Meddeas. /mə.ˈðeɪ.əs/ Acronym: Multilingual Education Development and Support. My golden ticket to residency in Barcelona.
I’m not married to a European. I wasn’t hired by a multinational corporation in the States. Spain’s main English teaching program, the one I did last year in Bilbao, doesn’t offer placements in Catalonia, and hence, Barcelona. So how am I here legally?
In a word (well, acronym): Meddeas.
Meddeas is not an English academy or an English Language teaching program. Rather, it is a private contracting company that sets up teachers with schools.
I was hired to teach English 20 hours a week through Meddeas. It’s a similar deal to the Spanish Ministry of Education’s NALCA program—I’m an auxiliar de conversación, or English language assistant. This means I’m not the primary teacher in the classroom, but rather there to help out as a native speaker, mostly with conversation.
Meddeas works with private institutions all throughout Spain. (For the purpose of this post, I’m only focusing on Barcelona. However, the majority of Meddeas placements are in Madrid, and they do offer positions throughout the whole country.) This is in contrast to the government program, which only places auxiliars in public schools. Meddeas works anywhere from daycares up to high schools.
There are three levels of the Meddeas grant program, depending on how much you really want to be a teacher in the future, and how much experience you have teaching already. You’d be part of the Advanced, Graduate, or Speakers program (see chart below). The program you do determines your wage, hours, and workload. I am doing the “Graduate” program, meant for people who don’t really see themselves as teachers long-term.
Meddeas also offers an option between living with a host family or living on your own. Obviously this is a personal choice—I believe placements are divided pretty evenly between the two, so it’s not like choosing one over the other gives you a better chance at getting hired. If you live with a host family, you’re given room and board, so your wages are lower. If it were my first year in Spain, I may have opted to live with a host family in the interest of language and culture immersion. As it’s my third year, I needed more freedom, so I found my own shared flat.
As part of the deal with Meddeas, you are required to participate in an online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course. This is included (read: free) with your job, but means you also must do the extra work. If you don’t complete the course, you can’t renew for a second year. The TEFL course is certainly beneficial in the fact that it explains effective teaching methods (something the government program doesn’t give a damn about helping you with). However, if you don’t plan on teaching ESL in the future, it’s extra time and effort spent in something you won’t use later on.
This chart can explain things much more comprehensively:
The Meddeas Application Process
Contact Meddeas saying you are interested in the auxiliar position. They will send you a questionaire to fill out, and ask for your CV. The questionaire is simple: your basic information; what size city you prefer not to live in; what age you prefer to teach; if you prefer to work in a secular or Catholic school. (Note: answer to this last question does not affect your chances of being placed.)
If this goes well, Meddeas will contact you to set up a Skype interview. My interview lasted about 20-30 minutes and didn’t strike me as difficult. The weirdest question I remember was, “Tell us a bit about your elementary school experience.” I was all, “If I remember correctly, at age 5 I made some friends and at age 8 I learned some cursive. Classes were chill. No complaints.” How that makes me a desirable candidate in today’s market, I have yet to understand.
If you sufficiently wooed them over Skype, the next step is a mandatory in-person interview. Here is where many of you will hit a roadblock. Meddeas REQUIRES that you’re there in person, but they only hold interviews in a very small number of places. This year, the representatives are as follows:
Spain: Madrid, Barcelona and Pamplona
UK: Cardiff, London, Manchester, Birmingham
USA: Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Washington (state), Los Angeles
So basically, if I were back home near San Francisco instead of in Bilbao last year, doing Meddeas probably wouldn’t have been feasible. It’s not likely I would have driven 8 hours to Los Angeles for an interview. Luckily for me, Pamplona was just a 2-hour bus-ride from Bilbao. (And at the time, I thought that seemed ridiculous!)
Hear back from them, yay or nay. If it’s yay, they’ll inform you about the complete information of the location, age range of your students, and school’s characteristics and expectations before you accept. If you reject the assigned school—say, you’re not happy with the location or age group—they may try to find you another placement, but it’s not guaranteed.
Start your visa paperwork if you’re American; kick back with your feet up if you’re British or Irish.
Timeline for Meddeas Hiring Process
Applications are on a rolling basis. There is no set deadline, but obviously the sooner, the better (before spots fill). Applications are usually available in January. I submitted my app on February 12, had the Skype interview on February 28, and the in-person interview in Pamplona on March 28. On April 9 I received an email saying they “ideally wanted to hire me,” but at the moment didn’t have a position that fit all my needs. (I had a lot of needs—see below.) They emailed me again on May 14 saying that a position had become available at a daycare in the center of Barcelona, and I accepted.
