next few months were over.

Looking Back, Moving Forward

History proved different, and in March 2020 — instead of a vacation in Italy — my girlfriend and I fled our Valencian apartment to live at my parent’s home in the US. As military medical personnel set up tents in hazmat suits, and police vehicles announced disquieting health advisories, we threw all of our belongings in the dumpster and caught the last flight leaving Valencia before travel was banned for the next eight weeks. We could have waited out the onset of the pandemic in Spain, of course, but given how unreliable my payment was, there was no telling how little support we would have gotten as foreigners.

A waiting room during COVID-19

In retrospect, I am thankful for the challenges I faced during my second experience in Spain. Bureaucratic systems operate differently from country to country, and while each system has its flaws, I had the implicit expectation that things would work like the United States, where the “customer is always right.” Resilience in the face of adversity is something many of us have shown since the pandemic began in March 2020. I hope that we can all enter the next chapter of this collective experience with the same perseverance that we’ve shown this past year.

by Kevin Mascitelli

What I Know Now About Moving to Another Country

edgar llivisupaAfter moving to another country, Edgar Llivisupa reflects on what he learned. Now back in his home state of New York, Edgar lived in Ontinyent, Spain as a language assistant. While his travels certainly aren’t over, here are seven things he knows now since moving to another country and coming home.

1) Set Yourself Up Financially for Moving to Another Country

I had an abundance of banking products ranging from bank accounts to credit cards to handle before I relocated. Firstly, I moved all of my financial accounts to an online bank to take advantage of higher interest rates as I didn’t need a physical branch. Next, I opened a Charles Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking account that provided unlimited ATM fee rebates worldwide. I avoided any fees when withdrawing my money anywhere across Spain. 

However, upon arriving in the country, I learned of the TransferWise (now known as Wise) debit card. It would become my favorite asset while traveling around Europe as it can hold multiple currencies. Keeping myself updated with the different fees when loading, converting, or withdrawing between currencies was a hassle, but it felt great to shop at Tesco in London one week, Mercadona the next in Madrid, and then pay for my subway fare in New York just a few weeks later. 

The many cards Edgar has to carry with him.

Finally, I, unfortunately, had to devise a credit card strategy in case the Valencian government delayed my payments. It’s a common issue across Spanish language assistant programs. I had to select cards with no foreign transaction fees to avoid unnecessary costs. In addition, I took advantage of introductory offers to avoid interest charges. Fortunately, this gave me more time to repay creditors after spending on trips across Europe.

Whenever I start looking at moving to another country again, I will look at how to best organize my finances to manage my money across countries and currencies. 

2) Budget for Travel Costs

Since I had not traveled before leaving for Europe, I was clueless about the money needed to enjoy myself after moving to another country. I was fortunate enough to have a relative in Madrid. They warned how pricey traveling can be after combining dining, transportation, and lodging costs. For that reason, I started saving up a year before applying to the program.

However, I learned that traveling across Spain can be done under any budget. Getting between locations can be achieved either through train, plane, or boat. Carpooling via BlaBlaCar was the most inexpensive and enjoyable way for me to travel. The locals I rode with provided me with sights to explore and foods to try. They also shared parts of their lives with me, which I really enjoyed. There was some distrust and unease at first but the thrill of adventure overcame my trepidation. 

3) Search for the Basics

Accommodations spanned from cheap Airbnbs and hostels on the outskirts to luxurious hotels in the center of the city. Food is also the same, ask any American or European on vacation in the country and they would agree. Groceries are cheap. There are also inexpensive bars with cheap beers and sandwiches. And as for the pricey restaurants within hotels with a menu del día, this multi-course meal is also available in less luxurious establishments. 

Most towns have a tourism center with free tours around the area. In bigger cities there are inexpensive museums and cultural centers. If you’re interested in Spanish football, there are the high-end teams like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, but smaller teams within the first division have cheaper tickets. Keep an eye out for matches between inner-city or regional rivals with an intensity worthy of a visit. 

4) Go Local on the Food Front

I tried dishes the country was known for in Ontinyent, Madrid, and Valencia during my first year and was underwhelmed. Churros, paella, croquetas, and pastries were great, but if I ever ventured out to what I would later learn was a specialty of another region, I would be disappointed. 

