This past Friday I found out that I’ve been accepted to the North American Language & Culture Assistants program in Spain, which allows citizens of the U.S. and Canada to spend one academic year in Spain teaching English (or French, for our Canadian friends who speak that) in public schools. It’s one of the only ways for Americans to spend an extended period of time in the country, since work visas are extremely hard to get for non-Europeans. I’ve been studying Spanish for seven years and I’ve never been to a country where it’s spoken widely, so I’m beyond excited to finally have a chance to really experience the language I’ve grown to love.
But this isn’t the first time I’ve made an effort to visit a Spanish-speaking country (in particular, Spain). In fact, this is the fourth time I’ve looked into visiting el reino de España, but all my previous attempts never worked out. It wasn’t meant to be at those points in time, for one reason or another, but here’s hoping that the fourth time’s a charm.
It’s 2010 and almost-16-year-old me has just heard about an opportunity to spend a few weeks during the summer traveling through Spain with a group from my high school. Who cares that I have less than three years of experience with the language – I have an A in my Honors 2 class, I should be fine! One morning, I arrive at school early and stop by to talk to Señor Gilkey (may he rest in peace), who is in charge of the trip. He explains to me that the trip would involve stops in Barcelona, Madrid and Seville (or something like that) and shows me a budget sheet with the expected costs of the trip. It’ll be expensive, but I think I’d be able to find a summer job after the trip so I can try and earn enough money to break even. I leave the classroom with the itinerary, budget sheet, and a brochure with a title proudly proclaiming ¡Hola España! and start to dream of flamenco, tapas, and other stereotypically Spanish things.
In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing that I ended up not being able to afford the trip. There’s no way that almost-16-year-old me (who never gets hired for a summer job – thanks, recession) would have been able to get by on that trip – which was geared towards students in Honors Spanish 4 or AP Spanish 5 – with such a minimal understanding of the language. At that point, with about two and a half years of Spanish education, I had never even heard of the ceceo, the distinct accent with which many Spaniards tend to speak. Ceceo means that they essentially pronounce every soft c or z sound like a lisp, similar to the th sound in English. I can understand it now, but I would have been extremely thrown off and confused as to why I couldn’t understand anyone if I had gone on that trip without any familiarity with the accent.
I spend the summer of 2010 attending concerts and driver’s ed classes. Spain just wasn’t meant to be yet.
Let Enrique serenade you. (He’s from Madrid – listen to how he pronounces things like “veces” and “salvación.” That’s ceceo!
It’s 2012 and I’ve just begun my first year at college. I decide to declare a double major in Spanish to accompany my existing major in broadcast journalism. The faculty adviser tells me that one requirement for the Spanish major is to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country.
I’ve already been thinking of potentially studying abroad thanks to my journalism professor, who on the very first day of class mentioned a great opportunity to spend part of the summer in Leipzig, Germany studying international mass media and producing a radio show with students at the university there. The Leipzig program, in addition to being an incredible opportunity for my major, was part of a historic partnership between OU and the University of Leipzig that began after the fall of the Berlin Wall in the early ’90s and which was celebrating its 20th anniversary that year. I was already keeping my eyes wide open for any more information about the program.
You’d think that hearing about the mandatory study abroad requirement for a Spanish major would have made me reconsider the Germany program, but no – it just put a wild idea into my head that maybe I could spend part of the summer in Leipzig and the next part in Spain, since I would already be in Europe. ¡Qué guay! Determined to make my double-study-abroad summer a reality, I spent an afternoon researching programs in Spain and eventually found one that looked promising. Based in Málaga, a coastal city in Andalucía and hometown of Pablo Picasso, the program would begin shortly after the Leipzig one ended. The cost was reasonable and it would fulfill my study abroad requirement for my Spanish major.
I never ended up applying to the program because a few weeks into the semester, I dropped my Spanish major. As a program in the College of Arts & Sciences, I would need to take a lot of general education classes in the areas of arts and science. Arts, I could do, but science? Taking several “natural science” classes (biology, chemistry, physics and whatnot) for a degree in a language I already speak más o menos fluently seemed a little pointless, especially considering how much I struggle with math and science (I passed all my high school classes, but not without an insane amount of studying). I added Spanish as both my minor and my specialization and didn’t pursue the study abroad trip anymore.
I’m in Germany! I went through with the Leipzig program and have been spending a few weeks here at the university, which was founded almost 90 years before Columbus even sailed to America, learning about mass media on an international level.
One of the beautiful things about Europe is how cheap and easy it is to get from country to country once you’re there. With only one weekend left to travel, I decide to look and see if maybe – just maybe – a trip to Spain might be worth considering. And what do you know: Ryanair offers flights from Leipzig to – of all places – Málaga. Why not spend my last weekend in Europe having the Spanish adventure to remember?
About a week before I would want to leave, I sit down at my laptop in the Hauptbahnhof Starbucks (one of the most reliable wifi hotspots in Leipzig, should you ever find yourself there) with my credit card out and begin looking at flights to Málaga. I can fly there for about $50 USD – and that’s an “expensive” price, considering that I’m booking within a week of my intended departure. I’m about to book the flight when I get the feeling I should take a look at the weather – it hasn’t been very pleasant lately, at least in Germany. Sure enough, the radar for the day I would want to fly to Málaga shows a massive storm stretching from the Iberian Peninsula (that’s a fancy term for Spain and Portugal) all the way past Germany into central Europe. Suddenly I have a bad feeling about flying on that day, and I decide not to buy the ticket after all. The storm rolls through Leipzig as predicted on the day I planned on going, and there are reports of dozens of flight cancellations out of Leipzig-Halle International Airport.
It’s my senior year of college and I’ve been interested in looking for post-grad internships abroad. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult for U.S. nationals to apply directly to positions at companies and obtain all the necessary paperwork and documentation on their own. My options were limited to paying thousands of dollars (not even including airfare and accommodation) in program fees to an international internship provider. Similar to study abroad providers, these programs will place you in an internship in your field in your desired country, all for several thousand bucks. Also included in the program price are “cultural experiences” with your fellow interns that would probably be much cheaper to buy on your own.
I found out about the language and culture assistants program in Spain earlier this school year and thought it might be worth considering. Teaching English abroad wasn’t something I had considered, but it would be a great way to see more of the world while still getting some experience I could add to my resume. The program is run by the Spanish government and offers visa sponsorship, health insurance and a tax-free (in Spain) monthly salary – all for zero dollars and zero cents. I researched the program, read blogs written by past participants, and applied as soon as the application period opened last month.
I was admitida (accepted) to the program last week and the next part of the process is finding out where I’ll be placed, which probably won’t happen until April. Part of the application had a section where you could pick your top three comunidades autónomas (which are kind of like states) and I chose Andalucía, La Rioja and Madrid.
I’m excited to find out where I’ll be and continue moving forward in the process, but for now I’m just thankful and thrilled to have this opportunity. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime chance that I plan to enjoy to the fullest.