Is teaching in a small town more rewarding? Emily Torr explains what surprised her about living in rural Spain and how sharing traditions allowed her to integrate into the community.
What experience did you have of life in a small town before your placement?
I grew up in a small English town, but left to go to university in the city of Norwich. After the excitement of exploring another part of the country, and experiencing the variety of a city, I wasn't in a rush to go home where everything felt the same.
What were you expecting, and what surprised you?
When I learned that I would spend my English Language Assistant placement in Tavernes de la Valldigna, a town of fewer than 20,000 people, my main concern about living there was how I would cope with boredom.
When I arrived in Tavernes de la Valldigna, I found a town in a valley, with the coast and the mountains in sight.
What I’ve found most surprising about living in Tavernes de la Valldigna is how busy I always am. There are plenty of nearby towns to visit and explore. Cullera and Gandia are only a train ride away. The next town, Simat, is home to the remains of a 13th century monastery, Monasterio de Santa Maria de la Valldigna. It is connected to the history of the Valldigna villages.
Local people have welcomed me. I’m often invited for dinner and introduced to friends. Thursday night is tapas night Tavernes de la Valldigna, and the bars are full.
Initially, I thought the Spanish siesta – the period of the afternoon where temperatures reach their peak and most businesses and restaurants close – was a waste of a day. Originally, I was frustrated that I couldn't run errands, but I soon embraced the custom of cooking a large meal and taking time to relax, before resuming other activities in the evening with more energy.
I have also found plenty of opportunities to give private English lessons.
Did you have the opportunity to be involved in any community events that you would not have in a larger city?
In Tavernes de la Valldigna there seems to be a different festival or celebration almost every weekend.
While in Valencia, the 'Las Fallas' festival is celebrated every March, smaller towns start the celebrations in September or October to mark the countdown to the major event. The festival 'Mig Any Faller', meaning 'half year Fallas-goer' was my first taste of local festivities, and I was lucky to meet a local young woman who offered to take me to the festival with some of her friends, giving me a real insight into the celebrations.
The festivities began at 08:30 with 'La despertà' which means 'the awakening'. Fallers (festival-goers) started the day by throwing firecrackers and parading the streets to wake the neighbours. This was followed by lunch and more parades.
In the evening, there was a paella competition and music in the town square. Someone lent me a loose flowing striped jacket – customary dress for fallers – which helped me to blend in. I enjoyed eating and drinking at communal tables. Had I been in a larger town or city, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the unique experience of sharing this tradition with students and families in Tavernes de la Valldigna.
Las Fallas is also a part of the culture in the Valencian region, and is not a tourist event.
How did being in a small town affect your relationships with other teachers and language assistants?
The teachers I work with have become much more than colleagues. Teachers from the town wanted me to love it as much as they do, and made me feel a part of the community. Within a week of arriving, I was invited to the head teacher’s house for home-made paella with her family and was sent home with enough leftovers to last a week.
I met other language assistants in Tavernes de la Valldigna and neighbouring towns. Working alongside assistants who share my experience has been a relief, as starting a new job, in a new country, where people speak an unfamiliar language is nerve-racking. Meeting each other for a drink at the end of the day, to talk about the day and share stories (and there were plenty), really helps to establish a friendship.
Tavernes de la Valldigna hosts British, Filipino and American language assistants, so we have learned about each other’s cultures as well as Spanish culture.
What effect did small-town life have on your relationships with parents and students?
One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching and living in a small town is being able to see my students' enthusiasm when I least expect it. Part of my daily routine is hearing a little voice call out my name, or the sound of running feet getting closer as I walk through town, having been spotted by one of my students. Even students who may not seem as engaged in lessons can’t hide their excitement at greeting their English teacher outside of class. Interacting with parents is also a satisfying aspect of working in small-town schools.
Find out more about being an English Language Assistant.