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Part 2: The Wrap Up!

This is “Part Two – The Wrap-up” of the “The Experience is Waiting for You” article that I wrote a few months ago. In the following article, I plan to tell you what I did over the year, some experiences that I have had, and some advice to newcomers from a one year veteran of Madrid!

By Trent Brock (Sept. 3, 2006)

Plaza Mayor Madrid

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I came to Madrid with three goals: teaching English, learning Spanish, and traveling Europe. Looking back I have to say that I will have completed two of those goals pretty well, but one is almost impossible to complete. Can you guess which one it is? The Spanish! It is difficult for me. A few of my excuses are:

1. I am thirty years old. Languages are harder to learn the older you get.
2. It is the first language that I am trying to learn besides my native language. I have been told that your third language is easier than your second, fourth easier than your third, etc.
3. I am a guy. Girls learn faster than boys.
4. I teach English all day, which is absolutely the most contradictory job when trying to learn Spanish.
5. Maybe I set my expectations too high.

Now the whining is over. These are a few things that I could have done looking back:

1. I could have lived with Spanish people from the start. I lived with three Bulgarians for five months. That did not help my Spanish: too much listening to Bulgarian.
2. Make a rule to only go out with Spanish people on the weekends. I got caught up going out with English speakers because it was easier.
3. Study more. I did not set a schedule for studying alone. I graduated from college six years ago. I just could not get myself into the study-mode.
4. Buy a little voice recorder. When speaking with a Spanish friend, and you do not know what they said, have them speak it into the microphone. Listen to it walking to teach your classes.

What I did do to help me learn Spanish:

1. I moved in with three Spanish guys who wanted to practice their English.
2. Since November I went to "intercambios" (Language Exchanges) at least once a week with a Spanish buddy. I think the intercambios in the bar are fine if your Spanish is intermediate or above. For me, I needed someone that could sit and have a one-on-one conversation.
3. I was employed by a school, CEE Idiomas, that taught English and Spanish. I received ten hours of Spanish free weekly in a group class since I was an English teacher.
4. I carried around a little pocket notebook. Write down the words you do not know and look them up. Study them when you have a few minutes in the metro or on the bus.

My Spanish level is not quite where I wanted it to be after spending nine months in Spain, but on the other hand, it is ok for not knowing anything when I arrived. I can definitely get around the city, buy what I want and give directions.

On to the English teaching: Some things have come as a surprise and, well, some things have not. This was a smart move on my part to see if I really liked teaching or not. I have definitely determined that I would not teach children in a classroom setting and probably not teenagers. I could teach college or maybe a private adult computer class for example. I have not been so inspired to go back and get my Ph.D. or anything like that.

What I should have done, or I did not realize:

1. I should have gotten my working papers. I would have had a better choice of schools and pay.
2. All the holidays and vacations. This is cool if you are on salary, but you probably will not be if you do not have your papers. No work – no pay. You can expect:

a. A couple of weeks during Christmas not to work.
b. Turnover during June. Kids are out of school, but summer camps are offered. Most professionals change their work schedules from 8:00 am – 3:00 pm. They do not want to take classes; however, there are summer intensives that are offered. It is something to be aware of.
c. August holiday – Most people go on holiday during August so do not expect work much during August in Madrid.
d. September is when everyone is coming back so it takes a few weeks to get going. Do not expect to start a full schedule until the middle of the month. Some schools do not start until October.
3. I should have completed my TEFL in August and been interviewing in early September. That would have given me a better choice of classes and schedule.

What I did right:

1. I took and completed the TEFL course. This is pretty much a must now in Madrid. Most schools will not hire you if you do not have some type of certification or at least a degree.
2. I came to a big city where there is enough work to go around. Spain is a bit behind compared to some of the other European countries. They have realized that they really need English.
3. One of my schools, CEE Idiomas, gave me a Monday – Friday 8:30 am – 9:30 am. This was a group class that I was paid for teaching every day. I could count on that money at the end of the month no matter what.
4. I determined the type of classes that I wanted before I started interviewing

a. No kids.
b. Business related.
c. Block schedule.
d. I never accepted a class until I looked at it on the map. For example, you will be told, “It is only fifteen minutes on the metro from Sol and then a five minute walk.” Boy, in my mind, that sounds great, and it will sound great to you. You accept the class. After going to the first one, you realize that a one way trip takes you an hour. Then you are stuck because you accepted the class. Mark my words on this!

