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Teaching English in Madrid, Spain: Alumni Q&A with Kellie Kaufmann
Written by: Kellie Kaufmann
Last Updated: January 13, 2021
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
St. Paul, MN, USA
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
I studied abroad for three weeks in Spain in high school, and in London for a semester in college.
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I had always dreamt of living in Europe after my first time abroad in high school. While in college, I studied in London for a semester, but it didn't feel like enough. Almost ten years after I first traveled abroad, I found myself working in Corporate America, unsure of where I wanted to go next in my career. I felt like it was now or never if I wanted to achieve my dream of living abroad.
What were some of your concerns before teaching English abroad?
My main concern was money. Did I have enough money saved? Would I be able to get a job before I ran out of money? Would I make enough money if I did find a job? I didn't have experience teaching English prior to moving abroad and I wasn't anywhere near fluent in Spanish, so I was worried about the entire process of finding a job in Spain.
For me, not finding a job meant no income, which meant no Spain, which meant no more living abroad, which meant my dream was over. No pressure.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My parents were excited, yet concerned. My mom liked the idea, my dad didn't understand it. My friends were ecstatic, yet sad. No matter what people personally thought about it, everyone was extremely supportive throughout the entire process.
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I decided to get TEFL certified at ITA for a few reasons.
- I wanted to for personal reasons. I didn't have teaching experience, and I take teaching as a career seriously. I didn't want to feel unsure in my teaching abilities, I wanted to feel confident. I thought ITA could help me achieve that.
- Everything I read said that a TEFL certification was a requirement for finding a job. Now that I'm living here, I think you could find a job without it, but it'd be extremely difficult. And transferring my life abroad was difficult enough, I didn't want to have to worry about not being qualified for the job I was seeking.
- I found other TEFL certifications that were much more affordable. But I still chose ITA because of their reputation and resources. One of my favorite things about ITA is that you have an assigned advisor. Changing careers and moving abroad was such a foreign concept for me... I had so many questions, I didn't know where to start. I scheduled multiple conference calls with my advisor at ITA and they answered all my questions - not just about the TEFL certification, but about the entire process of moving abroad. The support was worth spending the extra money, in my opinion.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
I took the Online TEFL class.
How did you like the course?
I probably devoted around six hours a week to the online course on top of my full-time job. It was a solid amount of reading each week on topics like Classroom Management, Grammar, and How to Create a Lesson Plan. I think the most helpful thing (and most time consuming) was creating an actual lesson plan.
I was a little stressed out about finding a place to do my practicum. But after reaching out to a few places, it worked out. This ended up being my favorite part about the preparation process. It was my first time in front of a classroom so it felt very awkward at first. Some students had a pretty low level of English. But I ended up building great relationships with the students and other teachers, and it prepared me so much for the real thing.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
The TEFL training gave me a solid foundation for teaching. It helped me to understand different techniques English teachers can use to create a successful learning environment, and it also helped me reflect on why I wanted to do this. One of my biggest takeaways from TEFL was understanding the importance of teaching English - and learning how to properly do so.
How long have you been in Spain and how long do you plan to stay?
I am teaching in Spain from January 2019 - December 2019.
Why did you decide to teach English in this location?
I traveled to Spain in high school and I fell in love with the friendly Spanish people and hot Spanish sun. I love so much about the Spanish culture.
I chose Madrid because I wanted to live in a metropolitan area so I could travel easily, and I thought it would have the best career opportunities.
During which months does your school typically hire?
Annually, but more classes are available in early January and September.
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.
The visa process was definitely the most challenging part of moving abroad. I lived in Minnesota, so my consulate was in Chicago. The website had a checklist of paperwork you needed to obtain your student visa. It was a decent amount of paperwork and it took some time and effort to gather it all. It included things like an apostilled background check, a signed doctor's note, and proof of health insurance. ITA helped me to gather the necessary paperwork, but most of it was done on my end.
Once I arrived at the consulate office in Chicago (six hour drive from my hometown), they told me I had done a few things wrong (they didn't accept my health insurance, they needed an exact address of where I was going to live, and a few other things). It was rather frustrating because what they told me they needed in person contradicted the checklist they provided on the consulate website. I had 10 days to fix my documentation and send it back in.
