North American Language and Culture Assistants/Auxiliares Q&A Part 1

When I first found out about the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program through the Spanish Ministry of Education, I had a lot of questions. Frankly, their website is not super informative, and the Spanish have a reputation for not being very….organized? No matter how I say that it will sound bad, and even though I did feel like the program was kind of a disorganized disaster at times, I still love you Spaniards!

Anyways, I had a lot of questions about the program and no one to turn to. Especially being assigned to a small town that had never had an auxiliar before, I felt a little lost when it came to acquiring info since the most I could really get out of Google was a 1997 news article about a man being beaten to death with an iron rod in my soon-to-be-home  and a video of said town flooding.

That being said, I sympathize with the new auxilars being placed in far-flung pueblos that they can’t find any information on. Expatriate Cafe is a great resource for people who want to connect and get more info, as is Facebook and all the groups that people organize through it, and I have recently been answering some questions for people through those sites on what life is like in a small town in Jaén. This is the grossly long-winded first response, and I will post additional responses here as I send them out. I know some people have already stumbled across this blog looking for information, so hopefully someone out there will be helped! If anyone does find this and have more questions, leave a comment or something with your email and I will get back to you too!

These questions are from an auxiliar placed in a teeny tiny town about an hour from Granada capital and an hour from Jaén capital:

I keep hearing that the school will be able to help with housing and everything once I get there, and that’s great. But my main question is, how do I figure out how to get to the school for the first day? I have emailed the contact at the school and have not yet received a response. Our Andalucia orientation isn’t until October 4th, and we start at the schools on the 1st… Also, you said that it’s easy and cheap to rent rooms in these small towns. Is it like a room in someone’s house, or a shared apartment..?

The address of your school should be written on your acceptance letter. I google mapped mine and did all kinds of crazy research on it before I got there because no one responded to my emails before I left for Spain either, and I was a little nervous! A lot of schools have websites or at least some information online, so do some crazy googling if you have the time and energy. Knowing something about your town will be useful once you arrive. I also did receive a response from the school about two weeks before I was due to arrive in town. They sometimes don’t check the school emails during the summer, but someone should get back to you before you arrive since the schools start about a month before the auxiliars arrive.

The fact that orientation is after the first day of school is stupid, but it was the same thing last year. If your school has never had an auxiliary before (very possible since the town is so small), one of the teachers will be required to go with you, so you’ll have a ride to Jaén. If not, you will at least get a day or two off to go to the capital. Take advantage of groups like Facebook to meet other auxiliars in the province. I met some girls through Facebook who lived in the capital and was able to stay with them the night before orientation since my town was three hours away. It’s a great way to make friends/potential roommates before you go. You also get to meet everyone in the area at orientation, which is basically just a meeting where they give you your health insurance. Don’t expect anything fancy like training (though we did get free lunch!).

As far as what to do with housing goes, my advice is to not worry about it now if you’re not sure where to live. The small towns generally don’t have a large demand for housing, and with teachers commuting all over the place there are usually people with extra space that they’d love to rent out. This area of Spain also isn’t the most affluent, so there are plenty of people looking to make a little money by renting out an extra bedroom. In my town, La Puerta de Segura, I paid 105 to rent a bedroom in a two bedroom apartment with another teacher. It was a nice, furnished apartment, and utilities were about 30 each a month during the winter, when we used the brasero (an under-the-table foot heater you will become very familiar with) a lot. In Baeza, the larger town where I lived during the weekends, I paid 110 or 120 for a bedroom in a three bedroom apartment which I shared with a Spanish girl and another Auxiliar from the UK. It was in the center of the town, really nice, with a balcony with a view of the cathedral on the top floor, so it was’t like I was living in some terrible place. If you live in the capital, you can expect to pay a little more, but probably not over 300 for a bedroom. In Granada, it might be anywhere from 200-400 from what I understand, though I have never rented there. Bottom line is, it’s affordable.

I would say get there early and look around. Have you been to Granada and Jaén? Visit both of them and see if you like them. Stop in Úbeda and Baeza if you feel like you might be interested in a small-town experience. Try to get in touch with those teachers, but don’t freak if they don’t reply. My best decision was to not do anything until I got there. They will probably want to do a lot to help you out because you will be a bit of a rock star in such a small town, and they will want to keep you happy since you’ll be a very valuable teaching tool! Let me know if you have any more questions or if you want contact info for any of the auxiliars I knew who might still be in those cities. Also try the Facebook groups, they are the best for meeting people to stay with, etc.

Another random question for you: How good was your spanish when you arrived in Spain? And did anyone else in your school speak english? My spanish is not horrible, but by no means great.. I’m sure that I will pick it up fast, I’m mostly concerned with that first week or so of figuring out housing and transportation and such.

