Being a Language Assistant in Spain implies teaching English and sharing your culture in the school. It is a rewarding experience, but also quite demanding. Despite this, there are also chances to enjoy free time in Spain. Here is a brief overview of what I did to enjoy free time in Spain, while being a Language Assistant.
Making a Life While Climbing Mountains
For the most part, I have tried to replicate my usual weekend activities like hiking and enjoying nature. I have had to make some adaptations (obviously) and it has been considerably rewarding. The way I spend my free time is also the way I stay active, get to know Spain, and make friends.
Old Habits, New Spaces and Heart Home
Every March, National Geographic has a full display of their finalists and winners in the National Art Gallery in Cape Town, my home. I have been fortunate enough to see the finalists and winning images in Madrid before they are displayed in Cape Town. It was a strange and lovely connection to home: certainly, one of my favourites since I arrived in Madrid.
There is the Nelson Mandela plaza in Lavapiés that was an unexpected home calling. I also keep an eye out for events with African artists. I was privileged to see a fellow South African poet perform in Madrid. We’re acquaintances at home and I’ve seen her perform before. But this time felt special as it was the same month she appeared in the Spanish edition of Vogue.
Friday Nights Start with a Bang and End with a Smouldering Fire
I finish school at 4pm on a Friday. I take the bus straight to the boxing centre and decompress. It is a wonderful way to end the teaching week. I go boxing early in the week as well, but the Friday session is particularly rewarding.
The “downside” and saving grace is that there is only one level. You can upskill but you can’t upgrade your level. As time has passed, I can recognise the newbies and I feel a bit like a regular rather than a pro.
But give a couple of months and I’ll be at pro level (if I can comeback post-holiday and in the heart of winter). My vocabulary has expanded and since the same people do the same times, we have our favourite spots and laugh when newcomers “take” a regular’s spot.
Boxing is the perfect segue to my Friday ritual: take-out, drinks, popcorn and a movie. I “work” a little by watching a movie in Spanish while reading the subtitles because I’m not as fluent as I imagined myself to be. My Spanish friends have stopped complaining about the subtitles and I need them less than I had to at the start, but I’m nowhere near where I want to be.
Since autumn has edged closer to winter, I’ve started making fires before pressing play. (I am lucky to have a fireplace in the house). The garden was pruned in autumn and we use that wood for the fire. It feels like closing an ecological cycle and has set a good rhythm in our home.
There is always popcorn. When friends come over, they know that at 8pm the movie starts, the wine is flowing and the popcorn is fresh. I still haven’t gotten into eating AFTER the movie but I stick around for the company though I eat before the movie.
I wake up early on Saturday mornings, so staying up late on a Friday night is not an option.
Hiking in Small Groups, in Big Groups, and with Canines
I hike as often as possible. My housemate is a registered tour guide and as such, I have easy access to all the routes that would otherwise take months to learn. The routes intensity varies but quite a few have been challenging. It is usually just the two of us and one or two other friends. The hikes are always intimate and I have learnt a lot about the natural environment and my Spanish has improved as a result.
When I arrived in Madrid, I stayed in an AirBnB. The host runs a free hiking tour group and sometimes I join them. This group is bigger and has a lot of people closer to my age as well as a big expat component. I enjoy the variation of these hikes.
I also do shorter hikes with a close friend and their dog. The dog is old and can’t go for very long, but it is a joy to have access to a dog for a couple of hours. All of this mirror the hikes I do at home but also serves as a way to integrate into Spanish life while creating my own community.
Meet-Ups and Walk a Lot
I joined MeetUp and go on the free Madrid walking tours. This is a great way to get to know the city and to meet people. I have also joined a few Facebook groups and meet people who have lived in Madrid for a while and let them introduce me to interesting places.
I ask all sorts of questions and I have made a lot of success in establishing preferred service providers. For example, people to do my hair and nails as well as the best places to buy specific items, like skincare products. It may seem trivial but adapting to a new space and not having “tried and tested” products on hand means that you will need to rely on other people to help you forge a new way.
Top tip: learn the vocabulary for things you think you will need and practise. Try Google translate and definitely practise with language exchange partners. Life will be easier and people will be more willing to help you.
Public Transport: Travelling Roads Well-known and Familiar Territory
I found the movie theatre close to me that screens movies in English with Spanish sub-titles. I love movies and because my Spanish is not near to any place where I can watch full length movies, this is a haven.
They also sell popcorn with a wonderful variety of toppings and it is delicious until it becomes too much which is almost always close to the halfway mark. At this stage, I have not learnt my lesson: chocolate popcorn and the large caramel popcorn bowls are too much. It is a lesson I may never learn…
What I have learnt is that very often the Spanish subtitles are terrible. In turn, it has helped me think more carefully about how I “translate” my thoughts into Spanish.
As winter settles, my activities may need to change. But I’ve been assured that there is skiing gear available in my size if any the need arises (which I hope it will).
By Noelle K., 2019-2020.