It was a typical March evening. I was shopping for things I didn’t need at the local Marshall’s when an email notification popped up on my phone. “Congratulations, Olivia! We have good news!” the quasi-spammy subject line blared. I almost ignored it completely until I realized it was from CIEE.
I immediately abandoned the $4.99 microfiber hair wrap I was holding (“Dries your hair 70% faster than regular towels!”) and opened the email. This was it. I’d been selected as an auxiliar de conversación, or English language assistant, and I had 10 days to confirm or decline my placement.
I panicked. 10 days? 10 days is not enough time to make that kind of decision. I have expired nail polish and heavily discounted pleather jackets to buy!
After a lot of planning, discussions, and approximately two existential crises, I decided to commit. I was officially going back to Spain. Not one to ever leave things till the last minute, I confirmed my placement and paid my program fees on Day Nine.
For Americans, the Spanish government’s North American Language and Culture Assistants program, or NALCAP, is one of the easiest ways for non-students to legally live in Spain. It places native language speakers in elementary and high schools across the country. Depending on the region, auxiliares are compensated €700-1000 (about $900-1,300) a month for 12-16 hours of English-language assistance each week. The government wins because they get cheap English teachers in their schools, and you win because you get to live somewhere in beautiful España.
There are a few ways to become an auxiliar de conversación. You can apply through:
- The Spanish government
- CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange)
- BEDA (Bilingual English Development and Assessment)
If you think I’m Type-A now, you should have seen me two years ago. My semester in Alicante taught me how to relax. A lot. With the Spanish, it’s either adopt the infamous no pasa nada attitude or die. I learned that “to-go” is a dirty word, that buses don’t always arrive on time, and that you can’t run errands on Sundays (unless you want to pay 50% more at OpenCor, the price-equivalent of Walgreens in Spain). That said, organization was still my biggest reason for choosing CIEE’s Teach in Spain program.
The low-down: CIEE does a lot of the bureaucratic dirty work for you. Or at least they’ll answer the phone when you call with complaints. And I think that’s worth it.
Choosing a Program
CIEE’s Teach in Spain staff basically acts as an intermediary between you and the infamously disorganized Spanish bureaucracy. Technically, I’m still a government auxiliar: I work for a Madrid public school and I get paid by the government. But I applied through CIEE, I was selected by CIEE, and I’ll go through orientation with CIEE.
I definitely don’t have anything against the government’s North American Language and Culture Assistants program — I applied to it, after all. You just have to think about each option and pick the one that’s best for you. As of now, CIEE is a good fit for me. (Check back with me in a few months to see how I’m doing. I might regret saying this. Who knows.)
Pros to Teaching with CIEE
1. Confession: Spain helped, but I’m still a big fan of organization.
I’m the one who brings the maps, prints out copies of our flight itineraries, and maps out the trek from the Munich U-Bahn to our hotel. I overthink everything. I hang the clothes in my closet according to their colors. I made three copies of each of my visa documents and took all of them to the consulate. In separate folders.
Hey, at least I can admit I have a problem.
I came into this knowing that the Spanish government doesn’t make organization its biggest priority. Just glancing at the NALCAP application is enough to see that (I’m looking at you, Profex). I applied to both programs, and CIEE accepted me within a week. I knew I might not hear back from NALCAP until late spring (I didn’t end up hearing from them until the end of May). So I chose to pay the program fee and go with CIEE.
2. I like money.
I have this completely unfounded hope that the CIEE Teach in Spain support system might be the remedy against that pesky not-getting-paid trend I’ve heard about from former auxiliares. I was placed in Madrid, and I’ve heard the situation is better there, but at the very least I’ll have someone who will try to help if I don’t get paid. (One of the girls I studied abroad with was a Murcia auxiliar last year, and it took them three months to pay her. Yikes.)
3. Accountability and communication.
I’ve only been a CIEE auxiliar for a few months now, but so far I’ve been impressed with their high level of accountability and communication. They provided us with line-by-line instructions on how to fill out each section of our visa applications, and even overnighted one of my official employment letters to me when I realized I didn’t have it. (I discovered this on a Thursday. My visa appointment was on a Monday. Panic ensued.)
4. Added support and safety.
I might lose serious adventurer cred by saying this, but I like having backup. CIEE’s not responsible for keeping track of me at all times or holding my hand while I find an apartment, but I know I can rely them on if I have issues or questions. I have a high level of Spanish proficiency and I’m confident I could have made the government auxiliares program work, but it’s nice to know I have resources. Maybe it’s just the planner in me.
Cons to Teaching with CIEE
1. I like money.
The biggest con to CIEE’s programs is the cost. Each program is different, and the ones with more services (like immersion classes or homestays) are more expensive than my program, the bare-bones Basics. NALCAP doesn’t have any start-up costs, other than your travel costs and temporary housing once you arrive. As long as you get paid on time, that is.
2. Limited placement options.
If you want to live in País Vasco or Las Islas Baleares, CIEE isn’t for you. (Someone in the regular auxiliares program actually got placed in the Baleares and I have major celos about it.) CIEE can only place students in Andalucía or Madrid, so your options are more limited. Madrid was my first choice, so CIEE worked well for me.