Teaching English as a Foreign Language isn’t just about teaching; it’s about immersion. The more you immerse yourself in local culture, the more connections you make, the better you can understand your fellow citizens, and better represent yourself. As the gleaming cherry on top, becoming a part of your pueblo (small village) or city also makes the world smaller and less scary, especially if it’s your first time living abroad or alone.
So, how do you immerse yourself?
Learn the language
Learning the local language is a daunting, yet essential part of moving abroad. Google Translate and Duolingo are your friends, as is jumping into any conversation you can to practice sentence structure.
Walk in one direction until you get tired, turn around, and do a different direction tomorrow. You’ll get some truly amazing photos, discover clothing stores, cafes, bars, and specialty stores you’d never know about stalking Google Maps. In fact, this is the south of Spain, so many places don’t even exist on Google. I know what you’re thinking, deep down, if it doesn’t at least have a Yelp presence, do I try it?
Of course! Traditional Spanish dishes are centuries old; the internet is less than 25. Don’t let reviews get in the way of finding your new cafe spot (missing you Cafe Nero Boston).
Write out your hobbies if you have to or make a list of all the new things you want to try during this experience. Do you want to learn the language? There’re meetups for that! Do you want to learn how to play the national sport (padel here in Spain)? Join the padel gym. Do you want to learn to cook traditional Spanish meals? Ask someone at school if they know someone, or an organization. Do you want to volunteer? Ask.
Ask fellow teachers every question you have, because their insight will make your world abroad easier to maneuver. They know people in your town, the history behind Spain (learn it, this is your new country), the tricks to traveling- hell, they can set you up with a complete itinerary of where to go if you ask them. I’ve mentioned I’m here alone, and I’ve been given at least six recommendations of cities I didn’t know existed, but I need to visit, along with the dates of all the major festivals (ferias, Semana Santa, Carnival).
Through asking yourself what you want to accomplish during your time abroad, asking for recommendations when you don’t, joining, and exploring, you’re almost guaranteed to immerse yourself into an authentic local experience.
On the other end, living abroad means representing something larger than yourself every day. You represent your nationality. If you’re an American as I am, you represent all the news headlines the United States makes that day, as well as any experiences that person has had in the United States, or with other Americans. If you’re a woman, you represent all women from your nationality, including any preconceived beliefs attached for that person. Is this fair? Probably not, but this is not your country or your rules.
You may be the only English speaker that person has ever met, and this is your chance to prove yourself as an English Language and Culture expert! Be the best version of yourself each day if you can and be kind to locals. Even though you live there now, 1 year doesn’t compare to 40. Be aware of the country you decide to teach in, and how traditional they may be. This could be a wonderful opportunity to create an open dialogue, or not at all. The decision is up to you.
In the end, the places where you decide to teach, live, and travel will hopefully be eye-opening chances to see different facets of the world. However, without immersing yourself, you won’t see them as they are. Don’t give up hope if customs and communications are a 180 from what you’re used to; if you’re trying, people will recognize and appreciate it. And always, give it time.