Know Before You Go

It was almost exactly six months ago to the day that I arrived in Barcelona. My nerves and excitement were feeling a little dulled by the jet lag that first day, so I can only imagine how I would have felt if I had been fully awake and “with it.” The drive from the airport, meeting my host and my roommate here in Barcelona, walking around that first day – it’s all kind of rolled into one unnatural cloud of indecipherable emotions.

My first day of TEFL though? That memory is still perfectly clear.

You never know exactly what you’re going to get when you sign up for something like this. For me, the my biggest fear before coming had to do with making friends. I had no idea what kind of people would be in my class, if any. Would they be lost souls, like me? Experienced teachers? People that don’t shower?

Thankfully, I arrived the first day to find a room of 25 other soon-to-be teachers, most of whom were freshly showered with little to no teaching experience. I immediately felt at ease, and settled into my seat for the first jam-packed day of learning/training.

½ of my relatively normal and completely wonderful TEFL family!
½ of my relatively normal and completely wonderful TEFL family!

While the social side of your TEFL experience is incredibly difficult to predict, there are a couple things you can (and should!) know before you get on the plane to begin your journey. I experienced a few surprises, and while they were by no means deal breakers, for my own sanity, I wish that I had taken the time to ask someone before I arrived.

So here are the 4 questions I wish I had asked before I came to Barcelona. While I’ve given some general answers, I strongly recommend reaching out to a program alumnus (your TEFL course coordinator can help there!) as they can give you country and program specific answers to these questions.

1)   What kind of classes will I be teaching?

If you’re like me, you hear “teacher,” and you think of your kindergarten classroom with posters, books, games, and mini-sized everything. In a lot of countries, you won’t be this kind of teacher. For example, in Barcelona, our bread and butter are private classes and after-school language academies. Knowing what you’ll most likely be doing will help you mentally prepare, and it will also help you pack!! I legitimately have an entire suitcase full of business casual clothes gathering dust in my closet. Not an exaggeration.

If you’re on the fence about private classes, you should know that sometimes they invite you over for delicious local cuisine...
If you’re on the fence about private classes, you should know that sometimes they invite you over for delicious local cuisine…

2)   What’s the visa situation like?

For legal reasons, this is arguably the most important thing to ask. Many programs in Asia will take care of this for you, but in Europe, it’s not as cut-and-dry. It’s almost impossible for an American to get a work visa here, and most businesses will choose someone from the UK instead of going through the paperwork/hassle of hiring someone from the States. Don’t think that you can come to Europe and find some sort of loophole to get a work visa – I’ve talked to A LOT of people about this, and the only solution is marriage (jk…but seriously…), or getting a student visa. As you are a student during your first month here, your TEFL academy can sponsor your for a student visa, which allows you to legally work up to 20hrs a week for 6 months. That being said, most of those people that I’ve talked to have been here sans visa for years, and have not had a problem. It really just depends on whether or not you have enough time to get the visa and how comfortable you are overstaying. So step one – ask your TEFL academy about getting a student visa, and step two – ask an alumni of your program what works best in that specific country. Just make sure that you know before you go so you know what you’re getting yourself into, ya know?

3)   How will I find a job and a place to live?

Again, this is program dependent, but no matter where you are, there will be a TEFL International staff member with insider tips to finding both jobs and housing. In most situations, you’ll have to do the legwork (contacting people for apartments, applying to jobs), but there will always be someone there to guide you through the process.

4)   Will I find a job?

With dedication, absolutely. If you can’t find a “real job,” meaning one with a classroom and materials etc., you can always offer to give private classes. Private lessons are a great way to supplement a classroom job, or can even serve as a full time job on their own. While you will probably find something, keep in mind you almost definitely will not be making enough to truly support yourself your first month after graduation. Be smart about your money – save before you come, if possible, and learn to accept the fact that the FOMO will pass – there will be another exciting night out, another chance to swing by Rome, and the tapas aren’t going anywhere, so make sure you’re budgeting and not putting yourself in a dangerous financial situation that could result in having to go home (worse than FOMO, I promise).

Find a job → save money → spend Christmas in London with the Queen
Find a job → save money → spend Christmas in London with the Queen

If you have any other questions, or are interested in some more Barcelona specific info, don’t hesitate to leave a comment! I’ll be the first to say that being spontaneous is wonderful and exciting, but at the same time, moving to a new country is a huge life choice, so do some research, and don’t be afraid to ask an alumnus! We don’t (usually) bite!

By Sarah Melville, USA (October 2014 course)

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4 thoughts on “Know Before You Go”

  1. Hello! My name is Maxine and I’m intending to take the TEFL in Barcelona, Spain this fall. I’m 19, going on 20 with an affinity for languages. However, my highest form of education is a high school diploma. I’m certain my age and education will be a factor in a job search, but what I’m concerned about is whether it will completely disqualify me for many positions? I have quite a bit of money saved up to stay for the long term. Another thing I would like to ask you about is the housing. I’d prefer to budget so as to avoid the whole ‘drowing in poverty in a foreign country’ debacle, so if you could let me know what to expect financially I’d be extremely grateful. Thank you in advance!
    ~Maxine.

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    1. Hi Maxine! As Erwin mentioned, there are many people that get their TEFL certification without a Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent), and the ones that I know were able to find work without a problem. You may have more trouble at a language academy, I don’t know for sure, but anyone looking for private classes doesn’t care so much about your level of education, they just want to know that you are a certified teacher and a native speaker. Stay tuned for a post about private classes – most people I know here (including myself!) are teaching private lessons almost exclusively! If you work hard and market yourself well, you can definitely make a comfortable living here.

      I will say that it takes a while to ramp up, especially if you are focusing on private lessons. To be on the safe side, I would budget around $1000 USD per month of savings for at least the first 4 months, though if you are careful, you can definitely do this for less. While the average apartment is about 350/month (euros), you can definitely find cheaper places. If you are smart with your money, you can survive on 50 euros per week for other expenses. Barcelona is a relatively cheap place to live, especially if you don’t live in the super touristy areas and are able to say no to tapas every once in a while 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello! My name is Maxine and I’m intending to take the TEFL in Barcelona, Spain this fall. I’m 19, going on 20 with an affinity for languages. However, my highest form of education is a high school diploma. I’m certain my age and education will be a factor in a job search, but what I’m concerned about is whether it will completely disqualify me for many positions? I have quite a bit of money saved up to stay for the long term. Another thing I would like to ask you about is the housing. I’d prefer to budget so as to avoid the whole ‘drowing in poverty in a foreign country’ debacle, so if you could let me know what to expect financially I’d be extremely grateful. Thank you in advance!
    ~Maxine.

    Like

  3. Hello Maxine! Thank you for your comment. Not to worry, we have had a few people do the course when they were 19, including the director’s daughter. And as far as I know they have not had any problem finding work, especially teaching private classes. Although it is true that you may not qualify for some jobs, I’m sure you would have no problem getting a part-time job at a language school plus some private classes. Pay at language schools is usually somewhere between 15 and 20 euros / hour, and for private classes if you market yourself well you could charge between 20 and 25 euros/ hour. Ideally you could teach about 20 to 25 hours / week
    I hope that answers your question a little and has helped to reassure you.

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