Local couple broadening horizons through education

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

Chris Seidl of McDonough said he relishes the opportunity to teach English to kids in Spain. He said other aspects of living halfway around the world appeal to him as well.

Kelli and Chris Seidl, both former McDonough residents, live in Spain and teach English classes there on a teaching visa. The couple hope to relocate there permanently. Special photo

“I haven’t been here for long, but from what I’ve experienced, the healthcare is incredible and much cheaper than the States (with a lot less paperwork and headache -- almost none really),” he said. “Education is much cheaper and high quality, the cities are much more pedestrian- and family-friendly, the food and wine are to die for, and generally the people are very open and friendly. There is a great emphasis on living well, and in smaller cities and pueblos, on taking a very relaxed approach to life, even if the work is hard.”

Seidl, 29, teaches English to kids in Spain through a Spanish government program titled “Cultural Ambassadors: North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain.” His wife, Kelli, joined him this week after returning home to renew a teaching visa there as well.

“It’s … usually referred to in Spanish as el programa de los auxiliares de conversión (the language assistants program),” Chris Seidl explained. “I help Spanish teachers in the English classroom by interacting with the kids, conducting oral speaking exams, practicing activities with them, and so forth. It’s really quite enjoyable, and at just 12 hours a week, the hours really aren’t too bad.”

Seidl, 29, attended Henry County High School and graduated from Georgia State University in 2009. He said it was there that his passion for education began.

“I studied English literature in the States for my undergrad and Master’s, and became totally enamored with literature and thinking about different kinds of media like film and video games, which I’d like to teach about one day if it’s in the cards,” he said. “As for wanting to teach in Spain specifically, it’s a fantastic country. The people live really well here.

“Although the country was hit pretty hard by the financial crisis of 2007-8, it’s a very good place to live,” Seidl continued. “Politically I also find the country very interesting, as there is a much greater degree of political diversity and openness than in the States. I have also been inspired by my friends who have lived and traveled in the country, and came back to report that they loved the experience.”

Seidl added that in preparation for teaching in Spain, he read books to gain insight on the country’s history and its people. Both accounts, he said, offer insight into Spanish society and culture, which are still relevant components in understanding Spain today.

“I recommend reading The Spanish Cockpit by Franz Borkenau and Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell for excellent first-hand accounts of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39),” he said. “They’re quite well written and interesting. This was a major revolutionary period for this country that led to an almost 40-year fascist dictatorship, and in a lot of ways set the stage for the latest 40 years or so of political and cultural life since the Transition (La Transición) in the late ‘70’s.”

Seidl taught last year in a primary or infantil school, with students ranging from 3-13 years old. Although he endured his share of challenges during that time, he said he has been “extremely happy” with the experience

“Although I spent a lot of time sick from all of the bugs that were going around, I really enjoyed helping kids learn to express themselves in English,” said Seidl. “I couldn’t put my finger on what I like most about the whole teaching experience; teaching itself is usually pleasant, working 12 hours a week leaves me with lots of free time, and I’m able to live in the country where I want to live. It’s a package deal. I just want to live in Spain, and teaching helps me do that. That I enjoy the work is a big bonus.”

Seidl is looking forward to a new phase in his career in October, when he makes the transition to teaching in a high school.

Kelli Seidl, 28, attended Henry County High School and graduated from Georgia State University in 2010. She followed her husband to Spain in February of this year, and began giving private lessons to students there.

“I have not started teaching in the program yet but my husband … started last December,” said Kelli Seidl. “I started giving private lessons in February.”

Kelli said the program through which she and her husband will be teaching allows them to choose whether they want to teach children or adults. She headed back to Spain Monday and said she hopes to live there “for the foreseeable future.”

“We really love it in Spain and hope to live there permanently,” she said.