Alright ya’ll! In less than a week, the application period for the Auxiliares de Conversación will close on April 1, and if you’re anything like I was, you applied months ago. However, if you’re still on the fence, hop to it! The waiting period is freaking awful and I spent my time reading everything I could about the program, moving abroad, Spain, traveling in Europe, literally anything I could think of because I was convinced that once I moved to Spain I would be living the dream. While I admit that life here is pretty great, I wish I had spent more time reading about the challenging parts about moving abroad and things that I should prepare for mentally and emotionally. The fact is, moving abroad is hard. It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life and for the past six months I’ve dealt with finding an apartment in a foreign country, intense homesickness, feeling out of place when I visited home for the first time and the death of a close family member. It may not seem like it, but it was some really tough shit at the time. Through it all, my main source of peace was that I could come on this blog and share my experience for all of you so that when you decide to take the leap, I can help soften the blow! Here’s a quick checklist to help you gauge if you’re ready (or ready enough) to be an Auxiliar.
Are you ready to be outside your comfort zone?
I thought I was ready to be outside of my comfort zone until I actually got here and realized I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. When I came to Spain I was outside of my comfort zone in so many ways: I didn’t speak the language, I had never taught before, hell I had never even visited Madrid! Through trial and error I was able to build a world for myself that has become comfortable, but it was so challenging to do that without the support system that I’ve grown accustomed to at home. Coming here meant that I had to make new friends, talk to kids between the ages of 11 and 17 and even delve into the world of dating which is hard enough as it is without adding language and cultural barriers to the mix. As an introvert who prefers to spend her days either exploring a new place alone or behind a computer screen, trying to be social in a foreign land put me further outside of my comfort zone than I thought could be possible. That said, I believe that it is imperative to get out there and make friends within your first three months of moving to a new place or else you will want to go home. I was ready to call in quits in December, but I could already tell how much I had grown as a person by learning how to adapt in a place where I didn’t feel comfortable all the time. That reason alone made me return to Spain after the holidays and I’m so glad I did.
Are you ready to be vulnerable?
No, I don’t mean “look at that vulnerable American, I should go pickpocket them,” although you should be aware of that too. I mean are you ready to be emotional in front of people that were strangers to you a few weeks prior? Are you ready to feel like everything SUCKS? Are you ready to realize that you’re more broke than you thought you’d be? I don’t mean to be negative but I have felt this way and then some since I’ve been here. I think it’s so important to realize that moving abroad is not a vacation. It feels glamorous and wonderful when you first arrive and just like back at home, life hits. You’ll feel angry, sad, disappointed, confused, overwhelmed but also, happy, joyous and grateful. For me, all these emotions means one thing: vulnerability. I freaking HATE being vulnerable. Before I arrived here I thought I was a strong and independent person, but now I’ve had to redefine what “strong” and “independent” looks like. I no longer think that being strong and independent means that I can do things on my own, I think it means that I know when I need to ask for help. I always thought that asking for help made me appear weak but I’ve learned that when I sincerely ask for help, people want to give it to me! Even though asking for help in Spain makes me feel so so so vulnerable, in my experience, people have empathized with my situation of being alone in a new place and want to help me instead of taking advantage of me. My whirlwind of emotions means that I’ve had to learn how to speak directly and tell people (that I don’t know very well) exactly how I’m feeling or what I need. Usually all I need is a hug 🙂
Are you ready for some American stereotypes?
One of my absolute favorite things about living here is learning about how Europeans view Americans. Get ready to develop a thick skin because about half the time, it ain’t pretty. I work in a high school and my students are not afraid to say exactly what is on their minds. During my first week at school, I gave a short presentation about myself then opened up the floor to questions about my life, where I’m from or America in general. In addition to “do you have a boyfriend” and “do you have children,” at least one student in every single class asked me if I owned a gun. Of course I was shocked and horrified and they were confused as to why I was shocked and horrified. American stereotypes are alive and well here in Spain and run the gamut from Americans as gun toting cowboys (or hardcore gangsters) to all parties in America being like high school parties a la American Pie. The stereotypes from my students didn’t bother me, but I have gotten defensive in conversations with my Spanish friends who say that “Americans think they are better than everyone” or “Americans get too involved in other country’s problems”. While I do agree with some of their opinions, I did ask them to be more specific and to try subbing out “Americans” for “the American government” because it’s obviously not fair to say that a government’s decision defines the opinion of an entire population. The bottom line is, be ready to hear some stereotypes but try not to get defensive. The fastest way to be dismissed as a “stupid American” is to get angry and blindly defend the US of A without listening to someone’s (hopefully) educated opinion. Besides, it’s easy to tell when they’re trying to engage you in an informed debate or insult you.
Are you ready to see the bright side of things?
No place has tested my patience quite like Spain. I’ve had to learn to see the positive side of so many ridiculous situations here simply because there’s no explanation besides “welp, that’s just the way Spain works.” Here are a few examples. Huelgas…fucking huelgaaaaaaaaaasssss. Huelga is the Spanish word for “strike”. You can read all you want about strikes in Spain but until you actually experience it, you have no idea what you’re in for. Since I’ve lived here we’ve had a trash strikes, train strikes, student strikes and are currently in the middle of a bus strike. The trash strike was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life. Instead of trash men simply not collecting the trash, they took the bags of trash that were on the street, opened them and shook the trash all throughout the street. For three weeks Madrid was absolutely filthy and smelled horrible but they damn sure did get their point across. By the time the strike was over, I was ready to kiss a trash man. The bright side? I appreciate everything they do and always say hello or thank you when I see a garbage worker doing their job. Another example, the current bus strike. I have no idea when it will end and I’m so annoyed with the fact that I have to walk the last leg of my route to work but the bright side? Exercise! Example three, awful customer service, especially at restaurants. Europe is known for bad customer service because waiters don’t work for tips and I’ve definitely had more than a few meals where I was left sitting at my table for over 20 minutes waiting for a menu. The bright side? I appreciate the HELL out of any service worker who does their job swiftly and nicely (like the girl at Zara who helped me return a coat when I was about to have an anxiety attack). Basically, I’ve learned that things just aren’t going to flow in Spain the way they do in America. Although my mind thinks that the fastest way to do something is the best way…Spaniards don’t really share that concept. What was at first mind-boggling has now forced me to relax, stay positive and go with the oh-so-slow-flow.
Have you lived abroad before? What was your experience? What did you learn? If you haven’t lived abroad before, what are your biggest concerns? Do you have any specific questions about the Auxiliar program? Let me know in the comments!