Auxiliar de Conversación: A Day in the Life

Have you ever considered living in Spain for a year to teach English? Maybe you already applied to work as an auxiliar de conversación in Spain but don’t know what to expect? Here you’ll find a detailed summary of my day as an auxiliar de conversación while employed by the Comunidad de Madrid under the Consejería de Educación e Investigación.

Early Morning

I get up at 6:30 AM and proceed to get ready, eat something and have coffee. I walk a few minutes to the metro stop closest to where I live and catch the metro around 7:45. After moving here I was lucky to find an apartment close to my ideal subway line, so it’s a straight shot to get to the public, non-bilingual high school I was assigned to work at.

Morning Work Schedule

I’m on the metro for around 30 minutes and I get to the high school at 8:20. I start assisting in English classes when school starts at 8:30. In my case, I work with four different teachers in the English department, and the students are between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. The education systems in Spain and the United States are somewhat different, so the particular instituto/secondary school that I work at is a middle and high school combined (this can differ depending on the population of the surrounding area, whether it is a public/private/charter school, etc.).

Learn about the Spanish education system from the organization itself through this old auxiliar guide; see pages 3-7.

Today there is a students’ strike (the exact goal of the “strike” remains unclear to me, but it seems like it was a good reason for the older kids to skip class). There are only 3 students in my first class, so the teacher and I discuss topics for future presentations that I will give. We also pass the time talking about differences between Spanish and American healthcare systems.

I get my materials from the teachers’ lounge and head to class #2 to find that they have an exam today. The teacher tells me that I’m not needed, so I go back to the teachers’ lounge to read until my next class.

Class #3 is made up of about 40% gamberros (hooligans), 60% decent kids. With this particular professor I tend to teach a lot, so I pretty much spend the whole hour yelling over the few kids who won’t shut up; Discipline is very rarely utilized at my assigned school. The students generally pay no attention and the majority don’t have much prior knowledge of English, so it takes 10-15 minutes to explain instructions for the exercises.

Recreo (Recess/Break)

There’s a half hour break between 11:00 and 11:30 AM, so the students run out to the courtyard, screaming and pushing each other. The younger kids eat their bocadillos (sandwiches) and the older ones head to the front of the building to smoke a couple of cigarettes. I tend to go for a walk or grab a small sandwich from the school’s cafeteria.

Afternoon Work Schedule

After the break, as the auxiliar I have an hour assigned to practice English conversation with whichever professor is interested. Although they are sometimes busy grading papers or planning lessons, today I chat with a teacher about current events and about differences between Spanish and American cultures. I help her translate some phrases and better understand English phrasal verbs.

My last class is from 12:30 to 1:30 PM, although, depending on the day of the week, this varies by an hour or two. Because I help with different groups of students every hour of each day (I only have one class repeat twice a week in my schedule), some classes are better than others. Certain days I have mostly “good” classes while a few times a week I help “teach” some extremely difficult students, most of whom are gypsies (which unfortunately coincides with negative stereotypes). Their collective misbehavior – screaming, shouting, moving consistently and sometimes becoming violent – makes me anxious to end my “work day”, which wasn’t even that long to begin with.

Most auxiliares in Spain work between 16 and 22 hours per week and are paid 700 or 1000 euros per month, depending on the region.

I catch the metro around 1:30 and catch up on a TV episode that I downloaded to watch offline. The metro becomes packed as we get closer to Madrid center, but I’m able to spend half the ride in a seat.

After Work

During the afternoon, one of two things usually happens:

1) I go home to eat something, relax for a bit and head back out to teach private English lessons, or

2) I go home to eat something, relax for a longer “bit”, exercise, etc.:

Considering I only got 6 hours of sleep the night before, I contemplate taking a siesta (nap). According to science, the ideal siesta length is 30 minutes, but considering that socializing in Spain doesn’t tend to start before 8:30 PM, it’s difficult to get a full 8 hours of sleep with my job. Most Spaniards hear what time I get up in the morning and gasp in horror. Oh, the luxury of working a nine-to-five…

After I drag myself out of the house, I head to the gym. Despite my restrictive salary, I continue to justify the cost of a gym membership, which is 25 euros per month. Exercising consistently keeps me happier, and it helps me be able to enjoy the endless supply of tapas and cheap wine that Spain has to offer.

