Teaching English in Spain as an Auxiliar vs. Studying Abroad

Studying abroad in Spain, it’s hard not to fall in love with the country. Just as I did, hundreds of students who left their hearts in Spain during college return post-graduation to work as English teaching assistants, thanks to the auxiliares de conversación (or North American Language and Culture Assistants) program. Being back in amazing España is a dream come true, but how does life as an English teacher compare to the study abroad life? If you’re returning to Spain as an auxiliar de conversación, here are a few differences and similarities to expect.

Auxiliares de Conversación

With my first graders in my first year as an auxiliar

Differences

1. You’ll have more responsibility.

Those days of skipping school for an extended weekend escapade or showing up to class still drunk from the night before (not my style personally, but, hey, if that was you, no judgement)? Leave those behind; you’re a (semi-)real adult now! Returning to Spain as a teaching assistant rather than a student brings with it more responsibility: you have to show up to work on time, pay the bills, and present yourself as a good role model for your students. Don’t worry, with a twelve (sixteen in Madrid) hour a week work schedule, you’ll still have plenty of time for traveling and partying.

2. You won’t have a built-in group of friends.

It’s a cinch to make friends when you’re studying abroad — just turn to your large group of fellow students, all with similar backgrounds and goals (not to mention they all speak your language!). As an auxiliar de conversación, you won’t have organized group excursions or get-togethers, so it’s a bit more work to find your own friends. If you’re lucky, you’ll click with other teachers at your school (whether Spanish or guiri), and be sure to make an effort to befriend other locals, but auxiliar Facebook groups can also be a tremendous help when it comes to finding people to hang out with.

Study abroad friends

Reunited with friends from my study abroad program six years later

3. There’s no guarantee of living in a major city.

As a student, you can choose your place of study, and most stick to major Spanish cities like Sevilla or Madrid, or at least smaller ones with a large student population, like Salamanca. As an auxiliar, you have less say in where you’ll be working and living, which means you could find yourself in a tiny pueblo in the middle of the Spanish countryside with no sign of native English speakers for miles. This may sound daunting to some, but how better to learn Spanish language and culture than being surrounded by true, unadulterated Spain? If you do get placed in a small town, embrace it! You can always travel to major cities on weekends, and, in the meanwhile, you’ll have an incomparable experience.

4. Money, money, money

One of the best differences between being a student and being an auxiliar is that, as a teacher, you’ll be taking home a paycheck. The salary may not be enormous, but living in Spain is a lot more fun when you’re not watching your bank account dwindle away every day. And if your auxiliar salary isn’t enough, you can supplement it with private lessons, which are fun, easy, and pay surprisingly well.

Auxiliares de conversación private lessons

Hamming it up with one of my private lessons students in Madrid, Jesús.

5. You’re a real person now, basically.

As an auxiliar, you’ll be finding your own apartment, opening a bank account, living on your own, managing your personal finances, shopping and cooking for yourself, and performing all the other responsibilities that come with being a real adult. It may sound nicer to have a host mom do all that for you, but being independent is empowering and comes with a lot of freedom.

Similarities

1. You can spend your weekends traveling Europe.

As an auxiliar, you’ll get three-day weekends (in some cases, even four-day weekends!), plus countless Spanish holidays. Between your long weekends and inexpensive bus, train, and discount airline deals, you can easily spend your weekends gallivanting around Europe.

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Hopping over to Paris (and London) for the weekend during my time as an auxiliar

2. Spanish nightlife is fabulous.

Yep, that hasn’t changed one bit since you studied abroad. Tapas crawls, amazingly cheap cañas and vino, discotecas, and nights that don’t end until 6am at the earliest can still be a big part of your life in Spain. Just maybe not on Monday nights.

3. Whether you integrate yourself or not is up to you.

Just like when you studied abroad, when you return as an auxiliar, the extent to which you integrate yourself into Spanish culture is up to you. It’s easy to surround yourself with American friends, speak English, eat American food, and ignore Spanish traditions. However, with just a bit of effort, you can develop a deep understanding of Spanish culture and improve your language skills rapidly. It’s all about how you decide to spend your time abroad.

Feria de Sevilla

Points for adapting Andalucían culture? Or is it still totally obvious we (minus Javi in the middle) are guiris?

4. Life is fantastically laid-back.

There’s no denying that Spain is a laid-back country. You’ve likely already noticed the country’s “no pasa nada” attitude and general goodwill. As an auxiliar, you’ll be back among this relaxed culture, and, since you’ll be working only twelve to sixteen hours a week in a job with minimal responsibilities, you’ll have plenty of time to chill. It’s a good life.

5. You’ll get to re-experience everything you love about Spain.

Whatever it is that made you fall in love with Spain the first time around — whether it be the people, the food, the scenery, or anything else — is back! Your role in Spain may be different, but the place has remained essentially the same: enchanting, enthralling, and possibly the best place in the world to spend your youth. Make the most of what I can promise to be one of the most unforgettable years of your life.

I originally wrote this post for the previous version of the DiscoverExcursions blog, but, with the new school year for auxiliares de conversación kicking off in a few weeks, I thought I’d revive the post and give it new life on Venga, Vale, Vamos. I spent two years teaching as an auxiliar in Andalucía and Madrid after studying abroad in Madrid for a year. You can find many more posts on my experiences, thoughts, and tips regarding the auxiliares de conversación program here.

4 Responses

  1. Rebecca Collins (aka Nana) says:

    Excellent observations/advice. Kudos for pointing out the advantages of learning to function independently. The sooner the better!

  2. Lauren says:

    So crazy- I was accepted and placed in Pamplona around this time last year. At the same time, I got into a kick-ass grad program AND my partner landed what we thought was a great job.

    Almost one year later, he lost his job and we’re torturing ourselves with a little bit of “What-ifs?”

    What do you think was a better experience- being a student or a teacher? Love the post!

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