During my summer in New York in 2019, I learned how many dishes in the country were regional. Neighboring towns could have distinct ingredients and preparation methods for these dishes. So I decided to try hyper-local foods as opposed to those eaten across the country. My opinion started to change. The epitome of this new perspective involved my experience with the bean stew fabada asturiana. I tried it first in Salamanca. Then, where it originated, in Oviedo. It won me over with the smokey, deep red, rich broth served with thick chunks of sausages and pork belly, contrasted by the silky, creamy, yet large white beans.

From that day onwards it became my favorite Spanish dish. When a local restaurant in Ontinyent offered it, I pounced. My heart immediately sank when I saw the broth was clear, ribs were served instead of pork belly, and the beans were quite small. After this experience, I focused solely on trying local specialties and trying to replicate them myself back in Ontinyent where I lived. 

My travels centered around food. While I thought I knew what was considered local, some research and insight were necessary to discover if what I was eating could be the best version of the dish. 

5) Back Up Your Actions with Words

I found that the best way to bond with others after moving to another country wasn’t to tell them what I was working on during my free time but show them. I would bring desserts, foods, and projects for my colleagues at work and it captured their attention immediately. 

It helped even more if I used the local language. As I mentioned in a previous article, people commended me when I spoke to them in Valencian. Eventually, I was able to show a deeper interest in their culture via pictures of my cooking. They soon provided nuanced criticism and advice. They saw how much effort and details I put into recreating dishes from their region.

Regarding my school, I decided around November of 2019 to leave my tutor with some tools to help her teach the children spelling. There was a Catalan spelling game where kids had to match the right pieces to a piece of paper with pictures of farm animals, colors, and toys by aligning the holes and color. I repurposed those pieces to make an English version. It had been miserable working with software installed on the school’s mid-2000s computers. I felt ardent to provide my school with a new tool. It was free, visual, and beneficial to the most beginning learners. By the time my contract finished, I had given my school almost 60 of these playing sheets along with tools and instructions to create more. 

Trying a new game

6) Privilege Follows You

I have had to confront the idea of privilege and how I have been presenting myself in my time living abroad. I faced friendly teasing from friends for owning an iPad and iPhone, who remained completely unaware that my laptop cost over $2,500. Some would be impressed by my multi-bedroom apartment just for myself. Many would hear of the briefcase and backpacks I would return with from weekend getaways, full of souvenirs for folks back home. And I would see their dejected faces upon their realization that I traveled more across the country in a couple of years than they had in their lives. 

That led some to see me as a privileged New Yorker in a small town, traveling freely and indulging in gluttony. It couldn’t have been farther from the truth. A lot of the money I spent I had either saved a year for or I eventually had to pay back. Their feelings about me almost felt ironic. I am a direct descendant of immigrants from Latin America who arrived with nothing to the country. Spending was tight growing up which prevented traveling. 

The New York Subway

I addressed these viewpoints while learning to not allow them to affect me. I told many that I would show them my life back in New York which wouldn’t be inside a penthouse overlooking Central Park but sharing a bedroom with relatives. Sometimes, my words didn’t change a person’s opinion and I learned to accept that. This will be important for me to remember when I start traveling across Latin America. I’ve already resolved to avoid beach resorts or tourist havens. Instead, as I interact with locals from developing or impoverished areas, I want to make them aware that the opportunities I have had have come with many challenges I had to face. 

7) COVID-19 Changed Outlooks

Certainly the pandemic disrupted our lives, requiring many of us to change directions or approaches to living.

My two years after moving to another country were not only a chance to travel, learn a new culture, and train in a new profession but also provided me with a chance to get out of the house, a desire for many people in their early 20s. I took full advantage and distanced myself from my family and friends in New York to live in the moment and enjoy my time in Spain, especially while traveling. That meant not calling or messaging anyone unless for an emergency and, up until the pandemic, I was content. 

The New York Subway.

Wrap Up

The pandemic made that outlook difficult as I wanted to check in on loved ones after reading how my neighborhood was the “center of the center” of the pandemic in New York. Monthly check-ins became daily texts or phone calls. Our conversations would include warnings and advice as Europe had been in its first wave before the States. I told them of new findings by Spanish health authorities, including doubts that COVID-19 was transmittable through surfaces or clothes. My family finally accepted me as an adult with the maturity I maintained during a time of uncertainty and hopelessness.