I absolutely love to travel! I have been to all the major cities in Andalucia such as Cordoba, Seville, Cadiz, Gibraltar, and Granada. Around Madrid I have been to El Escorial, Valley of the Fallen (Franco’s gravesite), Toledo, Segovia, Pedraza, Sepulveda, Segovia. Other cities include Pamplona, Barcelona, Valencia, and Buñol.

What I did right:

1. I found a good travel buddy that had the same travel style as me.
2. I determined the type of traveling that I was going to do.

a. Cheap and reliable transport - I always traveled by bus in Spain. I would always take a night bus if I could because you save a night on paying for a place to stay, and when you wake up you are in the city having a whole day.
b. Cheap - I would always bring snack food and water. I stayed in dorm room hostels whenever possible.
c. Strategy – I knew what places I was going to see before I got to the city. Make reservations where you are going to stay before getting there. You can waste a lot of time looking for a place to stay when you could be seeing the sites.

3. I wore a money belt. People can steal your wallet without you even realizing, but it is a little harder to steal a money belt from under your clothes.
4. I went to almost every festival that I could – Las Fallas in Valencia, Semana Santa in Andalucia, Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, and La Tomatina in Buñol (near Valencia).
5. I took advantage of being in Europe and the vacation time from teaching.

a. During Christmas I took a nineteen day trip with a buddy from the States. He was over here working so he had a car, which was a really nice added bonus most of the time. We went through France, Italy, Munich, Interlaken (Switzerland), Amsterdam, Paris, and Paris.
b. In August, I took a trip with a fellow teacher through Poland, Scandinavia, Berlin, Prague, Budapest (Hungary), Vienna, Imst (Austria), Zurich, Bern (Switzerland), Paris again, and Buñol.

6. I bought a good pair of hiking boots. You walk so much in Europe. Your feet are one of your most important commodities.
7. Take an umbrella and rain jacket of some type.

What I could have done better:

1. I always seemed to pack more than I needed and found myself carrying too much stuff. Be prepared to wear your clothes a few days in a row or lug around a bunch of extra stuff.
2. I could have booked places to sleep earlier when I planned to go to major festival. Buses are usually not a problem, but places to sleep are. We had to sleep in the park in Pamplona. Not a terrible experience, but I do prefer a bed. If you plan to go, start looking nine months or so before. In some cases, you will still pay through the nose.

I enjoyed Madrid so much this year that I thought that I would stay for another. I was fine with doing the teaching another year, and it would give me a chance to continue to improve my Spanish while traveling to the places that I had not been to this year. I was limiting my time with my English speaking friends on the weekends and doing things with my Spanish roommates and friends. I made my final decision to stay about the middle of April.

About three years ago, my father and I had a discussion about me coming to work with him. Last year before I decided to come to Spain, my father and I re-visited the conversation about me working with him, but it had become an impossibility. A week after I made my decision to stay in Spain, my father called me and offered me the job again to come and work with him. Some things have changed in the office since last year. He has been an oil salesman for the last 25 years. I was totally turned upside down with the whole dilemma. After a few discussions and a few weeks of thinking, I made the decision to go back to the US, and I plan to work with my father. It is something that I have always wanted to do. Next to my grandfather, who is no longer with us, my father is my most respected. He has received numerous awards for his work and above-and-beyond customer service. He can teach me things that no on else can or no book ever will.

My year is now complete, but I know that beyond a doubt, I needed to be in Madrid. It has opened my mind to new cultures, new ways of thinking, and the opportunity to achieve my goals. If you a need a change or an adventure, Madrid might be the place for you! It was for me.

Part 1: The Experience is Waiting for You

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