Interview with Benjamin Grimes, Spain Q & A

PERSONAL PROFILE

What is your name, age and nationality?

Hello! My name is Ben Grimes; I'm 26 years old and I am American (from Washington, D.C.).

What is your education level and background?

I have a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, with a focus in Pre-Law. During my time at University, I chose to study Criminal Justice because I was interested in the law, the American legal system, and the American Criminal Justice System in general. I had aspirations to go to law school in America, so during my undergraduate studies I applied to several law schools throughout the country and was accepted. So, I was 22 years old, had just graduated with my bachelors degree and had been accepted into multiple law schools; things were looking great for me on paper. Then real life hit and I got slammed with a $30,000+ of undergraduate student loan debt. At that point in my life, I thankfully (and with the help of a lot of counsel from people much wiser than I at the time) decided to defer my admission to law school and work within the legal field for some time to really be sure this was where I wanted my life to head. Not to mention, I had quite the student loan bill to start paying off. I worked in multiple law firms over the next four years as an administrator and eventually a senior level litigation paralegal before deciding it was time to make a change and embark on a new adventure.

Have you travelled abroad previously, and if so where?

Luckily, I have travelled abroad in the past. I was born in Frankfurt, Germany so technically I suppose you could say that "counts" as travelling abroad but realistically I was only 2 years old when I lived there so we'll put that one aside. Other than Germany, I had a rare opportunity to spend 10 days in Guanacaste, Costa Rica back in May of 2014. If I hear that anyone EVER has the chance to go to Costa Rica, I am always the first person to push for it. I had an amazing time in that beautiful paradise. There is no place quite like Costa Rica; it's known as the first world of the third world, and while that may not really make much sense to you now, if you actually go there and experience the beautiful rivers, rain forests, wild life, oceans and amazing food/people, it will all make sense.

What motivated you to teach abroad?

You could say that teaching runs in my family, at least to a certain extent. My mom is a cued speech interpreter/teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia and my older sister has been teaching pre-school aged children with special needs for nearly 6 years. My sister actually had the "travel bug" before I ever did after teaching in America for 4 years, she was able to find a job in Morocco teaching for an American school in Marrakech, where she's been for the past two years. So where does that leave me? Well, like I said, teaching runs in the family and now you can see that traveling and living abroad does too! I always enjoyed teaching, (in the capacity that I was able to) through job on-site training of new employees, during my legal career. I thought I should give it a try, in another capacity and a little more formally, so to speak. Add in the excitement of moving and living abroad in a foreign country and the opportunity seemed irresistible.

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

Personally, moving to Madrid and teaching English was about three things. One, I wanted to try my hand at formal education (English) and teaching students. Two, I wanted to learn a foreign language, particularly (you guessed it; Spanish), to the point of fluency or as close to it as possible in at least one year's time. As a final goal but not to say the least important one, I wanted to challenge myself by starting brand-new in an unknown city, not knowing a single soul and see if/how I could thrive.

At this point, after being in Madrid for the time I have been, I can say that two of my goals have been achieved. I've become a TEFL Certified English Teacher and have taught multiple classes and one on one lessons which have been challenging, rewarding and overall awesome experiences. I have also been able to make plenty of new friends, network and really enjoy a lot of what this city has to offer. I've met so many interesting and genuine people with different perspectives on life and I feel like it has made a positive impression on me (even if I don't totally realize it at this point). So, that leaves Spanish…yeah, still have some work to do there but I also have plenty of time left and it's always going to be a work in progress!

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

Initially I discussed the program with a friend back home in the states but eventually it became clear to me that if I was going to actually go through with it, I would have to do it with or without a friend. That can be a scary thought for a lot of people, and I totally understand. However, if you were meant to go abroad, grow and have a positive, life-changing experience then I truly believe you will go no matter what the circumstances are for you.

Did you know anyone who had taught abroad before you?

I did actually; a couple friends. I had a friend in Washington, D.C. who had done similar programs in Mallorca, Spain of all places and another friend who had taught in China, The Dominican Republic and a few other exotic places that I can't remember or probably spell correctly. Talking to these people about their experience was not only a big excitement booster, but it was also informative and extremely helpful to hear first-hand, about their experiences abroad and with teaching English. It definitely impacted my decision to go abroad and teach.

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

I suppose the standard concerns for most people. Will I be good at teaching in a classroom/private tutor setting? Will I be able to learn and speak the language well enough to enjoy myself and communicate effectively? Will I make good friends? Will I be home-sick? So far, I've been finding that the answer to each of the aforementioned questions has been "yes", for better or for worse. You will be homesick at certain points; it's natural. Luckily you will have plenty of supportive friends and instructors to help you through these momentary tough times.

TEFL PROGRAM INFORMATION

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

I wanted to do a TEFL course because I did my own research and found that if I was to become TEFL certified, I would be MUCH more marketable as an English teacher in ANY foreign country I travelled. Even more so, I wanted the training and experience that the TEFL Heaven course was able to offer.

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

Again, I did the research before making any of the big decisions involved with the ultimate big decision in moving abroad and teaching English. That being said, I looked at countless web pages, read through God knows how many forums and quickly realized that doing a face-to-face TEFL course in country, would be much more beneficial for me than doing an online course. Further, it seems that many employers prefer their teachers to have a real/practical teaching experience and you simply can't get that in the same way as you can with a face-to-face TEFL training course.

Which TEFL program did you do?

I chose Madrid and Paid Job Spain program. I chose this program out of the many different offerings because I had taken Spanish classes throughout middle school, high school and college and therefore had a solid foundation already in place. I've always been fascinated with Spain and wanted to visit for years, so it was sort of a no-brainer for me.

