10 Things All New Auxiliares Should Know

I remember last year at this time when I was thinking about doing the Auxiliar de Conversacion program in Spain. I had about a million questions running through my head, and I felt like every blog post I read or facebook group post I read was giving me some solid answers, but also some mixed answers on a few different topics. So, I decided to write this for new auxiliares about the top 10 things I think they should know BEFORE coming into the program.

1. It’s in Spain. I know this is obvious, but with the program being in Spain means that it operates under a spanish timeline. What I mean is that everything takes a little longer here. Everything from a visit to a restaurant to getting your NIE card. With that being said, you also won’t find out about your school placement for awhile, and even after you do, you probably won’t get too much information until the first day you walk into the school. Also, basically the whole month of August, Spain is on vacation, so don’t expect any emails regarding your school to be returned then. Unless you get a school director that’s super into technology and communication, which is rare. But remember the positive too–it’s in Spain! Siestas, vino, parties, different culture, travel, etc. 

Spain in a nutshell. (source)

Spain in a nutshell. (source)

2. It’s run by the Spanish Government. Be prepared for bureaucracy at is finest. It took me FOREVER to get my NIE/TIE because I live in Bizkaia but my school is in Gipuzkoa, so I had to go to San Sebastian police station to get my NIE (just the number), but then had to get my TIE (the actual card) from the Bilbao police station. Why? Not really sure. It really depends on who is working what day and your luck. But in my experience, put a smile on your face and attempt to speak spanish and (most) people will be helpful.

3. Brush up on Spanish BEFORE you come. Listen to music, study general vocab and verbs, etc. Check out my post about learning spanish if you need some ideas!

Don't be this person when you come. (source)

Don’t be this person when you come. (source)

4. Find housing AFTER you come. Don’t agree to anything before you come. It’s better to book a hostel or hotel for a week and figure out where you want to live once you get a feeling of the city or pueblo you’re living in.

5. Come with money. There have been lots of posts in the auxiliares facebook page and the general consensus is come with about $2000-$2500 saved. I came with that much and it really helped me when I needed to quit aupairing and live on my own.

6. Settle first, travel later. Yes, you’re living in Europe and it’s really exciting that you can travel everywhere so easily. But if I could go back and change something, I wouldn’t have traveled so much in the beginning here. It was overwhelming and I feel like now I have a good group of friends who have become my travel buddies and I enjoy the trips I take more. I think trying to settle and getting to know the city you’re living in first is really important. I didn’t feel settled here until late December, then I went to the USA for Xmas and it took me another money after I got home to resettle.

Me, when I got here lolol. I'm still like this. #wanderlustproblems (source)

Me, when I got here lolol. I’m still like this. #wanderlustproblems (source)

7. Use social media and word of mouth for private classes. I got the majority of my classes using the facebook groups. People always post about people wanting private lessons, and once you find a family or two, it usually just snowballs to more people wanting them. Be open to teaching both children and adults. I give a lot of lessons to adults and they are my favorite classes!

8. Bring an unlocked iPhone (or other phone that is unlocked). Seriously. This is one thing I STRUGGLED with when I got here. I don’t like to be that person that is attached to their phone, but when you move to a foreign country and are trying to settle, technology is VITAL. You need it to schedule private classes, for apartment searching, maps if you get lost. I didn’t have a working iPhone here until the middle of November (about 7 weeks after I got here) and it was just awful. If you have an unlocked iPhone, all you have to do is get a sim card and pop it in! It’s so easy. I use Yoigo and I love it. It ends up being about 10 euros a month and I have 3G and cheap texting/calling. In Spain, everyone uses Whatsapp, so text message prices never factor in anyways. And I only call for emergencies. I can recharge my sim card online and I do it every 2 months. So just bring an unlocked phone and save yourself the hassle of getting it unlocked here, or worse, having to buy a phone here. 