Check out my post about some of Spain’s “can’t-miss” foods here.

When I get back from the gym I make a small-ish second lunch for myself. I shower and then either get in touch with family or do some freelance work. While in this job, I’ve also spent a lot more time than I’m willing to admit watching Friends and How I Met Your Mother. As an auxiliar it can be easy to have a seemingly endless amount of free time, but there isn’t a whole lot of extra money to throw around for activities.

Evening

Towards the end of the day I might get together with friends, go to the park, take a walk or call family if I couldn’t catch them earlier. If I’m lucky I’m able to catch a friend or get ahold of my mom. 

___________

So there you have it! As amazing as it can be to live abroad, most of it is just that: living life, similarly to how you would at home, but among new people, in a new place, speaking a new language, etc. It can be overwhelming, but it is definitely an experience that I wish everyone would have – I’ve learned so, so much about myself.

Have you ever lived in a country other than your own? Would you ever consider doing it for a year? Feel free to comment or email me at allisonldooley@gmail.com.

Are you interested in becoming an auxiliar de conversación in Spain? Check out this comprehensive post from Alternative Travelers, which answers common questions such as how to apply, whether you need a TEFL certificate and more.

Disclaimer: Every auxiliar’s experience differs depending on their assigned school’s location, social environment and supervisor involvement.

The post Auxiliar de Conversación: A Day in the Life appeared first on ALLISON DOOLEY.

Madrid: “Can’t-Miss” Spanish Foods

Are you planning a vacation to Madrid, Spain? Spain is world-renowned for its gastronomy, which can make deciding what to try and where to try it that much more difficult. Luckily for you, after two years of living in Madrid, I’ve compiled this list of must-try Spanish foods and included exactly where you can find them.

Chocolate with Churros

  1. Have your first (and best) “chocolate con churros” experience at Chocolatería San Gines; This is a classic and an undeniable must-do. Don’t forget to drink the leftover chocolate!
Chocolate con churros at San Gines, Madrid. Photo: ROOSTERGNN

Spanish Ibérico Ham

2. Hit up a grocery store and create your own charcuterie board. To try all the Spanish favorites, grab some pre-sliced “lomo”, “salchichón”, “chorizo” and “jamón ibérico”. Add to your basket a block of manchego cheese, a bottle of Spanish red wine and a freshly baked baguette and you’ve got yourself quite the impressive snack.

Left to right: chorizo, lomo, salchichón, jamón. Photo: Tasty Eating

Calamari Sandwich

3. Enjoy one of the greasiest calamari sandwiches (“bocadillo de calamares”) of your life from Bar La Campana. Be sure to ask for some lemon slices to enhance the flavor of the piping-hot, breaded calamari. Ideal for a picnic on a Sunday afternoon.

Calamari sandwich (“bocadillo de calamares”) from Bar La Campana, Madrid. Photo: Time Out España

Fresh Seafood

4. Try some grilled shrimp (“gambas”), cod (“bacalao”) or hake (“merluza”) for lunch at a locally-owned restaurant. Ordering a “menu del día” at midday is a lot cheaper than ordering meat or fish for dinner, plus you are served multiple courses (bread, starter, main course, dessert and wine or beer included) for between 10 and 15 euros.

Garlic grilled shrimp (“gambas al ajillo”) from La Casa del Abuelo restaurant, Madrid. Photo: Savored Journeys

Paella

5. Need your “paella” fix? Although it is located a bit outside of Sol, head to Socarratt to try an individual serving of Valencian paella. This is a great, cheaper alternative to eating the contents of an entire “paellera” (medium- to large-sized skillet that is meant to feed 3-6 people, depending on the size of the pan).

