Updated: Aug 11
In my senior year of college in 2019, I made a decision to take a gap year. I thought that the time after graduation was one of the few opportunities I would get to do something like teach English abroad. Teaching in Spain for the year seemed like a great opportunity to learn what it was like to go to an unfamiliar place and form independence. I was also interested in education and learning Spanish, so the year-long Auxiliary Program in Spain seemed like a great fit for me.
In March of 2020, I was living in Madrid when the US travel ban and the Spanish lockdown were put in place. My life changed almost overnight. I had a paying job and I wasn’t a tourist, yet the the US State Department and teach abroad programs recommended that all of the teaching assistants go home. At first I was confused. I had an apartment lease, a work contract, it did not seem logical to just leave. But soon all of the Americans I knew were flocking home. Schools, businesses and most transportation were all shut down. I spent the night before my flight to the US crying. Going home meant leaving my life and friends, and regressing back to a time before college, before independence. To me, this looked like losing all the autonomy I obtained as a young adult in Spain.
I am now back home in Cambridge. I am facing daily challenges, like all of us. I do not regret my choice to go to Spain. It allowed me to form the skills that are helping me survive during this time. My gap year gave me practice adapting to these uncertain times. Here are skills I learned on my gap year that have helped me once I landed back in the US.
Adaptability:There were many times in my gap year where I had to roll with what came my way. Being an Auxiliar in Spain meant that I could not directly chose the school where I was working, unlike most traditional jobs. I did not know where I would be working, or know what age groups I would teach, nor the class subjects. I had to prepare for the unexpected. The pandemic has changed daily life in many ways. I am finding I now need to adapt to the new normal.
Finding opportunities: Moving to a new city or place required me to search for my social groups, and extra work. Trying to make pocket money, I spent time researching online teaching companies and finding families that needed help with their English. I also know that others in my program found publications to write for and organizations to volunteer at. Covid-19 has changed the work landscape, and our education system. Now it is time to use research and networking skills to find work, classes, or organizations that need help.
Introspection: Being on my own caused personal introspection. I learned what made me happy. I learned what easily stressed me out. Basically, I learned a lot about myself and my values. There was no preconceived idea of who I was because everyone I met in Madrid was a new colleague or friend. I could find things about myself I wanted to work on, and what made me fulfilled as an individual. Covid-19 presents another opportunity to do this. As we isolate from others, we have time to figure out what we want, and how to obtain our goals.
Hopefully this is useful to anyone struggling during this time, or to those who are deciding what to do next. Covid-19 caused a huge interruption of plans in all aspects of life. Many students and recent graduates are considering an alternate path, so I thought I would share how I am trying to look at my experience in a positive light.
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