Teaching English in Zaragoza, Spain: Alumni Q&A with Alain Saleh

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What is your citizenship?

What city and state are you from?
Toronto, Ontario

How old are you?

What is your education level and background?
Bachelor's degree

Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Some international travel with friends, family, business, etc.

If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Canada, United States, France, Germany, Spain and England.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I decided to teach English abroad because I wanted to live in Spain and teaching was the best way I could think of to make that happen. Moreover, I knew I enjoyed teaching and thought I would be good at it, so it seemed like a good choice for me.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
I was worried about being able to make ends meet on the salary I was going to receive as a teacher in Spain. I have a lot of student debt, and the salary for the program I was accepted into is not very high, and so I knew it was going to be a challenge.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
I had extremely supportive friends and family who both encouraged and supported me in the time leading up to my moving abroad to teach, as well as since having moved abroad.

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I decided to get TEFL certified so that I would have an edge when applying for teaching jobs. I know that it is possible to get teaching jobs in Spain without a certification. However, most respectable academies will require either a TEFL or a CELTA certification. I chose International TEFL Academy in particular because I had read some positive reviews and because they had the option of doing the course online, which worked better with my full-time work schedule.

Teach English in Spain TEFL

Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course.

How did you like the course?
I thought there was an appropriate and manageable workload for the course. I appreciated that we had a chance to develop tasks and lessons plans and have those critiqued.

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
The TEFL Certification has been important to have when applying to jobs. The resources that I learned about through our instructor and through webinars have also proved helpful. The course allowed me the opportunity to practice developing and researching classroom activities. It also helped me familiarize with some of the jargon used in EFL teaching (e.g. Total Physical Response), which has been useful when researching activities for classes.

Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Spain in the city of Zaragoza. Two years ago I did a trip to Europe, during which I visited Germany, France and Spain. I completely fell in love with Spain and immediately started to try to think of ways to live here. The weather is nice; the winters are milder; the people are warm and friendly; the food is good; and it's much easier to travel here than it is in Canada.

I did not directly apply to work in Zaragoza. I applied to a Spain-wide program called Auxiliares de Conversación (language assistant program) and was assigned to Zaragoza. However, I have loved my experience here and in the end was very happy with my placement.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been in Spain for nine months now and will be staying for at least another year. After that, I am not sure, but at this point I think it is likely that I will be looking to extend my stay here indefinitely.

What school, company, or program are you working for?
Auxiliares de Conversación (Ministerio de Educación, Aragón)

During which months does your school typically hire?
The application for this program is online and opens from January to May every year.

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?

How did you interview for this position?
There was no interview for this position. There was only the online application.

What kind of Visa did you enter on? 
Canadians under 35 (and Australians, I believe) can apply for a Youth Mobility Visa, which allows them to work and live in Spain for one year.

Please explain the visa process that you went through.
I applied for my Youth Mobility Visa through the Spanish consulate in Toronto. It was a two stage process.

Auxiliares de Conversación TEFL SpainFirst, I had to obtain an N.I.E. (numero de extranjero), which required some paperwork, a clean bill of health from my doctor and a criminal record check. Once I had obtained my N.I.E. number, I was able to apply for the actual visa. For that, I needed a passport-sized photo, my N.I.E. number, proof that I had sufficient funds to survive for at least two months in Spain (a bank statement indicating I had $2,000 plus in my account).

The most time consuming part was getting the N.I.E., because for that I also needed to apply for a police record check first. The visa application process itself was between one and two weeks. I had to pay separate fees for the N.I.E. application, the police record check and for the visa application. With the type of visa I had, I did not need to undergo any other paperwork in Spain to be able to work. However, normally (i.e. if you have a student visa or a visa other than a Youth Mobility Visa) I believe you need to apply for a T.I.E. (tarjeta de identificación de extranjero) at an immigration office once in Spain.

What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? 
Bachelor's degree.

What is the best way to apply?
Apply online.

Tell us about your English teaching job!
As an Auxiliar de Conversación (language assistant), I lead English classes focused on conversation with students ranging from 6 to 17 years of age. I am paid 700 euros ($830 USD) per month (plus health insurance) to teach 12 hours per week (divided between two schools). While most language assistants teach one-hour classes, I teach 30 minute classes to twice the number of groups (i.e. 24 instead of 12 groups). In addition to the 12 hours of in-class time, I spend anywhere between 2-5 hours preparing at home, though many language assistants spend less time preparing (and some just wing it).

The 700 euros per month are not enough to meet my living expenses and debt payments, so I also teach private classes outside of my work as a language assistant. I charge 15 euros ($18 USD) per hour. This is about average in the city where I live, though in Madrid or Barcelona many charge more and in smaller towns, many charge less.

Spain has a lot of holidays and for my work as a language assistant I receive the same paid holidays as any teacher in the school. In other words, I do not work a full 12 hours every week, but I am still paid the 700 euros per month. There is a winter break, and many days off scattered throughout the year.

