Edgar Llivisupa was born in New York and is completing a dual degree in Business Journalism and Spanish Literature and Language. His goals while teaching abroad are to improve his Spanish, test his capabilities as a teacher, and to travel.
He has been living in Ontinyent, Spain for one school year. Ontinyent is located in southern Spain near Valencia. He is an auxiliar at a primary school and will be returning to the same school this September. He enjoys learning Valenciano and interacting with the locals.
Edgar is looking forward to returning for another year. He wants to continue to improve the progress made with his students and dive deeper into the Spanish culture and lifestyle.
Why did you choose to come to Spain and Europe?
“There were many motivations for me to leave abroad. Firstly, trips outside New York were rare — I’d left the tri-state area less than five times in my life before I’d left, so I had an itch to get out. Secondly, after failing a calculus course I switched my major to Spanish and started taking more intensive coursework. During a literature class, the professor mentioned the North American Cultural Ambassadors Program. As an American, there was already an innate curiosity to visit Europe. As a descendant of Hispanics, there was also a curiosity to learn more about Spanish culture and how much it influenced Latin America. Thirdly, I had a brother living in Madrid. This provided a lot of relief from the drawbacks and hurdles that I read about this program online through testimonials from other participants.”
Why did you choose to teach abroad?
I had considered studying abroad in the past, but the out-of-pocket cost made it seem out of reach. I was never the type to look for grants or scholarships to aid my studies. Alongside that, I would have to pick courses that would grant me credits at my college. Instead, this program gave me the opportunity to work abroad, which made me more comfortable rather than going abroad as a student. I didn’t necessarily choose to teach, as it was the main function of this program. Regardless, I approached my tasks and responsibilities with an open mind and strived to do my best.
Have you ever taught before? If not, what were you doing before you decided to move abroad?
“I’ve never taught before. Rather, I was working very close to home at a pharmacy in a retailing capacity. It had nothing to do with I was majoring in, but I wanted some work experience and a reference for the future just in case. In addition, earning my own money felt rewarding as it lessened my dependence on my parents. It proved to be even more useful once I decided to participate in the program and I soon started saving for my year abroad.”
What did you think teaching abroad would be like? Where are you teaching?
“I am an English teaching assistant at a primary school in Ontinyent, Spain, located in the Valencian Community.
I had a feeling that teaching abroad would be extremely difficult since I had no experience in teaching. Based on anecdotes from my public school teachers, I tried to avoid teaching as a career path.
I also had no idea what my student’s proficiency level would be like, but I found a lot of relief thanks to the power of the Internet. Fortunately, I was able to look up the school’s online blog to look into the makeup of the faculty, students, and what the school looked like. There were documents on the English classes regarding the textbook and other learning materials. In addition, I saw that they were involved in a cultural exchange with public schools in Africa. That provided relief that my arrival wasn’t going to be jarring since the school had only recently opened their hearts and minds to another culture.”
What expectations did you have before you came here?
“I had no expectations coming to Ontinyent. This isn’t to say that I wasn’t looking forward to it, but the ease of mind that comes from knowing I finally made it out of New York gave me enough comfort to know that I would have a good time regardless of where I wound up.”
What were your perceptions of Ontinyent during your first year?
“Again, thanks to the power of the Internet, I was able to find out before setting foot there that it wasn’t amongst the most isolated towns in the region (looking at Bocairent). I saw there was a decently-sized shopping mall with chains like Zara and GAME (an equivalent of GameStop), as well as a movie theater. All of the major Spanish banks had a physical location in the town, which was very convenient. Most important of all, there was a train station to Valencia.
By the end of the first year, I noticed that family is highly valued in Ontinyent. Families always make sure that even amongst their busy work and party schedules, that at least one day of the week the family, from grandparents to grandchildren, will share a meal together.”
What were some of the accomplishments of your first year?
“Moving and living abroad is a big accomplishment in itself with all the changes it brought to me. I had never lived alone, having lived with my parents and siblings all my life. Suddenly in my own flat, there was no one to clean up, cook, or pay the bills. Those responsibilities all fell on me. For some, deciding to live alone without a roommate for the first time like I did may find the solidarity to be enjoyable. Though for some, it won’t be.
In addition, living an entire year in Ontinyent would be an accomplishment for some. Many people told me the town isn’t a locale for people my age. There are few nightlife options or places to hang out. I did well without it the traditional youthful hangouts though. I made the most of my time traveling to the major cities before returning to the calm and relaxed Ontinyent. It was a great balance for me.”
What do you want to achieve for your second year?
