Closing the Door on Madrid: Moving Away

Amanda Whitten Moving AbroadBy Amanda Whitten

Catch up on Amanda’s interview series by reading Part One and Two!

Dear reader, my goal is to be nothing if not sincere. I want to answer as honestly as possible and show you the good, the bad, and the ugly — even if the ugly resides within myself. I’m just a person with a dream. I have so many, many fears, some real and others imagined, but my dream keeps me going. It is ever-changing and evolving. I won’t say that if I can do it, then anyone can. 

I have my privileges as well as my traumas, my character flaws, and disadvantages. I hope that my words inspire hope and courage to go out there and do the Thing. Ironically enough, it was a movie villain that once said it best: sometimes you can’t wait for opportunity to come knocking. You have to drag it kicking and screaming through the door. Don’t wait for life to come to you. Go and get it. This is the third and final interview that concludes a big chapter in my life — I’m moving away from Madrid.

Can you remind us what your reasoning was in moving away to Spain to work and teach abroad? Was it to learn Spanish? 

I decided to live in Spain because it’s a Spanish-speaking country. That means I chose Spain more out of convenience than as a method to become fluent in the language. Before moving away to live abroad, I earned a degree in the Spanish language and gained fluency a couple of years prior. That being said, my language skills have improved immensely since being here. 

A photo of a Hibiscus flower, which Amanda photographed after moving away from Madrid.

In your last interview, we talked about your goal to reach out more to Spanish locals. How are you doing with that?

Oh, my goodness. It’s worse than ever, haha! Now that I primarily teach online, I rarely get out of the house except to go to the beach (which I’ll talk more about in a minute). I do need to make an effort, but I find it easier to connect with ex-pats in general. Locals have already-established social circles while foreigners are always on the lookout for a good friend. I’m not complaining, though. I don’t know if I would want to make friends with people who were almost always moving away in the near future. It would be exhausting, I imagine. 

One of your goals in moving away to Madrid was to travel and experience a new culture while teaching. How did you do?

I think that I’ve done pretty well. I’ve traveled more than I ever thought possible. I’ve been able to dip my toes into several cultures. COVID made traveling this year nearly impossible, of course. I was finally going to visit Northern Spain after putting it off since I arrived. It’s sometimes easier and cheaper to travel to a whole other country such as Malta than to go to Northern Spain. Unfortunately, those plans got squashed. However, I recognize that I’m incredibly lucky, regardless. 

a photo of a stack of masks

Where did you travel in your free time from Madrid?

I’ve had the privilege of traveling to several countries. During my first year here, I went to Morocco, Portugal, and Italy. Over the next few years, I went to Belgium, Germany, Malta, and Iceland. I might be forgetting one or two, which is an incredibly weird feeling. 

What have your experiences been with travel during your time teaching abroad? Do you have any advice for other auxiliares interested in traveling while teaching abroad?

In the ministerio de Madrid auxiliar program, you have the choice of taking either Monday or Friday off. I would recommend having Monday off due to cheaper return dates for flying. Also, if you must choose Airbnb for your lodging, please consider renting a room instead of an entire flat. We must be conscientious travelers and not push locals out of their homes

In your previous interview, you mentioned that you were speaking and teaching English most of the time. What can you tell us about learning Spanish through immersion?

I can tell you that true immersion for English speakers is more or less no longer possible. English is too global and too common to become fully immersed in Spain. An exception to that rule is if a person moved to a tiny pueblo where no one spoke English — somewhere outside of any major city center. If you want to improve your Spanish actively, you have to put yourself out there. Go to free language exchanges, take a Spanish class, volunteer somewhere, and date locals that don’t speak English if you’re single. Sidenote, I don’t advocate using people. I mean that one must make it a priority to mingle and make connections with people who speak the target language. It can be mutually beneficial.

a photo of a supermercat in Spain

What was your most memorable moment in class? Do you miss your students?

In one of my academy classes, we had an activity as a part of our daily routine, where each student would write a different thing on the board. One would write the date, the season, the day of the week, the time, etc. The one that they all clambered over was getting to draw the animal. Eventually, we stopped limiting the drawing to animals, and with the permission of the student being drawn, the artist would draw one of their classmates. Eventually, they decided that they wanted to draw — you guessed it — me, the teacher! Their interpretation of what I looked like as a five-minute drawing was pretty awesome and hilariously sweet.

