Interview with Tiffany Kerr, Spain Q & A

PERSONAL PROFILE

What is your name, age and nationality?

My name is Tiffany and I am 24 years old from the United States. Born and raised in the “Sunshine State”, Florida.

What is your education level and background?

I graduated from the University of Florida, GO GATORS, in May 2014 with an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education. In 2012 during my undergraduate degree I did a short-term study abroad program where I went to Paris, France and taught in an international school there. After graduating I went on to pursue my master’s degree in Elementary Education also from the University of Florida. My master’s degree was an intense 3-semester program with a yearlong full-time internship, so I received my Masters in May of 2015. I completed my year long, full-time internship in a 5th grade classroom where I taught all subjects. After graduating I moved to St. Petersburg Florida where I began teaching 4th grade Math and Science at an Elementary school in Tampa.  During my second year in Tampa I also taught 4th grade but this year I taught all subjects. After my second year of teaching, and other life situations, I decided it was a good time to pursue my life-long dream of living and teaching in another country.

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

I began my travelling adventures at a young age with cruises with my family. Outside of the US I went to The Bahamas, St. Thomas, St. Marten, and several other islands in the Caribbean. I also did a cruise around the Mediterranean, going to many cities in Italy, Spain, and France.  I have also travelled to Canada a couple times. In 2010 and 2011 I went on mission trips to Costa Rica and in 2016 I went on a mission trip to Haiti. My father lived in the Cayman Islands for 5 years so I went there many times to visit as well. I have also travelled to the Dominican Republic. As I mentioned above, in 2012 I did a short-term study abroad trip in Paris during which I also went to London.

What motivated you to teach abroad?

From a young age I learned to love travelling and exploring new cultures. After my travels to Italy, Spain, and France I knew that I wanted to travel more of Europe. Coming back from my study abroad in Paris in 2012 I knew that I wanted to live and teach in Europe. I looked into it every year since that trip and I eventually figured I needed to make the plunge. I have always wanted to be bilingual and coming from Florida the language that makes the most sense to learn would be Spanish, which is how I finally decided on Madrid, Spain.

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

During this experience I wanted to immerse myself in the Spanish culture and learn a second language. My goal at the end of this experience is to come back to the States bilingual. I also wanted to travel to as many countries/new cities as I possibly could. Even though I have just begun I feel that I am well on my way to succeed in my goals that I have set for myself. I am currently taking Spanish classes and immersing myself in the Spanish culture. I have also travelled to so many new places in the short 9 weeks that I have been here. So far I have travelled to several cities inside of Spain including Barcelona, Seville, and Segovia. I also spent a week in England, visiting several cities of Cornwall. I also spent a long weekend in Switzerland where I went to Geneva, Montreux, and Lausanne.

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

I applied to this program on my own. At first I was nervous moving to an entirely new country completely by myself but I knew that this experience would only make me stronger. Luckily in this program you are put with 14-30 other people whom are all in the same situation as you, in a foreign country, trying to learn a new language, and trying to find a job teaching English. You make bonds very quickly and I know I have met many people that will be life long friends.

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

Before coming here I knew someone who had completed the TEFL Heaven program in Thailand and had a great experience. I also knew someone who had moved to Madrid through another program and she was enjoying herself as well. This just furthered my motivation to apply and get my dream started.

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

Some of the biggest concerns I had before I began teaching abroad were the language barrier, finding a job, finding an apartment, and connecting with new people. The language barrier is something I still face, and it is a challenge but this just motivates me even more to learn Spanish, which is one of my goals. Finding a job and an apartment are logical things to worry about but everything does work out and things do open up. The process is very intimidating, but through perseverance and the help of the program I have found both.

TEFL PROGRAM INFORMATION

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

Even though I have an education background and I actually have an ESOL certification through the program that I completed in college, I felt that I would be more prepared getting a TEFL certification as well. Even though I had qualifications I had taken those classes years ago and I was interested in learning more in order to prepare me for teaching abroad. I also feel that a TEFL certification is highly regarded and many countries and companies like to see that their employers have it. I first looked into TEFL Heaven because I had a friend that had completed the Thailand course and only had good things to say about it. Even so I did a lot of research and after much searching I found that it would be the best fit for me. Knowing someone who had personally gone through the program and could vouch for it was very comforting on top of all the things I found out online.

