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Top 5 Reasons Why I HATE the Auxiliar Program in Spain

auxiliar program in Spain

Why is it that my top 3 most popular posts on this blog are the ones that are the most controversial? Are you guys trying to tell me that you like my biting sarcasm and wit and when I get sassy and borderline inappropriate? Or maybe is it because you like reading something painfully honest, wait…..EVERYBODY HALT! OMG a blog being CANDID AND NEGATIVE?!?! Shocking.

ALL of us bloggers (with the exception of Will Peach) are guilty of creating a fantasy travel bubble filled with rainbows and unicorns, where our lives are literally picture perfect; where we journey around the world without a care in the world and if anything does go wrong, it ends up as a cutesy-comical-learned-my-lesson anecdote on our blog, if mentioned at all. Hey, I’m equally guilty of this. I want my blog to be a happy place, where I share the best experiences I’ve had traveling and show others how to achieve the same.

But there are three things I can’t tolerate in life: unfairness, bullshit, and mayonnaise (nothing ruins a burger or sandwich like that nasty white stuff in a jar). And if something has been nagging me for years, I’ve gotta stand up and say something! Maybe I am just on a high from the success of a recent article I wrote about how Kaplan Killed the Hopes and Dreams of 42 Bloggers. Maybe I’m just bitter and hormonal from my breakup with Spain. Either way I am about to break it down for you.

auxiliar program in Spain

I have been living in Spain for the past two years with the English teaching assistant program through the Spanish Ministry of Education (auxiliares de conversación), and you know what? IT EFFING SUCKED! Not the living in Spain bit, that was awesome, rather the program itself.

I literally have hundreds of emails, messages, tweets and comments asking me questions about working in Spain as an auxiliar, whether about visas, apartments, taxes, money or even if they should apply or not, I hear it all. And I almost always give the same answer, “yeah this program is great. I love living in Spain. Bulls. Flamenco. Paella. Sangria. Yada yada yada.” But here it is, my REAL, uncensored, unedited thoughts about coming to Spain with the auxiliar program.

AND I am going to break the cardinal blogging rule here and put HATE in the title of this post. I’ll put in all-caps for good measure. Maybe I’ll lose a few readers. I’ll probably get enough hate mail to make me want to off myself by tomorrow (seriously, you anon readers can be wicked harsh!) but I feel honor bound to share how I really feel about this program on my blog, especially since such a large part of my audience are past-present-future auxiliars. Someone needs to say it. Might as well be me. And according to my stats, this is the kind of stuff you like to read. Don’t shoot the messenger!

Just remember guys, I’m not a hater, really I’m not! If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting me, I am bubbly, blonde and happy. Just indulge me this one time on my tirade.

auxiliar program in Spain

Here are My Top 5 Reasons Why I HATE the Auxiliar Program in Spain (you know, top 5, because I can think of more than 5)

1. It’s a disorganized clusterfuck

To put it mildly. In fact all the things I hate about this program are so disorganized in my head from all my problems dealing with the disorganization with the Ministry, I don’t even know where to begin. I’ll elaborate in bullet points:

  • The application process. Who actually understands it? 3 years down the road and I don’t! Don’t even get me started about renewing. What if you’re switching regions? What if you are renewing for a third year and switching regions? Where do we send the documents? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had all of these answers available to us on the application page? The only information we get from the Ministry are monthly newsletters in comic sans font sent every three months to half of the mailing list that don’t say anything valuable and look like they were designed by my 11 year old sister. Why are all the regions in Spain listed on the application when the program has been cut from several of them? Oh that FBI report you had to get for your application? Yeah, you have to get a whole new one for your visa because they expire and we didn’t tell you! Do we have orientation? Who gets to go? Where is it? When is it? Also, everyone is assigned a number upon submitting an application, first time renewals get placed first, then first year applications and third year renewals. Except the Ministry doesn’t always follow those rules and places people willy nilly. I can go on and on
  • Hey remember that one time thousands of people didn’t get paid for 3 months? Oh wait, that’s every year!
  • It is not unusual for ministry officials to give out conflicting information about everything, if you can get a hold of them at all. In fact, many of the schools aren’t informed about what your role as an assistant is, leaving you open to all mannars of interpretation. You could spend your year sitting at a desk in the back playing solitaire or you could be left alone in the room with 25 screaming 3 year olds. Hopefully you end up somewhere in the middle.
  • Pretty much the people who run this program don’t know what they are doing, so don’t expect clear answers. Inconsistent information is the name of the game with the auxiliar program in Spain. Get used to it. 
  • Have you read my post about how I spent over 4 months being jerked around by the guys who run this program in Madrid and why I ultimately left Spain?

