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Updated August 2022
So you’ve heard more and more about language assistants (also known as teaching assistants, English teachers) either in a blog post describing ways to travel the world and make money, inside a travel Facebook group, or maybe even from a close friend of yours who may have been one abroad.
You may be wondering what it is exactly.
What’s the hype around it, and is it all fun and games, or can there be actual professional skills and development involved?
I know I’ve personally heard in the past from other people who thought that teaching English abroad after college was some kind of tactic to avoid “the real world” or something you had to get out of your system in order to “get serious.”
I remember those comments being so dismissive of all that could be attainable through this experience, and not being accurate at all, even before going through the experience myself.
The truth is, there is SO much to gain, and no, I’m not just talking about the amazing, cultural, and linguistic richness you’ll gain (which is also a plus!) but also all of the super marketable and desired traits and skills that many employers are looking for in new employees.
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So, I’m here to tell you that there most certainly IS a lot to gain when you become a language assistant abroad, in various ways, including your professional development.
We will jump into the specifics in a little bit.
Also – If you’re wondering if it’s also even a possibility to be a language assistant abroad, during the current state of the world, then definitely keep reading on to see the different opportunities offered, in which you can be a language assistant, and gain these 5 professional skills while on the job.
Whether it’s possible for your country and your host country to travel there or find other great opportunities, we’ll explore that in a bit so stay tuned to learn more…
6 Professional Skills You Learn When You’re a Language Assistant
How being a language assistant in Spain changed my life (and sharpened my professional skills)
Through my personal experience teaching English in Spain, I was able to jump into the real world, make big decisions on my own for the first time (abroad), get creative in a variety of ways, and think quickly on my feet.
Through becoming a language assistant abroad, I was able to build connections and gain clarity on myself, and what I really wanted for myself after this experience was over.
Not to mention the heaps of opportunities I got at my school to practice effective communication, cultural understanding, adaptation (super important!), and not to mention, the confidence to keep and take with me, no matter what I ended up doing afterward in my career and personal life.
Being a language assistant during a pandemic
Considering the fact that we are experiencing a huge shift in the way we use to live life and do things because of the pandemic happening right now, there are a couple of things to take into consideration before jumping at the opportunity of being an English language assistant in Spain.
First and foremost, being alert and aware of the ever-changing updates surrounding the virus is important to keep up with for safety.
Each country and continent as a whole has its own rules and regulations to follow, so depending on where you currently live, you may be able to actually travel and live in the country of your school, or you may have the option of virtual language assisting.
So if you’re wondering if being a language assistant abroad is the next step for you, or you’re simply curious to look into the variety of professional skills you can gain in this ultimate experience alone, then keep reading.
A couple of doubts to clear up about becoming an English language assistant abroad
Now before we get started, I do want to clear up any doubts that may be popping up in your head, especially if you’ve been on the fence on whether or not being a language assistant is for you.
I get it, I had to ask myself that question multiple times before signing my agreement because it is a big deal and a big move.
I know one of the things that really helped me was finding other people that had already done the experience, and hearing from them if it was worth it or not.
9/10 I heard really good feedback with most saying they would do it again (and most did).
Then shortly after as I went ahead with my own experience, I realized the reason why it wasn’t 10/10.
It wasn’t because of the culture shock or the people or homesickness – It was because of the uncertainty of where you would be placed to teach and where you would be living (whether you lived with a host family or on your own).
Aside from that, there is also the ambiguity of what kind of school you may be placed in – religious or non-religious?
Public or private?
Younger students or older students?
And all the other details that you don’t realize until you’re at the school.
However, nowadays, there are many platforms online and people offering their help and experience as a whole.
Take for example the platform Erasmus in School (not sponsored by the way), which is an online platform designed to help interested candidates to gain more clarity on these details, ownership, and control over this process, and go about it in a way that is most closely to what they’re looking for.
Users are able to see more details and requirements from the schools and overall have a bigger pool of schools to be a language assistant abroad at.
**Quick disclaimer: I am collaborating with Erasmus in School to bring you a simple and free platform to get a start on looking at this potential opportunity in as much detail as possible, so I will be sharing a little bit more about how this could be a useful platform for you to use. I am not being sponsored to share the Erasmus in School platform or services, so rest assured this is coming from an honest place to help you potentially use their platform to help see what kind of schools are out there to work with, and what are some requirements.
Erasmus in School is a great platform to do that, as they are firstly a FREE online platform designed to help connect language assistants to schools, universities, and other companies that are looking for language assistants with your specific knowledge, in a variety of locations all over the world, but the majority being in Spain.
It’s free to create an account and start researching schools that start to pique your interest.
They make it so easy to get in touch with the school directly, get your questions answered, and get a feel for the school (very important) before making a decision.
So before you decide to start looking for potential schools, here are 5 professional skills you learn when you’re a language assistant.
