Ali Pelczar and I met a few months ago during a meetup organized on Facebook in an attempt to get to know peeps in our barrio (neighborhood). We always have so much to talk about, as Ali and I have had many similar experiences while living and teaching in Spain. We are both Language and Culture Assistants, we both teach abroad through online classes through a company called VIPkid, and we both like to escape the hot and dry August summer heat by going to one of the many public pools available in the city.
Ali is a super cool cat who gives off a very reserved, dependable, museum-going, intellectual vibe while simultaneously being adventurous and brave. Anyone who moves halfway across the world is considered bold and daring in my book. Read on below to get to know her better.
Why are you teaching abroad in Spain?
“I chose to come to Spain because I had been studying Spanish. So, I wanted to live in a Spanish-speaking country in order to improve my fluency. Spain was at the top of my list, above Central and South America, because I also wanted to travel around Europe. There were so many interesting places to see that I’d never run out of destinations.”
Why did you choose to teach abroad?
“The auxiliares de conversación program sort of fell into my lap while I was researching ways to travel abroad long-term. I considered the Fulbright Scholarship, but it’s so competitive that I didn’t want to put my hopes in that. Teaching is just one of the easiest ways to live abroad. I never thought that I would be teaching abroad in Spain, as I actually always thought that I would hate teaching. Luckily, on a whim, I decided to give it a try. It’s not what I want to do for the rest of my life, but in the end, it’s been very rewarding and I do enjoy it!”
What are your goals while you are here?
“My goals are to get as close to fluent in Spanish as possible and travel as much as possible. I want to visit 25 countries before I turn 25. So far, I’ve visited ten countries and 17 cities. I also wanted some time to reflect on what kind of career I wanted. Now I feel more prepared to make decisions about my next steps. Along the way, I’ve realized that there’s no deadline to start a “real” job or have it all figured out, so the last goal has fallen aside.”
Have you ever taught before? If not, what were you doing before you decided to move abroad?
“I’ve never taught before. I graduated from university a few months before I came to Spain. Before I moved to Spain, I worked in a policy research lab at my university. It was a bit of a far cry from teaching!”
What did you think teaching in Spain would be like? Where are you teaching?
“I’m teaching abroad in Spain at a high school (it’s about 7th-12th grade in the U.S.) in a small town about 45 minutes south of Madrid. I thought my role would be mostly sharing the culture and history of the U.S. and having conversations with the students. In reality, I’m more like a traditional teacher, where I guide students through structured speaking activities and I correct their errors. I usually work with a group of six students at a time, so I do get to give them more one-on-one attention. My teach abroad experience has really given me some insight.”
What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?
“I’ve lived in Madrid for a year now, so all of my initial perceptions have worn off. It’s a very lively city and there is always some sort of event going on. I like all the interesting cultural events that happen. There is a lot of art and history to be found here. It’s also a relaxed city and it’s so easy to just walk the street and find somewhere to grab a drink – that’s Spanish culture for you!
In the beginning, I spent my first two or three weeks in Madrid doing a lot of walking. I ended up walking around the La Latina neighborhood a lot so I thought that the entire city had that kind of old European architecture. It also felt really busy and crowded (partially because I’d never lived in a big city before), and I didn’t know where to go for basics that I would have just bought at Target in the States.”
What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here?
“I assumed that my Spanish would improve just by being here. The truth is that I still have to make an effort to practice and learn. I also thought that I would make friends easily, especially with Spaniards. But, like moving anywhere new, I need to make an effort to meet people. And it’s much more difficult to meet Spaniards because they tend to already have their own groups. I also had some wanderlust and thought that spending some time abroad would “get it out of my system.” The effect has been quite the opposite!”
How do you feel about your integration into the Spanish culture so far?
“I feel like I really understand the Spanish culture: its ups and downs and everything in between. But, I also know that my personality clashes with it in some important ways. I’m a very quiet and reserved person, for instance, and Spanish people are quite loud. So, in some ways I still feel like an observer, albeit a well-informed one. On the other hand, I’ve really adapted to the pace of life here and I fully subscribe to a casual copa and not eating lunch until 2:00 PM or later.”
What has been the most difficult since you arrived?
“The most difficult thing was adjusting to how much time I spent alone. Before I arrived here, I was living next to my university, where I was always surrounded by people my age. I had very close friends that I saw frequently. I have made friends here, but I’m still alone a lot. Ultimately, it’s becoming very rewarding. I have become much more comfortable navigating everything – from bureaucracy to traveling and more – independently. I’m also totally okay with hanging out with myself.”
What has been the best experience of teaching abroad in Spain?
“The best experience has been realizing that I “did it.” I remember that during my first few weeks teach abroad in Spain, I felt so lost and overwhelmed. Now, there are small moments that I realize all that has passed and I feel confident leading my life here. It’s almost always during a really mundane moment, like taking care of a lot of errands or still getting to work on time when there’s some problem with the public transportation, and yet it makes me feel like I’ve truly accomplished something.”
Well, there you have it! Thanks so much, Ali, for participating in the teach abroad interview and giving a much-needed insight to people who want to live or teach abroad if they aren’t already doing so. Ali is definitely “making it” in Madrid right now, as well as making the most of her time here.
Teaching Abroad in Spain is an Experience
Will Ali solidify plans to go back home and start her graduate degree? Will I successfully convince my new friend to stay a bit longer in this grand ol’ city? (Fingers crossed!) Will she successfully make more Spanish friends instead of boring ol’ foreigners such as myself? (Kidding!) Will the mean kiddies at her assigned school crush her and consume her soul as her will bleeds dry and she becomes a sad husk of what she once was? (Kidding again. Kind’ve. I might have been talking about myself ?)