Although I am unsure if I will once again seclude myself from home once I relocate abroad, the stress from the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 fixed many relationships I had back home. 

by Edgar Llivisupa

What I Know Now About Teaching English in Spain

Sarah Perkins Guebert Bio PhotoAre you a teacher or language assistant? Thinking of teaching English in Spain? It goes without saying that there are differences in culture and education between any two countries. There are certainly quite a few between Spain and the US, where I grew up. 

You may have heard some stereotypes about Spanish education, and, no, here in Spain we do not take naps at school in the middle of the day. Nor do teachers instinctively know how to dance flamenco. In many ways, schools in Spain and the US are actually quite similar. However, there are a few notable differences that might surprise you. These are the five things I wish someone had explained to me before I started teaching English in Spain as an American. 

Five Things I Learned Teaching English in Spain

Ditch the Heels

You may be surprised to discover that Spanish teachers do not dress to impress. In fact, casual attire is the norm. This includes jeans, sneakers, and tees. It certainly wasn’t the scenario I’d pictured when I moved to Spain. When I arrived for the first time, I brought clothes typical of an American teacher: slacks, button-ups, smart cardigans, etc. However, I quickly realized that dressing too formally was out of place in the public school environment and ditched the skirts for jeans.

On a First-Name Basis

Not only do Spanish teachers dress down, but they also go by their first names. This was quite a shock to me after coming out of the American education system. On the first day of my teaching job, I was stunned when students ran up to my boss and addressed him by his first name as though he were their best friend or cousin. However, this is not something out of the ordinary here. Have fun with it and remember that the kids do not mean any disrespect.

Winging It

American teachers know that lessons require several hours a week of painstaking work. Not so in Spain. In general, Spanish teachers do not believe in working unpaid overtime. They do not usually prepare extensive lessons, handouts, or other materials. In fact, they prefer to follow the textbook, and some even show up (sometimes late) and throw a lesson together at the last minute. This can certainly be shocking for new teachers and language assistants; however, to put this in perspective, oftentimes teachers are shuffled around between grades from year to year and cannot rely on past lesson plans.

Chitter Chatter

Spanish children are incredibly active and talkative. In fact, it’s very difficult to get them to be quiet at all. This can be challenging for a teacher, but it also means that these students excel at speaking activities and games and always enjoy a lively debate with their classmates. They are happy to discuss almost any topic at length and are always eager to participate. Make sure to put a time limit on your activities, because Spanish students can easily take over an entire class.

Black Pen or Blue?

One of children’s biggest challenges is trusting in their own decisions. They sometimes struggle to make even the smallest of choices without adult guidance. Everything is dictated to them at school from a young age, making these little decisions and creativity as a whole very difficult for them to grasp. Giving Spanish students too much freedom can even result in panic. Be prepared for confusion, a bombardment of questions, or even tears from the younger if you give them too many options to choose from.

If you plan on becoming a teacher or language assistant in Spain, I would advise simply spending time in the country and immersing yourself in the culture before walking into a class. Enjoy the parks, the bars, and the street. Understanding Spanish culture will help you understand the school environment and your students. Once you’re in class, relax, exchange your fancy clothes for comfy ones, go by your first name, and most importantly, take it one day at a time.

A Fourth-Generation Teacher’s Reflections of Teaching

caroline hazelton teach abroad writerWho is Caroline Hazelton? Ever since I met Caroline, she has evolved into much more than just a great teacher. From our initial introduction in class, I knew she was one of a kind. Caroline is more than just a teacher. In addition, she is a colleague, a classmate, a daughter, a mother, and a wife. Caroline is that person you meet who uplifts you when you think you can’t do something but really deep down — you can. This interview reveals her reflections on teaching.

Caroline is the guardian angel who once looked at me and smiled as I could barely say two words in Spanish, and encouraged me to pursue my passion. She is what every student deserves in a teacher. Although she’s too humble to admit it, teaching is in her DNA. There are specific individuals in your life who have the innate ability to see potential in others and encourage them to fulfill their dreams. Caroline is that professional and mentor. 

Who is Caroline Hazelton?

When she’s not teaching adult ESOL learners in the evening, she’s a non-stop, can’t-stop, won’t-stop, busy-on-the-go mom and wife. Caroline is a biological mother to two young girls and a foster parent to a special population called unaccompanied refugee minors. As we spoke on the phone, it became more apparent that years later, she’s a teacher at home to her beautiful children and from six to nine in the evening she dedicates her time to her profession of teaching too. Caroline will continue to build a legacy so her children see a world where we all have access to equal education and diversity is considered something meaningful and beautiful. 

