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‘I lost my job, said goodbye to a 16-year relationship and found my golden ticket to a new life abroad’

Louise Toal had a love of English and thought she would make a career out of teaching it. She is glad she did

Let’s rewind the clock to give you a little context.

In 2020, I lost my job in Dublin during the pandemic. At the time, it was devastating. Not long after, I found myself saying goodbye to a 16-year relationship.

I remember having all my luggage on the train to Sligo and a kind ticket officer saw my eyes water. He helped me carry my luggage off the train, and I said, “I never do travel light,” to lighten the mood. It was an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least.

To keep me sane, I returned to university to study a Master’s in Sports Journalism with NUIG, now the University of Galway. This course opened up a lot of doors for me. I lived with my aunt Aisling, a foreign language teacher in Co Mayo. She inspired me with the way she would teach children from all parts of the world with very little or no English.

In 2021, I worked as a freelance TV producer and video editor, but the work wasn’t as stable as I would have liked. Stability in my life was something I craved. I remember thinking I had a love of English, so I thought about trying to make a career out of it – a career that could be Covid-proof. So, in 2022, I made the plunge to sign up for an online course with the TEFL Institute of Ireland. This certificate was my golden ticket to a new life abroad. I was about to start my own Eat, Pray, Love story.

In August, 2022, I took my first solo flight to Italy. I was excited, but anxious. I was flown out to Venice by the school I was going to work at. The school paid for everything – flights, accommodation and food. I travelled by car from Venice to a beautiful city called Padova, about 30 minutes away. Galileo gave lectures to students on astronomy here around the year 1600. My mind was blown that I would be teaching here too.

I worked on a beautiful rustic Italian farm not far from the city, teaching kids English at a summer camp. We had freshly baked cakes for snack time at 11am. Fresh pasta with sun-kissed tomatoes and basil for lunch. Everything we ate was straight from the farm.

I was working at the summer camp for two weeks and it was a good opportunity for me to dip my toe in the water as an English teacher. I loved it! I was offered a job, but I had to humbly decline because I had already organised an internship in Spain.

In September 2022, I flew from Dublin to Barcelona and spent a few days exploring the city and enjoying tapas and some Sangria. My next stop was Puigcerdá, a beautiful town in the Catalan region of north-eastern Spain, right beside the French border. It was heavenly. I could enjoy both Spanish and French food.

I worked with a private school, and getting out of bed even on cold days was easy because I always had such a laugh with the students. I worked 15 hours a week. This allowed me to prepare for classes, travel and enjoy life.

I spent four months with a beautiful Catalan family. I often woke up to see hot-air balloons flying across the mountains near the family home. I can’t put in words how well they looked after me. We still keep in touch and plan to meet.

I didn’t have much Italian before I came here, but when you immerse yourself in the language you can pick it up

They are a sporty family and introduced me to ice hockey, paddle tennis and skiing. The mother Cristina is a teacher and ski instructor, and the father Josep is a beef farmer. We always had delicious meals together. The two children, a girl and a boy, made me laugh every day.

In January 2023, I flew from Dublin to Milan for my next adventure. I started a job as an English teacher with an adult school based in the Emilia Romania region, where I am now. I was a little nervous to teach adults, but came to realise that they are grown kids and want to have fun too.

I didn’t have much Italian before I came here, but when you immerse yourself in the language you can pick it up.

The cost of living is much cheaper here than in Ireland too. Here, an espresso is €1.20. The wages are a little lower, but you can still live very comfortably – even on part-time hours.

I have spent a year teaching English abroad and have loved every moment, but I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends at Christmas, and enjoying a Tayto sandwich.

  • Louise Toal is 32 and from Sligo. She left Ireland in 2022 to be an English teacher in Spain and Italy.
  • If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email with a little information about you and what you do.

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