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

Although there are other options of doing a TEFL course, such as one on the Internet I knew that the only option for me was a face-to-face course. Not only do I personally do better face-to-face but also after a lot of research I found that the face-to-face courses are more highly regarded and valued in the TEFL community than an online option. With the face-to-face experience you gain hands on experience doing teaching English as a foreign language. I also feel that doing a TEFL course in the country that you want to teach in is more beneficial because most TEFL courses have connections to all of the academies, companies, and schools that you are trying to get a job from.

Which TEFL program did you do?

I completed the Madrid, Spain TEFL program.

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

The number one thing I enjoyed about my TEFL course was the instruction. I learned more about the English language in these short 4 weeks than I had in my 18 years of schooling in the states. This program without a doubt will leave you prepared and confident to teach English as a second language in a foreign country. You get several experiences teaching English to real students and each time you are given constructive feedback on how you can grow as an educator.  The instructors are also extremely helpful and go above and beyond for their role as an instructor for their students. There was a time I was sick and needed medicine from the pharmacy but the lady working that day was having a hard time understanding what I needed and one of the instructors kindly walked me back and helped translate for me to get me the medicine I needed. This was just one of the many times the instructors helped with something beyond giving quality instruction. Another great thing about this course is that from day one you begin making relationships that are bound to last a lifetime. You quickly develop relationships with like-minded people doing the same thing as you, moving abroad to teach! The first month is extremely intense so it is nice to have people who are in the same boat as you.

How prepared did you feel for your teaching position?

Like I mentioned above, the instruction was of great quality and I feel more than adequately prepared to teach English as a foreign language. The instructors do a great job of preparing you and give you the confidence you need to go out there and do it! The feedback given after each of your lessons allows you to grow as an educator and try out new methods in order to become the most effective.

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

I have just started teaching online and doing private tutoring in Spain as I just finished the course at the beginning of November (three weeks ago). I have secured a job at an Elementary school with a start date of January. This was the perfect position for me so I knew that I would be okay waiting until then. I plan to stay in Madrid until at least the end of July, but I could definitely see myself staying longer!

How did you secure your English teaching job?

The instructors were fully aware from the beginning of the course that I really wanted to work with children in a school setting. They sent my resume to a school coordinator who then got in contact with me about a position that would be available soon and I interviewed from there. She really liked my resume and my answers to the interview questions and offered me the position the next day. I have also been on many other interviews for private tutoring openings and supplemental work. There are many online resources that you can use for this, Lingobongo, being the one I have had the most luck with.

What does a typical working week look like for you?

My schedule for my school is as follows:

Monday 11:45- 4:30

Tuesday 11:45- 4

Wednesday 9:15-4:30

Thursday 9:15- 4:00

Friday 9:15-12:45

I also do private tutoring and teach online during my non-school hours.

Although I don’t have a day off like some others, I am lucky to get out on 12:45 on Fridays and I don’t go in until 11:45 on Mondays, so I can still make a long weekend trip happen.

What age group or range to you teach?

I teach primarily 5th and 6th grade with a couple classes of 3rd and 4th grade.

What do you most enjoy about teaching your students?

I love seeing the students get excited about learning English. It is so great to see their eyes light up when they understand new words and phrases.

How did you get your work visa?

The program helps you extensively with all the paperwork you need in order to obtain your work visa and they also follow up with you throughout the way to make sure you are on the right track. Being from Florida I had to personally drive down to Miami in order to apply. For this you had to make an appointment, which you have to make far in advance as they fill up quickly. When I went to make my appointment the next available one wasn’t for another almost 3 months! Once I went to my appointment and submitted all my paperwork they sent me my visa in my passport with the envelope that I had provided them with.

