What it’s like teaching English in Spain with the BEDA program
If you want to take a year off from your normal life, explore a new culture, learn a new language and have an unforgettable experience, teaching English in Spain might be the answer.
From 2016 to 2019 I worked as an English assistant (known as an auxiliar de conversación) with a program called BEDA.
Many people are curious about this program, so I thought I’d explain a bit of what life was like while working as an auxiliar in Spain.
To start, Spain is a big country. It’s amazing how different one region is from the next.
My first year, I was placed in a small city called Córdoba. Located in the southernmost province of Andalusia, it tends to be overshadowed by neighbouring cities Granada and Seville, but in my opinion it’s a beautiful, magical place to spend some time (go in April for the flower festival i.e. Los Patios!).
For my second year, on the advice of some friends, I moved to Valencia.
Valencia is the city that is “just right”. You’ve got:
- the beach
- a massive park (converted from a river) that snakes around the central city
- a modern and cosmopolitan feel
- a slightly grungy but nonetheless charming old town
- close proximity to the Balearic Islands – I visited Mallorca for the first time in October last year
- one of Spain’s biggest festivals, Las Fallas, is held here in March
need I go on?
Teaching English in Spain
I taught at a lovely school in the centre of the city. It’s called a colegio concertado, a kind of semi-private, Catholic school. BEDA only works with these types of schools. In my experience they are generally very nice and well-organised.
I didn’t enjoy my school in Córdoba very much, as I often felt taken advantage of. My school in Valencia, however, was a big improvement. I enjoyed what I did and found my colleagues and the children to be very pleasant.
I worked with kids from roughly the ages of six to fifteen.
A typical schedule
I didn’t know this about Spain, but many schools (not all) employ quite an interesting schedule. School is in session from 9am to 12.30pm, with a three hour (!) lunch break, then you’re back from 3.30pm to 5pm.
During the lunch break you are free to go do whatever you want, and some of the kids leave the school as well and go home for lunch. Many of them stay at school and eat in the canteen, and do extra-mural activities like English lessons or roller skating.
You don’t generally work outside of class, save for a hours each week preparing for upcoming classes. Typical classes might include sharing cultural aspects of your home country, playing games, conversation activities, and getting the kids to speak as much English as possible.
It’s what you make of it
Spain has a huge amount to offer. It’s rich in culture, history and tradition, and the natural beauty is astounding.
Cities are generally walkable and it’s easy to go around sightseeing and taking in all there is to see. In many cities, certain attractions are free on Sundays! Public transport is excellent – although high-speed trains can be expensive – and it’s so easy to travel around and explore.
Tips and advice
Rally up some amigos
The first thing I did when arriving in Córdoba was to hook up with other auxiliares. You will need plenty of support as you navigate a new life abroad, so it’s important to connect with people who are in the same boat as you.
These people will be your rock as you hunt for somewhere to live, deal with homesickness, scramble for last-minute lesson ideas, and you’ll also want people to go around the city with and hunt for the best tapas bars.
You can also meet people by joining meetups in your area, trying online dating, or taking some classes (Spanish lessons are a good idea if, like me, you came over to the country knowing a grand total of ten words).
Give yourself time to adjust
Moving to a new country is going to be challenging at times. Many auxiliares struggle during the first few weeks and months. Typical issues that come up are battling to find accommodation, trouble with roommates, homesickness, culture shock, and issues at school.
Some auxiliars make the decision to go home before the year is up. While this might be the best thing for your well-being, I’d recommend that you give yourself a good two or three months before making the decision.
This is because it takes time to settle down and find your groove after a major life change. Go easy on yourself, look after yourself, and give it a fair shot. If after two or three months you find yourself really miserable and battling to cope, it might be a good idea to let your program coordinator know what’s going on and see how you can find a way forward.
Be careful of missing out
A good piece of advice for the program is this: don’t reinvent the wheel. People have been doing this for years and there is so much in the way of resources and lesson plans out there. The auxiliar Facebook groups are your best friends.
Because while you want to work hard and give your all to your job, you’re also in Spain to soak up the experience and make amazing memories, not to spend two hours a night planning classes.
Then again, if that’s what you want to do, that’s also fine. Some people who join the program are actually accredited teachers and are here to gain teaching experience, so that’s quite a different story.
Use your money for travel
A lot of people come into the program with the mindset of making the most of their time in Europe and seeing as much as they can, so this point is kind of moot in that case. I still want to make it though.
In my third year of the program I didn’t travel at all, because I was saving up every bit of money I could. I’m grateful for that now because it allowed me to move back home with a pretty good nest egg.
That being said, I enjoyed my first two years in Spain far more, and that was in large part because of the travel. Within Spain I visited beautiful places like Málaga city, Ronda, Granada, Seville, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Peñíscola and Mallorca. In Europe I took some amazing trips to places like to Croatia, Italy, Ireland and England.
You don’t earn too much with this program – it’s a decent salary, don’t get me wrong – but not as much as you might make doing the same thing in say, South Korea.
So instead of being pedantic over money, my advice would be to put the money in to some awesome trips. After all, you’re just a cheap flight away from so many incredible destinations.
If I compare my first to years to my third, the first two far supersede the last, and I think a big part of it has to do with the fact that I didn’t travel in my third year (besides from a few local trips). Travel enriches the experience so much, and you won’t regret it – I promise.
You’re going to learn so much about yourself and about life in general while doing this program. And even if it’s tough, and things don’t work out quite as you imagined, chances are you will not regret taking this big, brave risk.
Is there anything else you’d like to know about the program? Feel free to leave a comment below.