How to Volunteer in Spain: Vaughan Town
Almost every Vaughan Town morning, I and the other Anglo-volunteers had to explain one phrasal verb and one common English idiom to our Spanish conversation partner.
Day 1: Come around/get away with murder
Day 3: Get along with/let your hair down
It became a welcome start of the day this explaining of verbs and idioms and a chance for me to see first-hand that what I assume as easily understandable is not always so.
My frequent traveling friend was the one who told me about the program called Vaughan Town, a six day English-language immersion program located in several Spanish small-towns. I applied and once I was notified of my acceptance about a month later, I was ecstatic. The program relies on a cohort of “Anglo” volunteers to hold conversations with Spanish business professionals from sun up to sun down.
But, my initial excitement gradually became laden with what-did-I-get-myself-into second thoughts when I arrived at Puerta de Gredos for my Vaughan Town week.
What about I didn’t fit in? What if the Spanish participants found me boring or I managed to make their English worse? Was I being rash in thinking this whole thing would be fun?
Fortunately, like 90% of human worries, my laundry list of hypothetical fears were completely unfounded. The Vaughan Town volunteer cohort was made up of Anglo accents from Southern California Valley Girl to Mary Poppins brightness. To my delight, there were even other Black participants, four women to be exact. Some participants came solo, others brought along a family member or close friend. After only a couple of meetings, the routine small talk between the Anglos and Spaniards matured into conversation. I soon found myself (after the initial tiredness of the first day wore off) lingering in conversation with my Spanish partner. Participants of Vaughan Town are talking on average 11 hours a day, including meals, and here I was wanting to talk more!
I think most of us know that we live in a time and age that discourages meaningful connection.
We are communicative like crazy (Twitter, Facebook, smartphones, Insert Social Media Platform Here) but, how many of us are truly engaged with people around us and not distracted by the likes, the re-tweets, the reposted articles you have zero need to read? There are way too many times I’ve obscured the perfection of a moment with thoughts about its Instagram-ability. Cute pictures are awesome, but connection is what human beings are wired for.
Vaughan Town reminded me how sweet it is when the cacophony of rampant communication stops. Sitting across from someone, each of you trying one’s best to be understood breeds a strong sort of realness. There was unabashed fun when people performed their evening skits. There was brave vulnerability when the Spaniards presented their English language speeches. There was adolescent joy exhibited at our celebratory dance party. I don’t think this openness would be possible if we were all obsessing about Facebook updates. During Vaughan Town, I kept looking around expecting the Human Connection bubble to burst. Thankfully, it never did.
I entered Vaughan Town fresh from leaving an active duty military life and still feeling a bit lost at sea from this decision.
Sure, there was excitement in charting my new path, but there was also anxiety when I looked around and realized my ocean’s horizon contained new lands I’d never even known existed. (These maritime analogies should be proof of my Coast Guard career enough.)
Coincidentally, one of the idioms of Vaughan Town was all in the same boat.
I’ve always had a soft spot for that idiom. I like it even better now because it perfectly encapsulates what Vaughan Town was for me. It was so easy to think I was all alone in my fears about a new future. But, in conversation after conversation, I realized that my story of moving from familiar shores to unknown, sometimes distant lands was ever present.
Vaughan Town reminded me that my guides and my shipmates are indeed all around me. I have only to quiet the noise to recognize who they are.
Vaughan Town is for: people who like talking with people (introverts and extroverts alike).
Go for: volunteer experience in Spain, awesome accommodations and decadent Last Supper-like Spanish meals, experience of small town Spain.
Stay for: real connection, local recommendations for exploring other areas of Spain, a chance to see people grow in a good way, because you’re a do-gooder
Hannah Eko is a storyteller and creative who is interested in all things self-love, Wonder Woman related, and travel. She blogs at hanabonanza.com. In her past life, she was a well-known flamenco dancer.