10 Mistakes Auxiliares in Spain Make Again and Again

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auxiliar mistakes Spain

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.

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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.

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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.

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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.

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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.

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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.

Read more: Budget for 30+ cities in Spain and how to make extra money while living in Spain

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?

auxiliar mistakes 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

auxiliar mistakes 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.

First year

auxiliar mistakes Spain

Second year

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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 

auxiliar mistakes Spain

5. Overpacking

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

auxiliar mistakes 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.

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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.

Read more: friendship and moving abroad, auxiliar stereotypes, how to swear in Spanish, what NOT to say in Spanish

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.

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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.

Read more: how to party in Spain and drinking in Spain

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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”

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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.

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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.

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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”

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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.

auxiliar mistakes Spain

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.

auxiliar mistakes Spain

So how excited are YOU for Spain?

Have you been to Spain before? Have you been an auxiliar? Have any tips for future auxiliars?

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80 Comments on “10 Mistakes Auxiliares in Spain Make Again and Again

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  1. A big mistake I made was not bringing running or basketball shoes at first. They are an arm and a leg out in Spain. I brought 4 pairs of shoes (bball and running) my second year and I saved all the money (and more) when my bag went over weight. If I bought the same shoes, I would have paid double or more with the exchange and the fact the retail price is much higher in general.

    1. that is a really good point! I always just brought my running and hiking shoes from home, but those kinds of brands are so expensive in spain, everything else is cheap but anything sporty is costly.

  2. After two years as an auxiliar, I agree with all of these except for the Santander one. All the banks in Spain will try to screw you over, not just Santander. And it seems to vary more from branch to branch than bank to bank, so it’s a matter of luck. I had horrendous luck with my La Caixa account, which I had open for all of about three days (they tried to steal about €80 in that time), and ended up at Santander, which provided enough frustration but never ripped me off. So rather than advising people to stay away from Santander, I suggest just being super cautious, asking tons of questions, and sticking to your guns no matter where you open your Spanish bank account.

    Surviving for two years with a Spanish bank account may be the biggest accomplishment of my life. Sigh.

    1. You’re definitely right about the variation, true for most things in Spain I think. Management varies SO much everywhere, it’s so frustrating. What kinds of problems did you have with la caixa? Are you over 26? I’ve heard only positive things about them and my experience was fab.

      It’s definitely the best to ask a lot of questions maybe talk to 2nd year auxiliares in your town, ect, before picking a bank. God knows there are plenty to chose from haha

  3. Was I a Spanish banking expert? I have heard SO MANY horrible things about Santander and I somehow managed to have basically zero fees for two years. The only time they charged me a fee was when I closed my account (like 10% of the remaining balance) but I took all but maybe 6 euros out of my account before I closed it. The only reason I wish I’d gone with La Caixa is because their cards were prettier.

    1. Shana–I’m curious to hear how and why they charged you such a high percent to close your account. Am I understanding this correctly in that they took out 10% or your remaining 6 Euros? In other words, can I avoid this by simply withdrawing 99% of my money before closing the account?

  4. hahaha this post is great and especially the gifs 😀

    And thanks for the reminder about being assertive! The school I’m going to next year has mentioned in passing that “I will be teaching some classes on my own” but with a tutor in the classroom…and writing lesson plans on my own by the end of the school year and I’m just like eeeeeeeeeeehhhhhh can we not. But we’ll see. I don’t know if I want to teach as a career so I honestly wouldn’t mind some experience like that. And I did basically nothing at my old school so feeling halfway useful would be a better change.

    All of these are super great tips! And thanks again for mentioning La Caixa bank; I went with them this year and have had zero problems with them. I was even able to find bank branches in po-dunk Galician villages along the Camino de Santiago which surprised me. They really are everywhere!

    1. Yikes! I would put your foot down now before you get sucked in. That’s definitely not in the job description, especially if you don’t even want to be a teacher. I did have some teacher auxiliar friends who showed up at the first day, saw how the classes were run, and we’re like HELL NO and took over completely for the year, but if you don’t have all the training that is going to be SO much extra work for you! And stress too, especially if you already have to plan lessons for your private classes.

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