So here’s the secret to how I’m in Barcelona. . . .
When I went to Pamplona for an interview, I had almost convinced myself I wanted to stay in Bilbao with the government program for another year. I didn’t love my time in Bilbao, but the thought of starting over from scratch yet again seemed daunting, and I was sure Bilbao would grow on me. In fact, I almost cancelled my in-person interview in Pamplona, because I figured, why waste the money on a bus ticket?
The point is, I went in to the interview with zero nerves, because I thought I didn’t care about the outcome. So I was cool, calm, and collected. And of course, like all things in life, you mess up when you’re nervous, and hit home runs when you care the least.
The interview lasted double the time because the directer of the program and I hit it off, chatting and joking aimlessly for an hour and a half. Plus, since I had a year’s worth of experience as a language assistant already, I could answer questions without too much bull-shitting. By the end of the interview, I had completely changed my blasé attitude towards the job—I WANTED TO BE HIRED. I NEEDED TO MOVE TO BARCELONA. So, first piece of advice to being placed where you want: Nail the interview. (This may be obvious. But it’s important.)
In the interview, he asked if I had a preference of location. I decided right there that I would tell the absolute truth. I told him, very politely but in no uncertain terms, that I really wanted Barcelona and would realistically only accept the position if it were in Barcelona. If not, I was happy with Bilbao and would just stay put with the government program. I told him I had lived in Granada and Bilbao already, had traveled extensively throughout Spain, and wasn’t saying I wanted Barcelona because it’s the typical place to party, hang with other Americans, speak English, or catch cheap flights to other places.
I told him the truth: For my third year in Spain—now that I had already experienced much of Spanish (and Basque) culture and knew the language—I craved an international city. I told him I was also a writer, and a cosmopolitan environment with more opportunities—besides teaching, I even admitted—really appealed to me. In addition, with my linguistic background, I was interested in learning Catalan (which I’ve now started classes for). I said that realistically, for my future plans, it was probably Bilbao, Barcelona, or back home.
Second piece of advice: Be honest. If you will truly reject a placement if it’s in the middle of no where, better to speak up beforehand. If you will ONLY accept a placement in a certain place, say that too. Keep in mind, it’s like giving them an ultimatum, and it may not work out the way you want. As always, it’s much better to be flexible with placements than to say, “This or nothing.” There is so much to be said for experiencing and being open to off-the-beaten-track places in Spain. (For example, fellow auxiliar Trevor Huxham lived in the “undesirable” province of Jaen and loved it.) In my case, I simply didn’t want to waste their time, knowing that I would either stay in Bilbao or move back to California unless Barcelona came into the mix.
Two weeks later, I received a message from Meddeas saying that they wanted to hire me, but in that moment, there wasn’t a position available that fit all my criteria (in the middle of Barcelona; not too Catholic; not living with a host-family; Graduate program; monthly bonus of rainbows and puppies.) I hadn’t exactly given them much to work with.
I gave up hope and resigned myself once again to renewing in Bilbao. I tried to convince myself I was totally happy there. I even visited Barcelona that April and was less than impressed, mostly because the insane amount of tourists.
Then Meddeas wrote back saying a position opened up. Only thing was, it had a weird split schedule (I work 9–12 and then 5:30–6:30 every day) and it was at a daycare. WITH BABIES. Did I want it?
Keep in mind. Meddeas DOES NOT EQUAL Barcelona.
The thing is, I got lucky. I also did a good interview, and had a strong resumé (since I had already been an English Assistant for one year, and had studied Linguistics in college). There are very few spots in Barcelona—in fact, at my orientation kick-off meeting I met only two other girls placed in or around the city. I believe the director told me there were about ten spots total in Barcelona. The fact that my school is in the CENTER of Barcelona, and a 10 minute walk from my flat in El Raval, is even luckier still.
But a handful of spots in Barcelona is a handful more than the government program offers. Meddeas is a great option for those trying to make their (legal) way to the Catalonian capital.
(To go to Meddeas’ website, click here.)
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll make sure to reply! For more updates about Meddeas, teaching English and Barcelona throughout the year, get future posts delivered right to your inbox. And make sure to follow A Thing For Wor(l)ds on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!