Wow, this year has been such an incredible experience. I can not believe that it has flown by so fast and I am finished with the auxiliares de conversación program here in Spain and I’m actually pretty bummed about it. Before working at this school here in Burgos I worked as an Au Pair for a family in Madrid and one of the kids was a 14 year old boy in a secondary school. He was a royal pain in the ass and from that experience I honestly wasn’t really thrilled to work at a secondary school with 100+ teenagers. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong about what my year was going to be like.
I ended up loving every single student ((like honestly I’m not bullshitting you)) and teacher at Felix Rodriquez de La Fuente… except maybe like two professors who never talked to me and the jefe de estudios (headmaster//principal) who maybe said hi to me twice. My experience at this school has been absolutely amazing and so much fun. I was actually supposed to renew in Burgos buuuut if you read my last post you’ll know that my heart was set somewhere else. Sorry kiddos.
With all that positivity there are definitely things that I wish I knew before starting this journey. Sure, there are literally dozens of blog posts, YouTube videos, and Facebook groups to give you advice and tips but I thought I’d throw in my dos centimos and come up with a few things I wish I knew before embarking on this new adventure here in Castilla y Leon Spain.
Apply as early as possible for EVERYTHING
Unfortunately the application period is closed for the 2016-2017 school year so this won’t help you now but remember this for next year. I for one did not know that you can actually begin the application process and get your inscrita (application) number without actually submitting any paperwork. Your inscrita number basically
ensures gives you little hope of being placed early and in your region of choice. Placements seem to be all over the place but “generally” if you have a low inscrita number you have a better chance of getting placed where you want. Also, apply for your background check ASAP. But not too ASAP because they don’t tell you that it is only valid for 90 days after you get it. It takes 12 weeks to process so take care of that as soon as you are able to. More on the background check and everything you need to know about your visa process in Chicago here.. Also when you actually get to Spain apply for your TIE (tarjeta de residencia) as soon as you get all your documents together.
Talk to your school if you have any problems
Every situation is ultimately different but luckily for me and most of my compañeros here in Burgos have had pretty nice schools. My first day I was welcomed as if I had been there the whole time and the students were very welcoming and eager that I was there. With that being said, generally they are on your side and will help you should any situation arise. For me, I had problems with my bank where they couldn’t pay me so I sat halfway through the month of April with no money from the Junta de Castilla y Leon. I brought the problem up to one of my teacher and she phoned my bank (9 times), called the Junta (4 times), and even said she would go to the bank with me to tell the bank tellers off. (Don’t mess with Spanish women). The secretaries at the school eventually found out about my problem and offered to give me money until I got paid! They were literally so nice about it and the problem ended up being fixed. I know some of the auxiliares have esheet (Spanish sounding for the word shit) schools so this might not be an option but you never know until you try!
The magic is outside your comfort zone
I’m honestly kicking myself so hard in the ass for this one. I came here thinking I would meet so many Spanish people and improve on my Spanish but I don’t know if I just clicked so well with the aux’s here and didn’t mind just hanging out with them or if the people here in Burgos are too hard to talk to. I’ve been told that the people in Burgos are very “cold and closed” which kind of seems true but I know I can’t just blame that. I honestly haven’t made any effort (except for the few unsuccessful Tinder dates) to approach a Spaniard and start up a conversation. There is one Spaniard in our friend group and that’s because he is the
boyfriend fiance of one of the aux’s here. Definitely next year I’ll be surrounding myself more with the locals. Watch out Galicia here I come!
Get familiar with your rusty high school Spanish
I took about two years of Spanish in my high school in Minnesota. I was actually top of my class and my teachers told me I’d be fluent in no time. Only problem after high school? I didn’t practice. I went two full years without conversational Spanish so I lost a hefty amount of my basic grammar. I did read some Spanish magazines. Actually when I mean read I mean looking at the pictures. So yeah you could say I got a little rusty. I worked at a Mexican restaurant for about 5 months before the big move across the pond and practiced a little but in the end I needed a lot more. Now, 10 months later, I’ve DEFINITELY seen an improvement in my speaking, listening, and reading skills without having taken a Spanish class here but I wish I would have practiced more. Before jet-setting here I’d recommend watching some videos on the YouTube channel called SOL School of Language. There they have videos in Castellano (Spain Spanish and yes it IS different) so you can really pick up on the accent. Here’s a quote from one of my blogger friends Cassandra Le from The Quirky Pineapple “You will probably overestimate your Spanish level, and that’s ok! You can’t be a Spanish sponge and be fluent in 2 weeks, don’t be afraid to practice and be silly!”
Actually brushing up on your English is a very good idea as well
I can not even tell you how many times a teacher has asked “Lorial why do we use ______ instead of _______.” Or “what’s the meaning of _______” or “why are there so many rules in English?” Honestly people I don’t have a f****** clue. I did not study teaching English as a second language nor do I remember what all this stuff actually means from learning it 10 years ago so be sure to just touch up on your English grammar. Reviewing the different verb tenses, bringing an English-Spanish dictionary to class (phones in my school are strictly prohibited), and understanding the basics of English is a great idea. It’ll save you from looking tonto in front of the whole class.
You are going to need to bring a lot of patience….like A LOT
If you know anything about the bureaucratic system in Spain you’ll understand what I mean by it’s esheet . You’ll wait hours// days//even weeks for things like getting your TIE, finalizing your bank accounts, and you’ll wait in line for a loooong time at grocery stores, retail stores, and don’t even get me started on getting your caña on a terrace in your main square. Also, these students can get crazy in the classroom. They can get very distracted, stand up in class, start only speaking Spanish, and if you work at an infantil academy be ready to want to pull your hair out. Honestly, there isn´t really much that you can do so just take a breather and learn to practice patience. This has been the way of life here for…ever it seems like. The whole Mediterranean lifestyle is much more slow and relaxed so just learn to adapt to it. It sounds incredibly hard and frustrating but coming from a girl who had worked four jobs in the USA constantly running around trying to get everything done it’s kind of nice to take things really slow. One of my friends located in Cordoba, Andalucia (the region NOTORIOUS for being uber relaxed and carefree) once told me “Spain prepares you to either lose your mind or not give any fucks.”
So there you have it! I hope that by reading the experience of other expats here in Spain can help you prepare yourself for your year head. It ultimately just comes down to your mindset and your willingness to be open minded. It’s your perspective that really makes or breaks your year and if you just go with the flow you’ll have an incredible year!
Here are some other awesome bloggers/previous auxiliares who have shared their experience as a language assistant here in Spain that I think are very helpful! Happy travels.
Jimmy Hong (Andalucia, 2011) (YouTube Video)
ChapterStackss (Galicia, 2015) (YouTube Video)