Caroline discusses her educational background in a candid interview, revealing her reflections on teaching. Her responses are measured and thoughtful. Caroline continues to inspire from afar and serve as a role model for future generations in the classroom.  

Reflections of Teaching From a Fourth-Generation Teacher

How much did having teachers as parents and grandparents influence your thoughts regarding what you wanted to be when you grew up?”

I don’t know that it influenced what I wanted to be. Instead, I wanted to be something different. Teaching seemed to be an ordinary thing to do for someone with an education, especially for a woman. All of the women in my family are teachers, except for my sister who escaped to law school!

Now I definitely saw the downsides. I saw my mom come home exhausted, cook dinner, deal with us kids, and then dive straight into grading papers before getting ready for the next day. She cautioned me with the honest challenges teachers face, although she did tell me “you’ll be a very good one and it scares me.” 

reflections of teaching photo of modern classroom desk

But when I took Spanish and fell in love with learning second languages, I realized I wanted to devote my life to helping people acquire language and discover new cultures. I spent a summer in Houston serving immigrant families and teaching ESL to stay-at-home moms. After that, I knew that my fascination with language acquisition was meant to help immigrants and others pave a new life for themselves and escape poverty. But yet, this belief that education can help one escape all kinds of hardship, including poverty does stem from my grandmother and great-grandmother, both teachers.

In Our Blood

See, my grandmother’s mother was a teacher. Even though she dropped out of school as a little girl during the Great Depression to perform child labor to pay the family taxes, her mom insisted she had to keep up with her education so she wouldn’t fall behind. So when she had the chance to go to college, it was to teach — so other kids could find their way out of the kind of poverty she knew. My grandfather had a similar story. And they spent their lives teaching children in our rural, low-income community. 

I think it hit me on lunch duty. One of my co-workers found out who my grandmother was and started crying. Apparently, he had grown up very poor. But my grandmother (his teacher) made sure he and his whole family had Christmas presents. She also taught him to love to learn — and that he could do things through learning. Through her inspiration, this little boy worked hard in school, put himself through college, and ended up becoming a teacher himself. He now inspires other kids and helps them out of poverty through his passion for teaching carpentry.

I have since left my hometown and now live in urban South Florida. Right now I teach English to adult immigrants and refugees. They are full of hope and dreams for a better life for themselves and their children. And just like my grandmother, I firmly believe education is the way to this.

What direct experience do you have of your parents’ and grandparents’ teaching style?”

They grew up in the days where corporal punishment, aka “paddling” was allowed in school! Can you imagine?? The town I was raised in wasn’t far from this. So you can picture my surprise when my first teaching assignment was in a progressive independent school that taught mindfulness and meditation! But as I’ve started thinking about some reflections on teaching, I’ve come to respect all styles of teaching children the way they should go.

I teach different ages and subjects than my family did. Nonetheless, I pass on the same love of learning down to my own children. I read to them daily and choose educational toys and activities over electronics, plus getting outside and exploring nature.

How much advice did you receive from teacher relatives when you announced you wanted to work in education?”

Caroline Hazelton's mom

My mom warned me that I was going to enter an emotionally-draining, never-ending “to-do” lists career. On year eight, while I’m sharing some of my reflections on teaching, I have to agree that she’s right. But, it is so worth it. My grandmother, on the other hand, would have cheered on anything that I did! 

My mom encouraged me and told me I had the “teaching gift” and “all of the traits to be a good one.” She was a huge source of support my first year when I had such a learning curve — I could call her up and we would “talk teacher.” I even enjoy talking to my aunt, a retired teacher about parent/teacher challenges that she dealt with and how they could best be solved. When “teacher talk” begins… my husband and dad go running.

To what extent did you talk about your early teaching career with your parents and grandparents?”

My grandmother passed away during my first year in college, but I talked to my mom constantly during the first year of teaching. She helped me realize how I could nail a lesson, build solid communication with parents, or strengthen a relationship with my students. She taught me how to own being the rookie and take advice from other teachers without doubting myself. Even now, she gives me wisdom.

What would you tell your children if they indicated they wanted to follow in the family footsteps?”

