I was drawn to the InterExchange Teach English in Spain program because I wanted to learn Spanish, gain ESL teaching experience and explore Spain’s diverse cultural and natural landscape. Before applying, my travels were limited to childhood family vacations and road trips down the shore. I wanted badly to study abroad but could not, due to financial and scholarly restrictions. During my senior year at Rutgers University, I realized I was about to graduate without any international experience! I refused to let my college graduation be the deadline for my overseas adventures and began an in-depth search for the perfect work abroad program. I chose InterExchange due its affordability, short-term positions, visa support and in-country assistance. For the next year I read about Spanish history and culture and acquired basic Spanish language skills. Before my departure to Spain, my expected work hours were cut dramatically leaving me desperately looking for a way to supplement my travel costs. Because of the Working Abroad Grant, I was able to not only live in and explore Madrid but travel throughout the country!
In Madrid, I was placed with a host family in quiet residential community on the outskirts of the city. Luckily I was within walking distance to the metro and could be in the city center within 45 minutes. My new Spanish family was larger than any family I had ever known or lived with. There was the mother, father, five sons between the ages of 17 and 22, three dogs and lots of laundry! All the sons lived at home and the two oldest commuted to the university. My host family welcomed me with open arms and a kiss on each cheek. Although large, the family of seven lived very comfortably in a condo-style home with a shared pool in the back. I stayed in the basement, which was nice due to its privacy. My diet consisted of yogurt and fruit for breakfast, a large home-cooked lunch that ranged from Spanish tortilla to oven-roasted chicken and a ham and cheese sandwich for dinner. There was always freshly-made gazpacho in the fridge. My family loved gazpacho so much they ate it all year round, even in the winter! The mother spoke very limited English so I spoke to her in the best Spanish I could, but the rest of the family spoke some English and were happy to have me around for practice.
My job as an English teacher was very challenging. I taught the three younger sons – a junior in high school and two high school seniors. When I arrived, I found my students were struggling a great deal with English, especially my youngest student. As the boys were at the intermediate and advanced levels, they were learning the technical structure of English grammar. In addition, their textbooks were from the U.K., which meant slightly different spelling and grammar than we use in the U.S. Although I had a wealth of free ESL online resources and brushed up on my English language basics before leaving, I still struggled at first to answer their questions. As their test was the Monday following my arrival, I spent almost my entire first week and weekend in Madrid reading and taking notes on my students’ English textbooks, finding exercises for them online and trying to figure out the best way to explain the odd complexities of English grammar to my Spanish-speaking students. Along with severe jet lag and adjusting to a new lifestyle, this work was exhausting but worth it. My host family appreciated my commitment and my students headed into their exams with less confusion and more confidence.
After the first two weeks, the rhythm of my new life in Madrid settled into a comfortable pattern. I got to know my students and had a much better grasp on what I was teaching. My daily routine consisted of waking up around 9:00 a.m., grabbing a quick breakfast, taking the metro into the city center for class, heading back for lunch and to prepare lessons, teaching for three to five hours and going out again at around 7:30 p.m. to meet with friends. I enrolled in an intensive two-hour, daily Spanish course at C.E.E. Idiomas. I loved my Spanish class. Our class was comprised of au pairs, students and ex-pats from around the world and we spent our breaks discussing our cultural differences and life in Spain. In two months, I graduated from the beginner to intermediate level!
Only two weeks after arriving alone in a foreign country, I was far from lonely. Through the InterExchange Facebook group, I had no problem connecting with other teachers and au pairs to go on weekend adventures and outings in and around Madrid. We also went on organized trips with the exchange student community BeMadrid. After a four-day BeMadrid bus tour of Portugal I met a bunch of new friends that I would not have known otherwise and we still keep in touch! Due to the Working Abroad Grant, I was given the freedom to visit many different cities throughout Spain. I drank manzanilla in a caseta during Feria de Abril in Seville, climbed the Sagrada Familia tower in Barcelona, swam in the Sierra Nevada waterfalls in Granada and watched a wild Corpus Christi procession of horse-drawn wagon sculptures in Valencia. I took day trips to Cuenca, Sierra Norte de Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Valley of the Fallen and Salamanca. The rest of my free time I spent enjoying the beautiful city of Madrid where there is an endless supply of museums, restaurants, parks, intercambios, cultural events and discotecas!
After my time in Spain, I feel more open to meeting new people and more relaxed when it comes to traveling and life in general. I did not live in Spain as a tourist, I engaged with the people there. As a foreigner, I became part of an international community living in Madrid for school, career development, language acquisition, travel and self-discovery. This allowed me to make friends with people from all over the world, from Canada to Turkey, each with his or her own unique set of views and stories to share. I connected with my students during our lessons when we spoke about the differences between high school in the U.S. and Espana. Back in the U.S., I now get excited when the World Cup is on as I can imagine my friends from other countries cheering for their teams. I can’t even help calling it futbol instead of soccer. After building relationships with these people and speaking a new language, I feel like a global citizen, connected to the world as a whole.
InterExchange is proud to have an experienced team that is dedicated to international cultural exchange. We come from a variety of backgrounds, but nearly every member of our New York City-based staff has extensive experience traveling, working, or living abroad.