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It’s Tuesday and that means yet another edition of the Intentional Expat Interview Series. Today I’m featuring Charina, who like many Americans has found herself in Spain thanks to the Spanish Ministry of Education’s Teaching Assistant program. However, rather than many assistants who spend their year in Madrid, she’s calling the lesser known town of Vigo in the NW region of Spain home for the school year. Read on to find all about her experience of working as an English teacher in Vigo, what it’s like to live in the region of Galicia and check out her blog, Fiestas y Siestas. 

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from, where do you currently live, what do you do for work, what are your hobbies, what are you passionate about?

I’m from Maryland, right outside of Washington D.C. I just graduated this past May and worked at a physical therapy clinic right after. After hearing the news I got accepted into the Spanish ministry of education program early last summer, I decided to move to Vigo, Spain to teach English.

As for hobbies, I absolutely hate running but would consider myself a pretty active person-I love playing basketball, tennis, and doing outdoorsy things like hiking, etc. I also enjoy playing the piano and reading a good book once in a while. As for passions, as cliché as this sounds, I want to make a difference in other people’s lives– whether it is through teaching, working at a physical therapy clinic, etc. I still have to discover!

What motivated you to move abroad?

This is something I never really thought about seriously until this past spring. I studied abroad my third year of college in Valencia, Spain and had the time of my life! I thought it’d be cool to live abroad for a little, but it remained just a thought for another year or two. When I was abroad I had met people at hostels who did the whole “work right after college” thing and found themselves a couple years in feeling stuck or bored.  I’d also worked with many patients at the clinic who’d traveled the world or lived abroad, and it just seemed like the right time to do it. I definitely lived college with the mindset that I would graduate, get a good job after graduate school, and settle down, but by the time graduation came around, doing that didn’t feel right. I realized I’m young, love traveling, and that we work for the rest of our lives so why not? 

Where all have you lived abroad? What place was your favorite and why?

Other than my recent move to Vigo, I lived abroad in Valencia, Spain for four months for study abroad. Other than that, all my travels were vacationing with the family or friends. Vigo and Valencia are two completely different parts of Spain that I can’t really choose one over the other. I love both!

What’s the most difficult part about living abroad? What’s the best part?

I think the most difficult thing about living abroad is also the best part about living abroad. I moved to Vigo knowing absolutely no one, and I always wondered how people move somewhere without knowing anyone. I think in the beginning it can get lonely. You meet so many new people, but nothing really ever compares to home. Being away from all my family and friends can be hard and knowing that their lives continue as mine does here is something I’ll have to get used to. Adjusting to the way of life and making friends is definitely a challenge, but it’s also what makes moving to a completely foreign place so fun. The best part is getting to know the city, getting lost and discovering places, learning about cultural differences, and meeting people from all over the world who have similar interests as you.

What have you learned from living abroad? 

  •  You learn you really have to make the effort and be active— I studied abroad through a program at my school and had all the support from my fellow Americans and the program itself. It’s completely different this time, as I have had to do everything on my own from finding an apartment, to setting up a bank account, etc. Your experiences and how your year goes are all dependent on what you do with it.

“If life gives you lemons, don’t settle for simply making lemonade – make a glorious scene at a lemonade stand.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert

  • You can be from opposite sides of the world but share so much in common with someone. Everyone has a story to tell so listen!
  • You learn to really appreciate the world around you and be thankful for all the opportunities and people you have in your life.

What is your secret to keeping a positive attitude while living abroad?

I think it’s important to understand that there will always be challenges and hardships. I think some people move abroad with this one idea in their head of how amazing it’s going to be and then come and find out that there’s rent to pay, food to buy, problems to face, etc. Problems don’t leave just because you leave. I am really thankful for the opportunity to move out here and know that opportunities like this won’t always be around—I think that’s something that has helped me keep a positive attitude. And remembering again that my experience is how I make it out to be so keeping a positive attitude will be one way to make sure that I have the best possible experience.

What´s the best place you´ve ever traveled to?

This is a common question to be asked, and honestly it’s so hard to answer because every place has it’s own culture that makes it so unique from everywhere else. I’ve enjoyed everywhere I’ve traveled–the Philippines, Germany, even NYC, which is only a couple hours from my hometown, but I guess two places that really stuck out to me were Amsterdam and Seville. I really liked Amsterdam as it was one of the smaller cities I visited while abroad (in comparison to London and Paris, for example). I really enjoyed the laid back environment, all the canals, food, and bikes. Seville was so much fun as well—it’s just so colorful and lively that it’s hard not to fall in love when you’re there.

Do you have a bucket list? Would you share with us a couple of things on that list?

I think the biggest things on my bucket list are probably on everyone else’s like going skydiving, bungee jumping, etc. I did knock one off my list recently which was to be an extra in a commercial, show, or movie. So check out season 3 of House of Cards! You may catch me or probably just some part of my body wayyyyy in the back somewhere of a dinner scene. Something I definitely want to do when I get back to the states is a cross country road trip for a month or so.

Do you watch TED Talks? What´s your favorite one?

I occasionally watch TED talks and was first introduced to it my junior year of high school. I recently watched one over the summer about how educators discuss reforms that need to take place to change the school system and make it better for the kids, but fail to mention something else that is important–the relationship and connection between the teacher and the student! This really stuck with me as I work as a teacher out here in Vigo and have found that the relationship you make with your students makes all the difference. If you’re interested, check it out! 

 What advice do you have for people who are considering moving abroad, but are feeling doubtful? 

DO IT!! You’ll grow and take something away from the whole experience whether you love it or hate it. Doubts may stem from missing family, and I do think the hardest part is leaving your comfortable lifestyle at home and all of your friends and family. Once you’re over there, you’ll find every day getting easier and easier. Another doubt may stem from finances—remember, you will always have to pay for bills no matter where you are. If you want to move abroad, there are programs to teach English that pay you or programs like aupair. If you have loans to pay like I do, you can defer them for a year! Sure there will still be challenges and hardships, but it’s all part of the process! And just think for a second, if not now, when?

Ok, last question, of all the places in Spain, why Vigo?

I get it asked all the time! But, I actually didn’t choose Vigo. When applying to the program, we were asked to put our top three communities down so I put the Basque country, Andalucia, and Madrid. I honestly had never heard of Galicia and was sad I didn’t get any of my top three choices. I applied to the program a bit later so the only openings left were in Galicia. I was definitely hesitant as I found out from blogs and the internet that Galicia is different from the rest of Spain—it rains, and it’s not at all like the traditional Spain we all know. Nonetheless, I am so happy I made the decision to accept Vigo, and the best part about not knowing anything about a place is discovering and learning everything about it once you’re there!

Thanks so much Charina for sharing with us your experience of working as an English teacher in Vigo. If you want to know more about Charina’s adventures up in the NW corner of Spain, check out her blog Fiestas y Siestas. And if you’re an expat or traveler with a story you’d like to share with my readers, please get in touch!