Case Studies is an ongoing series on Scholar Escolar where foreigners who have taken the graduate school plunge in Spain share their experiences. Today’s case study focuses on Owain, from the UK, who is doing a Master’s degree in Secondary School Education in Valencia.
Place of Origin: Somerset, UK
Time in Spain: Almost six years
Master’s in Secondary Education, Universidad Cardenal Herrera-CEU, Valencia
(The actual title is far longer but I think this sums it up nicely.)
One year, including placement and thesis
Academic Background: B.A. Photography
Five years as an ESL teacher starting shortly after I arrived in Spain. I did two years of company classes with an academy in Madrid, followed by two years as an auxiliar de conversación and another year in an academy after moving to Valencia. I’ve also worked as a photographer. While living in Madrid, I had two exhibitions and work published in all the Spanish dailies.
What made you decide to go to graduate school in Spain?
I see myself sticking around here and by far my most marketable skill, and fortunately something I really do enjoy, is English teaching. I absolutely loved working in secondary as an auxiliar but that role does have its limits. It is a lot of fun, emotionally rewarding and very well-paid for the work – which ultimately, even if you put in a lot of effort, is quite easy and comfortable. I’m not hugely ambitious or career driven, but I did want something a bit more challenging, and with more long-term stability. The academy model offers some of the challenge but doesn’t offer great long-term prospects – particularly compared to the Spanish public sector, which literally offers the job of a lifetime. I moved from Madrid to Valencia in September 2016 and spent a year working in an academy while saving and applying for my Master’s.
Why did you pick that particular program?
I’m interested in becoming a secondary school teacher in the public system and this Master’s degree is a legal requirement (like a PGCE in Britain) to be able to work in that capacity. It’s also great to get some extra training and preparation for the realities of secondary teaching compared to academy work or auxiliaring.
What was the application process like?
The application process for the university I currently attend was an absolute doddle. They were attentive and made everything very easy. That wasn’t my experience of numerous other universities I contacted with a view to applying to, however, my particular case might not be the best example because my degree a) doesn’t really exist in Spain, and b) bears absolutely no relation to my field of study right now.
I would definitely recommend starting your research into different universities and programs as soon as possible and forget about trying to contact universities in the afternoons … or Fridays. If you’re a British graduate, your degree is from the Espacio Europeo (for the time being) and you shouldn’t need to get it homologated, but an official translation of the certificate and your transcript will help. What administrator doesn’t love to see a nice, official-looking rubber stamped document?
What language(s) are the classes in?
Mostly Spanish, but each term you have one unit dedicated to your specialty. In my case, that is English and these classes are taught in English. My thesis is related to teaching the language and so will also be written in English. The other 75% of the program is all Spanish, which is great for practicing the language and has forced me to push my writing for formal assessments.
How much was tuition? What about cost of living?
These things are all relative. My university costs more than a public one in Spain, but far less than most Master’s courses in Britain or the US. Tuition for my course comes to €3,700 (about $4,500) in total including fees; it’s paid in various installments.
I live in a shared flat with two other students and pay €125 plus about €40 in bills per month. Valencia is still very, very affordable to live in, especially compared to Madrid, Barcelona or Donosti, although prices are on the rise slightly. Oh, and three kilos of oranges cost me a euro at the corner shop. Public transport seems reasonable, as long as you buy abonos, but I barely use it because Valencia is really bike-friendly and that was a big part of my decision to move here. I have my own bike which I use to get to Uni, which is about 10km outside the city, but within the city you can use the public rental bikes. They cost €30 for a year’s worth of journeys under 30 minutes.
Would you recommend your program?
If you’re interested in teaching secondary school in Spain, definitely. Aside from the fact that it’s a requirement, it’s also really helpful to get some extra training and practice.It’s also good confirmation that this is what you want to do as a career, because even if you’ve been teaching for a while, there’s still a lot to learn about the day-to-day realities of working in secondary with all the increased responsibilities it entails.
I think I had a pretty good idea of what to expect before I started and there haven’t been any big surprises thus far, to be honest.
What are you doing now?
I’m in the second term of the program. I’ve just started my placement in a school in the city and I need to write my thesis for May/June. I have been lucky enough to be able to claim unemployment benefits based on my previous years of work while I do the degree, but this runs out about the same time as my program finishes, so I’ll be going back to work. The Master’s program is only the first step towards working in secondary and there are a lot more hoops to jump through before landing a job in the public sector.
Any final words of wisdom or caution?
Save or do whatever you can to be able to devote as much time as possible to your studies. I worked through two hot summers and the intervening year to build as much of a cushion as possible, and my grades and mental health during this Master’s program have been much better for it. A combination of hard work and luck have allowed me to be able to do this, but if you can make that work for yourself, then I would really recommend it.
It’s easy to underestimate post-graduate study, but I’m glad to only have one thing to focus my energies and attention on. It really helps me to stay on top of assignments and not allow things to build up for late in the term. It’s important to try and tick off little assignments as soon as possible to make sure they’re out of the way, done and not going to come back and surprise you later.
Thanks Owain! If you have gone to graduate school in Spain (or know somebody who did) and would like to have your story included in the Case Studies series, let me know! Previous contributors have included a Master’s degree in multilingualism and education and Spanish linguistics.