Different variations of paella at Socarratt, Madrid. Photo: TripAdvisor

Other Ideas: Popular Places

Cava Baja

Go tapas bar hopping along the street called “[Calle de la] Cava Baja”. Each bar and restaurant on this street is slightly different, so it’s worth paying a few euros to try some unique, individual tapas or “pintxos” (a pintxo is a tapa of something set on top of a thick slice of bread, typical of northern Spain).

Cava Baja, Madrid. Photo: El Mundo

Mercado de San Miguel

No time to visit the places I’ve mentioned so far? Catch all your typical Spanish foods in one place at the Mercado de San Miguel, but be prepared 1) to be surrounded by tourists and 2) to pay an 30-50% “tourist tax” (things being more expensive simply because they’re easily accessible and/or extremely close to tourist areas).

Madrid Mercado de San Miguel
Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid. Photo: Viajes National Geographic

Spanish Restaurants: Sol

Around Sol looking for some casual, sit-down Spanish restaurants? Check out La Casa del Abuelo or Venta El Buscón.

Photo: TripAdvisor

Rooftop Market at El Corte Inglés

If you’re interested in rooftop bars and gourmet tapas, head up to the ninth floor of the El Corte Inglés department store in Callao. It is situated just off of Gran Vía, giving you an optimum view of Madrid’s most historical skyline – clay-tiled roofs galore. Unlike other rooftop areas, this “gourmet experience” is free to access if you simply want to check out the view.

Rooftop area at El Corte Inglés Callao. Photo: Guía del Ocio

Have you been to any of these places? Would you recommend other foods for visitors to try? Feel free to comment or send me a suggestion at allisonldooley@gmail.com.

The post Madrid: “Can’t-Miss” Spanish Foods appeared first on ALLISON DOOLEY.

2019 General Elections in Spain

Spain Election ResultsOn Sunday, April 28, Spaniards took to the polls for snap general elections that were called for by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in February of this year after his government’s budget proposal was voted down. In this election, all 350 seats of Congress and 208 seats from the Senate were up for election.

In the end, Sánchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE) won the elections but failed to get an absolute majority, meaning that a coalition government will need to be formed. It remains unclear as to what exactly that coalition government will look like because neither the left-wing bloc nor the right-wing has enough seats to form a super majority. On the left, there is the PSOE (123 seats), and Unidas Podemos (42 seats), although together they fall 11 seats short of the 176 needed to form a super majority. On the right, there is the Populist Party (66 seats), Ciudadanos (57 seats), and Vox (24 seats), 29 seats short of an absolute majority.

Although the final outcome of the elections remain to be seen, it is undeniable that they have had a huge impact on the country. It was fascinating to be in Spain for this election cycle to witness such an important election. Spain, like other European countries and even the United States itself, is facing a rise in far-right politics. In Spain, this rise is embodied by the political party Vox, whose growing popularity has alarmed many Spaniards and created strong ideological divisions in the country. Vox rose to national attention in December 2018 after winning 12 seats in the Andalusian regional elections, which was significant because a far-right party had not entered Spain’s government since the end of Franco’s regime. Many had believed that Spain was immune to the wave of right-wing populism, but Vox’s success has proven this to be false. Vox’s particular brand of right-wing conservatism seems at odds with the Spain that I have come to know: a tolerant, feminist, liberal country. And while Vox won only 10% of the vote, in the Spanish proportional representation system this is significant.

In many ways, this election cycle reminded me of the 2016 presidential elections in the USA. The elections were never far off the minds of my Spanish friends, and it frequently popped up as a topic of conversation. Many Spanish youth were truly afraid of the outcome of the elections, worried that the success of a divisive, far-right populist party would take their country in a direction they don’t want it to go. In the weeks leading up to the election, I saw almost daily reminders on social media encouraging people to vote or request their absentee ballots. The fear, the rise in youth participation in elections, generational divides along ideological lines, all of it took me right back to 2016.

