So you’re moving to Spain in a month, what now?
Now that mid-August has arrived in full-force, the inevitable panic that accompanies an impending move abroad has slowly begun to sink its claws in. This is nowhere near as evident as in my inbox, where I receive a daily barrage of emails from future English teaching assistants in Spain asking me questions ranging from how to apply for the visa to what kind of electric razor works best with euro outlets.
Considering I have successfully KILLED two American hair straighteners AND a hairdryer during my time in Spain, I am really not the person to ask about electric converters. Let alone razors for beards.
Before I quit my job this spring to travel the world indefinitely and be a digital hobo, I would wile away the hours in my shithole of an office by perusing the numerous Facebook groups dedicated to the Auxiliares de Convesación program in Spain. Chiming in, I would often add my two cents to questions and posts, before all hell broke lose with my Hate the Auxiliar Program piece. After that I stopped commenting except for a random post here and there in an effort to avoid my hate club.
Since I’m back home with fast wifi and no way to leave the house, I started reading through the group for newbie auxiliars again. And after about 5 minutes, all I wanted to do was slam my head down on the keyboard in frustration.
The same questions over and over and over again. Questions EASILY found on these forums I might add.
Now I don’t mean to sound rude, ‘specially cause my mama raised me to be a lady, but here’s to all you lazy fools who can’t be bothered to type in your question in the search bar. Hell, there is even a post pinned to the top of the group with dozens of files answering every question under the sun you might have.
Google also exists.
But enough ranting, more helping.
I get it – it’s hard. You’re getting ready to go on the trip of a lifetime, to a place you might have never been before and where they speak a foreign language to boot. It’s a very big step and change for you. Obviously you should have questions!
My entire first year in Spain with the auxiliar program was riddled with mistakes. I WISH I had these resources that are online now; I wasn’t even in any groups til the end of the first year. Everything I learned was through trial and error. Multiple errors actually.
So I thought I’d go ahead and compile a little list of the most common mistakes, fuck-ups, and uh-ohs that auxiliars make when they come to Spain in the hopes of making your year go by a little smoother.
Oh, and I’m telling it via GIFs because we need more GIFS in our lives.
1. Not coming with enough $
I don’t know how much they government tells you to bring to Spain now, but my first year they suggested $1000. Ha.Ha.Ha. Depending where you live, that won’t get you very far.
While I don’t believe you need to have 10K stocked away in the bank to become an auxiliar, the more cushion you have, the better. Of course a budget for Madrid is not the same as a budget for a village in Extremadura, so it’s important to research a little about where you’re going. Factoring in the fact that many regions in Spain don’t pay their auxiliars until after Christmas, off the top of my head, I would say $1500 to $2000 is a good start.
Of course you can definitely come with less and make do. I definitely recommend coming a little early and setting up a lot of afternoon private classes so you can make extra money on the side straight away.
2. Agreeing to an apartment before seeing it
Do I even need to explain WHY this is a bad idea? I don’t mean to be mean buuuuuuut how stupid can you get! Why would you EVER agree to an apartment before seeing it, let alone in a foreign country??
Every year I see in the Facebook groups people who post about finding an amazing apartment online while they’re still at home and *gasp* wiring money over to Spain to secure a deposit on it. Really? Would you do that back home? Probably not, so why would you do it in Spain?
The idea of turning up in a foreign country without a place set up in advance terrifies a lot of people, but we’re all (mostly) adults here. Book a hotel, hostel, AirBNB apartment, whatever before you come, and go look for an apartment when you arrive like everyone else. You won’t know the city well until you are there, the proximity to your schools, bus routes, and most importantly, the bars and discotecas.
Read more: How to find a fab apartment in Spain
3. Settling for a shitty apartment because you didn’t have enough time
Number 2 goes hand in hand with number 3. This was a big mistake I made my first year and resolved my second year. While I’m sure many people had a lot of luck finding a place a few days before their first day of work, but not me. Córdoba where I lived my first year is a big university town, and classes started mid-September which means by the time I arrived at the end of the month, shared apartments were slim pickings and I ended up in a hole.
My second year I arrived mid-September and nabbed an amazing apartment in Logroño, right in the center. I’m a big advocate of arriving early so that you can get to know your city better, go introduce yourself to your school and negotiate a better schedule and also pick up extra classes and work without fighting all the auxiliares for classes. I think a week before is probably perfect.
4. Opening a bank account with Santander
Why, why WHY do people STILL open bank accounts with Santander? They have a dead awful reputation with auxiliars from taking forever to send you a card, charging you all kinds of fees and causing all kinds of problems when you want to close the account at the end of the year. My favorite bank is La Caixa, the blue one from Cataluña. They’re everywhere, have afternoon hours, online banking AND free checking accounts. Can’t beat that. BBVA is also rockin.
But just say no to Santander.
Read more: Setting up a bank account in Spain
Ladies, listen up! Don’t overpack, don’t do it! Leave those high heels at home, don’t give in!
This is a mistake I always make. I always overpack and regret it immediately. Spain has great, cheap shopping and you will collect many an odd knick-knack on your adventures around Europe. With baggage fees as high as they are, don’t throw your money away early.
Try to fit all your stuff into one suitcase, a big carry-on and personal item. You can always pick up a cheap second bag in Spain to bring your stuff home. It’s just not worth the weight and fees for the journey there. Trust me on this one.
Read more: how to pack for a year in Spain
6. Not engaging enough with the natives
Why would you move to Spain for a year and only befriend people from where you’re from? In my book that defeats the entire purpose.
Of course when you first get there, it’s important to feel comfortable and make friends with everyone. You’re in a unique situation so it’s logical that all the auxiliars in your city (depending on its size) will know each other and become friends. Some of my best friends in Spain were Americans, and I don’t know what I would have done without them.
