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7 posts categorized "Claire Trescher"

Get certified or nah?

A big decision I had to make once I knew I wanted to teach English in Spain is whether or not to get my TEFL certification. The Spanish government does not require language assistants to take the course, so it was a matter of personal choice. Ultimately, I chose to enroll in the course, but not before making a classic pros and cons list!

Let’s start with the cons. Right off the bat, this course isn’t cheap. It took some of my savings to cover the cost and it hurt. I took my course through CIEE and it was $1,000 for a 10-week class: 150 hours including a 20 hour practicum. Additionally, it was time-consuming. I took this course while working a full-time job, so I would come home and work for 2 hours minimum on the unit. I put in more work than I expected and I was exhausted at the end of each day.

On the other hand, I learned so much during the 10 weeks and I felt more prepared for my job. Despite the price, you get a lot of value and material from the class. Also, even though I don’t plan on teaching for the rest of my life, I have the ability to teach ESL in other countries (or even online for extra money!). I love traveling and immersing myself in other cultures and having this certification gives me an advantage for other opportunities. Lastly, I connected with a network of people going through the same process who were traveling to all corners of the world. In fact, one of the girls was also coming to Madrid and we met up when we arrived! 

In the end, I'm happy with my decision to get certified. So if you want to teach English as a foreign language, do a little research into the requirements and weigh your own pros and cons to see if the course is right for you!


Why must it piso hard?

Just like in any good House Hunters episode, I had unrealistic expectations of what my piso (flat/apartment) would be like.

  • A mix of people from various countries
  • A balcony looking to a bustling, yet quiet street
  • Double bed
  • High ceilings
  • Old style with updated appliances
  • 400€/ month (~$475)
  • Close to a park
  • Close to my school
  • Private bathroom

The list goes on…you get the idea. Unrealistic (but not impossible). Yet somehow I wasn’t the only one who set these standards. It wasn’t even 2 minutes into seeing my first place that reality smacked me in the face.

        My first piso appointment was set for the day after I arrived in Spain. I heard about it through a high school friend of my sister who has settled down in Madrid. She came with me, which I am forever grateful for! I felt like a fish out of water. What do I ask? How nosy is too nosy? How long do I stay? How do I know if they like me? And to add another layer of complication: it’s all in Spanish, which is a skill I continue to work on (hence why I’m in Spain, but still). In my opinion, I did terribly. I was awkward and naïve and, again, grateful for Cait. Ultimately, it turned out just fine, but it was a shock to the system.

After combing through Idealista and having frequent panics, the apartment I decided to take was a two bedroom in barrio de Salamanca. It was with a 37-year-old Spaniard who is a journalist. I was happy...for about 3 months. I moved to a new apartment halfway through my year in Madrid.

The reason I decided to move was because I felt I was paying too much for what I was getting. It was 480€/month (not including bills, so it was over half of my paycheck) and in a tiny little room with a window that looked out to the wall of a building. The floors creaked, the toilet didn’t always flush properly, and there was no heating. Despite the initial perks I saw, I knew I needed to move.

I asked friends if they knew of anything and I revisited old housing profiles (see ‘apps & downloads’) to start my search. Ultimately, I found my new apartment through a friend who tagged me in a housing advertisement on a Facebook group that I’m apart of. I was the second person to see the room and I snatched it up! Now, I pay 300€/month (not including bills) and live within walking distance to my school. Most importantly, I have central heating so I’m not freezing my butt off 24/7!

The housing search can be stressful, so here are a few tips for finding housing:

Set realistic standards

It’s good to daydream and imagine your perfect place – do that! But also recognize the ‘must haves’ in your apartment. Doesn’t it sound amazing to have your room open up to a balcony that overlooks Retiro, has a dog, and is close to all the great metro stops and restaurants? Totally, but you likely have a budget. Make a list of everything you’d like, but prioritize and keep an open mind when looking.

Know your deal breakers

To go along with your standards, you’ll likely need to compromise on something so figure out your absolute deal breakers before getting started. For me, a deal breaker was smoking. I don’t mind it on the street, but I knew I wouldn’t want to live in an apartment that smelled of smoke.