Let’s talk about your school experience: how have you been doing with learning more about the kids’ exams at school? What are your feelings like now that you’re going in a different direction with teaching?

It’s been interesting learning about their college entrance exams. Those tests are a really big deal for the students, and when they tried to explain all the aspects about them to me, I pretty much had a brain aneurysm. When I had my big, important pre-university test in high school, I took the ACT. It covered English, reading, science, and math. Over the years, I’ve found that it’s much more complicated here. 

These days, I’m focusing more on online classes with ESL companies such as VIPkid, Cambly, VIPX, Bling ABC, etc. I liked my job in Leganés, but it’s a relief not having to commute or plan lessons, among other things. I’m also sad, though. My time as an auxiliar was great, and I got to have all of the teaching benefits without most of the downsides. I made lasting connections whereas the barrier with online teaching makes me feel a little bit alone and isolated. It’s a tradeoff to be sure.

Follow up: remind us again what the Cambridge exams are and what ages take this exam?

The Cambridge exams help students enter the universities of their choice and pursue their dreams. The Cambridge exams start with young learners taking the PET and KET. When they are more proficient in English, they can take the Cambridge First and the Cambridge Advanced. Usually, it’s bachillerato students who take the Cambridge Advanced. 

a photo of a child taking a test

What do you miss most about Leganés and Madrid since moving away?

Madrid itself has a lot of personality. I liked it even more than I liked Barcelona. I found that surprising to me since Barcelona is by the ocean, and everyone rightly sings its praises. Each barrio, or neighborhood, in Madrid is unique both in atmosphere and in culture. In contrast, Leganés felt like the perfect place to raise a family. It had and has a certain tranquility to it that I had never quite experienced before. There are school buildings and parks everywhere, and the air of learning and education feels tangible there. 

What will you miss most about Madrid?

Even though Madrid was my home away from home, or perhaps because of it, I started putting down roots, even if I subconsciously did it. I made friends and became comfortable with my neighborhood. My boyfriend’s mom lives there, and I felt as if I was coming home when returning from traveling. I had a favorite coffee shop and places to go when I was feeling down and out. So, I guess that I’ll miss all of that and more. 

A photo of Amanda looking at the sunset

What have you been doing this summer?

This summer, I was supposed to go home to see my family. Unfortunately, COVID complicated everything. I was worried about catching it and bringing it home to my family. Quarantining on both sides of the trip was going to complicate my work schedule and cost me money. I was in the process of making the move to the Canary Islands, and it was all too overwhelming. So, I canceled the flight, worked online, continued to save up, and moved on September 1st. 

What are you up to now?

I’m glad that you finally asked. My boyfriend and I decided to move to Tenerife. Since then, I’ve been teaching on the previously mentioned ESL platforms and adjusting to living on an island. I decided to become autonomo, which basically means that I am officially self-employed and can be my own boss. There has been a lot of paperwork, bureaucracy, and hoops to jump through. Ultimately, this feels like the right decision — at least for this moment in time. Living by the ocean in a place where it’s practically perpetually warm is worth it, so moving away from Madrid was definitely the right call. 

A photo of the beach near where Amanda lives after moving away from Madrid.

Living here is a culmination of everything I’ve ever really wanted out of life. Life is good, and my only regret is not making it happen sooner. But the more that I reflect on my life, the more I can directly connect the dots in my mind’s eye. They make it clear to me that every decision, every choice I’ve ever made in my life — from choosing my single elective in sixth grade, to deciding to study Spanish in college, to moving away to Madrid — has led me directly to this place and time. And I do so love where I’m at, even if at times homesickness eats away at me.

What’s your next step?

I honestly don’t know. The future is an open canvas, and I have never been freer. In a way, I feel that Tenerife is the true adventure. I wasn’t in any way boxed into choosing it, and I’ve come here more or less alone. I didn’t have a regular job waiting for me upon my arrival or any other connections, for that matter. Despite all that, I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be except with my family. I see now that my time on the mainland was a very big stepping stone, and moving away from Madrid was the right decision. 

A photo of the beach near where Amanda lives after moving away from Madrid.

If you could do one thing differently than you did this year, what would it be?

This year looks so different from the last that it’s nearly unrecognizable. However, last year, I wish I had followed my own advice a little bit more. Take the pastries to the break room. Speak to at least one new coworker a day. Put yourself out there. See what happens. 