“As much as I strive to plan my life (after all, I first heard of this program three years ago), I have no idea where it is going. This year, I am going to try and lay a foundation just in case I decide to permanently relocate to Ontinyent. This includes continuing to study the local language, Valenciano. Some regard Valenciano as a dialect of Catalan. This also serves as the easiest way to explain the language to foreigners. I’ll explain it up to that point!
I want to attend Spanish-language courses. This is a challenging task for someone in my position. I know enough to be considered a native speaker but I still lack confidence. I want to be more proficient and understand the basic facets of the language.
Also, while I can assume I did a decent enough job to warrant a warm and lovely “see you soon!” party at my school, I do feel that there is a lot I can improve on. Since I’m returning to the same center, I don’t have to spend the first few months meeting the faculty and students or familiarizing myself with the town. Like I told some of my coworkers, I come back ready to work!”
What advice would you give to other participants about your first year? What are some of the things they must do and some things they must absolutely not do?
“The most important thing to realize about this program is that it is going to take a while to adjust to living in Spain if you’re not in a major city. The local traditions and customs dictate the land. You’re not going to easily find foreign cuisine or people who want to or can speak English. By the time you acclimate to living abroad, which for me was around the New Year, I was already at the halfway point of my tenure. Keep that in mind if it takes you longer to adjust to a new surrounding.
Another piece of advice I have, and this is more personal, is that technology makes us all connected. While it is great to talk to loved ones back home, attempt to disconnect once in a while. Enjoy your newfound independence in a different setting.”
How do you feel about your integration into the culture so far? What are the steps you have taken to prepare yourself? How did you prepare before you arrived?
“I prepared myself before my arrival by exploring the town’s tourism website and looking at the traditional dishes, holidays, and festivals celebrated throughout the year. Being in a small town expedited my integration to the culture compared to a tenure in Madrid or Barcelona. There aren’t fast-food chains to satisfy my American taste buds. The stores in Ontinyent close around 8 PM and most of the residents in my town span across various generations.
Now that it’s a year later, I can say it was a great change for me. I am happy to be away from New York. The town was the perfect size for me. Living in big cities can cause anxiety if you don’t have a bombastic weekend or spend too much time at home. Choices are limited in a small town. Most weekends entail a simple football match or drinks at someone’s apartment. I appreciated simple living. When I went on trips during vacation or long-weekend excursions, I had a greater drive to explore and enjoy my time away.
Culture Shock Made Easy
Since I am of Hispanic descent, there wasn’t much of a culture shock. The passion for football extended to my family, so I ended up attending a match at every stadium of the eight La Liga teams based in Madrid and Valencia. I was even able to attend the trophy ceremony for Valencia CF’s triumph in the Copa del Rey, the Spanish Domestic Cup!
The lack of a language barrier also made it seamless to fit in. I didn’t have much of an opportunity to stand out as a foreigner. However, with my co-workers and their family and friends, it was always fun to let them introduce themselves in English. I would always follow in Spanish and leave them astonished. I was able to meet everyone in a more personable fashion. They would ask me about my life in New York and how I was adapting. Meanwhile, I would ask them about their life in a small town.
Looking Forward to a Future in Ontinyent
Alongside that, learning Valenciano has helped a lot. The capability of understanding a conversation between two native speakers, saying that I was taking classes, or just switching from Spanish to Valenciano continually impressed people. They couldn’t believe a New Yorker was not only interested in their language but was making a serious effort to be proficient even as they considered it “useless for my future in the country.” Even today, weeks removed from Ontinyent, I still have thoughts in Valenciano.
I had an enjoyable year in Ontinyent, and I’ve met some of the most generous and accommodating people in my life. I’ve seen so much of Spain in one year than most people I know who’ve had the opportunity to visit in all their years of living in Spain. While I have a hard time measuring how well I’ve integrated into my new town, it has been enough that a few months away is difficult for me. I am looking forward to my second year with eagerness.”
An Expat Living and Working Abroad in Ontinyent, Spain
Edgar shares his first year abroad living and working in Ontinyent, Spain. He provides guidance for first-year teachers who are just arriving to Spain. Expat life is not easy. It can take longer than one expects to get used to. After having lived in the Ontinyent area for a year, he feels as if he has made friends at work and started to better understand the language. He is trying his best to learn and understand Valenciano and they appreciate his willingness to do so. It takes time! Sometimes expats live abroad for years and still don’t feel a sense of full familiarity within their new home. Edgar plans to try his best his second year to not only understand the culture but become part of the culture by learning to speak Valenciano.
We look forward to sharing Edgar’s second year in Ontinyent with him. Stay tuned for his second update in the late fall.