Teaching Abroad Comes with Highs and Lows

I was propositioned to write an article about my experience teaching English in Barcelona after having completed the TEFL International
Barcelona certificate program. I’m sure you are expecting a treatise on not only how “easy” it was to find work but also how “amazing” it is to live here. I apologize in advance that that isn’t really my style; I like to keep it real. However, by providing you with an honest account of my experience here, perhaps I can even more genuinely convince you to come to Barcelona and take the TEFL course.20151111_152907

It was “easy” to find work. I completed the TEFL course in August, and I think a week later I got a job working for a company through whom I gave private English lessons to students in their homes. During my interview, my boss liked the fact that I had experience teaching yoga to kids and also that I had experience teaching a private lesson in the TEFL course. At the same time, I also found another private student on my own, simply through the internet, who wanted to meet with me several times a week to prepare for his upcoming move to Belgium. Simultaneously, I had begun intensive Spanish classes at an academy.

Anyhow, it proved to be quite a stressful and busy time period, and I didn’t really like my job. I had to spend a lot of time taking the metro all over the city to each student’s house, and it was difficult to juggle it with the hours spent in my Spanish academy. Furthermore, I came to find that the majority of the work I was doing was preparing for my classes, but the only hours for which I was paid were when I was in session with the students. Finally, I realized that typically I prefer working with adults, whereas my job entailed mostly working with kids. I think that I was just so eager to accept any job that I could get that I had been willing to take this one without thinking of the negative consequences. I ended up quitting it without even having a fallback plan. Around this time, my other student also moved to Belgium. I was thus jobless and, quite frankly, directionless.

I was additionally going through some problems in my personal life, including an extremely painful breakup. It hadn’t been helpful to be going through this heartbreak with such a busy work/school schedule previously, but it sure didn’t make it any better to suddenly have all of this extra time on my hands to think about it.

What was also unhelpful was, ultimately, being in a new country- and thus being thousands of miles/kilometers away from my usual support system (or anyone who has known me for longer than a couple of months). Now, not only was I directionless and heartbroken, but I also felt a profound sense of loneliness.

Life abroad isn’t supposed to be rough. I’m supposed to go home this Christmas and brag to all of my jealous friends about how amazing life is here.received_10156317337810599

But last February, I had been dreaming of belly dancing at the beach in
Barceloneta, like Shakira did in her “Loca” music video.

I had been dreaming of sharing my spoken word poetry in hip joints with people who don’t mind that my writing is in English.

I had been dreaming of living in a place in which café con leches are small and you can’t order a venti frappuccino through the drive-thru.

Yet, after I had officially made my decision to move here, I was riddled with literal anxiety about it. I had obtained a visa for one year but was thinking that maybe I’d just stay for six months. As the date of my flight approached nearer, my new mindset became that I’d stay for one month to feel it out, and that if I hated it at that point I could go home.

When my mother dropped me off at the airport in Santa Ana, California, I cried because I was so scared. My thoughts during my flight over were a mixture of, “What the hell am I doing? I am crazy,” and “This is awesome. What a great decision.”

My first day, my first week, was a trepid mix of excitement and utter fear of feeling alone.

By the first month, there was no way in Hell that I was going home.

When people asked me how long I was planning on staying here, my response became, “Tengo un visado por un año, pero quiero quedarme siempre (I have a visa for one year, but I want to stay forever).” I was constantly meeting new people, having fun, learning Spanish, and enjoying living in a new culture. I even decided that I’d like to go to university here next year.

However, last month, I felt like giving up.

I was talking over Skype just now with a friend who is Spanish but is currently living in Japan. He also used to live in a different foreign country- the United States. He was happy to hear about my struggles here because he said that that means I’m having a normal experience- that he would be alarmed were I to say that everything is great. Yet, he reminded me that the profound growth and amazing experiences that one has while living in a different country absolutely outweigh the difficulties. Even when he was on year two of living in the U.S.- after he had developed friendships there and felt more integrated into the society- he still would feel alone sometimes. However, he said that that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.

I agreed.

There is perhaps no experience that forces you to grow or expand your worldview more than pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and living abroad. There is only so much that reading a book or watching a movie about Spain can bring to your life. Living every single day of your life speaking in a foreign language, living and making friends with people from a different country, and, hell, drinking beer on the street because
that’s not something you can do back home- these things dramatically change you for the better. They open your mind and they make you a God damn strong person if you ever thought that you weren’t one before.

IMG_20151118_001826And I have to say that there are plenty of opportunities here for work as an English teacher. I already have seven private students since quitting my job. There are lots of academies here, lots of people interested in private lessons, and lots of people interested in having English-speaking nannies. It is rewarding to meet amazing students- I am even friends with some of mine- and to ultimately have an exchange of your culture with theirs. If you speak English fluently- especially at a native level- and if you complete the comprehensive TEFL International Barcelona course, you will be hirable.

Vale la pena.

By Alise Brillault

January 2016, update from Alise:  I’m doing well. I just got a new job with this company called English Cafe, where I give conversation English classes in cafes. I started in December, and I’m going to be teaching with them 10 hours per week. I also have private English students now for about 8 hours a week, and I’m even going to start teaching a private yoga class soon!

 

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