I am eager to see the outcome of not just this election, but the outcomes of future elections in Spain as well, to see how far-right populism fairs in a country that still remembers its recent fascist past.

Fallas Festival

IMG_20190318_191656419Each year in March the city of Valencia is home to the Fallas Festival (a commemoration of Saint Joseph), which means that a swarm of people descend on the city –some estimate that as many as one million tourists visit Valencia during the festival. I was so happy that this year I got to be one of them.

Trying to describe Fallas to someone who has never been is rather difficult, and as I learned, no description will prepare you for the real thing. The best way I can explain it is a giant five-day block party but on a city-wide scale. Every neighborhood participates by putting together a falla, a kind of fantastical sculpture/monument. There are large and small fallas of varying themes, but the thing that most have in common is that they are humorous, colorful, and oftentimes critiques of society. On the last night of the festival, every falla is burned down in a symbolic gesture of welcoming spring and rooting out the negatives of society. Throughout the festival, children are running around with firecrackers, everyone is stuffing their faces with buñuelos, and the people of the city are marching around in their traditional styles of dress.

I highly recommend attending Fallas if you ever get the chance. It’s such a spectacular look at Valencian culture, and an event that I will never be able to forget. My description cannot even come close to doing justice to this grand festival, which is so much bigger and better in person than I could ever describe.

March 8 in Barcelona

International Day of Women     Last weekend I went to Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. While there I visited Park Güell, La Sagrada Familia, Montjüic, and other locations around the city. Barcelona is such a huge city that it’s impossible to see everything in one weekend, but that didn’t stop me from walking more than 30 miles in the 2.5 days that I was there trying to see as much as I could.

We visited Barcelona during an exciting time, as March 8 was the International Day of Women. Last year, Spain staged strikes where more than 5 million people participated, and the movement continues this year with marches scheduled all across the country to demonstrate support for gender equality and an end to gender-based violence. The march in Barcelona was one of the biggest of the country. Even after the marche ended, the city was sprinkled with posters and graffiti reminding citizens that the fight for gender equality will continue even after March 8. I’m so grateful that I was in Barcelona to witness this tremendous feminist gathering, and I’m even more grateful that I have had the opportunity to travel to Spain where this movement began. The friends I have made here inspire me with their feminism and the work they do to make the world a more tolerant, vibrant place to live. The students at the University of Alicante are doing really amazing, incredible work. Just last week I attended a conference focused on feminism and its role in the world of literature and translation. One of my friends presented about her own thesis regarding fairytales reimagined by women. The University of Alicante offers so many interesting seminars, presenters, and conferences that I am constantly reaffirmed that my decision to study abroad was the right one because I am learning so much here that I can’t wait to bring with me back to Oklahoma.

A Weekend in Granada

In Front of Alhambra     Last weekend I took a trip to Granada for a weekend, and words cannot describe how happy I am to have visited this charming city full of history. We always talk about Granada and the Alhambra in our Spanish classes, so it was especially rewarding to be able to visit the city myself. The highlight of the trip for me was not actually visiting the Alhambra itself (although it was spectacular) but rather the picnic I enjoyed with friends on top the San Nicolás lookout point. We visited the city’s market to buy fresh fruit, bread, and cheese, and then took a short trek up the old city of Albaicín where we sat and ate lunch with the Alhambra and Sierra Nevada mountain range in the background. Later that night, we went on a guided tour of the city where we enjoyed the sunset from yet another lookout point in the city. Granada with its snow-capped mountains is so completely different from Oklahoma, so the views of the city kept taking my breath away.Portico

On Sunday, we went on a guided tour of the Alhambra, and even after three hours, we still didn’t get to see all of its gardens and palaces. It is a place that I know I want to return to in the future because one visit is not enough to take in all that it has to offer. I was enchanted by the Arabic calligraphy, the careful architecture of the palace, and the combination of Islamic and Christian history.

More adventures await me soon! I have a weekend trip planned to Barcelona that’s just around the corner.

Buenos Días, Alicante!

