Gypsy. Hippie. Wanderlust. Crazy. Travel-bug. These are among the many things I’ve been referred to in my life. Call it what you want, but what it comes down to is simple- I LOVE to travel. Many people claim to love to travel; but it takes a specific person to fully commit and make traveling a “career.” Just the fact that you’re reading this post tells me that you’re interested in doing so. I’m going to try my best to paint a picture of what my life in Barcelona is like so you can see what being paid to travel really does look like.
First off let me explain my background. I was born and raised in the United States; during which time I went on countless road trips, saw sites all over the US, and even visited various areas of Latin America. During my time at University, I studied abroad in Seville, the south of Spain, for six months. This was the moment my true love for Spain began. I knew from the first month in Spain that I had fallen in love with a country. While I had to go back to the US at the end of my study abroad program, I always knew I would return one day! Five years later, I have finally returned to my beloved country- but this time I chose to do so in a city with a beach- Barcelona!
After many goodbyes, hugs, kisses, and a few tears I hopped onto a plane and started this crazy next chapter of my life. The flight over was quite nice actually. They had an incredible selection of movies to choose from and wine was free! The first few days after arriving were filled with naps and wandering. I spent a great deal of time just walking around and getting used to the area. If I wasn’t doing that, I was trying to catch up on sleep; jetlag hit me hard! The following Monday morning we began our program at TEFL Barcelona. I should preface that I have a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and master’s degree in education; yet I found this training program to be one of the best courses I’ve taken. It was challenging, thorough, fun, exhilarating, and beneficial. I would attend class 5 days a week with 15 other adults of various ages. We came from all parts of the world, but had one common goal- to become certified English teachers. We bonded immediately and became a close group of friends (an important thing in a month long intensive program). Our teachers were incredibly helpful and pushed us to constantly do more and be better. Basically we had to relearn the entire English language again- hitting nearly every grammar point and learning the entire phonemic alphabet. Now you may be thinking “Claire you speak English, you should be fine.” I’m going to stop you right there. I’d be curious to know how many of you know about future perfect, past perfect continuous, and the 5 different types of conditionals. It was a refresher on what everything is and why it’s used. Having taught various levels of English since this course, I could not be more thankful for the preparation!
In addition to relearning all aspects of English, the program also offered hands on teaching experience. After two days of introduction into the course, we were immediately sent in to begin teaching! Our teachers provided the materials and then worked one-on-one with us to prepare an engaging lesson. We would brainstorm the best way to explain grammar points, how to introduce vocabulary, and my personal favorite- games to play. After a couple hours of preparation time, our students would start arriving and we’d hit the classrooms. We had students of all levels, from beginning to advanced, as well as all ages. The students were eager to learn and incredibly friendly, quite ideal for a first batch of students. Through these lessons I was able to see which things worked well in the classroom, and which things I shouldn’t repeat again. Forcing us to get into the classroom early, as opposed to simply learning about teaching, was a brilliant idea and I am incredibly grateful.
After our month at TEFL Barcelona was up, our program was concluded with a small graduation party. We gathered one last time and were given our certificates; the certificates that meant we were employable anywhere in the world. Take a second to think about that. This certificate means I am certified to teach English, which means I could work anywhere in the world that has a language school AKA I can travel anywhere in the world and get paid for it! Internationally employable, I like the sound of that! One of our students baked a cake, we toasted with cava, and said our farewells!
The program was over, and the “real” world was about to start: it was time to start applying for jobs. As I started to look more at the job market here (with guidance from my teachers at TEFL), I discovered a few things. There is no chance of me working at a traditional school since I’m not Spanish. So that leaves two options: a language academy or teaching private classes. I posted an add online to teach private classes and got 23 hits in 2 days. At that moment, I thought I could be spending all of my time here in Spain teaching private lessons. However, I also interviewed at various language academies for a more steady position. I sent out a mass email to directors of various language schools and heard back from about twelve different schools. I set up interviews with seven different schools and met with the directors. My decision came down to three things: how much would the school pay me, how many hours a week would I have to work, and how close is the school to my apartment. After many interviews, I chose a school simply five metro stops from my house. I work for the school 16 hours a week, and teach two private classes on the side. Yes, I am working less than 20 hours a week to make a living here in Spain! Remember when I said paid to travel. Working a 18hour workweek, I make enough money to cover rent and still live incredibly comfortably. The majority of my time is spent on the beach, wandering around the city, meeting friends for sangria and tapas, and traveling around Spain.
Barcelona is a crazy city full of activity. There are constantly things to do and festivals are held nearly every weekend. As I mentioned before, I lived in a neighborhood named Gracia for the first month in Barcelona. I was lucky enough to be living there during the “festival de gracia.” I honestly didn’t have many expectations about what the festival would be like; maybe a couple nights of music and vendors set up throughout the squares. Man was I wrong! This festival was insane. It lasted an entire week, without stopping. There were 12 different stages set up around the neighborhood- and they all had events all day long. There were group dinners, concerts, DJs, children’s events, dances, comedians, etc. Anything you can think of, they had it! Each stage or “area” chose a theme to decorate. For example, the square 10 steps from my front door was a flower garden. One street was under the sea, another was outer space, another Candyland. There was a roller disco, a shipwreck, a California theme (surfing on one side and Hollywood on the other), and my personal favorite a pirate ship! The best part was 80% of the decorations are made from recycled materials. It was STUNNING to see the displays they created! The concerts were a blast as well. About half the songs they performed were in English, which was just hysterical to me. Mostly because the musicians knew the majority of the song, however there were parts they didn’t know the words to and they would just start mumbling instead of singing. I heard classics like “Hotel California” to throwbacks like “I saw the sign” to newer songs like “Hello.” The only downside to the festival was the stage right outside my flat was still going strong till about 3am every night. It was a challenge to sleep that week for sure!
