Feliz Navidad: Celebrating Christmas in Spain

Thursday morning, I’ll be on a plane bound for the United States. Like the eve of every big trip, I have a million things to do. I meant to start packing on Monday, but this week, I’ve been busy celebrating Christmas in Spain.

Here's an overview of my experience celebrating Christmas in Spain in the schools where I teach English.

Image Credit: Felipe Ortega (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette) 

Like Halloween, schools have their own way of celebrating Christmas in Spain. It’s always fun to learn how other cultures celebrate holidays, and this week, I’ve been comparing celebrating Christmas in Spain to what I remember about my holiday parties in elementary school in the States.

El Festival de Navidad

El Festival de Navidad (Christmas festival) is a big deal in just about every primary school in Spain. The students and teachers begin preparing for the festival right after Halloween. So, yes, that means we’ve been singing Christmas carols since the first week of November.

This year, the bilingual classes decided to sing songs in English. At one school, I helped teach the class “I’m the Happiest Christmas Tree”. At the other, I helped teach “Must Be Santa”. The music teachers choreographed a dance for each song.

I rearranged my work schedule, so I could attend both festivals. It was so much fun! One group was dressed up as Christmas trees and the other as Papá Noel (Santa Claus). It was cool to see how much pride each class put into their performance. The acts varied from traditional Spanish carols and dances to Stomp-esque percussion.

Here's an overview of my experience celebrating Christmas in Spain in the schools where I teach English.
Look at all the little Papa Noels on their way to the Christmas festival!

Chocolate con churros

Of course, what’s the Christmas season without some sweet treats?! On the last day of school before the break, parents bring churros con chocolate for the whole school to enjoy. They even bring some gluten-free churros to accommodate the children with dietary restrictions!

Churros, for those of you who have never tasted this beloved Spanish snack, are lightly-sugared fried dough sticks, which you dip in a cup of piping hot chocolate. Sugar? Fried? Chocolate? YUM. It’s no wonder the kids go crazy for them!

Here's an overview of my experience celebrating Christmas in Spain in the schools where I teach English.
This picture alone is making me crave churros! Image Credit:CTJ

Los Reyes Magos

I remember writing letters to Santa Claus when I was little and addressing them to him at the North Pole. In class Wednesday, the second graders wrote Christmas letters but not to Santa. They wrote their letters to Los Reyes Magos.

In Spain, Los Reyes Magos (the Three Wise Men) bring good girls and boys presents on Jan. 6. In recent years, Papá Noel has started to visit homes on Dec. 25, but traditionally, it’s good ol’ Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar bringing gifts by camelback just like they brought to Jesus in Bethlehem.

In addition to asking for toys, the students were instructed to request general gifts for the world. Some of my favorites were “an end to all wars” and “food for every hungry child”. Awwww. On the last day of school (Dec. 22), Los Reyes Magos will visit the school, and the students will have the opportunity to meet them, take pictures and hand deliver their letters.

Here's an overview of my experience celebrating Christmas in Spain in the schools where I teach English.
Last year, my coworker Alba and I snapped a picture with Los Reyes Magos after the kids delivered their letters.

Celebrating Christmas in Spain

Celebrating Christmas in Spanish schools is one of my favorite Spain memories to date. The students’ joy is contagious. This might sound kind of cheesy, but I feel like my holiday spirit has been renewed.

Have you ever celebrated Christmas abroad? If you did so while teaching English like me, how did your school’s holiday traditions differ from the ones your grew up with?




A(nother) Day in the Life of an Auxiliar de Conversación

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post detailing my typical Thursday as an auxiliar de conversación.  Today, I thought I’d give you the rundown of my typical Wednesday. Like I’ve said before, though, each and every day is different. These posts are intended to give you an idea of what a day in the life of an auxiliar de conversación is actually like.

I detailed my typical Wednesday schedule so you can know what the day in the life of an auxiliar de conversacion is like!

Image Credit: M. Peinado (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette) 

“Typical” days (do teachers really even have typical days?!) vary from region to region, city to city and, even, school to school. For reference, I’m an auxiliar in Madrid, and I split my time between two primary schools.

If you like what you read and decide to apply to the North American Language and Culture Assistants program, bear in mind there is no guarantee your experience will be anything like mine. If there was, though, what kind of adventure would that be?  Applications open in January, people!

