First Week in the Real World


A beautifully sunny (and increasingly rare) day in Bilbao

I officially completed my first week as a working member of the real world . . . if you can call it that. I taught ten lessons in a middle school and three hours in a private English academy. I have no idea how anyone throws themselves directly from college into a 9–5 workweek….13 hours seems like it should be the max! Luckily I have Wednesdays off every week, to recuperate from those oh-so-difficult three hours a day on Monday and Tuesday :)

So I am obviously easing in slowly—inching, really—to the adult world. But up until now I really haven’t written anything about what I’m actually doing work-wise in Spain. The reason for this is simple–I knew next to nothing about what my job would entail. But now after doing it for a week, I’m about 50% sure what this quarter-time employment is all about. (Sometimes I think 50% is the most you can know about anything while you’re in Spain. . . I’m only 50% sure that I actually have legal residency or a functional bank account, too….). Here’s the gist:

As a Language and Culture Assistant (Auxiliar de Conversación) employed by the Spanish Ministry of Education, I work 12 hours a week in an Escuela Secundaria (a mix of middle school and high school) as part of the country’s effort to enhance its “bilingual education.” (Kudos to them, for making a push for bilingual education at all, but let me say up front here that Basque Country and Spain in general is no Scandinavia. The level of English here is not impressive. I’m in no position to judge, as the U.S.’s language education is even worse, but still….take the term “bilingual education” with a grain of salt.) I’m working with the school’s English department, and each week I rotate through the classrooms and work with students mainly on their conversation and pronunciation skills. I’ve been told that I’ll be alone with half the class each period–I’m lucky in that my school is small, so half of every class is normally only 8 or 9 students.

My school is in the outermost neighborhood of Bilbao proper, called Zorroza. It’s a working-class neighborhood hit harder than other areas by the economic crisis, and let’s just say it lacks some of the charm of the main city center, but so far I’ve found it nice. I can either walk from my house to work along the river for 45 minutes, or take a quick bus ride. One fun fact about my school is that apart from English class, all subjects are taught in Euskera (the official language of Basque Country, along with Spanish.) This means that when I log into the computers or try to use the projectors, I’m doing a lot of guesswork–all the buttons are in gibberish. Am I opening or closing a program? Did I accidentally just shut down the whole operating system? I usually just click something and hope for the best. Many times teachers will also talk to one another in this indecipherable language in the staff lounge. I only just discovered that a message scribbled on the communal whiteboard informed all teachers that we won’t have electricity on Monday–luckily someone was nice enough to translate, or I may have been caught off guard during my first lesson alone. I was nervous about all this Euskera business at first, but I’ve found all the teachers to be so nice, accommodating, and eager to help me that now I’m not worried at all. Everyone is more than happy to switch to Spanish, and it’s keeping me on my toes, this illiteracy I’m experiencing.

Bilbao's riverfront

Bilbao’s riverfront

More to come on teaching middle schoolers as I start my second week–this first week I just gave the same Powerpoint presentation over and over again, and heard over 100 introductions of, “My name is ____, I have fourteen years.” If I manage to teach every student this year that in English we say “I am 14″ instead of “I have 14 years,” I’ll consider it a glowing success.

So that consumes 12 hours of my week. What do I do the rest of the time, besides think of blog entries and sip thimble-sized lattes? I’ve set up nine hours of private English tutoring, some at a language academy and some at private homes. Since Bilbao is relatively rich compared to the rest of Spain, there is great money to be made in private lessons–sometimes it feels unreal that I can make $25 an hour just because I was born into a language of economic and social power. But we’ll save the politics of linguistics for another day….

So there you have it: Working 21 hours a week in beautiful Bilbao. Any obstacle I may come across–that the program is disorganized, that some middle-schoolers are really the worst creatures on Earth, that my body is struggling from a lack of sun-supplied Vitamin D–I’ll just remind myself that I’m working part-time in one of the most beautiful regions in the world, with full health-care and more than a month of paid vacation leave. Oh socialism, you really are a wonderful thing. I think it was a good call, deciding to delay the REAL real world a bit longer and move abroad :)

  • Luc

    I’m fifty percent sure things are coming together awesomely for you! This is really honest and it made me laugh. Good post :)