Switching Gears from Teacher to Student While Abroad

Switching Gears from Teacher to Student While Abroad

I’m a couple of months into my third year living abroad in Madrid, Spain, but a lot has changed in my life. When I moved to Madrid in the summer of 2016, I had no idea how much I would love it or how long I would stay. I had planned to teach English here for a year and take it from there. Now, over two years later, I find myself switching gears. I’m still back in the classroom, but now I’m the student instead of the teacher.

student abroad madrid spain
Early days in Madrid, August 2016


My decision to study the Spanish language in an intensive program for one year stemmed from my professional goals, a desire to make a fuller life in Spain possible, and my love for the language. By the end of my next summer living abroad, I hope to be C1 level certified. I’m getting a lot out of my program so far and enjoying my new life here in Madrid. Now that I’ve been back for a while, I’ve reflected on the biggest shifts in my life since I started studying again and stopped teaching.

Where Does the Time Go?

The first is, obviously, how I’m spending my time. I’ve been out of school for a couple of years, so getting back into the rhythm of studying took a bit of effort. I have classes every day of the week, homework many nights, and tests every Monday, so I have to stay focused to do well.

The park by my apartment, which I’ve been visiting more often this year

The next big shift is where I spend my time. I spent the last two years teaching English in a primary school in the mountains north of Madrid. For me, that meant that I could engage the city where I lived when I wasn’t working. That also meant that throughout the week I got to spend some time close to nature as well. Now, I attend a language academic in the heart of Madrid. Much more of my time is spent in the city. One of the most surprising aspects of this transition is how much I have missed time away from the hustle and bustle of Spain’s most populous city. So now, I make an effort to get out of town and back to nature when I have the time.

The third big change I’ve experienced is spending so much less time with children. I have taken a small nannying job where I speak English for a few hours a week. Although I really enjoy that time, it’s very different from spending every day with young students. I miss my kids and the energy they brought into my life.

Breaking Away From Speaking English

A rather obvious transition is that I’m less engaged with English and more engaged with Spanish. I am learning how to express my views better in Spanish and how to communicate thoughts on more complicated themes. This makes a life in Spain, or even just a life full of Spanish, a much more realizable dream.

And, finally, I’ve had to transition away from teaching and towards studying emotionally as well. Teaching here gave me a sense of purpose that was more palpable. I felt I made a difference in the lives of my students each and every day. I know that studying Spanish in this way will have a huge impact on my life in the long run. Unfortunately, seeing and feeling those changes every day is harder. It has also been a challenge to take a big step back from working so that I can focus on reaching my language goals. I know that I want to have a fulfilling career, and improving my Spanish is a key part of getting to that future. But I’m also looking forward to getting back into the workforce in a fuller way as well.

The Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena

After Spending Two Years Living Abroad in Madrid

Choosing to study Spanish this year was easy. After spending two years in Madrid, I wanted to develop a much better level of Spanish. I also wanted to develop the ability to engage in more nuanced conversations. Doing so will help me reach my goals in a big picture sense, and I’ve already improved so much in the short time I’ve been studying. Although going from teaching to studying has shifted my life in many ways, I’m grateful for the opportunity to pursue new goals and dreams this year and see where they will take me next.

by Emma Schultz

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