Enough small talk, here’s a(nother) day in the life of an auxiliar de conversación.

8:30 a.m.

You know you’re getting older when setting your alarm for 8:30 a.m. means sleeping in. Wednesday mornings are definitely the most tranquil mornings of my work week. By the time I get out of bed and amble into the kitchen, Taylor already has breakfast ready. Since he starts work at 9 a.m., he’s usually dressed and packing his things to go. I pour myself a cup of coffee before starting in on breakfast. This morning, he made oatmeal, which I scooped into a bowl and topped with honey.

9:30 a.m.

After saying goodbye to Taylor, I drink my coffee and eat my oatmeal while I scroll through Twitter and Instagram. It’s so nice not to have to rush. I take my time getting ready before going downstairs to catch the bus. The stop is right outside my apartment building. Unlike my Tuesday and Thursday school which requires an hour and 15-minute commute, it only takes me 25 minutes to get to my Monday and Wednesday school. I take the bus a few stops then switch to the metro. The school is located in the southeast part of Madrid.

I detailed my typical Wednesday schedule so you can know what the day in the life of an auxiliar de conversacion is like!
I know I sometimes complain about all the time I spend on buses, but I’m fortunate Madrid has such good public transportation. Image Credit: Sharon Hahn

10 a.m.

I’m supposed to begin working at 10 a.m., but it’s more of a soft start time. Many days, the first-hour class runs over, and we don’t get going until at least five or 10 minutes after the hour. No pasa nada, though. I start the day with one of two second grade classes. We only meet once per week, but I’m proud to say they’re improving. As an assistant, I don’t normally lead classes, but with the second graders, I do. It’s a nice change of pace and good practice since next year I hope to have a class of my own. I start the hour with a slew of Youtube videos. We sing our way through the days of the week, the months of the year and the seasons. Later, I introduce or review the current lesson. Right now, they’re learning about pets.

11 a.m.

I say goodbye to the second graders (generally, this involves lots of hugs) and make my way to the first-grade classroom. At this school, first grade is the only level that is bilingual, which means half the curriculum is in English. I work with Alicia, who is the school’s bilingual coordinator. She is Spanish, but when I first met her, I thought she was British. That’s how good her English is.

Today, the first graders took their first test of the year. It was kind of a mess with students working at different paces and not listening to directions. The material wasn’t all that challenging (we’ve been studying school supplies, toys and parts of the body for months now), but they didn’t understand the concept of a test. The students kept looking at each other’s papers or asking us for the answers. The task was made even more difficult because a handful of students can’t read in Spanish, let alone English. A few are still learning how to write. On days like today, I can understand why people criticize the bilingual program.

11:45 a.m.

It’s finally time for the break, and I’m in desperate need of some coffee. Today, I kind of had a headache after the chaos of the test, but normally, I take advantage of the opportunity to practice Spanish. The teachers at my new school have been really welcoming to me. I feel like part of the team.

I detailed my typical Wednesday schedule so you can know what the day in the life of an auxiliar de conversacion is like!
I came to Spain for the wine, but I stayed for the coffee. Image Credit: Josh Nespodzany

12:15 p.m.

After the break, it’s back with the first graders. They’re usually a bit wound up after running around on the playground, so Alicia plays some relaxing music to chill everybody out. Today, we practiced our song for next week’s Christmas festival. Do you know “I’m the Happiest Christmas Tree”? I sure do. We’ve practiced it approximately one billion times. Next Tuesday, the class is going to perform it in front of the whole school. Each student has a Christmas tree costume made from poster board, which we decorated in class today.

2 p.m.

The students leave to go home or eat lunch in the dining hall. Normally, I have an English conversation group with the teachers, but this week, the teachers were busy preparing final grades, so instead of meeting, I stayed with Alicia to work on our Christmas tree costumes. That’s right. We’ll be performing alongside the first graders at next week’s all-school festival.

3:15 p.m.

The school day is officially over, and I’m starving. I eat lunch in the dining hall with some of the other teachers. Unlike my other school, this school doesn’t have a kitchen, so the food for both the students and teachers is catered. Sounds fancy, right? Not so much. The teachers always make jokes about how bland the food is, but I’m too hungry to care.

4 p.m.

