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Why Applying for a Gap Year Teaching Experience was the Best Decision I Have Ever Made

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Imagine this: you wake up early in the morning, go to school, study, study, study, eat a little food, study some more, talk to your friends for a bit, study, and then go to sleep. Sound familiar? Me too. This was my life right up until this year; when I packed my bags and moved to Madrid, the capital of Spain, to spend a semester living, teaching, and adventuring abroad.

During my final year of high school, I decided that I wanted to take a year for myself to figure out what my next steps were in life. So after hearing a program where you could live and teach in Spain, I decided to take the plunge, apply for a gap year teaching experience for a semester, and then move to Europe.

Gap Year Teaching Experience: 5 Reasons to Take the Challenge

There are a plethora of reasons why this was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. Here are just a few:

gap year jobs
This just in: small-town girl takes on Madrid!

1. Sometimes We Just Need a Break and Discover Ourselves

Let’s be honest here. From the time we enter school as children, we are put under a lot of pressure to succeed. Exams, homework, parents. At some point during all this, we have to figure out what we want to do with our lives. Then the pressure might double or triple once we get into university.

Don’t get me wrong, pressure can be good. After all, when coal is put under intense pressure it becomes a diamond. But too much can also turn the coal into dust. As humans, when we work too hard for too long, if we’re not careful, we can burn out. This is why we have breaks throughout the day, weekends, holidays, and time off of work because we are aware of what can happen. Essentially, taking a gap year is just a way to take a break from the pressure of school and replace it with a new adventure.

What a Gap Year Is Not

Sometimes, people understand gap years as ways of running away from real life or spending a year sitting on a couch watching Netflix. I understand where this misconception can stem from. However, I can guarantee you that after spending an entire day singing songs, reading books, and teaching about the difference between comparative and superlative adjectives, lying around, at least for me, is certainly not the case.

Another misconception is that gap years are only taken by people who have no idea what they are doing. This may be true in some cases, but this decision should not be made out of fear of failure or uncertainty of what is to come, but rather as a way to reset, clear your mind, and maybe figure out who you are now and what you want to become. You may surprise yourself in your discoveries.

gap year opportunities
Reach for the sky! No? What do you mean you don’t know what idioms are yet?

2. A Fresh Perspective on Life

To be honest, sometimes to think out of the box means you have to leave the box entirely and look at it from 4,000 miles away. I cannot even count the number of so-called “problems” I had back home, that now I see as so insignificant I sometimes forget they were even issues. Learning to create a new lifestyle means being able to see your old one in a different light. You become more objective. This is especially true when you live in a different culture. You learn to appreciate aspects of your own culture that you used to take for granted; as well as an understanding for someone else’s.

Also, teaching in a school as a Language Assistant rather than a student completely changes your perspective on education. You learn as you go, and you can find inspiration anywhere. Your students may even end up teaching you a lesson or two, or, at least, they may attempt to as they try to lure you into speaking Spanish for the third time that day.

3. Adventure is Good for the Soul

There is truly no feeling quite like standing at the top of a mountain, inhaling the crisp air into your lungs, and looking out as the grass seems to ripple in waves over the hills. Or walking down a busy market street, the heel of your shoe tapping musically across the cobbled roads, the little old man on the corner playing accordion as three young children dance around him. The smell of the nearby bakery lures you until you satisfy your taste buds with the light, fluffy, and freshly-baked goods that practically melt in your mouth.

No, truly, you cannot understand until you go out and explore. There is a kind of learning that comes from seeing the world beyond the four walls of our countries and television screens. Adventure means getting out of your comfort zone, going out meeting people, and learning about their passions and desires and their views on the world. What we think we know is not the same as seeing it with our own eyes.

gap year abroad
Adventure means making friends in unfamiliar places…

4. Why Spain? Why Not?

Every once in a while someone asks me why I chose to come to teach in Spain instead of in a different country. To be honest though, there really isn’t just one answer. There are so many reasons to adore this country. Spanish food, for one, really is spectacular. I still am not sure why the rest of the world hasn’t jumped on board with the idea of tapas yet. Free food with every drink? Count me in.