However, I made a conscious effort to go out often and meet as many locals as I could. Living with Spaniards also helps. Whether I was grabbing drinks with coworkers, going for walks with my students (the adults haha) or chatting with the regulars at my favorite cafes, I forced myself to be outgoing as possible and get to know Spaniards. Some of my best memories from Spain are with my Spanish friends, and I can’t recommend enough taking that step outside of your comfort zone and trying to integrate as much as possible.
7. Showing up at the disco before 2 am
Spain has taken marathon partying to the next level. Like with everything, Spain has a much slower, more relaxed attitude toward socializing, partying included. Since dinner isn’t usually til 9 or 10 at night, logically meeting up with friends for a drink and chat is around 12-ish, same goes for a pre-game. This means locals don’t head to the clubs/discos til 2 to 3 in the morning, making it a long night.
Nothing screams guiri (spanish for foreigner) like an passing out by 1 am. Take my advice and play by Spain’s rules. It may take a while for your body to adjust to Spain time, but once you get in the swing of things, it’s easy.
Of course festivals don’t count. Go wild.
8. Getting taken advantage of by your schools
It’s such a shame that I even have to include this on here, but it happens more often than you think, and my personal philosophy is know more and be prepared.
It’s really important to know what exactly your role consists of as an auxiliar de conversación and what extra work you are willing to do. It’s also important to remember that for some schools, it’s not clear to them either how to utilize you in the classroom. The Spanish Ministry of Education is one giant hot mess, and if you haven’t already figured it out, organization and clear explanations aren’t exactly their strong suits. Many times if you do get taken advantage of at your schools, it’s possibly because they don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing either. Some teachers just don’t know what your role actually is.
“Please teach something on phrasal verbs while I go get groceries”
So, just remember you aren’t the teacher. You should not be alone in the classroom. You should not prepare exams or grade papers. You should not have to make lesson plans. You should not have to stand in front of the class for the entire class. You should not have to teach each and every class and you shouldn’t work more than the allotted hours. You are an assistant. You assist the teacher. End of story.
Most people will have wonderful experiences, others not so much. It’s important to strike a balance between doing what’s expected of you and being flexible; that being said it can be a slippery slope downhill so it’s important to stick up for yourself on day one. And hey, maybe you’re cool with going above and beyond what’s asked of you, but also remember that kinda ruins it for the rest of us, especially if we have to work with the same teachers after you.
For example, I had a friend who’s school made her work double hours the whole year. Not ok. I had other friends who had to commute to work and the carpool teachers would make them pay a fortune, also not cool. Some teachers will try to trick you into giving discount classes to their kids or guilt you into doing their job for them. Some schools are flexible about letting you switch and make up hours for travel while others take delight in telling you hell no and giving you a schedule where you work Mon-Tues-Wed-Fri. Your schools will vary drastically, but the more assertive you are, the better.
For me it was common to prepare presentations and give talks about American culture yada yada yada and I was given an hour in my schedule dedicated to planning projects and collaborating with teachers. But my first year I had one teacher who would leave me alone in the class and be like “Go!” and walk out of the room before I knew any better. That’s not fair to you, and it’s not fair to the students. There should be a nice balance and don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself or talk to your coordinator if you feel you’re being taken advantage of.
When you have to work Fridays
9. Believing everything you’re told by a public official
If you haven’t already figured out from the visa process, the paperwork associated with moving to Spain for a year can be an absolute nightmare. Some people have luck on their side and go through the whole process of the visa application at home and the applying for a NIE (residency card) in Spain unscathed. While others (me) had no such luck.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I would talk with someone in the extranjería (Foreigner’s Office) and get one answer then talk with someone else and get a different answer, then talk with some higher official in Madrid and get a totally different answer! It’s absolutely infuriating! Personally, I feel like these Spanish officials are physically incapable of just saying “I don’t know, let me check,” and make shit up off the tops of their heads. It’s enough to drive anyone insane.
So take what you hear with a grain of salt, ask around, post in the auxiliar groups, scan the online forums, and then just chose one way and make sure you stay in contact with the same person you talked to so you can always point and say “him right there said this on this day.”
Sometimes Spain will test you. Be prepared. And get a second opinion.
“You need to go back to America and get a whole new visa”
10. Holding back
I really want to end on a positive note.
This is your year!
If you are openminded and flexible, you will have an incredible year. How many times in your life do you get the chance to live abroad? Take advantage!
I should probably not say this but that has never stopped me before, so here we go.
Your work as an auxiliar is important. It’s your ticket to Spain. But it’s not everything; don’t let it control your life and have a serious impact on your happiness while in Spain. If you want to travel more, travel more. I’d say 90% of the people who do the program do it as a way to get to live in Spain, and you should definitely take advantage of your time abroad. Travel far, meet new people, learn some Spanish, challenge yourself, try things you might not have otherwise.
Just don’t get fired.
In spite of all my mistakes I made, some over and over again, I don’t regret my time in Spain in the slightest. I’m sad I’m not there anymore but the two years I worked as an auxiliar helped shape who I am today. I’ve overcome so many challenges and obstacles, learned to be outgoing and assertive, and overall I think it’s help me become a better person. Don’t have any (big) regrets.
Not to mention I found my passion in life for writing and blogging while in Spain. It has opened so many doors for me and helped me realize what I want to do with my life.
I wouldn’t change my mistakes or experiences for anything in the world.
Don’t hold back. This is your year.
So how excited are YOU for Spain?
Have you been to Spain before? Have you been an auxiliar? Have any tips for future auxiliars?