Today was my last day working at the school that I teach at. It’s such a weird feeling to not be going back there. Today was the last day I ran out of the door at 7:40 a.m. to catch the bus to meet the teachers that I carpool with to then ride an hour (and fall asleep) in the car. It was my last day to take that beautiful, windy drive through the mountains to the little town of Arbuniel and see 40-50 smiling faces greeting me with “hello teacher!” This year went by way too fast.
If you do not know, I work in the Southern Andalucia region of Spain as an English Language Assistant. The Spanish government hosts a program where native English speakers assist in bilingual public schools all over the country. If you have ever dreamed of living in Spain, teaching English overseas or both, it’s a great opportunity to do so!
It was just around this time last year that I received an e-mail assigning me to the primary school in Arbuniel. And I was freaking out …
The first thing I did when I opened the letter was look up the address on GoogleMaps. Arbuniel? Where in the heck is that? The direction gave me a dot surrounded by lots of land … and I started to panic. See the thing with my program is that they do not allow you pick the city. You simply give them your top three choices of autonomous regions that you would like to live in and rank your preference between rural, small town, medium city and large city. I had been to Spain once before with CoffeeShop Spanish. Sevilla and Malaga were my favorite cities, so I put Andalucia as my first choice. I had heard that Andalucia was popular, so I was okay with getting my second choice of La Rioja. That was where my old Spanish tutor had been an auxiliar and he loved it. So when I got the initial e-mail that I got Andalucia, I was pumped. I was thinking “well I put down large city, so I’m sure I’ll get Malaga.” Haha … haha … ha.
My old Spanish tutor was the one who actually helped me calm down. I texted him like “okay I just googled it and there are no buses that go there from Jaen, the medium-sized city 35 minutes away.” He was like “about 30% or so of auxiliares get placed in towns like this and commute with teachers from their school. Simply send your school an e-mail and ask if there are teachers who commute. I’m sure they would be happy to have you carpool with them.” So that is what I did and I received a response saying that indeed there were teachers from Jaen who commuted. I could breathe
The rest of my summer I made my peace about living in Jaen. It’s a smaller city and way less glamorous than Sevilla or Malaga. However it was a city and I know that I would have fun wherever I ended up. After all, it’s Spain!
Then at the end of August, things changed in a good way. The teacher I was going to carpool with got transferred and I was given the option to live in Granada (one of the most amazing cities in Spain). There were still teachers commuting from Jaen, but this year we were going to have two coming from Granada. I didn’t even have to think about it. The thing is language assistants work 12 hours a week, so I’d only work 3 days a week anyway.
How did I get so lucky?
This was a thought I’ve had so many times throughout this year. With this program, it can be harder to get exactly what you want in year 1. Second years always get preference. And yet I got to live in the beautiful city of Granada. Some days I’d find myself taking it for granted. Then I would remind myself to stop. I get the opportunity to live in Europe, teach English and travel.
Overall, the people have been wonderful. If you are looking to move somewhere to practice your Spanish, I would highly recommend Spain. Spanish people are very open and friendly. I have not had one problem renting a flat with Spanish roommates and making Spanish friends. And you don’t even need perfect Spanish. Most Spanish people have learned some level of English, so they get it when you struggle over a word or need repetition. All you need to do is smile and try to speak their language, and they will love you.
I teach private lessons with eight different families each week. This past Tuesday, one of my families invited me to stay for dinner. I sat out on the back patio drinking beers and eating jamon with the parents. We talked about cultural differences. Oh and this family is storing my things for me over the summer. How nice!
Overall Spain is a place where if you try to mix with the people, you will. I have heard from friends that other cultures can be a bit more closed-off. I’m glad Spain is not. I mean why else did I move six time-zones away?
Overall, Spain is a developed country with almost the same amount of amenities as the United States. However there were two differences. First, my piso did not have a clothing dryer. You wash them in the machine and then hang them out to dry. Second, our hot water was powered by this natural gas tank. In Spanish, it’s called a bombona. When the gas is low, it won’t light. Of course this morning when I wanted to look my best, it wasn’t working. So I washed my hair in the sink and sort of sponge-bathed. I will clarify that some pisos have dryers and not all have bombonas. Also my piso had central heating, which I was so thankful for. Not all pisos in Spain have central heating.
The schedule was also something to get used to. Nothing is open on Sundays except for restaurants owned by Chinese families. Spanish people want to do nothing but rest and spend time with family or friends on Sundays. Also everything closes between the hours of 2-5 p.m. for the siesta. On Mondays I often needed to make copies for my classes. There were like four places within a 2-minute walk of my house. But I had to make sure I went before 2 p.m., otherwise I couldn’t make copies. Us Americans get so used to basically anything we want at any time we want with the exception of mom and pop shops, banks and offices. But like I could make copies from basically 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. if I wanted to back home. I could also get coffee from Starbucks and take it to-go anytime from like 7 a.m. until 11.
Of course the last thing that I have missed is the food variety. I do live in a city, so there are like two Indian restaurants, two Mexican places, a handful of sushi, Chinese and a few other things. However Spanish people have a very set and traditional menu (that does vary by region of course). A typical Spanish restaurant will have the same things on the menu, more or less. At the end of the day, I just miss my restaurants. I will be eating a lot when I’m home and I’m excited.
The expat life
Well I’ve renewed to stay in Granada again next year! I love it here and feel like I’m just really starting to get to know people here. I’m moving to a new flat because my roommates are all doing different things. I have a really good feeling about my new flatmate and the location.
As far as after next year is concerned, nothing is set. I do feel like I will continue living overseas. I love how much I can learn about the world from living abroad. It will forever change my perspective on everything. I have lots of ideas in my head: staying in Spain, moving to South America or moving to another European country. At the end of the day, I’m not worried. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, as they say.
Who else out there is living the expat life or has lived the expat life? What are your thoughts on the experience?