Barrio Arabe
Hello from sunny Alicante! I have been in Spain for three weeks now, but there are still days that I wake up and forget that I’m here—until I hear the sounds of Spanish from the streets below my window and remember that my dream of studying abroad is actually happening.

It’s been a roller coaster of a ride so far, between juggling classes, navigating the city, and meeting new friends, but it’s also been thrilling. I’m living with a host family and another exchange student from Japan. I love our dinners together where we talk about differences between our countries and Spain. In fact, meeting other international students has been one of the highlights of the trip so far. I have made friends from Montreal to Algiers, as well as several from right here in Alicante.IMG_5453

I’m thoroughly enjoying my classes at the University of Alicante. I am taking two linguistics classes, an Arabic class, and a translation class, so my language-loving heart is just loving it here. Plus, the gorgeous weather, stunning views, and Mediterranean architecture certainly makes each and every day here an exciting, new adventure.

I am so fortunate to call this city home for the next five or so months, and I can’t wait for all the adventures that lie ahead.

 

 

Spain: Saying Goodbye

Though my last two posts have focused on exciting side-trips, most of my time in Spain was spent in class. The combination of those classes and the necessity of using Spanish in most situations caused my Spanish abilities, and my confidence in them, to improve a lot, which was my primary goal for the summer. Outside of Spanish, I was also able to learn an extraordinary amount about art history, Spanish history, and literature. I’ve been able to go to art museums and truly analyze the paintings, visit monuments and understand their significance, and recognize Spanish literature and analyze the contents within. After two months of intensive coursework and restless exploration of all that Alcalá and Madrid have to offer, I’m exhausted. I’m going to miss Spain, and all of the excitement I’ve had here, but I’m also ready to go home to rest and reflect before the fall semester begins. This blog only scratches the surface of my experiences, and I’ve failed to mention many of the ups and almost all of the downs. Without delving too much into minutiae, its not only my Spanish and my knowledge gained in class that have grown on this trip, but also my comfort zone and my self-confidence in stepping outside of it and navigating a foreign country on my own. To conclude, here are some final pictures from my second month in Spain.

Córdoba, Granada y Sevilla

View from the Torre de Oro in Seville

Since I am staying here for two months rather than one, I had a five day break in between the June and July classes. Some other OU students and I used this time to explore more of southern Spain. We spent a day in Córdoba and two days each in Granada and Seville.

 

 

In Córdoba, our first stop was the Mezquita-Catedral. Back during the 8th through 15th centuries, Córdoba was the cultural capital of the Iberian Peninsula. This was the period when the Muslim Caliphate extended through Spain, so the mosque there has a lot of historical and cultural significance. After the reconquista, when the Spanish Catholics reclaimed the peninsula, a cathedral was built in the middle of the mosque, and daily masses have been held there since. We also saw the Córdoba Alcazar (or fortress). The grounds of the fortress were beautiful and there were old Roman and Visigoth mosaics and pottery displayed throughout.

In Granada, we spent out first day visiting the Granada cathedral and an open air market as well as just exploring the city. The next morning, we began the long hike up to the Alhambra, which is widely known as Granada’s most famous monument. Granada was the last province of Spain to be retaken by Ferdinand and Isabella during the reconquista, which ended in 1492. The Alhambra is a large palace and fortress complex where the last Sultan of Granada ruled until it was converted into the Royal Court for Ferdinand and Isabella. Since it is a well-fortified citadel, it is located on a large hill and offers stunning views of the city below. After a long visit there, we got on a bus headed to Seville.

In Seville we did much of the same, touring the Sevilla Alcazar (which was a filming location for Game of Thrones) and the Torre de Oro. We’d also been told that there was a palace in Seville which had been used as one of the filming locations for Naboo in Attack of the Clones. Unfortunately, there are four palaces in Seville, and we had no idea which one was correct nor wifi with which we could find out. Over the course of the weekend, we walked to three of the four palaces only to be met with disappointment. Ultimately on Sunday, we abandoned the search and went to an archeological museum instead. Returning from the museum, I looked down at my map and suggested we walk through a park where there was a plaza called Plaza de España which looked interesting. As we drew closer to the plaza, we realized that we had accidentally ended up in Naboo. I’m not sure if this is because I’m a huge nerd or just because the plaza itself was stunning, but it was one of my favorite places I’d seen all trip.

