Beyond Tapas & Toros: Why Teach Abroad In Spain

by Lorenzo Estebanez

Before teaching English abroad, you first have to choose from countless destinations. So why choose Spain? It has always been a hot tourist destination, and today it’s more popular than ever. It provides a booming market for teaching English abroad alongside a welcoming, fun culture. 

Boy and girl dancing
Lots of dancing and festivals in Spain. Photo by Jordan Luke

So Much To See

Thousands of visitors each year have long come for Spain’s southern Costa del Sol, a 100-mile stretch of beaches that gets 325 sunny days a year. However, growing numbers of people realize that there’s more to Spain. Last year, Spain became the third most-visited country in the world, behind France and the United States. Part of Spain’s appeal is that, like the United States, it has amazing regional diversity. The country encompasses endless beaches as well as misty, verdant mountains, with vast fields in between for those who miss the American Midwest.

Spain captures all this varied geography in an area slightly larger than California so it’s a treasure chest for teachers abroad looking to travel in their spare time.  Like France, Spain also has some of the world’s greatest food and wine, along with thousands of years of history and a Southern European joie de vivre (or more appropriately, alegría de vivir) or “joy of living.”

Food and Festivals

Most people thinking about teaching abroad in Spain probably know the rough contours of the country. As a prospective teacher, you’ve surely heard of bullfighting and flamenco. You probably know that Spaniards eat dinner close to midnight and that cava is a delicious sparkling white wine (much cheaper than champagne). A bit of Google research or shared anecdotes may have also exposed you to La Tomatina, the citywide tomato fight that local legend claims was started just for fun.

Not Just Spanish Language

Those who have been doing their homework know that Spanish is something of a misnomer — Castilian enjoys dominance in most of the country, but there are three other official languages (Catalan, Basque, Galician) and several additional dialects (Navarrese, Leonese). Travelers visiting Bilbao or any other destination in the País Vasco might find it remarkable how little the Basque language sounds like anything else they have ever heard. Indeed, it’s totally unique among languages. Geographic isolation protected Basque culture from Romantic influence, and national pride kept it alive during the repression of Franco.

Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain

Spanish History & Countless Treasures

Someone teaching abroad in Spain can see Roman ruins, cathedrals, and enormous Arabesque palaces all in one day. The cultural diversity that has contributed to creating contemporary Spain goes back thousands of years. Spain was doing multiculturalism and “religious tolerance before it was hip,” according to one journalist writing for CS Monitor. Spain, like few other places, functioned as the meeting-point of civilizations for centuries. The Spanish tiles that cover roofs in Southern California made their way from Spain, where they were imported from North Africa over a millennium ago. This cultural exchange has made Spain a place that’s like few others on Earth, and this is evident wherever you look.

Adult Nap Time and a New Way of Life

Spain, the progenitor of the siesta, is a good case study for the benefits of a Southern European attitude towards work. Roughly speaking, along the Mediterranean, work is something that’s grudgingly tolerated, while in Northern Europe, work is something that confers value and legitimacy. An American teaching English in Spain would get the best of all worlds, doing work they can be proud of, while living in a European country that really knows how to relax.

Naturally, the country that started a tomato fight just for fun, mostly shuts down for summer, because Spain understands that a relaxing vacation is a necessity. Americans more than many other nationalities have strong negative feelings towards work, and there are countless articles lamenting the poor work-life balance in the U.S. An American weighing where to teach abroad could stand to gain from experimenting with a Southern European quality of life.

Girona, Spain

Land of Free and Open-minded People

Since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975, Spain has been adjusting to life in a democratic, parliamentary system. During the brief life of the Second Republic (1931-1936), Spain passed one of the most progressive women’s rights laws in the world, and this pluralist tendency has recently returned. Spaniards are some of the most open-minded and tolerant people in Europe, according to European Union public opinion surveys. 

Not only is Spain’s history as a site of cultural exchange visible in its architecture, it’s evident in the welcoming attitudes of its people. Anyone teaching abroad in Spain will no doubt easily find the history, scenery, and tasty tapas they’ve read about. However, that which makes Spain unique and irresistible goes deeper than this: 

if you teach English in Spain, you’ll find a place where appreciating life and the variety it has to offer is encoded into the country’s DNA.