My feelings towards my new life as an English teacher in Spain change drastically from moment to moment. At times, I think… Wow. This is amazing. This is such an awesome opportunity to live and work abroad and experience a new culture. I’m so lucky. I have thoughts like this after a great class at school, or while exploring a new city.
Then there are other moments when I feel so lost… Amber, you’re ridiculous. Why do you keep moving to countries where you barely know the language?
I was stuck in this thought cycle last weekend at a salsa dancing club in Valencia. It was a combination of two new life challenges: speaking Spanish and my identity as a dancer. My thoughts were battling my experience, and I couldn’t help but think, You’re an athlete, not a dancer. And the noise from the club made it impossible for me to understand what the sweaty men were saying, even if they were speaking English.
These moments when I feel completely and utterly lost because of the language barrier remind me of my two years in Japan. From 2014 to 2016 I lived in Fukui Prefecture as an Assistant Language Teacher with the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program, and I also went into that experience knowing zero Japanese. (Am I brave or am I stupid? is a question I ask myself…)
After leaving Japan, I only had two months of transition time at home in California, and then I traveled with my dad in France and Switzerland for three weeks doing via ferratas, and now I’m completely immersed in Spain. The food, the language, the culture, the history, people’s attitudes, the daily schedule, my role at school… so much is drastically different!
The newness can be overwhelming at times, but luckily I’ve found a comfortable apartment where I can decompress. I live on the liveliest street in a town called Almendralejo, population 34,000, with three flatmates. I have my own room but I share the living room and kitchen with two Spanish university students, Carmen and Fede, and another English teacher named Margrit from New York. We have a balcony overlooking a big plaza boasting three restaurants and a playground, which is often filled with kids buzzing around on scooters. I can walk to a bar or a grocery store in 2 minutes, and rent is ridiculously cheap.
I teach at two schools. One is a private Jesuit high school and elementary school in a pueblo of 2,800 people called Villafranca, which is about a 15 minute drive from my apartment. I catch a ride to school with a young teacher who wants to improve her English, so we alternate speaking English and Spanish. We’ve become friends, and she’s invited me to go salsa dancing with her a few times.
The other is a public high school in a town of 3,700 called Hornachos which is nestled below a small mountain range. The weaving road to Hornachos, next to red flat lands and speckled with olive trees, reminds me of Australia. I pass the 30 minute ride to school by practicing my Spanish with my generous coworkers who give me lifts.
My work life is satisfying and challenging. When I first arrived here I told my supervisors that I had two years of teaching experience, and that I really wanted to take an active role in teaching. So in my 12 classroom teaching hours, I’m completely responsible for planning and teaching 8 of those on my own. After studying the material given to me by the main teachers, I design a lesson filled with interactive presentations, songs, games, role-play, debates, or whatever I can think of. I’m really grateful for the chance to use my creativity!
At the elementary school, I’m teaching social science to 3 classes of rambunctious eight, nine, and ten-year-olds. The textbook features topics like “The Water Cycle” and “The Geosphere,” and it’s a great challenge for me to make these subjects accessible for them.
I use some techniques I learned in Japan, such as walking around and checking their pronunciation individually (with many smiles and high-fives!) I’ve learned quite a few classroom games for teaching vocabulary, and I’m always learning more.
I’m picking up quite a few classroom management ideas, too. I use a call and response rhythm game or a countdown to get their attention when they become noisy.
In my free time, I go to the gym, dance zumba, cook vegan food, study Spanish, or hang out with my roommates. I travel at least once a month. So far I’ve been to Madrid, Caceres, Badajoz, Seville, Salamanca, and Valencia on weekends, and I have a long list of places I want to go!
Although it was a difficult decision, I decided to stay in Spain for my winter holidays. I will be volunteering at a youth hostel in a small pueblo outside of Granada. I hope that my experience there will be up to par to what I did last winter vacation!
Last Christmas I volunteered on an oyster farm in Kumihama Bay, Japan, where I learned all about the process of farming oysters, and got experience life as a farmer for a week. In the village I only met two people who spoke English: Atsushi, the generous man who coordinated my stay, and Goshia, another volunteer from Poland who became a very good friend. Even though it was cold, my week volunteering there tops my list of experiences in Japan.
I love living somewhere new and learning how everything works! Atsushi told me that when he lived in Canada, his mind expanded 100 times, and I can completely relate. Every time I live in a new place, I can feel my brain growing… there are so many possibilities for this life!