I had taken Spanish a LOT from second grade through the end of high school, but since that ended in 2004 I had only had four months of Spanish when I studied abroad in Barcelona in 2006. To say it was rusty would have been an understatement! The great thing about a small town is that you have no choice but to learn fast. It might be hard at first if your Spanish isn’t amazing, but you will pick up fast, just don’t get frustrated! The accents in the south are VERY difficult to understand, but the good part about that is that the Spanish you hear anywhere outside of Andalucía will be so clear, you will be amazed! But the accent will be a little difficult at first. I worked at two schools and one of my advisors spoke very good English, the other not so much. In such small towns they aren’t really used to speaking to non-native speakers either, so don’t be afraid to ask people to slow down when they are talking to you! Most people were just curious about why I was there, and the jienenses (people from Jaén) are notoriously friendly. Like, SO friendly! Also, as long as you speak basic Spanish, you will be fine getting around. Take a look at ALSA.com, that will become your best friend and worst enemy, but it’s the best way to get around that area. Brush up on your housing vocab and you’ll be fine. And you’ll be SO proud of yourself once you get it all taken care of! J

Any information you could give me on what it’s like living/teaching in a small town would be great! (People, transportation, basic shopping, etc… anything really) I most likely will try to live in either Granada or Jaen, if possible; but I am still very curious about the small towns. I’ve lived in cities my whole life, Chicago for the last 8 years. I did a semester in Sevilla in college, I think that’s the smallest town I’ve ever lived in haha.  I’m not quite sure how I’ll feel about the tiny villages… Hopefully I’ll love it! Who knows..

I am also a big city girl and living in a small town was a total shock for me, not gonna lie. I was in a town of 2600 three days a week, then spent weekends in the “big town” of Baeza which had 15,000 people, which is about 10,000 smaller than the undergraduate population of the university I went to in California. I went into it with a terrible attitude, which I do NOT recommend doing, mainly because being in a small town has some huge perks. Number one, you are VERY likely to be the only American/English Speaker/Foreigner there, and the experience you get in your town is likely to be way more in-depth and unique than the people who are living in the big cities. You have an opportunity to completely immerse yourself in Spanish culture if you want, though you also have great opportunities to travel and live with other foreigners in the bigger cities if you want. To me, a blend of the two was great. The authentic, traditional experience of the small town, while great, can be a lot to deal with on your own for 9 months, so just turn your weekends in a time to have fun and do what you want to do. Andalucía is GREAT for weekend travel, and you have everything from the beach to skiing all within a few hours. Take advantage of what’s around you!

Also, get to know your town. I didn’t do that nearly as much as I should have and I regret it. Become a regular at the town bar or café. Tapas are free with your drink in Jaén (just like Granada), so learn about the local food and take advantage of the fact that the people in your town will probably want to tell you all about how Jaén is the greatest place on earth (totally a lie, but it usually means you get free food, free tours, introductions to new experiences/places, etc). The teachers, if they are anything like my coworkers were, will want to show you the province, and get to know you, and you should totally do anything that you can with them! People in Jaén are so so so nice, even when you can’t understand them, and there are so many little towns with their own weird traditions all over that province that there is always somewhere to go, some festival to attend, etc.

My advice, ultimately, is to give it a try and have an open mind. For me, I had five months in the south before I decided that I was a little too far from civilization. I had a long-term boyfriend about eight hours away who was also an auxiliary, and I let that get to me as well. In the end, I wimped out and moved to Madrid, quitting the program. I don’t want to discourage you in any way because I think your assignment will allow you to live in a bigger city and commute to your small town to get the best of both worlds, which is what I wanted. I just was sooooo far away that it was too much. The program had already given me my NIE though, so I was able to go to Madrid and work as an au pair and an English teacher and have a great last four months. If you absolutely hate the program for whatever reason, or if it’s just not a good fit, at least it will get you your NIE and you can move on to something that fits you better.

But honestly, the fact that you can live in Granada or Jaén is AMAZING. If you can do Granada, make it happen. You will love that city (if you haven’t been there). Jaén is not as cool, but don’t write it off completely. The first time I went there I was alone and I hated it, but somehow I think they totally get the best auxiliars there. The people I met in Jaén had such a great time and LOVED it so much. The tapas are free, everything is cheap, there is a university, and you even get free Spanish classes there! It’s a fine alternative to Granada if you can’t make that work.

So yeah, basically that is it. Wait to talk to your teachers to see if you can carpool from a big city each day to work. I bet that ends up working out for you. If not, try out small town life and see how it goes! You’ll only truly know your options once you get there and ask around. Plan to get to Andalucía about a week early so you can check everything out. You can also always look into buying a little car for 1000 euros or something and driving yourself. Gas is expensive, but as long as you can drive stick, it gives you another option!

