Since I moved abroad, I’ve received messages asking how I do what I do practically every other day. Finally after typing the same answer a million times, I decided I’d make an FAQ answering all the questions I encounter the most. I hope this helps anyone considering moving abroad, whether it’s to teach or not. If I left out your question, comment at the end and I’ll be sure to answer! It can be a daunting process and experience, so I hope this post encourages and excites you about the possibilities that lie ahead!
Can you tell me about your program?
Why, I’d love to! I’m an Auxiliar de Conversacion, or a North American Language and Cultural Assistant. I live in Madrid, Spain, teaching English. Through this program, you can be placed anywhere in Spain. You pick your top three regions and are placed based upon the need. I believe there are currently about 2,000 auxiliares working in Madrid. The application opens in January—you can check out their (horrible) website here. The program is a bit unorganized and doesn’t do much to help the assistants, but with A LOT of patience, it can bring you to Spain!
A more helpful place to learn about the Auxiliar program is through the Young Adventuress’s blog.
What does your job entail?
One of the most important things to understand about this program is that as auxiliares, we aren’t given our own classroom. We assist the English teachers by working one on one with the students, making presentations for the lessons, preparing the students for their big English exams and teaching about American culture (our holidays, foods, etc.). I’ve organized penpals, given presentations on Thanksgiving and planned a visit from my dad, who taught the kids about being a pilot (see below)! The children take English classes, as well as science classes taught in English. Basically, as an auxiliar, you get to be the fun teacher. No papers to grade, no needy parents to deal with, no disciplining the difficult kids, no lesson plans—it’s rather simple and really fun!
How much do you work?
I work Tuesday-Friday (that’s right… four day weeks!), 9 a.m.-4 p.m., although a lot of schools end at 2 p.m. Spain also has a ridiculous number of holidays which means even more days off!
What is your school like?
My small school is about an hour away from the city center. It’s at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in a quaint little village. I honestly love it and never mind the commute! The school is preschool through sixth grade and I assist with third and fourth. I really adore the kids, but that could be just because I only know their cute, broken English personalities. They have a very high level of English and I usually have really cute conversations with them. For a day by day break down, click here! The teachers are also very inclusive and plan dinners and lunches and they’re always willing to practice Spanish with me.
How much do you get paid and is it enough to live off of?
As an auxiliar in Madrid, I receive 1,000 euros a month, but auxiliares in other parts of Spain receive 700 per month. I also teach two private lessons per week, which brings in an extra 120 euros per month. Of course, I’ve completely failed at saving money while living here, but this income is definitely sufficient to live off of and travel with.
How can you afford to travel so much?
Refer to this post! You’ll find everything you need to know and more.
Do you receive insurance?
We receive insurance through Cigna. I’ve been to the doctor for the flu and I didn’t pay a dime! My boyfriend, Spencer, also had surgery on his eye and it didn’t cost him anything. The insurance covers A LOT, including laser hair removal. Welcome to Europe!
Was it hard to get a visa?
I’m not going to sugar coat this–getting a visa sucked. For this job, the program requires a student visa, but doesn’t give very many details on acquiring it. Every office or department we talked to sent us to the next place. No one could help and it was honestly a nightmare. We found a great explanation on this blog and essentially followed the steps Trevor listed there. If you have questions about this part, all I honestly know and remember was that we had to go to Houston for some of the paperwork.
How much money did you bring with you?
I saved and saved and saved before I moved. I was working a full-time job, so I ended up coming over with more than necessary. I would suggest bringing at least $2,000 to begin with, as you may have to make a deposit on an apartment; pay to start up internet, phones, etc. The beginning is just really cost heavy, and although you start work October 1st, you don’t get paid until the last day of the month. Having some extra cash to work with is definitely helpful.
How much Spanish did you know before you moved?
Spanish was my minor in college. Unfortunately for me, that meant absolutely nothing. So to answer this question, I had a very tiny, minuscule foundation. Like the amount a parrot could learn—but with less confidence. Luckily in Madrid, English is very widely spoken. Of course, it’s extremely helpful if you can speak Spanish, but it’s not impossible if you can’t. If anything, you’ll catch on quick. Oh, and if you already speak Spanish, that’s great! But if you’re from the USA, I’m guessing you learned South American Spanish… so be ready for some giggles when you use words like “computadora,” “escuela” or “chistoso.”
Do you feel safe living abroad?
I feel safer here than I did in DFW. I’ve only ever felt threatened once… and that was when a riot broke out over a soccer match. Plus, have you noticed the outrageous gun problem the United States is experiencing? Yeah, none of that is going on here. As a 20-something female, I would say Spain is an extremely safe place to be as long as you’re aware of your surroundings and belongings—as you should be anywhere in the world.
What is your living situation like?
I live in a very small apartment (think 33 sq. meters or 350 sq. feet) with Spencer in the center of Madrid. Although it was furnished when we moved in, we don’t have a dryer, freezer, oven or microwave. We live on the fifth floor in an old building with no elevator. For one bedroom, one bathroom and a kitchen/dining room, we pay 500 euros per month, plus utilities, which run us about an extra 100 euros. It took us three days to find an apartment, but with more time and a higher level of Spanish we could have found something much better. We had to sign a contract, but I do believe it’s possible to find places that let you pay month by month.
Do you get homesick a lot?
Not as much as I expected to! I was definitely a homebody before moving abroad. My university was just 45 minutes from my hometown, so I was home almost every Sunday for dinner or laundry. Being so far away now, I expected to have some serious meltdowns but that hasn’t happened! Of course I miss my family and I get very sad when I have to miss out on special occasions, but it definitely helps when you keep yourself busy and plan a lot of things (traveling) to look forward to. Check out this post for a list of the things I miss the most!
Was it scary to make that move?
I remember landing at the Madrid Barajas airport, sweating and wondering what the hell I just did. Thankfully, coming here with Spencer made things a lot less scary, but I questioned the decision every day for the first couple of weeks. I had a lot of anxiety and I panicked a lot. Luckily, once I got settled, started my job and began exploring Europe, I realized this was the best decision I’ve ever made for myself. I’m a stronger, more independent person but most importantly, I’m chasing my dreams! I feel so proud that I took that leap of faith and can’t imagine my life any other way now. If I can do it, you definitely can, too.