Tapas. Wine. Flamenco. Blazing hot summers. Staying out all night. Siestas. I’d heard some stereotypes about Spain, and now I’m living them myself. A year ago, I had no idea how to move to Spain as an English teacher. After some research and a bit luck, I’ve settled into a comfortable routine here.
So why Spain? After two years teaching English in Japan with the JET Program, I was ready for a change. I wanted to improve my Spanish — which I had studied for just a few years in high school — travel in Europe, and experience a new way of life.
So, I started researching ways to live in Spain.
Teaching English in Spain
After asking my Facebook network for advice, a friend of a friend told me about “The Cultural Ambassadors Program” or “Auxiliares de Conversation”, a program sponsored by the Spanish government which places native English speakers to teach English in Spanish schools.
On a frigid winter morning in my freezing apartment in Japan, I received the email with my placement. Extremadura, which translates to “Extremely Durable,” was a region I had never heard of. The town of Almendralejo, or “Far Away Almonds,” no longer grows almonds, but I later learned is famous for wine and olives. I zoomed in on Google Maps, saw that it was near Portugal and not too far from Seville — which has been named Best City to Visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet, and decided to go for it!
After I packed and scrubbed my apartment in Japan and said goodbye to my views of rice paddies and mountains, cried and gave hugs to my friends and students, I flew home to California for a month.
While I was there, I got my student visa, as instructed by my program. The long-but-somewhat-simple process involved visiting the Spanish embassy in Los Angeles three times, but it was a good chance to check out some of the museums in LA!
I bought my plane ticket to Madrid, figured out how to take the bus from Madrid to Almendralejo, and then took on the hard part: how to establish a new life in Spain.
Finding an Apartment in Spain
When I first arrived in Almendralejo, I had 11 instant friends thanks to the community of English teachers I had found on Facebook. A few of them recommended AirBnB as a place to stay while finding a more permanent abode.
From them, I heard about Idealista, a website for finding apartments and roommates in Spain, as well as Milanuncios, which lists classified ads of apartments, roommates, jobs, and more. I posted some signs and talked to a few real estate offices just for my peace of mind (and to practice my rusty Spanish!). Just a few days later I found my apartment and compañeros (roommates) from Milanuncios.es.
Now, I have my own room in a second-story, marble-floored apartment which was already furnished. We have a balcony overlooking a main street and a plaza which is constantly teeming with kids playing and adults chatting at cafes — except during siesta from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. when everything is deserted.
I have two Spanish flatmates — whom I try to talk to only in Spanish — and another English teacher flatmate from New York, who happens to be a Buddhist and a yoga teacher. We’ve all become good friends. We have a language wall of Post-It notes in our kitchen with various words and phrases in English and Spanish. We are continuously learning from each other.
What to Move to Spain
Amazingly, all my stuff fits snugly into one 30-liter Osprey backpack and one extra large JIO rolling suitcase. Knowing that I can always buy anything I forget, I always aim to to travel light.
I brought professional clothes that I could layer, knowing that I’d be in the front of a classroom being scrutinized by curious children. I had been reassured that my job didn’t require a suit and that a lot of teachers wear jeans to work, which turned out to be true. I learned from the snowy winters in Japan that wearing base layers like leggings and long-sleeved shirts under my summer clothes make them suitable for winter. I opted not to bring a winter coat because I knew I could buy one (or be gifted one from another gracious Auxiliar).
I brought tennis shoes, work shoes, and dancing shoes (for my future flamenco lessons!) I play ultimate frisbee but chose not to bring cleats because I imagined that, from the wide network of players in the world, someone might have an extra pair I could borrow for tournaments. Lo and behold, my theory worked!
In addition to clothes and toiletries, I brought about 50 postcards from my hometown that I gave to teachers and new friends. Also, I travel with a small scrapbook containing pictures of family, friends, my house and town, which I often show to my students.
Living as an English Teacher in Spain
The Auxiliar de Conversation program pays 700 euros per month for 12 teaching hours per week. I only work four days a week which gives me long weekends to travel. Given the low cost of living — my own room in a shared apartment only costs 150 euros per month — I’m able break even, or possibly even save a little money here.
