Hey everyone! So I arrived in Madrid a couple of weeks ago and I’ve spent my time trying to sort out visas, abonos, bank accounts, housing, etc so you can imagine how busy I’ve been. That being said, most of my ducks are in a row now and I just finished my first month of the Teach and Learn program at Universidad de Alcala. That means I’ve already finished one course, phew. I’m sorry for the lack of updates, but I promise more adventures are coming soon! This winter I’ll be headed to Poland, Netherlands, Turkey, and more!
Warning: This post hits many controversial subjects which I’m sure will spur debate. I will only say this, these are my observations thus far. I may be speaking with a slight bias, and I recognize it, but as this blog is about my personal experience I will say exactly how I feel. That being said, if you’d like to continue and read about my time in Madrid, please keep in mind that I am having a terrible time so far and this post reflects it. I, in no way, am criticizing the University of Alcala. If anything, the only part about my experience in Spain that I’m enjoying is the University.
Living in Madrid
Usually I’m like a cultural chameleon and adjust quickly to being in a new country. That being said, I’m finding life in Madrid to be quite difficult. Everyone always says that Spanish people are very warm and friendly, yet I have not felt this to be true in Madrid. In fact, most of the friends I’ve made here are from South America. However, I have found that my roommates, who are all from the south of Spain, are more friendly than average Madrileño.
My first day here I was walking around Sol on my own and was a bit lost. I tried to ask the older gentleman sitting next to me if he knew where I might find the metro. I must have said “perdon señor” trying to get his attention about 6 times before I realized he was purposefully ignoring me. I’d like to think that the people are like this because they have inherited the “big city” attitude. For example, think of New York City and how many people will literally yell at you or trample all over you. I’ll admit, Madrid isn’t quite as bad as NY but there are still many similarities. I don’t have very thick skin, I’ll be honest. I prefer small towns to big cities any day.
Housing in Madrid
Pardon my French, but I must say-it’s fucking expensive here and the housing market in Madrid is absolutely ridiculous! I had to pay 450 Euro for an agent to find me a place because the search with Idealista and other sites proved to be a dead end. Finding a flat here is like participating in the hunger games. I hadn’t even arrived in Madrid and I was reading of people in my program leaving Madrid because they couldn’t find housing. As for some other people in the program, they were commenting on Facebook about how they were homeless for a couple of days because they didn’t find housing before they had to check out of their Hostels and Airbnb’s.
Oh, and if you’re a person of color, or just an immigrant/expat in general expect it to be twice as hard. Many piso owners will prefer Spaniards so they can avoid doing contracts (and also racial preference, though I’d like to think there aren’t as many cases like this). I saw an ad on Idealista saying, and I quote, “No foreigners allowed.” I still contacted them to see if they’d make an exception…Spoiler alert, they didn’t.
To give a comparison between what I settled on and what a friend settled on, it’s like night and day. My friend, who is teaching in Jaen, pays 350 Euro for a two bedroom apartment all to herself. Whereas, I’m living in a room in a 7 bedroom apartment for 505 Euro a month (more than half of my salary). But I also had to pay the 450 for an agent. I’ve heard of some people paying 2-4 months rent as a deposit, also.
This is something I noticed before I even got here. The whole process of getting the student visa, paperwork, etc was a taste of what it’s like here. If you’re going to do something, expect it to be 10 times harder. For example, if you need to get an official document, the requirements change based off who attends you. Each person wants something else and it’s like they are trying to make your life difficult.
Also, Everything is always late and you must get used to it. I have been in the country for over a month and I’ve been told that I won’t even get my resident card to legally prove I’m a resident until maybe January of next year. Which means if I want to leave the country to go on a holiday, I need to ask the government for a special form in order to not be deported upon my return.
Working as an Auxiliary in Madrid
I’ve found that the people who come to Spain to be Auxiliaries look at it as “Study Abroad” 2.0 and get drunk everyday while only having to go to “work” for 16 hours a week. This is infuriating. The idea that I’m lumped into this same category, because unfortunately those people have now given this reputation to all auxiliaries, is absolutely insulting. The funny part is, the other auxiliaries that I’ve spoken to at my school feel as though they are actually working hard…. To quote the girl from California, “I go home and my friends think I’m just partying everyday. I don’t. I work with kids for 16 hours a week and it’s exhausting. I have to prepare lesson plans [for her private lessons], too so my job is so hard.”