Professional skill #1: Adaptability to new environments
If you’ve been able to leave your comfort zone at home, try new foods, listen and learn from other people, live on a budget, and get used to the lifestyle of another country, then you can learn to adapt to any kind of environment and lifestyle after that.
If you tell your employer that you are adaptable, that is telling them that you are better able to take on work challenges, deal with work-related issues with more patience and calm and that you can easily adapt and adjust to the work environment and learn to work with a variety of people.
If you back up your adaptability by giving examples of how you adjusted abroad, you not only stand out but also demonstrate just how well you can adapt to any situation.
When you are interviewing for a job, aside from considering your education and experience, the employer is also having a conversation with you to get a feel for you as a person.
They want to get to know you, and how your personality could possibly mesh with their current work culture and environment.
Considering your travel experience alone, you have so much to offer in your presence alone, so double down on that, let that alone boost your confidence, and let that shine with all the examples and situations you’ve experienced when you’re at your next job interview!
Also! Not to mention if you taught English abroad during a pandemic, you had that extra layer of challenge to maneuver, which you can easily add those situations into real-life problem-solving skills and highlight on your resume.
THAT is the kind of real-world experience that jobs cannot turn down.
If you taught during the pandemic, side note, you’re a different kind of badass breed – I thoroughly believe that.
Professional skill #2: Effective communication skills
This is also a very important quality that job interviewers are looking for in potential candidates, simply because they need to know how well you can communicate with co-workers to complete tasks.
Whether you are communicating with clients or with your co-workers or your boss to complete a task, it’s important to know how to speak and communicate ideas/information to others.
And here’s your edge; when you were abroad, you not only had to learn how to communicate with your co-workers, but also on top of that, you learned how to maneuver different work styles, cultural implications, and potential miscommunication.
You end up learning how to effectively communicate because of the added cultural barrier that exists between you and your co-workers, which also fine-tunes your attention to detail to another level.
The huge benefit of working abroad is that you get that actual *real-world experience* that all employers seek from interviewees.
This means that working for a school, in a foreign country, maneuvering life abroad, and getting settled, speaks in volume about your ability to communicate clearly, and concisely, with consideration of the possibility that someone may not understand something you say the first time.
This sharpens your intercultural skills simultaneously, so you have no problem finding alternative ways to communicate effectively, and then some.
For this reason alone, and the other reasons to come, being a language assistant and teaching English abroad really does help shape and sharpen the skills you learn in college, now in the real world, abroad.
Professional skill #3: Sharp observation and listening skills
When you’re abroad, working for a school that already functions in a very different way than what you’re used to, you have to learn how to be very observant and how to listen to directions carefully.
Being able to be observant and explaining that to a potential interviewer implies that you can pay attention to your surroundings, your potential co-workers, the purpose of the position you may be applying for, and the company you want to work for.
This assures the employer even more that you can “learn the ropes” about the company quickly, learn your role, and you will be able to listen and comprehend instructions given to you, effectively.
Sharpening these skills while abroad in your language assistant role can and will help you to easily take the initiative in your role to help your co-workers and the company overall more because you have already mastered listening to directions while abroad.
When you interview, it is important to always explain what you can do for them, as much as it’s important to ask what they can do for you.
So, by explaining the times you had to learn a new skill or system, and how you have been able to sharpen and shape your observation and listening skills as an English language assistant in Spain, you can easily transfer that skill into the role you are applying for, and your overall professional toolkit.
And when you speak from experience, which you obviously will, there is no “front” you have to show, and the stories and examples will flow out of you with confidence because it’s your amazing experience.
Professional skills #4: Cultural and global awareness
Having a background of working within an international setting, as a language assistant abroad for students from other parts of the world, listening to other languages and accents, other philosophies, and other work styles is a professionally attractive quality to possess.
The reality for a while has been that the way we are headed, the world is getting smaller and more connected.
Nations have established growing businesses together, multinational companies have built businesses and bases all over, not to mention the rise in remote work opportunities increasing by the day by companies led by foreign managers and teams.
The fact is that having cultural awareness, a global perspective, and all the professional skills mentioned up to this point, is not only nice to have in this modern society but a complete necessity.
You yourself may even end up having to move across the world because of a better work position and lifestyle, which means working with people of a different culture and learning to understand them is important.
We must be aware of the growing global economy, its potential, as well as how to work with the rest of the world.
Being a language assistant abroad can give you that first taste of what it’s like to work in a foreign country, under foreign work conditions/norms, and what it’s like to work with people of different cultures.
It’s an amazing thing to be able to come to an agreement on plans, listen to each other’s ideas, collaborate, and have different influences that can work together to make amazing changes.
Plus, work gets a little more exciting when you have different people from different backgrounds as your coworkers.
