Updated: Jan 10
A question I get all the time, especially since I broadcast my life abroad on my Instagram, is how I lived in Spain for a year and supported myself at the same time. For some, taking a "year off" to teach abroad may not seem feasible for their career, but since it tied into my future career goals nicely, I thought this would be a great chance to live abroad a second time, experience a new culture, and continue learning Spanish by fully immersing myself in the language.
The easiest way to do this, especially as a recent graduate, is by going through the Aux Program, or Auxiliares de Conversacion. This program allows you to live and work in Spain on a student visa - the easiest visa to get. The job is essentially teaching English to Spanish students in public schools. You are only an assistant teacher, however, and will never have to lead your own class. Your role is to assist the English teacher in the classroom by bringing a face and a name to North American or British culture. You are there on a scholarship from the Spanish government, so your income is not taxed. It's a pretty great way to live in Spain and get paid.
That all sounds good, right? But there are a few requirements. Luckily it's nothing too crazy, and Spain actually happens to be one of the easiest countries to teach abroad in for this reason!
- First of all, you need a Bachelor's degree. I don't actually know of any teach abroad programs that don't require this. However, you can still apply if you're about to graduate, you just need to provide proof of graduation from your school when applying.
- You also need to be a citizen of the United States, Canada, or the United Kingdom. I believe they may let Irish and Australians apply, but I'm not sure what the rules around that are like for people from other countries.
- You will need some basic Spanish skills. While you will not need to speak Spanish in the classroom at all, and will actually be encouraged not to, part of teaching English to Spanish-speakers means understanding a bit of their language. You will also be adjusting to a new life in a new country and will need some basic Spanish skills just to get around and do things like get an apartment or open a bank account.
- Preferable but not required is any type of experience teaching or working with kids. I had 2 years of working at an after-school program and in a preschool, which probably helped me get accepted, but I know plenty of other auxes without any sort of classroom experience. Don't let this one deter you! Even babysitting or nanny gigs count.
Some countries require a TEFL certificate, but Spain doesn't, and your pay won't be impacted by whether or not you have one. While having one will help you get accepted, I applied without a TEFL and was accepted easily.
There are plenty of private companies that partner with the Spanish government and local regional governments that will place auxes in schools for a fee. In order to actually be placed in a reputable school and have guaranteed support, CIEE is the best option. Whether or not you go with one of these programs or not is obviously your decision, and there are pros and cons to it. I went through CIEE, and I am very glad I did. I can speak on that experience more in another post.
- Visa support. When you go through CIEE, you get continued visa support and handholding throughout the entire process. This was very helpful because Spanish bureaucracy is exceedingly difficult to navigate, and they really do hold your hand throughout the process and provide you with all of the advice and resources you need plus more.
- Orientation. Instead of just booking a one-way ticket to Spain by yourself and figuring it out on your own, they pick you up at the airport and drive you to the orientation hotel, where you'll be housed for two weeks. It's a great place to meet your fellow auxes and take some time to look for housing. The orientation gives you some guidance on cultural differences and norms both in the classroom and outside of it. They also provide a few social events, such a flamenco show, which are fun.
- Placement in Madrid. If you go directly through the ministry, you will probably get placed in some random pueblo in the middle of nowhere. If that's the experience you want then go for it, but personally I really wanted to be in Madrid. I believe they do placements in Murcia and Andalusia, but I am not sure, as those can change. They do, however, place you in the Comunidad de Madrid, and you can request where in the Comunidad you'd like to be. I got placed a 30-40 minute train ride from the city center, but it wasn't a bad commute.
- Continued support. CIEE has an office in Madrid where they host events and give support to anyone who is there to study abroad or teach abroad. If you have any problems that come up, they've got your back. They saved my ass when I almost got scammed by a sketchy landlord, so I can confirm.
- The price. This is the only one I can think of, but it's definitely a big deterrent for many. The entire program, everything included, was $2000 when I went. You can break up payments and manage it, but at the end of the day, it's still an investment.
So, is it worth it? If you are a first-year aux, absolutely. If you're not, then definitely not. I am not sure how I would've navigated the process on my own otherwise, so I am glad I went with CIEE. If I were to stay for another year, however, I would not.
