Danielle Jauregui, IWU alumna of 2013, Hispanic Studies and Sociology double major. After Dani graduated from IWU she moved to Granada, Spain where she worked as a teaching assistant in a public primary school through the Spanish Ministry of Education’s English language assistants program. Then she taught in Costa Rica and also online. Later she decided to return to Granada where she continued working online and taught English to Spanish students as well. We reached out to Dani and asked her to answer several questions regarding her experience teaching abroad.
What led you to decide to teach abroad?
In all honesty, my semester abroad. Before studying abroad, I had never left North America; after studying abroad I couldn’t imagine living a life in which I didn’t have the opportunity to “live in Spanish,” visit new countries, and experience different cultures on a regular basis.
How did you go about finding a teaching position? Did you go with a provider and pay a fee? What sorts of things should a student look for when seeking a teaching position?
As a senior at IWU, I was very nervous about timing and wanted to know sooner, rather than later, if I was accepted to teach abroad. Therefore, I did pay a provider the first time. I don’t regret it because of how things worked out, but (at least with Spain) if you are not picky about where exactly you want to teach, I don’t think it’s necessary. On the contrary, in some countries (specifically in Latin America) you can even show up and apply for jobs once there, no planning ahead nor middleman involved! In terms of what you should look for in a teaching position, I think the most important part is understanding the position you are applying for. As someone who did not study education, my first job as a teaching assistant seems like the right move. However, after a few months I was yearning for something more involved and have since only sought work as a teacher.
Tell us a bit about your students and your position. Were you a classroom assistant or were you *the* teacher? Where were you located?
I have worked in Granada, Spain and San Jose, Costa Rica. In Granada, I have worked as a teaching assistant in a public primary school. The school was located in a small town outside the city and there were only 80 students in total so I assisted in English and bilingual science classes from “infantil” (3 years old) to 6th grade. In San Jose, I worked at a language academy and only taught adults, though I had a wide range of levels. Now I work in Granada as *the* teacher at a family-owned language academy and I teach virtual classes for an international company from home. I also teach private lessons. My students range from 6 to 60+ years old; there is never a dull moment!
What aspect of teaching do you wish you had been better prepared for? What parts of your time at IWU (classes, jobs, extracurricular activities) do you think helped to prepare you for the work and how?
I originally came to Spain with no teaching experience and that was fine for my assistant position. It was, however, much more challenging when I arrived in Costa Rica and took on a full-fledged position. My boss was incredible encouraging and patient with me (she even spent time training me before a second interview because my first teaching demonstration didn’t go so smoothly) but I therefore wish I had had more in-class experience. My time volunteer tutoring at Bent Elementary helped me know how to interact with young learners and all my Spanish classes certainly helped me interact with coworkers but if I could go back and take some education classes (especially on lesson-planning!) I definitely would.
What aspect of the work did you find most rewarding?
Getting positive feedback from students- especially from those who are in a low level but still make the effort to write or give their comments in English. It’s also amazing to see the changes in your students’ abilities and it feels rewarding (and almost like a guilty pleasure) when your students reach a good enough level to get off the lesson topic because they got you talking and were able to sustain an engaging conversation about something completely unrelated to what they’re studying.
What would you say are the benefits of teaching abroad? The challenges?
There are so many benefits of teaching abroad, but I’ll try to narrow it down to a few. For me, the best part is the opportunity to be the teacher and the student every single day. I am constantly learning new things about the Spanish language and culture and constantly growing because of that. Living in Europe, I also have the opportunity to travel much more often and more inexpensively than I could in the US. Finally, your skills are in-demand in another country, where it seems like everyone is looking to learn English. The inquiries for private lessons never stop and the money I make here (though not as much as I would make at a “regular job” in the US) goes a lot further where I currently live. Of course, there are also challenges- it can be hard to be far from home, to see friends celebrating milestones and family members getting older without you being able to be there and experience it with them. It can also become difficult to maintain the mixture between your two cultures. For me, for example, my “American side” needs to wake up early and work morning hours, yet Spanish culture means I don’t get home from work until 9pm so my days are long and I’m always tired. Regardless, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Any final words of advice?
Go for it! It is an incredible, unparalleled experience and, in today’s global society, also one that will benefit you for years to come. However, be aware that it is also not only the nights out and weekend globetrotting that you see on social media. Although living abroad is loads of fun, it is still work. And, depending on the route you choose, you may be working more hours abroad than you would at home. Don’t teach abroad only because you want a good time, teach abroad because you are interested in teaching as well.