Angry Expat: Auxiliares de Conversación

Teach English in Spain

Ok, I hardly ever write angry posts. Because let’s be honest, who wants to read an angry blog? Nobody. I always try to focus on the positive in my writing, the good experiences, lo bueno as we say in Spain. I may throw in some disgruntled statements here and there topped with a boatload of sarcasm, but I always try to revert back to the positive in the end. I always try to be a positive person. However, this is an angry post. No two ways about it. I am pissed, no wait, livid. That’s right, LIVID: ALL-CAPS AND MULTIPLE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! (If you want a typical happy Liz travel post, stop reading now and scroll down farther. You’ve been warned.)

As most of you already know, I teach English in Spain on a grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education called Auxiliares de Conversación or English Language and Culture Assistants. I wrote this long blog post last March with my thoughts on the program. So much has changed since then, and now I am going to tell you what I really think. I would say about 95% of people who do this program do it because they want to live in Spain. Not because they want to be teachers, not because they want teaching experience, not to help little children learn about English language and culture. Sure, that may be part of it, but I bet you the main reason is because they want to live in Spain, and it’s one of the only ways to live legally in Spain as an American. And you know what? The Spanish government takes FULL advantage of that.

Our contract says that we are to work 12 hours a week and be paid 700 euros a month as a stipend from October 1 to May 31. Really awesome, right? The program also tells us that we should come with about $1000 saved up to live off of for the first month until we get paid at the end of the first month, around November 1. However, it is almost Christmas and many of the auxilaires around Spain have still not been paid, that’s right, 3 months late. The program has been around for years, and yet, this issue comes up every year. Not with every region, but for many. Last year in Andalucía, my school just paid me every month and then kept the checks when they finally arrived from the government, but after all the budget cuts going on, few schools are willing to do this. After so many years, how can the Ministry of Education still be so disorganized?

Thousands of foreigners come every year with this scholarship to teach English in Spain, it is not a small group of people who is affected. And thousands more apply and don’t even get a spot. This program has become extremely popular, especially in the States as an ideal post-college pre-real world second study-abroad opportunity. The Ministry of Education knows this and knows how much we want to be here, and I think they take advantage of that by making us put up with a lot of bureaucratic bull****, knowing that we can’t and won’t do anything about. Not getting paid for 3 months? It’s not like we’ll stop working and go home. We can’t even afford a flight since we’ve used all our savings to live off of. Want to complain to someone about it? The majority of government don’t answer their phones or emails. Ever.

Besides, the people who run this program in Madrid and in the various Autonomous Communities around Spain are champions at not taking the blame for anything. If you can miraculously get a hold of someone to talk to about this program, they most likely cannot resolve your issues or even put you in contact with someone else who could. Nor will they fight for you. They just say, yeah we understand, it sucks. Sorry. Bye. I wish I was kidding! I have had this conversation with various government workers over the years, and it always ends the same. Oh no, it’s not our fault, it’s so-and-so’s fault but it will be fixed soon. When? Not sure. Soon. Don’t worry. If I had a euro for every time I had this conversation with a government employee I would be rich; I would certainly get more money from the government that way than from my actual work contract.

So what triggered this angry blog post? About this time every month I call up the Ministry of Education coordinator in La Rioja to ask when will I be paid for this month’s work. And yes, you got it, today was that happy day. Can we just start with the fact that I have to call them in the first place? That should give you some idea of what this program is like. 3 months later I still haven’t been officially paid yet, along with hundreds of other Americans in Spain. Luckily, one of my schools has been lending me the money, but I found out today that that’s going to stop for December. When will I get paid for December was my next question. Especially since the schools go on holiday from the 23 to January 9th. No matter how many ways I asked this question, the only answer I got was that they don’t know but hopefully soon, it’s out of their hands, it’s not their problem, ect. Word for word they said it was not their responsibility to make sure we get paid. Finally when I asked to speak to the director, he came on and said there was nothing more he could say and hung up on me. Yeah, he flat out hung up.

