Making new friends on a local hike in La Rioja in September
I’ve just finished up my second year working in Spain as an auxiliar de conversación, a English language teaching assistant though the Spanish Ministry of Education. This program is a great way for Americans to have the opportunity to come and live in Spain for a year after college. It is also the easiest way to legally live here. 700 euros a month for 12 hours of being a classroom assistant a week in Spain is a pretty amazing deal, especially if you know what you are getting yourself into! I get so many messages and emails from people asking about how to get ready for moving to Spain that I might as well share it with everyone here. I have already written several posts about this program and dealing with expat life in Spain that you can check out here:
When I first came to Spain as an auxiliar in 2010, I had no idea what to expect. I had already lived in Spain before but never completely on my own. Looking back now I wish I could smack myself at some of the big mistakes I made. There are so many things I wish I had known that would have saved me tons of time and money. I am going to post my tips for auxiliars in several parts, so stay tuned!
1. Timing: Come to Spain a bit early. Depending on your city, you should come at least a week or so early to get settled an find an apartment, visit your new schools, get a heads start on finding private classes, and adjust to your new life in Spain. I was an idiot and decided to spend that week in Switzerland instead, visiting friends before heading down to Córdoba last year. Not only did I end up spending a good chunk of my savings, I also had no time to find an apartment before work started.
Also, if you are in big cities with universities, many of them start classes in the beginning of October, which meant that all of the apartments where filled or picked over and I had to settle for living in the apartment from hell. This year I arrived in Logroño on September 12th, which was perfect. There is also a huge festival in Logroño mid-September that I didn’t want to miss (San Mateo). It was the perfect welcome to my new city. Make sure to check out your city’s tourism website to see if there are any fun events in the fall. The Spanish national soccer team played in Logroño only a few days before I arrived in September, and I will never forgive myself for missing it!
San Mateo festival in Logroño in September
2. Money Money Money: Save your pennies people! Spain might be one of the cheapest countries to live in in Europe, but it still ain’t free. And if you watch the news, you know that to say Spain is in a financial crisis is to put it mildly, though you wouldn’t know it living here. The party never stops in Spain! However, last year, and before that too, many regions had problems paying their auxiliars on time. And I am not talking by a few days, but months. La Rioja didn’t pay us until January, but luckily some of our schools lent us the money. But that is not a guarantee. Can you imagine moving here in September and not getting any substantial amount of money until January? When I first came here, they recommended we come with around $1000 saved up, in 2010 that was less than 700 euros. Good joke, Spain.
So here is my breakdown on what to save. I would come with at least $2,000-$2500 in the bank (after you buy your flight), but even more would be better. You have to get from the airport to your city, maybe taxis with all your luggage, potentially staying in a hostel or pensión until you find an apartment, phone credit, food until you have a kitchen, then paying for an apartment plus a deposit, then if you need to buy things for it, like sheets, pillows, towels, ect, then start-up groceries, installing internet ect, and then to live for at least a month until you get paid. It really adds up.
3. Contact your schools: When I first came to Córdoba in 2010, I hadn’t contacted my school in advance at all, but when I found out the name of my school for this year in Logroño, I went and visited them in June, and kept in contact with them throughout the summer. My advice is to contact your schools now. If you are lucky, they will answer your emails, but more than likely you have to actually call them. I’ve only worked at elementary schools, (CEIP-colegio de educación infantil y primaria), and they are usually open from 9 to 2. Once summer vacation hits at the end of June, it’ll be almost impossible to talk to anyone.
It is a good idea to talk to the school if you have any questions, like commuting, if there is a carpool and if you need to pay for it. I didn’t have to pay to carpool with teachers to my village first year, but I have friends that had to pay around 100 euros a month extra to their teachers to let them ride with them. Personally I think this is REALLY unfair but maybe if you talk with the coordinator in advance you can work something out. If you are working in a village, you can ask if most of the auxiliars live in town or live in a bigger city and commute. I know people who have lived in the villages and loved it or hated it. It also depends on the size. Espejo, where I worked in Córdoba had a population of about 3,000 on a good day, which made the decision to live in Córdoba capital a lot easier.
Don’t forget to ask for a contact email of your coordinator for the summer, maybe even ask the name of the auxiliar from last year to contact them yourself, get the DL on your school, maybe try to mention what your schedule might be/ask for consecutive hours. They’ll probably change it around, but it can’t hurt to ask. My first year schedule sucked because they gave me hours that weren’t back to back. I had to wake up at 6:30 to work at 10 and I worked 12 hours a week but spent about 2o hours total at the school waiting for rides and the bus. This year I had a great schedule, working from 9-12 Monday to Thursday. Some people get shafted and have to work Mon, Tue, Wed and Fri, so ask about that too. But most importantly, ask what the payment situation was like the year before, if the auxiliares were paid on time or if the school itself pays you directly; this should help you decide on how much money to save before coming.
Some of my favorite teachers at my school this year
4. Transportation: Personally I have never paid more than $400 for a one-way flight to Spain, but I am extremely stingy when it comes to shelling out for flights, and I am also flying from the east coast. I recommend buying a one-way flight because who knows what your situation might be come May. My favorite websites for looking for cheap flights are Kayak, AerLingus, STAtravel and StudentUniverse. AerLingus is not a search engine, it is Ireland’s national airline, and for years I almost always find the best deals with them, now they are even partnered with United, but not only to do they fly to Madrid, they also fly to other cities in Spain, like Málaga.
Remember too that it will be most likely cheapest to fly into Madrid and then catch a bus or train to your new city, unless you’re in Barcelona, which isn’t likely since they cut the program this year. Spain’s train company is Renfe. Renfe has a horrible website and it’s notorious about rejecting US credit cards, so your best bet is to wait until you are in Spain to buy the tickets, but at least you can see the timetables online. Alsa is one of the major bus companies, but if you google “your city + autobus” you can usually find the company.
Some airlines will run deals for the fall, so it is worth it to check their sites directly. Bear in mind it can be hundreds of euros cheaper to fly in September than August. I tend to find the cheapest cities to have a layover in are in London or Dublin. You can also find national flights within Europe on discount airlines, such as RyanAir and EasyJet, but their baggage fees can be astronomical, so it might not be the wisest choice to fly one of them into Spain with 10 months of your life packed in your bag. Whichever airline you chose, make sure to check the baggage restrictions beforehand. So keep checking those sites until something cheap pops up, it’ll happen, I swear!
Next up: Packing for a year in Spain!