The daily life of an aux is honestly pretty easy. It has its ups and downs, just like any job, but it isn't difficult to adjust to your new schedule. Maybe you've never taught before and you're intimidated by the idea of teaching, which I was, but that will go away by the end of your first week. The kids will all be excited that you're there and have tons of questions, they're really curious! I was really nervous since I was placed in a high school, but the kids ended up being pretty great, despite sometimes being moody teenagers who didn't want to do their work. You will only work 10-16 hours a week, depending on where you're placed. In Madrid, it's 16, but that gets cut in half on weeks the kids have exams, which are pretty frequently. You will only work 4 days a week, and get either Mondays or Fridays off. You can't request which one you'd like, and they both have pros and cons. Fridays off are great for those who go out every weekend, and Mondays off are great for those who travel every weekend. If you're lucky, your 4 hours a day will be all in one time slot with no breaks. Mine was, so I only had to be there from 10-2 every day which was great.
Before I talk about the benefits, I need to talk about some of the downsides. While this may sound perfect, it isn't. It is a job, and if you don't treat it as such, you'll have a hard time.
- You may get placed at a school really far away. Even if you're placed in the Comunidad de Madrid, your commute could be anywhere from 5 minutes to 2-3 hours. The Comunidad is pretty big, and you could have a rough commute to some random town in the middle of nowhere. Luckily the public transport in Madrid is incredible, and the Cercanias or Interurbanos will take you anywhere you need to go.
- You may or may not vibe with the staff at your school. This has been something that most auxes I've talked to have agreed with. As an outsider who is not used to Spanish work culture, you may not have a mutual understanding with the staff at your school on how to teach. Young people in Spain have an extremely high unemployment rate, and you are also making a very good salary for Spain. This is something to be sensitive to, and understand your privilege as a foreigner. I don't want it to come across like the teachers are mean and you won't get along. I'm now great friends with some of the teachers at my school, but the administration was kinda scary.
- Culture shock is real. Once you get past the initial high of living abroad, you're going to hit a low of culture shock. Everything seems unnecessarily difficult, and the little things will start to get to you. This isn't study abroad, you have to wake up and commute to a job and work with kids all day. This does wear off eventually, but it's a hard stage to get through. Don't be afraid to talk to someone if you're feeling this way! There's plenty of online counseling and English-speaking therapists. Talking to other ex-pats helps because they understand exactly what you're going through and have been there too.
Despite the cons, there are some pretty big advantages to this position. You will always be on your feet and doing something different every day. Each day will be a bit unpredictable, but that can be exciting and fun some days, and annoying the next. However, there are some great advantages that are hard to find anywhere else.
- Livable wage for little work. A concept pretty much unheard of for us Americans, you will get paid a salary that allows you to live pretty comfortably in your region, comparable to the cost of living there. You also work pretty short work weeks with 3 day weekends every weekend and tons of national and regional holidays off. You get paid your full salary no matter how much you work, even if there is a week-long vacation. FYI: you're allowed 4 paid sick days a year with a doctor's note.
- The students. Depending on how you look at it, this one can be a pro or a con. Most of them are loud, will yell and talk in class, and some of them have some behavior issues. Despite all this, I had some of the sweetest students who genuinely wanted to learn English, and were curious about me and my culture. You'll make some great connections with some of the students, and really get to see their progress. You'll also really miss them when you leave.
- The chance to live abroad. This one is a no-brainer, but it's worth mentioning. Nothing replaces this kind of cultural immersion. Living in Spain is an incredible, life-changing experience. You'll see your Spanish language skills massively improve, and you'll be able to travel to so many incredible places. I love Spanish culture, and I think there is a lot that we could learn from it as Americans.
If you read through this post, you were probably already thinking about being an auxiliar. Or maybe not, and maybe you're just curious about how I was posting all these pictures in a new European city every weekend. Either way, being an aux was a pretty life-changing experience, and I'd go back in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, my time in Spain was cut short due to COVID, but you have a chance! There are plenty of auxiliar Facebook groups, and they all have great advice for any and all questions regarding the program.
If you have any other questions about the program, let me know! I love talking about it, and I'd love to create more posts about it. If you're considering it, go for it. Send out that application!