It is underpaid and you’ll need to learn how to manage stress without turning to junk food (my first-year rookie mistake). Despite that, the joy of the classroom, the relationships you build, and the delight in where your teaching will take your students is worth every moment. But you’ll need to do it because you love it, not because it’s what women in our family do. The burnout is real and kids need teachers who love teaching their subject. Otherwise, school will be largely a waste of time. This is probably one of my most important reflections of teaching that I’ve come to.

reflections of teaching, photo of a school library

Describe a childhood memory that has still resonated with you and influences your teaching.”

My mom had this beautiful Barbie house at home when I was about five.  Naturally, my then four-year-old sister and I thought it was for us! But… it wasn’t. It was for her first-graders. The school was in a very poor neighborhood. The chance to play with a nice toy was something the kids would only get in school. We watched that year as she’d collect toy after toy for her kids in need. Through that example, she taught me to be a selfless adult, giving things I don’t really need to those less fortunate. 

reflections of teaching photo of child playing with cars

Who were your heroes and role models growing up as a child?”

My dad, because he loves learning and seems to know something about everything. I could talk to him about any subject. I loved his mother (also a teacher!) and how she managed to teach part-time while also being a mom to her kids. Additionally, I loved my third-grade advanced class teacher Mrs. Sullivan because she pushed me like no other teacher had.

What dreams and goals did you have for your life in high school? And how about after college?”

I wanted to help people and especially those from around the world because I find diversity fascinating. I definitely wanted a family, an intelligent husband, and to see the world. Although I literally had no idea of how things would happen, I assumed by the time that I was 17 that I’d spend a year or so doing Christian, humanitarian, and missionary work overseas, then teach Spanish and ESL. And, yes, my dreams came true!

How do you switch on switched-off learners?”

By involving different types of instruction (large group, small group, one-on-one), different forms of activities for visual and auditory learners and feedback. Asking students to do different tasks that require different levels of thinking. Being willing to go off script and change your plans when a lesson or activity clearly isn’t working out. I also try to plan real-life examples in my language classes and incorporate relaxing activities like music, games or free conversation into my lessons every day.

reflections of teaching, photo of wooden block letters

To what degree do you plan lessons and to what extent do you improvise them?”

What I make sure of is that I always have a plan. I schedule extra activities in case things end shorter than expected or if some sort of technology doesn’t work. I also tend to have a set routine so my time is managed well and students know what to expect. But, if I discover an area that students have a lot of questions about or are really interested in, I’m willing to change my plans so we have more time for these things. 

Caroline has a plethora of ESL teaching resources to utilize in your classroom. Be sure to check them out in our upcoming articles from her. It’s always a pleasure to discover her latest developments. Make sure to catch her first interview with Leesa for more reflections of teaching from a fourth-generation teacher.

Work Experience Abroad: Volunteering in Costa Rica

Alexandra Cintrón JiménezDuring my undergraduate studies, I decided to broaden my horizons by volunteering in Costa Rica. I came upon a scholarship for students in the College of Education at the Universidad de Puerto Rico who wanted to pursue a teaching experience abroad. As soon as I saw this, I decided to apply and start researching for possible opportunities. In the course of my research, I found We Are Bamboo and applied for their teaching volunteering program.

We Are Bamboo had many options for positions in Asia, but I decided to go to a place where I was comfortable with the language. At that time, I barely had international experiences abroad, let alone by myself. I decided to go somewhere close to home, which is why I thought volunteering in Costa Rica would be a good idea. After applying for the volunteer program, I was lucky enough to be awarded the scholarship from my college. I felt very excited about this opportunity and could barely wait to go. 

Arriving in Costa Rica

Even though I applied through We Are Bamboo, the company was affiliated with Maximo Nivel, who were in charge of the program in Costa Rica. I will be honest with you. As I was traveling alone, I was nervous because the communication from the program was vague. They notified me that once in the airport, I needed to look out for a yellow flag held out by the member of staff picking me up. They did not send me information about my host family beforehand. I found out about where I would be staying when I met the staff at the airport. 

Nevertheless, once there everything went smoothly. There were other volunteers who were there for varying projects such as healthcare and sea-turtle conservation. Once all the volunteers arrived, we drove to the main office for check-in and then I met my host family. I stayed with my host mom Cindy, her partner, and kids. They were very friendly and when they found out I spoke Spanish, they felt thrilled. There, I met another volunteer from New Zealand. She only spoke English, so even though she had only one week left, I helped them understand each other better. Below is a picture of me with my host family; their daughter was with her grandparents when we took the picture.