We are so excited to see what Amanda can accomplish after moving away from Madrid and to Tenerife! Keep an eye out for Amanda’s next post about her adventures abroad.

Quarantined and Teaching from Home

by Stephanie Best

Typically, those closest to me would describe me as adventurous, spontaneous, adaptable, and tenacious. However, the past few years (and particularly the past few months in quarantine) have deeply humbled me to realize my limits. I have somehow found myself going from fearlessly backpacking foreign countries solo to ordering groceries online because I am hesitant to even go to the grocery store. The sudden change has been deeply unsettling. 

Suddenly, I have gone from constantly being surrounded by students and friends, to teaching online and being quarantined alone. I have never been one to spend much time at home. I would much rather go to the gym or study from a coffee shop than work from home. However, I have had to figure out how to make things work from home. Even as things start to slowly open up, I am trying to only be in physical proximity with the few people that I have seen since the lockdown began. Still, I have found it important to keep connections. 

teaching from home

Finding Sanity Mid-Quarantine

Here are a few of the things that have helped me keep relatively sane during this unprecedented time: 

  1. Video chat: As often as possible, I have tried to be in contact with friends and family via Facetime or other video chat sources. Although maintaining physical distancing has been difficult, this makes it a little easier to feel a sense of connectedness. 
  2. Workout from home: I used to go to the gym most days, but now I have been working out from home. Although it’s much harder to find a routine that works, I have found that having an app or video to follow has been helpful in working out more efficiently than if I just worked out without guidance.
  3. Find a good book or show to watch: I have never been one for TV, but being in quarantine, it has been nice to find something to occupy my mind when things get too quiet. I’ve also enjoyed catching up on reading.
  4. Routine: I’m not best at this, but it’s definitely helpful. Waking up early and making a to-do list has certainly made my days more bearable. 

As soon as quarantine is over, I will be the first to be planning my next adventure. However, until then, I am trying to make the most out of a difficult situation. Perhaps when the dust settles, we will have a newfound appreciation for things that were once taken for granted. 

Teaching from Home

For many students, teachers, and parents, the move to online instruction has been a challenge. Although I have been using instructional technology in my practice from the beginning of my teaching career, the sudden change has been difficult for students and teachers alike. Even before the outbreak, I was already using Blackboard to supplement in-person instruction. However, I had to quickly adapt my courses to be entirely online. It looks as though instruction will continue this way through at least the summer semester and potentially into the fall. Here’s some advice for teachers, students, and parents alike during this time:

Teachers:

  1. Be Empathetic: Regardless of what age/subject you are teaching from home, all of our students are going through rough times. Perhaps your students have new roles and responsibilities or are otherwise struggling. They may not have access to proper technology or wi-fi. They may be experiencing financial struggles, or health issues. Accept late work, and ask your students how they’re doing — how they’re really doing. Be flexible in getting them through the semester.
  2. Collaborate: My experience has been that teachers are good at sharing and working together. Share with your colleagues. We’re all better when we work together. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. 
  3. Be Flexible: Pencil in plans, but don’t be too attached to anything. Things are changing constantly, and adaptability and flexibility are key.

Parents (K-12):

  1. Try to create space at home dedicated to virtual learning. Students focus better if they’re not near their TV, video games, toys, bed, etc. You don’t need to have a separate room. A learning station at the kitchen table can work.
  2. Communicate with your child about their work, but don’t be too involved. This may be a hard line to draw and is an exercise in balancing needs and support. The bottom line is that it does children no favors to do things or assignments for them that they’re able to do it themselves. While it can be helpful to talk through homework, do not do it for them. 
  3. Encourage your children to complete their assignments, but don’t stress them out unnecessarily. Mental and physical health must take priority at this point. We’re all living in unprecedented and highly stressful times. 

woman and girl using ipad

Students:

  1. Make a list each day of the things that must get done. Cross them off as you complete them. It will help you to stay organized and feel a sense of accomplishment. 
  2. Communicate openly with your teachers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your teachers are learning as they’re going along much as you, and most teachers take student feedback into consideration.
  3. Pay attention to all instructions. Don’t just skip to the end to try to get through quicker. Listen to the instruction on your modules or the Zoom/Blackboard Collaborate lecture. Most likely, the answers to your questions are there.

kids learning on computers

Quarantined and Teaching from Home

It will be interesting to see how this situation changes education. Perhaps this time will allow us to hone effective use of instructional technology and continue to effectively incorporate it when we are able to return to in-person instruction.