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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A Teacher’s Tale of Adventure

This past year (how time flies) has been an absolute whirlwind of learning, self-discovery and adventure. After leaving leah2university and entering into the working world of office jobs, paper work and Excel Spreadsheets, my general concept of the excitement of life was somewhat dampened. Still, I stuck it out, learnt a great deal (not least that it was definitely not the time in my life for a bog-standard, 9 to 5, repetitive office job), and then began to daydream of a way out of what seemed like endless monotony…

Enter TEFL International Barcelona. A friend of mine had studied there and had highly recommended the course and so, without giving myself much time to think, I booked my flights for May and off I went. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Fast-forward 10 months and here I am, living, working and loving life in Barcelona (and finding time to study Spanish in between). I have been working for a language academy in Viladecans, just outside Barcelona, since September, and the experience has been exhilarating. I have been teaching students of all ages – think hyperactive 7 year olds with impressively sponge-like brains, lively (and ever so occasionally moody) teenagers, and adults wise with age and experience – as well as all levels. No two days in the classroom are the same. I am constantly learning new things, tweaking my techniques and improving as a teacher. It is an intensely gratifying feeling to be able to see the progress your students are making week by week.

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I can honestly say that becoming a TEFL teacher was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Everyday presents itself with a new set of challenges and, although it’s not always an easy ride, I’m constantly looking forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring. …Did somebody mention Excel Spreadsheets?

by Leah Goldkorn

The 8 Stages of TEFL Withdrawal

So your month of intensive TEFL training is drawing to a close. At this point, you’ve basically re-learned the English language, taught more than a few classes, made some new friends, and started to explore a new city. With graduation day approaching, you’re most likely also thinking about what will happen after that last day of class – the day when freedom is upon you and it’s time to go make it on your own.

With a TEFL certification and 3 months of teaching in Barcelona under my belt, I feel confident in telling you that the first month after your course is no piece of cake, but it is one of the most influential and amazing times of your life. In the spirit of my U.S. pop-culture lifeline, Buzzfeed, here’s a list of the 8 Stages of TEFL Withdrawal that every new graduate will experience.

My TEFL class on graduation day!
My TEFL class on graduation day!

1) Freedom – Nothing beats the euphoria of waking up in the morning knowing you can do what you want when you want to. I would compare it to that first day of summer vacation, when you feel like you have the world in front of you and responsibility seems like a distant memory. You can (and should!) take this time to explore, eat, rest, and re-watch all of Game of Thrones before the new season starts.

Random street markets found while roaming the city
Random street markets found while roaming the city

2) Confusion – Ummm…so what now? You’ve been to all the museums, and you aren’t earning any rent money by sitting on the beach. So how is this going to work? Do you just stand outside the metro and hand out flyers, or apply online to every name in the book? (Hint: the answer is anything you’re comfortable with!) Also, this teaching life takes a minute to get used to. Hours are different every day, types of classes vary from city to city, and you will get lost trying to use public transportation.

3) Frustration* – Getting turned down from jobs stinks. So does searching for an apartment, riding the bus for the first time,

*Frustration doesn’t last long when you have places like this to escape to
*Frustration doesn’t last long when you have places like this to escape to

and in general just trying to do anything “adult,” even if you’ve been rocking it back home for the past few years.  A new country means a language barrier, new protocol, and most strikingly, a cultural barrier.   Some of this goes away during the TEFL course, but the added responsibility that comes with newfound freedom and the “great unknown” brings a whole lot of this feeling back.

4) Unstoppable – “GOT A JOB, GOT AN APARTMENT, I AM AWESOME. I LOVE THIS CITY, AND THIS CITY LOVES ME. ALSO I CAN IDENTIFY THE PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS SO BASICALLY TIME TO LEARN TO PLAY BLACKJACK BECAUSE THE UNIVERSE IS ON MY SIDE.”

5) Fear – Okay, job acquired. But according to calculations, you’ll be making €10 more than rent this month, which is going to be a bit more than a stretch. “What if” questions start rolling around in your mind about the life path you’ve chosen – “What if my students don’t like me?” “What if I’d stayed at home and been an insurance adjustor instead?” “What if I had ran away and joined the circus?” “What if I have to live on the street?”

