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Teaching English in Braga, Portugal: Alumni Q&A with Keith Gissubel
Written by: Keith Gissubel
Last Updated: January 18, 2021
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
Ocean Township, NJ
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Costa Rica, Iceland, and Holland.
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I wanted to see more of the world, and I knew that I could turn vacation to vocation if I could teach while abroad. I'm a 10 year teaching veteran, so I turned my passion into a way for me to travel!
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
My biggest concern was finding a job. There are plenty of people who will discourage you from one place or another because the market isn't great for native English speakers, but you can make it happen almost anywhere you want if you're not afraid to work hard.
Second biggest concern was making enough money to still pay my bills back home. However, I worked with a financial advisor before I left, and we worked out ways that I could manage my bills while making what I was figuring I would be making.
Third was loneliness. But I made it a goal to be more extroverted when I got here, and forced myself to go out and meet people. So far, I've lived here for six months, and I've made several lifelong friends.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
All those things! I'm a bit older than the average age for teaching English abroad, I think. Although I do sometimes read about people older than me who make the leap. However, I had a career; I had a steady income; and so most people in my life thought I was having a mental breakdown when I made my decision. But in the end, everyone in my life supported me.
If you feel it in your gut, you can do it. The people who love you will have your back after the initial shock settles. The more confident you are, the more at ease they will be.
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
The online ratings were high. Haha! But, I was tempted to go with other companies that offered more exotic locations with opportunities to also volunteer in local camps. However, ITA's support staff was the best at answering my questions and keeping me calm throughout the process of deciding to sign up. When I made the decision, I found that they weren't lying about the amount of support they provide throughout the whole process. My ITA advisor is amazing and gets back to me very quickly with answers and solutions to any problems I had.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course.
How did you like the course?
The course was good enough, I suppose. I'm a "classroom" learner and was a little scared about taking an online course, but it was comprehensive enough and at a really good pace that I was successful and felt well prepared. Better than all that, though, is the amount of resources that I received from the course that I'm still using in a big big way.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
The resources are the biggest help. Second to that are the sample lessons I created as homework. It has been guiding me through good planning habits and it reminds me to stay away from lecturing for the whole class! Nothing helps you as much as getting in the classroom and seeing how it all works for you, so take the practicum (live practice teaching) seriously.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I chose to teach English in Portugal in the city of Braga. I'm also a student in the university here, so that's why I landed in this little known city in Portugal.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I've been here for six months now, and I plan on staying until I finish my degree. About three years.
What school, company, or program are you working for?
University of Minho, Babelium, and freelance.
During which months does your school typically hire?
August for fall start. January for spring start.
Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
How did you interview for this position?
What kind of visa did you enter on?
Please explain the visa process that you went through.
It wasn't easy. It all centered around the Portuguese consulate office, though. It was difficult to get through to them initially, and then I was bounced around to a few people. However, I finally landed on one individual who was great and walked me through the whole process. REMEMBER TO ASK A MILLION QUESTIONS!! And write down all the questions and answers. Even ask the same questions over and over to different people to make sure you're getting consistent information.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
- Bachelor's degree
- TEFL Certification
What is the best way to apply?
Tell us about your English teaching job!
This company is great. Right now I'm only teaching 1 three-hour class per week, but it pays 22€ (~$27 USD) per hour. I'm hoping next semester I'll get two classes. I'm not making enough to save from that job alone. I'm also taking private students in my home, and I'm editing papers on the side. This is enough to keep me afloat and even sock away a little bit, but it's still just the beginning, and I expect business to pick up over the coming months.
I work for a language school that's based in the local university here in Braga. These students are mostly university aged, with a few older students. Vacation time is just the posted holidays for the university, like Easter and Christmas, but there are more because Portugal loves their holidays. ITA alumni don't typically speak highly about coming to Portugal, but they love native speakers for teachers, and if you're willing to put in the work, you can do it, too!
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
I used the internet and emailed several realtors until someone got back to me. I saw pictures online and negotiated the reservation of the apartment via email. It all worked out great. I live alone.
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
I haven't traveled too far from Braga, but I have been to Porto, Espinho, Geres, and Gaia. So far, the Portuguese are amazing. So kind and totally willing to help a perfect stranger to well beyond what a normal American would. Nothing is too out of the ordinary about the culture, aside that they love any excuse to party and set off fireworks. Here in Braga, the bus will take you anywhere around town, and the central train station (Comboios Portugal) will take you nearly anywhere in the country. Other than that, there are plenty of taxis, but why are you getting in a car?!? You should be walking around and seeing the country!
You should be aware right now that restaurants close after 3pm and don't open back up until around 7:30 or 8pm for dinner. You can see people on a weeknight going out to eat dinner at 10pm, and they will still punctuate dinner with an espresso at the end and still get up for work by 8am. On the weekends, they will dine at 10, go somewhere else for coffee at 11, and then go out drinking around 12 or 1am until 6 or 7am, where they go back to a coffee shop that has now REOPENED and will get a pastry and a coffee before going home to go to bed. Wow. There is no expat community here in Braga, and I'm so happy about that. The nearest one is an hour train ride away from me, but I've been fully immersing myself in the culture and the people. My two best friends are Portuguese. If I want to socialize, I find them. I'm learning the culture and language a lot faster that way. If you want to find Americans, stay in America. That's my personal opinion.
Once you're in Europe, most places in Europe are about an hour plane ride, and are incredibly inexpensive. There is a train that will take me west into the rest of Europe, but I haven't tried it yet. I live in the most western European country, so it will take me several hours to get most places. But explore your country!! Portugal has so many hidden locations that I would never know about unless I had my Portuguese friends who tell me and take me to the most beautiful places. Ask locals and get recommendations! One more thing. Bread, olive oil, and wine.... (the three main food groups) are all amazingly delicious here and cheap!!
What are your monthly expenses?
Rent: 350€ (~$428 USD)
Utilities: 35€ (~$42 USD)
Cell: 25€ (~$30 USD)
Internet and TV: 30€ ($~36 USD)
Food shopping: 30€/week (~$ 36 USD) for a vegan... you can probably add another 10 if you're not.
Beer (local): 1.20€, 3€ (craft) (~$1.50 - $3 USD)
Cocktail: 8€ (~$10 USD)
Dinner (app/entree/dessert/wine): 20€ (~$24 USD)
How would you describe your standard of living?
A lot lower now!! I live so minimally now, it's amazing. Man, I was a spoiled American when I got here, but now I'm much more open to not getting what I want, when I want it, and in a quantity that I probably won't use all of.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
650€/month minimum (~$800 USD)
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Don't come to Portugal! It's all MINE!! Kidding. Yes, of course you should. No matter how old you are, or what stage of life you are in. It pays you so much more than money can ever buy you, and you will forever be changed. People generally say to stay away from Portugal for some reason. I didn't have an issue. The schools and other jobs I found were so happy to have an American applying. Come!! Portugal is amazing!
After an 11-year career as a high school teacher and administrator in Red Bank, New Jersey, Keith decided it was time for a change. While attending ITA classes, he applied to international PhD programs all over the world and is now pursuing his doctoral degree and teaching English at the University of Minho in the little city of Braga, Portugal. He has been on this Portuguese journey for just over 2 years and is grateful every day for this opportunity. He will complete his degree in about one year and by then will be ready to take on the next adventure in some other place in the world.
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