I recall a conversation I had with a friend not long after I came home from studying abroad in Rome. She asked me a very general question about how the experience had been; something along the lines of “So, how was it?” I paused to reflect briefly and decide how to best summarize what the experience had been like without talking her ear off. My response, at least to start, was something like “Well, I went to class a lot, I read, I wrote a lot of research papers, but I loved my classes.” I chose to talk about the “study” part of “study abroad” first. I think this is very unusual for an American’s experience studying in Europe, but very typical of me. Most come here for a semester or a year to drink, party, and run around the cultural capital of the Western world. I did my fair share of that, but if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a huge nerd, and I love school. That was by far my favorite part about Rome; I had class in the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and all over the streets of what still stands as my favorite city. My study abroad experience, therefore, had a very strong “study” component, not just an “abroad” one.
Fast forward two years to present day, and I am now teaching abroad. Just like I was in Rome, I am abroad. I am in a foreign country, speaking a different language, adapting to a different culture. But this time the other part of the experience is teaching, and again, I absolutely love it. Some of my fellow language assistants are here more so to live in Spain, and have no plans to pursue a career in teaching, which is perfectly acceptable. The program I’m in doesn’t operate on the assumption that all its participants are born educators. We are assistants after all, and our responsibilities are not overly demanding.
Others of us, myself included, are here just as much for teaching as we are for Spain, if not more. I am a teacher. I couldn’t not be a teacher if I tried really hard. I even have a fancy certificate from the University of Cambridge saying that I’m pretty good at teaching English as a foreign language. This is all to say: I LOVE MY JOB! Not everyday is perfect, but a lot of days I come home smiling at the thought of doing this for the rest of my life. If I had one wish for everyone in the world, it would be for everyone to love what they do as much as I love what I do.
Now, to answer the question that many have asked: What do I actually do? What is this job that I knew so few details about before leaving home? I have two jobs. The first, which I was contracted for before coming to Spain, is as a Language and Culture Assistant, or in Spanish (not a literal translation), Auxiliar de Conversación. I work in a bilingual elementary school, meaning that many of the subjects are taught in both Spanish and English. The teachers I work with are all “certified” to teach in English and supposedly speak the language well enough to teach it. This is not the truth at all. Unfortunately many of them lack basic grammar and their pronunciation is so horrible that the students don’t understand me when I talk because they’re used to their teacher’s pronunciation. My job here is to assist the teachers with their bilingual lessons. What I actually do in class varies greatly. Sometimes I simply sit in the corner, helping the teacher with pronunciation while she teaches. Other times when I walk in the teacher hands me the English workbook, points to the pages for that day, and goes and sits in the back of the class while I take over the class, pulling a lesson out of thin air with zero preparation. I’m definitely using trial and error to find out what works and what doesn’t for a group of 25 eight year olds. To give some other examples of what my days are sometimes filled with: last week I spent one lesson helping second graders make flowers out of tissue paper, making them tell me the color of the paper before I would help them. Another day I read aloud a story about a witch for Halloween, while running around the classroom (I almost just typed ‘aula’ if that tells you how much Spanish is invading my vocabulary) acting out everything the witch did. Much to my students’ amusement, this involved ‘tripping’ over imaginary black cats several times.
My second job is at a small private school in the evenings. I have classes of 3 year olds, 5-6 year olds, 12-14 year olds, and a 27 year old engineer who I tutor. These classes are entirely mine, each meeting twice a week for an hour or so. I decide what to teach, what games to play, and what worksheets to use. It’s a lot of fun and I think this experience will really help me develop as a teacher. My teenagers love hangman, my 5-6 year olds love Simon says, and my three year old loves arranging flashcards of numbers from 1-10 in order on the floor. If you didn’t notice that, yes, I only have one three year old. Luckily she’s fantastic, incredibly sweet, and has only cried for her mom once, very briefly, before I distracted her with a teddy bear game.
So in a nutshell, this is what my jobs are like. I hope this has answered any lingering questions about what exactly I’m doing in Spain besides eating and taking siestas.