6) Homesickness – You will miss Chipotle (or whatever your chosen food-related vice is from your hometown). You will look on with envy at the children arguing with their parents in the street because you’ve had to reschedule that Skype date with your family three times. You’ll miss the convenience and comfort of little things like dryers and having 3G service on your phone everywhere you go.

Finding a Chipotle in London over Christmas break was the best gift!
Finding a Chipotle in London over Christmas break was the best gift!

7) Happiness – You made a positive move in your life path and it has lead you to a great new place filled with new opportunities, and you’re making new friends, learning more about yourself, and enjoying all the cultural places you learned about in high school history class.   You can make your own schedule, decisions, and friend group, and you’re becoming comfortable and blissful with your new situation.

8) Pride – You’ll have ups, you’ll have downs, but you know what? You’re doing it. You took a giant leap that many people never take, overcame the confusion, fear, and frustration, and for better or worse, you are making it work. You are awesome.

Obligatory “Rocky” style photo at the Barcelona Olympic Stadium
Obligatory “Rocky” style photo at the Barcelona Olympic Stadium

by Sarah Melville

Monday Week 4

I sip at my British tea with Cataluñian milk and try not to think about how tired I am.

This afternoon was my Materials Project, the final class out of six. It went well they say, but I cannot help to feel it could be better, aware of the errors and keen to continue the climb.

I lift up my head, shoulders back and think of the revision to do. The day after tomorrow is the final countdown exam AHHHHHH EXAMMMMMMM!!!!! I see Lisa in front of me, her blue scarf slightly slipping down her left side; she smiles and continues writing on the board until we understand. She reassures me that everything will be alright. We will not fail, they will not allow us to fail, they believe in us,that is obvious to see.

mondayweek4imageVerbs and tenses and conjunctions and gerunds and all those other folk walk in and around my mind, I shake them around until they are in a fashion I recognise while Erwins` soothing voice calms me right down.

I can hear my house lady, the one organised through Lime; I sit in my room that is my space to hide but knowing that if I open the door she will be right by side. I have heard of other experiences not through Lime, unnecessary stress at this valuable time; I am pleased that my sailing has been calm the whole time.

My thoughts turn to the passive and see Jamie right there, his neatly trimmed beard and checked shirted regularity reminding me of structures and clarity.

I procrastinate a moment and check into the virtual world, now interview offers mix with tense times.

I take to the balcony looking out at the view, a city so grand a city for me so new. I breathe in and out again a few times, a new ritual before giving classes that’s helped me get through.

Look at where I am now, where I wasn`t before, filled to the seams with new knowledge and also new friends.

From this city I have so much to learn but now, also so much to teach. I breathe in and breathe out, a new favourite of mine and know that everything will be fine…

By Anna Elizabeth Davis – Barcelona, Spain – 02022015

The Second Week

Our second week!!! Yahoo! Things are moving so fast! We have our teaching practice already! How exciting! To be perfectly honest with you, I must say I really enjoy the studying process! More than that: I feel super blessed! Here are my 3 top reasons for it:

David and Jen: Happy moments in class!
David and Jen: Happy moments in class!

1.The course is fun. I have been teaching for 10 years and I feel like I learned how to be a teacher again, with a different perspective: more enjoyable, more efficient and more creative.

2. The team of TEFL trainers are absolutely awesome: a great bunch of awesome people that make an incredible team!

3. My group mates are the best people in the world. I don’t know if you guys will have the same experience as I did, but my group mates are some of the best people I have ever met in my life!

Jas and Laura enjoying the moment too!
Jas and Laura enjoying the moment too!

Our trainers:

Jamie the “2 Days”.

The legend says that his nickname “2 days” comes from him being happy just 2 days a week. Well last week he was sick at the weekend, which made him Mr 0. But in fact he smiles. He does. I saw him smiling at the table during break. He was smiling to a cup of coffee.

He is really good: structured, always organized and very creative. But he balances his perfectionism with honesty and a down-to-earth approach.  Jamie’s devilish 6 “Golden rules of the first lesson” that I managed to collect are super useful and handy. Here we go!

thegoldenrule

First lesson GOLDEN RULES from Jamie:

1)Honesty is the best policy”. If you don’t know the answer to the one of the trillions of questions your students might ask you, don’t lie! Or more than that don’t ignore them, pretending you are super deaf. If the situation is absolutely bad and you are going through a blonde moment you should say: “I’ll get back to you on this one later!” or “this is a great thing to do at home!” I like this one more, hehe!

