Before going to Spain, I didn’t consider myself adventurous.
When I graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do.
After learning about a classmate’s positive experience teaching abroad, I looked into InterExchange’s English Conversation Spain program. I figured if I was going to do something like this, the period after college when I was still unsure of what I wanted to do would be the best time to take the leap.
My three months in Madrid were filled with unexpected and beautiful developments. Here are the top four:
1. I learned I'm adaptable and my confidence soared.
Living in a foreign country and being surrounded by a foreign language was the bravest thing I’ve ever done.
I loved learning about another way of life. I embraced the laid-back ¡No pasa nada! (“Don’t worry about it” / “It’s okay”) attitude and stopped trying to plan everything and worrying about how things would unfold.
I got used to wearing slippers in my host family’s home and hanging my clothes outside to dry (dryers are not common in Spanish homes like they are in the U.S.).
I used military time, drank café con leche (a Spanish coffee consisting of strong coffee and scalded milk), and ate many delicious churros con chocolate (a decadent Spanish dessert which entails dipping a fried dough pastry in a hot cup of chocolate).
I said “yes” to new opportunities without hesitation. I talked to everyone and took it all in.
Traveling, and this trip in particular, completely changed me. By the end of my program, I felt like I belonged in Spain. I gained so much confidence from pushing my boundaries and going off on my own and grew to be an adept traveler.
And my Spanish improved!
2. I have a second family now.
The English Conversation Coach entails a homestay. My Spanish hosts took me in and treated me like I was one of them. They made all the difference in my experience.
With such welcoming hosts, it was hard to be homesick!
I enjoyed being part of their routine, from walking my host sibling to school and playing soccer with him to grocery shopping with my host mom. I also loved the language learning sessions with my host dad. He helped me with Spanish and I tutored him in English.
Even the dog, Luna, made me feel at home. I give my hosts a lot of credit for taking in a stranger, especially one who ate so much food!
One of my favorite memories with them is from my birthday. They bought me a cake and gifts and sang Happy Birthday to me. I felt special and loved by this gesture.
My dad visited me in Spain and got the chance to meet my host family. He was so nervous about me going on this trip and was grateful to them for taking care of me. Both of us are still in touch with my Spanish host family. I can’t wait for the day when I get to see them again.
3. I made a best friend.
I joined the program alone, so I was eager to meet up with fellow participants. Jess and I found each other through InterExchange’s Facebook group. We met in person for the first time on a group trip to Toledo and ended up spending most of our time together.
Jess is still one of my best friends. The year after we got back from Spain, we went to New Zealand together for four months on a working holiday visa. I’m even visiting her in California soon!
She has seen me at my best and my worst and vice versa (traveling does that to you!), but there’s no better travel buddy than Jess.
4. I fell in love with traveling!
When I returned from Spain, I couldn’t wait to leave the U.S. again!
I’ve only taken one major trip since my time in Spain (four amazing months in New Zealand), but I’ve gone on many smaller trips and I’m looking forward to more in the future.
The difference between pre-Spain me and post-Spain me is the desire I have now to see it all.
The more I see, the more I add to my list. There’s something addictive about waking up in new cities, trying local food, and getting lost in new neighborhoods. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
And as for figuring out what I want to do? I now work for a company that uses weather data to help insurance companies, businesses, and organizations. Not related to tutoring English in Spain, but I’m so happy I had that experience before I settled into my analytics career!
Volunteering to teach English in Spain was the best decision I’ve made and I hope others can have an experience like I did.