The upside? You get a visa to live in Spain, which is nigh on impossible to get any other way as an American.

auxiliar program in spain

2. A total hit or miss

Your experience as an auxiliar can be a total hit-or-miss and you might not have any control over it. From my own observations, it seems applicant’s names, regional preferences, city and school type are all thrown in a giant jar, swirled around and plucked right back out. i.e., it makes no sense.

You could end up working at an amazing concertada (semi-private) modern school right in the city center with amazing goal-oriented teachers and well-behaved students. Or you might end up in a village of 5,000 people, in rural back country Spain where your students don’t know the difference between England and America, the English teacher doesn’t speak any English and you have to commute an hour to work every day. The range of possible situations you could end up with is HUGE and they will either positively or negatively impact your year, depending on how flexible and open minded you are. 

For example, this year I had an amazing schedule. I worked Monday through Thursday, 9am to noon at 2 schools in the center of Logroño. I had to take a 10 minute bus ride to get to work every day. Totally feasible. I had other friends who were placed at schools in villages over an hour away, that they not only had to commute to, they had to pay the teachers to let them ride with them to and from work, over 100 euros extra a month, and they were given schedules with huge breaks in them so they were stuck in their villages for hours without classes.

auxiliar program in spain

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I think my year would have gone a bit differently under those circumstances. My schools were generally flexible with my schedule if I wanted to travel, I could make up hours. Other schools don’t let the auxiliars miss any days or hours and some even give them schedules where you would have to work Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri. Complete hit or miss, you have no control over. 

I’ve worked with 2 teachers who really wanted to take advantage of having a native speaker in the classroom to help the kids. They understood what a unique opportunity it was to have an American there helping the kids learn English. The other 10 teachers I’ve worked with ranged from they really didn’t give a damn to they wanted to use me so they could get out of doing their job.

Be warned, some teachers will take advantage of you in the classroom. Know your role. We are assistants, not the teachers. We provide supporting material and help, but we don’t plan the lessons. We’re not supposed to be alone with students. I’ve had friends who were forced to do everything, spend hours at home planning lessons and even forced to work more hours or face having a “horrible” schedule or be complained about. I had huge problems with this my first year and getting taken advantage of in the schools. Don’t let it happen to you.

You could get paid on time every month since you start. You could go months without being paid. Unless you are a trust fund baby, I expect that would make a BIG difference in how your year goes.

The upside? You could have the best year of your life! I am a true believer that experiences are what you make of them, so even if things don’t go exactly how you’d for them to, try to focus on the positive! You get to live in Spain!

auxiliar program in Spain

Me and the lovely Liz of Liz en España and now A Midwestern Life

3. The funcionarios who work for the Ministry

Is it just me or is everyone who works for this program (from the Spanish consulates in the US to the regional coordinators to the directors in Madrid) a certified straight up d-bag?

Of all the people I’ve dealt with over the years with this program, I’ve known one, ONE nice, helpful person! And they fired her after a year!

In case you didn’t know, funcionarios are government employees in Spain, and they basically make a lot of money and can never be fired, simply put. Here is a video that explains them to a T. Ok, sweeping generalization but that’s how I feel about these guys, along with many Spaniards.