Luckily, I made a friend through Facebook who was in the same boat that I was. We were both hearing the same pushback from the Chicago consulate that didn't seem to make any sense. She lived in Chicago, so she was able to walk to their office and ask them questions in person. We actually ended up having a conference call with TT Madrid, ITA's partner school here in Madrid. They apologized for our issues and offered us support and alternatives. We did our best with what we had and turned in our documentation 10 days later. About two weeks later both my new friend and I received our visa's in the mail... neither of us understood why they accepted our incomplete paperwork, but both of us were ecstatic! We have now been roommates for 11 months here in Madrid.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers?
Bachelor's Degree, TEFL Certification, and you must be a Native English Speaker.
What is the best way to apply?
Email; lingobongo.com is a great place to find side jobs (under the table). But the best way is word of mouth. There have been so many times my student's best friend's sister needed a teacher.
Tell us about your English teaching job!
- English Plus: ~6.5 hours per week with my Spanish students through English Plus. I have 4 different students (I teach three students for 1.5 hours once a week and one student for 1 hour twice a week.
- GogoKid: ~10-15 hours per week online at GogoKid. My online schedule is completely flexible, I set my available hours each week. One week I might work Monday-Sunday for maybe 20 hours. The next week I might work 4 hours because I'm traveling to Copenhagen.
- Private classes: I do have students I've met by word of mouth through other students. At first I was very afraid to take on these classes as I thought I would get deported. But after talking to many people about, apparently that's just Spain. Currently I have 3 private classes.
- English Plus: I get paid 15 euros an hour through my English company for my Spanish students. This goes into my Spanish bank account each month.
- GogoKid: Teaching online I get paid $21 an hour. It's a US company so I get paid through PayPal and it goes straight to my US bank account which is nice.
- Private classes: I asked for 20 euros an hour for my private classes and none of my students questioned that amount. Probably should have asked for 25. I get paid in cash (euros).
I haven't been able to save. My savings account has slowly been declining throughout the year. The first month I spent a lot of money on an apartment, bedding, groceries, teaching supplies, all the stuff you need to set up your life. And I didn't have a job during this time. That was stressful. My money flew out of my bank account. However, since I've started working it has been pretty steady. It really is a breakeven country. I've been able to travel to so many places. But I don't go out every weekend like I used to in the US. Having a budget has been a lifesaver for me and has really allowed me to make the most of this experience.
I teach five Spanish adults and I love them all. I either teach them at their house or at their company. I have a 7 & 8 year old brother and sister who can be challenging, but fun. I don't loveeee teaching kids. But I also have a 3 year old brother and a 10 year old sister and they are fun and easy to teach. It depends on the kid, and the parent I suppose. Online I teach Chinese kids, from 3 - 14 years. It's the same as kids here in Spain, some are super cute, some scream for 20 minutes. Teaching kids has taught me to let go of things I cannot control.
I've been able to take multiple vacations this year, no problem. Luckily, my English company is pretty flexible about vacation. You just need to tell your student and ask if they want to make it up another day (which they often do) or if they want a sub (they never have). With my private classes, I just give them a heads up and ask if they want to reschedule. With online, I don't open up my schedule when I know I'm going to be traveling. FYI my friends who work for a proper academy have more trouble getting vacation time. They can only miss 1-2 days in the spring/fall.
You can really make your schedule however you'd like. Most of my friends have scattered sporadic schedules like mine. Only a small few work in an actual academy, but those jobs are available if you really want them. They are just often further outside the city (45 minute bus ride at least). If you want to fill your schedule and work 40 hours a week, it is possible. If you want to work 10 hours a week, that's also possible. It's however you make it. It takes some effort up front to piece together your schedule, but it's really nice and flexible once you get the hang of it.
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
The Spanish culture is amazing. The pace of life is much slower than the US, they definitely work to live instead of living to work. People are extremely open and friendly. The weather is sunny almost every single day. Because of this, many people gather outside. Madrid is also an urban area, so people don't have yards or decks. They hang out at local bars or restaurants for tapas or lay on a blanket making out in Retiro park every night of the week. Community is huge.
The people are very individualistic. You can see this through the fashion - everyone wears bright, bold colors. It's not uncommon to see a 60 year old woman rocking lime green pants. It's awesome. Everyone is doing their own thing and no one seems to care.