Get on multiple housing platforms

There are a bunch of avenues to find your apartment. A great site to start with is Idealista, which is the most popular one. People are always posting and listings go quick. Easypiso is another site that helps link people to apartments. Another way to find a place: Facebook! Look for postings or post your own little bio in the various Facebook groups that are available to auxiliares in Madrid.

Apps & downloads

WhatsApp is a must have. Most landlords will use this app to message. Beyond landlords, it’s the way most Spaniards contact each other. Bonus: if your phone plan doesn’t have calling minutes, you can call through WhatsApp no problem. Again, Idealista is another important app to have. The app will help you snatch up new listings quicker instead of sitting in front of a computer. While there are plenty of other ways to find an apartment, Idealista is the most used and a great place to start searching.

Beware of scams

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Unfortunately, you are unlikely to find a place before arriving to Madrid. There are plenty of scams waiting to prey on foreigners. The first 2-3 weeks in Madrid might be stressful, but wait until you’re physically here to search!

Happy hunting!



Learning Spanish in Spain


Speaking in Spanish while living in Madrid sounds as though it should be a given. However, I’ve had to actively work at using the language because it’s surprisingly easy to slip into English speaking habits. The expat population in Madrid is massive and many restaurants and stores have employees that know the basics. I could easily see myself 10 months down the road without having improved my second language at all. However, one of my main goals for this year was to get better at Spanish. So instead of waiting for the language to magically click, I’ve made several pointed efforts to improve.

Take classes

If you’re serious about improving Spanish, taking classes is the way to go. It’s offered me structure in learning grammar and held me accountable for improving. There are several options. The Communidad de Madrid, which is through the government, has language schools all over the city. These start at the beginning of each semester and are intensive courses throughout the week. These cost about 270€. Another option is Eureka, which is located downtown by metro Opera and is accredited by Instituto Cervantes. Start times for these classes are more flexible because you can begin every two weeks. There two package deals: 100€ for 4 weeks or 280€ for 12 weeks, or you can pay per class. Another option is Tandem, which offers intensive and extensive courses for professionals and students. While there are other options in Madrid, these are three solid places to start researching classes.


Language exchanges take place all over the city all the time! There are endless options to checkout. I started with using the Meetup app to find out about intercambio events. I’ve also attended intercambios through CIEE and hearing about them from coworkers. Some of the bigger ones are around 100 people in a bar, which can be exciting and overwhelming. Others are structured one-on-one time with various people or organized into small groups with discussion questions. You can see there are all sorts of types depending on your personality and language goals!

Live with natives

The housing search can be extremely stressful. Some people say they want their apartment to be a place they want to relax and not feel ‘on’ to speak in Spanish. However, when you’re tired, it’s the best time to push yourself! Honestly, having the awkward roomie disagreement convos and discussing money has forced me to practice in ways I would’ve otherwise avoided. I mean, think about how difficult personal conversations can be in English, but now in Spanish!


If you’re wondering, yes, Tinder has been a great way to practice my Spanish. I typed it right into my little bio and BAM I’m practicing right and left. Now of course, I have to dodge weirdos, but after jumping a few hurdles here and there, you’re able to find reliable, non-creepy people to chat up.

Leisure activities

Read, watch, and listen to Spanish. I’ve read Harry Potter and the Sorcer’s Stone in Spanish which was incredibly helpful since I already knew the story, I could fill in the gaps easily. Now I’m reading The Boy with the Striped Pajamas in Spanish because it isn’t super difficult or long. Netflix also has a good pick of shows in Spanish. Cable Girls and Velvet are good choices, amongst many others. And of course, Spanish music! I go to the Spain Top 40 because not only does it help me with Spanish, then I know the popular songs when I’m out on the town.

Buena suerte con vuestro español!



Getting in the groove

In the last few weeks, I’ve finally established a routine here in Madrid. Maybe this sounds dull, but it’s quite exciting for me! Routine means I’m finding my groove in my new city. Besides, my routine is anything but dull; it’s like a roller coaster that I’ve been on before but it still surprises me. My job keeps me on my toes and I find new treasures all over city everyday. Yet knowing my routine has made Madrid a cozy place for me to call home.

Here’s a little snapshot into what I do on a daily basis!