9. Not everything is going to work out–be flexible. When I first got here, I was a live in aupair. It was awful. It seemed like it was going to be the perfect situation because I would have free rent/food and only had to watch the kids a few hours a day. Well, a few hours turned into a lot of hours and I was overwhelmed and felt like I had no life here. After a month, I quit aupairing, moved out, find an apartment and began giving private classes. Just remember to be flexible and if something doesn’t work out, change it. 

Always true! No matter the situation. (source)

Always true! No matter the situation. (source)

10. Just breath! It’ll be fine! It’s going to be overwhelming at times, but it’s an adventure and a HUGE learning experience. The best part is, you’re in Spain, so everything is more laid back here. In the USA, I felt like my life NEVER slowed down and I was always going and stressed. Here, while I was really overwhelmed when I first got here, I did have time to relax and breath once I quit aupairing. So relax, half the struggle is making the decision to come and the first 1-2 months of living here. But like any big change in life, it takes time. You’re not going to feel settled and comfortable over night, but give it time. I really think it’s about making it over that 2 month mark, and then it’s pretty smooth sailing. 

Just go! (source)

Just go! (source)

I hope this helps any auxiliares who are thinking about doing the program! I would highly recommend it. And if you hate it, the time FLIES. I am in month 7 or my 8 month contract, and it seems like I just got here YESTERDAY. Let me know if you have any other questions, I’d be happy to answer them!

 

Hiking to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

Since moving to Bilbao, I’ve spent a lot of my weekends hiking and exploring! Basque Country is also known as The Little Switzerland because it has so many mountains. After living in Ohio my whole life, living around mountains is such a nice change from the flat farms I’m used to! My first hike I did was  one of my favorites and definitely my most memorable. Two of my auxiliar friends and I decided to hike from Bermeo to Bakio and make a stop at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (pronounced: GAZ-TEL-U-GA-CHE). Our hike overall looked (something) like this:

Picture 73

We took the bus from Bilbao to Bermeo (about an hour). Bermeo is right on the coast and had a beautiful port.

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On the way to the mountain, we ran into a market in Bermeo and took a few minutes to explore it! It was adorable.

Different kinds of tea leaves

Different kinds of tea leaves

After that, we began our ascend into the mountain and after some climbing, we could see a view of Bermeo.

Picture 76

When you leave the pueblos in the Basque Country, there are a lot of farms and random houses along the roads in the mountains. Whenever I hike, I always see more animals than people….sheep, cows, chickens, etc. I always get a good laugh from the farm animals in Spain.

Get some serious side eye from the cows

Get some serious side eye from the cows

After about 3 hours of hiking, we reached San Juan de Gaztelugatxe POR FIN (okay, let’s give it a nickname… SJDG for short)! The thing about SJDG is you have to hike to it. There isn’t a bus that goes to it, but once you are there, you also have to climb 274 stairs to get to the top. After a hike up a mountain from Bermeo and back down to see SJDG , the stairs were a little rough, but totally worth it! One things I’ve learned through all my travels is that the climb is always worth it (whether it be the Bell Tower in Florence, the million stairs in Cinque Terre, etc).

Picture 78

After seeing SJDG (and climbing the stairs to SJDG), we were pretty tired. It had been about 5 hours of hiking at this point, but like I said, there is no bus that goes to/from SJDG, so we had planned on hiking to either Bermeo or Bakio. Luckily, when we were hiking to SJDG, we already saw a view of Bakio, so we didn’t really care which pueblo we took the bus back to Bilbao from. We just really wanted to get to the closet bus stop and get back to Bilbao.

