Who’s been lonely for a little Spanish lovin’ these days? I have, and I don’t really care about whether you guys have, so here we are with our latest addition to My Spanish Lovers. Today we’re talking to Sam Rosenthal, a former English teacher in Madrid, Spain.
Sam’s sitting down with us to talk about Spanish language barriers, American comforts and the trick to embracing it all. Check out his story, and then check out his blog – you know you want to.
Hi Sam! Thanks for being featured in our My Spanish Lovers section. Let’s kick things off with a little bit about you. Last year you finished a two-year stint working as an English teacher in Madrid. How did you end in Spain’s capital city?
Actually, I ended up in Spain in a kind of roundabout way. I didn’t get the opportunity to study abroad during college, and I definitely had some unfulfilled wanderlust. I also had this crazy idea to write a novel before I got bogged down in the working world. So after I graduated, I moved back home to New Jersey and started waiting tables to save money, originally planning on traveling and writing for a few months until my cash flow expired. But one day, I visited my university again, and I ran into an old classmate. When I told her my plans, she said, “You should do my program! All you have to do is be a native English speaker, speak a little bit of Spanish, and have a college degree.” I looked at her and said, “I can do those things!” And that was the start of it.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the organization you were teaching with?
The program is called “Auxiliares de Conversación,” or “North American Language and Culture Assistants.” It’s run by the Spanish Ministry of Education. The organization of the program itself causes people a ton of headaches — as does the organization of just about any program run by the Spanish government — but you get to live in Spain, teach English four days a week, and get paid a monthly stipend to do it. It’s not good money, by any means, but you have enough free time to teach private classes on the side. I did that, and I worked as a nightclub promoter as well. I highly recommend the program to anyone who is looking for a means of living in Spain (because it’s near impossible to get a visa any other way), or to anyone who wants to learn Spanish or get into teaching. Just be aware that it won’t always be easy; I applied to have my visa renewed in November, for example, and didn’t get my new identity card until May.
Did you speak Spanish before arriving to Spain? Any particular language challenges or obstacles you had to overcome in the name of Castellano?
Before arriving in Spain, I had taken four-to-five years of Spanish, but it had been a few years since I’d taken a class. When I arrived, it became immediately clear how much I had to learn. Trying to find an apartment is difficult enough — if you can’t communicate clearly, it’s even more fun. And the Spanish will not hesitate to inform you that your Spanish stinks. I do have one great story about a language gaffe, which I wrote about on my blog. The story is called “When learning a language, don’t be so pregnant.” (Sorry for the shameless plug.)
You worked and lived in Madrid for two years – guessing you didn’t hate it! What was your favorite part about the city? What was your least favorite?
I certainly didn’t hate it — Madrid is wonderful! My favorite part was being able to make Spanish and international friends who I want to always be part of my life. As for the city itself, I love the night life, art, culture, tapas, public transportation system and how nicely they keep the city. And the parks! The parks are amazing. Retiro Park is my favorite park in the world.
My least favorite thing is that Madrid is so far away from home. And that the apartments lack dryers and often dishwashers and good heating/AC.
Now you’re back in the United States. Anything in particular you miss about living in Spain? Any particulars about American culture that you’re happy to have again?
Like I said above, I’m happy to have my American comforts again: dryer, dishwasher, central heating, HBO and Showtime, my car, etc. It’s also very nice to be closer to my family and not have the six-hour time difference separating us.
But I miss many things about Spain. Most of all, I miss the people to whom I became so close. We formed some incredible friendships, and the challenge now is to find ways to maintain them. When you live somewhere for two years, especially a place like Madrid, it becomes a part of you, and you don’t want to lose it. I miss speaking Spanish all day, meeting friends for tapas, Sundays in the park, and fútbol. I also miss my students and the ability to hop on a plane any weekend for $50-100 and go anywhere in Europe. But you can’t have your tapas and eat them, too.
Lastly, what advice would you give others looking to pursue a similar experience in Spain?
Be flexible. Be open-minded. Learn — the language, the culture, the style of life. Learn as much as you can. Don’t expect Spain to be America, because it’s not. Expect it to challenge you and help you grow, and embrace it.