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19 thoughts on “North American Language and Culture Assistants/Auxiliares Q&A Part 1

  1. kellypete says:

    Wow, I’m glad I stumbled upon this blog! I am leaving for Madrid next month with the cultural/language assistant program, and I too have found them to be a little bit…disorganized (I might use a different word, but that one covers it well enough 🙂 Living in a small town would be such a great experience to be forced to learn quickly, even though I’m super excited to go to Madrid I hope I’ll still get the language improvement that I want. Are you an alum of the program, or currently in Spain?

    • Jessica Hoolko says:

      Hi Kelly!
      I am an alum from 09-10. I actually did the program until March and then decided to leave to live in Madrid! You are so lucky to have a placement there! Let me know if you have any questions, I’d be happy to share some of my favorite things about the city. It’s awesome!!
      Jess

      • Julie says:

        Hi Jessica!

        I, too, have just received an acceptance for Madrid. I’m currently living near London, so Spain isn’t exactly on the other side of the planet… however I am (happily) beset with other job positions actually on the other side of the planet. I am in desperate need to hear a ‘detailed’ account of someone’s experience in the hopes it helps me make a decision. Any and all commentary would be most appreciated!

        Best,
        Julie

  2. kellypete says:

    Yeah absolutely! I’d love any advice you have to give about Madrid. I’m currently very stressed because I haven’t even applied for my visa yet (my contact at my school is not so timely/helpful) and so I’ll most likely be late to start my school term, and miss my orientation :S I’m concerned about finding an apartment too, since I’m coming later rather than earlier!

  3. erin says:

    I just got offered a spot in Andalucia and am trying to decide if I should take it and make it happen since it’s such crazy late notice. Assuming I would miss the orientation by the time I got there and kind of wondering if i’m just going to be left hanging since the program has been so uncommunicative so far. I don’t expect an experience that they schedule for me, but It would be nice to have enough information to make informed decision…What is the chance of having to work in multiple cities? (The transit costs of that posiblilty seem a little, well…unrealistic) Any advice?

    • Jessica Hoolko says:

      Hi there!

      Sorry I haven’t gotten a chance to reply yet, it’s been a busy week! I don’t have time to give you a proper response at the moment, but I can tell you that you should definitely go! I wasn’t assigned to two towns, I just lived in two different places (my “weekend home” was a bigger, more exciting town). I don’t know of anyone that worked in two different places, though it is possible that you could work in two different schools in the same town (like I did). Orientation is almost worthless, don’t worry about missing it! I’ll send a more detailed response later this week when I have time. Buena suerte!

  4. Melissa says:

    Hi! I am also so gald I stumbled across this blog! I actually just found out about the language/culture assistant program last week and have already decided that this is something I have to do! I have not applied but the process is already a little confusing to me. Can you tell me which application I fill out? NIE Application or the Residence Application? I plan to call them tommorow morning to find out some more info, but I just thought I might ask you to see what advice you had to give about the application process. The deadline is March 31st, do you think I still have a chance of being accepted? Thank you so much for you help!

  5. Gizzle says:

    I just got a placement in Andalucia, which I accepted. I’m just praying to be in a city on the coast cause I love the beach!

    What is this NIE that you speak of?

  6. Caitlin says:

    Hi,

    For those of you who have completed the program or are currently in the program, would you recommend it? I just received placement in Madrid, and I’m waiting to receive my letter about what school I will be placed in before I make any final decisions. So, I would appreciate any advice!

  7. Kate says:

    Is there anything in the application process that one can do to make the opportunity of a placement in Madrid or Barcelone more likely?

    • Jessica Hoolko says:

      Hi Kate,
      During your application you are allowed to indicate which autonomous community you would like to be placed in, as well as whether you want a large, medium, or small city (and whether you want high school, adults, or grammar school work), so that is your chance to let your preference be known. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees, so while I requested a large city in Andalucia working in a grammar school, I ended up working in the smallest town I could ever imagine in a grammar school and a high school. They did give me my Andalucia request! I felt like people had more luck requesting Madrid because there are a lot of placements there to be had, so if you apply put that as your number one choice. The good news is that there is no cost to apply other than your time and the small price of putting together your documents, so if you get a placement you absolutely hate you can turn it down (or do what I did and try it out, then use your student visa to live out the rest of your term in the country teaching English on the sly in one of the bigger cities of your choice. It wasn’t hard to do once I had a visa that allowed me to move freely in and out of Spain). Let me know if you have more questions!
      Jess

  8. Kate says:

    Jess,

    Thanks so much for your reply!! It was really helpful! Just one more question (I hope). In the materials I’ve read, all of them indicate that applicants “MUST” possess an intermediate knowledge of Spanish. I know that this was somewhat addressed in one of the questions above, but is it possible for someone with pretty with a minimal knowledge of Spanish (I took it for three years in high school, compared to my 7 years of German) to apply and be accepted to the program? It doesn’t seem like there is any sort of “test” regarding one’s language ability – which I found a little strange!

