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?

Teach English in Spain

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76 Comments on “Angry Expat: Auxiliares de Conversación

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  1. This SUCKS, Liz, and I’m so sorry to hear you’re having such shitty issues regarding money. 🙁 (If you need to get out, there’s always space in Brighton for you <3)

    I definitely think you should contact MHC and the other 5 colleges in the USA and tell them you don’t think they should recommend this program any more, and send copies of the letters to the relevant Spanish departments. If as many of you can do this as possible, it might make a difference. Certainly, things aren’t gonna get any better in this financial crisis, but if there really isn’t the money for you to get paid, the government needs to be HONEST about that because it’s not fair to expect you to be able to survive without this money! Grrr.

    I agree with the whole not working until you get paid thing come 2012, incidentally. One month is just about bearable but any more than that and you’re basically working for free. Have you spoken any more about it to your school? I know they might not be able to help get you the money but it might be worth checking out their thoughts on the program. Either way, the fact that a lot of schools are taking auxiliars’ wages out of their own finances due to the government’s ineptitude is really messed up.

    Gareth – I think you’ve got some fair points there (particularly about the Spanish government’s attitude towards foreign nationals as they can’t vote). HOWEVER, you’re being massively unfair towards Liz in regards her teaching skills! I’ve known Liz for three years now, and she has an INCREDIBLE work ethic. To say that her attitude towards work is that [she is] babysitting for 12 hours a week” just because she doesn’t have a qualification in teaching is completely inaccurate and really unnecessarily judgemental. Liz works SO hard, and – as been mentioned here – a lot of auxiliars, including Liz, give private tutorials to children outside of their workplaces. If she really just regarded this role as “babysitting”, surely she wouldn’t be working outside of her initial role? Surely she wouldn’t be able to KEEP working as a private language tutor, or KEEP finding more work? A teaching qualification doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’re good with children, and as this is the second year Liz has worked in this role in Spain she has a lot of experience – not to mention how good her Spanish is! 🙂 Honestly, I think the program gives people the chance to gain some really good teaching experience without having to fork out a lot of money for a CELTA or TEFL qualification – and that counts for an awful lot.

    Much love, Liz! Keep raising hell on this issue, and I hope it gets sorted soon <3

  2. Shannon Xo,

    I also emailed my university and told them not to recommend this program. I think everyone should do the same.

  3. Like Kaley said, Gareth, WTF? You’re get your own whole response. Clearly you missed the entire point of my post in that I’ve finally reached a breaking point in putting up with this bureaucratic bullshit. This has been a problem in the past but this year it has worsened, not gotten better, which we were lead to believe, so how exactly could I have anticipated that?

    Of course I’m familiar with the different concepts of time in Spain, however, when it comes to something as important as getting paid, this is usually not a problem; you make it sounds like I should have expected this. This is the first year of such widespread lack of being paid among auxiliars. before it was only in a few isolated regions. So in your argument, I basically should have known better, right? And not participated? Again the whole point of my post, is that I have put up with so much but now anymore. It’s gone too far.

    Again you make it sound like I should put up with this because my main desire in coming to Spain was not to be a teacher. This program is geared to people EXACTLY like me; if they wanted teachers or people with teaching degrees or people who are passionate about education, they would have made that part of the damn application. Instead the only requirement is that you know some Spanish and went to college. They even market this program as an opportunity to live in Spain in experience the culture here! And babysitting for 12 hours a week? Where did that come from? Most of us have to do the teachers job for them in the classroom because they are too lazy to prepare useful classes that include us.

    Again you try to make it seem like its my fault for not anticipating that the economic crisis in Spain could potentially effect us getting paid. Well guess what? The Spanish economy has been in a crisis for almost a decade! Why should I have expected things to change so drastically now from last year?

    Do you have any idea how a labor suit would work in Spain? I don’t but from what I heard it takes years. YEARS! Anyway, I guess my whole point is that if you are looking for a job, I could put you in contact with everyone in the Spanish Department of Education. You guys would get along fabulously with all these excuses.

  4. Thanks so much for your comments guys! I’m glad to know that I am not alone in this, especially since the government is doing everything it can to make me feel like this is MY fault. WTF? Yes please post this on your blog Shannon/linking it! I want a lot of people to hear about. I am stuck on what to do next. Contacting people who run this program doesn’t seem to be working since they’re the ones who’ve effed up all the paperwork, so now I think I am going to be contacting newspapers here and back home, along with the embassy and the US Dept. of Education ect. Because this is completely unacceptable. Especially since we have a reciprocal program back home that doesnt have these problems. If I don’t paid by the time schools starts again in January, I am not working til I do. It is such a pain, we’re fighting the whole system who are champions at getting away with crap like this. and trying to pass you off onto other people or drown you in impossible paperwork! haha Kaley, I love that you had to clarify that!!

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