On the other hand, the Spanish walk really slow. They look all around and walk in zig zags. They are not efficient at walking. Also, many shops will take a siesta in the middle of the day (they close from 2-4pm), and they won't open until 4:08pm, not 4pm. Not everyone is late, but a lot of people are. Time doesn't seem to be as valuable here, maybe because the sun is out until 11pm in the summer. There's no rush! There's a lack of efficiency for sure, but there's also a greater appreciation for the moment. There have been maybe 10 days since living here where I've been super annoyed at the culture. The other 305 days, I've loved it so much.
The metro is super clean, pretty fast, and really easy to use. I either take the metro or walk everywhere (unless I'm out passed 1:30am and it's before 6am when the metro is closed, in which case I uber). They also have a really nice bus system. This is a little more complicated than the metro, but I take the bus to one of my classes and it's always chill. Everyone takes public transportation or walks. Madrid is a very walkable city.
The nightlife in Spain also took some getting used to... Since they don't eat dinner until 10:30pm or later, they usually don't start going out until midnight. My Spanish roommate (she is 21) told me that going home at 3am is considered early, 6am is normal, and 9am is a late night. I have been walking to teach a class on Sunday morning at 10:30am and I've seen people dressed up still tipsy from the night before. It's wild. I've stayed out until 6am a few times. It's fun, and time goes by fast. In the summer it was 95 degrees at 3am, so it just made sense to stay out instead of going back to our sans AC apartment to try to sleep.
There are a ton of social activities to get into here. The Meetup app has been very useful. I've found a Salsa class and Yoga class through Meetup that were both super fun. Also, one of my students told me about Fever, an app with free activities going on in Madrid. There are so many holidays and random events, it's not uncommon to stumble across something in Plaza Mayor without knowing it'll be there.
Breakfast is usually around 9am, lunch is the biggest meal at 2-3pm and dinner is around 10-11pm. I was used to eating dinner at 5:30pm so this took me a while to get used to (I still eat dinner at like 8pm).
Spanish tapas are small plates that are sometimes free with a drink purchase. This can be anything from potato chips to Ensaladilla Rusa (potato salad) to chicken wings. Pintxos are the tapas of northern Spain, usually 2-3 euros for a piece of bread with some stuffed zucchini on top of it or mushrooms roasted in butter, for example.
One of the most typical Spanish foods is the Spanish tortilla (basically a fried potato omelette). The best I've had was at a very old Spanish bar called Bodega de la Ardosa. Croquettes are basically mozzarella sticks filled with ham or cod, Paella is more common on the coast, jamón is life here. For me, the jamón is okay. I'm more about the amazing baked goods at every fourth shop on the street. Fresh croissants and cakes taunt me on the daily.
The typical breakfast is toast with a fresh tomato puree and olive oil, coffee with milk, and fresh squeezed orange juice. You can get fresh squeezed orange juice at any grocery store or restaurant, it's amazing. They really like lentils here and I'm a big fan of it. I never really used to eat lentils, but they're amazing. Same with chickpeas. They have a "cocido madrileño" or Madrid food, which is like a chickpea stew with meat. And I can't forget churros - San Gines has the most amazing churros I've ever tasted. I bring every visitor here and they have all loved it.
The expat community feels pretty big. I've met up with a few other people who are here to teach English from the US. Facebook is awesome for getting in touch with people. I will say most of my friends here are American, which makes it difficult to learn Spanish, but also makes me feel very comfortable and happy in this foreign country.
My Spanish teachers recommended that we date Spanish people to improve our Spanish. Tinder is not weird here. Most Spanish men are flirty naturally, so it's not weird, it's just Spain. I went on one Tinder date. We spoke in Spanish on the app, but when we met in person... I couldn't stop laughing. The Spanish speak extremely fast. I couldn't understand a word. After trying for 3 minutes, we switched to English. Most of the guys, or actually all the people here, are very beautiful in my opinion.
I've been able to travel to so many more places than I would have thought. Traveling throughout Spain is easy. There are so many busses, we actually took an overnight bus to Portugal for around 30 euros. We stayed at a hostel in San Sebastian for 30 euros a night. It's very affordable to travel compared to the US. I paid 70 euros for a flight to Milan and 36 euros for a flight to Ibiza. I will miss how easy it is to travel here a lot.
