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Things to Consider When Deciding Where to Live in Spain

“One man’s meat is another man’s poison”. Perhaps this old proverb best encapsulates the main principle we need to take into account when deciding where to live.

I remember when I went to Paris, France for my honeymoon. Many of my friends told me that it was ideal for couples and that the city was beautiful. It’s the city of love, right? The thing is, I don’t particularly like busy places or sightseeing, and I don’t care about famous buildings —I tend to enjoy more culinary or biographical trips— and if you’ve been to Paris, you know it’s crowded, busy and dirty. My wife, however, likes anything related to trying new things —discovering new places, new food, new experiences— so she was perfectly content. Why am I telling you about my honeymoon? Because my friends’ meat was my poison.

When looking for a place to live, you need to be honest and know yourself. What is your temperament or personality? Are you an introvert or extrovert? Do you find nature energizing? Or do you prefer bustling streets? Are you the type of person who does not care where you are as long as you have great company (and food!)? Are you a mountain lover or a beach lover? The principle, once again, is not to make ourselves match places other people love, but rather to make these places match our temperament or personality as much as we can. Because what one person may consider good, enjoyable, or beneficial may be disliked by someone else.

Obviously, as a language assistant you will have to consider many more variables in this equation than just your natural inclination and preferences. The following key aspects to consider will help you in this process.

1. Village-lover vs City-lover?

In this aspect, there might be two potential scenarios: (a) your school is located in the city center, or (b) your school is located in a small village. In scenario “a”, if you are a city-lover then that is perfect, but if you are not, you are not doomed. You could always choose to live in the outskirts or in a village well-connected to the school. In scenario “b”, if you are disappointed that your school placement is in a town, you could always commute from the city. This is typically not a bad option, since from the city you will likely have several options to commute to different villages.

2. How far is too far?

Depending on where you are placed, you might discover that your school is located in a small town and you really want to live in the city. In this situation, you need to ask yourself how much you love or hate commuting. Some people love it because they watch a show, read books, video chat with friends and family, or just nap. Others hate it, because they feel the cannot do anything at all and they feel their existence is wasted (dramatic, I know, but true). Living near the school and doing excursions into the city on the weekend might be a nice compromise if you hate to commute. If you don’t mind commuting then you can choose something halfway or a bit further.

3. Couch potato or activity junkie?

If you are the type of person who needs to always be doing something and are easily bored, then you really need to be in the city! More activities, more people, more places to see! But if you are the type of person who likes to chill and not do much during the week and leave the fun for the weekend, then not living close to the city might not be a big deal for you. After all, Netflix and chill is not bad at all…

4. Can money buy you happiness in Spain?

Whoever said that money can’t buy you happiness is right, but forgot to add “…nor does poverty”. Fair enough, money can’t buy happiness, but it helps, especially being in Spain. The topic of money as a language assistant is tricky. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on anything, then you need to be wise about it. For example, if traveling and eating out is the most important thing for you, then maybe it would be better to cut down cost on the apartment by looking for a cheaper option or maybe just renting a room instead. If for you where you live is a big deal, then maybe cut down on eating out or traveling. You could always cook more at home. It is all about spending on what adds the most value to you, and knowing what your priorities are.

I hope this article helps you understand yourself a bit more when it comes to deciding where to live. Remember to find your “meat” (or “tofu” for my vegan people out there!) in order to avoid the “poison”.

What is a Language Assistant? Roles and Responsibilities

A language assistant or an auxiliar de conversación in Spanish, is a native English-speaker who spends a year in Spain supporting teacher in a public primary or secondary school. The goal of this type of program is to bring native-like speakers of English into classrooms in Spain to enhance student’s language skills. A language assistant serves as a linguistic model for students in Spain. Listening to the language assistant’s pronunciation will better students’ English language skills.

The participation of native language assistants in classrooms is considered very useful as a reference point for the development of a language. Besides being an internationally recognized practice for improving communicative competence in foreign language students, the assistants will contribute to more natural geographic, social, cultural, economic and topical aspects of the reference country.

Shaniya, an RVF Program Participant from 2020, getting read for the winter with her school in Alicante, Spain!

It’s a perfect opportunity to become a teaching assistant to foreign language teachers in Spain and at the same time to learn about the culture and language of Spain. This will allow the assistant to acquire a deeper knowledge of Spain, its society and its education system.

Just a normal commute to work each day.

The principal role of a language assistant is to encourage students of all ages in Spain to broaden their knowledge of the language and culture. The language assistants work on tasks with small groups of students under the coordination the English teacher. They may also be asked to lead class sessions and conduct oral exams preparation while the teacher conducts other regular exams in the classroom, always under the supervision of the corresponding department. Therefore, a language assistant is expected to plan and conduct activities that focus on language and culture, such as listening and speaking, activities, role plays, or games for the students.

