North American Language and Culture Assistants/Auxiliares Q&A Part 5

A little more info on leaving the program….

Hi, I am an auxilary in Granada. I am very unhappy–terrible homesickness–and am thinking of leaving the program at the end of February. I was wondering how “the powers that be” (aka the regional coordinators) took the news? How did you ‘frame’ your story—did you tell them that you were unhappy, or had found a better offer, or what? I don’t know how to tell them. And did you tell your school first, or those in charge of the Andalucia program in Sevilla? I live in the city, but work in a pueblo. I’m there around 20 hours a week because it is super remote and there is no options for buses, so I commute….I spent 8 hours a week in the teachers lounge twiddling my thumbs, and the rest of the time I sit in the classes and pronounce words in English occasionally. I’m really bored, and lonely, which I think is exacerbating the home sickness.

So it sounds like your situation is similar to what mine was, except that you live in a big city on the weekends….so I totally sympathize with feeling like you’re in the middle of nowhere, wondering what the point of the whole program is, etc.
I had two schools and one of them was VERY welcoming and nice and awesome and the other didn’t really bother to include me in anything. I was super nervous about telling both of them that I was leaving, but for different reasons. Neither of them took the news especially well, in that they seemed disappointed and tried to convince me to stay, but there was no problem at all with actually leaving. No one yelled, no one lectured me, no one took away my NIE or my money! I had to sign a statement saying that I was electing to leave, and they had to pay me for the work that I did. I made sure to leave on the first of the month so that the process of receiving my last paycheck was easy….I was paid monthly and normally got paid on the 1st, so on my last day I collected my check and left. I actually asked them if I was going to get paid for the last month because I really needed the money, and they said (and I quote) “Come on we’re not THAT terrible!” Truth is, they weren’t terrible about it at all, even the principal at my elementary school who didn’t like me because I had taken two days off in December to go on a trip with my boyfriend. He was also bitter that he had been assigned to a little middle-of-nowhere school so far from where he wanted to be living. I must admit I did go to the bank and cash that check RIGHT away just in case they changed their mind…
I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with your school or your coworkers, but if you’re comfortable with it, my first piece of advice would be to talk to the person who you’re most comfortable with and tell them that you are really unhappy. If you tell the school that you are thinking about leaving because you’re terribly homesick and don’t feel like you’re being utilized properly in their English program, maybe they will do something to fix it. Unless you have a particularly unfriendly batch of coworkers, I don’t see what the downside to doing that could be, besides perhaps a little bit of awkwardness. I think if I had made more of an effort to approach the coworkers who I was friends with and told them that I needed some help and support to keep me from leaving, they would have gone out of their way to help me out. In the classroom I know that I also didn’t really enjoy work when there wasn’t really work to do….I actually maintained my blog during the hours I spent in the teachers lounge and the only reason I didn’t complain about having to sit around for so long doing nothing was because I didn’t have internet in my house or anywhere else, so those precious hours were the only times I could check email, etc. But it was still super frustrating that I was going SO out of my way (my weekly commute was about 6 hours by bus total) for something that didn’t really matter to anyone.
The best days for me were the days where I put a little extra effort into my lesson plans (one of my schools let me run a full class, at the other school I just stood there and smiled) and realized that the kids totally loved when I was there. If you have the ability, ask if you can maybe branch out in class. I love arts and crafts and on the days that I brought those things into the classroom, I actually liked working and felt like the kids got something out of it. Some days I’d bring in American food like maple syrup for the high schoolers to taste and describe in English, other days I would force them to act out Thanksgiving plays (complete with costumes I made in my very plentiful free time) in English…when they were having fun, I was having a much better time.
Not living in the town the entire week made it much harder for me to bond with anyone in the area and the fact that I had two apartments (one in the town where I worked, one in a slightly larger town 2-3 hours away where there were other auxiliars) made it almost impossible for me to ever feel like I was “home.” All my stuff was divided between two locations, I couldn’t afford anything nice, we never had hot water or heat….I was less than comfortable in the places I rented, to say the least. BUT, if you have an opportunity to make friends with neighbors, coworkers, etc., do it! I should have told someone earlier that I was unhappy because there were a lot of great people around me who would have helped me out….I was just too nervous and unsure to say anything.
If you don’t think bringing up your homesickness to someone else would work, of if you try and are still feeling terrible, then leave. Tell your school honestly that you really tried but are simply too unhappy to stay in the program. You’re not their slave, you didn’t sign over your year to them, they can’t take any legal action against you or punish you because you are unhappy and want to leave. If you get paid quarterly and have been paid for work that you haven’t done yet, I’m sure that will need to be worked out, but don’t feel like they are going to mistreat you because you’re leaving. One of the things that made it easier for me to leave was that I KNEW that they weren’t getting any kind of huge benefit from me being there. They didn’t make an effort to incorporate me into lesson plans, and I usually felt like my presence was just being used by the English teachers as an easy way to catch a bit of a break while I took over their class for an hour. I felt like a burden to them at times, and even though I knew the kids were sad that I was leaving, I also knew that I was more of an exciting novelty in the town and my absence wasn’t going to hurt their English-learning in any significant way.
In retrospect, I would have tried harder to stay. I would have put more of an effort in and told people ahead of time that I didn’t feel happy. I really wish that I could have put the program on my resume instead of the awkward half-blank that I had to strategically explain while job hunting back in the States, trying to not look like a quitter. But I also remember how miserable I was at the time and I know that there were a number of other things bothering me besides just feeling bored and lonely. The program is supposed to be a great experience for you and a great value to the schools you work at. If you’re not having a great experience and the school isn’t getting anything out of you being there, then what is the point, really?
I miss Spain and wish I was back there (though obviously if I returned I would want the circumstances to be a little different from my auxiliar experience!). I know that I’m probably never going to have the opportunity to put everything on hold and go back, and it bothers me that my experience wasn’t 100% positive. But I also have some GREAT stories about my weird little adventure that not too many other people have experienced or seen.
Good luck, give it one last try, and bottom line, do whatever makes you happy and won’t leave you with regret. If you have any more questions, let me know. It’s been a while since I was there but it’s a hard experience to forget. (and next time my reply won’t be sooooo long!).
I do have one last question, if you don’t mind—do you not mention your participation in the program AT ALL on your resume? Or do you just say that you worked from October-March?
To answer your last question, I did put the program on my resume, October-March. I also put my experience as “private English teacher” on for the remainder of my time in Spain. In general, I think having something on there is better than having a big gap. If you have a gap, they’re going to ask you about it anyway, so might as well be up front with it. In my experience, it’s an interesting addition to anyone’s resume and an easy conversation starter in the interview process. I think it’s very good for showing independence, ability to solve problems, step outside your comfort zone etc. I did have one interview in which they asked me why the program was so short….I explained why I left, and I feel like it left a bad impression. I didn’t get that job (I don’t think that was the reason, but it certainly didn’t help). However, I was up front about the experience during the interview for my current job, explaining my reasons for leaving, and they hired me . I did frame it more like “I wasn’t getting the experience that I wanted out of the program and I know the school wasn’t getting the benefit that they were supposed to get from my presence, so I left to do something that would be better for me.” I tried to present my leaving the program as a show of assertiveness rather than quitting, and I think it worked.
It’s certainly not the end of the world resume-wise, but it would have been a lot easier to have the whole thing on there. No one likes having to talk about quitting anything during a job interview!
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