I also tutor English privately four times a week; I charge 15 euros per hour. Plenty of kids and adults in my town are looking for native English teachers for private classes. I found my students from word of mouth after I arrived.
Since I’m vegan and cook almost all of my own meals, I mostly shop from local grocers and spend about 20 – 30 euros per week on food. There are also big chains like Mercadona, Dia, and Lidl that have almost everything you’d find in a grocery store in the U.S., plus a wider section of local olives, big legs of jamon, and a myriad of hard and soft cheeses.
Getting Around in Spain
The most frequent modes of transportation I have used are bus and BlaBlaCar.
I’ve found the easiest way to check bus times is through the website BusBud. They charge a commission of a few euros if you book the ticket through them. Unless it’s a holiday and I expect the buses will be full, I often just go to the station and buy my ticket there a few minutes before the bus leaves. Buses tend to be at least 10 minutes late, at least in my town.
More than the bus, though, I recommend BlaBlaCar, which is like the Uber of Spain but for long distances. Even though BlaBlaCar is slightly more expensive than the bus, it’s faster and a good opportunity to practice speaking Spanish. Drivers have all been friendly, and you can check their reviews and ratings from previous trips.
Getting Involved Locally
Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of staying at a stranger’s house, but even if you’re not, the Couchsurfing website is a great place to find someone to grab a coffee with. They also have events and conversation groups in most cities.
I’ve used Meetup.com to find groups of people who share my hobbies. People with similar interests — hiking, yoga, knitting, Pokemon, World of Warcraft, you name it — tend to gather in cities, and MeetUp.com is a way to find them easily.
I love working out, and I find myself going crazy in winter if I don’t keep moving. So I’m really grateful for my Zumba studio in Almendralejo that I found just by exploring the town. I shake my tailfeather there twice a week, and it costs 25 euros per month. I’ve made some friends there, and even found a private student who approached me asking for private English lessons.
Wherever I go in the world, I look for ultimate frisbee. I’ve found three teams who play near Almendralejo — The Frisbillanas of Sevilla, Extremate Caceres, and the Badajoz Ciguenas. I found them by searching “ulitmate frisbee” on the Facebook group for Auxiliars in Extremadura.
Staying Connected While Living in Spain
As much as I want to disconnect with horrifying American politics, I try at the very least to listen to NPR’s News Now podcast, a 5-minute summary of news in America. Sometimes I listen to a 30-minute Global News Podcast from BBC as well.
Apart from that and occasionally skimming some headlines, I try to spend more time studying Spanish by listening to Podcasts (I recommend Notes in Spanish), watching TV — or even better, talking with my roommates. I’ve also started a free online Spanish course through EdX.
“No pasa nada,” or “it doesn’t matter,” is the phrase I’m trying to incorporate into my mindset. Oftentimes I find myself being overly hard on myself, berating myself for not studying Spanish more. But in these moments, I have to remind myself: you’re learning, little by little, just by being here! If I go out at night to bars, I’m often intimidated because very few people speak English, but I know it’s a great place for me to practice.
Another challenge for me is the time Spaniards eat and sleep. Everything happens later in Spain. Here, they eat dinner at 9:30 p.m. and go to bed at midnight or 1 a.m., even on weekdays.
On weekends, oftentimes my friends like to stay out all night. I have to say Buenas Noches! around two or three in the morning when I feel I’m going to die of exhaustion. Luckily, I only live a 2-minute walk from the local bars. About once a month I’ll force myself to stay out all night with them — like for Carnival! — but for the most part, I’ve kept my own schedule.
As a wanna-be vegan, I have trouble wherever I live in the world, mainly because locals really want you to try the local delicacies.
In Japan, it was sashimi and sauce katsudon. In Spain, it’s the jamon and cheese, which I’ve had to politely decline. In restaurants, sometimes I allow myself a tortilla de patata which contains eggs. However, I’m totally vegan in my apartment, which is fairly easy because we have access to local grocers and supermarkets that all sell a wide range of produce, grains, and beans.
Despite the challenges, I’m completely happy with my new life in Spain, and looking forward to living in this country for the next two or three years. If you have any questions about how to move to Spain as an English teacher, I’m more than happy to try and answer.
Disfruta la vida!