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.

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International Event #2: Día de los Muertos

I have tried this semester, and intend to continue, to expose myself to Latin American culture. It is a beautiful thing that I have been so fascinated to learn about. In my Spanish class, we started talking about Día de los Muertos several days ahead of time. There was a mixed opinion on it. Some thought it was a strange tradition; other, like myself, loved it. I see it as an incredible way to celebrate life as the blessing it is and also continue to honor those who have passed on. Our Spanish professor asked us what sorts of things would be set up in honor of us. I’m unsure what mine would be completely, but I can assure you it would involve Dr. Pepper, books, and homemade tortillas.

The Spanish department set up an altar for a famous Latin American singer. I visited and was fascinated by the set up. Just looking at it, you could catch a glimpse into the personality being honored and the celebration that was at hand. It had me excited for the festival that was coming up on Sunday.

Friday there was a free shirt pass out that ran out of shirts in minutes. I was salty because I felt like some of those people who got shirts probably had no idea about the festival on Sunday, I, on the other hand, had been faithfully following the event on Facebook from the time it was announced and was stuck in Biology so I didn’t end up with a snazzy shirt.

I went home Friday night and drove up much earlier than usual on Sunday to make it to the event. I drug with me my boyfriend and a few friends from OU. None of them had ever been to or heard anything about Día de los Muertos. I was elated to inform them and have them experience the whole thing with me. An important part of becoming Globally Engaged, I believe, is sharing with others the new things that you learn.

The entire thing was incredibly well handled. I give props to the students who put it together. Everywhere I looked people were laughing and enjoying themselves. People had sugar skulls painted on their faces, there were masks in the sugar skull style available as well. There were those who were born into the Latin American culture and then there were those of us who were new to it all, but no one seemed to care everyone was there to celebrate life and honor the loved ones who passed before us. There was live music- I didn’t get to listen to much. I was the only one in my group who spoke any Spanish, and I speak very little.

All in all, this was one of the neater things I was able to attend this semester and I am so glad I did. I have fallen in love with Día de los Muertos.

International Event: Mexico Mixer

Mexico Mixer On a whim I decided to go to the “Mexico Mixer,” and I am so glad that I did! Basically the event was a giant pizza party where OU students who are learning/know Spanish got to meet and talk with some students from Mexico who are here for a month to study English. I was kind of hesitant to go because I figured I would have to speak in Spanish at the event, which is not my strong suit, so I didn’t want to embarrass myself. But, in the end, it sounded like too good of an opportunity to pass up (hello, free pizza) and I figured that I needed to push myself to practice my Spanish conversational skills.

At the mixer, I met several different students and really connected with two sisters who are here from the state of Guerrero. We spoke in Spanish, and I understood most of what they said although I made several mistakes while trying to speak. But, I was never really embarrassed like I thought I would have been. Everyone was so nice and encouraging, and there was no judgment. It really was a great way to get out of my comfort zone.

At the end of the mixer, I exchanged numbers with a few people and connected on Facebook, but I figured they were doing that more out of an obligation than anything. Luckily, it turns out I was wrong! The sisters messaged me later that night on Facebook, and we talked for a little bit before saying goodnight. The next day I was in the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art for an assignment when I ran into the sisters at the museum! All of the students were touring the museum that day, but I couldn’t believe what a coincidence it was that we ran into each other at the same time. It was really fortunate because I was able to connect with the sisters on WhatsApp so that we could text each other. Ever since I have been in contact with them most every day. We text in a mixture of Spanish and English and have made plans to eat lunch together a few times.

I am so glad that I went to the mixer because I ended up making some new friendships. It is really nice to be able to practice my Spanish, but it is even nicer being able to help people learning English. I know that my new friendships are going to last longer than the few short weeks the sisters are here in Oklahoma. The mixer served as a good reminder that good things come when you go out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to do something new.

Estoy Aprendiendo Español

As I write this, I have officially finished my first week of Spanish. I say finished, I mostly just mean muddled through. Every single day of the class I was lost. Our instructor is fluent. Most of the students in the class have had some background in it. Therefore, from day two the class has been taught in exclusively Spanish. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t want to cry because I had little to no idea what was going on. We had a homework assignment due at the end of this week that I just finished last night. Any guess how long it took me to complete?

Six hours.

That’s not distracted browsing on Facebook and pinning quotes on Pinterest work either. That is sitting down and focusing completely on the task before me. I am positive that I have never spent that long on an assignment- ever. In high school, I took difficult classes, but none that challenged me near as much as this class has and we’re “just getting started”. I am so far out of my learning comfort zone. Already, though, this class has challenged me to a broader view of the world.

Probably the third day of class my instructor, Señora Audas, came into the classroom a flurry of activity as usual. She pulled out her phone and started chatting excitedly in Spanish. She told a story with large hand motions and a smile in her voice. I listened intensely, desperate to understand. At the end, she and the majority of my classmates laughed. I wanted to cry. I felt isolated. I felt stupid.

You see, in high school, there weren’t that many times that I really struggled to understand a concept more than any of my classmates. If I didn’t get something- hardly anyone else did either. I graduated with a 4.0. I was part of the National Honors Society. I was an Oklahoma Academic All Stater. School was my comfort zone. Now, here I was completely lost. I had to take a deep breath. I had to remind myself to be patient with me because I am just beginning.

It hit me that there are so many incredible people who experience that every single day when they come to America. People who are stunningly intelligent and experts in every field with more knowledge than I could ever hope to obtain who come here and feel that same way when it comes to speaking English. I suddenly could sympathize (though my Spanish class is a substantially smaller scale) with those I see from other countries struggling to grasp the language I just happened to be born into. This moment reminded me to have compassion for those struggling at the post office, or at the restaurant, or even just in front of me in class.

I challenge you to do the same. Open you eyes and open your heart. Don’t take things for granted because you never know when you’ll be on the opposite side of the situation.

 

Cross posted onto my personal blog found here.