Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Anderegg


Recently back in Seattle to pursue a career in marketing, Sarah spent the last 2 years teaching English as a second language in Madrid, Spain. As a former member of the Whitman College women's basketball team, the athletic season prevented her from studying abroad. Through CIEE's teach program she got to fulfill her dream of living in the beautiful country of España and exploring the world.

Why did you choose this program?

I choose CIEE because it offered support and guidance through a process that for many can be challenging and overwhelming.

With their pre-departure classes, I received information that many of my fellow teachers didn't have before arriving in Madrid. This, as well as the two week in-country orientation prepared me extensively for what I was to expect not only in my new role as an English teacher, but expat living abroad in general.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

CIEE provided me with pre-departure, in-country orientation, and constant support throughout my two years of teaching. I had to organize my arrival to Madrid, as well as my housing, cell phone, and banking. However CIEE provided all participants with information and advice surrounding all aspects of living abroad.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Don't be afraid to push your limits and go out of your comfort zone. I'd say moving to another country is courageous in itself, but once you're there for a while it is easy to get comfortable.

This is a time and experience that won't last forever so take advantage of all that your experience has to offer.

Now that I've been back in the states for a couple months reflecting on my time in Spain and in the program, I wish I did more. Stay up all night dancing even when you're tired, go to language intercambios even if you're shy, walk around and admire the architecture even if you get lost.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

I worked in a small village outside of Madrid so I would wake up and commute about an hour to Mostoles, where I would teach anywhere from 3-5 hours a day. I was predominantly with the 5th and 6th graders and taught English, social science, natural science, art, and physical education.

After school I would teach private lessons to my students or kids around the town in order to make a little extra pocket money. On my less busy days I would take Spanish classes, or attend intercambios in order to improve my language as well as meet locals who could further enhance my experience.

I taught 4 days a week which is a rare luxury in the working world, it allowed me to travel not only in Spain, but all over Europe as well!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear abroad was the time difference and challenges associated with staying in touch with my friends and family back home. Moving to Spain, fresh out of college, I was worried I would lose contact with so many of the people that shaped my last 4 years.

Although it can be challenging at times, it's always worth the effort to reach out to those back home and it's important to keep in mind that true friends are life long friends, no matter where you live in the world. I even got a few of them to visit me!

My family also did a wonderful job making me feel loved and included while I was away. My parents visited me so much, it was like I wasn't even gone! I think they were almost sad when I came home because now they don't have an excuse to come back to Spain and eat and drink their way through the country!

How did you go about developing friendships with locals?

That was a huge concern of mine when moving abroad, as was just making friends in general. It was relatively simple making friends through my orientation program just because we were sharing a common experience.

That being said, making friends with locals and integrating socially was a bit more different. The three biggest pieces of advice I can give are:

  • Don't live with English speakers! You're in Europe, take advantage of the diversity. Madrid was a mecca of internationals; living with not only Spaniards, but people from other countries and cultures helps broaden your networking.
  • Go to language exchanges. These are meetings designed specifically for you to practice your Spanish and meet new people!
  • Be a "yes" person. There are times you might be tired from work, or unmotivated to go out and socialize, but if someone invites you to go for a beer, a weekend trip to Barcelona, or a run around the park, you never know who you can meet along the way and all the memories you can make.