When it comes to most decisions, I like to be organized and well informed; it allows me to approach the situation feeling safe and confident. When I decided to sign up for a TEFL course and commit myself to a year abroad in Barcelona, there was only so much I could prepare for. I researched a bit about everything –medical insurance, housing, weather and appropriate clothes- and I made sure I had everything from home that I could possibly need. Beyond basic knowledge of where the school was located and who I’d temporarily be living with, there were plenty of unknowns I had to face going into this experience. I didn’t know where I’d end up living, who my classmates would be, or where I’d find a job, but I told myself- I’ll have time for that.
The first month was almost too blissful. I had been staying with a wonderful host, my friends were mostly English speakers, my days were scheduled, and this felt very normal and comfortable. Not to mention, many hot afternoons spent on the beach. As a newly certified teacher from the U.S, the TEFL course was intended to be an extension of my education, another enhancement to my resume. The moment we were introduced the phrase ‘engage, study, activate,’ I knew that this certification was going to offer me a new perspective on language teaching that would revitalize my teaching practice. Even after taking several language-based educational classes for my degree, I found that this course and its instructors were more active in creating a learning environment that promotes language use! I was being challenged in a new way and it truly showed me the success of a lesson that is done entirely in the target language. Take it from me, I was in the country’s number one education program, and I still feel like my teaching really improved as a result of this course. It’s amazing what four weeks can do!
After years of taking classes year round, working a job, or jetting off on adventures, I was suddenly unemployed, graduated, and living on my own. I finally managed to find a room to rent in Raval and was going on a few job interviews per week. I didn’t have any assignments to complete or hours to work, let alone a designated wakeup time. I felt free, and lazy, and anxious. I was so used to having things to do or somewhere to be that the amount of time on my hands was overwhelming. I didn’t know what to do with myself! It began to set in that I could actually take time to rediscover who I am and the creative side of myself I had neglected over the years. I decided that I needed to do MORE. More reading, writing, and engaging with others. More coffee, more lounging at the park, more trips. But most importantly, more of what I wanted to do, and less of what I felt like I needed to do to achieve something. Why couldn’t becoming a better version of myself be my biggest priority right now? I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my time.
It’s been over seven months since I’ve been here and I have four more to go. I laugh when I think back on how I thought a year would be long enough. I’ve been undermined by Barcelona and I already know I’ll regret leaving this place. I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs while living here, but it’s all a part of how my experience is being shaped. I worked as both a teacher and a nanny in the fall, but I am currently just teaching at an art-based English school in Grácia. I teach afterschool programs and private lessons that implement art as a way of engaging students in language. The lesson plans are creative and I plan to use these ideas in my future teaching. I work with mostly four to ten-year-olds, but I have a few adult students as well. I have found different advantages and disadvantages in working with small groups of students versus private lessons, which has been very insightful. I am used to working with a different age group in a definitive classroom, so traveling to different places and teaching in a variety of environments has been a new experience. I’m excited that I’ll be able to bring a unique perspective to the classroom when I return to the U.S. I’ve enjoyed seeing myself develop as an educator and know that I will be a better teacher because of my time here.
If I’m being honest, I work approximately 9 hours a week. My job is one of the few that pays really well, so that, along with money I’ve loaned from my parents, has allowed me to survive just enough while I’m here. My nanny job allowed me to save enough to travel here and there, so I decided to give myself a break for once and work just enough to keep me afloat. I’ve learned that investing in myself as an individual, beyond a student, a teacher, a daughter, a friend, and a friendly face, is the best thing I could do at age 22. I don’t want to have any regrets. And so, I’ve spent my time doing what I love. I’ve gone on several trips, even indulging in a few weekend travels on my own, which is by far one of the best ways to self-reflect. I’ve read about three books per month, going between travel novels and Barcelona based fiction. I’ve been writing more, and sending letters and postcards to my loved ones back home. I’ve been working out and experimenting with cooking more at home. I’ve been creating an online teaching portfolio and organizing my lessons. I’ve been going to intercambios and doing yoga on the beach with my friends. The life I have right now is simpler and I’m trying to relish in that simplicity while I’m still here.
Barcelona is intoxicating for me. Some days I am out exploring a new neighborhood I haven’t been to and other days, I’m just as content to lie around all day and spend time with good friends. I feel happier because I’m finally in touch with the part of myself that was drowning in work and school for so many years. Why go back, you ask? Curiosity, I suppose, is the best answer. I deserve to follow through with my first love, teaching Spanish and bringing culture into the classroom. I want to share my experience with students and invoke that same curiosity in them- to see the world for themselves, in order to understand their place in it. I already know how much this year will remain a part of me, but time is slipping away, and I’m trying to use it thoughtfully. My greatest comfort is knowing that my time here hasn’t finished- once you learn the existence of a place that has the capacity to change your life, it feels as though you’ve intuitively been searching for it all along and you can’t help but return time and time again.
By Diana Sanchez
Book: The Idle Traveller- Dan Kieran & The Shadow of the Wind- Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Street: Carrer d’Astúries for organic stores and bookshops & Carrer d’Blai for tapas
Sundays: chai tea in Ciutadella and fleamarkets in Raval
Good Eats: Pizza Circus $ Milkbar $$ Flax and Kale $$$