My alarm goes off at 7am sharp and I ooze out of bed with all the enthusiasm of a sloth. The grey matter between my ears only wakes up enough to recognize my hungry cat’s mewling after that first sip of coffee has touched my soul. I go through the daily motions: coffee sip, crack eggs in the pan, feed the cat, coffee sip, pack lesson plans into my bag, coffee coffee coffee slurp. The sun is just starting to brighten the sky and I’m starting to feel ready for my day full of students and PowerPoint presentations. Dressed and ready, I head out and walk to the high school by 8am. I feel accomplished after a decent three and a half hours of teaching, and then a co-worker comes over to me and asks, “Von! Are you ready for breakfast?”
Because, yes, I live in Spain, and these people eat BREAKFAST at 11am. Silly American.
This is just one minuscule example of the funny changes that your life undergoes when you make the insane decision to pack up your entire world and move overseas.
I have spent the last year living and working in Spain as a Language & Cultural Assistant in the little city of Huelva in the south of Spain. Trust me, everyone, the title promises a lot more responsibility and prestige than the job actually entails! That’s not to say that it has been anything less than the most life-changing and rewarding job that I’ve ever had.
A little backstory: I have a Bachelor’s degree in Large Animal Science, so my professional and academic background consists of subjects related to biology, natural sciences, plants, etc. I did work as an Educational Assistant in an elementary school, so that bit of experience gave me a bit of confidence the day that my girlfriend, Rose, asked me out-of-the-blue if I wanted to drop everything and move to Spain. But teaching English? In a country where I don’t speak the language at all? Less than a month after I started working in a job in my field? Alright, sure, why the hell not?
The L&CA program is a government-run position through El Ministerio de Educación, Cultura, y Deportes of the Spanish government. Eager to boost the country’s grasp of English in order to stay competitive in today’s world economy, Spain decided to offer teaching positions to any native English speaker with a Bachelor’s degree. Assistants are
placed in public schools where Spanish students are “immersed” in a foreign language: half of the day’s subjects, like math and biology, are taught completely in English, and the rest of the day in Spanish.
The application for the position opens the beginning of January each year, and closes around the end of February. As an Assistant, you are placed randomly (you can request your top three choices for regional location, but the exact city is random) into a school, given 700€ per month, and free health insurance. And guys, you can only work a MAXIMUM of 12 hours a week. Don’t worry, I’ll give you a moment to let that soak in.
Wow, did you hear all the Americans whispering conspiratorially? Surprise, everyone, the rest of the world has happily functioned with universal healthcare and isn’t driven into poverty by the taxes. The biggest point I need to make here is that, though the euro and the American dollar are very close in value, the euro goes MUCH farther than the dollar. When I lived in the USA I was working a full-time job and only bringing in about $1,200 before taxes and student loan payments. The rent for my one-bedroom, low quality, middle-of-nowhere apartment was a grand total of about $900-1,000 a month. My rent in Spain, you ask? Two-bedroom, beautiful, 10th floor high rise, center city, 20 minutes to the ocean…grand total of 450-500€ a month. Because of the backwards politics surrounding Obamacare’s implementation (not the plan itself, just the strategies that Republicans used to make it impossible to access) I fell into a gap in the USA system where I “made too much” for coverage assistance, yet I was charged over $500/month. Spanish healthcare allowed me to go to the ER twice, have a series of tests, and get medication….for a whopping 0€.
America, you’re doing it wrong. But, I digress.
So, as an Assistant, you are NOT a full-blown teacher. Legally, you’re not actually allowed to create lesson plans, grade assignments, or even be left alone in a classroom with the students. You are basically a go-to resource for pronunciation, grammar rules, and information about your culture. And, trust me, everyone goes bonkers about western cultures. If you ever want to experience what it is like to be both a famous rock star and a monkey in a zoo, move to Spain.
I did not speak a word of Spanish when I stepped off the plane, but I sure as hell do now. I completely agree with the idea that immersion is the best way to learn a language. Within just a few months, I have become versed enough to have a 4-hour car conversation with someone who speaks zero English, and that comes from simple experiences like grocery shopping and signing up for a gym membership in a foreign language. Teaching a classroom full of young, native Spanish speakers is seriously nowhere near as difficult as you would assume! The whole point of immersion schools is that you are not supposed to speak Spanish with them. Simple English and a lot of body language goes a long way, and I can honestly say that I watched my students’ become better and better at English in just a few months. And I didn’t even have to stress about “work”; I walked into the classroom each day and the teacher handed me the lesson book from which I read the lesson. Easy as pie.
Not only have I created a life for myself in Spain, but I enjoy the opportunity to travel around the world without breaking the bank. That 700€ not only easily pays my rent (split with my girlfriend, of course), but it also allows me to buy plane, train, and bus tickets across the globe. In just ten months, I traveled to multiple cities in Portugal, Morocco, Ireland, France, and Italy. I have climbed the Eiffel Tower, nibbled a cannoli while strolling across the bridges of Venice, enjoyed a home-cooked Portuguese dinner with companions from Holland, Canada, Belgium, Sweden, and Slovakia…and the list goes on and on. Travel is cheap as dirt in Europe, and the experiences are beyond priceless.
As young adults, generally we experience the pressure to GO, DO, AND EXPLORE BEFORE LIFE GETS YOU TOO! But, guys…it’s true. The world is just sitting out there, waiting to show you what it means to be a human being. It’s not cheap to travel from the USA, but once you pay for your ticket out, this program is an amazing way to live and travel. I don’t know what the far future holds, but right now, I’m living up my time to the fullest extent and I have no intention of coming back.
Stay tuned for more information and stories regarding my life in Spain, and for more posts devoted to my Trans* experience as a world traveler!
“Tell me what do you find when you open your eyes and your mind
To the great out there?” – “The Great Out There” by Susan Werner