Things You Will Love and Hate About Spain

Every country in the world has good and bad things. When we get to live abroad, we get to experience all of it: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Spain is obviously no different! We are going to be sharing a few things that you will absolutely love, and others that you could probably do without.

First, Let’s get into the good!

#1 The lifestyle!

If you come from a country that worships the busyness of life and constant performance, you will gladly know that Spain isn’t necessarily like that. In fact, Spaniards usually enjoy a pretty laidback lifestyle. They take the precious present moments seriously, such as enjoying a delicious breakfast sitting down, with no rush; taking a little coffee break with your coworkers and laugh with them; enjoying a beautiful walk around the city / town you live in during the weekend, and frequently going for tapas in a terraza in the afternoon with your friends; all of those are some of the things people in Spain have as part of their normal life.

Spanish Tapas Bar

#2 Prices!

The cost of living in Spain is so affordable! Rent prices usually change depending on the region, but it is safe to say that, if you don’t live in Madrid or Barcelona, you can find very inexpensive places to live!

This applies to food as well. You can pretty much eat a balanced diet for one person for no more than 100 euros a month. And sometimes you don’t even need that much!

If you go out to eat, you’ll also see that, in general, prices are very affordable. You can have breakfast for as little as 2 euros (yes, you heard right! 2 euros!). This can include a delicious coffee and some pastry. And if you are willing to spend 1 more euro, you can add a freshly squeezed orange juice 😉 You can also find plenty of restaurants that will serve a combo homemade meal for not too much: between 6 and 10 euros depending on the region! This always includes a starter, a second dish and dessert (or coffee)!

#3 The beauty

Spain is just a beautiful country. No matter where you go, you will absolutely fall in love with the beauty of the area you’re in. Whether it is the landscape (Spain has it all: beach, mountains, sunshine, snow, forests, everything!), the cities (you will love the architecture!) or the little cute coffee shops, Spain truly showcases its beauty. You will also find that the North is very different from the South in terms of climate, architecture and more, which makes it even more enriching!  

As you see, Spain has a lot to offer! Now, bear all these beautiful things in mind to have the right approach to read about the things you will probably dislike about Spain:

#1 Things move slowly…too much sometimes

Remember how Spaniards love enjoying the precious present moments? Well, sometimes that can translate into certain things not moving as quickly as we would want them to, such as bureaucracy (we’ll talk about that more, keep reading!); businesses usually close from 1 p.m to 5 p.m due to siesta time (or sometimes they close at 1 p.m until the next day), which means that some important errands you had to run would need to wait; people may walk slowly on the streets, etc. For instance, if you are an auxiliar de conversación, you may experience delays or changes in your school schedule. And people don’t necessarily care even if you are losing your mind about it. Things that you know shouldn’t take so long, do. So, what can you do about it? Change your mentality from “I can’t believe this is taking so long!” to “let’s chill, we’ll see how this goes!”

#2 Bureaucracy (or bureaucrazy!)

Yes, this is one of the hardest parts for those who come from very efficient countries! The truth is, Spaniards are not like the Germans…but more like the Italians. Any kind of paperwork you have to do through an official entity will probably take time…more than you think. If you are applying for a specific type of visa (or residency, or anything of the like), you will have to stock up on patience! You’ll usually need appointments for everything that can only be booked online…only to find out that there are no appointments available. And when you call or go to the official building to ask for help, they’ll tell you that you need an appointment just to be there. You’ll then explain that you’ve tried your best to get one, but you weren’t successful…only to hear that you have to book appointments online only. This is only one example, but there are so many others! So, patience is always needed, and expect for bureaucratic processes to take longer than you anticipate!

#3 Lack of organization and communication

Together with the fact that Spain isn’t the best at dealing with paperwork, you’ll also find that organization can be challenging as well. For instance, if you are teaching at a school, sometimes you’ll find that they haven’t been communicated that you are going to be teaching at that particular school. Or they simply won’t have your schedule ready when you arrive. Or they won’t have all the curriculum completely finished for you to teach. The answer, again, is patience, and doing your best to not be critical about these factors. The truth is, Spaniards will do everything they can to help you! So a little patience and kindness will always go a long way (not to mention that it will make your life easier as you accept things the way they are in Spain!).

In any case, every country has great and not so great things about them! Enjoy your time, explore, live life to the full and be gracious and patient with the factors that are more challenging!

How to Learn Spanish in Spain

If you are soon going to Spain, we are sure that one of the things on your bucket list is learning Spanish, improving your Spanish or perfecting your Spanish! We’re going to be sharing great effective ways for you to do so. However, before we start, it is worth mentioning that, while it is an amazing goal to have, there are a few things to consider when it comes to learning Spanish in Spain.

