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A Year Teaching English Abroad: 9 Lessons Learned Living in Spain
Written by: International TEFL Academy
Last Updated: December 2, 2019
By: Morgan Garza
Sitting at a desk that I felt chained to, staring out the window and daydreaming about living in Spain, I finally decided that enough was enough. I was over spending all my time in a job that did not serve me, over spending all my money on an apartment I was never in so that I could afford it, over spending on the weekends drinking with friends trying to forget how badly I wanted out. I was over all of it.
Through the course of the past year, I have experienced so many positive changes and experiences that I could not imagine my life without this adventure. It is literally life changing to move abroad. You gain a different perspective on the world and really get to know yourself and your true desires. You release the expectation friends and family have of you and you meet people in your truest form.
Teaching English abroad has been incredibly rewarding and surprisingly fun! Never having taught anything previously, I was undoubtedly nervous to get up in front of a class. But after taking the online TEFL course with International TEFL Academy, I gained the confidence I needed and had no doubt that I had the discipline and determination to make this work. I had traveled extensively before I made the decision to live abroad so this was a very natural progression for me.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned in the past year:
Yes, you can! As humans, we are strong, resilient, and independent. We can do absolutely anything we set out minds to. When you realize this, it's almost like discovering you have a secret superpower. You can do anything and you realize how easy it is to bring things into fruition if you are just willing to take the first step into the unknown with confidence. There is nothing more fulfilling than saying yes to your deepest desires and watching the magic unfold. Moving to a foreign land, knowing no one, really forces a person to open up and be confident in decisions, relationships and direction. Go forth with confidence and you will be handsomely rewarded.
“Fortune favors the bold” – Latin proverb
2) Friends become family
Nervous to leave everyone behind? Don’t be! I moved knowing no one and quickly had an international friend family. You just have to put yourself out there and walk up to strangers and say hi. There are so many beautiful souls in this world to connect with and I now have couches all over the world to sleep on and reunions to look forward to with people I have grown to love.
“There are friends, there is family, and then there are friends that become family.” –Unknown
I have less, I need less, I want less. Living a simple life is liberating. You realize that all the things you once placed so much meaning on become meaningless and almost a burden. Life can be lived with so little, but we are convinced that we need more and more material goods to be happy. I want more experiences and adventures and memories of places I love with people I love. I have endless space in my head and heart for memories and experiences and good people, but I only have a limited amount of space (and money) for material goods. I absolutely fed into this materialistic mentality in the states; it is nearly impossible to avoid. But each time I’ve gotten out and traveled, this way of thinking completely evaporates and simplicity takes over.
“Nature is pleased with simplicity. And nature is no dummy.” -Isaac Newton
When I step out of my apartment building and catch snippets of Spanish conversation and see signs written in Spanish along tiny, winding cobblestone streets, I can’t help but smile. A year of teaching English in Spain and you would think that I would be accustomed to the glory of living abroad, but it is just the opposite. I am endlessly thankful to be living my dreams and to have been brave enough to jump. I am grateful for the work that comes my way, the people I cross paths with, and the incredible places I have been able to visit.
“The struggle ends when gratitude begins.” –Neale Donald Walsch
5) Lonely vs Alone
Did you know that there is a huge difference between being lonely and being alone? Moving to a foreign country alone has always been my dream and I am naturally a very independent person. But I never anticipated how much I would love wandering Spanish streets alone or how comfortable I would be backpacking for 2 weeks alone over Christmas holidays. I have not been lonely because I have grown to love myself. This may be the most valuable lesson I have learned on this journey.
“What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.” – Ellen Burstyn
6) Getting comfortable being uncomfortable
We all know the infamous quote by Neale Donald Walsch, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” This is famous because it is true! I have grown incredibly comfortable taking on uncomfortable situations, so much so that sometimes I feel like I can conquer the world! We learn by experience and when you have many experiences, you also have the opportunity to learn a lot. There is a lesson in everything, good or bad. You just have to be willing to see the silver lining in the bad and not be blinded by the good.
“As you move out of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal.” –Robin S. Sharma
7) Overcoming fear
We all live with fear. I have not figured out some secret to living without fear, I just have learned to recognize it and observe it rather than experience it. When I feel fear creeping up, I stop it in its tracks and try to analyze why I am afraid. Fear will keep you from your dreams if you let it. If you let it, fear can debilitate you. The key is knowing that you have the power to chase fear out of your head and your life. Once you realize this, you are invincible.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” –H.P. Lovecreaft
8) Finding Yourself is Okay
When I moved to Spain at 27 years old, I thought I had myself all figured out. I wanted to change my life situation (job, city, state, country, hobbies, etc) but I didn’t think I was fleeing the states to change myself. I was confident in who I was, what I wanted and how to get it. What I didn’t realize is that I was also keeping myself away from accepting the fact that finding yourself is not negative. It does not imply that you are a lost soul with no idea of who you are or what you want. It simply means that you are willing to do the work to become who you always wanted to be, who you see yourself as. I quickly discovered that moving meant I could start clean. I left the expectations of friends and family at the airport in NYC and landed in Spain ready to really become my best me. It has been the most beautiful experience getting to know myself and being able to create myself. I am actively designing my life, not just taking what comes and learning to work with it. Create your own reality!
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” –George Bernard Shaw
9) Follow Your Inner Compass
What do you daydream about? What keeps you up at night? What do you search for on the internet while you painstakingly sit at the job you hate? Follow that dream. Your heart knows what you want but your brain will trick you into thinking that it is not possible. Want to quit your job, buy a one-way ticket and pack a bag? Do it! No matter what age you are, there is always time to follow your dreams. If not now, when? Don’t keep yourself away from your dreams out of fear or societal or familial pressure. This is your life and no one is going to live it for you. Why spend your younger years working hard to save up to retire to then travel the world? The time is now and you can do it! You know what you want, you just have to say yes to yourself.
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” –Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Moving abroad to teach English has easily been the best decision I’ve ever made. I will never be the same and I couldn’t be happier about that. I highly recommend getting TEFL certified and giving this “alternate” lifestyle a shot. What have you got to lose?
Morgan Garza completed her online TEFL certification with International TEFL Academy in 2013. She is currently living and teaching in Granada, Spain. You can read more about Morgan's adventures in her blog, Good Morning Flamingo: http://goodmorningflamingo.
Founded in 2010, International TEFL Academy is a world leader in TEFL certification for teaching English abroad & teaching English online. ITA offers accredited TEFL certification classes online & in 25 locations worldwide and has received multiple awards & widespread recognition as one of the best TEFL schools in the world. ITA provides all students and graduates with lifetime job search guidance. ITA has certified more than 25,000 English teachers and our graduates are currently teaching in 80 countries worldwide.
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