2)”Don’t throw up or cry at your first class”. It can be really overwhelming to stand in front of a lot of people and you literally can compare your first class with a first kiss: you are nervous, not sure what is going to happen and when it happens you either throw up or fly to the moon. Well we can’t afford the first one, so guys you better love it!

3) “Don’t speak like a machine gun”. Learn a magical “teacher’s talk”: speak slowly, make sure you are understood, don’t mumble, stutter or spit!

4) Timing:  be specific: not too early, not too late.

5) Have “Back pocket ideas”: games to fill the gaps, extra activities to fill time.

6) Be yourself: if you are not funny, don’t try to be! 😉

Jamie also told us a very important thing that we usually underestimate—the importance of grammar!!!!! “If language is a tree then Grammar is the trunk.” My advice to you guys: listen to Jamie “2 days”: start learning grammar as soon as you start the course, between your “siestas” and “cerveza” breaks. ESPECIALLY if you are a native speaker!

Mike the Life Coach!

If you want to be successful in your career a teacher, businessman, president or even the King of the Universe, Mike has to be your best Amigo! Whatever you want you will not surprise him with your dreams. Trust me. In a competition with Tony Robins Mike would definitely win because he is:

  1. relatable
  2. not bossy
  3. very generous in giving his time and he is always there to help
  4. absolutely efficient and gives the information you need at the speed of light—It looks like the answer is ready before you even ask.
  5. Fun to be around
  6. realistic career advisor ….. sorry Tony, you lost!  Mike you are a priceless person!  Like a rain of positive emotions and hopes for a better future!  Although Mike and Jamie come from absolutely different backgrounds, they have one thing in common; they are both brutally honest creatures.

 Erwin the Buddha.

When you first see Erwin, you would think he teaches yoga classes and meditation. Well I believe he does, but it’s not his only specialty. In reality, he is a phonology Guru and a big sweetheart. He turned our world upside down not only by being a supportive and nice, taking care of everything and everyone, but also by showing us that learning phonology can be a lot of fun! Erwin also has a big secret! He has always dreamt of being a rock star! But he loves teaching and he puts his heart and soul into it. Another secret, that he has is…. His favourite sound is “schwa”. But it’s just between you and me, ok? Although most of us think that Erwin is a second Buddha, Ingrid, our group psychologist would describe him as “outwardly calm and inwardly complex”.

 A man in Denim

By Anna Elizabeth Davis
You know those moments when your head is full of adverbs and conditionals and stuff like that? All tangled up like spaghetti in your brain? Well clear that aside with a spoon and take yourself to a botanical garden or something like it. There you will find a tree. Under that tree will be a man in denim, he will be smiling a tranquil smile that instantly frees all the spaghetti in your brain. He will teach you vocal sounds that you never before knew existed. This man is named Erwin.

Bubbly Suzanne.

An expert on teaching children, a mother of two and a virtuoso in how to make learning fun. Games, games, games!… No wonder her husband is an Argentinean who boasts a fine moustache! I find her classes extremely helpful. Suzanne is a person with a steady flow of positive energy and heaps of ideas about making the whole lesson fun! Keep calm and let the games begin!

Happy Lisa.

“Exuberant and attentive to each students needs” – that’s how one of our students described her. I can’t even imagine her without a smile on her face. It’s always there to brighten up our day and make learning grammar fun. Another thing that is really surprising is her multitasking. Lisa can do 3 things at the same time: running the school, giving lessons, and smiling!  She is our grammar Guru! She has so many ideas of how to make learning fun and I love her favorite one: listening to the songs! Yeah! It’s totally contagious!:) One day we should go to the karaoke bar and sing Lisa’s favorite song!

 

We love Barcelona!
We love Barcelona!

The Group mates.  

As I mentioned before, the students who came to do the course are from so many places on earth, but one thing we all have in common: we support each other and love spending time together. We travel together, we study together… We really enjoy each other’s company!