The rich history is another reason to love Spain. Almost everywhere you turn you can find some little knick-knack of history; maybe even tied together with a modern twist. Not to mention all the major cities always have smaller pueblos surrounding them that are just as, if not more beautiful, than it’s brother city. Outside of Madrid, for example, you can find the enchanting city of Segovia, famous for its ancient Roman aqueduct; a castle that inspired Walt Disney’s “Cinderella’s” castle; and a huge, incredibly beautiful, and incredibly underrated cathedral. Other cities around Madrid include the walled-in Avila, and the majestic Toledo.

Spaniards are nothing short of some of the greatest people you will ever encounter. From the moment you step into your colegio on your first day, you are greeted with nothing but smiles from all the teachers and squeals of excitement from your students. I was told by one of my co-workers that I am the most popular “celebrity” teacher in the first-grade hall because every time I walk by I am immediately greeted by fifty little six-year-old girls screaming my name and trying to hug me. What better way to start a Monday morning than with lots of hugs?

5. Putting the ‘Pro’ in Professional

From a professional standpoint, there are so many wonderful reasons to look for gap year teaching experiences. There is something to be noted about anyone who has experience overseas; especially anyone who learns another language in the process. Employers are always looking for dynamic employees. Being able to show experience in a foreign country is a great example of this.

gap year programs
Discovering that joy comes in all shapes and sizes, including singing songs about chickens.

Teaching abroad also gives you real-life experience that you might not get in a normal internship. They will treat you as an adult and a professional; and will expect from you to act in accordance to that. Having real colleagues gives you the opportunity to learn how to maneuver through professional situations and gain knowledge in “people skills”; which is something to learn through experience, not through a textbook.

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Moreover, one of the reasons I chose to teach abroad with Meddeas was because I could get TEFL certified (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). Being able to get a certificate in teaching before I even finish university is something that looks fantastic on any resumé. By the way, next year I will be attending Franciscan University of Steubenville; pursuing a degree in both Spanish and French. (I am also hoping to minor in either business or education but I haven’t decided yet!)

All in all, applying for gap year teaching experience and getting a placement to teach has brought more self-awareness than I found in school. But when I decided to take a year for myself, I didn’t realize I would end up giving it back to others. My students are the most rewarding part of this entire project. Their excitement and enthusiasm inspire me every single day. And while I am excited to attend university again in the fall, their smiles and joy help me acknowledge that taking a gap year was arguably the best decision I’ve ever made. This kind of experience cannot be taught in books. The reality, is, after all, the best teacher.

7 Responses

  1. Adventure is certainly good for the soul. 🙂 It awakens us and teaches us new things about ourselves.

  2. This was such a great read, and everything I agree with! When people ask me, “Why didn’t start a job in the “real world?”‘ I tell them these exact reasons. I think the most important is letting loose and discovering who you are and what you want to be. I think also these kind of experiences make you a much more well-rounded person, more open-minded, and much more of a risk taker. I think this experience will only improve your chances of getting a job, and will never hurt your chances. Thanks for the article!

  3. This is a really inspiring article and I’m sure it will encourage a lot of other young people to embark on a gap year like you! I came to teach in Spain with Meddeas after I graduated from university and while I don’t know how long I will continue TEFL teaching for, it is a truly valuable experience as I am learning a lot from living and teaching here and gaining skills that can help me for years to come in whatever career path I choose. Taking a gap year is something I’d recommend to anyone, living abroad changes your whole outlook on life. It teaches you new things about the world and yourself.

  4. Thanks for your article, I´m sure it will inspire others to experience this amazing adventure too! I was quite anxious before my gap year from a professional perspective, as TEFL is so different to what I studied at university. However, I totally agree with your points on “Putting the Pro in Professional”. I think you gain so many valuable and transferrable skills through what we are doing!

  5. I definitely agree with this article in the sense that a gap year really is the best choice for some people and there’s no shame in it! Teaching through Meddeas has equipped me with so many skills that will serve me whatever I decide to do next and I am really grateful for that. There is so much reciprocal learning that goes on among my students and I. Though I am taking a gap year between my Bachelor’s and Master’s studies, this has been a very valuable experience and I feel that I’ve been able to rest and reset as well as prepare for my education in the coming years.

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