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Teaching English in Barcelona, Spain: Alumni Q&A with Bekka Burton
Written by: Bekka Burton
Last Updated: April 22, 2021
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Taught English abroad previously
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Australia, Austria, Canada, Costa Rica, England, France, Germany, Guatemala, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, and Thailand
If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?
University of Auckland, New Zealand, studied creative writing
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
Some friends of mine taught English in Thailand, and it peaked my interest. It seemed cool that you could live in a foreign country and make a living while doing so. It had been a dream of mine for many years to become fluent in Spanish, so I thought I could travel to Latin America to teach English and learn Spanish. Also, I'm a writer, and I was interested in knowing more about my own native language as the grammar classes I took in high school were pretty dismal. Little did I know, however, before getting certified, how much I would fall in love with my own mother tongue, how interesting I would find English grammar, and how passionate I would become about teaching it in all its complexities to others!
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
The biggest concern I had would be if I could stay afloat financially and afford to live in a foreign country. It felt daunting to go somewhere where I didn't speak the language and try to make a living. I worried about saving money. I also worried about whether or not I had the talent to be a teacher. Would students like me? Would they like the classes? Would I be a boring teacher?
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My friends were very supportive and some of my family members were too. However, some of my family members were not supportive at all. They thought I was wasting my life, that I should stay put in the US and try to find a "real job." The hardest part was staying true to myself in arguments with family members and believing that I would be successful if I put my mind and heart to it. It felt really discouraging to not have full support from my family but I understand now, in retrospect, that their lack of support was coming from a place of apprehension and concern because they knew nothing about the world of teaching English. I believe they felt more daunted than I did but now, four years later, they see how I've made it work for myself and they all fully support me.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I didn't feel comfortable teaching English without having a certificate. I had never taught anything before and had no idea how I would teach English grammar without first learning it myself. I think if you want to teach English as a second language, it's absolutely worth it to get certified to do so. It gave me a lot more confidence. I chose the International TEFL Academy because I found that their website had a real wealth of information on all of the ins and outs of teaching English abroad. Also, they were in constant contact with support for any questions I had.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Costa Rica - Heredia
How did you like the course?
I loved the course! It was a lot of work and at times really stressful, but we were a small group and we got along really well. The best part was the teaching practicum. If I remember correctly, by the second week you are teaching real classes and getting feedback from your instructors. This constructive feedback is so critical in all stages of your professional development as a teacher but especially in the beginning when it all feels really new, and you really need/want direction. Even after the course ended, my instructors will still available for me to email if I had a specific question about something, and that continued support after the initial training was great.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
I wouldn't be where I am today without my TEFL training. After four years of teaching and countless workshops, self-study, and taking a course on how to teach pronunciation, I can say that without that base of training, I wouldn't be nearly as successful or knowledgeable today.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I chose to teach English in Spain in the city of Barcelona. First I taught English in Costa Rica, then Panama, and now Spain. After Costa Rica and Panama, I had returned to the states for a little bit. While I was there, I was deciding between Spain and Chile. In the end I chose Barcelona, Spain, because I had heard through the grapevine that there was a really big community of English teachers here. This is absolutely true and what is even better is that there is countless support for teachers ranging from workshops, teacher development courses, and conferences. I didn't see this type of community when I was in Costa Rica and Panama.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I've been here for almost 3 years and I don't plan on moving back to the U.S. any time soon!
What school, company, or program are you working for?
I work for myself giving private classes.
During which months does your school typically hire?
Schools here hire in September/October or January. But if you look hard enough, you can find work all year long. You just have to be determined!
Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
How did you interview for this position?
In-Person Interview. I have worked for language academies here, and I always interviewed in person.
What kind of Visa did you enter on?
Please explain the visa process that you went through.
The best visa process you can do is to get a student visa to study Spanish. This visa enables you to work 20 hours, and most contracts you would have with an academy here would be for about 20 hours. I do not recommend coming here on a tourist visa and living here illegally. It's getting more and more complicated to do so, and the majority of academies want you to have working papers.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
- TEFL Certification
- Native English speaker
What is the best way to apply?
Tell us about your English teaching job!
When I first came to Barcelona, I was teaching a mix of private students that I found through a website called tusclasesparticulares.com and for an academy. The academy paid me 18€/hour, and for private classes I charge 25€/hour. I work around 20 hours a week but this only teaching hours. This doesn't include the amount of time I take to prepare classes and the amount of time I spend commuting. I've more or less gotten my work schedule dialed in so that I'm not trekking all over the city in the metro. I bought a bike and I make a huge effort to concentrate my classes in the area where I live in Barcelona. I quickly realized it's not worth my time to go from one end of the city to the other then back to the other end again just to give one-hour private classes. Although I've turned down prospective students, it's better to concentrate your classes in one area of Barcelona as best you can. The nice thing about teaching all private students and working only for myself is that I have a lot of flexibility. The annoying thing is how much students cancel. Word of advice: have a cancellation policy in place and make your students pay for the entire month at the beginning of each month.