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On top of the world: “Bunkers del Carmel”
Getting ready for the club at Terek's place
Getting ready for the club at Terek’s place

So to sum my thought up I would like to say that the course is really worthwhile because it teaches you to enjoy the process of teaching and learning. The great thing about it is that it looks like everyone is on the same page. Students are enthusiastic and entertaining and the teachers are just incredible!

by Daria Glesser (Russia)

The Mysterious World of Teaching English: Insights from the First Week of My TEFL Course

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It feels like a wedding day! A year of planning, saving money, dreaming, anticipating and… It flies by so fast that you fail to actually enjoy the happy moments! But fortunately unlike a wedding day our TEFL course enjoyment lasts almost a month. I still remember the first excitement of getting a confirmation of the ticket to Barcelona and… Ta da!!! It has now already been a week since we arrived in the “best beach” city to dive into the mysterious world of English teaching! We all had our dreams, imaginations and of course sweet anticipation about life in Spain, but not so many of us would have actually thought that studying would be the most enjoyable part of this absolutely unforgettable trip!:)

Our first day at school was supposed to be the most feverish. But as soon as we entered the room we realized it was going to be a great day. Everyone is just “a box of fluffies”. Excited, enthusiastic, ready to rock! There are no long speeches about discipline and theory. The introduction talks are short, sweet and IMG_9260to the point! We meet our friendly team of teachers: Lisa, Erwin and Jamie. God bless them! They are passionate about their work, friendly and open, with a good portion of charisma. We also got to know each other through games and different activities. It was quite surprising to see how multicultural our group was: South Africa, America, Catalonia, Zambia, Britain, Romania and even Russia.

The funniest thing was to see that Americans and Brits could sometimes have difficulty understanding each other. We all are so different, but so similar in our passion for languages and desire to travel and help people to learn how to speak English!

keep calm

The way we are taught is very inspiring and gives you a lot of confidence.

“English has become an international language and you can’t say that it belongs to a particular culture or has a particular accent. You guys can all do it!”

How great is that!? We don’t have to pretend to be related to the queen anymore!

Five key things that we learned from our first class:

  • To be honest and open
  • To enjoy what we are doing
  • To use our creativity
  • To be welcoming and hospitable
  • To laugh and have fun

In the second class we are given a great portion of experience straight away! Our first teaching practice! We are divided into two groups. Each of us has to teach anything we want to. What a move to boost creativity! I’m quite surprised with the ideas the students come up with and also with the variety of things we can actually teach: How to peal an orange, count from 1-10 in Urdu, smile, make your husband happy… Can you imagine how many things we actually learned from each other?!

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This exercise gave us a general understanding of the process of teaching and a rough formula of success, which is:

  • confidence
  • ability to build a rapport with students
  • sense of humour

The other ingredients are a matter of learning and practising. We are amazed by the efficiency of the practical method of learning: from practice to theory. It saves so much time! It feels like we have already learned much more than we had during 5 years of University. 🙂

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At the end of our first day Lisa invited us all to tapas at a local restaurant. We really enjoyed the delicious
Spanish tapas and Sangria. It was a great day! Great team of generous people!
During the following couple of days it was all about grammar, sweet grammar. We learned:

  • parts of speech
  • tenses and their aspects
  • sentence structure
  • phonetics and its transcription
  • how not to go bananas trying to remember all of the rules
  • keep calm and carry on

The highlight of our first week of classes was a foreign language learning class. We were taught Valencian without using English. No one had ever heard how Valencian sounds. But the teacher spoke to us only in Valencian. We felt the pain of learning a foreign language, and the pain of being a TEFL teacher. We realised that we were in trouble…

Another portion of knowledge we got from this experience:

  • Use gestures and mimics (especially if you teach the first level students)
  • Show feelings
  • Make soundsIMG_8606
  • Draw
  • Smile
  • Enjoy
  • Don’t go bananas

Another surprise! We started to have practical classes: giving REAL students REAL lessons! How exciting is that?! It was an awesome experience!!!

But yes… We got tired! After a week of hard work we decided to go to Valencia and enjoy Paella with squid ink and snails. It was a bit silly because you can get it in Barcelona as well. But most of our group mates stayed in Barcelona to explore the mysteries of this great city… It was a great weekend! I think Salvador Dali would describe it in one sentence: “There are some days when I think I’m going to die from an overdose of satisfaction.”

by Daria Glesser  (Russia)