Auxiliar de Conversación: A Day in the Life

Have you ever considered living in Spain for a year to teach English? Maybe you already applied to work as an auxiliar de conversación in Spain but don’t know what to expect? Here you’ll find a detailed summary of my day as an auxiliar de conversación while employed by the Comunidad de Madrid under the Consejería de Educación e Investigación.

Early Morning

I get up at 6:30 AM and proceed to get ready, eat something and have coffee. I walk a few minutes to the metro stop closest to where I live and catch the metro around 7:45. After moving here I was lucky to find an apartment close to my ideal subway line, so it’s a straight shot to get to the public, non-bilingual high school I was assigned to work at.

Morning Work Schedule

I’m on the metro for around 30 minutes and I get to the high school at 8:20. I start assisting in English classes when school starts at 8:30. In my case, I work with four different teachers in the English department, and the students are between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. The education systems in Spain and the United States are somewhat different, so the particular instituto/secondary school that I work at is a middle and high school combined (this can differ depending on the population of the surrounding area, whether it is a public/private/charter school, etc.).

Learn about the Spanish education system from the organization itself through this auxiliar guide; see pages 3-7.

Today there is a students’ strike (the exact goal of the “strike” remains unclear to me, but it seems like it was a good reason for the older kids to skip class). There are only 3 students in my first class, so the teacher and I discuss topics for future presentations that I will give. We also pass the time talking about differences between Spanish and American healthcare systems.

I get my materials from the teachers’ lounge and head to class #2 to find that they have an exam today. The teacher tells me that I’m not needed, so I go back to the teachers’ lounge to read until my next class.

Class #3 is made up of about 40% gamberros (hooligans), 60% decent kids. With this particular professor I tend to teach a lot, so I pretty much spend the whole hour yelling over the few kids who won’t shut up; Discipline is very rarely utilized at my assigned school. The students generally pay no attention and the majority don’t have much prior knowledge of English, so it takes 10-15 minutes to explain instructions for the exercises.

Recreo (Mid-day Break)

There’s a half hour break between 11:00 and 11:30 AM, so the students run out to the courtyard, screaming and pushing each other. The younger kids eat their bocadillos (sandwiches) and the older ones head to the front of the building to smoke a couple of cigarettes. I tend to go for a walk or grab a small sandwich from the school’s cafeteria.

Afternoon Work Schedule

After the break, as the auxiliar I have an hour assigned to practice English conversation with whichever professor is interested. Although they are sometimes busy grading papers or planning lessons, today I chat with a teacher about current events and about differences between Spanish and American cultures. I help her translate some phrases and better understand English phrasal verbs.

My last class is from 12:30 to 1:30 PM, although, depending on the day of the week, this varies by an hour or two. Because I help with different groups of students every hour of each day (I only have one class repeat twice a week in my schedule), some classes are better than others. Certain days I have mostly “good” classes while a few times a week I help “teach” some extremely difficult students, most of whom are gypsies (which unfortunately coincides with negative stereotypes). Their collective misbehavior – screaming, shouting, moving consistently and sometimes becoming violent – makes me anxious to end my “work day”, which wasn’t even that long to begin with

Most auxiliares in Spain work between 16 and 22 hours per week and are paid 700 or 1000 euros per month, depending on the region.

I catch the metro around 1:30 and catch up on a TV episode that I downloaded to watch offline. The metro becomes packed as we get closer to Madrid center, but I’m able to spend half the ride in a seat.

After Work

During the afternoon, one of two things usually happens:

1) I go home to eat something, relax for a bit and head back out to teach private English lessons, or

2) I go home to eat something, relax for a longer “bit”, exercise, etc.:

Considering I only got 6 hours of sleep the night before, I contemplate taking a siesta (nap). According to science, the ideal siesta length is 30 minutes, but considering that socializing in Spain doesn’t tend to start before 8:30 PM, it’s difficult to get a full 8 hours of sleep with my job. Most Spaniards hear what time I get up in the morning and gasp in horror. Oh, the luxury of working a nine-to-five…

After I drag myself out of the house, I head to the gym. Despite my restrictive salary, I continue to justify the cost of a gym membership, which is 25 euros per month. Exercising consistently keeps me happier, and it helps me be able to enjoy the endless supply of tapas and cheap wine that Spain has to offer.

Check out my post about some of Spain’s “can’t-miss” foods here.

When I get back from the gym I make a small-ish second lunch for myself. I shower and then either get in touch with family or do some freelance work. While in this job, I’ve also spent a lot more time than I’m willing to admit watching Friends and How I Met Your Mother. As an auxiliar it can be easy to have a seemingly endless amount of free time, but there isn’t a whole lot of extra money to throw around for activities.

Evening

Towards the end of the day I might get together with friends, go to the park, take a walk or call family if I couldn’t catch them earlier. If I’m lucky I’m able to catch a friend or get ahold of my mom.


So, there you have it! As amazing as it can be to live abroad, most of it is just that: living life, similarly to how you would at home, but among new people, in a new place, speaking a new language, etc. It can be overwhelming, but it is definitely an experience that I wish everyone would have – I’ve learned a lot about myself.

