I recently wrote a post with the FAQs about the Auxiliares de Conversación program, also known as the North American Language and Culture Assistants program. As participants in program, North Americans (and actually people from all over the UK and Europe) have the opportunity to come live in Spain for 9 months while teaching English for 12 hours a week and can make a really decent chunk of cash. Maybe you’re thinking that it sounds too good to be true… and you’re kind of right, it’s not always as lovely as they make it sound. Honestly, this program can be such a shit show, but I’ve just applied for my 4th year as an auxiliar so there’s got to be some good parts or I wouldn’t still be here, right?
Making the decision to move to a foreign country can be really difficult! You have either a romanticized idea of what it will be like, or you let others scare you into thinking it’s going to be terrifying. When I applied to this program I knew nothing about it. It wasn’t until I was already here teaching that I began to find a few blogs from current and former auxiliares. I experienced all of the pros and cons firsthand with no warnings, so I want to pass on that information you to, prospective n00bs!
I’ll start off with the bad so we can end on a positive note.
Cons of the Auxiliares Program
- Disorganization. SO. MUCH. DISORGANIZATION. This has been by far the worst part of this program. There are a few manuals for the program that “help” you apply and tell you about what the job is like, but aside from that, don’t expect any sort of help from the people who actually work for the program. The disorganized nature of the program surely stems from the fact that each of the 17 communities in Spain are autonomous, so each has it’s own rules and regulations and departments dealing with education. Therefore the means of payment, rules about renewing for a 2nd year, orientations, and coordinators are all different from each other. Though they are all funded by Spain’s Ministry of Education, the different comunidades autonomas all vary greatly, from the super organized to the non-participating.
- Late payments. Yeah, no one wants to hear that they’re going to be paid late. I guess it’s better to know that it’s going to happen than to not expect it and be money-less in a foreign country, but coming from the US, we normally expect a certain level of professionality from our employers like, for example, getting paid on time. Not all of the provinces are known to do this, though it seems to happen more often than not. It can even vary on a school by school basis, as some schools get the money from the government and then deposit it into your bank account each month. Other regions’ governments directly deposit the money into your account and your school has nothing to do with it. It’s kind of the luck of the draw, so make sure you save a few thousand dollars to bring over with you in case you don’t get paid for a couple of months.
- Inconsistency. This kind of goes along with disorganization, but nothing about this program is consistent, except for the fact that it’s inconsistent (see what I did there?). It seems like every year the rules and regulations about renewing change, thus semi-invalidating any information you have ever read about the program. Every single auxiliar will have a very different experience once they arrive in Spain, because the bilingual coordinators (aka our bosses) are not all trained and taught the same information by the same people, if at all. Some coordinators will bend over backwards to help you settle in comfortably, offering you their homes until you find an apartment or picking you up from the train station the next town over the day you arrive. Others won’t even send you an email before you show up at the school on October 1st and will hardly speak a word of English. It’s completely up to the luck of the draw and it can really make or break your experience if you let it.
- No merit or experience based preference. I guess some might see this as a pro, but I think it ultimately works to our (and the schools’) disadvantage that auxiliares aren’t selected and placed based on merit or experience. Most people who apply for the program don’t have any teaching experience, and that coupled with the unfamiliar Spanish public school system can be cause for a rough adjustment. Then after the first year when you’ve finally figured it out, you have to cross your fingers that they’ll let you stay in the same school the following year. Supposedly they give preference to 2nd year participants but after that you’re on the same playing field as 1st years and everything depends on your first-come-first-served Profex (application) number. I think it would be cool if the most qualified applicants– regardless of their year in the program– got to choose a city they would like to be in, and less qualified applicants got placed as they do in the current system. Just some food for thought.
Pros of the Auxiliares Program
- You get to live in Spain. I mean, this is pretty much why you’re applying to the program, right? If you don’t think living in a Spain is a pro you should probably NOT apply. That being said, I think we can all agree that this is a lovely place to live, even though there are totally some frustrating parts of being an expat in Spain. Sunny afternoons of tapas and cheep beer are in your future, my friend. Smile!
- It’s really really part-time. Like, reallllllyyyy part time. This job only requires you to work 12 hours a week! It’s like a dream come true! If you break it down you’re getting paid almost 15€/hour and, depending on your school, your job could be as simple as helping lead the class through worksheets and teaching them about Thanksgiving. Of course you might quickly realize that you will be extremely bored if you don’t get into some activities or private classes in the afternoon, so I strongly suggest signing up for a class of some sort (yoga, zumba, flamenco etc.) and giving a few private classes for a little extra spending money. Living on 700€/month (in Madrid 1,000€) is definitely doable, though my first few months here I didn’t restrict myself at all and found that I was living pretty much paycheck to paycheck. Since you have so much free time and no obligations, take advantage and do things you enjoy and can benefit from!
- Easy access to travel. Going hand in hand with your excessive free time, is the easy access to travel. If you live in a small town it can be a bit more of a hassle to get to an airport, but imagine trying to do a weekend trip to Amsterdam from the US… it pretty much wouldn’t even be on your radar. Lots of people have Fridays off (if your coordinator has mercy on you) and those lovely 3 day weekends can be great to catch a cheap flight to any European destination that tickles your fancy. Not to mention two weeks to travel during winter break, and about 10 days for spring break! Trains connect lots of destinations within Spain, so exploring your new adopted home really couldn’t be easier.
- Drastically improve your Spanish. Well like, duh. But actually you’d be surprised the number of people who come here and then are only friends with other auxiliares, or maybe only have a couple Spanish friends that they see out at the bars. I’d argue that the absolute best part of living in Spain is meeting the locals and integrating yourself into the community! One of the great friends I made my first year in Spain was super involved in the community. He always told me about different events and performances and often times I knew about these things before any of my other Spanish friends did. It made me feel like I really was just another resident of the town and I got to experience some awesome things, and on top of it all I was really improving my Spanish by putting myself out there even though I was really scared sometimes. If you integrate yourself to this level, your Spanish is bound to improve more than it ever could by just taking a Spanish class or studying at home. Having real relationships with Spaniards will teach you vocabulary you never new existed and at the same time will help you create unforgettable memories.
- Maybe meet your Spanish lover? Yeah, I’m going there. It happened to me and it can happen to you. My goal when coming to Spain was never to fall and love and stay here forever. But then life happened and I went from the one girl in my group of friends from home who’d never had a boyfriend in her life, to the adventurous girl who moved across the world and found un amante Español. Now I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost a year and a half, I’m still in Spain, and I just applied for a 4th year as an auxiliar. What I mean to say by this is NOT that your experience will be better if you fall in love or have a fling. I’m hinting more at the idea that the unexpected can and WILL happen, and that’s the best part of any adventure, right?
So, are you thinking of applying for the Auxiliar program? What other questions do you have? Let me know in the comments below! If you found this post helpful and don’t want to miss more like it, don’t forget to sign up for the e-mail list to receive each new post automatically in your inbox! You can follow Andalucía Bound on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, too!