Because I work for myself, I can take vacations whenever I want. However I usually only take vacations when it's a long weekend anyways. I don't like teaching children, so I only teach teenagers and adults. Also, the nice thing about working for myself is that if I don't jive with a student, I can just stop teaching them and look for someone else. There is a high demand for teachers here, so I've never had a hard time finding new students. Barcelona can be as cheap or expensive as you make it. I do find it a bit hard to save money here, however, especially because the cost of rent is continually rising. I'm a writer and also have a writing job so that supplements my income.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
There are several websites here that I've used to look for apartments. Idealista.com and loquo.com. The first apartment I shared with an Italian guy and a Spanish girl. I paid 250€/month there. The second apartment (where I am currently), I share with a French guy and a Uruguayan girl and I pay 450€/month. This apartment is much bigger and nicer than the previous one so the cost increase was worth it for me. I've never lived with other English teachers as I prefer to live in a place where the common language is Spanish and not English.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - FUN!>
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Cultural aspects: Spain puts no emphasis on customer service, so don't expect it. I remember being appalled when I first came here at the way customers are treated in restaurants, but I got used to it and also realized that servers don't work for tips here like they do in the US. They come off as rude, but they're not being rude. It's just their culture.
Public Transportation: Barcelona has great public transportation - bus, metro and tram. The city is more or less really well connected. But the best would be to buy yourself a bike as there are bike lanes throughout the city, and it's much better getting around with your own transportation.
Nightlife: For sure it exists here but clubbing and drinking are not my scene, so I can't say I know much about it! But even just going out for a drink or dinner, places are open into the wee hours of the morning.
Social activities: In a city as international as Barcelona, whatever you want you can find here! I'm currently taking a Jamaican dancehall class. I joined a hiking group that I found through meetup.com and that was one of the best things I could've done here. I have met several good friends through this group ,and I have seen so many cool parts of Spain and France that I never would have otherwise known!
Food: There's too much good food in Barcelona. You will never get bored of eating here! You can find cheap eats or super expensive. Everything is here!
Expat community: It's super active here. There are always events going on for the expats. I'm really into theater and have volunteered for a few English speaking theater productions here.
Dating scene: It's what you make of it. Tinder is really popular here.
Travel Opportunities: There are lots of cheap flights from Barcelona, and it's easy to get away for a weekend. Also renting a car here is really affordable, especially if you're splitting it between people.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - MONEY
What are your monthly expenses?
Rent: My rent is 450€/month ($530 USD) utilities included.
Food: I spend about 50€/week ($60 USD) on groceries, but I also have a specialized diet and buy organic food. Thus, it ends up being more expensive.
Social activities: it depends on what you do. Going to anything theater-related will cost between 10-20€ ($12-$25 USD). Going out to dinner can be as cheap as 10€ ($12 USD) or as expensive as 60€ ($75 USD) depending on where you want to go. The dance class I take averaged out to be about 10€ ($12 USD) per class (I paid upfront for 10 classes).
Transportation: a 10-ride pass costs 10€ ($12 USD), and you can use it on the bus, metro or tram. But again, buy a bike!
Phone: I have a smartphone and I use the company vodafone. I pay 15€/month ($18 USD).
Travel: Renting a car is really affordable if you split it between a few people. You can always find cheap flight deals from Barcelona to fun destinations around Europe.
***Health insurance: I have private health insurance here, and I pay 62€/month ($75 USD) for it. It is absolutely worth it. The plan I have includes dental and eye. I don't pay a co-pay.
How would you describe your standard of living?
Pretty darn good! I typically travel once a month (which is either traveling somewhere or going hiking in the mountains). I have a nice apartment here (by far one of the nicer ones that exists in BCN). Healthy food (fruits and vegetables) is very accessible here, and there are markets in every neighborhood where you can buy good quality produce for a good price.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
In order to live comfortably and save a bit, I think you need to make between 1500€-2000€/month ($1765 - $2350 USD). Something I've realized here is that it really helps if you have other skills you can put to use and make money through other avenues too. As I said, I'm a writer, so I have a second income from that which helps. But all things considered it's much cheaper to live here than in the U.S., and incomes here reflect that.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
I would absolutely recommend teaching here. The best advice I would give is to not wait for opportunities to come to you. You have to be a mover and a shaker and get out there and contact schools (calling, going in-person and emailing) as much as you can. Put an ad up on tusclasesparticulares.com to find private students. Even if you get a contract with a school, get some private students on your own to supplement your income. The teaching market is getting saturated here, and I hear people saying they can't find work, but I'm living here and I have work without any issues! You just have to be willing to work hard to find private students. You have to be determined to make it work for yourself here and things will work out.
I'd also recommend learning Spanish (or even Catalan) and integrating yourself into the local community here. Don't just always hang out with other English teachers here. Also just take a chance and come here without a job. I didn't know a single soul when I got to Barcelona, but now I've been here for almost three years. Currently I have a good amount of work and a great group of friends. It'll be hard in the beginning but you'll figure it out!
Bekka is originally from New York and took ITA's TEFL Course in Heredia, Costa Rica. She then moved to Barcelona, Spain to continue teaching English.
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