What are your monthly expenses?
- TOTAL MONTHLY EXPENSES $940
- RENT/UTILITIES $644 a month for rent and utilities
- FOOD $100 a month for groceries
- SOCIAL $50- $100 a month for social activities like eating out, going to the movies, etc.
- TRANSPORTATION $60 a month for unlimited metro and bus rides (if you are under 26 it's half the price)
- PHONE/COMMUNICATION $50 a month for phone. I pay $10 a month for my Spanish phone (just to have a Spanish phone number for my job) and $40 for my American phone (family plan). I paid off my phone when I got here because I had to in order to use a Spanish SIM. That was a cool unforeseen $350. Later on, my friends were visiting and brought me an old iPhone. I currently use my Spanish SIM in the old phone and my American SIM in my current phone. I never use my old iPhone, but I have it in case I need it.
- HEALTH INSURANCE $35 a month for the recommended insurance. I've been to the doctor three times and I had to pay $50 on my first visit and that's it.
- TRAVEL I've traveled to Toledo, Segovia, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Cordoba, Barcelona, Nice, Lisbon, Murcia, Milan, Ibiza, Copenhagen, and next week I'm going to Sevilla and Morocco. I spent 25 euros for a day trip to Toledo. On the other hand, a weekend in Copenhagen cost around $450. I've kept track of how much I spent on travel on my blog.
How did you find somewhere to live?
I found my apartment through Spotahome, an online service that validates the apartment to confirm it's not a scam and that the pictures posted by the rental company are accurate. You have to pay a fee to Spotahome for this service, but I was willing to pay for security. I live in a 5 bedroom apartment on a fairly busy street in Chamberi, a neighborhood a little north of the center of Madrid (about a 25 minute walk to Sol). I absolutely love my neighborhood. It's very family oriented and quiet at night, but there are still a ton of fun things to do very close by in the artsy Malasaña or Chueca neighborhoods. My apartment does not have a living room and the kitchen is small. And we have one bathroom for five people. I definitely had to make some compromises but I have a small terrace in my bedroom... it's all worth it. You'd be surprised how easy it is to deal with things when you have no other option.
How would you describe your standard of living?
My standard of living is great, but it's not as great as the US. It took some getting used to I won't lie. It's not a huge difference, but it required some discipline to adjust. I was used to getting a $20 happy hour a few times a week and going shopping once a month. I couldn't do that here.
Here's an embarrassing example - My new roommates and I were out buying candles for our room (not a bad standard of living to be able to afford some candles!) However, I smelled this Zara Home fragrance at a cafe and I HAD to have it. It was weird. Something about adjusting to living abroad... my desires became stronger. Back home I would have bought this $40 diffuser without thinking, but here it was super expensive. I ended up buying it. And I still have it and love it. Haven't bought a $5 candle since.
There are mostly trivial, minor things you have to adjust to (amount of space, can't buy whatever you want whenever you want), but you still get to live an amazing life. I have traveled to so many places. Basically my standard of living is about the same, I'm just spending my money on different things. Also a glass of wine typically costs 2 euros so that helps.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
1000 euros a month
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Yes! Spain is a super welcoming, super safe country. If you like the sun, you should definitely teach here. The people are all very open and relaxed. You have to hustle and make it your own at first, no one is going to make your schedule or network for you. But it's definitely possible. There are opportunities everywhere. Many local restaurants don't have websites or a social media presence so even making money that way is possible.
You have to be open and flexible when moving to a new country, but it's so worth it. I've learned so much about myself since moving here. I would absolutely recommend teaching here.
If you're still in the process of deciding, take advantage of ITA's advisor and definitely reach out to alumni. You can reach out to me on my blog or instagram if you have questions! I'm more than happy to help because I remember the feeling of so many things unknown. My other advice is to make a budget and try your best to stick to it, at least at first. It will alleviate some stress on that front.
After studying abroad for three weeks in Spain in high school, and in London for a semester in college, Kellie aspired to live in Europe. She found herself working in Corporate America, unsure of where she wanted to go next in her career. Feeling like it was now or never, she took the leap, got TEFL certified through ITA's Online TEFL Course, and moved to Madrid, Spain teaching at a school, online, and also private tutoring.
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