Bakio

Bakio

We began walking on the road, thinking we were going the right way only to be greeted with some traffic cones and the road being closed. Did I mention this whole road was uphill? At this point, we were stumped. We thought we were heading back to Bermeo to catch the bus, but the road was closed. A car drove up and we tried to ask them a question, but they weren’t very helpful and they drove off. So there we stood. Three Americans on the coast of Spain by a dead end road, completely exhausted from hiking all day but 5k from BOTH towns with bus stations. The struggle was real. Just when I was running out of hope and coming to terms with the fact that we were going to be walking from SJDG to Bakio, another car sped up the mountain and stopped at the dead end. We asked them which pueblo was closer and they looked at us like we were crazy for considering walking to either. In the car was a lady, man and their child. I heard the lady and man speaking in Basque. Next thing I knew, he was rearranging stuff in his compact car to make room for us! They drove us from SJDG to Bakio. When we got to the Bakio bus stop, the lady promptly got out of her car to check to make sure the buses were still running for us. Once she found out the buses were still running, she let us leave. We graciously thanked her and her family, and then hopped on the bus back to Bilbao. At least now, I can officially check Hitchhiking off my bucket list….

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Have you ever hitchhiked? Do you enjoy hiking? What’s your most memorable hike? 

Auxiliar de Conversación Program in Spain

Hello loves!

So the most common question I get is people asking me what program I do in Spain. So I decided to just do a general post about the program and my experience thus far. The program is called North American Language and Culture Assistant or in spanish, the Auxiliar de Conversacion Program. It is done through the Spanish government. There are about 2,000 (mostly) Americans that come to Spain each year to work in schools around the country. I work 12 hours a week and get a stipend of 700 euros ($950) a month, tax free (Or if you are in Madrid, you work 16 hours and get 1000 euros ($1350)). I am over here on a student visa, and the work I am doing is considered “graduate” work (lol don’t ask me how Spain swung this one…).

My basic role in the classroom is a language assistant, so I will take half of the class and do complementary activities with them, mostly relating to pronunciation and speaking. Sometimes, I lesson plan, sometimes I grade papers, sometimes I sub a class, sometimes I get called off work…for a whole week, sometimes I don’t do much in class, sometimes I teach German exchange students, sometimes I drink wine with colleagues in the middle of the day…….If you can’t tell, my job isn’t really defined. And that is the most important thing I think anyone who is considering this program needs to know. There isn’t much regulation and it can be a real hit or miss, depending on your school placement. Luckily, my school director/boss is awesome!! He’s been so helpful and if I need help with anything, he is a great resource and so helpful. One day, I was talking about needing to go to the dentist, and he offered to take me to his dentist for a consultation. So helpful.

When you apply, you preference what region you want and what the size of the city or pueblo you want and the age of the students you want to teach. Then, the Spanish government assigns school placements. I’m honestly not even sure they look at the applications. I preferenced Catalonia, Valencia and Madrid and said I wanted to live in a big city and got placed in Pais Vasco and my school is in a pueblo (note: I later found out Catalonia and Valencia were no longer participating in the program due to budget cuts). But hey, it all turned out good!

To apply you need to be a college graduate or completing your final semester of school and have proof (ex: transcripts). The prefer some spanish language classes (not a strict requirement, I only had one semester in college). You also need a letter of recommendation and a letter of intent. It’s an easy application. The only hard part is it’s in spanish and the website they use for it is a little difficult. I’m talking about you, profex. 

After you get a placement, you have five days to accept or reject the placement. Placements usually aren’t given out until the end of April or May. People still receive placements through August and September. The biggest factor in receiving a placement is your inscrita number (aka your application number). This program is on a first come, first serve basis. So if you’re even thinking about doing it, apply and then think after. 

Also, talking about the money. The stipend doesn’t seem like a lot because you really aren’t working that much. I remember when I told me dad about it, he about fell over and told me it would be impossible. Luckily, because you aren’t working that much, you have plenty of time to pick up private classes, which are so easy to find (through fellow auxiliares, through Facebook groups, the school, tusclasesparticulares.com). I currently teach around 10-12 hours extra of private lessons a week and charge 15-25euros ($20-$34)/hour, depending on the kind of class it is. So if money is what you’re worried about, don’t let that factor into the decision. It was what I was most worried about, but I’ve gotten here and I’m fine! I mean, I definitely budget and don’t shop at Louis Vuitton, but I’m not struggling. Cost of living here is also a lot cheaper than in the USA.