I eat quickly, say goodbye and head home. Taylor finished school at 4 p.m., so sometimes, we catch each other on the walk back to the apartment. We hang out for an hour or so before he leaves for his private English classes.

5 p.m.

This year, I’m working really hard to improve my Spanish. As part of my efforts, I do three to four language exchanges over Skype every week. All my language partners are native Spanish speakers. I’ve met some through italki, an amazing website/network for language learners, and others at language exchange meetups in Madrid. Today, I talked with Estephanny, whom I met back in October at a language exchange meetup. First, we talked in Spanish for 30 minutes. Then, we switched and talked in English for 30 minutes.

6 p.m.

Since I don’t have any private English classes on Wednesday, I use the time to write. In addition to my blog, I also write content for Devour Spain Food Tours. This week, I’m working on a post for the Devour Malaga blog about where to eat in Malaga.

I detailed my typical Wednesday schedule so you can know what the day in the life of an auxiliar de conversacion is like!
If you’re planning a trip to Malaga, be sure to check out the Devour Malaga blog for lots of tips and recommendations! Image Credit: Nick Kenrick

7 p.m.

The internet makes learning a new language so incredibly convenient. Every week, I have a one-on-one Spanish class over Skype. My teacher’s name is Rocío, and we’ve been working together for a few years now. Seriously, if you’re interested in learning a language, check out italki! I can’t say enough good things about it!

8 p.m.

After my class, I write and work on blog stuff for another hour. Last year, I was super busy with private classes and hardly had a moment to myself during the week. This year, I’m making writing a priority. I advise all auxiliares to make sure they have a hobby before coming to Spain. When you only work 20 hours per week, you have a lot of free time, and you can’t spend all of it eating tapas. I also don’t recommend running yourself ragged giving private English classes. Take advantage of the open schedule to do something you “don’t have time” for in the U.S.

9 p.m.

Taylor usually does the cooking, but on Wednesday nights, I try to get dinner started before he gets home from his private classes. Tonight, I’m planning on making chicken with broccoli and sweet potato. We don’t have a table in our apartment, so we either eat dinner sitting at the breakfast bar or on the couch. After dinner, I’m hoping to watch an episode or two of Bates Motel before I have to get ready for bed.

11 p.m.

I drag myself away from Netflix and get ready for bed. I read a few pages (maybe a whole chapter if I’m not too tired) of Harry Potter. I’m rereading the books in Spanish, and my goal is to finish the series before June. I’m currently on El Prisonero de Azkaban.

11:30 p.m.

Time for bed! My alarm is set for 6:45 a.m. I need a good night’s rest before tackling Thursday, which is my longest days of the week. Buenas noches.

If you’re an auxiliar or language assistant, what’s your typical day like? If you’re not, what do you think of my typical day? Let me know in the comments!

A Day in the Life of an Auxiliar de Conversación

In January 2017, the North American Language and Culture Assistants program will begin accepting applications for the 2017-2018 school year. This time next year, you could be living in Spain and be working as an auxiliar de conversación. 

Here's a typical day in the life of an auxilar de conversación in Madrid, Spain!

Image Credit: M. Peinado (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

Before taking the leap and applying, perhaps you’d first like to know what a day in the life of an auxiliar de conversación is actually like. To be honest, every day is a little different (even more so for me than other assistants because I work at two schools). Also, reminder, I’m an auxiliar in Madrid. Typical days vary from region to region and city to city. I’ve chosen to profile a Thursday, which happens to be my longest and busiest day of the week.

6:45 a.m. – Wake up. My piso is so cold in the morning. It’s always hard getting out of bed. I usually press the snooze button once or twice. 

7:45 a.m. – After getting dressed and eating breakfast, I’m out the door and headed to the bus stop. Every minute counts in the morning. 

7:45 a.m. to 9 a.m. – In order to get to my school, which is situated to the east of Madrid, I take two buses and the metro. It’s not a fun commute, but it is what is. I try to make the most of my time by reading or listening to podcasts.

Here's a typical day in the life of an auxilar de conversación in Madrid, Spain!
I know I complain about all the time I spend on buses, but I’m fortunate Madrid has such good public transportation. Image Credit: Sharon Hahn

Time for School

9 a.m. to 10 a.m. – English class with second graders. I was with the same group last year, and it’s been so rewarding watching them grow. It’s amazing how much they’ve learned in just one year. My classroom duties vary from helping individual students to pronouncing vocabulary words to, occasionally, leading the class. Inés, the lead teacher and bilingual coordinator, is a pleasure to work with, and I’m happy to assist her in any way I can. 

