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Embracing the Unknown: My Journey to Barcelona

Author standing, posing with friends, in Barcelona

In September, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to go to Barcelona, Spain, to become a conversation assistant through the Meddeas program. Going into the program, I knew I was going to have many moments to look forward to such as traveling around Europe, trying new cuisines, and meeting new people. Although I had certain expectations, there was one thing I was uncertain about, which was the school. I did not know what to expect going into a school as an English language assistant. Would the students and staff like me? How would I manage all of the age ranges from three-year-old preschoolers to thirteen-year-olds in high school? Would I be on my own?

Leaving My Comfort Zone

After spending time here, I have learned so much about Spanish schools and what it means to be a language assistant that I would like to share.

Upon arriving in Spain, the first lesson I learned was to go outside of my comfort zone. This meant meeting everyone in the program and taking advantage of the resources that were given to me through Meddeas. Prior to flying halfway across the world, Meddeas set up a forum on Facebook for current and future language assistants. I recommend future conversation assistants to fully take advantage of this! Through the page, I talked to many others in the program and connected with conversation assistants whose placements were close to mine. I met so many of them at the induction meeting, and not only did I find friends to have for the training session, but I also found lifelong friends that I could travel with on breaks and weekends.

Students in a classroom at work

Another benefit of making friends in the program is the ability for them to completely understand your experiences of moving to another country. Adjusting to life in Spain was difficult, and it can be easy to feel anxious and alone in a new area. However, when I would feel this way, I knew I had friends close by to talk to, who knew how I felt, and who could give me advice about the things they were doing to get through the adjustment period. This experience has been ten times more amazing because of the people I have met in the program. Put yourself out there and talk to everyone during training. You never know who you may meet!

Another resource provided by Meddeas and your school is a tutor, who helps aid you through the process of anything school-related as well as any conflicts you may face outside of the school during your time in Spain. A tutor is there for you every step of your journey, and wants to help you in any way they can! As a language assistant, this is one of the most important resources/support systems to utilize! Early on, I confided in my tutor and voiced a worry of mine about not feeling like a sufficient enough language assistant. I felt a fear that I wouldn’t be a beneficial language assistant, or that the students wouldn’t like me. Even though I had detailed plans and schedules, some classes weren’t going as expected, and at times, it felt overwhelming. However, I received advice and learned something. The insight I received from my tutor, Marta, put my worries at ease. She reminded me how valuable I was at the school. She noted that I have lived in the United States my whole life up until this point, and how there is no one better who knows the culture of America.

The students and staff don’t typically meet people who are from the United States on a regular basis, so they are extremely excited to have a native English speaker at the school! I quickly stepped out of my worries and remembered how every single day, I am eagerly greeted by the older students and am run up to and hugged by the younger ones. I am asked by everyone if I will be in their class that day and see the look of excitement on their faces when I tell them they have English-speaking classes with me.

My Advice for Future or Prospective Language Assistants

Know the value that you add to your school! Going to school as a conversation assistant has very easily become something that I look forward to doing. The other tip I have for future conversation assistants is to expect the unexpected. I had an idea of how each activity would go in every class, and that the lessons would flow smoothly and perfectly. After some time executing my lesson plans with classes, I learned that not everything goes as planned, which is okay! It’s important to get to know your students on a personal level, and to evaluate how they act within the class as a whole. This gives you the opportunity to make connections with your students and makes it easier to predict what the class environment might be like.

Author standing, posing with friends, in Barcelona

Realizing that there will be no perfect activity or perfect session has helped me appreciate every class as they are, and has helped me let go of unrealistic expectations that I have placed upon others. Knowing that activities may not go as planned, I have also realized the importance of being extra prepared and creating a plan b to have more options if one plan does not work out. This makes me feel more comfortable with the unexpected in the class, as well as being a first-time language assistant. Embrace the unexpected!

So future language assistants, my best piece of advice for you is this: go into the program with an open mind. Put yourself out there, go on adventures, book that flight, go to that restaurant or cafe you’ve been eyeing, and don’t take a single moment of your time in Spain for granted.

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