Speaking of favorites, on Saturday night we went out to see a flamenco show. The association of Spain and flamenco may seem ubiquitous, but the dance form actually only hails from Spain’s southern region, Andalusia, and it is there, especially in the city of Seville, where it continues to be widely popular with dance aficionados, tourists, and locals alike. I’d seen flamenco performed once before as part of a school showcase. This performance was very different as it took place in a crowded bar on a small stage with only a single singer/guitarist as accompanist to the dancer. I was very impressed by the complicated clapping and footwork involved, as well as the strong emotion poured into the singing and the dancer’s movements. I always enjoy watching dance, and have been able to see several performances while here in Spain, but watching such a well performed example of a traditional Spanish dance in its birthplace was a special treat. Enjoy the photos below!

Wanderlust and Nostalgia

Almost exactly one year ago today, I left my beloved Alcalá de Henares and headed home. It was the end of a magnificent and life-altering four month stay, and though I was excited to reunite with family and friends, I was devastated to leave. These seem like very dramatic words, and they are, but it’s difficult for me to avoid bold terms when describing this particular adventure of mine. I had been dreaming of studying abroad in Spain and living with a host family for YEARS before I did it, and when the time finally came to actually get on a plane and go live the dream, I was terrified. It seemed like an insane leap of faith, and I was not at all confident that it would be as awesome as I’d been dreaming it would.

However, faithful readers of the blog (if any exist!) will know that I faced my fears, got on the plane, and lived the dream. And it really was like living a dream – during that semester, I saw incredible places, met incredible people, and created memories that I will forever cherish. It is one of my accomplishments that I’m most proud of. I realize that seems odd – getting to live in Europe and travel the continent for four months in a country that values siestas doesn’t sound particularly difficult. However, in going, I overcame a great deal of personal trepidation and reached way outside of my comfort zone. I crossed the ocean, made friends, took challenging classes during which I debated interesting current events and learned a great deal, all in Spanish, built a relationship with my host family, also in Spanish, made great friends, became a more capable traveler, and got a great deal bolder and more confident.

My time in Spain was a time filled with learning. The joy of the trip was interspersed with mistakes and stress. To say that every moment was enjoyable would be a lie, but to say that every moment was valuable is the complete truth. Studying abroad taught me so much, about the world around me and about myself. I fell in love with the city of Alcalá and the country of Spain, and it all still feels as though it happened yesterday.

Ever since I returned, I’ve felt periodic pangs of missing Alcalá, but this semester has been particularly hard. Many times, I look at the calendar and think, “This time last year, I was roaming the medina in Rabat (Morocco).” “This time last year I was watching the sun set over La Alhambra while I listened to beautiful music and was engulfed in dancing and merriment.” “This time last year I was exploring the Sunday market in Madrid.” I absolutely love my life in Norman, but it’s impossible for me not to miss the grand and glittering adventure that was my semester in Spain.

What all this boils down to is that I’m itching to go back. A large part of me wants to continue to branch out and see more of the world that I haven’t yet, but another large part aches to return to my second home in Spain. I would love to get to hug my host mom, eat tortilla and drink some tinto in Indalo, to paddle across the lake in el Parque Retiro, and to get to revisit all the places that are so close to my heart.

Sadly, my days studying abroad may be over, but there is a silver lining – graduation is coming soon, and once I get a job and start saving, I can begin to save and scheme my way back to Alcalá. If anyone is reading this who hasn’t studied abroad yet, please do me a favor and seriously consider it. Everyone who has studied abroad sings its praises, and they are absolutely telling the truth. Go, explore, learn, and don’t be surprised when you come home and immediately want to go back.