2015/2016 Posted by Annie O., Wake Forest University (US)
My name is Annie, and I graduated in 2012 with majors in Spanish and English and a minor in Linguistics. Last year, I decided to come to Spain as a language assistant: I’ve improved my language skills so much, made incredibly close Spanish friends, gotten to play soccer on a Spanish team, and learned so much as a teacher. With Meddeas, I taught primary students in a school in Málaga.
1 . Why did you take the step of coming to Spain with Meddeas?
I had already been living in Galicia (Spain) for three years, but I had needed to return to the US for the fall of that year. Meddeas’ flexible start date (specifically, the opportunity to begin in January); and the ability to take an online TESOL/TEFL course while teaching abroad were all perfect for me.
2. If you had to choose one specific memory of your Spanish experience, which one would it be and why:
While in Galicia, playing on two athletic teams (one futsal, one soccer) was a highlight of my experience. It allowed me to travel all around the region and make friends who I now consider some of my best in the world. Within that, one specific memory I have is playing in a futsal tournament in Asturias and touring a hard cider (sidra) factory between games. While in Málaga, living in the historic city center during Semana Santa was an unforgettable experience. Although it was nearly impossible to get in and out of my apartment due to the sheer volume of people and processions that filled the streets; the ambience, the passion of the Andalusians, and the intricate designs of the floats/thrones were all unlike anything I had experienced until then.
3. What relationships and/or friendships do you keep from your stay in Spain?
I keep in close contact with almost all of my friends from Spain, especially those from my soccer teams and my roommates. In fact, this summer I’ll be spending three months in Galicia with my Spanish friends and attending two of my best friends’ wedding in August (and the bachelorette party, haha). My colleagues still send me things to edit in English and I send them things to edit in Spanish. I also keep in touch with most of my older students on Facebook.
4. In what sense has your worldview changed after teaching abroad?
Everything has changed for me. Although I had worked as a coach/tutor, I had never been a true teacher before. The experience helped me realize how much I love it. I’m doing my PhD in Hispanic Linguistics now, which was always my plan, but I was never sure if I’d be the best teacher, as my interest has always been in research. Teaching abroad has given me so much confidence in my abilities and enthusiasm for working with students.
It’s impossible to summarize how my worldview changed in just a few words, but I feel like I have new perspectives on everything from the role of one’s working experience in life, the underlying similarities behind certain cultural differences, the structure and purpose of education, the role of government and politics, and the value of community. I love Spain. If I ever had the chance as a professor to work or do research there, I would not hesitate to move back.
5. Did you improve your level of Spanish? Has this skill helped you in your professional career?
I absolutely improved my level of Spanish. I moved to Spain after already having majored in Spanish and having studied abroad in Salamanca. Thus my level was already high, but the changes have still been enormous. Everything has improved, especially my vocabulary, my accent and my general level of fluency. Most people I meet tell me I have an especially Galician accent now, which is amusing to me.
Since my PhD is in Spanish Linguistics, it has definitely helped me in my professional life. I use it every day, and will be teaching an undergraduate intermediate Spanish class next year. In addition, the opportunity to live in Galicia gave me the chance to learn Galician, which is also useful in my academic life. In addition, the ability to live in Andalucía has allowed to me experience a variety of accents.
6. How has this experience improved your CV and professional life?
Having a certificate in TESOL/TEFL from the online course is fantastic. It opens a lot of doors for people who want to work (even temporarily) as a TESOL/TEFL teacher. Having experience teaching is also a vital skill for anyone wanting to apply to graduate school. I think many of the skills gained in teaching end up being applicable to other areas of life, such as public speaking, organization, etc.
7. What advice would you give to someone joining Meddeas to make the most of this experience?
I would advise someone joining Meddeas to find their niche in Spanish society and to be unafraid of integrating. While I made close friendships with the other Meddeas assistants in Málaga, we also had a close group of Spanish friends who were so important in enriching our experience. They taught us so much, took us to places we wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and made everything we did so much more authentic than it would have been if we had kept to ourselves as foreigners.
During my third year abroad, I think I only ever used English when in the classroom with my students. I lived the rest of my life in Spanish with my local friends, and it was a great feeling. It also kept homesickness away, since feeling so integrated simply made Spain my home, and there wasn’t a lot of time to be nostalgic for something you didn’t think about very often.