Monday through Thursday I go to the high school. Every day I’m there I lead a Global Classrooms (GC) session. (I’ll get into GC more another time.) MTW I also have a variety of English classes with which I assist. And Thursdays I have my Ethics class. Oh how I love my ethics class. It’s right up my alley and the students are too dang smart it’s amazing.

After I’m done with classes, I have a couple hours for break in which I either go home to eat lunch or I go to a library or cultural center to buckle down on some work. The libraries and cultural centers are incredible. I’ve found a few gems that have kept me coming back. For those of you living local, check here and here and here.

Next I scoot my tush on over to an elementary school on the east side of Madrid to pick up a 7-year-old girl from school. I walk her home and chat with her in English for an hour. She tells me made-up jokes and about her favorite toy that day.

If it’s a Monday or Wednesday, my last stop of the day is downtown Madrid where I take an evening Spanish class. At the moment, there are 7 students in my class and we are from all over: France, England, Italy, Portugal, and Russia. Hearing the different accents has been interesting, and I especially love talking with people on my same level of Spanish and listening to their perspective of Spain/Spanish.

The days are pretty structured all the way up until the weekend when I have three days to explore Madrid and the surrounding area. Then it’s anyone’s guess what I’ll do!



La Pedriza: a rockin' day hike

Hiking in the great outdoors is one of my favorite things to do. So finding good trails was a top priority for me once I moved to Madrid and I’m excited to share what I found with any other hikers in the area! A true gem that I hiked last weekend is called La Pedriza. A friend and I set out early on Friday and soaked in a day full of incredible of rock formations, views over valleys, and the changing colors of leaves (not common in Madrid). Getting a break from the city was just what we needed!


How do I get there?

This hike is located outside the city of Madrid near a town called Manzanares el Real. We left from the Plaza de Castilla intercambio de autobuses. Bus 724 will take you straight there. The bus ride was about 45 minutes and leaves about every 15 minutes or so. We got off at a stop in the town right across the La Plaza (a chain grocery store). This was a great place to get off because we could visit the castle and stop by the visitor’s center before embarking on our hike.

What do I do when I get there?

Despite doing some research online before going, we still stopped by the visitor’s center to pick up some maps. The woman behind the desk was very friendly and helpful. She gave us about 4 or 5 useful maps and clear directions to the head of the trail. The way to get there isn’t super obvious so her specific direction were a blessing. I’ll explain the directions, but I highly recommend stopping by the visitor center or reading up here before embarking. Plus a little preview of the maps we got :) 


When you get off the bus, walk west toward Avenida de la Pedriza. You will turn right onto Avenida de la Pedriza before you cross a bridge. There are little road signs that point north in the direction of the trailhead. Walk for about 2km on this road and you’ll pass by a restaurant and hotel called El Tranco. Then you will begin to see white and red equal signs that tell you that you have made it to the trailhead. There aren’t obvious entrance signs (or any entrance signs that I could tell) so trust the white and red equals signs that are marked on rocks or trees. We stopped to ask someone passing by to confirm our direction because it wasn’t very clear the entire way. Eventually we stumbled onto the trail and followed the white and red equals signs. We also saw some yellow marks, but that is a different trail that sometimes overlapped with the one we took.

What is the trail like?

Beautiful, challenging, and not crowded. The views for this hike were gorgeous. There aren’t a lot of trees so you can see stunning rock formations for the majority of the hike. This also means there isn’t much shade so pack sunglasses/hat/sunscreen to protect yourself. The first part of the hike was fairly level with some rock clambering, but nothing too difficult. After you reach the first little town of Canto Cochino, you’ll pass through a field and start hiking up the mountain which is steep. The trail is narrow and footing can be challenging because the dirt makes the path slick at times. I had an old pair of sneakers and my friend was hiking in Primark shoes and we definitely recommend shoes with good traction because we were slipping and sliding juuuust a tad. No one saw us falling though because it wasn’t super crowded! Although we went on a Friday, it’s not on a beaten path for tourists – a huge win in my book. We blended in with the Spaniards, but my identity is always quickly foiled when I open my mouth and my American accent spills out.

You mentioned a castle?

