As a Language Assistant in Spain, you have to teach in the school throughout the week. But once you finish your teaching schedule, you have plenty of time to enjoy yourself, meet new people and even learn Spanish. Here I will tell you about 7 things I do outside school while being a Language Assistant in Spain.
One of the reasons I chose to spend my gap year as a Language Assistant is that it allows you to have free time. I’ll be doing an intensive yearlong master’s program after this, followed by working full-time as a teacher. So, I knew I’d prefer dipping my toes first rather than diving in the deep end. And of course, having free time abroad gives you plenty of time to explore the country. At least, as much as we can, of course, due to COVID restrictions.
Even though I’ve never taught full-time, I’ve always enjoyed having busy days. In college, a typical semester consisted of 16 credit hours, 10 hours a week of work as a research assistant. Plus, hitting the gym daily, and a cappella rehearsals three times a week.
Since living in Spain, I’ve gotten to maintain most of my hobbies and even gain a couple new ones. Here are 8 things I do outside school that I’ve enjoyed and recommend doing if you have time.
1. Make Spanish Friends
You may see this and think “Well, obviously.” But honestly, it’s easy to forget about making connections outside school with Spanish people. Especially if there are a lot of other Americans or native English speakers in your area.
I know people who’ve studied abroad and exclusively made friends with other Americans. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you want to improve your Spanish and be more culturally immersed, making at least one Spanish friend is a great idea.
It’s been difficult during the pandemic. The two main Spanish friends I’ve made outside school were through online mobile apps. It’s not weird here to use that to make friends, as long as you specify that in your profile.
Going out with Spanish people is a fun cultural experience to have. Native speaking friends can help you practice your Spanish, and you can help them with English! They can also show you around the area and make you feel more at home.
2. Make Native English-Speaking Friends
Of course, this is also important and came a bit easier to me. I’m in several Facebook groups for Language Assistants and happened to meet a group of five other girls in my city in Spain. One is even from my hometown in North Carolina! Small world.
I remember being a bit worried when I got my placement because it didn’t say there were any other Language Assistants in my school or city. But that just means through Meddeas! I’ve met lots of people here teaching directly through the Spanish government, and even a couple au pairs. And what’s great about making American friends is I’ll hopefully get to see them after I move back to the States.
3. Explore Outside your City
Despite travel restrictions outside my autonomous community, I’ve been able to see quite a few different cities and towns. My first excursion was the wonderful airport of Madrid. (Kidding, but it’s the truth. I’ve seen the airport and that’s about it). Even though it’s only an hour and a half away, it’s technically outside my community of Castilla La Mancha.
However, I’ve been to Toledo a couple times with my host family, which I love. I talked about it in my previous post! This was a wonderful thing to do outside school, while spending time with my host family.
Last weekend, a colleague from school invited me on a short trip to an old town called Oropesa. She picked me up, and we drove to a castle, which is what it’s known for. We got to explore it, learn about its history, and take some amazing pictures.
Also, my friend has just learned to drive her host family’s car. I applaud her bravery for even attempting to drive stick. So, we hope to take a road trip some upcoming weekend to Consuegra, which is a municipality in the province of Toledo known for its windmills.
And yes, I’m already planning to take Instagram pictures with Don Quijote-related captions. While traveling isn’t easy right now, I’ve made do with what I can, and I’ll definitely be returning post-pandemic to see more Spanish cities.
4. Join a Gym (or any Type of Club or Activity)
I remember my first few days in Spain. While exciting, were a bit exhausting, due to the combination of jetlag and culture shock. I joined a gym my third day there, and I remember feeling so much better.
As I said, I was accustomed to working out daily, so being able to continue my favorite hobby from back home has been great. Of course, don’t join a gym if you don’t want to. But in general, it’s good to find clubs or activities in Spain that you’re used to doing back home. It’ll probably make you feel more “at home” outside school, and it’s a great way to meet people, too.
Last weekend, I even did a virtual improv comedy jam with my local theatre back home. It wasn’t quite the same as performing onstage, but it was surprisingly super fun. I guess that’s one perk of the pandemic. I can still be involved in lots of things across seas because everything’s virtual now!
5. Play with Your Host Siblings and Spend Time with Your Host Parents
Living with a host family means you always have people to spend time with. My first family had older kids, so we played lots of English games, cooked, and baked.
Now that I’m in a family with younger kids aged, who naturally have lower levels of English, the activities are a bit different. But still fun. For example, the youngest girl loves to sing (especially American pop songs, which is adorable) so we sing together sometimes.
And of course, I love talking to my host parents to improve my Spanish and just spend time with them. They’re really sweet and funny, and I know they sometimes need a break from interacting with just kids.
6. Keep a Journal
This is a habit I used to keep really well, but it declined as I got busy and started college. However, I figured that my first year living abroad is an important thing to document. Sure, I have tons of pictures, but those don’t necessarily show how my perspectives and feelings at the time, and that’s something I want to remember.
To be honest, though, I’ve made a total of two entries in my four months here so far. It’s a work in progress. But I have found other, easier ways to journal. In my iPhone Notes app, I have one titled “Highlights of Days,” which is pretty self-explanatory. I think it’s a good habit to pick at least one positive thing about every day.
Also, I have separate notes for Spanish dialectal expressions I’ve learned. I grew up learning Mexican Spanish, so there are a lot of differences. Also, I write down funny quotes from my secondary students. I shared lots of those in a previous post, but since I’m constantly adding new ones, I’ll put one more here:
(While practicing the conditional tense) I asked, “What would you do if you found €100 on the street?”
- Student 1: “I’d travel to New York City.”
- Student 2: “I’d spend it all on bananas.”
- Student 3: “I’d spend €70 on Fortnite, €29 on clothes, and donate €1 to charity.”
7. Keep in Touch with Home Friends & Family
After a year of the pandemic, I’d like to consider myself an expert when it comes to virtual friend hangouts. It’s a bit harder with a time difference of 6 hours from most of my friends and family, 9 from my friends in California, and I even have a friend in Hawaii which is a 12-hour difference! But we make it work.
Every Sunday night, I meet with my family on Zoom. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and sometimes more. We catch up and share pictures of what we’ve been up to. In general, I usually just Facetime friends, but we also do various activities such as watch Netflix shows and play online games together. It’s so important to keep in contact with your loved ones back home. So cut out some time for that!
By Abigail K., 2020-2021.