Good afternoon, or morning, or evening, from Toledo!
So…it’s been two months since I wrote anything on this blog. Yikes. I think any “travel blogger” (or in my case, wannabe-travel-blogger) commits to writing a certain amount of posts before they take any big trip. But then, we actually get to our destination, and the adventure just takes over. Whether you’re cruising the Mediterranean, hiking the jungles of Brasil, or building a life in a completely new country, it can be hard to remember to post. No worries to the few people who actually read this blog, because I am back, and pledge to write more every week!
In which case, you’ll likely hear from me again in two more months. 😛
The main reason I haven’t posted on this blog is because I am super busy! Welcome to Spain as an auxiliar de conversación or “language assistant.” I will post more about my school and a breakdown of the types of things I do in a different post, for anyone interested in doing a similar program in Spain and what to truly expect. But as a quick breakdown, I have been:
I work 24 hours per week (the maximum number of hours assigned at random by the BEDA program) at a concertado, which is a school that is half-public, half private. Some things are paid for by the local authority while some are paid for the families who attend. I have 24 different classes of students ranging from 7 years of age to 18, from 2nd Primary to 2nd Bachillerato. In the Canadian education system, this translates to kids from Grade 2-12. It’s sometimes difficult to manage activities and games for such a diverse age range, but I love to prep for my classes and discuss ideas with my fellow teachers. They are all very sweet and eager to practice their English, but are also gracious in allowing me to practice my Spanish with them too! Every day we have a “coffee break” in the staff room which makes me feel super professional, haha. I am able to chat with the teachers there and we also have lunch together. I may work more hours than some of my other friends in different programs, and work Monday to Friday, with only weekends off, but I am really enjoying it and feel that teaching is, in some form at least, my true calling.
2. Private classes
Compared to Canadian cities of the same size, the cost of living in Toledo is fairly cheap, and the monthly stipend provided by my school is definitely enough to cover basic expenses like food and rent. I have leftover cash to go out with friends and grudgingly pay my student loan back at home since I wasn’t able to defer it. However, most people come to Spain with the plan to travel around Europe, which is half the fun! While I did save money before I came, I also took up the practice of doing clases privadas here in Spain, all gained solely by word of mouth from my fellow teachers. Basically, I spend around an hour with each person (mostly children aged 8-15) providing English conversation practice. Education here in Spain is great when it comes to grammar and such, but like any language, English is best learned by speaking out loud! Parents know their kids can be shy in a class of 25+ and so they often get native speakers to provide this conversation time and pay a fee. I have 10-11 clients (depending on their schedule sometimes) that I do this with every week from Mon-Fri. Some of my friends also do lessons at English academies in their free time. It’s a necessary thing to do here if you want to save some money, but I really enjoy it!
3. Making friends
Lame, I know, but I’ve met a tonne of great people already here in Toledo! Besides my fellow staff members, I’ve made friends with many other auxiliares through connections like regional Facebook groups. We love to go out to explore the city, and I’ll admit that it’s really nice to speak in my own language in a non-academic/teaching kind of way. I’m so happy I’ve met so many people, although I’ve yet to meet any fellow Canadians 😦
I also spend a lot of time with my roommates, who are all Spanish and don’t speak too much English. But I don’t mind, because my Spanish has improved immensely, even in just two months! We watch TV together and hit the gym, which has been an interesting experience on its own, without the foreign language thrown in! The families of my private-class kids have also been super welcoming, often making me a meal or snack while in their home.
4. Trying to make the most of my down-time
Between teaching, private lessons, prepping for lessons, hanging with my friends, hitting the gym, and doing normal person things like, ya know, eating and sleeping… I’ve been trying to maximize what little down time I have by improving my Spanish! I got a library card to take books out in the target language instead of buying them, and that proved to be a big help, because the first book I checked out (a young adult novel) was written at a much higher level than I can comprehend. I have around a B1-B2 level in Spanish, which is to say, fairly conversation and can discuss a wide variety of topics with ease, but still not fluent and lacks significant vocabulary or grammar poignancy to be considered fluent. In order to learn more vocab, I borrowed some primary level books from my school, notably The Adventures of Geronimo Stilton. I comprehend about 90% of the books, and although they’re a bit infantile, I love using the context of the words I know to learn new ones. Another favourite tactic of mine to learn is to watch TV with Spanish audio and Spanish subtitles. I’m at a good enough level to understand most of it, but if I have the Spanish subs on, it forces me to read it and think, not just see the translation in English. I find it helps to watch shows I’m familiar with already, like The Big Bang Theory, Spongebob, or The Simpsons.
But down-time with a lazy brain is also important. I finally watched Stranger Things and loved it, I watch Vine compilations a lot (RIP VINE), especially when I’m feeling down. I read books in English, write poems, research travel destinations, and make pros and cons lists of options for teaching/living abroad in the next few years. A big thing among expat friends here is that we feel we always have to be doing something because, duh, we’re in SPAIN and should be maximizing every moment! But we’re also in Spain for seven more months. There is time. If you’re in a similar situation, just breathe, and take time for yourself.
This is getting pretty lengthy, so without going into detail, I have also: traveled to Portugal (my fourteenth country!), gotten a really terrible cough AND food poisoning, navigated the Spanish red tape of getting my ID cards in order, been to the hospital (for the terrible cough, I didn’t know how to make a doc appointment), been to a Maluma concert in Madrid, went to a few Spanish National Day events, cooked a lot more for myself, embarrassed myself countless times at the supermarket, and stayed awake until 5am partying Spanish-style.
I love it here, and encourage anyone who has a similar dream to go for it!