After dragging poor Ali Pelczar to Starbucks for one of our last drinks together (Yes, I know I’m an irresponsible expat and a bad influence), I finally got a chance to sit down and pick her brain again. I remembered one of our first outings when we went swimming during the peak of one of Madrid’s unbearable summer days and thought about all that happened between then and now. It’s unbelievable that we’re about to say goodbye when we’ve finally found some shared hobbies and connections. Catch up on Ali’s first interview about her journeys of teaching abroad in Spain and how we met.
Ultimately, that seems to be the bittersweet part of making friends as an expat in a place that acts as a crossroads for many people. The friendships made are undoubtedly more genuine. This is because you don’t have time to develop relationships slowly or for years at a time. Though they fly by faster, they mark us for life. They’re like twilight, there one minute and gone the next. Ali is about to depart from Madrid and forge a new path into the future. Keep reading to get a glance at her parting thoughts as she finishes up this chapter in her life.
What was the most important thing you learned while living abroad?
“It sounds cliché, but I really learned how true it is that life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. While living abroad, I’ve done a lot of things that made me uncomfortable or nervous. My time here would have been very boring (and short) if I had let that stop me. Of course, it’s scary to do new things, especially to do them alone. Nonetheless, I’ve learned not to let that be a reason for why I don’t do something, especially when traveling alone.”
How have you done with accomplishing your goals while living in Madrid?
“I didn’t have many specific goals before coming here, but I feel that I have accomplished quite a bit. My Spanish has improved drastically and I feel much more ready to move on with other goals in my life. I’ve also learned a lot about teaching and working in education. This is great, because I want to work in policy in the future. Another major goal was to travel a lot, and I have definitely done that.”
What has been the biggest challenge about living abroad and what advice would you give on how to deal with that challenge?
“The biggest challenge for me was doing it all solo. When I first landed at Madrid Barajas International Airport, I didn’t know a single other person in the entire country. That made everything else seem a bit more daunting. I didn’t have anyone else to help me or be equally as lost. My advice for dealing with traveling alone is to be as social as possible. Use social media to connect with other people or attend events like intercambios. Make sure to be proactive in reaching out to others to meet up to solidify relationships.”
Do you have any advice for other Language and Culture Assistants interested in traveling while teaching abroad?
“Don’t be afraid to go traveling alone! I was nervous to do this at first, but now I really enjoy it. Sometimes I enjoy it more than traveling with others. Hostels and free walking tours can be great opportunities to meet people, and I also enjoy just spending a day doing whatever I want to do. I’d also advise going off the beaten path. Some of my favorite trips were to less-popular destinations like Poland, which was gorgeous.”
How has teaching abroad helped with your overall professional goals?
“As I mentioned before, I want to work in policy. Having classroom experience will be monumentally helpful if I’m working in education policy. I’ve also lost almost all my fear of speaking in public, and I’m a lot better at improvising and reacting to the unexpected.”
What was your most memorable moment in class? How do you feel now that school is ending?
“My most memorable moment in class wasn’t particularly special – I was working with a group of 1st ESO students on some review exercises. They were all working at their own pace and I was circling around helping each individually. I was able to see some of them have that “lightbulb moment” when they understood what to do. I love seeing that, and I’ve most enjoyed when I’m able to work one-on-one with students. I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ll miss being in a classroom. Teaching isn’t my passion. But I know that I’ll miss my students, especially those that I’ve had the opportunity to have for two years and watch their progress.”
What will you miss most about Spain?
“I think that I’ll miss the social culture. Going to grab a caña on a terraza is a normal, daily thing here, and people are always walking around, visiting the parks, or are generally just outside. There are always concerts, exhibitions, or some other sort of event to visit. I feel like that isn’t as prevalent in the U.S., and it’s something I’ll miss quite a bit.”
What will you be doing next when you move back to the United States?
“I’m going back to school to get my master’s in data science for public policy. After gaining such a great experience, it’s time for me to be back on the other side of a classroom.”
What is the most important tip you can give someone wanting to teach abroad?
“To come with an open mind. I’ve heard expectations described as a rubber band – the more of them you have, the harder they’ll snap back at you. Your time abroad might be completely different than how you imagine it to be, not necessarily better or worse, just different. And being open to that possibility will help you accept however it shapes out to be. Also, enjoy your time abroad, whether that’s a few weeks or a few years (or more). It’s an incredible experience. I wouldn’t change my time here in Spain for anything.”
Traveling Alone while Teaching Abroad
I couldn’t agree more with Ali. Before I came to Spain, I had never really gone traveling alone. I went on a vacation to Tenerife while I was abroad and while I was there, I discovered a new part of myself that will never be hidden from me ever again. Some of us have to make sacrifices to do what amounts to a complete lifestyle change, but I’ve never regretted making any of those sacrifices. Even during dark and scary times, this has been the best decision of my life. I know that Ali agrees with me.
Ali and I aren’t ready to part ways quite yet — we still have to go find a pupusa place she told me about near Atocha. Not to mention we’re also going to Iceland before we both go home to the U.S. — me for the summer, her probably for life. Yep, even when you’ve just met someone, if you’re abroad, roughin’ it in the outback with a Jeep and a little camper sounds like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. I’m ready to check this one off my bucket list and I’m the luckiest gal in the world to be able to do it with one of the coolest people I know. Ali, we’ll miss ya.