    Thank you so much for your help!

    • Jessica Hoolko says:

      Hi Kate,

      When I applied, I had only had 3 years of high school Spanish and a 4-month semester in Barcelona, though it had been a couple years and my Spanish was pretty rusty. I had a native speaker proofread my essay, which was admittedly elementary. The essay is really the only part where they can “test” your Spanish ability, though they do want to see proof of some kind of Spanish courses or experience (like a high school transcript). So officially, you can totally get around the intermediate requirement. Once you’re in Spain, however, it might be a different story! In the classroom you should be fine with just English, depending on the teaching style at your school, but it may be difficult to communicate with your coworkers or students who don’t speak English. Getting your NIE and working out your apartment, etc. can also be a huge challenge if you don’t speak the langauge, and there is not much assistance language-wise once you get there, unless you have friends or coworkers to help you out. My Spanish level was sub-par (low intermediate) when I went to Spain, and I feel like I came back at an advanced level, but it was pretty frustrating in the beginning being in a little tiny town where I couldn’t really talk to anyone. As long as you’re willing to take the risk and you think you could still do your job well, go for it! (Keep in mind the other langauges of Spain when you are picking your region….Pais Vasco, Catalunya, Galicia….all of these regions have their own langauges on top of Castillian that can add an extra obstacle to learning Spanish. Additionally, some places like Murcia and Andalucia are notorious for their confusing accents. I had quite the time understanding most people throughout Jaen because of the way they dropped their s’s and pronounced things differently than I was used to hearing them.)

  9. Kate says:

    Hi Jess,

    Once again, thanks for all the info. Super helpful. I was planning on writing my essay in English, since it says it can be in either Spanish or English. I thought I’d explain my history of learning Spanish in that, but maybe I should also request my high school transcripts. Or do you think it’d really just be better for me write the essay in Spanish? Sorry for so many questions!

    • Jessica Hoolko says:

      I totally forgot you could write it in Spanish! Hmmm. I am not sure what to tell you! I think it’s important to be able to show that you’ve had some kind of Spanish experience, but if you feel like your essay would hurt you more than help you if you wrote it in Spanish (and you don’t have someone to proofread for you), then maybe go English. The one thing I can tell you is that no matter what, you should get your application in AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! Stick with whatever is most comfortable for you language-wise, but don’t wait to send things in until the deadline…in years past they have accepted qualified applicants as they come in, and people at the end can be shut out of the program if too many applications are received, even if they make the deadline.

      Good luck!!

  10. murphybj193 says:

    Hi!! I’m currently researching this program for teaching abroad, and somehow stumbled upon your blog! I just had a couple of basic questions for you, since i still have a lot of time to decide whether I should apply or not! Number one: Simple: Do you recommend it? 🙂 Number two: Did it turn out to be an expensive experience or was the 700euro stipend more than enough to live on? I think that will do it for now, seeing as I currently have one more year of college and until November to start the actual application should I choose to apply, haha. So! Thanks so much for your time, for making this blog entry, and I hope we can potentially be in contact in the near future!!!! 😀

    • Jessica Hoolko says:

      Hi there!

      I’d be happy to answer all your questions! Do you have an email I could reach you at? You could also reach me at jhoolko@gmail.com.

      I can tell you that my overall advice is going to be to apply because there’s not much to lose, but I’ll gladly go into more detail via email.

      Ciao!

  11. Margaret says:

    Hello!

    Thank you so much for writing this blog, it has been very helpful in navigating this confusing process! I was just offered a position in Andalucía and I would love to get some more information before I accept, particularly about the likelihood of receiving a placement in a tiny and remote pueblo and about how the late offer may impact the position (do they expect me to be there by Oct 1st do you think?). Could we perhaps talk over email?

    muchas gracias!

    • Jessica Hoolko says:

      Hola!

      Sorry for not getting back to you sooner, I would be more than happy to answer a few questions via email! You can send me a message at jhoolko@gmail.com. If I don’t get back to you right away, don’t be afraid to send me a reminder! Sometimes I am a bit forgetful in my responses, as you may be able to tell from how long it took me to get back to you! I know it’s already October but if you still have any questions let me know!

      Jess

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