Alexandra with her host family while volunteering in Costa Rica

Teaching

On the first day, I had a training session and found my placement. I met Alice from Alaska who was fluent in Spanish, which I felt very impressed by. We both were assigned the same placement, Fundación la Mujer. After we were assigned, a guide from Maximo Nivel showed us around to familiarize us with the route we needed to take to get there. Our assignment was teaching adults in San José, the capital of Costa Rica. It was an adjustment for me since all of my schooling so far had been at the K-12 level, but I really enjoyed it. The smaller group meant that we could provide a topic they felt most interested in. 

Alexandra teaching while volunteering in Costa Rica

Living as a Costa Rican and Gastronomy

One of my favorite things about this experience was that I lived like a Costa Rican. I took the bus and walked around to get where I wanted to go. Spending time with people gave me first-hand insights into the culture. The program included breakfast and dinner, so I sampled typical homemade food from Costa Rica. 

For breakfast, I tried gallo pinto, a main course that can include rice, beans, eggs, toast, and fruit. As a Puerto Rican, eating rice and beans for breakfast was a new experience. We usually ended our lessons by 2:00 PM and then went for lunch at restaurants nearby. We’d sit and eat while working on our lesson plan for the next day. For lunch or dinner, Costa Ricans love tucking into casado, which includes rice, beans, sweet plantains, salad, and a choice of meat. After finishing my “work” day, I toured the city. I visited museums such as Museo Nacional de Costa Rica and Museo de Arte Costarricense.

The National Museum of Costa Rica, which Alexandra visited in Costa Rica

I took this photo at the National Museum of Costa Rica.

Exploring Costa Rica

During the weekends, I went on a couple of tours. I visited Volcán Arenal, La Paz waterfall, and the hot springs in La Fortuna. Spending my birthday there was so much fun. Although I am not a coffee lover, I still had to try it since I was in Costa Rica. So I visited Heredia for a coffee tour. During this, I tasted different types of coffee beans such as light roast, poás, and tres ríos. They explained the whole process the beans go through while showing me the plantation. 

These pictures show the volcano and coffee tour. The basket and hat is what they use to pick up beans. 

Saying Goodbye

I wish my volunteer program had been longer. The reason being that I believe I could have made a better impact as a volunteer if I had stayed more than two weeks. Volunteering abroad is an experience anyone can have, especially because you can choose the time commitment and it allows exploring another country from a different perspective other than a tourist. You can connect better with the culture and its people. Now that I am writing this, I wished I kept in touch with people I met while I was there. I am longing to go back. There are many places I still want to explore in Costa Rica. 

¡Pura Vida!

TEFL in Thailand

by Leesa Truesdell

Eric Haeg Course Director of TEFL Campus
Eric Haeg, Course Director of TEFL Campus

Eric Haeg is the Course Director of TEFL Campus–a TEFL training course provider in Phuket and Chiang Mai. He moved to Thailand in 2004 because he knew he didn’t want to teach in Europe. He had already visited Europe and wanted to explore somewhere entirely new. Eric didn’t know if there was a need for teachers in Thailand back then. His reasons for taking the TEFL course back in 2004 were entirely whimsical. He searched for TEFL certification courses and signed up for one in Phuket because it looked like “Phuk-et”. Eric explained said, “I thought to myself, ‘Eh, f*ck it. Must be a sign. What’s the worst that can happen?’” He also says he has no shame in how that sounds because it was the best decision he’s ever made. 

Eric took the time to explain what Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Thailand means today. Here is what he had to say. 

What makes Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)  in Thailand different from TEFL in other countries?

There are a few reasons that taking a TEFL course in Thailand is different from other countries.

  1. Low Costs – TEFL courses are cheaper in Thailand because of the lower costs of operation when compared to courses in places like Japan, Australia, most of Europe, or the Americas.
  2. Welcoming Culture – Thailand’s nickname is the Land of Smiles. It only takes a few minutes here to see why. Thais are incredibly welcoming and eager to share their culture with foreigners.
  3. High Demand – It was recently reported that Thailand needs 10,000 foreign teachers. This means that those who come to train and earn their TEFL certification will find jobs after their course rather easily.