The first thing to have in mind is that everyone will want to practice their English with you. This can make it a bit difficult for you to practice your Spanish, which means you have to be extra intentional. You can kindly let people know that you only want to speak Spanish, or that you would be more than willing to practice English with them, and in turn they can help you practice some Spanish. Whatever you choose to do, just make sure you are extra intentional because it won’t come easy!

The second thing to have in mind is that you will probably be in an environment where you only have to speak English. If you are an auxiliar de conversación, you are actually not allowed to speak Spanish at your school. This means that you will have to find other times and places for you to learn Spanish. You may also surround yourself with friends who are also native English speakers, and so it can be hard to speak / practice your Spanish.

All of this can be solved with intentionality and perseverance! Without further ado, let’s get into what you can practically do to learn Spanish in Spain:

#1 Take a Spanish course at an academy

Spain has plenty of academies or centers where you can take Spanish courses adapted to your level. We recommend this way of learning Spanish if it would be helpful for you to have a set schedule, homework and activities with others who are also doing the course with you. Sometimes, when we pay for a course and we know we have to get out the door and go to class, it can be more motivating for us to learn a language!

#2 Take classes with a private tutor

If you prefer to have personalized guidance, you can hire a personal Spanish tutor! The advantages of this are that the tutor will cater to you specifically; you will be investing your money and time to receive these private sessions; and you can even be more flexible with your schedule, as you won’t have to adapt to a group class.

#3 Learn Spanish on your own

This is recommended for those who are more independent learners! If you think you can do this on your own, go for it! A few things we recommend doing if this is the path you want to choose:

  • Make sure you set goals throughout your learning. What do you want to learn specifically? What types of conversations do you want to be able to have in Spanish? Setting specific goals in advance will help you stay organized and on track!
  • Make sure you strive for a balance between competence (learning grammar, vocabulary, reading, listening, etc) and performance (actually speaking the language). If you don’t, you’ll find yourself knowing a lot of Spanish in your head, but not being able to use it when the time comes (which is very common); or speaking Spanish really badly.
  • Put yourself in a position where you have to speak the language! Whether it is finding a partner that wants to help you speak Spanish, or finding a group of people that don’t speak English at all and making friends with them, or taking a painting course completely in Spanish if you enjoy painting, it will all help you to get immersed! 

Whichever way you choose to learn Spanish, make sure you surround yourself with people who don’t speak English and are willing to help you practice what you learn! And most importantly: have fun doing it! Learning a language doesn’t have to be something you dread, but something you look forward to.

A Day in the Life of a Language Assistant (Auxiliar de Conversación)

A day in the life of a Language Assistant, known as an Auxiliar de Conversación, is like most things in life, where there are seasons of regularity, punctuated by days and weeks that are a little less regular, but nonetheless exciting.

Most Language Assistants, especially in large cities, will find themselves taking the train or subway (known as the metro in Spain) to work, which can take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour (don’t worry, that’s a very normal daily commute in Spain!).

RVF Program Participant, Kelly, teaching her Middle School class at her school in Valencia, Spain

Depending on when your train or subway or bus arrives at your school, you might have some time to kill before classes begin at 9:00am. Not sure how to kill 20 or 30+ minutes before the workday begins? Just do what the Spaniards do! Go grab a café con leche at one of the local tapas bars and enjoy a delicious Spanish breakfast for no more than €2 EUR (about $2.50 USD).

Many Language Assistants will have breakfast each morning with the same group of teachers, before walking into school together to be ready to go in their classrooms for when the morning bell rings at 9:00am.

From then on, you’ll most likely have 5 periods throughout the school day that each last roughly 45 – 50 minutes each.

RVF Program Participant, Shaniya, teaching English at her school in Alicante, Spain in 2020

For your first period, you might be leading a 6th grade English class, with around 25 students. But don’t worry! You won’t have to come up with or create the curriculum, the school will already have that ready to go for you before you ever arrive at the school on your first day.

Certain classroom activities might look like giving a cultural presentation on where you come from and your life in your home country, full of photos of your family, your city, your pets – anything at all to let your ever curious students know a little more about you. Or you might be leading a conversational English activity, pairing up all the students in to groups so they can practice introducing themselves to people in English. Another day, you might be leading them in a History workshop, all in English, going over Spanish fascinating history and past (Once again, don’t worry! You’ll have all the materials and workbooks provided by the school!)

If it’s October and you’re teaching at an Elementary or Middle School, you might be tasked with coming up with a fun Halloween related activity that incorporates fun conversational or vocabulary English elements to it. This might look like spending a few days decorating the school’s library as a haunted house and organizing different stations for different activities, such as a Pin the Tail on the Donkey game that includes English words or grammar that your students can learn that is unique to Fall or Halloween.