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

The process of finding a place to live in Madrid is complicated and at times very frustrating. Many of the other people in my program opted for short-term leases for apartments that the program helped to arrange. I opted for an airbnb for a month while I was searching for a more permanent place to live. I will say to make sure whatever you decide that your accommodation goes for at least a couple weeks after your course. I only reserved mine for a month, which ended 3 days before the end of the program, and searching for housing while you are trying to concentrate on your TEFL program is stressful to say the least. I began my apartment search almost as soon as I arrived in Madrid. Because of the time of year that I arrived (end of September) many of the apartments were already taken because of the influx of so many students and teachers coming at that time. After 3 weeks of being persistent on idealista and walking the streets and calling/texting numbers, I finally ended up with an awesome apartment right in the center. It is a 4-bedroom apartment that I share with a girl I had met prior to moving to Madrid on Facebook, and 2 other Americans who are here to teach English through different programs. All of our rents include all of the bills and we have an awesome balcony from where you can see the sunset over the city every night.

COUNTRY INSIGHT

Being in Madrid, Spain opens up the European world for you. Madrid is a central hub where you can get to almost anywhere in Europe pretty reasonably (time and money). Near Madrid there are several days trips that you can take including Segovia, Toledo, Avila, Cuenca, the New Castle of Manzanares el Real (which houses a museum of Spanish castles), to name a few. Also in Spain you could take a weekend trip to one of these: Barcelona, Seville, Cordoba, Salamanca, Valencia, Alicante and several more.

The food and drinks in Madrid are all very reasonable. Madrid has all types of restaurants and many options of traditional Spanish foods. Many restaurants also give you free tapas when you order an alcoholic drink.  

Places of interest- Madrid has so much to offer! Retiro park is a beautiful place to spend a Sunday just walking around or lying in the grass reading. It also has the cute rowboats you can rent and casual row around the water. The Temple of Debod is a great place to watch the sunset. There are many museums with Reina Sofia being one of my favorites. There are several markets that are must sees, San Miguel being an awesome one to try a variety of different tapas and drinks from. The palace is another must see in Madrid. This list is just a few of my favorite places so far as Madrid has so much to offer I haven’t even seen it all yet.

Transportation- If you are under 26 you can get an abono card for 20 euros a month that gives you unlimited access to all of the busses and metro inside of Madrid. Madrid is also a very walkable city, there are so many places you can walk to within the city center.

Social and nightlife- There are so many clubs and bars in Madrid. No matter if you like a chill bar to listen to some music in or if the club is more your scene, Madrid has nightlife that will appeal to all. There are also many clubs in Madrid that you can join such as running, painting, football, etc. CityLife in Madrid is a good place to go to get involved in different social events. They also arrange trips that I have heard are very fun and affordable.

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: 450

Food: around 200 (depending on how much I eat out that week)

Other bills: All my bills (internet, gas, electric, water) are included in my rent so I don’t have any other bills.

Social life: around 50-70 (this really depends on how much you like to go out, could be more or less but drinks are very cheap in Madrid 2-3 per beer/wine).

Transportation: 20 (under 26 abono transportation card for all busses and metro)

Phone: 20 ( 10 gb of data with EU roaming for when I travel)

Other costs: Travel- depending on where I travel to each month this is another monthly cost. Flights to most European cities can be anywhere from $70-$150 round trip, then hostel/hotel costs (unless staying with friends).

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

Because the Salary is relative to the costs of living in Spain I would say that I am able to live comfortably on my monthly salary. I would recommend bringing at least $2,000 of savings with you to get you started with the first couple of months in bills. You do need to set up a budget and try to stick with it in order to be able to save some and travel.

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS

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

As I mentioned before, I would recommend bringing at least $2,000 of savings with you to get you started with the first couple of months in bills. I would also recommend you making a budget for yourself so that you can have leftover money each month to save and put to traveling.

I would also say If you have some flexibility on when you go I would recommend the July or August course, or the November course as the most job opportunities are in September and January. There are plenty of job opportunities year round though; this is just when they are the most available. 

I would like to leave you with the encouragement that you can take on this huge adventure that you want to pursue. Do not let fear hold you back from making a life changing decision that will leave you with endless experiences and memories that you will cherish for the rest of your life.

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