3 Uniquely Magical Reasons to Teach Abroad
Imagine: you’ve spent years and years dreaming about studying abroad in a magical European city, inspired by your mother’s stories that you’ve begged to hear thousands of times. You finally get to your junior year of college—the semester you’ve been waiting for your whole life—and your dreams are crushed by a worldwide pandemic.
That was me. Studying abroad became not only a desired experience, but a personality trait. I chose my college major—Global Studies—based on the fact that I desperately wanted to learn about and experience other cultures, because of an extraordinarily perfect trip to Europe when I was 15. Needless to say, I felt like I lost a part of my identity after I lost the opportunity to envelop myself in a far-off country for several months.
During my senior year, I was drudging through typical 9-5 corporate job applications. In the back of my mind, I daydreamed of spending the year traveling, but that didn’t seem realistic. I had heard through a friend that there was a paid opportunity to teach English in Madrid with many like-minded young people. Could I make my dream to live abroad a reality??
I’m here to tell you this: whether you are like me and never got to study abroad, or did study abroad and are craving more, taking the leap of faith and teaching abroad will be the best decision you ever made.
My Experience Teaching English Abroad in Spain with CIEE
I chose to apply for CIEE’s Teach Abroad in Spain program, which guarantees placement as a language assistant–also known as an auxiliar de conversacion–in the Communidad de Madrid. As an English teacher in Spain, I receive a 1000 Euro stipend every month and enjoy a 16-hour workweek. The program also provided helpful visa advice, an online course about the ins and outs of moving to Madrid, and a week-long stay in a hotel during orientation.
My job as a language assistant involves being in a classroom with another teacher, helping students learn to speak, listen, and read English. I work with primary school students, but assistants may work with students ranging from infants to adults, depending on your preferences. When deciding to move abroad, CIEE’s guidance was essential for me to feel safe and confident the first few weeks in Madrid as well as connecting me to my new friends!
3 Unique Reasons to Teach Abroad
Here are three unique reasons to teach abroad if you need more convincing to take this life-changing opportunity.
1. The Immaculate Work-Life Balance
The immaculate work-life balance that being an auxiliar inherently provides was surprising yet so crucial to my time in Madrid. I work with primary school students from 9:00 am-4:00 pm, and the second it turns 4:00, I don’t have a worry in the world. Because the language assistant job is based on interactions with students, my work almost always ends when I leave the kids.
Not to mention, in primary schools the Spanish teacher is responsible for organizing most of the lesson plans, while the auxiliar supports these lessons in the classroom. Occasionally there is activity or holiday planning to do, but I can do that during breaks and the long siestas that I have in the middle of my workday. Which means no work follows me home.
This allows me to use my 4-9 in whatever way I desire; last week, I spontaneously wandered into the Prado Museum on my walk home from school. How amazing is it that I can go to a world-renowned museum on a random Thursday?! My job encourages having a life outside of work, and with all of Madrid at my fingertips, I greedily take every opportunity to make my week seem more like play than work. The Spanish have the work-life balance down.
2. Having a Home Base for Travel
Additionally, the existence of a home base never occured to me to be one of the most important things about living abroad, but it sure is. I know the exhilaration of living life out of a suitcase and jumping from place to place, but for me personally, I can only do that for so long—it is exhausting! Traveling in Europe is one of the best parts about teaching abroad here, especially with three day weekends and access to cheaper flights.
Not to mention, rather than only having 4 months during study abroad, I have an entire year to travel and find time to rest. Having a home base allows me to decompress between excursions, which is so necessary for me to fully enjoy travel. Nothing feels better than getting home from a trip and falling into my own bed, with all my blankets and string lights that make my apartment feel like home. Over the past few months here, I’ve been to a whopping 7 new countries. I was able to be my best wanderlust, adventurous self in every new place, which I don’t think would necessarily be the case if I didn’t have any time to slow down, unwind, and re-energize after some mentally draining—but amazing—trips.
Another fun part about having a home base is becoming a regular at your neighborhood haunts. A few months ago, I wandered into a bakery on the end of my street for a chocolate croissant and cafe con leche. Now, I feel at home when I walk in the door to a cheery “Buenas” and order my post-work treats comfortably in Spanish.
3. A Sense of Purpose
Finally, the sense of purpose that comes from my job teaching English adds immensely to my enjoyment of living abroad. When thinking about taking a gap year to travel, what intimidated me was the lack of structure, because I tend to get restless without a routine. Having a low-stress job 4 days per week offers the perfect balance.
Teaching shapes my day in a way that encourages me to make use of my time off, rather than wasting it. I’m also more intentional about exploring Madrid and new places on my weekends, because I want to make the most of my free time!
Importantly, working with adorable kids has given me something to look forward to when the weekend draws to a close. I never thought I would work with children prior to this year, but seeing the kids run into class each day with an enthusiastic “Hello Liz” reminds me that what I’m doing really matters—helping to educate our youngest changemakers.
All of these unique facets about teaching abroad are so integral to my experience living outside the U.S. for the first time. Still, I can tangibly feel the sadness from my missed opportunity to study abroad. However, in hindsight, I can’t help but wonder if I would’ve desired going abroad again after graduating college. Who knows—but I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.
These past 4 months have been filled with growth, independence, and joy that I wouldn’t give up for the world. It’s truly exhilarating looking at the endless possibilities of my future that feel so much wider now that I know I can live in another country. I thought a year of living in Madrid would get the travel bug out of me, but if anything, it has only grown. I want more of seeing new places and meeting new people and trying new foods.
My dream was reframed and repackaged, and it is more incredible than I imagined—even if it’s not in the way I expected. After all, everything led me to be writing this while in my corner bakery, pondering whether I’m going to stop at the wine bar next door to my apartment tonight… Everything is made beautiful in its time.
As I sit on the train on my way to my first day of school, I share some reflections on my first week as an Aux in Madrid.