10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. – This year, I have a 45-minute break in my Thursday schedule. My school was very apologetic, but unfortunately, there was just no way around it. It hasn’t been bad, though. I use the time to check my email and plan for private classes I have later in the day.

10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. – After the break, I rejoin Inés and the second-grade class for science. We alternate between units of social science and natural science. Since the school is bilingual, science and art are also part of the English curriculum. Right now, we’re studying the human body!

11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. – Time for a break! Students go out to the playground for recess, and I go to the teachers’ lounge for a cup of coffee. In addition to coffee, the cooks set out a snack for the teachers. My favorite snack is tortilla de patata. Yum. 

Here's a typical day in the life of an auxilar de conversación in Madrid, Spain!
Tortilla isn’t very photogenic, but I swear it’s delicious! Image Credit: Jessica Spengler

English, English, English and More English

12:15 p.m. to 2 p.m. – The rest of the afternoon is spent with Inés and the first-grade class. It’s the students first year in the bilingual program, but they’ve been progressing steadily thus far. First, I assist in the English class. Then, science. 

2 p.m. to 3 p.m. – The students leave, either for home or the dining hall, but I still have another hour of work. A small group of teachers meets in Inés’ classroom for our weekly English conversation group. The levels vary greatly, so a fluid conversation can be difficult, but we do what we can.

3 p.m. – Finally time to eat lunch. I eat lunch in the teachers’ lounge with some of my colleagues. In Spain, lunch is the main meal of the day, and the cooks put out quite a spread. There’s always a first course, second course, bread, salad and dessert. Definitely worth the 4 euros. When my mouth isn’t full of delicious food, I converse with my fellow teachers in Spanish. This year, I’m trying to use every opportunity to practice. 

3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. – Once I’m finished eating, it’s time for my side hustle aka private classes. I have four private classes every week. All but one of them are on Thursday! My first class is with César. He’s the Dean of Students at my school, and we meet in his office. César is studying English because he enjoys traveling. A few years ago, he visited New York City and, like so many Spanish people, fell in love. 

4:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. – After my class with César, I catch the bus then metro back toward Madrid. I’m headed in the direction of home, but it’s far from time to actually go home. 

5:15 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. – I have my second private class of the evening with a 10-year-old girl named Lucía. Lucía doesn’t go to a bilingual school but still has English classes as part of her curriculum. I help her with her homework for the majority of the hour, but the last 15 minutes or so, we play games. 

6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. – In a café just around the corner from Lucía’s house, I meet with my third and final student of the night: José. José is a new student of mine and has a really high level of English. Our classes are strictly conversational, which I prefer because grammar can be so ugh. He’s nice and easy to talk to. In our first class, we chatted about Game of Thrones for almost the entire hour. 

Here's a typical day in the life of an auxilar de conversación in Madrid, Spain!
Spain loves Game of Thrones. In fact, the scenes in Dorne’s water gardens were filmed in Sevilla! Image Credit: Amanderson02

Home, Sweet, Home

8:15 p.m. – Home at last. Since I don’t work on Friday, I like to pick up a bottle of wine from the grocery store to celebrate the end of my week. I pour myself a glass and wait for Taylor to get home from his private classes. 

9:30 p.m. – Dinner time. I’ve definitely adopted Spanish meal times and, generally, don’t eat until late. Even though I ate a big lunch, I’m starving. There’s no time to snack with my back-to-back-to-back private classes. 

10 p.m. – After dinner, I might watch a movie with Taylor, who works on Friday and has to stay in, or meet up with friends for drinks. At this point, the day is really catching up with me, and it’s almost impossible to get me up off the couch. I tend to reserve going out for Friday and Saturday nights. 

Midnight – If I stayed in, it’s time for bed. If I went out, I’m usually heading home. I like to get a decent night’s sleep and wake up with Taylor on Friday morning in order to have a productive day. 

What do you think of my typical Thursday as an auxiliar de conversación? Do you want to apply to the North American Language and Culture Assistants program?