What is the application and arrival process for your school? 

study abroad ESL teacherThe process starts with a lengthy and detailed information file that we send out once an applicant has officially enrolled. We include information on how to get visas (if needed), our accommodation options, travel options, and more. We have a long Q&A section that includes information on getting local SIM cards, international driver’s licenses, vaccinations, what to pack, and more. 

From there, we then help people reserve their accommodation and schedule a meet-and-greet for the day they arrive. For those who are eligible, we organize our personal driver to meet them at the airport. 

We also have unique Facebook groups for each course, where people can introduce themselves before the course to their peers. We send out helpful posts about things to do in Phuket, reminders about the course, information on jobs, and much more. 

What’s the most important thing someone should know about TEFL in Thailand?

People need to know that teaching is challenging. While that’s not unique to Thailand, far too many TEFL course providers in Thailand take the “teach-by-the-beach” approach to their marketing. They make people think that teaching is an all-day ball of joy, that finding jobs on idyllic islands is the norm, and that teaching is easy.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Teaching is challenging and that’s why new teachers need meaningful training that includes curriculum on building cultural awareness. Most good jobs are in urban areas — but at least in a place like Phuket, the beach is never far away on days off. If you’re not near the ocean, Thailand has endless natural beauty. Nonetheless, you’ll have to work a challenging, full-time job Monday through Friday if you are to enjoy it in your freetime. 

How is TEFL Campus in Phuket different than its Chiang Mai location?

TEFL Campus runs the same curriculum in Phuket as in Chiang Mai. Both programs include university-level validation, guaranteed job support and experienced trainers. The main difference is the observed teaching practice. In Chiang Mai, you’ll teach in local schools, with local students in primary and secondary schools. In Phuket, you’ll teach in a language center setting, where students fourteen and older come to learn English voluntarily.

thai students abroad
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus

 

Outside of class, Phuket and Chiang Mai offer rather different experiences. Both are major destinations in Thailand, but for different reasons. Phuket has its beaches, Chiang Mai has its mountains. Phuket has its unique Old Town, and Chiang Mai has its ancient walled off section of the city. Finally, Phuket is always warm or downright hot, while Chiang Mai has its cool season from November to February. Between the two of them, both locations offer something for everyone. 

What is the greatest student success you have had for TEFL in Thailand?

Honestly, there are more than I can count. Each student succeeded for different reasons.

There’s Steven, an Australian who met with me back in 2012. He wanted to get his degree before teaching. He went back to university as a mature student, graduated uni, took our course in 2016, got a entry-level job in Bangkok, and now works in the corporate development department of Wall Street English.

Then there’s Bish, a Nepali gentleman who was a gifted teacher. He was going to have trouble finding a job due to Thais’ prejudice against south Asians. After helping Bish find a job at a local primary school, he now works as a coordinator there who’s won the hearts of his students and colleagues alike. 

But honestly, as I think through the names of our grads, I can easily think of a dozen or more success stories. They include people who went on to get more credentials to eventually work in high-paying international schools. There were also those who found jobs in highly competitive countries like Maldives, Switzerland, and Hong Kong. So many of our grads who wanted to quit our course because they didn’t believe in their own abilities ended up sticking to it and achieving their goals of teaching overseas

Why do you think someone should leave their home country and teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Thailand?

I actually don’t think everyone who wants to do it should do it. The only people who should do it are those who are open-minded, ready for a challenge, have a healthy sense of responsibility, and a genuine desire to teach. It’s one of the most important professions on Earth and students deserve dedicated, capable teachers. 

Outside of career goals, I think everyone should live abroad for a year or more. It’s the best way to challenge one’s assumptions about “reality,” build a better understanding of humanity, and benefit from experiences those who don’t travel could never imagine. 

As of late, the Thai government has been searching for more than thousands of teachers for TEFL. Eric wrote a piece on how to get the most reliable teachers earlier this year. The article discusses three ways schools can alleviate the teacher shortage before having to wait for the foreign government to lend assistance. He is on his annual leave in the USA and hopes to get back to Thailand as soon as it is coronavirus-cleared. For further information about TEFL in Thailand, please contact Eric directly. He can assist with questions and offer suggestions.

Teaching English in Thailand TEFL Campus
Image courtesy of the TEFL Campus