Participating in the Teach & Learn program was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I remember first hearing about the program while working as an assistant in an elementary school. I applied just for fun, still not sure if I wanted to get a master’s in education or not. I thought, “Well, what else is I doing with my life?” I didn’t study education for my undergraduate degree but as many guiris flock to Spain for the quality of life and cheap European travel, I found myself in front of students, day after day, and actually developing a love for it. So I took the plunge and signed up. I had 5 years of English teaching in Spain under by belt when I arrived to Alcalá. If I had known about the program sooner, I would have most definitely applied.
It was fun to be a student again. On the first day of class, I met people from all over The States. It was a bit eerie for me at first since I was in a room with the most Americans abroad since my last visit to the embassy. The classes required a reasonable amount of work but study groups made life easier. I didn’t mind making less money that year as I knew it was going towards my future. Plus, with less money, I wasn’t able to do as much socializing, which afforded me more time to study. It’s pretty easy to tell your friends you can’t come out because you’re writing a thesis, and besides, everyone else in the program is in the same boat. My experience at the charter (concertado) school was a unique one. I taught ages 5-18 and had 3 other program participants at school with me. The coordinator at the school was organized, as she had been receiving Teach & Learn assistants for years prior, and offered practical help and support.
When making the decision to go back right after the program, I turned to friends and professors for advice. I just wasn’t ready for the American lifestyle again, so I stayed and got placed in an excellent public high school. I liked it so much that I decided to extend my contract to one more year. At the beginning of that year, I sat down with an Alcalá professor and she told me if I was going to return to my home country after 8 years abroad, I had better make the decision then and stick to it, in order to mentally prepare myself for reverse culture shock.
She was right. I used my last year to work and travel as much as possible, hone in on my teaching skills, and prepare myself for the journey ahead. I did not take any state teaching exams or Spanish proficiency exams, which I do recommend to others to get out of the way. I just wasn’t sure if I would go home to more teaching jobs or if I would want a break and do something like sales or hospitality. When I actually got back home, to Oklahoma and Kansas, I was offered 3 equally challenging and exciting positions and each employer told me I stuck out because of my master’s. They were impressed that I was willing to get a degree abroad. It’s almost funny because it was one of the best years of my life.
It’s not everyday you get to study in a medieval town, with floral courtyards, storks, and mandolin serenades filling the streets. I was extremely lucky to find myself in Alcalá and the education I received for one year’s work will last me a lifetime.
It was definitely worth it.