RVF Program Participants from 2019 ready to celebrate Halloween with their students!

At 12.00pm noon each day, while the kids are all at recess, you’ll find yourself in the Teachers Lounge with all the other Spaniards enjoying a very Spanish merienda -midnoon snack break. You’ll practice your Spanish and chat with the other teachers for half an hour, while enjoying coffee, tea, pastry and deserts, or something a little more savory like Spanish tortilla or empanadas.

From 12:30pm to 2:00pm, you’ll be back in the classroom finishing out your last one or two classes for the school day. At exactly 2.00pm, the final bell of the day will ring and just like anywhere else in the world, the school will quickly empty out as the students race home for their late afternoon Spanish lunch with family, while you leave behind them.

But your Spanish school day isn’t over yet! Before hopping on the train to take you home, you’ll most likely grab a Spanish beer, glass of wine, or, depending on the weather, a delicious Spanish cider, known an as cidra, with your other work mates, while chowing down on some Spanish finger-food tapas. There isn’t anything better in the world than enjoying a home cooked local meal in another country with locals from that area.

A typical ‘end of the workday’ scene in Spain!

After a quick half an hour bite to eat (or possibly even longer), you’ll hop back on the train and will arrive home a little after 3:00pm, either ready to take a Spanish siesta or to continue exploring all that Spain has to offer.

10 Astonishing Places to Visit in Spain

Spain is a country full of beautiful and unique places. So, it may actually be difficult to decide where to go. Here is our list of the 10 places in Spain you shouldn’t miss.

1. The Alhambra, Granada

This is perhaps the most famous monument in Spain. The Alhambra of Granada is one of the most unique palaces in the world. This place is a perfect example of many different styles of architecture. This monument also features stunning views of the city of Granada and the countryside and mountains that lay beyond.

2. Sagrada Família, Barcelona

While the entire city of Barcelona is gorgeous in itself, this unfinished masterpiece designed by Antoni Gaudí is simply mind-blowing. It is the most visited building in Barcelona.

3. The Real Alcázar, Seville

Seville, the capital of Andalusia is the fourth-largest city in Spain. This city boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Reales Alcázare, the Santa Maria de la Sede Cathedral, and the General Archive of the Indies. This beautiful medieval Islamic palace is a unique mix of Spanish Christian and Moorish architecture. The season five of Game of Thrones was filmed at this location, among many others in Seville.

4. Costa Brava

Costa Brava is a stunning region in Catalonia that extends from the Mediterranean coast to the majestic Pyrenees, which form a natural border with France. Costa Brava is famed for its beaches and sunshine. But this region is also a treasure of historic, cultural and gastronomic delights!

5. The Picos de Europa Natural Park

Spread across the provinces of Asturias, Cantabria and León, the Picos de Europa National Park is a perfect example of the Atlantic ecosystem. The Picos de Europa are a wonderful setting for hiking and mountain-climbing, wildflower-spotting and bird-watching, scenic drives through the valleys and villages, or even rock-climbing for the more adventurous.

6. The Great Mosque, Cordoba

The charming Andalusian city of Cordoba is most famous for the impressive Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral located in the heart of the city. The great Arab Mosque dates back to 784 A.D, becoming a World Heritage site in 1984.

7. Plaza Mayor, Madrid

This portico lined square is situated at the heart of Hapsburg Madrid, the old part of the city and one of the capital’s most charming districts. Enjoy a delicious café con leche on one of the many terraces as you admire this 17th century plaza that was once the site of bullfights, public executions, trials during the Spanish Inquisition and crowning ceremonies.

8. El Carmen Neighborhood, Valencia

This thousand-year-old city neighborhood grew between two walls, the Muslim and the Christian. This emblematic neighborhood is situated in Valencia’s old quarter, the Ciutat Vella, the authentic historical center of Valencia. As visitors pass through these gates, they enter a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets hiding myriad secrets. Visit Torres de Quart and Miguelete to take in the spectacular views.

9. The Aqueduct, Segovia

One of the most well-preserved in the world, Segovia’s enormous Roman aqueduct dates back to the first century. Located in the Community of Castilla y León, the aqueduct, combined with the cathedral and fairytale-like castle make Segovia ideal for a day trip from Madrid.

10. El Teide Volcano & National Park Tenerife

Mount Teide is a living breathing volcano located on the Canary Island of Tenerife. A unique landscape of craters, volcanoes and rivers of petrified lava, surrounding the impressive silhouette of Teide Volcano that stands at 3,718 m above sea level. Teide National Park is one of the great wonders of the world, with the advantage of being easy to get to.

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