The first thing we did was walk around Castillo de Manzanares el Real. This is separate from the hike, but we enjoyed exploring what the town had to offer. The castle was perched on the hill and had a wonderful view of the Santillana Reservoir. The entrance is 5€ which we didn’t feel like paying so we just walked around the perimeter.

Castillo de manzanares el real

I’ll be writing about all of my hikes, so let me know if there’s something I missed and I’ll add it in for future hiking reviews! Happy trails :)



The rain in Spain

I’ve been told time and time again that it rains only a handful of days during the summer here in Madrid. What did it do the first 3 days here? POURED. I’m going to look past that and say it’s not a sign because at least we were stuck in orientation the first 3 days.

The first week was jam packed with things to do. Day one dragged on forever because I refused to take a nap and I felt awful. (Highly recommended though, because I slept 10 hours that night and woke up free of jet lag.) On top of that, I was trying to get to know people, but honestly I think everyone was on the same page to make it a no judgment zone because we all were exhausted.

Orientation sessions were actually super helpful. They got a little repetitive at times because I’d spent the last 2 months reading up on Spain and being an auxiliar.* However, the CIEE leaders packed so many helpful tidbits and examples to help all of us little baby birds spread our wings.

Things covered in orientation:

  • Cultural differences between the States and Spain
  • Tips for teaching
  • Accessing hospitals: emergency, non-emergency, and mental health
  • Process for opening a bank account
  • How to get a phone plan
  • Advice for apartment searching
  • Submitting documents to get our metro card
  • Applying for our residency in Spain (the most helpful thing we did!!!)

We didn’t just do logistical stuff though!! Our orientation leaders took us out on the town and showed us some of the wonderful things Madrid has to offer. After our first morning of sessions, our group of 10 found a tapas place to eat, and then we wandered around the city. Eventually we made our way to a Flamenco show at Cardamono. We tasted a little vino tinto (red wine), gazpacho,** and of course bread. 

Flamenco at Cardamono

The next day, I signed up for a tour of Northern Madrid because that’s where my school is located. I also eventually found an apartment in the Northeastish part of the city, but more on that in my next post. That evening, the program organized a Sideria. Delicious sidra (cider) and food all around. A Sideria is typical to Northern Spain, but we made an exception and it was soooo delicious! 

A picture of how the cider is supposed to be poured to maximize natural carbonation

Last, but not least, we went to Matadero, a slaughterhouse/restaurant/event space, where we ate lots of pinchos (little bites of food). This was my favorite dinner by far because it was incredibly delicious. Plut we’d made it through orientation so it was like our little send-off into becoming real people in Madrid.

Now it’s a month later, it hasn’t rained since orientation, and I’m finding myself settling in more each day.

*Assistant. Our official title is Auxiliar de conversacion y cultura = conversation and cultural assistant
**A soup that is made up of raw blended vegetables

Nothing ventured nothing gained

            My mom always said this quote to me growing up. Nothing ventured nothing gained. I slowly understood the meaning more and more as I gained more life experience. How am I supposed to gain anything, whether it is personal or professional, if I don’t venture and immerse myself in new experiences? Shoutout to my parents who instilled the adventurous quality in me. Exploring is now a deeply rooted part of my identity.

            Ever since I studied in Chile 3 years ago, a little voice has been nagging at me to move abroad again. It wasn’t until the voice was shouting that I took the big first step: I applied to a bunch of international programs and jobs. In the midst of other applications, I got accepted to the CIEE teach abroad program in Spain! With only 10 days to decide on my fate, I said, “why not!” and accepted the position. Since that monumental day of acceptance, my decision to move to Spain feels as good as a snuggly glove.

            I don’t know where my life will take me next summer when my teaching duties have been fulfilled. Will I stay in Spain? Will I continue on as a teacher? A writer? It’s anyone’s guess. What I do know is that from the moment I step off that plane, each and every experience I gain will water those roots that allow me to keep growing.

            So despite the last minute packing chaos and pre-departure nerves, I feel more ready than ever to leap into a new chapter. I’m pleasantly surprised at myself for making such a big life change and I hope this sets precedence for bold decisions throughout my life. But before I get ahead of myself, I’m soaking in this moment in time when my journey is taking me to teach English in Spain. I’m grabbing the bull by the horns (Pamplona, anyone?) and jumping into my madriculous adventures.

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