Again, it would be one thing if this was the first time this has happened, but this is the 3rd month in a row. I am also very angry at the way the Ministry of Education workers have been treating us. Every time I get off the phone with them or leave a meeting, somehow I feel like this is all my fault for not being OK with not getting paid. I mean, I am pretty sure I have the right to be paid for the work I do or at least know WHEN I’ll be paid, and I certainly don’t respect being spoken to in such a rude manner and being hung up on just for trying to figure out when I will be paid. I only have my rent to pay, along with bills, all my living expenses, student loans, ect. Not to mention they are violating our visa contracts by not paying us monthly. So for now, I have absolutely no idea when I will be paid, and according to my boss and my boss’s boss, it is not their responsibility or their problem, rather, it’s mine.

If this were my only issue with the program, things might be different, but it’s not. After the huge nightmare I went through last year renewing my residency papers to problems with my school to problems with the heath insurance, I am sick of it. I know many people don’t have the problems I am going through, but I also know many people are going through much worse than me, as in not being paid and not being able to borrow the money either and not even be able to talk to someone about it. The Ministry of Education has put us in the most uncomfortable, uncompromising and downright horrible situation: really what are we supposed to do? What options do we have? Go home? Complain some more to people who don’t care and won’t do anything about it? We have no options, no choice but to put up with this bureaucratic mess! And what makes this situation so effed up and horrible is that the government KNOWS this and uses it to their advantage. It’s times like this when living in Spain feels like living in a 3rd world country. At the end of the day, we shouldn’t have to be going through any of this. We keep up our end of the bargain and do our job, why can’t they?

So dear all future auxiliars, what sacrifices are you willing to make to live in Spain? How much are you willing to put up with? If you are already an auxiliar, have you gone through anything like this? What are your thoughts?


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76 Comments on “Angry Expat: Auxiliares de Conversación

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  1. Gosh it sounds really similar, but to be honest worst, than the program in France. In France I was at least paid every month (starting from the second month as they wait to pay you fully until the end of November, but at least they warn you about this beforehand). Good luck fighting the bureaucracy, I know how big of a pain that can be. Courage!

  2. That Gareth dude…wtf?

    Anyway, above Mario was not my Mario, FYI.

    I’m sorry. That really sucks. I hate the blame game, especially since you’re hanging by a thread pretty much. I say stop working if they aren’t paying you and just give more private lessons, which actually PAY you.

  3. Sorry to hear about your situation. You have a contract and should be paid according to the terms thereof. That is a basic tenet of the employer-employee relationship. You are definitely being exploited. However…

    I am having a hard time 100% empathizing with you. It seems that you are well-versed in the cultural customs of Spain, having lived there for over a year. One of the things Spanish culture is known for is an propensity for putting things off. It even has its own saying, “mañana, mañana”. You must have come across this in your travels. Did you not expect this to affect business matters as well?

    You even acknowledge in your post that you and many others like you (on whose behalf you are apparently speaking) are not here to teach English because it is a passion of yours, but rather as a way to live in Spain. Are you not taking advantage of the system also? Would students in the schools not benefit from a licensed teacher with degrees in English or teaching rather than someone with the attitude that they are babysitting for 12 hours a week for “an ideal post-college pre-real world second study-abroad opportunity”?

    Third, you state in your post and other commenters have related their own stories of not being paid in the program in previous years. You cite this as proof that something needs to be done. Could these anecdotes instead have served as possible red flags for signing up for such a program in the first place? Would you eat in a restaurant that had multiple reviews over the years of unhygienic conditions? You’d at least think twice about eating there, right?

    The stories of not being paid coupled with the financial crisis that has been brewing for a while now should mean that not being paid by the government shouldn’t really be surprised that you are not getting paid. Concerned? Absolutely. But not surprised. The Spanish government has so many other things on its list before it gets to foreign nationals. The fact that you cannot vote means you are of little use to the politicians in power and are therefore very low on the totem pole when it comes to divvying up the government money (which the present interest rates are so high for Spain to borrow that it may not even be feasible to do so).

    Have you been wronged? Yes. Would you win any kind of labor suit? I’d assume so (unless it was a Spanish court…). But it’s not as if the writing wasn’t on the wall. I wish you the best of luck in your Monetary Adventure.

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