As the new crop of auxiliares de conversación trickles into the Facebook groups for the 2013-2014 school year, there is one tema that simply doesn’t stop repeating:
“I’ve been placed in [insert small Spanish town name here], and I’m only [insert number of minutes or kilometers by car or bus] from [insert capitol town of said province, typically Sevilla or Huelva]. I’ve already decided I’m going to live in [said province’s capital]. This is feasible, right? I have my heart set on living in a big city.”
To be blunt, you’re setting yourself up for a giant headache (and wallet-ache), future auxiliar. But first, let me give you some background.
When I first arrived in Valverde del Camino, located in Huelva province, I was convinced I could find a way to live in Sevilla. I had studied abroad there in 2009, and I am still to this day completely smitten with the city and all it has to offer.
And let’s face it - I had always considered myself a “city girl.” Though I grew up in a suburb in southeastern Wisconsin until I went off to college in Milwaukee (WI’s largest city), I raced off to the “big city” every chance I could get in high school. From 18-23, I lived there. I thrived there. City life just had so much more to offer me.
So when I found out I had gotten placed in a town of just shy of 13,000 inhabitants, I’m sure you can imagine my face.
This image is a pretty accurate replica of the above-mentioned face.
I could find little to nothing about this pueblecito online, save for brief entries in Wikipedia and a website for leather boots. And don’t even get me started on trying to nail down an apartment before my arrival.
Luckily, I had a responsive directora at my school placement, C.E.I.P. José Nogales, who so kindly offered to not only pick me up from the bus stop, but to also stay in her home until I found an apartment, wherever that may be.
I had been communicating with another auxiliar in town who had plans to live in Sevilla and commute to Valverde during the week, because there was a teacher at her school who carpooled from a town just outside of Sevilla every day. But as luck would have it, the woman could only fit or have one more person in her car, so I was out of luck.
In many long conversations with my directora, who I now consider family, she explained to me the difficulty of taking buses from Sevilla to Valverde and back. From a general American viewpoint, we seem to think, “Public transportation is great in Europe!” But that punto de vista does not apply to all countries.
In Spain, the public transportation is by no means bad - that is, if you’re in a large city, but getting to and from a pueblecito to a big city means you have to be far more flexible with the buses’ timetable. Unfortunately, the Valverde-Sevilla/Sevilla-Valverde route doesn’t quite jive with my scheduled hours at the colegio.
Mientras estaba comiéndome la cabeza, my director’s sons came home for the weekend from university - my first weekend in Valverde. The oldest is roughly the same age as me, and he invited me to hang out with his friends in their peña. To make a long story much, much shorter, they made my way of thinking do a complete 180. That weekend was all it took to make me say to myself, “Venga, life in un pueblecito doesn’t seem so bad after all.”
A group photo of some of the peña at the “American Party” I threw in my new apartment back in November.
And I’ve never looked back. I’ve surprised myself tremendously in the way I’ve taken to small town life. Maybe what I enjoy the most is how much it allows you to really get to know a place, to quickly build a list of familiar faces, to develop relationships with shop owners and café workers and regular folk you happen to pass on the street at the same time every day por casualidad.
I eat breakfast at the same place every Thursday in between classes, and the woman who is always working has my order memorized, and the cook always greets me at my table with a smile and a salutation. The tobacco shop on my street has - more than once - given me my tobacco saying, “Pay when you can!,” for example, when the ATM ate my U.S. debit card, thus rendering me cash-less and frazzled.
Now, let’s talk financials. Living in a small city means rent is cheap. We’re talking 100-200 euros, tops. I’d say the minimum you’re going to pay in a large city like Sevilla would be 200 euros minimum, if you’re extremely lucky. If you add in the money you will be using to take at least one bus twice a day (going to your town and coming home) or carpooling, that will run you anywhere from ~8 euro/one-way bus ticket to ~10/day carpooling (which is what seems to be the going rate). That’s an extra 50-100 euros a week spent on transportation alone.
Then there’s the matter of finding private lessons to make some extra cash in the after-school hours. If you’re not living in the same town you’re working, finding private lessons will not be simple. In large cities, there is a flux of auxiliares who all want the same thing - a little more spending money for those afternoon coffees and beers with friends. It’s a simple case of supply and demand. While the demand is high in Sevilla, the supply is more than ample, and in a city so large, the word just doesn’t spread as quickly that you’re looking for students.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to do anything. As creepy as it is, my number got passed around by goodness knows who, and I had more people calling me for private lessons than I actually wanted and could realistically give. (And let’s just not talk about the time a man came wandering into the school to find me in my classroom in the middle of class and ask me for private lessons. Aiiiis.) This was a huge perk to living in Valverde for me, because not getting paid until January (which is the reality for a good portion of the auxiliares) is una putada. And believe me, that extra dinerillo helps.
Two of my adorable private lesson kids celebrating a successful class with a “Gangnam Style” dance sesh in my apartment.
Now I’ve not written this to discourage people from living in a capital city and commuting to work every day. For the strong of head and heart (or just plain old cabezota), I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it work for you. What matters above and beyond anything else is that you are happy where you are, wherever that may be. What I am saying is that a 700 euro stipend is sufficient to live on, but you’re - more likely than not - going to be cutting it thin.
Money issues aside, I would hate to see people pass on what could be an incredibly satisfying, eye-opening, life-changing opportunity in a small town in Spain, simply because it’s small. I’ve had such a positive experience in my own small town that I’m coming back for round two in September! I even got an incredible pareja out of the deal, and we’ve already got an apartment reserved for when I get back in the fall.
I’m in the less-than-two-weeks-until-I’m-back-in-the-U.S.-for-the-summer final stretch right now, and I’m finding myself marveling at how attached I’ve gotten to this way of life, these children, a new set of amazing friends and “family.” In less than nine months, I’ve started to grow roots in this tiny town, and I haven’t a single regret.
P.S. My last piece of consejo, I promise: With all the money you’d save living in a smaller city, think of all the places you could go, all the trips you could take, on the weekends! Whether that be Sevilla every weekend for a three-day party binge or that European destination you’ve always wanted to visit, that extra money would come in handy when you want to splurge on some authentic macarons from that upscale bakery in France - or whatever happens to tickle your fancy!