Not only do they generally have no idea what’s going on, they are also rude and unhelpful in general. I can talk to them for hours on the phone or in person and leave the conversation not knowing anything more than I did when I started! And on top of that they make you feel bad about it! I have even had them intentionally hang up on me when I was demanding to know when we would get paid in La Rioja last year, sparking my most popular post. I would go into a meeting with the program director’s to ask when we would get paid, and I would leave feeling like everything was my fault for not being ok with not being paid! WTF?!

auxiliar program in Spain

“Normally we use Christians but in times of crisis, substituting funcionarios has been very successful.” Source

They are probably so unhelpful because they aren’t informed themselves. But last time I checked in the real world in a professional job, when you don’t know something, you say, “you know what? I am not sure. Let me check and get back to you” instead of “this is so-and-so’s responsibility, go ask them” that is, if you can get a hold of anyone at all.

I have scheduled meetings with coordinators and they have shown up an hour late, most of the time they don’t answer my emails or phone calls. In fact, the only time they call me back is when I threaten to go to the US embassy or I call them directly out on not doing their job. Then I get a phone call from some official all fussy and upset by my insinuations.

For example, my first year in Córdoba, we weren’t even provided with the contact information for the regional or city coordinator. If we had a problem, we didn’t have anyone to talk to except with our schools.

If I had a euro for every time I got a runaround answer from a ministry official in Spain, I would be as rich as Iker Casillas.

The upside? You learn to take things into your own hands, I guess. Honestly, I can’t really think of an upside to this unless you miraculously end up working with amazing coordinators and directors. We’ll go back to the you get to live in Spain thing. Big upside.

auxiliar program in spain

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4. The Visa Nightmare

I call it a nightmare because every time I had to think about my experiences with the visa and NIE, I want to die. The entire paperwork process from applying for the visa, applying for a NIE, renewing your NIE, and the details of living in Spain with a student NIE could not be more stressful and complicated!

I understand that this process is not really within control of the Ministry of Education, but at the same time, it is a government sponsored program, and one of the guarantees is a NIE. I think the Ministry needs to do two things:

  • Provide a better guideline for auxiliars about how and when to apply for the visa and the NIE and how to renew it. Really, it cannot be that hard to put something together. In fact, it would be great if that was what they talked about at orientation instead of 2 hours of how the Spanish education system works in rapid-fire Spanish that I am sure half of the first years do not understand. Shouldn’t the English bilingual coordinators speak English?
  • Coordinate with the local extranjerías about the auxiliar program. They need to understand this program, what dates should be given on the NIE’s, renewals, ect. It is not that hard to go meet with them and explain so that everyone is on the same page. This would avoid so many nightmares

This all goes back to the disorganization and hit or miss. For example, some people are given papers that expire exactly one year after they submit the paperwork, so September or October of the following year. Some people are given cards that expire exactly on May 31. The rest, somewhere in the middle. It makes absolutely no sense. You could end up completely screwed like with what happened to me. If I was given the correct papers with the correct dates, I could still be in Spain right now.

It gets even more complicated when you try to renew your papers, and if you try to switch regions. Some regions will let you renew no problem. Others make you go back to America and get a whole new visa. Hit or miss. Some regions even let you submit the paperwork in the fall to renew and then told you a month later you needed to buy a last minute flight to America and get a whole other visa. It’s actually ridiculous. Try buying a $1000 flight home when you haven’t even been paid!

Sometimes it takes so long for the offices to process your paperwork you can go the whole year without getting a NIE! Or they give you appointments after your visa has expired.

The upside? You (hopefully) get papers to live in Spain! It’s almost impossible to get a visa otherwise as an American. That is if you can survive the deathly obstacles thrown at you 

auxiliar program in Spain

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5. Kept blind and in the dark

I think singlehandledly the thing I hated most about the program besides the disorganization is the fact that the Ministry did a terrible job of informing us of ANYTHING!

