How to Keep the Peace as an Auxiliar de Conversación in Spain
¡Enhorabuena! Congratulations! If you are reading this article, I assume you have accepted your position as an auxiliar de conversación. I’m sure it was a loooong wait. Now that your documents are sent and your plane ticket is booked, you probably are sitting back and thinking “now what?” When you arrive in Spain there will be a lot for you to do. Things like finding an apartment is on forefront of everyone’s minds, but what about how to get along with your colleagues?
As a language assistant, your job will be helping the teachers at your school with their classes. Working with them closely, day after day, can either have you looking forward to your classes or dreading them. You will spend a lot of time at school and having a good relationship with your colleagues can ensure that you have a good time in Spain. Everyone’s school experience will be different, but there are some things that every future auxiliar can do to start off on the right foot.
Remember This Isn’t Study Abroad
I don’t have any official statistics, but from my own observations, auxiliares tend to be on the younger side. Fresh out of college and wanting to travel the world, many people use this program as their first or second “study abroad” experience. However, treating this experience like a vacation may rub your colleagues the wrong way. Some of your colleagues may be genuinely excited to be working with you, and others may think you are an overpaid English textbook and want nothing to do with you outside the classroom. One way to make a good impression is to always remember that this is a job. I cannot stress this enough. YOU, yes, YOU are here to work. It may not be the most glamourous or intellectually rigorous job in Europe, but it is a job that at minimum requires you to be professional. That means don’t show up late to work because you have to commute from your “centrally” located apartment. Excessive tardiness may be accepted by your professor, but in the workplace there’s no excuse. You and your colleagues will start off on the right foot if you ditch the vacation mentality and are professional from the start.
Don’t Embarrass The Teacher
We’ve all been there. A student says a word wrong in class and the teacher rushes to correct their pronunciation. But wait, even their pronunciation is wrong! So, you stand off to the side wondering what should you do. Should you correct the teacher in front of the class? Tell them their mistake once class is over? If you correct the teacher in class, will they be upset? But if you stay silent, the student will have the wrong information (sigh). So much anxiety over one mispronounced word. The best way to avoid this anxiety in the future is to talk to your colleagues. Some may want to be immediately corrected, others may want you to address them after class.Don’t be surprised if you have a colleague who doesn’t want to be corrected at all. They may insist that he or she was pronouncing it the British way (or any other English-speaking country). It can be frustrating or funny, but as an auxiliar we are not here to embarrass, but to instill confidence in our students, and yes, even the other teachers.
If you come from a time-oriented culture, moving to one that is more relaxed can be a huge challenge. Schedules may or may not be set in stone, meetings may or may not start on time (if at all), and your school won’t always keep you informed. For an American, like myself, this sort of relaxed attitude towards time can be frustrating. Showing up to your school, only to be told, that they forgot to tell you that they don’t need you that day can feel like a huge waste of time. In these moments, it is important to remember why you came to Spain in the first place. Did you come to live in a country that is similar to your own or did you come to have a cultural experience? I hope you came for the cultural experience. So, turn the negatives into a positive. Yeah that meeting may be cancelled or you travelled to school for no reason, but look outside, you are in Spain. Relax a little.
Start A Self-care Regime Now
Workplace microaggressions are bound to happen in any country. While sitting in our small office, an older colleague once told me that can’t get a boyfriend in her country because I am black. Eyeroll. Let’s just say that this exchange was the start of a very unpleasant semester. As black women, we are sold the idea that living abroad is the cure to all our problems, real or imaginary. That we won’t experience half of the racism and prejudice that we do in the United States. That is simply not true. Racism and prejudice will come from randos on the street to the people you share an office space with. It can be heartbreaking to hear someone you teach with explain to you why the don’t think blackface is wrong. That you are being a sensitive American. That this is Spain. You won’t change Spain overnight and you certainly won’t change it by yourself. Your presence alone will (hopefully) increase tolerance and open the eyes of colleagues and students to diversity, but that shouldn't be at the expense of your wellbeing. When work gets stressful, and no one seems to get why the thing they said was prejudiced, having a self-care regime can be lifesaver.
It can be hard to imagine every problem a future auxiliar will face. Our experiences vary so much that what may be the norm at one school is totally different at another. Not every auxiliar will have a peaceful experience working in Spain. It is mostly left to chance. But whatever fate has instore for you, we can all do our best, from day one, to build positive relationships with the students and teachers at our schools.
Jalena is a traveler first, design enthusiast second, and a wine connoisseur last. And by connoisseur, she means she sometimes swirls the glass. You can find her living the nomad life between Asia and Europe, and hopefully one day Latin America.