TEFL in Spain: Nicole’s Adventure!
Tell us about yourself! We’d love to know about your background, what drew you to teaching in Spain, and more.
My name is Nicole; I’m 23 years old, and I have recently graduated with a degree in English, Geography, and Performing Arts from the University of Galway. Teaching abroad offered me the opportunity to understand what life is like in Spain, push myself out of my comfort zone, and meet new people.
What was your interview and application process like?
The application process was incredibly straightforward. I applied for the internship on the TEFL website, filled out a short form that asked about my educational background and work experience, and then had a casual interview. Once I had completed the 120 hour TEFL course, I gathered the required documentation, purchased travel insurance, and booked my flights. In the months leading up to my departure for Spain, the TEFL team and recruitment company were incredibly helpful and walked me through everything they felt I needed to know.
Do you think your TEFL course prepared you to teach English in Spain?
Yes, the course definitely prepared me well. It’s one thing to study a language and another thing to teach it. The course covered many practical aspects of teaching English as a foreign language. Additionally, it provided excellent examples of games and activities that I incorporated into some of my lesson plans.
You lived with a host family? Can you tell us a little bit more about what was included? Did you live far from your school? How did you settle in Spain?
I was staying with an adorable host family in a city called Vic. The house was about a 15-minute walk from the school. As soon as I arrived, the host mother gave me a tour of the house and could not do enough to ensure that I settled in. The family provided me with two meals a day (breakfast and supper) and truly took me in like one of their own. I actually found it quite easy to integrate into the family’s way of life because they were so welcoming from the get-go. I accompanied them on many outings and was never left out of any event or occasion. Even though I initially faced a language barrier with the grandparents, I gradually picked up words and phrases that enabled me to communicate with them effectively. When the host mother was away on a work trip, I would meet with the children & grandparents and have dinner with them in the evening. As a result, we became quite close.
Living with a host family allowed me to gain a greater insight into the culture and way of life. They informed me about traditional Catalan food and customs and introduced me to other English speakers in the area. Had I organised my own accommodation instead of living with a host family, I truly believe that my experience wouldn’t have been half as meaningful as it was.
What age group did you teach? Did you have some training before entering your first classroom?
My first week was a bit of an orientation week. I was given a tour of the school, introduced to all the teachers, and provided with a key to my own classroom. As a language assistant, I was granted full access to the supply cabinet in the teacher’s room and was given my own laptop along with a code for the printers.
I taught secondary school students between the ages of 14-16. I met with their English teachers, and they informed me of what topics they would be covering throughout the term. They gave me plenty of information and advice, so I felt well-prepared to start the following Monday.
The deputy principal also set up a school email address for me and connected me to the school’s Google Classroom platform. Here, I uploaded any materials that were utilised in class throughout the week.
What was your typical day in Spain like?
On a weekday, I usually got up at around 7:20 am and had breakfast with the family. We would typically walk to school, and I would get a magnificent view of the numerous colourful hot air balloons that scattered the sky each morning on the way.
Once I arrived at school, I would set up my materials for the first class of the day. During lunch breaks, I would head for a coffee at the local café with the other teachers. A delicious lunch was also provided at the school every day. In the evening, I would normally hang out with the host family, go to the gym, or explore the city for
a while. Meanwhile, a typical weekend could consist of anything from attending a concert in Barcelona to sipping sangria in Girona.
Did you have time off to do some sightseeing?
As I only had 20 hours of teaching to do each week, I had plenty of time to go sightseeing. Within the first few weeks, I met up with the other language assistants that were also teaching in Spain. We headed to the Carmel Bunkers, which gave us a spectacular bird’s eye view of Barcelona. We also visited La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell.
My mom visited me for one week, and we stayed in Girona for a weekend. We did a tour of the cathedral where Game of Thrones was filmed, tested out the vibrant food scene and experienced the nightlife.
With the host family, I got to stay in Madrid for a weekend, visit the San Miguel Markets, and do a spot of retail therapy. I also visited Costa Brava on numerous occasions with them and visited Tossa De Mar, Calella de Palafrugell, and many restaurants. I even tagged along on their family trip to PortAventura World in Tarragona, I enjoyed it more than the children did.
What was the most rewarding experience as a teaching assistant in Spain?
From my experience, teaching in Spain seems to be a lot more relaxed than it is in Ireland. Students call teachers by their first names and are not afraid to approach them when they have a question or a query. I enjoyed this style of teaching as I felt it put less pressure on me to deliver a flawless lesson every day. The students were always eager to learn.
I also believe that my confidence has grown immensely. I was provided with constant support from the other teachers and was trusted with a great deal of responsibility. The positive feedback that I received from teachers and students alike during my time there made the experience incredibly rewarding.
What advice do you have for someone on the fence about whether to teach in Spain or not?
Go for it! The great thing about this internship is that it is only 3 months. If you really enjoy your time out there, many job opportunities will enable you to extend your stay. I was also on the fence before applying. However, it turned out to be the most beneficial thing I’ve ever done. I got to put myself out there more, dabble with learning a new language and make connections and memories that will last a lifetime.
Top 3 things about Spanish culture we should know before going.
Firstly, I would recommend that you have a few basic Spanish or Catalan words or phrases before heading out. I was teaching in Vic, an area in which the locals almost exclusively speak Catalan. They really appreciate it when you at least make the attempt to speak their language. Therefore, a little goes a long way.
Secondly, make sure to research what the weather will be like for the entire duration you intend to stay there. While there was not as much rain as here in Ireland, it did get very cold in December.
Finally, I would say to be open to any positive opportunities that come your way. Three months go by in the blink of an eye. Make the most of every minute.
Now that you completed your placement in Spain, can you tell us what the best parts of your experience were overall, even outside your classroom?
I had so many magical moments during my time in Spain. The lifestyle itself was incredibly relaxed. I noticed that people seemed to really treasure taking time to unwind and catch up with friends. This is something that I have tried to continue to embrace since returning home. The connections that I made with the teachers, host family, and students were undoubtedly the key takeaways from my time spent there.
Are you planning to teach English in the future?
I certainly intend to put my TEFL certificate to good use in the near future. The internship restored my confidence in speaking in front of a large group of people.