Teaching English in Barcelona is not the paradise for twenty-somethings that is often marketed to prospective TEFL teachers. But it comes pretty close.
First, some things I would have liked to know before I moved here. I pay 500 euros/month for an all-bills-included studio apartment in a beautiful neighbourhood within walking distance of everywhere I like to go. Just stepping outside the door makes me feel lucky to be living my own life, as Barcelona’s staggering beauty is so ubiquitous that it seems absurd to have it as a backdrop to the trivial tasks of life. Sometimes I happen to glance at the Arc de Triomf when I’m throwing out the trash, and I regularly walk through Placa Espanya on my way to the gym.
I spend about 50 euros/week on food and other necessities, such as the metro (10 euros for 10 journeys) and my phone (15 euros/month for 1.2GB data +talk/texts that I never use). Another 50 euros/week vanishes on luxuries: books, gym subscriptions, partying, and special purchases. All in all, I spend 900 euros each month. This includes the multitude of free festivals, parties, museums, and time spent with good friends in magical public spaces. Barcelona is a great place to be frugal.
My first day of work was about 6 weeks after I got my TEFL certificate. I studied in July, and then found out that August is basically devoid of any opportunity to find a job, as all the academies are closed and most of the locals are on holiday anyway. Fortunately, this gave me about 4 weeks to discover Barcelona at my own pace, guilt-free, with the knowledge that I couldn’t work even if I wanted to. I sent out about 200 cold emails to nearby academies and after a ridiculously short time I had an interview arranged for each day of the coming week. The interviewers seemed more focused on convincing me that their academy would be the best place to work at than actually asking me any difficult questions. It made for an enjoyable change of pace from job interviews in the UK, where I used to beg to be allowed to wash dishes at grimy local pubs.
I got three job offers after about five days of looking. The first was an under-the-table job – 800 euros/month for 13 hours/week with a 50 minute commute. The second was 1250 euros/week for 20 hours of class, but required me to travel around the companies to give the classes. The third was 1100 euros/week for 27 hours of class, but with a idiosyncratic methodology that kept prep time for lessons at a minimum. After a half-hour of deliberation, I accepted the third offer as it had the least “hidden” work time and the most opportunity to develop myself as a teacher. Astute readers will notice that I am saving 200 euros/month – this is important, as I’ll need something to fall back on when my job contract ends in July.
The job itself is challenging. Essentially, I teach adults – business people and students – via a fast-paced conversational method in which I feel I learn just as much about English as they do. It’s satisfying to see my students making measurable progress. I also have the chance to refine my teaching skills by giving classes on similar concepts repeatedly to different students in short spaces of time. Unfortunately, there is more hidden time spent at work than I anticipated, such as a 90 minute unpaid lunchbreak each day. Monday to Thursday I leave my house at 12pm and get home at 10pm. But Fridays are just a handful of easy hours, the time at work passes quickly, and I can sleep late in the mornings if I feel like it. The nightlife in Barcelona doesn’t really get going until 11pm anyway, so it’s not difficult to have a busy social life in the evenings and on the weekends.
So, with about 45 hours/week dedicated to my job, teaching here isn’t the easy hustle it’s sometimes made out to be. But, if you’re willing to work hard, there’s plenty of work to be had and they’re not difficult to get. Although the salaries aren’t high, they are very generous relative to the cost of living. And considering all the horror stories of life-in-your-twenties poverty and suffering that I hear from friends in the UK, America, and Canada, I feel very lucky to be living a comparatively luxurious life here in Barcelona.
By Christopher Drifter