I’d made the decision two years ago to teach abroad.
It was October, 2009. I’d just spent the past year volunteering at the local library, teaching non-native English speakers basic reading and writing, and I loved it.
I loved teaching so much that I finally heeded the advice of my former graduate school classmates who’d been there, done that, and looked into moving to another country to bless unsuspecting potential students with the peculiarities of a language that had 24 vowel sounds. (Or is that 26?) I told myself that if I aced the TEFL course that I’d signed up for, then that would be a sign that it was meant to be. My final project earned me the top student rank. I guess I was leaving.
The next few months were spent giving up my apartment and my freedom to move back in with my parents, putting in my resignation from a job that I hated, and researching every single aspect of moving to Western Europe. My TEFL instructor–a wonderful woman who’d taught in Portugal for 13 years–suggested that we first decide where we didn’t want to go, and then take it from there. I ruled out Saudi Arabia immediately, even though the pay was a lot more than I’m making now. I mean, as much as I respect different cultures for being different from American, I just couldn’t see myself as a black American woman covered from head to toe, treated as second class, and beholden to a male escort. To the women who can do that, I tip my hat, but I’ve spent way too many years proving myself as equal in my own country.
I settled on Spain, mostly because I wanted to immerse myself in a culture that had some flavor. I’d considered Barcelona, but when I read about that other language, Catalan, I went with Madrid. My Spanish was bad enough without having to add yet another hurdle.
Before my trip in May to Madrid, I’d reached out to various language schools and teaching programs to get an idea of what exactly foreigners endured in the bull-fighting Mecca of the world. The responses were mostly positive. As a cynical New Yorker, I should’ve known right then and there that something was wrong.
I moved here in August of last year, about a week and a half before my scheduled CELTA course. I had a To-Do list as long as I-95, and I was determined to cross off as many tasks as humanly possible. Unfortunately, no one told me that the entire city shuts down for the month of August, so ticking off tasks was categorically impossible. From there, life became insane.