I bit my tongue so hard on that one. 16 hours a week is nothing! I am literally begging the bilingual coordinator to give me more work to do. It’s hard to wrap my head around being an “assistant” when for the past 2 years I was literally making curriculum’s and I had an assistant. I keep offering my resources to the teachers and trying to see if we could work as a team, but I get told that my job this month is to learn the children’s names. That’s it!? I’m literally taking a step backwards in my teaching career! That’s not to say all schools are like this. My school follows the contract, but there are so many others that don’t. Some will leave you alone with the students, and some will expect you to prepare their lessons.
As for the positives
The food is the bomb and they give you a lot. We have a snack break with freshly baked cakes and croissants at 11:15 every morning. Later, for lunch it’s an array of veggies, soups, and side dishes. The workload is very light, which is nice when you have a lot of homework for your Master’s courses.
Animosity between faculty and Auxiliaries
practicum* school, the other teachers argue over who has to sit with the Auxiliaries. I thought this was bad before speaking to a friend of mine. whom also taught in Korea, and her school makes the auxiliaries eat outside in the dog park. That means they aren’t even allowed to eat in the same room!
And I get it. I’ve had to deal with the same situation in Korea. The Korean teachers envy us therefore treat us poorly and with little respect. We are rarely recognized as “one of them” because our jobs are so easy in contrast. In both Korea and Spain, we get paid a livable wage (sometimes more than the teachers) and do less work. If we show up late, forget to prepare a lesson, or come to work hung over, there are no real repercussions. (Of course if you do it habitually there are, but if a “real teacher” did these things, they would get a far worse response.)
Discipline in Classrooms
There is one thing that all of these schools have in common, the lack of discipline. Spanish classrooms are out of control! The teachers don’t control the students, instead they just “shush” them repeatedly and talk over their voices. It’s disrespectful! In Korea, I never had to worry about the kids misbehaving. I had incentives and ways to make my students want to listen. When I offered to make a behavior chart for one of the teachers, whose students literally do whatever they want, she told me “Don’t worry, I don’t need it.” This is something I’ve discussed with other auxiliaries and we can all agree on this. There are of course exceptions, I have a teacher who does keep her students under control, I’m talking in general. Of course this can be attributed to culture, and curriculum, so there are other factors. It’s just something that is frustrating!
“Special Needs” students in the Classroom
My first day of class I noticed a student didn’t have a textbook, but rather a coloring book on his desk. I asked the teacher,
“Why doesn’t this student follow along with our activity?”
She answered, “This student is special needs so he has separate material.”
“Okay, well, what kind of special needs? Autistic? Aspergers? He seems to be acting pretty normal to me!”
Turns out he has ADD. I was a bit floored that this was considered special needs. I had/have ADHD and I was never medicated. I still did the same classwork as the other students and always had top scores. Yes, I was disruptive and distracted, but I could still comprehend like everyone else! Hearing this really upset me. But this is nothing compared to what happened the next class.
There was another student sitting with nothing on his desk just drawing on his hands with pen. I asked that teacher what was wrong. She told me he was special needs. Oh god here we go again. Well, what kind of special needs is he?
He’s a gypsy kid.
Are you F’ing kidding me!?!? Gypsy=special needs?!?! After this one, I’ve learned to stop asking. They apparently do have a person who comes in twice a week to work with the “special needs” students, but otherwise they are not separated from the other students like in the US.
Overall, I can say my time in Madrid has had its ups and downs. It is definitely going to take some time to get used to, and I can’t just look at everything through one lens. This post isn’t meant to offend anyone, it is simply to share my experience. I’m open to hearing from you all and you’re welcome to leave a comment, I’m always open to hearing all sides! Also if you live in Madrid and want to be friends, I could use some!
*Update: After having had a sit-down discussion with my coordinator, I was told that this is not a practicum. The masters and our job as auxiliares are not to be associated together. I learned this the hard way when I pitched a fit to one of my teachers for keeping me outside of the classroom everyday. I wanted to observe her teaching methods and classroom management, to try and compliment what I was learning in my masters, and was met with “I can do with you what I please.”