My experience so far has been good, but it is definitely what you make out of it. It is a very independent program. I consider myself a very independent person, but at times, it’s been very challenging for me. But I would recommend this program to anyone who wants to live abroad, travel, experience new things, improve/learn spanish. And at the end of the day, it’s only 8 months (9 if you are in Madrid). The time flies!

I’ve made some great friends who are also auxiliares and consider them my family here in Bilbao :) The coolest thing about this program, is the people you meet who are also auxiilares are very similar to you and it’s really easy to relate to them. Having a good group of friends here is the #1 thing you need. Yeah, you need to set up a bank account and get a metro card and a piso, but at the end of the day, my friends here have made the difference!

Anyways, here is the website for the program: http://www.mecd.gob.es/eeuu/convocatorias-programas/convocatorias-eeuu/auxiliares-conversacion-eeuu.htmlThe application period opened January 9 and is open until April 1. APPLY APPLY APPLY if you are even considering doing the program, because I think inscrita numbers are already pretty high. 

There is also a Facebook group for auxiliares. JOIN AT YOUR OWN RISK. People argue and post about dumb things and it’s mildly entertaining but also annoying. Definitely turn off your notifications for the group. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Along with this post, this website is also a pretty good resource for what to expect if you decide to do this program…. http://whatshouldwecallauxiliares.tumblr.com/ lol.

Let me know if you have any other questions about the program! You can comment or email me. 

En serio, si estas pensado sobre haciendo la programa, aplicas!!!! 

Trip to Vitoria and My First Pinxtos!

Today, I had my first day of orientation for my job as an auxiliar! I woke up extra early because the bus ride to get to Vitoria is about an hour and I have to take the tram to the bus station. One thing I’ve loved so far is Bilbao’s public transportation. I purchased a Barik card that can be used on the metro, tram and Bilbao bus system. All you do is add money and you get transportation cheaper than if you were buying single tickets. So simple!

Before orientation, I met with some fellow auxiliars at the bus station and we took the bus. Our first day of orientation was en el Salon de actos del Gobierno Vasco, which is a government building located along the outskirts of Vitoria. The orientation was all in spanish so it was really difficult for me to understand, until an Australian guy who apparently either works for the government or is an older auxiliar started speaking. He spoke slowly and more animated than the others. I felt so accomplished after he finished talking about the TIE/NIE (aka green cards) we will need to legally stay in Spain and I understood exactly how to get one! He also made me feel really excited to be doing this program and to be living in Basque Country. I haven’t even been here a week and I already feel like I’m in the best region of Spain. 

The orientation was short and over by 11:30am, so some fellow auxiliars and I went out to explore the city for a few hours. Vitoria is the capital of Pais Vasco, so I was really excited to see the city. Since we began on the outskirts at the government building, at first I was unimpressed. However, after walking about 10-15 minutes towards the center of the city, it transformed into a beautiful city and I went pretty picture (and later, instagram) crazy.vit2

vit1

vit3I really enjoyed walking around Vitoria! It has beautiful, old architecture and is a very “green” friendly city. It’s very clean and they encourage green things like using public transportation/buses. While in Vitoria, I also had my first pinxtos in Basque Country!! They were SO GOOD. Pinxtos are the basque version of tapas. I love them because they are really small portions so you can try a bunch! I got two; one was a ham sandwich on a sweet croissant and the other was caramelized bacon, goat cheese and a walnut on a sliced baguette. I obviously also had to have multiple copas de vino blanco because I aupair in the evening and wine is necessary for that. And drinking wine at any hour/all hours is completely normal in Europe……so yeah, I’m never leaving ;). vit4

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