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
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,
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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
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
6. I bought a good pair of hiking boots. You walk so much in
Europe. Your feet are one of your most important commodities.
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.
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
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
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