My School Placement

Spanish phrase of the day: “Disculpen las molestias!” In poor literal translation, this phrase means “Excuse the bothers!” A good translator would just say, “Sorry for the inconvience!” One of these things is what I imagine polite bureaucrats in Andalucía would have said if I ever got ahold of them this past month.

July was an exercise in patience. I received my regional placement in Andalucía on June 28. Soon thereafter, I made a visa appointment in Chicago during the first week in August. I caved on Monday and emailed the Junta de Andalucía because I was worried I wouldn’t get my documents in time for my appointment. They never did get back to me, but July 28, exactly one month later, my school assignment arrived in the mail.

Now, we were required to put a permanent address on our application, so I used my parent’s address on the east side. Every two or three days for the past two weeks, I have been calling or emailing or texting, always asking, “Did I get a letter yet?”

On July 28, my sister texted, “Why didn’t you call Randy back yet?” Puzzled, I saw I had missed a voice message. I’m not sure I even finished the message before I called him back. I don’t remember saying hello; just, “Open it! Open it! Open it!”

I heard the envelope ripping, but it might have been my imagination. He unfolded the letter (probably). He said, “This must be it. This is your letter.” A pause. I was sure this was what it felt like to be dying. “I can’t read it. It’s in spanish.” No; this is what it felt like to be dying.

We determined Christina would scan the letter and email it to me so I could read it. She said, “I think you’re placed in Sevilla, though.” This was disappointing. I knew that what was likely was I placed in the province of Sevilla, 45 minutes away from the metro area in a small town where I’d either have to find a reliable commute or learn to like desert landscapes. I told her she was wrong; she didn’t understand. I wanted to read the letter myself. She said, “Okay.”

I had been expecting this. For most, although we are allowed to list preferences, schools and auxiliaries are matched on a first-come, first-served basis. Most of the placements (over 1000) are in Madrid. What many have to look forward to is being placed within 30-45 minutes by bus or car to a nearby metro area. Many choose to find housing in a city and commute to the town where they work.

Knowing this, I had been giving myself pep talks. If I were placed near Jaén, I would lay under olive trees and read and sketch trees. If I were placed near Cádiz or Huelva or Almería, I would spend hours staring out over the Mediterranean sea working on my tan. If I were placed in the mountains, near Ronda or some other whitewashed town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I would hike every chance I could get.

All of those things sounded pretty good, actually.

Which is why I had mixed feelings when I saw that my school was:

Instituto de Educacion Secundaria Ramon del Valle Inclan

Sevilla, Spain


It’s in metro Sevilla.

I knew I was lucky to get this placement because both my regional and city requests were honored, and my overall feeling was relief. But I also felt regret that I would have to travel to see the beautiful countryside, to go hiking, to see the olive orchards, and to bask on the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea.

But then I remembered that I requested the metro for a reason: the extra income opportunities, the safety of numbers, the people to meet, the tapas and nightlife, and, of course, the easy access to travel opportunities.

Palm trees and manicured bushes outside the bright orange red walls of the Real Alcazar.

In the royal gardens of the Alcazar, Sevilla

And now I’m ballistic with excitement. Yes, I will be happy in Sevilla. But don’t let me tell you about this great city. Let Rick Steve tell you! Then buy your round trip tickets.

I just bought mine; I’m leaving September 19 and coming back June 14. The best prices are on Student Universe and CheapoAir; try going from CHI to MAD and then take the train or bus from Madrid to Sevilla. If you see something for ~$850, get it! Normal is $1050-1200.

Let me know when you are coming!

I’m going to be a North American Language and Cultural Assistant

I have big news. But first, the background:

I started thinking about the North American Language and Cultural Assistants Program last year when my friend Bill was applying. I was too nervous to apply, plus I had a fantastic job that I still loved and felt like I had more to learn from. However, as soon as he and Derek got their acceptance letters from their programs, I committed to visiting them in December. First, I had never been to Europe, and cheap accommodations FTW! But it was also a chance to see how my friends were faring with their schools and an opportunity to decide if I thought teaching English abroad was right for me.

I went in December, and it was good.

Greenery and hills in Galicia, Spain.

Greenery and hills in Galicia, Spain.

I applied in mid-February.

Just last week, I was accepted into the program and assigned to the region of Andalucía in the south of Spain. Ever since, I’ve been reading about Andalucía and all its cities. I picked up some spanish readers and grammar movies to brush up. I have to hurry, because the job starts in October and I’m moving to Spain in September!

Topographical map of Andalucía

Topographical map of Andalucía

(Note: the previous was my big news!)

I still don’t know which school I’ll be in. First, the program, which is run through the Spanish government, assigns you to a region. Then, the region assigns you to a school. The school then contacts the assistant and tells them more details.

Once you’re assigned to a region (and before you’re assigned to a school), you can email the region’s “Junta” and request a city. I requested Almería (first choice) and Sevilla (second choice), although really I would be happy in almost any major city. For example, although Ronda is small (only 35,000 people), it’s in one of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever seen on Google Images. I also considered Cádiz, which is near the Strait of Gibraltar across from Morocco. It has nice recreational beaches, but is a little smaller and more touristy than Almería.

Why Almería?

  • has an airport with cheap flights to other major European cities
  • large city with nearly 200,000 people provides good private tutoring prospects for a side job
  • on the Mediterranean coast and near a national park with greater flamingos and other interesting wildlife, including poisonous vipers
  • has an arid climate, which means little rain and an average of 320 sunny days per year
  • average temperatures are moderately high, which means 70 degree weather in December and lows around 45 degrees even in January
Why Sevilla?
  • it was my favorite city in Spain when I visited last December
  • it also has warm December weather; I wore short sleeves during my stay
  • it’s also a large city with a train hub on the AVE through Córdoba and Madrid, and it has its own airport
My priorities overall were:
  1. to be close to cheap transportation at the city, country, and international level
  2. to have a large population for safety, things to do, and people to tutor for extra money

Everything else is just a bonus. I’m so excited to go, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Thanks for being interested in my adventure! I promise to share lots of pictures and great stories, as well as some info about what it’s like to live in Spain and be involved with the program.

Promise you’ll visit me?