Not to mention, working in a beautiful foreign country as your first job after college!
Professional skill #5: Money management and increased responsibility with real-world tasks
Money management and budgeting skills are never bad skills to have in life alone, along with cooking, I will tell you that much.
While you are abroad, it is crucial to your good standing that you have funds to count on for important costs that you have to cover within the duration of your stay abroad.
Your future job may include some sort of budget-keeping component, so if you show your employer how you were able to handle your finances abroad, it will show responsibility, efficiency, management skills, and overall character to handle money under interesting factors.
The responsibility you will exemplify will shine because of the way you can handle a certain amount of money while making decisions on what to spend on and what not to spend on, efficiency because if you have a certain amount of money to make it last throughout the program duration, you learn how to prioritize, budget, and organize.
Lastly, character as planning, budgeting, and being efficient with your money takes skill, responsibility, willpower, and the ability to look at things from a need vs. want perspective.
This will show your employer that you are trustworthy, and have experience in money responsibility as well as techniques for managing it best.
>> Read More: A Reflection A Year After Teaching English Abroad
Professional skill #6: Tapping into your own belief in yourself to work for yourself
Becoming a language assistant abroad means also learning how to tap into your own self belief and abilities to market your English teaching skills in new, and entrepreneurial ways, to make extra money.
Something that tends to happen when language assistants get their first check (especially in Spain), is that they realize that if they want to cover expenses while also have money for fun, travel, and being social, they’re going to have to figure out another income source.
Teaching on the side with local kid’s in your neighborhood, spreading the word at school with your teacher co-worker, or checking out Facebook groups to find clients, ends up being a side gig that we all take on, without even knowing that was a possibility before applying and jet setting off to Spain.
Teaching on the side on your own helps tap into your business and entrepreneurial side as a result of wanting more financial freedom to live YO life in Spain the way you want to.
By starting your side gig, you learn how to market yourself, how to set your own rates, how to organize yourself and your own schedule, and how to believe in your ability and worth of having a valuable skill, and believing yourself that it’s worth money, and that your clients are lucky to work with you.
It’s a whole process that is both business and personal belief.
The opportunity for me to start teaching on the side found me (thankfully), and I started with one teacher’s 2 kids near where I lived, and then the word started to spread, and soon I started to fill a few days per week tutoring some of teacher’s kid’s who essentially were the first clients to my budding little English tutoring side gig.
How can this translate to professional skills down the line?
You dip your toes in essentially feeling what it would be like to have your own service-based business, and seeing if you like it enough to keep going that route professionally, and maybe with a different service or product.
Today, I currently work for myself as a content writer, which is something that I always thought would have been impossible for me – working for myself, marketing myself, setting my own rates, organzing myself, doing my own taxes, etc.
Scary stuff for me back then.
Thanks to that lil side gig, I was able to travel pretty extensively throughout Spain and Europe, and even treat family when they visited me, and it catapulted me into the career direction that I absolutely love.
Something that I was clue-less when I was in college.
How to find your ideal school with Erasmus in School
So, maybe by now, you’re wondering how you can get started on this journey that can start opening more doors than one, in order to excel at your next job interview and overall role!
As mentioned before, Erasmus in School is an online platform that allows users to create a FREE account, research from a pool of schools looking for English (and other languages) assistants, and get in contact with them directly.
They mainly have information regarding becoming a language assistant in Spain, but they do have other schools from other countries on the site.
Erasmus in School has resources on their site too which shed light on the process of obtaining a Spanish student visa, how to apply for the documents necessary to work and live in Spain for a designated amount of time, and so much more, along with a FAQ, contact information and much more.
Erasmus in School really breaks down this process, which can be confusing for some, especially under the current circumstances, but not totally impossible.
The more you know, the better you can make the most aligned decision for yourself.
The wrap-up: 6 professional skills you learn when you’re a language assistant
I remember when I came back from my experience of teaching abroad in Spain.
I was applying for my first job upon coming back to the States, and my confidence alone was enough to help me sift through different opportunities that I actually wanted to pursue vs. what I didn’t but felt like I should (you know, the jobs that you know you’d be unhappy at, but apply to just because), all the way to the actual interview process itself.
My experience teaching abroad had opened up a world of possibility, in which I was able to really see what was available to me.
Simply put, I learned through experience what I wanted and what I didn’t – including within my future employment.
Whether you take this information and decide to act on this opportunity this year, next year, or in the future, my only hope is that this post serves you as an additional resource to help you potentially make one of the best decisions of your life.
It was for me, and many others who have done it, so if you have any questions on ANY part of this process of becoming a language assistant in Spain, being a language assistant during the pandemic, or other more specific questions, please shoot me an email at maritzac@travelnotesandthings or send me a DM on Instagram
To many more opportunities for expansion, curiosity, and positive gain ✨