About a month later was the festival de la Merce AKA a huge festival happening all over the city and let me just say it was INSANE. Ever since I opened my first Spanish textbook many many years ago, I have wanted to see “castellers” in person. Castellers are the human towers that are built by people climbing each other and standing on one another’s shoulders. Well thanks to this festival, I finally saw them in person and it was every bit as great as I ever imagined!
This was a four-day festival that was basically all about parades. They have “giants” that are created specifically for this festival that represented different saints, professions, famous people, etc. One person stands underneath this giant and walks all around tiny streets in the Gothic Quarter jammed packed with people. When I was leaving one evening I stumbled upon a street where they had all be set up so that you could take pictures with them. They were about 2 or 3 times the height of me! Another parade was all about dragons and beasts. I was able to get a close spot to watch the start of the parade. Let me paint a picture for you- I’m standing in a square completely full of people, right at the entrance. There is a band playing music and the announcer says the equivalent of “release the beasts!” Two dragons come out and start walking closer and closer to me. I’m thinking “wow, these are really ornate and cool. What a fun parade” and BAM five feet away from me fire bursts out of the dragons mouth! To say it caught me off guard would be an understatement! I jumped back in shock before immediately getting my phone out to snap photos. From that point on about 30 different beasts were released, each as impressive as the next, each breathing fire. As the last dragon disappeared off into the parade, I turned to leave the square and a local Spaniard grabs my arm and insists that I stay in the square for a while longer: “No, you can’t leave yet. The next part is the best part”. Tad confusing right? Well turns out as the parade continued down the road, it was time for a light show! It. Was. Awesome. They had multiple projectors and lights appear on the government building across the square and completely transformed it. I honestly have no idea how to actually explain how cool this was, so check out the photo below.
Right now, you might be thinking “oh what a fun festival!” Let me stop you right there, that was ONE DAY of the festival. Crazy right!? Each day presented incredible sights, but don’t worry I saved the best for last. Have you ever heard of a correfoc? No, google it right now. Honestly, go google it; watch a youtube video; I’ll give you time…..So, “correfoc” translates to a “firerun” in English. I will personally refer to it as “the time I danced with fire in the streets.” There is a giant float created each year to represent the gates of hell, set up in a large area of the streets. A firework show kicks off the correfoc to show the gates of hell coming alive and spitting fire. Then devils and beasts are released from the gates of hell to wreck havoc on the streets. Hundreds of people dressed as devils run along the streets carrying sticks of spinning fire with them. I’ve never seen anything quite like these firesticks/fireworks. They were literally sticks they would hold above their head that spin and emit little drops of fire and almost create the illusion that it is raining fire. It’s a stunning sight honestly. Additionally the dragons and beasts from the previous parade are released and are spitting fire as well (not regular fire like before, the spinning drops of fire). The first part of the correfoc I was in shock and couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Oh, I forgot to mention a key part: I read online before hand that I needed to wear long sleeves, pants, tennis shoes, and a hood would be a good idea- sounds promising right? Now keep in mind Spain is very different than the States. Its completely acceptable for people to be running in the streets with fire, but one step further than that- its also completely acceptable for those people to run into the crowds with fire! The first time one of the devils came at me, I jumped up and ran behind a friend. However, slowly the crowds get used to the fire and people were literally running into the streets with the devils and embracing the raining fire. I was still a little skeptical, until one friend grabbed my hand and pulled me into the street with him. I figured what the hell and just decided to embrace it! So for the next two hours I ran and danced in the streets with devils and beasts while it rained fire!! At one point I was arm in arm with a devil dancing underneath the fire stick. It was simply exhilarating. This was one of those moments of my life when I felt the most alive and nearly unstoppable. Now let me be clear- I came home with holes all over my jacket and pants. I had burns marks up and down my hands for a few days, and my shoes were basically black. My ears were ringing for about a day afterwards because it was the loudest three hours I’ve ever experienced. But I wouldn’t have traded that night for anything!!!
While the festivals and parades in Barcelona are incredible, my favorite moment to date happened a few Sundays ago. I woke up in my new home, opened the doors to let the sunshine in, and went to make a cup of coffee. Once the coffee was ready, I stood on my terrace, coffee in hand, with the smell of fresh bread coming from the bakery below my flat, while a performer played music on the street, and watched “the Spanish life” happen below me. There were people in a café next-door smoking and drinking coffees. There were elderly people sitting on park benches chatting away. Countless people were out walking their dogs, riding bikes, pushing strollers, or carrying groceries. I saw families set off towards the beach, gear in hand. I watched a young girl play badminton with her dad. It wasn’t anything over the top (like dancing with fire) but it was everything I envisioned my life in Spain to be. I am already incredibly grateful for this experience and glad I worked up the courage to take a chance and move across the world to be “paid to travel.”
By Claire Nicholas
For more information on our TEFL courses please visit teflbarcelona.net