|Street in Barcelona|
1) You don’t have to travel every weekend, month, or breakThere’s this big pressure on participants in the program to take trips all the time, mainly because we’re so close to dozens upon dozens of amazing destinations, but also because of expectations from past study abroad experiences or language assistant bloggers (myself included). I think a lot of people get the impression from these blogs that traveling is all we do…when really, travel is just the easiest thing to blog about.
|Plaza de la Virgen, Valencia|
I was talking about this with a fellow language assistant in town yesterday and she told me she wasn’t planning on traveling over Semana Santa (a sort of spring break the week leading up to Easter), and this is completely fine! I’m actually a little disappointed I’m peace-ing out for Morocco next week because I’m going to miss out on all but one of the Semana Santa processions in Úbeda, and southern Spain is supposed to be the place to experience Easter in the country. My friend, however, will get to experience this cultural treasure by staying in town. There’s something to be said for really getting to know a place instead of dashing away every chance you get.
2) You don’t have to exclusively hang out with Spanish people
|Me playing futbolín (foosball) with teachers|
Still, I’m not beating myself up over it because 1) people have said again and again that it takes a long time for Spaniards to open up and make you a part of their lives and 2) I’m leaving town in two months. Although the parents of one of my private English class students have really befriended me (they even let me stay with them at their home in La Mancha for two nights during Christmas break!), the people I’m going to be keeping most in contact with when I leave will probably be the teachers and the Americans.
3) You don’t have to hang out with other language assistants
|Mirador de Santa Lucía, Úbeda|
But not all towns are so lucky; the people Spain places you with may not be the nicest people in the world, they might all come in knowing each other, or they could be second-years and already have their group of friends “set.” Or perhaps one of your goals for the year is 100% immersion in Spanish language and culture, and you feel that hanging out with English speakers might drag you down in your journey to fluency. These are all completely understandable and legitimate excuses. I don’t regret the friends I’ve made here through the program, but I probably could have spent more time in “immersion” than out of the water, if you catch my drift.
4) You don’t have to like Spanish food
|Paella de mariscos|
But when you think about it, Spanish food is kind of weird. Spaniards are gaga for their jamón, or cured ham, which they buy smelly whole legs of at the butcher shop and enjoy greasy thin slices of as an appetizer. Squid rings and octopus tentacles find their way into many dishes, and cured or pickled anchovies (as anchoas or boquerones, respectively) are a mainstay of the northern Spanish diet. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you will have trouble avoiding pork or pork-based products. And olives and olive oil are sacrosanct at every restaurant and home you go to.
5) You don’t have to teach a bajillion private classes or work at an academy
|Plaza de Carvajal, Úbeda|
However, this boils down to a decision you have to make on your own; you have to figure out what kind of lifestyle you want to have while in Spain and figure out how to get that kind of income. Travel blogger Liz Carlson went through the program and in her second year knew she wanted to live in an apartment all to herself, so she looked diligently for academy work and private classes and made it happen, raking in an extra 700 € a month or so. If you want to travel every weekend to far-away places or have nights on the town with friends, your language assistant salary won’t get you very far. Between an extra 100 € per month from classes and my paycheck, I can afford a major weekend trip about once a month and some tapas every now and then, but then again I’m also a homebody and try to live simply; your experience and preferences will certainly be different.
6) You don’t have to feel bad about how your Spanish is progressing
|Sabiote at sunset|
One month after I had moved into my apartment, my flatmate remarked that my Spanish had noticeably improved, which made me feel better about myself. However, Month Six of commuting with teachers to school is already almost over, and I still have great trouble trying to figure out what the heck they’re talking about, their accents are just that thick (in their defense, they usually talk about soccer which I do not follow at all).
It’s okay. Learning a language takes time, as does adjusting to another national or regional dialect.
7) You don’t have to stay the whole year
|Snow in La Mancha|
It may throw the Spanish bureaucracy into a dither but it is perfectly alright if you drop out of the program partway through the year. Everyone in this program has a different experience, so there is no judging if your personal experience in Spain with your school was a disaster. It’s nothing out of the ordinary for folks to go home for Christmas and…never come back in January. There are plenty of waitlisted folks who would love to jump on the next flight to Madrid!
I hope this post has helped to make current language assistants worry less about their current situation, and correct some expectations that applicants may have.
What other expectations or worries about Spain’s language assistant program do you have? Comment below!