It was almost exactly six months ago to the day that I arrived in Barcelona. My nerves and excitement were feeling a little dulled by the jet lag that first day, so I can only imagine how I would have felt if I had been fully awake and “with it.” The drive from the airport, meeting my host and my roommate here in Barcelona, walking around that first day – it’s all kind of rolled into one unnatural cloud of indecipherable emotions.
My first day of TEFL though? That memory is still perfectly clear.
You never know exactly what you’re going to get when you sign up for something like this. For me, the my biggest fear before coming had to do with making friends. I had no idea what kind of people would be in my class, if any. Would they be lost souls, like me? Experienced teachers? People that don’t shower?
Thankfully, I arrived the first day to find a room of 25 other soon-to-be teachers, most of whom were freshly showered with little to no teaching experience. I immediately felt at ease, and settled into my seat for the first jam-packed day of learning/training.
While the social side of your TEFL experience is incredibly difficult to predict, there are a couple things you can (and should!) know before you get on the plane to begin your journey. I experienced a few surprises, and while they were by no means deal breakers, for my own sanity, I wish that I had taken the time to ask someone before I arrived.
So here are the 4 questions I wish I had asked before I came to Barcelona. While I’ve given some general answers, I strongly recommend reaching out to a program alumnus (your TEFL course coordinator can help there!) as they can give you country and program specific answers to these questions.
1) What kind of classes will I be teaching?
If you’re like me, you hear “teacher,” and you think of your kindergarten classroom with posters, books, games, and mini-sized everything. In a lot of countries, you won’t be this kind of teacher. For example, in Barcelona, our bread and butter are private classes and after-school language academies. Knowing what you’ll most likely be doing will help you mentally prepare, and it will also help you pack!! I legitimately have an entire suitcase full of business casual clothes gathering dust in my closet. Not an exaggeration.
2) What’s the visa situation like?
For legal reasons, this is arguably the most important thing to ask. Many programs in Asia will take care of this for you, but in Europe, it’s not as cut-and-dry. It’s almost impossible for an American to get a work visa here, and most businesses will choose someone from the UK instead of going through the paperwork/hassle of hiring someone from the States. Don’t think that you can come to Europe and find some sort of loophole to get a work visa – I’ve talked to A LOT of people about this, and the only solution is marriage (jk…but seriously…), or getting a student visa. As you are a student during your first month here, your TEFL academy can sponsor your for a student visa, which allows you to legally work up to 20hrs a week for 6 months. That being said, most of those people that I’ve talked to have been here sans visa for years, and have not had a problem. It really just depends on whether or not you have enough time to get the visa and how comfortable you are overstaying. So step one – ask your TEFL academy about getting a student visa, and step two – ask an alumni of your program what works best in that specific country. Just make sure that you know before you go so you know what you’re getting yourself into, ya know?
3) How will I find a job and a place to live?
Again, this is program dependent, but no matter where you are, there will be a TEFL International staff member with insider tips to finding both jobs and housing. In most situations, you’ll have to do the legwork (contacting people for apartments, applying to jobs), but there will always be someone there to guide you through the process.
4) Will I find a job?
With dedication, absolutely. If you can’t find a “real job,” meaning one with a classroom and materials etc., you can always offer to give private classes. Private lessons are a great way to supplement a classroom job, or can even serve as a full time job on their own. While you will probably find something, keep in mind you almost definitely will not be making enough to truly support yourself your first month after graduation. Be smart about your money – save before you come, if possible, and learn to accept the fact that the FOMO will pass – there will be another exciting night out, another chance to swing by Rome, and the tapas aren’t going anywhere, so make sure you’re budgeting and not putting yourself in a dangerous financial situation that could result in having to go home (worse than FOMO, I promise).
If you have any other questions, or are interested in some more Barcelona specific info, don’t hesitate to leave a comment! I’ll be the first to say that being spontaneous is wonderful and exciting, but at the same time, moving to a new country is a huge life choice, so do some research, and don’t be afraid to ask an alumnus! We don’t (usually) bite!
By Sarah Melville, USA (October 2014 course)