Think You Want to Be an Auxiliar? Part I


It’s that time of year again: Holiday parties, Christmas lights, mulled wine, and the Spanish Ministry of Education’s vague hints that they will be opening up the next Auxiliar de Conversación application process sometime in early January. Even though the 2014-2015 Spanish school year is nearly a year away, it’s time to start planning if you want to be a part of it. I would like this blog to serve as a resource for future Language Assistants, so without further ado, here is the first post in a three-part series.

Part 1: What to Think About Before Applying. 

How do you know if you actually want to be an Auxiliar de Conversación (or North American Language and Culture Assistant) in Spain? Here are some important questions to consider:

Would you be able to adapt to new cultural norms?

Most people romanticize living abroad, and forget that there are certain things that, however small they seem, take adjustment. Yes, Spain is in Europe, and it’s relatively more similar to the U.S. than, say, living and teaching in Korea. But still, you must be able to adapt. Here are just a few things that still catch me off-guard occasionally: much later meal times; two-kiss greetings; a lack of many American comfort foods and ingredients; people smoking everywhere, even inside apartments or right in your face as you wait for the bus; bizarre ideas of what counts as “customer service;” stores closing for hours mid-day; and then there’s the whole Spanish language component. For me (and most expats), these things take adjustment, but aren’t deal-breakers. But if you absolutely must have your nightly Kraft mac n’ cheese at 6 p.m. while watching Hulu videos in your carpeted living room, ask yourself if you could really make the switch.

Would you like working with children?

You don’t have to dream of being a teacher—in fact, this job taught me pretty quickly that’s it’s not what I want to do—but you have to at least be able to stand (or even better, like) working with kids. After my first week here I decided all parents were crazy for wanting kids. I even sent a text to my mom, “Please extinguish all hope of having grandchildren.” Now I’ve calmed down a bit, and can see a bit of charm in the unbridled thoughts and shameless pranks of a 14-year-old.

Could you handle solitude?

Working isn’t the same as studying abroad. You don’t come into it with a million Americans, hand-held by a program director, with 2 hours of basically optional class a day. At times you may feel alone and very unsupported . . . can you be ok with this? I was lucky in getting placed in Bilbao center, where there are a number of other Auxiliars, and at times I still feel like everyone who truly knows me is 9 time-zones away. If you wind up in a rural village in, say, Andalucía, you could be spending a lot of time with books and Skype until you integrate into the locals scene. This could be a huge potential for growth, but also an incredibly hard scenario to cope with. Are you up for the challenge?

Do you speak any Spanish?

I have a few friends here who don’t know much Spanish and are getting along really well. But I highly encourage prospective applicants to have at least an intermediate level, because crucial elements of living abroad—finding an apartment, getting a cell phone plan, making friends, grocery shopping, going to the doctor, getting to know your colleagues—are made vastly easier if you know the language. That being said, don’t be discouraged if you don’t—pick up a grammar book now, refresh your high-school skills, watch some telenovelas. . . . you have nine months until your potential arrival!

How much are you affected by the U.S.’s rat-race?

A small part of me here is worried that if I don’t get a “real” job soon, then I won’t ever reach a high level in a job I love at home. I dread the task of one day updating my very very empty LinkedIn account. But it’s important to keep perspective—everyone should go abroad at some point, and the longer you put it off, the harder it gets. So fresh out of college, or in your mid-twenties, is the ideal time! Also, the more I think about it, working 12-20 hours a week in Spain and making enough to comfortably live and travel is absolutely ideal—I’m not eager to become a stress-case back in the U.S., working 40 hours plus commute, paying sky-high rents, doing coffee-runs for my boss during my unpaid internship hours. Plus, maybe a future employer will take one look at my empty LinkedIn page and think, “She was so busy having such an enriching and adventurous time abroad that she didn’t have one minute to sit down and fill out this profile! We simply must have such a well-traveled and fresh mind on our team!” One can dream.

In the end, even if you’re on the fence about applying to be an Auxiliar de Conversación, I would recommend that you still submit an application and secure a spot, as it’s essentially first-come first-serve. Then you have months and months to weigh your options and decide if you want to come. People drop out all the time for family/employment/personal reasons, even as late as a few days before they are scheduled to come to Spain. Life throws curveballs, but better to have a guaranteed position in Spain than no fallback plan! (And better yet, have it be your first plan, and look forward to it with no reservations and no indecision :)

Click HERE to go to the official website for the Auxiliar de Conversación program, or North American Language and Culture Assistants (NALCA).

Next up: What to Think About While Applying