What to Expect as an Auxiliar de Conversación
So you’ve been accepted as an Auxiliar de Conversacion in Spain, felicidades! Your upcoming year in Spain is going to be full of joy, heartbreak, Oprah Winfrey “a-ha!” moments, periods of frustration, and daily miniature triumphs. And that’s just month one.
When it comes to adjusting to your new life as an auxiliar, there are things that you must know, things that you should prepare yourself for, and things you might have missed in all of your late-night web searches.
As a fellow auxiliar, here are some tips of what to know, expect, and the things I wish I knew before.
What to know:
You’re part of an amazing community of auxiliares, and we’re all in this together. Don’t hesitate to ask for help! There’s tons of Facebook groups, Meetups, and Intercambios in which you can meet and mingle with others in the same boat. Your time here will be all the better the more you mingle!
Reach out to the school you’ve been placed in and try to meet with them before your tenure starts. This will not only give you a huge leg up in prep-work, but it also makes you look good among the faculty! Granted, some schools in Madrid are not exactly on the “up and up” when it comes to keeping track of their auxilares, and might not respond to you. In that case, keep trying. In Spain, they tend to go by a, “If it’s important they’ll show up in person,” mantra. Be persistent!
Get all your paperwork in order. Spanish bureaucracy is infamous for a reason, and navigating the complexities of NIE, TIE, Empadriamento, and so on can get frustrating and overwhelming fast. Make copies of passports, visa, passport photos, background checks, diplomas, whatever you can think of that might be useful and keep it safe in a binder or portfolio. The number of times I’ve been asked for a copy of something I swore I had enough copies of will make your head spin. Be ready to shuffle papers around like a tax accountant.
What to expect:
If you’re coming from the US, be prepared to wait. Spaniards take their time, and they expect you to do the same. Whether that involves waiting for the waiter to come by at a local restaurant and take your order (or give you the check), or whether you’re in line at the post office. Nobody’s in a rush, so plan ahead…sometimes hours ahead, so you can get things done. Patience and planning will come in useful if you’re trying to get things printed for class and need to use a locutorio, waiting for your school to create your schedule and so you can book a trip, or having backup lesson plans in case something goes awry (things do and will go awry all the time!).
The school environment here is a lot more relaxed than what you may be used to in the States. Students can wear what they want, for example, and I had to pick my jaw up off the floor when I saw young girls in yoga pants and crop tops, and the boys in graphic tees with profanity on them. Teachers as well dress casually instead of business casual. The students get a lot of leeway in talking over the teachers, and depending on their age, they can run the gambit from rambunctious to downright rude. Try to follow the lead of the teachers around you and if you class becomes particularly rowdy, ask the faculty what can be done about it and how it makes you feel. Good communication with your school is very important. It is often a deciding factor for whether or not people enjoy their time as an auxiliar, so make sure the lines of communication are open so you feel comfortable, know what the school’s expectations are, and where you stand.
What I wish I knew:
Many parts of Spain are quite hot and dry in the summertime, and air conditioning is rare (including in some schools like my own). I spent many a day in Madrid simply panting, grasping at literal straws for any sip of hydrating water. Prepare yourself for the climate. Bring a water bottle! Preferably a light one that can hold a lot of water (I brought a thermos, but I don’t mind if my water is warm and it’s quite burdensome to carry). Bring a small USB powered fan, and a handheld one. This also goes for clothing. Many adults in Spain don’t dress less during the heat, so you might draw attention to yourself the less clothes you wear.
The cost of living is low, so you’ll have a few wonderful moments in supermarkets and clothing stores when your total is calculated at check out and you’re surprised at how low it is. Buyer beware, however, that just means you might blow through cash twice as fast! Budgeting is crucial in Spain, especially considering you’re on a restricted salary as an auxiliar. Spain is a country where people lounge at bars and terraces for hours, and you will want to go out! You will want to visit the club, and if you’re like me, you’ll want to take advantage of every discount flight or bus ride throughout Spain and Europe. Those taxi rides, tintos, and visits to clothing stores can and will add up fast. [If you’re able to, take advantage of opportunities to make money on the side. Visit one of the tutoring resources on LMDES and see if it’s right for you, the extra cash won’t hurt!]
You will be tested, and I mean emotionally! It’s hard not to take things personally when you’re just going about your daily business abroad trying to do your best! I wasn’t prepared to have tough days when a bus driver didn’t have the patience to help me figure out what stop to get off at, or when my students misbehaved and ignored me. A bad day abroad happens to everyone, but you should take things in perspective. You were selected, you have an amazing opportunity here! And for every failure or hard time you’ve had, there’s a million of mini successes you’ve had. That moment someone asked you a question and you understood them enough to respond. That moment you navigated the metro without missing a beat.
You got this!
Onward and Upward!
Kris’tina is a language loving, two-step dancing, videogame playing, fast-talking, English-teaching, perpetual student and traveller from the US of A. When she’s not blogging she’s probably eating, drinking wine, and relishing the big ole world we live in. Find her at ATicketForTwo.com.