It’s one thing to be disorganized but at least tell us what’s going on. Here are the 3 main things the Ministry should keep in contact with the auxiliars about

  • If there are going to be delays with payments, tell us! It’s not that hard. We shouldn’t have to complain and whine about it to the newspapers and American embassies into shaming the Ministry into paying us, or at least saying when we’ll be paid. Last year they weren’t planning to even tell us in La Rioja about the delays until dozens of us called and emailed and demanded to know what was going on.
  • When the government cuts hundreds of auxiliar positions and even whole regions, it is their duty to tell us! You shouldn’t have to find out everything on facebook or through me. In fact, I think the government should be contracting me since I have been doing half of their work for them for YEARS!
  • They should explain clearly what our job is, what it entails, our benefits, our rights, ect.

This lack of Ministry information directly leads to mass hysteria on the dozens of facebook groups and expat forums about this program. When I mentioned that to a director in Madrid he yelled (literally yelled) at me about how we shouldn’t listen to these things on Facebook. I kindly replied that it’s the only way we learn anything or know what’s going on, which led to awkward silence…

The upside? You learn to be patient or you just lose your marbles

auxiliar program in spain

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The point of this post is not to whine and moan about the auxiliar program in Spain. It is to share an actual and honest opinion of a program that has been glamorized far too often. People have been asking me for years about what I really think about it, and I feel it’s high time for an honest answer. Negative hate and all.

Are you an auxiliar in Spain? What was your experience like with the program? Have or heard any horror stories? What did you hate the most about it?

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238 Responses to Top 5 Reasons Why I HATE the Auxiliar Program in Spain

  1. Naz April 3, 2015 at 11:27 am #

    I have just come back from a similar programme teaching English in Spain. I have left earlier than I should, sadly! Conversation assistant was the role!
    I had problems with the programme, different one mentioned from the above, but also with the school.
    Seems like the school treat us like cheap teachers when we don’t have skills/qualifications of teachers. I was assigned to teach Secondary school, but was teaching after school classes, with Primary- which one teacher suggested I ask for payment for. I do not come from a teaching background- if you speak English ‘your in’ according to the programme. But the role is really unclear and the programme do not support you in the preparation for the role/ classes you will teach.
    I was assigned to teach classes with a classroom of the worst students in the school- of which some didnt have the basic English. Now I question-how do you help someone with their English (or converse) witht hem when their English is limited? And coupled with poor behaviour- they are bound to get fed up and be unhappy= which meant trouble for me!
    The programme signed us up for language courses to help us with the language barrier, but it was such a poor website. The teachers in the school even agreed.
    Often there were celebrations at the school- and we were not invited. Like we were some outsiders.

    The programme did pay, 200euros per month. The hosts 0euros, and the programme 600euros from the school!
    They didnt tell us about the charged from the banks, when we opened the bank accounts.
    We missed introductions to the other assisatnts because our flight was delayed and the programme blamed us for this. They held no social events or forum so we can meet other people and go out or plan trips together.So there was no clear break.

    They did their job when they got their money and sent us packing the host and schools

    The hosts seemed to have other ideas. I was fortunate not to experience this, but some assistants didnt have a break from the job. Working in the school, then coming home to the family and helping the kids.
    My host had a knee operation, weeks before I moved in with him. And apparently he got the last assistant drunk and fired. This then caused a row between teachers and when they heard I was leaving I got dragged in.
    This host had a problem with me being Muslim and not drinking alcohol-when his life revolved around drinking. And we were the worst pair to be matched to live together. But say he was reponsible for firing the other assistant- why did the school let me live with him?

    Overall, I liked the sunshine, some students were amazing, some of the teachers and staff were lovely- but the programme needs improving.
    Now they intend to increase the charge, pay more to the assistants, the assistants will have a choice on who they want to live with, if they have a degree they will get paid more- a little too late!

    Question who regulates these programmes- because I think that we may be exploited???

