It was 2018. I was a few months away from graduating from Durham University with my languages degree, and I had to decide what to do next. Since I was six years old, I’d wanted to be a teacher. I always assumed I would go straight into studying for a PGCE, then on to a standard teaching job. However, for some reason, I didn’t feel ready for that. I wanted to do something else instead of plain old teaching straight away. This is how I fell into being a language assistant in Spain. But I had to make a decision about my future first.
Being a language student, my possible plans mainly involved travelling. I drew up a list of five options, including:
- Becoming a language assistant through the British Council.
- Doing a masters in translation, potentially abroad.
- “Bits and Pieces” — volunteering at a local Steiner school, volunteering abroad with refugees, and working with a mountain activity company in Italy.
- “Another year abroad” — two six-month placements abroad in countries where they spoke a language I’d studied or wanted to learn.
- Another degree! I studied two languages and two sciences at A-Level. I felt tempted to go abroad (double benefit of practising my languages and cheaper fees!) and study something related to Biology, Chemistry, or Linguistics.
What to Choose
As I can see looking back on this list, I obviously didn’t feel ready to start a standard full-time job! In the end, I chose the first option. Apparently, I’m drawn to teaching so much that even when I don’t want to teach yet, I end up being a teaching assistant! I think I chose this option because it was the easiest to organise. Plus, I’d be paid rather than paying for it. It also seemed relevant to my career path, so I guess it was easier to justify and to feel confident enough that it was a good decision!
There’s a lot of pressure to go straight into a full-time job after graduating. But I would strongly recommend going abroad first if it is something you’re considering. There will be plenty of time for a standard job during the rest of your life, and you will get so much out of living abroad!
The British Council
Many English speakers from all over the world decide to spend a year (or more) abroad helping teach English through the language assistant programme. It is a great way to immerse yourself in another country’s culture and language while working part-time to cover costs. As a native speaker, it’s also easy to find private lessons on the side to earn a bit more money.
Depending on where you’re from, there are different ways to get a placement. However, for those of us coming from the UK, we usually apply through the British Council. This involves a fairly long but simple application form. Along with this form, you will also need a reference, and, for some countries, a video interview (but not Spain, where I ended up applying). The British Council currently organises placements in 15 countries around the world, from South America to Asia.
Where to Go
I decided that I wanted to stay in Europe to be closer to my friends in England. However, I couldn’t decide whether to go to Spain or Italy (having studied both languages). Much as I love Italy, in the end, I chose to be a language assistant in Spain. This is because there were many more placements available there, and I would be able to practise not only Spanish, but also Catalan. Through the British Council you can also put preferences of the region of Spain you would like to be in, whether you want to be in a city or a small pueblo, and what age you would like to teach. They say they take this into account, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your first choices.
So, I sent off my application form in December, my reference was sent off by February, and then I just had to wait. In April, I heard back from the British Council that my application to become a teaching assistant in Spain had been successful. Now they would pass my application onto the Ministry of Education in Spain. Both of those agencies would work together to assign me to a specific region. In May, I found out I’d got my first choice region and would be heading to the Comunitat Valenciana in October. All that was left was to wait for the ministerio to allocate me a school.
Spain is notorious for taking a while to tell you where exactly you have been placed. They are working on this, but some people only found out which locality they would be in a few weeks before starting teaching! Luckily, I found out at the beginning of July. I was originally placed in the city of Alicante, but realising that they don’t speak much Valencià (the Valencian dialect of Catalan) in the city, I was lucky to be able to swap schools with my friend. She had also applied for the programme and was keen to be in Alicante. You’re not officially allowed to swap, but sometimes it’s possible! So, my confirmed destination was Castelló de la Plana.
Castelló de la Plana
I had never heard of Castelló when they assigned me to a school there. But it turns out that Carme, my Catalan teacher’s friend, was from there. I got in contact with her to find out what it was like. She put me in touch with a student who had been there on Erasmus. They convinced me that it would be better for my Valencià than Alicante and that it wasn’t too small, so I decided to go for it. Looking back, I had no idea what it would really be like, but I figured eight months wasn’t too much of a commitment.
Moving Abroad to be a Language Assistant in Spain
As a previous language student, the whole experience wasn’t as daunting as it might have been for some people. I’d done placements and Erasmus abroad before as part of my degree, including in Spain. I spoke the language fairly well. I also knew Carme, and she helped with logistical things like the strange workings of the RENFE train websites (yes, plural: there are different web pages and places to search for different kinds of trains, even between the same two stations!). I’d found a flat online but only rented it from the start of October. Fortunately, I was able to stay with her parents for a week first. Her dad helped me carry my big suitcases up the three flights of stairs when I finally moved into my flat.
Before flying over there, my dad helped me sort out as much of the paperwork as he could from the UK. I carefully read the auxiliar guide and country notes I’d been sent by the British Council. Nonetheless, I don’t think you can ever be that prepared to move to a place you’ve never been before. I guess that’s all part of the adventure. So, I set off with an open mind and as much patience as I could muster for the inevitable challenges. I had a better time than I’d ever imagined.
And that’s how I became a language assistant in Spain.
by Kira Browne