I have to say my Language Assistants experience matched my expectations exactly.
Firstly, I hoped that during this experience I would make many friends and meet a lot of people, who would help and guide me through this critical year of my studies and who would teach me everything I needed to know about Spanish culture. I also hoped that my experience as an English language assistant would be a great one and that I would be the best Language Assistant I could possibly be.
It is the most rewarding thing in the world when you reach the end of your assistantship and your students have bought you presents, drawn you pictures, called you the best teacher ever and have organised surprise parties for you. As a Language Assistant the students really look up to you and they show a real interest in you, your language and your country. After this experience I am definitely considering teaching as a future career.
All pieces of advice given at the year abroad meetings and in the information packs were useful. However, for me the most useful piece of advice was that of previous assistants. I remember being told to just enjoy the year abroad, to travel and to try and do and see as many things as I possibly could. I would happily pass this advice onto future assistants. It’s amazing how quickly time flies, so make the most of the year and never turn down people’s invitations. It’s the best way to make friends and experience the culture first hand.
I was placed in a small, bilingual school which had 200 students. There were four bilingual subjects – English, Maths, Music and P.E. I was required to help and assist in all of these subject areas. I worked 12 hours a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) but there were some weeks where I worked some extra hours to help the students. I also took advantage of school trips which was another great way to see new places and do new things.
In terms of teaching materials, I found that older students enjoy videos, film, music and TV. With younger children, games and testing them on language are always fun and everyone wants to get involved. Also, books and worksheets are a great idea. In my school, the English teacher and I agreed that Fridays would be fun days were we’d have conversational classes with the students and do fun activities with them.
When I first arrived in the country, it was difficult and I felt like I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying. I also felt like people were staring at me everywhere I went which made me feel really uncomfortable. I lived in a small, rural town were there weren’t any foreigners, so I suppose naturally I stood out.
However, despite all that after time I made friends, got to know my colleagues more and my Spanish improved, which really helped with my settling in there. I now have great friends there who are like a second family. I think the key to adapting is trying to have an open mind and trying not to take things to heart.
In my spare time I usually went out with friends. I started talking to one of the younger teachers at my school, who later introduced me to all of her friends. Sometimes we would go out for dinner, or go clubbing or maybe go for day trips to various places. I also used my spare time to travel and try to see other parts of Spain.
I had plenty of opportunities to travel during the year and I really tried to make the most of this opportunity. I visited Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Benidorm, Alicante, Murcia, Almería, Granada, Málaga, Marbella and Cádiz. I also used my time to visit small towns and villages.
My advice if you are considering the programme is to do it! It’s the perfect opportunity to learn a foreign language and to experience the culture of the country. It gives you the chance to speak to native people, ask questions and to learn more than you could possibly learn in a lecture theatre.