Interview with Alex Clewlow, Spain Q & A

PERSONAL PROFILE

What is your name, age and nationality?

Hi my name’s Alex, I’m 22, and I’m from Manchester in the UK.

What is your education level and background?

I have just graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a Business Economics degree. I graduated in July, and then moved to Madrid in mid-August. I had a few weeks to travel/party and settle in before my course started in September.

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

I’ve been to the States, Egypt and all over Europe; Scandinavia (Norway and Finland), Germany, France, Spain (Majorca and Tenerife), Portugal, and several Greek Islands (Crete is my favourite).

What motivated you to teach abroad?

I really wanted to live and work abroad for a while, and also learn a new language. There are a few other career options long-term that are only accessible to me if I’m fluent in a second language, and the benefits of learning Spanish are that it opens up the whole of South America too. I also find it very rewarding when you are teaching a concept that is initially difficult to a student, but they understand it later on. It’s great.

What did you want to personally achieve the experience, and have you succeeded?

I wanted to live abroad, earn some money, learn Spanish and make Spanish friends. The only element I haven’t achieved yet is the language learning, but it’s making swift progress. I think it’s hard not to when you live in the country of the language you’re trying to learn, as long  as you have the confidence to speak to the locals.

My first experience of speaking to locals was in a Dia supermarket. It was my first day in Spain, and I hadn’t had time to settle down and breathe. I used my (incredibly) basic Spanish knowledge to ask to buy a bottle of vodka. The girl at the cashier fired back at me at 1000mph in Spanish (as you should expect), and I panicked. My reflex response was to reply in German; “Wie Bitte?” which drew a few strange looks from the others queuing . I got out of there as fast as possible.

Things could only get better from there, and they have done. I would just advise people to make a fool out of themselves enough times, and then you probably won’t care. It’s good practice.

In terms of making Spanish friends, I have managed to do that already, but they do speak some English, so it wasn’t exactly how I envisioned it. It’s going to take time to make Spanish friends and converse in Spanish.

Did you apply for the program with a friend or on your own?

On my own!

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

No, I’m the first I know of.

What were some of your concerns before you began teaching abroad?

I was really looking forward to teaching abroad, and didn’t have many concerns. I think my main fears were:

“What if they don’t understand anything I say?”

“What if they just look at me with blank faces the whole time?”

“What if I can’t get a job?”

The course in Madrid eliminated any of those. It was very efficient, well-organised and effective. The teaching techniques taught made it very easy to communicate with lower level students, and the students I have taught so far have been incredibly enthusiastic and motivated. The motivation will be subjective, but my experience so far has been very positive in that regard.

The company which I did my training with appear to have a huge list of great contacts, and I have received a lot of emails from different language centres and private lessons too. This was within 48 hours of completing the course, so it’s clear that there is a strong demand for teachers here – more than I ever imagined. They also help you with writing a specific, tailored CV for teaching here in Madrid, which I believe is another useful factor.

TEFL PROGRAM INFORMATION

What made you decide to do a TEFL course and choose TEFL Heaven?

TEFL Heaven had a great website with all the information clearly detailed, and they were very responsive, and quick to reply – good customer service.

What made you choose a face-to-face TEFL course over other options?

Because I couldn’t envision the online course being particularly helpful for real-life situations.

Which TEFL program did you do?

Madrid (Spain).

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

The course was well organised, the staff were always ready to help us; constantly offering their support, and the teaching practises we had were very educational and rewarding. The course was challenging but the projects/coursework we were set were very enjoyable, particularly the Learner Profile Project, as we could choose who we had as our language learner.

How prepared did you feel for your teaching position?

Very well prepared – every interview I have had has been very easy, and I’ve felt very comfortable. I think the exam we had at the end of the course has made any interview questions a breeze.

How long have you been teaching in Spain and how long do you plan to stay?

I am in the process of choosing between jobs, so I will be starting next week. I plan to stay for about a year.

How did you secure your English teaching job?

One of the staff in Madrid emailed my CV to many different language centres, and also sends us a daily job alert email. I have had some private lessons this way, and the main “stable” hours at a language centre. There is also a Whatsapp group with many private lessons being advertised.

What does a typical working week look like for you?

I have my regular hours at EBI from Mon-Thurs 2-4pm. In terms of private lessons, Mon & Wed 9-10am, 6-7pm, Tue & Thurs 7:30-8:30am, Fri 5-9pm.

As everything starts so late in Spain, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays, I never really miss anything on Friday evenings! The private lessons I also find to be easy to prepare for and more casual, and you can build more rapport with the students.

What age group or range to you teach?

They are all business classes at EBI – ranging from 25-60. Private lessons are business related, but there are also some kids.

What do you most enjoy about teaching your students?

The thing I enjoy the most is the moment whereby a student “gets” it, and you know you’ve done a good job in terms of teaching them new vocabulary/grammar/concepts. I also like 1 to 1’s because they are more personal, and I find it easier to create course plans and lesson plans for individuals rather than groups.

How did you get your work visa?

I’m from the UK and we’re currently still in the EU.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like?

I booked a place on Spotahome months in advance, and it’s fantastic in the sense that it has apparently saved me a load of hassle and stress, as most other people are struggling now. The downside is that it’s expensive, as they charge you a service fee.

So, if you have the money, and you want speed and efficiency then definitely go for Spotahome. If not, and you make sure you have enough time to look for accommodation, then don’t use Spotahome. September/October are definitely nightmare months for looking for accommodation, as Erasmus students and many other people are doing the same, so try and do it in advance if you can, either through Spotahome or just arriving in Madrid very early.

COUNTRY INSIGHT

I encourage people to speak Spanish whenever possible, and to avoid tourist traps where you will get ripped off. Spend more time in the authentic traditional areas of Madrid; the backstreets, little squares and you will taste nicer food for less money, and they always throw in a load of tapas on top of whatever drinks you order, it’s nice.

Transportation is incredibly good here in Madrid thanks to the metro system, and incredibly cheap if you’re under age 26. £20 a month will allow unlimited access around the city via the metro system, buses, trains etc.

Be careful with pickpocketers in Madrid, as they are definitely active in the tourist spots. They will use any means necessary to distract your attention, and then use that to take valuables from you. If you follow the code of: Check your valuables instantly if a random person touches you, then you will be fine.

Trips to Toledo, Cadiz, Valencia etc. are all provided by CityLife Madrid and are reasonably cheap.

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: 400 euros

Food: 120 euros

Other bills: 100 euros

Social life: 150 euros

Transportation: 20 euros

Phone: 5 euros

Would you say you are able to live comfortably on your monthly salary?

My projected monthly salary (assuming all cancellations are re-arranged with private lessons), is about 18hrs*18euros*4.25=1370 (approx) euros per month, so yes I live comfortably. However, I am aiming to increase my hours and pay in order to fund my pilot training, so it will be very interesting to see what happens over the next couple of months.

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS

What advice would you give someone thinking about teaching abroad, and would you recommend teaching English in Spain?

Definitely go for it, just make sure you budget well in advance, i.e. enough money to cover your first two months living expenses, just in case you don’t find a job for a while. It’s unlikely in Madrid, but you never know for sure.

I would also say start off slower on the hours building, as this will allow you to get to know your students better, plan the lessons better, and prevent you from spreading yourself too thinly.

Also be aware of travel times and locations. Personally, I would not accept travelling outside of Madrid in order to work. There are too many opportunities near the centre to spend two hours per day commuting. Time is money.

But yes, overall I am thoroughly enjoying my experience so far and couldn’t recommend it more!

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