Both the schools I taught in were Catholic concertadas (semi-private schools). I did not know that Catholic schools were part of the program and, being gay, I was a little apprehensive before going arriving about possible homophobia. However, Spain is generally very progressive when it comes to LGBTQ rights and acceptance (first country in Europe to legalize gay marriage!), and I did not encounter any problems in my two schools (though this could depend on the region you are placed in).

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
There are many websites in Spain to find apartments and/or rooms to rent. I used Idealista (for entire apartments or shared apartments) and Piso Compartido (for a room in a shared apartment). I stayed in an Airbnb when I first got here and my host, who was Spanish, helped me a lot at first with calling apartment owners on my behalf, because at the time I spoke very little Spanish. It took me about three weeks to find an apartment.

I've lived in two different places in the nine months since I moved here (and soon will be moving to Menorca for a few weeks to teach in an English summer camp there). First I lived alone in a vibrant area of the city, but the apartment had a few problems (e.g. it wasn't heated and got very cold in the winter) and it was expensive (about 500 euros with utilities), so I decided to move into another place with roommates. The second apartment, which is where I live now, is shared with two other people. It's less expensive (300 euros all in), has fewer problems and I enjoy living with roommates. Moreover, it allows me to practice my Spanish with my Spanish roommates!

Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...    

Cultural aspects: Spanish culture is not so radically different from North American culture that you feel completely lost or out of place. However, there are significant differences. People tend to go out later than in North American. Much later. People don't really start heading to nightclubs until around 2 am and then stay out until about 7 am. In general, the meals are also pushed back. People eat lunch around 2 or 3 pm, have a snack around 6 pm (merienda) and then dinner around 9 or 10 pm.

Public transport: The public transportation in Zaragoza consists of buses and a tram. The city is very easy to get around and the available public transportation is sufficient. There is also a very affordable bike sharing program (around 35 euros for the year).

Food: Everywhere in Spain you will find reasonably priced three course menus for lunch and dinner called "menu del dia" and "menu de la noche" respectively. In general, food is very affordable. It can get expensive at times to have a sit down meal, where they serve you warm dishes. However, if you're in a pinch, you can always buy a few tapas or, my favorite, a slice of Spanish omelette served in a baguette (bocadillo de tortilla de patata), which will only set you back between 1-3 euros.

Expat community: Zaragoza does not have a lot of foreigners, though there are quite a few young people from abroad, especially French young people, because there is a major university in the city. The fact that most people are Spanish and also that most only speak Spanish forces you to practice and ultimately helps you learn more quickly.

Travel opportunities: Zaragoza is very well situated for traveling. It is about an hour and a half from the Pyrenees, one hour by train from both Barcelona and Madrid and about three hours from Bilbao and San Sebastian by car. I've traveled quite a bit since I've been here.

Spain TEFL What are your monthly expenses?
I spend 300 euros (all-included, with internet) on a room in a three bedroom apartment where I live. In general, things are pretty cheap. There's a bus card you can get and top off and it brings the cost of taking the bus or tram down to 70 cents each way. If I want to save money and I make all my meals, I can comfortably eat for 30 euros per week. My cell phone plan is about 18 euros per month. Within Spain I rarely spend more than 100 euros for a roundtrip bus/plan/train ticket (the only exception was a trip to the Canaries, which I think cost about 160 euros for the roundtrip ticket), and I spent about 100 euros on the couple return tickets I bought to go to other European countries (and even when flying out of Spain you can easily find tickets for less than 100 euros). One fantastic thing about Spain, and Zaragoza in particular, is that it can be very cheap to grab drinks with friends. A "caña" (small glass of beer) will set you back 1-1.5 euros. So you can spend many hours sitting and talking and only spend 5-10 euros.

How would you describe your standard of living?
When I first arrived in Spain I took advantage of a credit line I had to travel a lot. Now that that's no longer an option, I live pretty frugally, though I can still afford to hop on a bus and stay a night or two in a hostel somewhere. Money is pretty tight for me in general. However, that is largely because of student debt. Otherwise, I would be okay financially, though still far from living a life of luxury.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
In Spain, if you don't have a lot of debt, you can probably live comfortably with 1000-1300 euros (with 1000 euros being enough for most cities, and 1300 euros being more necessary if you live in a very touristic city like Barcelona, Madrid, San Sebastian or Seville).

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Living and teaching in Spain has been, by far, the best experience of my life. I would highly recommend moving to another country to teach. That being said, I know other English teachers in Zaragoza who arrived at the same time as me and did not enjoy their time here. I think that something that prevented some people from enjoying their time here was an unwillingness or inability to adapt to different ways of doing things. Therefore, I would recommend trying to embrace as much as possible the culture, the language, the food and the customs of wherever you end up. And, yes, I would highly recommend coming to Spain!

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