An Inside Look at the Spanish Cultural Ambassadors Program
NMU alum Ashley Triphan ('07) spent three years working as a language ambassador in Spain. Below, she summarizes the program and offers valuable insight into the life of an English teacher in Spain.
Cultural Ambassadors FAQ
If you are looking for a way to legally stay in Spain for up to two years after your college graduation, this program might be for you. Don't forget to visit the official Cultural Ambassadors website.
What is the application process like?
The process itself is not overly complicated; however, it does take time, so don’t leave yourself only a few days to get everything done - start early and get everything done right. The worse part of the process is putting everything up on the Profex, which is sort of cumbersome, but once everything is uploaded, the renewal process is streamlined... so that is a plus.
What are the application requirements?
The requirements are pretty run of the mill: a letter of recommendation, a statement of intent, and a copy of a valid US or Canadian passport. Also, during the application process, you will want to specify your preference as to where you want to live and work in Spain - a big city like Madrid or Barcelona or someplace a bit more quaint like a little pueblo. This is quite important as they try hard to place applicants within their preferences.
What happens once you are accepted?
Once you have applied, you have to wait until the list of accepted applicants is released. Once the list is released, you will be told the name and type of school in which you will be working and where it is located. At this time you are also given a contact person from the school. In most cases this person is really excited that you are coming and will do mostly anything to help you get ready for your time in Spain. They are a good contact to help you look for a place to live and in many cases side jobs.
What is the housing situation like?
Housing is the biggest worry for most new assistants. In my experience, assistants chose a location where they knew someone, or chose to stay in a hostel until they found a permanent place. I personally had the luck of living with my boyfriend. If you are assigned to a small city, your best bet will be asking the teachers for help; if you end up in a bigger city, or one with a lot of college students, it will be generally easy to find a place to live either on your own or with (in the best case) Spanish or other international students. Either way, someone at your school should be willing and able to help. The positions are assigned right around June and most contracts don’t begin until October, so you have all summer to pack your bags for the adventure.
I'm new to teaching - how will I know what to do?
If you are nervous about applying because you have no teaching experience, have no fear - the program is designed for you to assist the teachers - not to take over. In most cases the teachers tell you exactly what to do and help you along the way, though you should never be afraid to suggest ideas if you have them! The program also provides an orientation for new ambassadors; however, orientation is mostly centered on the Spanish school system, and less helpful as to giving you ideas for what to do in class.
I did the program for three years. For the first two years, I was in a secondary bilingual school helping the social studies teachers (I majored in Secondary History Education at NMU). I pretty much only had to follow the book and help the students understand the lessons in English. I helped them to revise assignments and correct their pronunciation.
The classes were small because they were the bilingual sections and therefore not as large as other Spanish classes. In addition to the bilingual sections, I also helped out in English classes for multiple ages and levels, providing help and guidance where needed. Nowadays, with Spanish budget cuts, classes have an average of 30 students, so your assistance goes a long way.
In my third and final year, I worked with adults in an official language school. Here, the classes are up to 30 students, and the teachers give much more detailed instructions about what they want you to do. Because of this, I found myself more on my own in these classes, but they are largely conversational so, no one is looking for you to explain grammar!
The schedule is the best part about this program. If you are used to teaching in the United States you know that you have to be at school all day, in Spain that is not the case, especially where the assistants are concerned. You have to work a minimum of 12 hours during the school week, and are not expected to be at school when you are not in class. The week usually amounts to four days if you are in a primary or secondary school, and only three days if you are working in an official language school. As you can imagine, the primary and secondary schools offer a mostly morning schedule, while the official language school offers a more afternoon based schedule.
The pay is the same for both types of schools, 700€ a month. Relatively speaking it is a fair amount if you are living in a smaller pueblo or a city with lots of college-aged students. Most assistants do find work outside of classes as well, albeit "under the table". It is typically easy to find supplemental work in the afternoons giving private English classes to students, in some cases from the same primary or secondary school that you are working at. This extra work is considered illegal, however, because you are only granted a student visa in Spain. When I did the program it was not too difficult to find a business willing to pay under the table for a more steady source of income, but nowadays with increasing enforcement of labor laws this could be more difficult. I personally (at the time) was able to find work in an academy but now would be unable to work without a formal work permit.
Being a language assistant was an awesome experience for me. The most rewarding part was spending time with the teachers and students and getting to know the language and culture better. It was a challenge to hide my Spanish level from the students. Our main goal is to generate interest so they speak English, as soon as they know you speak Spanish it is more difficult for them to make the effort.
It was really hard leaving after my contract was up, but I did have the opportunity renew in the same school. Renewal depends on incoming assistant demand and the favorable evaluation from your school. When I left my first school, I was given a giant chicken by my freshmen class - they forgot to think about how I would get it back to Menorca in the airplane! I then moved to Galicia for the term in the language school. When that contract ended, I got married and started working in a large language academy. I am still living in Spain now giving English classes.
Well, if you've made it this far on the webpage, chances are you are really considering this adventure! I encourage you to dive in with an open mind. My experiences were 100% positive. You should spend your summer saving up money as sometimes the communities are a little slow at getting the payments started. This was by far the biggest problem I had in the three years. In general, both students and teachers are really excited to work with you and to get to know you and your culture. Ask for help at anytime that you feel you need it - most of the English teachers have been teaching for many years and have ideas and exercises for any situation. The program is designed to give you time to explore Spain and its people so use all the money and spare time you have to get out and do things! It really is a great program and I highly recommend it to everyone and anyone.
Good luck and if you make it to Spain, look me up!
Interested in pursuing this opportunity? The application for the 2014-15 Cultural Ambassadors program will open between December 2013 and January 2014! Visit this website to learn more.