I just got back on Friday from a week at La Abadia de Los Templarios in La Alberca, a small town an hour south from Salamanca. What was I doing in the middle of the Spanish countryside might you ask? Well, I was a volunteer in Spain, working as an English language speaker (not teacher!) at an English immersion camp called Pueblo Ingles.
Pueblo Ingles is exactly what it sounds like. The company recreates the feeling of being in an English-speaking country, and Spaniards come for a week of activities and one-on-one conversations with a variety of English-speaking volunteers; all in a rigorous attempt to rapidly improve their confidence in speaking and comprehension of English. It’s just as difficult for them as it sounds, but this means that it’s a great opportunity for English speakers to volunteer in Spain.
As one of 25 volunteers (fondly known as “Anglos”), I was assigned a daily schedule of talking activities in exchange for accommodation, food, and transport to and from Madrid. Pretty sweet deal!
I found the experience of being a volunteer in Spain to be exhausting, rewarding, and filled with fun. Our typical schedule started at 9 am and ended at 10:30 pm (or later, depending on the day) with an hour and a half siesta break in the middle.
At the beginning of the week, I was a bit nervous about what I had gotten myself into, especially since the Spaniards were so quiet at the initial meals. However, I remembered what it was like to be a nervous student (cue flashback to South America), and I surprised myself by managing to get people to break out of their shells. I ended up talking about the most random topics with people, and left with more than a few friends!
I won’t go through the week day by day as this post would get ridiculously long, so instead I’ll give some fun highlights of my time as a volunteer in Spain:
– One to ones: almost always a good time (for me at least) to get to know people. It took the pressure off me to get to know people in a large group, and I could usually get people started on a topic they liked.
-Theater and presentations: Every day we had a variety of theatrical skits and presentations by the Spaniards and Anglos. Costumes were included. Enough said.
-Group discussions and projects: I was surprised to find that, while people were usually respectful of each other’s opinions during the discussion portion, everyone had an opinion on how to complete group projects. Sometimes there were just too many big personalities in a group; this made for entertaining, albeit sometimes stressful, social encounters.
-Meals: The topics of conversation would vary wildly depending on who I was sitting with, but never in a bad way. There were always two Spaniards and two English speakers at each table. In retrospect, this was probably like watching a game of ping-pong for the poor Spaniards, especially when the two volunteers were having an animated conversation. Oops!
– Cultural Activities & Social hour(s): This was, of course, the best part of the program. At the end of the day after we all finished dinner, about half the group would participate in the game/cultural activity for the night (things like Taboo, a traditional Galician Quemada, trivia, and a hosted party). Despite the level of activity throughout the day, the majority of Spaniards, young and old, would stay up through the wee hours of the night, talking, singing, and drinking. It was a hilarious contrast to see the majority of English speakers in bed by 2 AM, whereas the Spaniards were out and about until 3, 4, and sometimes even 5 each night. Rachael and I happily stayed up late every night, and a few of the other volunteers joined us here and there as well. For me, the chill late-night socializing was what truly made the program memorable. With jokes and conversations all-around, this was when I made the best connections with people; and it’s precisely what made saying goodbye at the end of the week so hard.
– A walking tour of the town: We were treated to a visit to the town on one of the days. La Alberca is gorgeous and definitely worth a visit even if you are a tourist rather than a volunteer in Spain.
Best cultural activity of the week: a Galician Quemada.
The end of the program came much too quickly and much too slowly all at the same time. On the last night I stayed up until 5 AM joking around with people (seriously, I never get FOMO in LA but somehow in Spain I felt the need to stay up). Needless to say, the next morning there were tears all around during the goodbye ceremony. On the bus ride back, people attempted to switch back into Spanish, but I think the students’ brains went into shock, because I heard a lot of Spanglish. I sat with a couple of my friends and told them to go ahead and speak Spanish, and felt a little like I was participating in some revenge plot. Can I just say that listening to two natives speak while trying to follow the conversation is much more difficult than blabbing away in my home language myself? I’m truly filled with admiration for all the students that participated in such an intense week because, to be honest, I’m not sure I could have done it – especially not with such a positive attitude. Update: I did it, two years later!
I’m proud to say that I managed to impress everyone with my Spanish skills, although I suspect it’s only because nobody expected me to be able to actually speak Spanish.
The goodbye in Madrid was sad. I always have such a love/hate relationship with volunteer and study abroad type programs. On one hand, I get attached to my newfound friends and memories, but on the other hand, I know that all good things eventually come to an end. However, I now have friends I can visit all over Spain, and will actually be meeting up with a couple of Spaniards in Seville next week. Silver lining!
By the time I made it back to my Airbnb, I had just enough time to shower, do some laundry and (finally!) use the internet for a while before meeting a few of the volunteers for tapas at The Corte Ingles Gourmet Food Court. Side note: tons of delicious options and a great view of Madrid! Afterward, we headed over to the famous Chocolatería San Gines for some mouthwatering churros and porras (fat churros). It didn’t take long for my sleep deprivation to catch up with me, and I returned to my Airbnb and collapsed into bed.
TLDR: a short summary of what I did and where I ate for those too lazy to read the post
Being a volunteer in Spain:
In exchange for a week’s worth of accommodation and food, I was a volunteer in Spain, working as an English speaker at Diverbo (Pueblo Ingles). The program is located in La Alberca, a small town an hour outside of Salamanca. It’s an action-packed 8 days of almost non-stop talking, but you’re guaranteed to have fun, meet interesting people, and make a ton of friends. I highly recommend it! You can apply by clicking the above link. The application is pretty simple and straightforward.