Ever fancied getting to know another way of life in another European country, much like an au pair would, without actually wanting to be, well, an au-pair?
There is an alternative. I lived in Madrid for three months as a language assistant. The deal was pretty simple: I spent 15 hours or so a week helping the family to develop their English and in return my food and board were taken care of.
Teaching English in Madrid
Organising the placement
Organising the placement turned out to be a fairly easy process: I noticed it on gapyear.com, thought it over for a bit and then started the application process. Your details are then sent to an agency who in turn send them out to families to look at. When a family chooses you, you also get a chance to look at their details and decide whether it sounds like the right place for you. Important things to think about before you make the decision include the age of the children you will be teaching and also the location – finding yourself too far out of main hubs can certainly make life more difficult! Living in close proximity to the metro really makes a difference.
It was only when I arrived in Spain that the reality of what I was doing really hit me and I became a little daunted by all. Luckily, my host family was really welcoming which made everything so much easier. Most of my time was spent with a 13-year-old and a 16-year-old, both of whom were already pretty fluent. This meant I spent a lot of my time just helping them improve their conversational skills and making sure they’d done their homework properly.
Taking on additional work
You don’t get paid as a language assistant, so I took on a few private classes to bring in a little extra cash. This also meant I got to know even more families around the neighbourhood and I would often hear friendly greetings of ‘Hola!’ when I was out and about. Obviously when I first arrived in Madrid I didn’t know anyone, but after a quick trip to the agency I had contact details for other people in the city doing the same thing as me and we quickly bonded, sharing all the aspects of our new life – we always had something to talk about.
Living in Spain also gave me the perfect opportunity to improve my Spanish skills. You can find classes all over Madrid and it’s another great way of meeting people from around the world. I went to my academy every day and it benefited me so much. It helped me feel more at ease when I was walking around the city, knowing I could communicate more or less what I wanted to say. Also, as time went on I made more Spanish friends who really helped me along and it’s true to say I really did learn something new every day!
Living in Madrid
Madrid itself is a fairly compact city, but there is so much to do. It has some really interesting history, some of the best museums in Europe and if you’re feeling a little worn out trying to keep up with the nightlife, you can spend a lazy afternoon in El Retiro – the Spanish version of Central Park. Not to mention the shopping, the food and going to see a match at the Bernabeu. Even if you don’t like football, you have to go and see Real Madrid. The atmosphere in the stadium really is amazing.
If you want to escape the city at any point then you are spoilt for choice. Close by are Toledo and Segovia, but it’s also surprisingly cheap if you decide to go to Granada, Seville or San Sebastian, for example.
I had an unforgettable experience in Spain that surpassed so many of my expectations. It was not only the people that I met whilst I was there, but discovering how diverse and interesting the country is. There is more to the land of Sangria, Paella and bull fights than you may think!