Travel Talk with Betty: Teaching as an Auxiliar de Conversación in Zaragoza, Spain

I’ve been hoping to launch an traveler interview series for ages now, and it’s finally arrived! In my first edition, I’m talking to a first-year auxiliar de conversación (participating in the same program I taught in Spain through) and active, lovable member of the expat blogger community: Betty of The Pumpkin’s Head.

Me in Betty’s current location, Zaragoza, Spain, in May 2013

Hi Betty! Please introduce yourself to our readers!
Hey, ya’ll – my name is Betty J. Ogburn, and I’m a 22-year-old Southern Belle from Greensboro, North Carolina, currently working as an auxiliar de conversación in Zaragoza, Spain. After graduating from Wake Forest University (God bless Mother, so dear!!) with a B.A. in Spanish with International Studies in May 2014, I left my life in small town USA behind for la vida española!

When I’m not working, I can be found binge-watching Maury on YouTube, swooning over vintage fashion (ESPECIALLY from the 1940’s), and fangirling over Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you want to read more about me and my adventures in “dat expat life”, pay me a visit on my blog, and read some of my contributions to Las Morenas De España.

Why did you choose to teach in Spain?
I decided to go to Spain because I had studied Spanish formally for seven years of my life, and I wanted to continue to improve my skills in the language. Plus, after graduating from college last May (Go Deacs!), I did not want to have some stale 9-5 behind a desk – I wanted to see the world!! Plus, Spain has a special place in my heart: it was the first foreign country I had ever been to (I studied in Salamanca during spring 2013), and I wanted to return and explore even more of the country that had captivated me so!!

Betty in Loarre, a town in Huesca Province (Aragón) with one of the best-preserved Medieval castles in Europe

Betty in Loarre, a town in Huesca Province (Aragón) with one of the best-preserved Medieval castles in Europe

I’m glad you got to! What are the biggest differences you’ve found between the U.S. and Spain?
Well, I think the biggest difference is the openness people have regarding sexuality. At least where I come from in the U.S., many parents are very reluctant (or straight-up refuse) to talk with their kids about sex, but here, there is no taboo about it – heck, there are children’s books that explain thoroughly where babies come from!! But, I mean, I think that has something to due with the general frankness and lack of P.C. that Spaniards have.

I guess I’ve never given that much thought, but I see what you mean! Would you recommend the North American Language & Culture Assistants/auxiliares de conversación program to others?
That depends: If you want to participate in a very organized, consistent program, perhaps NALCA is not for you. Unlike some of the other auxiliar programs, there’s no one to hold your hand to help you get your visa, residency, bank account, etc. – you do all of that stuff solo. And if you have issues with Profex or general questions, good luck with trying to get in contact with the funcionarios in charge. And overall, the experiences of the auxiliars in the program are really hit-or-miss: you could get an awesome school in a region that actually pays you on time, with great students and supportive co-workers who utilize you constructively, or a hole-in-the-wall in a comunidad where the auxiliars don’t get paid for months at a time, your school is strapped for resources, and you wind up with disrespectful little cretins and teachers who try to take advantage of you (i.e. forcing you to plan/deliver lessons by yourself, grade papers, etc.).

However, if you can get over that ambiguity, it really is a sweet gig: you work for only 12 hours/week (16 hours/week in Madrid), for 700€/month (1,000€ in Madrid), with insurance, lots of paid vacation, and plenty of free time to do what you want – it really is what you make of it!!

I agree that the program has some serious pros and cons. What tips would you give to travelers wanting to participate in the program?
Save as much as you can before the school year starts: yeah, you’ll have a ton of puentes (long weekends) to travel, and being in Europe make everything SO much closer, but your first few months, stuff adds up – food, public transportation passes, rent for the first 2-4 months (on top of the deposit), and so forth.

Mausoleo de Los Amantes in Teruel Capital (Aragón)

Mausoleo de Los Amantes in Teruel Capital (Aragón)

Good advice! I loved Zaragoza when I was there in May 2013. What are the top three things you would recommend people traveling to your city do or see?

  1. Going for tapas en El Tubo, the gastronomical epicenter of the city that lies in the casco histórico. My favorite bar is probably El Ensanche, which has a fantastic pincho of morcilla with red pepper, wrapped in squash and topped with caramelized onion!
  2. Visit the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the Cathedral dedicated to ZGZ’s patron saint – a visión of Baroque gorgeousness (especially the altar)!
  3. Shop in Puerto Venecia, which is apparently the largest shopping center in Europe!

And two places in the city that I still need to go to are:

  1. The Expo Center, which is where the events of the 2008 World Expo (which Zaragoza hosted) took place – I REALLY want to see the aquarium, which is the largest freshwater one in Europe!
  2. The Museo del Rosario del Cristal, which is where the beautiful crystalline float that has its own parade during Los Pilares is stored!!

Mmm Zaragoza had some great tapas. Is there anything you wish you had known before going abroad? Any big setbacks?
Well, I wish I would have realized how much money starting up as an expat would be (see my previous answer). Because this literally is my first “real world” job, I didn’t really have as much saved up as I would have liked, so I haven’t been able to take any epic trips outside the country this year. :-/

Fingers crossed you’ll get to soon enough. Do you see yourself staying in Spain long-term? Do you miss home? Would you want to try living in other countries?
Well, I definitely want to continue with this expat thing for a while – after all, I wouldn’t want to have lived in Europe for over six months and not travel to a single new country!! I definitely intend to continue as an auxiliar (either with NALCA or Meddeas) for at least another year or two, and hopefully I can get my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification by then and then move on to different countries. There are so many cities I would like to live in: Seoul, Shanghai, St. Petersburg, Istanbul – the whole globe, really!!

Gandía, Valencia – Betty’s first time wading in the Mediterranean

I love all the options you have! What’s next on your travel bucketlist?
Well, I’m definitely saving up a lot for next year, so hopefully I can finally fulfill my dream of going to Rome (and maybe Florence and Venice too) next Christmas Break!! For Semana Santa (Holy Week), I’m deciding between a few days in Logroño and Pamplona, or Barcelona (and add to my list of places Valencia!!). I also have my eye on hitting up Lisbon, Porto, Budapest, Istanbul, Split, Valetta, Vienna, Salzburg, Cologne, Copenhagen, and Riga within the next few years (yes, I know – a LOT!!).

Enjoy your time in Zaragoza and your upcoming travels, Betty! Check out her blog at The Pumpkin’s Head, or follow her on Instagram or Facebook.

Want to be a part of my traveler interview series? Let me know!


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