Expectation Vs. Reality: Teaching English Abroad

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When I first accepted my offer to teach English abroad I didn’t really know what to expect. But by the time it was August and I was packing away everything I owned, I had a clear picture of what it was going to be like. I was picturing a small quiet town, a hot climate, and lifelong international friendships. I came with the expectation that I was going to love it and never want to leave. Of course expectations usually don’t turn out to be the reality whether it is good or bad. Here are some of the expectations I had when I came to Spain… and how far from reality they really were.

Expectation: A warm and welcoming city and school

Reality: Unless you know them personally, don’t expect any warm welcomes

This was probably the biggest shock I experienced. I have known many Spanish people and they were all very nurturing and friendly, but when I came to Spain it felt like I was invisible. People shove past you in the metro and push you in the streets. I would smile at strangers passing by, only to receive a scowl back. I was confused and upset, how could this place I have been imaging for so long be so different. It wasn’t until I got to know the Spaniards and their culture that I realized how different it is from home. If you know them or are close to them you will see the typical warm, welcoming personalities you see on tv, but if you are just a stranger passing by it is very different.

Expectation: English is common

Reality: I have rarely encountered Spaniards that speak English

I have done quite a bit of traveling and every country I have been to spoke more English than Spain. You can get by in restaurants and stores in other countries but here I haven’t had much luck. I speak a little Spanish and love the practice but I know I would not be getting anywhere if I didn’t speak even a little bit of the language. I also teach at a bilingual school (half the classes are in English) and the 4 main supervisors don’t speak any English at all.

Expectation: Florida weather

Reality: Not even close

When imagining my life in Spain I pictured Florida weather; always nice, sometimes hot, usually mild. I didn’t foresee any issues with the weather. I was wrong. Very wrong. When I first arrived the heat was unbearable it was easily 90+ degrees everyday by 7 am. I thought this was some sort of freak heatstroke but conversing with the locals showed me that I had actually just missed the heatstroke. The air in Spain is extremely dry and that became very noticeable in my hair and skin.

I am used to really cold winters, so when I moved to Spain I didn’t bother packing any of my cold weather clothes. I figured I wouldn’t need them. Spoiler alert: I needed them. The winter weather reached below 30 many times, it was also extremely windy. I had to buy a new coat and some leggings to keep warm because 50% of my daily commute is outside. In conclusion, Spain gets very hot and very cold so come prepared for anything and everything.

Expectation: Spicy food

Reality: Very mild

I already knew that Spanish food and Mexican food are very different. I have even had Spanish food in America and it was full of flavor and spice. Of course, when I arrived, I realized once again that I was wrong. The food is very mild, even foods labeled “spicy” are not what I consider “spicy” (I normally don’t do a lot of spice back home). Some of their most common dishes are; Spanish omlett, croquettes, and patatas bravas. All of which are very bland, but delicious. I fell in love with the food, but have heard different from many of the Americans I’ve talked to.

Expectation: Saving money

Reality: If you don’t want to travel, go out to eat, or live in a convenient location then you will probably be able to save money, but if not, it is unlikely that you will actually save money.

For this reality, I came prepared. I saved up months before actually leaving for Spain because I knew I was going to be traveling at least twice a month. I didn’t realise how much money I was actually going to need to spend here, it is always a good idea to have as much saved up as possible because literally anything can happen. Traveling in Europe has a stigma of being very cheap and affordable, and that is true… if you’re traveling on a Tuesday or Wednesday. The majority of the cheap flights are on weekdays because people are less likely to book a flight, mid year on a weekday. Unfortunately, the teaching schedule only allows weekends off. So yes you will find cheaper flights than you would in America, but if you are trying to grab those 9 euro round trip flights, you better hope your getting the week off.

Another expense to note is the public transportation, luckily I am 24 which is still considered “joven” so I only pay 20 euro per month to use all the public transportation I need. However, once you reach age 26, the price goes up, a lot. If I was 26 I would be paying at least 70 euro per month to get a transportation pass (which will be your only option of commuting, unless you buy a car).

Obviously, I came to Spain with only good expectations, which is always the way to go right?! These were just some important lessons I have learned throughout these past 6 months. I promise the weather gets warmer and the fiestas stay strong. It is crucial to always come with more money than you think because pick pockets are very active in the city… they can and probably will find you. Also, bring warm clothes because even if it isn’t cold, you are still probably going to spend more time walking around outside on the daily commute than you think.

I hope these experiences have helped you form a more realistic expectation of life as an Auxiliar.

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