When I moved to Spain in 2012, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had made up my mind that it was time for a change and “winged it” through the transitional process needed to move from one continent to another. I didn’t even profoundly conceptualize the fact that I was moving to another continent. All I knew was that my godfather had a niece there and she was living her best life. So, I decided to take a stab at a few years in Spain myself. Pretty crazy, right? Here are some things I know now after eight years in Spain.
1) Programs Will Pay You to Work in Schools and Teach Children About Your Language and Culture
When looking back on what little thought I put into how I was going to earn a living here in Spain, it makes me cringe. I had no idea that there were programs run by the government. Plus, some private programs help assimilate you into the country and its culture. They BOTH pay you a reasonable stipend for doing so.
My research did not go further than a few Google searches which strongly suggested taking a TEFL certification course (which I did) and the importance of purchasing a flight outside of the Schengen area to justify your entrance into Spain on a one-way ticket (did that also). BEDA, UCETAM, and a host of other programs are available to people looking to teach English in the school systems here in Spain, provided that the individual meets the requirements.
2) The Unbeaten Path is Best
As a native New Yorker, I have always despised tourism. Before moving to Europe, I worked right next to the World Trade Center which was always swarming with tourists. I was once photographed on my lunch break inside a McDonald’s. After yelling at the tourist, she apologized and explained that she wanted a picture of the pretty mirror behind me. Go figure.
My best experiences overseas have been those where I meet a friend who has brought me somewhere, like a lake where the locals go, their hometown when there is an annual local festival or even just a great and affordable restaurant. It’s quite understandable that when we go on vacation, it’s sometimes more convenient to book a tour because it covers more ground. However, a few days off that guided path to make your own discoveries is the part of your travels where memories are really made.
3) Make the Time to Explore Barcelona
My first time in Barcelona was with a friend who always traveled cheaply by overnight bus. When we went together, we immediately went to a secluded beach in a town a few stops away, entirely accessible by commuter rail. When we arrived, we made friends with a local. He let us stay in his sister’s empty apartment which she rented to tourists. He even lent us his French Bulldog, Eva. She took us on an incredibly special route to a nice café where we ate breakfast. A popular sight amongst the people in that town, everyone greeted her and asked about her new friends. She’s even got her own Instagram.
4) Never Measure Yourself Against Societal Norms
When I first got here and started to imagine how my life would be if I chose to spend a few more years in Spain, I recall saying to someone: “Teaching these classes is just a way in for the moment. I don’t see myself being a 35-year-old TEFL teacher.” Little did I know that those very words would haunt me.
I’m approaching that age fast. I have since fallen in love with teaching foreign languages to children. Did you know that here in Spain, you are considered young until you are approaching your mid-40s? People have children later and they take time to study and figure things out. Often, they do all this in a secure home environment. In the States, we are put out of the house when we’re between 18 and 21. We are strongly encouraged to do anything humanly possible to stand on our own two feet.
Having gone through that time in life, which for many is extremely transitional, I can honestly say that life really begins in your 30s. I have spent lots of time reminding myself that my circumstances are different because of the choice I made to start over and move abroad. There will be no moping around trying to figure out why things are not the way I imagined. Each of my choices has made me stronger. Now, I’m one who knows to be more assertive and to put myself and my overall health as a top priority.