    • Meghan July 11, 2015 at 2:09 am #

      Thank you for posting this. I am going to apply this coming spring for next fall, 2016. It seems the issues Liz posted 3 years ago, at least in terms of information provided by auxiliares, have been rectified somewhat. The website provides more details, an application checklist, and a break down of when each step needs to be taken. I figured I would have to do a lot on my own and can’t rely too much on the Spanish government (even American government workers can suck because they too never get fired).

      My concern is my ability to communicate in Spanish. I have very basic reading knowledge of the language and little to no speaking/listening abilities! I have over a year to work on this, but it still worries me…

      Luckily, I am a pretty introverted person so if I don’t make a lot of friends I won’t be too concerned.

      Did you have TEFL, ESL, or CELTA training before you went? Was it helpful?

      Thanks!

    • Gem July 24, 2015 at 10:03 pm #

      Hi Naz,

      Thank you so much for posting this. I am looking into the program you mention for 2015-2016. You are correct they have increased the pay to the Conversation Assistants to 300 euro a month.

      I was considered that all the information I could find about the program was positive. This concern was heightened when I read in the agreement that you would face ‘punishment’ for posting anything negative on social media about said program.

      I was also considered with the quick turn-around they expect for me to get my visa and all other pre-departure arrangements sorted, yet I asked them months in advance about such information and was continuously told to wait.

      The program sounds like a fantastic opportunity to immerse yourself in the Spanish culture. I’d love to hear how much you got to travel, what personal and professional skills you gained and what friendships you made. In hindsight would you apply for the program?

      Cheers

  2. Yuliya April 30, 2015 at 12:20 am #

    Hi, Liz!

    I just accepted this program in Spain but my question is – is 800-1000€ enough for living/travel expenses?! Also, I would prefer living by myself so how much would flat rental in Madrid be? (doesn’t have to be in the central Madrid) Thanks in advance! xx

  3. romeria montellano May 5, 2015 at 9:21 pm #

    Menos mal que he dado con esta informacion. Gracias! Besos!

  4. PlusCheats.com September 6, 2015 at 10:34 pm #

    This is my first time visit at here and i am in fact happy to read everthing at single place.

  5. Annie Liberty November 11, 2015 at 4:37 am #

    You have to appreciate the hilarity of you admitting that you’re a liar and have been misleading people about this program (for your own benefit) and are only now telling the truth because you’ve quit. Where was this helpful information while you were still participating? Perhaps if more people stopped promoting themselves via blogs with their real names and/or faces (therefore having to worry about potential backlash) and instead posted anonymously and TRUTHFULLY then the overwhelming amount of blogs about how horrible this program (and most of Spain) is would be enough to convince people to steer clear. Or, better yet; convince Spain to sort its shit out.

  6. Lauren December 2, 2015 at 6:44 am #

    I appreciate how candid you are in the post, but I more so respect your professionalism in the comments!

  7. Ashlee Guevara January 4, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

    I am currently looking into the program. From the reviews I’ve read some locations seem more rewarding than others. Any recommendations for top locations??
    (organized, low-cost, easy transportation, and city/beach locations are a plus!)

    I’ve heard many good stories about Galicia so thats a top choice. I’m also considering Sevilla, La Rioja and Madrid. Any suggestions?

  8. Robert G January 7, 2016 at 7:00 am #

    Look, I get it. Liz want a high SEO and lots of clicks, which I gave her myself.

    To anyone who wants to do the program, go for it. You’ll learn, you’ll grow, you’ll start appreciating things more and you’ll have the opportunity to live and see life in a great country. Bureaucracy kinda sucks everywhere you go, and Spain will be no exception, but you have to respect whatever rules they have in place in order for you to be allowed to temporarily be part of their society. It’s just how it goes.

    I think Liz does the program a great disservice by whining so much on her forum while basically ignoring how great it is. Hate is a very strong word, so readers, be not afraid, life can get challenging everywhere you go. Sure, if you are like Liz and need to be spoon fed everything in your life, have second thoughts, but if you are like the vast majority of young people; smart, energetic, curious, spontaneous and fun loving, do the program. The two years I spent in Spain because of the program were some of the best times of my life.

