What the %$#% am I doing in Madrid

Sunset at Templo de Debod

I did it. I survived the first 10 days in Madrid, a city that I will call home (if I can find one) for next 9 months.

Doing what?

Under the Spanish government’s Language Auxillares program, I will be inspiring young minds at a bilingual high school through the medium of English. Perhaps, tell them a tale or two about Niagara Falls and The Hip. You know, Canadian stuff. It’s a neat job. I work 16 hours a week for € 1000 and health insurance. Plus I get to live in Spain, and travel around Europe during countless public holidays.

that’s not even a real job!

Why do the program? For some it’s a gap year before grad school. Well, in reality, they are just tired of answering ‘so.. when are you getting a job’ from their parents and friends of their parents. Some just want to experience the Spanish lifestyle. We all have our own reasons for being here.

These are mine.

Learn Spanish

Whenever I meet someone new, I get them to guess where I am from. Surprisingly, most assume I am some form of hispanic. Clearly, I give off a certain latin machisimo. Self-delusions aside, I have always been drawn to vibrant culture of Spanish speaking countries. Plus, the English level of these countries tends to be low, which bodes well for an aspiring ESL (English as a second language) teacher like myself. I could work and travel anywhere in Latin / South America and Mexico.(sorry Brazil)

At the same time, not knowing Spanish is an obvious hurdle when settling in a new country, like me presently in Madrid. Whether it’s being turned down by landlords for ‘no habla-ing Espanol’ or not knowing how to say ‘no cheese in that please’ at a burger joint, language barriers suck. By the end of the year, I want to be conversationally fluent in Spanish. And learn to sing a song in Spanish to able to woo a Spanish girl (duh!) The game plan is a mix of classes, conversational exchanges and watching Netflix with Spanish subtitles.

You think its possible?

Get real about ESL

In the past few years, I have dabbled in various short term ESL gigs in Germany and Austria. At first, the intent was to use them as means to fund my frequent trips to Europe. I realized then that I am quiet good at making English fun. And I am not that good at too many things. But, anything can be fun when it’s only for a short while. Keeping it fun and rewarding in the long haul is the real test. I am counting on the teaching gig in Madrid to be that test.

This is the first time I will be working in a public school environment. I suspect that involves learning how to be on the good side of the headmaster, collaborating with the Spanish school teachers, dealing with bratty kids, challenging the smart ones, and the icing on the lactose-free cake, office politics. Certainly, there will be peaks. But, it’s the lows that are the true tests of the commitment to the passion. You know those days when everything that could go wrong is going wrong. The English teacher is having power struggles with you, the 11th graders hate the debate idea, the heating in your apartment isn't working, and you are hung over. Yet, you power through because you love what you do. At least, I hope so.

If ESL is what I love, it could lead to jobs anywhere in the world. Perhaps, another year in Madrid or somewhere else in Spain. I may even test the rich (rich as in money making) waters of Asia or Middle East.

Figure me out

Freshman 15? More like freshman 30

It was the first year of university since the last time I lived away from home. I was 21, a late bloomer, surrounded by peers who were too young to legally drink in most Canadian cities. Age jokes aside, I ‘grew up’ more in that one year than previous years combined. Living alone means freedom. The ‘growing up’ part is what you do with it. In the first semester, I made the same mistakes as every freshmen. Stayed up till 4 binge-watching shows, skipped morning lectures, lived only on pizza and burgers, etc. Consequently, it all began deteriorating: grades, health, 30 inch waist.

By the second semester, I realized that university (and life) is more about what you like instead of doing what everyone else likes. Academics didn’t turn me on. So, I got involved with non-academic activities like music club, part time work and volunteering. I was able to revive my failing grades and health. Being occupied with rewarding things elevated my self-worth. At the end of first year, through one of the clubs at university, I ended up volunteering at ESL summer camp in Hungary that summer. That was my first ESL job.

Fast forward 7 years to Madrid. I am away from home, and settling in a new city. It’s first year university all over again. Except this time, my crappy diet has been mostly napolitanas and cañas cerveza. (my gluten intolerance loathes you) I am starting from scratch: finding a (fucking) flat, making new friends, finding out where to buy almond milk, learning to cook paella. There are tons of question marks ahead. I am nervously excited about figuring it all out. Check back with me a year later (9 months for the detail-oriented folks), and odds are I will have more questions than answers.

But, at least I will know how to cook paella.