Meeting Alex my first week in Madrid set the stage for an exciting year. After missing the last metro of the night, we navigated back to our hotel together, only breaking from the conversation in order to sing songs we’d realized we both like. I knew quickly he was someone I’d want to be friends with.
Having fallen in love with traveling in college, Alex decided to give living abroad a shot. He decided to teach English in Spain. His outgoing personality was a natural fit both at the primary school where he works and while getting to know Madrid. Alex and my experiences at our respective schools have been quite different, but our similar passion for Madrid has strengthened our friendship. Curious about his thoughts heading into his second year of teaching, I decided to ask Alex some questions about his teach abroad experience. These are his answers.
Why did you choose to come to Spain and/or Europe?
“In the spring of 2012, I left the United States for the first time and visited Barcelona for a week-long vacation. This experience greatly broadened my worldview. Experiences like seeing the Sagrada Familia church, getting lost in the ungridded streets, drinking beer legally for the first time, snoozing next to the splendid sounds of park fountains, and yes, falling in love with a girl made me realize, for the first time, that there are so many incredible things to see in this world and so many different ways to live life.
Traveling immediately became my passion. I wanted to learn about the world and the countries in it by experiencing life in those places. After this trip, I went to Paris, Florence, Venice, Rome, Napoli, Dublin, London, Edinburgh, and Prague. I enjoyed being in these places, but while there, I never felt that same revitalizing feeling of novelty and excitement that I felt in Barcelona. I suppose my return to teach abroad in Spain has to do with recapturing that sensational feeling.”
Why did you choose to teach abroad?
“My decision to teach abroad was rooted in my love for traveling. I had visited many European cities on vacation, but I had never studied or lived abroad before. I wanted to take my passion for travel to the next level and live overseas. Teaching English in Madrid provided me with the opportunity to create a life in a foreign city with a job that sounded fun and rewarding.”
Have you ever taught before? If not, what were you doing before you decided to move abroad?
“I have never taught in a classroom setting before. When I was a teenager, however, I spent five consecutive summers in my home state of Connecticut teaching children (ages five to fourteen) how to canoe and kayak. From this experience, I was confident that I would enjoy working with younger kids in a classroom because I liked their natural energy and curiosity. Right before moving abroad, I was working as a pharmaceutical copywriter for an advertising agency in New York City.”
What did you think teaching in Spain would be like? Where are you teaching?
“I thought teaching English as a second language in Spain would be challenging, but also rewarding. Even before I went to Spain, I found that it wasn’t always easy to communicate with adults, even though we both spoke the same language! Therefore, I surmised it would be even more challenging to communicate with primary school students whose mother tongue is different than mine. I also thought it would require enthusiasm. Young children tend to have approximately thirteen solar-orbits worth of natural, unrepressed energy (fact, not verified). It is my experience that matching their energy is an effective way to keep their attention.
I am currently teaching at a primary school in a small town outside of Madrid called Perales Del Rio. I work with most of the grades at the school, from second to sixth, and it has been verified that these primary school students do indeed have thirteen solar-orbits worth of natural, unrepressed energy, on a daily basis.”
What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here?
“My mother once told me, “Never assume anything because it makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me.’” This motherly wisdom has always been a guiding principle in my life. This is especially so during those times when I have embarked on new journeys. I honestly had no assumptions or expectations before moving to teach abroad in Madrid. This helped me keep an open mind to the novelties of the city and its culture.”
What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?
“My perception of Madrid is that it has so much to offer everyone. Also, the locals are very helpful and friendly. With these two perceptions in mind, I would say that Madrid is an inclusive city, at least in my experience. If you want to relax, you can enjoy one of the many parks here. Personally, I liked sauntering through Parque Retiro or running through Parque Oeste. If you want to go out, you can stay out until the time when you normally wake up. And that’s still probably too early for a Madrileño. Typically, when I am out late and the metro lines have closed, I take shelter at San Gines — the 24-hour service chocolatería — until the metros reopen. You can do these things all while making friends with the Madrileños.”
What are your goals while you are here?
I have many goals, but the main ones are not to make too much of a fool of myself while I try to learn Spanish, make friends along the way, and explore as much of Spain as I can.
What has been the most difficult since you arrived?
“The most difficult thing about my teach abroad experience has been staying committed to the process of learning Spanish. This particular difficulty is odd because the Spanish language is everywhere. It permeates the air. Yet, there are also many native English speakers living in Madrid. So much so, I often find myself spending more time with other English-speakers. Because I spend my time either teaching English or hanging out with my American friends, learning Spanish has been a challenge. I know that this isn’t the best way to improve my Spanish skills. To help, I take a weekly Spanish class (with my American friends, of course) and try to participate in intercambio events. But hey, poco a poco, right?”
What has been the best experience?
“This is a tough question because it seems like every day I find something new about my teach abroad experience that I appreciate greatly. Some days, I can make someone laugh using my limited Spanish skills. Whenever I get something right enough for my joke to come through, I swell with pride. Other days, I travel to a distant area of Spain and maybe take a dip in a thermal bath. Their thermal baths make me marvel at just how many “hidden” gems Spain has waiting to be discovered.
There are some days I simply go for a walk in a park and I’m overtaken by equanimity. Other days a co-worker will ask me about the English language and why we say certain things. This forces me to think about my own language and ultimately say, “Hmmm. English makes no sense.”
How do you feel about your integration into the Spanish culture so far?
“From a physical perspective, I look the part of a Spanish twenty-something: I pierced my nose, grew my hair out, and bought tighter fitting clothing. I look so Spanish that I am often asked questions about where things are: “¿Dónde está la jháf kudhígkh slwöøocnhf?” My answer, in butchered Spanish, is, “Sorry. Could you repeat that slowly? My Spanish is very limited.” From a linguistic standpoint, my integration needs more work. Seriously though, poco a poco.”
Having spent the weeks leading up to my first year in Madrid fairly anxious, I admire Alex’s open-mindedness about his teach abroad experience. His ability to dive into new experiences with a smile and no assumptions has led to a fulfilling life abroad that will only continue to develop in the year to come. Check back in the months to come for more updates from Alex!