    • Liz January 18, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

      You are a fucking idiot. I have 2 years worth of posts on this blog about the program and what I loved about it, how to do it, everything you need to know, everything I loved about Spain and I wrote 1 post about the problems and BOOM, this. But go on, please tell me more about myself. You clearly know me best, right??

      • Robert G April 7, 2016 at 5:18 am #

        Even though you’re traveling around the world, I can’t help but feel sorry for you, especially when you resort to insults.

        Guys, do the program, and don’t allow yourself to get jaded and smug like Liz is. Unfortunately pessimism and being snide has permeated our generation, choking it off of beauty. Be optimistic, full of love and enjoy your time and, hell, even the process of living in Spain.

        Much love!

  9. Ariana February 4, 2016 at 1:29 am #

    Hey Liz! Awesome post…. I’m currently trying to apply for the program, it’s extremely confusing!!! What are the chances of not being accepted once you finish the application? Do you have any idea what makes a better candidate?

    Thanks!!

  10. MC March 3, 2016 at 4:21 am #

    Reading this blog has been very informative and I am grateful that a platform exist where people can exchange their personal experiences.

    One thing that was very disheartening were the negative responses.

    Stereotypes are wrong. Further the hypocrisy in one person stating that a stereotype is wrong about their ethnicity and then turning around making a stereotype about another group is the same exact thing. A perfect country does not exist and neither do perfect people.

    I will share my personal experience not with the auxiliary program but with obtaining visas and working in foreign countries.

    Student visa experience for Spain was quick in New York, I just dropped off my application and it was ready rather quickly. Upon arriving to Spain it was a bit confusing on how to obtain my TIE but it wasn’t awful. Yes the process was not easy and I speak Spanish and there were several trips I had to make and frustrating moments. If someone did not speak Spanish I can understand that it would’ve been an even bigger nightmare.

    Work visa for China. This was very quick but you had to present your documents in person.

    Not being paid in China- this sucked and I left. Anyone who experiences moving your entire life and the disappointment of things not working out appreciates a blog like this one. No matter how prepared you are it is just an awful feeling to be in a foreign country and things just don’t work out whatever the reason may be.

    Not being paid in the United States- this also sucked. I did not know this at the time but after months of back and forth, I found out there was a wage claim that you can make against an employer. I had unpaid wages from my former employer. Literally right after filing a wage claim my employer finally contacted me and informed me they would send out a check. Had I known this form existed it could have been resolved sooner.

    Everyone expects to be paid whether they are in a foreign country or not. I could be wrong but I feel this is a trait that we all share regardless of what country we are from.

    Again I am still grateful for the information shared here even though some of the comments have been hateful and stereotypical.

  11. Ryan Mulligan March 8, 2016 at 11:39 pm #

    Hey! I´m an Irish guy living in Galicia…

    Interesting post, and some very interesting comments.

    you should be free to give your true opinion on this subject because obviously it´s from your own personal experience. It does a great job in warning us about possible negatives and to be honest I think everyone should take the time out to go read some of your more positive posts, then way up what they actually think.

    I´m living in Galicia ATM as a volunteer/english language assistant, working 25 hours mon to fri… and earning a lot less than you lot. Sooo, when i heard about this prog, I applied right away, because I really do love Galicia.

    Could I ask some people here a few questions?

    1/Was your preferences taken into consideration

    2/Has anyone tried to apply as a couple / to have your application considered with another person? and what happened?

    3/From past experience or stories, around when do we find out when we are accepted and where we will go ?

    FOR ANYONE COMING TO GALICIA – You are very very veryyyyyy lucky. This place is really nice and really cheap to live in. ..the people are lovely and the culture, food and general atmosphere is really nice.

    Cheers 🙂

  12. Jake Blumstein March 18, 2016 at 7:27 am #

    I am an auxiliar in Cartagena, Murcia. I have NEVER been paid on time.

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