Anybody who knows me knows how much I rave about the semester I spent studying abroad in Sevilla. It was such a highlight of my life and when I left, I knew I wasn’t quite done with Spain and that I needed to return. When I announced I was moving back to Spain to teach English, I think it seemed like I was just trying to relive my semester abroad and have a study abroad experience: part 2. The truth is, no matter how much I wanted to, I knew I couldn’t recreate that semester, so I prepared myself for the completely different experience that was to come. As it turns out, there are actually a lot of differences between studying abroad and teaching abroad. But in reality, these differences are turning out to be for the better.
Teaching abroad is a much more noticeably independent experience than studying abroad. Study abroad programs do a lot of handholding for their students. I arrived to Sevilla and had literally everything taken care of for me. My program set up my housing, my cell phone, my courses at the university, orientations, and they even gave us walking tours of the city. Also, my host parents cooked all of my meals and did all of my laundry. Teaching abroad hardly provided any of that. I am fortunate enough to be part of the BEDA program which took care of our bank accounts and NIE. But besides that, I’ve been on my own. I had to set up my accommodations for when I first arrived, find an apartment, set up a phone plan, and set up everything with my school. It hardly feels like I came over here with a program since I’m essentially living on my own. However, with this independence comes unwanted obligations. I am in charge of paying my rent, utilities, my phone bill, my metro pass, cleaning my apartment, cooking my own meals, etc. Although no one ever enjoys these obligations, they are all a part of growing up and a part of life, and a little independence is definitely a good thing. I definitely felt more independent when I left Sevilla, but this year is going to take it to a whole new level.
While studying abroad, I wasn’t able to make many of my own choices. My program decided where I lived and who I lived with. Furthermore, my host mother decided the way I lived. She controlled what I ate everyday, the TV that I watched, the temperature of my showers, and even the amount of blankets on my bed. Come March, when it was still freezing in my room, my host mother decided it was time to take away the space heater and the heavy blanket from my bed. I remember being so angry! Teaching abroad has allowed me to decide where I live, who I live with, what I eat, how long I can take my showers for, and the temperatures of my showers and bedroom. I can even watch Spanish MTV! Something I was never able to do in Sevilla. Also, since I don’t feel obligated to be home for meals anymore (because for study abroad, my meals were already paid for so it was smarter to eat at home), I have the freedom to explore more of Madrid’s restaurant scene. I have eaten out a lot more than I ever did in Sevilla which I’ve enjoyed because it feels like I’m experiencing much more of the Spanish culture.
3. FREE TIME
During study abroad, I felt like I had a lot less free time during the week because I had a ton of homework and studying to do. My courses were surprisingly demanding (at least more than what I expected from my study abroad courses) and I remember spending many late nights writing papers or creating study guides for exams. What I love about working abroad is that I rarely take my work home with me. Yes, I research lesson plans and gather ideas, but it never takes all night like some of my homework in Sevilla did. I can use my afternoons for doing whatever I want. It gives me the chance to pick up more private lessons for some extra cash and if a friend texts me at 9 pm asking if I want to get a drink, I normally can unless I have something else holding me back, but it has never been because of something work-related.
4. CULTURAL IMMERSION
I have met soo many more Spanish people through teaching abroad than I did during my time in Sevilla. I felt like study abroad was very Americanized. In Sevilla, I felt like you needed to branch out a lot more if you wanted to meet Spaniards, and I honestly never made that effort. The only Spanish people I knew were my teachers, host parents, and my intercambio. All of my classmates and all of my friends were American. Here in Madrid, I sometimes go days with only interacting with Spaniards. For example, on Tuesdays I go from seeing my Spanish roommates, to teaching Spanish children and working with all Spanish teachers, to having a conversation with the Spanish cashier at the grocery store, to a Spanish family’s home where I give 2 Spanish children private lessons. And all of this occurs without one interaction with a non-Spaniard and I love it! It is the complete opposite from my study abroad experience–in a good way.
I had absolutely no income during study abroad, so whatever I saved before going was what I had to spend. Now, the whole reason I’m here is for a job. I’m actually getting paid to live here and it’s awesome! Sadly, my paychecks don’t last as long as I would like them to and in the end, I will have lost money rather than saved money. But what’s the point of saving all that money if you don’t spend it on an experience like this?
6. SOCIAL ASPECT
I felt like my friends were just handed to me during study abroad and I knew that I was so lucky because that is not normally the case. We all got so close during those 4 months because we often saw each other at school and we all lived in the same neighborhood. Like everything else, you’re pretty much left on your own with this while working abroad. Although I am here with a program, it is a lot different because we haven’t been given many opportunities to meet everyone in our program. There are still a ton of people that I haven’t met, and I probably never will. We are all placed at different schools and we live in all different parts of the city. I feel so fortunate that I lucked out in the friend department for the second time. For the most part, I always have someone I can hangout with, but I can definitely see how making friends while working abroad might not work out for a lot of people. It definitely takes more effort on both ends.
Both teaching abroad and studying abroad definitely have their own pros and cons. Study abroad was an absolute blast and I love looking back on those fond memories. However, I would say teaching abroad is a much more rewarding experience. I am making a difference while becoming much more immersed in the Spanish culture as well as becoming much more independent. The fact that I can still go out and travel just as much as I did during study abroad adds even more of a bonus! Although I wouldn’t trade my semester in Sevilla for anything and it was undoubtedly one of the best times of my life, I have to admit that I like teaching abroad better. I have much more freedom, I don’t have any homework or studying to do, and I get paid! In the end, though, I’m so happy that I have been given the incredible opportunity to experience BOTH teaching and studying abroad.