My Experience as a Language and Cultural Assistant in Spain Essay

My love for the Spanish language began back in high school when I took an intro to Spanish course. Our high school being quite small did not have the funds to offer advanced language classes so it wasn’t until college that my love for the language and culture were renewed. As a freshman, I never imagined I would go from learning how to say my name en español onto graduating with my Bachelor’s degree in Spanish Language and Hispanic Studies.

It was my college experience that sparked the desire to travel abroad which eventually lead to living in Madrid, Spain for the course of 1 year, teaching English in a bilingual school. Check out my journey below including how I became a North American Language and Cultural Assistant, my living arrangements and teaching experience, as well as life outside of school and rich cultural experiences.

My journey to España

I was teaching Spanish during an internship at a language and immersion camp program when I learned that a friend from there had participated in a program sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Education called “Auxiliares de Conversacion” or “North American Language and Cultural Assistant” program. She was teaching in a school in Madrid and I looked into the program and immediately fell in love with what it had to offer.

The program provides grants to native English speakers to spend a year teaching English to Spanish elementary students and teenagers. Grants provide a modest stipend but are usually enough to cover your rent, food, and whatever is leftover you can use for spending money and travel to see the local culture.

Requirements of the Program:

  • Be a US or Canadian citizen
  • You should be a junior or senior in college or hold a BA or BS degree from a university.
  • English should be your first language
  • You need to complete a medical evaluation and have a clean bill of health
  • Submit and pass a background check
  • Most grants

How to apply:

  • You need to fill out an online application at www.mecd.gob.es
  • You will receive a letter of acceptance and will need to submit a formal document of acceptance.
  • You will then receive your placement and find out what city and school you will teach in.
  • Next, you will need to apply for a Spanish visa and visit your nearest Spanish consulate.
  • Then, you can book your flight, make your travel plans, and prepare for your next year of life and career abroad!

One Teacher’s Journey in Spain

Settling in

I arrived in Madrid at the end of September, a few weeks before my teaching position started in October in order to find adequate housing and get to know my city of placement, Madrid.

The North American Language and Cultural Assistant program does not provide housing for teachers, but they do provide resources and suggestions of websites and avenues to look for housing. There is no shortage of advertisements for roommates in Madrid. Just look on any post corner and you are sure to find an abundant of ads from other students and teachers looking to room with others.

I also visited my school a couple of weeks before my placement started to introduce myself and get to know the other teachers. Fellow teachers and school personnel are a great resource for finding living arrangements. They will also connect you to the other English speakers at the school who are most likely also looking for a place to live, so you may consider rooming together.

Tips on housing in Madrid:

  • Typical rent in Madrid was around 400 euros per month. That will get you a 1 room bedroom in a flat with use of kitchen and living areas.
  • If you are hoping to improve your Spanish language skills, consider living with native Spanish speakers or a Spanish host family.
  • If you prefer to live with other English teachers, ask within your group contacts when you get to your city. The program offers an orientation for newly arrived teachers so you can meet others in the program and find housing together.
  • In most large cities in Spain, housing will typically be in a flat. Most roommates will have their own bedroom and share the kitchen and living areas.

Teaching in a Spanish Bilingual School

I was placed in the pre-K wing of a bilingual school in Madrid. That meant that I got to work with the most cuddly and sweet 3-5 year olds at the school. We sang songs about the weather, the days of the week, colors, and numbers and it was so rewarding to watch my students grow and learn and greet me with “Good Morning” in English every day.

The unique part about the school where I was placed is that it was an inclusive school for children of all abilities which meant that several of the students had physical and mental disabilities and challenges. On top of helping the children learn English, I was privileged to help them color, fine tune their motor skills, and take care of them during their school day.

As part of the program, my main role was to speak English all day at the school to help fine tune the student’s ears and listening comprehension as well as provide support to the main English teacher. When not in class, my days consisted of creating lesson plans and support materials in preparation for upcoming classes. One of my favorite memories was helping prepare our classes for the Christmas program and teaching them traditional Christmas carols.

Living la Vida Loca

The North American Language and Cultural Assistant Program not only provides a great opportunity to make a living while staying abroad, but allows plenty of free time and opportunities to travel and get to know the local culture.

Some of my favorite free time activities, outside of school were:

  • Going to museums.
  • Making friends with natives.
  • Visiting shops, restaurants, coffee shops and engaging with owners and patrons which is a great way to practice your language skills in real life settings.
  • Going to the grocery store and learning to cook local food.
  • Learning how to navigate the metro system.
  • Shopping for local souvenirs and clothing.
  • Going to Flamenco shows.
  • Walking around the city and taking in the architecture.

Where I traveled during my year long stay in Spain:

  • Segovia, SpainJust a bus ride away outside of Madrid, this small village is famous for their aqueducts and is a haven for students studying abroad.
  • Toledo, SpainLocated just outside of Madrid, this small town is known for its ceramic and religious festivals.
  • Munich, GermanyI had the opportunity to visit a friend over Christmas break. Staying abroad for the full year was important for assimilating into the culture abroad, taking advantage of travel opportunities, and reducing costs traveling back home over the holidays.
  • London, EnglandDuring Spring break, I stayed with a friend who was living in London, England. If you have the chance to visit friends while abroad, it can be a great cost effective option and a great way to see the local culture.

Some of my favorite Spanish foods:

Spain is worth visiting for the culinary experience, alone. Below are just some of my favorite Spanish foods that are a must try for anyone visiting Spain.

  • BocadilloSandwiches on baguette filled with tortilla española or meats and cheeses.
  • PaellaIt’s best if you can try this homemade by a native Spaniard.
  • Cañas and cañas con limónProbably the most popular drink (beer or beer with lemon) in any bar.
  • MorcilloBlood sausage.
  • Jamón IbéricoCured ham on the bone hung from the ceilings of most bars and restaurants.
  • AceitunasOlives of any kind. You will find these at most bars when you order a drink.
  • TapasFrom patatas bravas to croquetas to olives. Try them all.
  • Tortilla españolaSpanish omelet with eggs and potatoes.
  • Croquetas de polloChicken croquets, breaded, fried & served warm.

My regrets

Below are things I wish I had done or additional places I wish I would have visited. These are things I would recommend others put on their must see or do list during a trip to Spain.

  • Visit BarcelonaI didn’t have the chance to go, but it is renowned for its architecture, art, and Catalan language. Put this city on your must see list!
  • Visit Granada, Malaga, or a Southern CityIf I had more time to travel I definitely would have put Granada, Malaga, or another Southern Spanish city on my list of travels. The nice climate and Moorish culture in the art, architecture, food, and more would be well worth the effort.
  • Participate in the Camino de Santiago de CompostelaI use a wheelchair so the Camino de Santiago de Compostela isn’t exactly wheelchair friendly, but this pilgrimage has proven to be not only a spiritual experience for all who participate, but a personal challenge and growth opportunity. Most pilgrims walk the path and end at the St. James Cathedral.
  • Visit more of Europe in generalIf you have the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time teaching or otherwise abroad, take advantage of as many opportunities as you can to travel. Europe is unique in that it is conveniently simpler to travel from country to country or city to city as distances can usually be reached quickly and cheaply by train, bus, car, or discount airline.

Whether you are visiting Spain, teaching English abroad, or are thinking about the North American Language and Cultural Assistant program, it will surely be a growth experience and one you will never forget.

Have you ever traveled to Spain or taught English abroad? Share your experiences in the comments!

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