Have you ever lived in a country other than your own? Would you ever consider doing it for a year? Feel free to comment or email me at allisonldooley@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: Every auxiliar’s experience differs depending on their assigned school’s location, social environment and supervisor involvement.

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Madrid: 5 “Can’t-Miss” Spanish Foods

food guide madrid spain restaurant market san miguel

Are you planning a vacation to Madrid, Spain? Spanish food is world-renowned, which can make deciding what to try that much more difficult. Luckily for you, after two years of living in Madrid, I’ve compiled this list of five must-try Spanish foods. Keep reading to find out exactly where to find them.

Food in Madrid #1: Chocolate with Churros

Have your first (and best) “chocolate con churros” experience at Chocolatería San Gines; This is a classic and an undeniable must-do. Most importantly, don’t forget to drink the leftover chocolate!

Chocolate con churros at San Gines, Madrid. Photo: ROOSTERGNN

Food in Madrid #2: Ibérico Ham

Stop by a grocery store and create your own charcuterie board. To try all the Spanish favorites, grab some pre-sliced lomo, salchichón, chorizo and jamón ibérico. After that, add a block of manchego cheese, a bottle of Spanish red wine and a freshly baked baguette to your basket. You’ll enjoy quite the impressive snack.

Left to right: chorizo, lomo, salchichón, jamón. Photo: Tasty Eating

Food in Madrid #3: Calamari Sandwich

Enjoy one of the greasiest calamari sandwiches (bocadillo de calamares) of your life from Bar La Campana. Be sure to ask for some lemon slices to enhance the flavor of the piping-hot, breaded calamari. These hefty sandwiches would be ideal for a Sunday afternoon picnic, for instance.

Calamari sandwich (“bocadillo de calamares”) from Bar La Campana, Madrid. Photo: Time Out España

Food in Madrid #4: Fresh Seafood

Try some grilled shrimp (gambas), cod (bacalao) or hake (merluza) for lunch at a locally-owned restaurant. Firstly, ordering a “menu del día” at midday is a lot cheaper than ordering meat or fish for dinner. Secondly, when opting for the menu del día, they typically serve you multiple courses. This can include bread, starter, main course, dessert and wine or beer for between 10 and 15 euros.

Garlic grilled shrimp (“gambas al ajillo”) from La Casa del Abuelo restaurant, Madrid. Photo: Savored Journeys

Food in Madrid #5: Tortilla Española

Finally, to finish off our list of “can’t-miss” foods in Madrid, it makes sense to save the best for last: Spain’s traditional tortilla española. This tortilla was not be created for the purpose of enveloping succulent meat, cilantro and salsa like its distant Mexican relative. However, after trying Ocafú’s signature tortilla, you won’t miss Mexican-style tortillas that much anyway. While some Spanish tortillas can be overcooked, dry or lacking in flavour, the tortillas at Ocafú are just the opposite: moist, extremely fresh and perfectly seasoned.

Calling all fans of eggs over easy. Tortilla at Ocafú, Madrid. Photo: Imgrum.

BONUS: Valencian Paella

Even though “paella” is typical of Valencia, another one of Spain’s autonomous communities, some visitors still need their paella fix while in Madrid. Although the restaurant is located a bit outside of the city center, head to Socarratt to try an individual serving of Valencian paella. Certainly, dining at Socarratt can be a cheaper alternative to eating the contents of an entire paellera; a typical paellera, which is a large-sized paella skillet, can feed between 3 and 6 people (see photo below).

Different variations of paella at Socarratt, Madrid. Photo: TripAdvisor

Other Ideas: Popular Places

Calle de la Cava Baja

Go tapas bar hopping along the street called [Calle de la] Cava Baja. Each bar and restaurant on this street is slightly different, so it’s worth paying a few extra euros to try some unique, individual tapas. Similarly, you might stumble upon some delicious pintxos (a pintxo is a tapa that consists of a topping set on a thick slice of white bread, typical of northern Spain).

Cava Baja, Madrid. Photo: El Mundo

Mercado de San Miguel

No time to visit the places I’ve mentioned so far? Catch all your typical Spanish foods in one place at the Mercado de San Miguel, but be prepared 1) to be surrounded by tourists and 2) to pay an 30-50% “tourist tax”. In other words, some things are more expensive simply because they’re easily accessible and/or extremely close to tourist areas.

food guide madrid spain restaurant market san miguel Madrid Mercado de San Miguel

Rooftop Market at El Corte Inglés

If you’re interested in rooftop bars and gourmet tapas, head up to the ninth floor of the El Corte Inglés department store in Callao. It is situated just off of Gran Vía, giving you an optimum view of Madrid’s most historical skyline with clay-tiled roofs galore. Above all – unlike other rooftop areas – this “gourmet experience” area is free to access if you simply want to check out the view.

Rooftop area at El Corte Inglés Callao, Madrid. Photo: Guía del Ocio

Spanish Restaurants in Central Madrid

Around Sol looking for some casual, sit-down Spanish restaurants? Check out La Casa del Abuelo or Venta El Buscón, for example.

Photo: TripAdvisor

Have you been to any of these places? Would you recommend other foods for visitors to try? Feel free to comment or send me a suggestion at allisonldooley@gmail.com.

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