What did you enjoy about your TEFL course?

I'd have to say I really enjoyed the instructors in the TEFL course. They were vibrant, excited, informative and supportive day in and day out. As a fellow educator myself now, I can relate with how exhausting that can be but for these instructors, it never seemed like they were working, but rather that they were simply teaching and enjoying themselves and the students' experience.

How prepared did you feel for your teaching position?

I was extremely well prepared. The TEFL Heaven course allowed me real-world practice; I taught six classes to actual Spaniards before I ever stepped foot into a paid classroom where I would be paid to teach. The confidence you build throughout the course is unparalleled and is exactly why I wanted to do a face-to-face TEFL course. My decision paid off tenfold.

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

I've been teaching in country for about two months now and I plan on staying in Spain for at least one year. Who knows, I could be here for another year after that or ten! I'm taking it at that pace and seeing where this experience takes me.

How did you secure your English teaching job?

My first English teaching job I secured from the extensive network of teaching professionals, academies, students, etc. that TEFL Heaven partners with. I was contacted by phone as my resume was sent out by the program, to multiple different employers. After a short discussion over the phone, we scheduled an interview, in-person and after that I was offered the position. It really is as simple and painless as that.

What does a typical working week look like for you?

A typical work week looks different for everyone, once they become TEFL certified and that is because everyone finds different types of jobs. Some people find jobs with academies that provide strict/rigid hours throughout the work week (Monday-Friday) and yet others choose to privately tutor students of all ages. If you go the latter route, you may be travelling to different parts of Madrid throughout the day to your private tutoring sessions. These could be at local cafes, parks or your students' homes. Typically I work about 20 - 25 hours per week doing this.

What age group or range to you teach?

The ages of the students vary greatly. I have taught children as young as 7 and adults as old as 70. It really just depends on the type of job you are looking for and obtain.

What do you most enjoy about teaching your students?

I really enjoy it when you can see the students visibly understanding an English concept and then they begin to enjoy the class even more. When students become encouraged, involved and focus, they become successful and that's what this whole program is all about.

How did you get your work visa?

I received my work visa through my local D.C. Consulate. That being said, TEFL Heaven was there every step of the way, guiding me through each specific point in the process. If I had any questions, I could email the program and someone would respond to me within 24 hours or less, every time. Also, it's important that I mention that the staff at TEFL Heaven are so knowledgable and informative that most of the information I ever needed/wanted was already in my email correspondence from TEFL Heaven. Luckily, if I got a little confused or misplaced an email, all I had to do was shoot another quick email out to TEFL Heaven and the answer was a quick response away.

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

There are plenty of websites to use here in Spain to find accommodations. It all starts with where in the city you want to live and that is a question that will take some actual experience and time for you to be able to answer. The program helped a lot with finding my initial housing and after living in Madrid for a few weeks and traveling around the city/networking and talking to the instructors, students and local Spaniards, I realized exactly which part of the city I wanted to move to for a more long-term tenure. Then it was simply a matter of using websites and word of mouth to find a flat that was right for me.

COUNTRY INSIGHT

Where to begin?! For starters, the Spanish people, generally are loving, affectionate, happy people, at least in my experience. They enjoy the richest aspects of life, i.e., amazing food, great beer or "cervezas" (shout out to MAHOU), delicious (and strong) coffee "cafe con leche", futbol matches and the company of their family and friends. As far as food goes, you will NEVER go hungry in Spain. If there's one thing the Spanish like to do more than drink delicious beers/wines/sangria, it's eat equally as delicious food. Whenever you go to any cafe, bar, etc. in Madrid (or most places in Spain), and order a beer, you will be given free "tapas" which are essentially small plates of the most gourmet, delicious foods you could imagine. Some cafes offer better tapas than others and you will get to know what's what after a week or so.

In America we're all used to "one-stop" shopping. We go to our local Walmart Super Center, Target, Food Lion, etc. and buy literally everything we need from toiletries to tacos, all in one place. In Madrid, you'll find supermarkets like SuperSol and AhorraMas but there is a difference between a Spanish supermarket and what we're used to in America. You can definitely get a lot of what you want at these Spanish supermarkets but you will soon realize that the best foods, products, etc. can be found in local barrio specialty shops. That's part of the charm of each barrio in Madrid; they all offer their own unique fruit, vegetable, hard-ware, etc. shops. You'll soon figure out for yourself which of these little stores has the best bread, which has the best soaps/shampoos, which has that Siracha Sauce that you love so much and so on. It's part of discovering your new barrio, new city and making it yours.

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: 500 Euro/ 587 USD

Food: 50 - 80 Euro/ 94 USD

Other bills: 50 Euro/ 58 USD

Social life: 100 - 200 Euro (depending on travel, etc.) / 118- 234 USD

Transportation: 58 Euro / 68 USD

Phone: 20 Euro / 23 USD

Other costs: Depends, if you have a girlfriend.

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

Absolutely. That was something I was concerned about before I started the program but it hasn't been an issue. I live a comfortable life-style. I like to go out at least once a week, usually more and I'm able to afford rent, food and also travel throughout Spain all on my current income.

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS

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

If you're thinking about teaching abroad, keep thinking. I took a year to come to my decision and I don't regret it in the slightest. It's a big decision to make so take your time with it. Really consider where it is you want to live and why. Also, it never hurts to bring a nice comfortable cushion of savings with you to a foreign country. Emergencies can happen, job markets may taper momentarily and you don't want to be in a situation where you can't make your rent payments because trust me, if the job market slows down, it will always pick back up.

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