Escola Pia Terrassa has been hosting Conversation Assistants for five years now. This year they are hosting for English Conversation Assistants and one French Conversation Assistant. Kayla, who comes from the USA, is the Conversation Assistant that helps children in infant school get used to hearing and speaking the English language. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Kayla!
I found this program while I was looking for a job where I could have more experience working with children. I had already been working in a preschool in the U.S but I was looking for a position with a bit more responsibility. The travel aspect was a plus as I had wanted to have an experience abroad for a while but it didn’t coordinate with my studies at my University. As this program seemed to combine my two main interests, I decided I would give it a try.
On my first day I had a meeting with the infantile program director and the English teacher in my school. I was assigned to the infantile program meaning I would work with children ranging in age from 3-6 years old. They provided me with an outline of general expectations for the first few months of my program, showed me the materials from the previous conversation assistants and told me I would begin my activities the following week.
My activities include leading a portion of the morning circle, working with small groups in the classroom and working in a separate classroom with 8 children once a week. After morning circle, I begin with my activity which is more or less whatever I think is appropriate to teach. I teach my activity in the classroom with a small group of children while the others are playing with puzzles, tablets, and other materials available in the room. If I ever have questions or need feedback from the other teachers regarding my activities, then I try to arrange a time to speak with them and get their input. Overall, the conversation assistant position in my school is very relaxed and the activities I plan are completely up to me.
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Currently I am living with my second host family. I live with a woman and her 12 year old daughter. During the week I only see them for dinner time which is when I speak with the mother in English. On the weekends the daughter is busy with various activities and the mother likes to do things with her friends. I have joined the mother and her friends for some weekend activities but usually I find things to do with the other conversation assistants from my school. With my first host family, I spent almost all of my time with and I felt very much like a part of their family. I would go with them for big family lunches every weekend and I always felt like they were there for me for whatever I needed. I am still in contact with them and I continue to meet up with them for dinners or sometimes even just to catch up.
The people I have met during this program are what keep me going while I’m living away from my friends, family and my home. I feel very lucky to be apart of the team of teachers at the infantile school at Escola Pia Terrassa and they are like another family to me. From my first week I felt comfortable and welcomed by everyone there. I am so thankful that I get to work with and learn from them. Luckily, at my school there are 4 other conversation assistants who I am happy to call my friends. They all have proven to be a really important part of my life here.
I’m sure I won’t remember the details of my day to day life here after this program is over but I am sure I will look back on this time and remember the relationships I made with these people and for that reason I am thankful for this experience.
Salesians Sant Boi is a school located in Sant Boi de Llobregat. They joined the programme in 2013, so this is their second year with a conversation assistant at the school. This year they are hosting Amy, who comes from the UK and is helping create an English-speaking environment in the school. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience with us, Amy & Eva, her tutor.
Making the decision to move to Spain was one of the biggest decisions of my life. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was that it was going to be an experience of a lifetime and one which, in my opinion, I couldn’t turn down. I am an English Language university student and I am working here as part of a placement year. Although I am still not sure what I want to do as a career, I knew this would be an experience of a lifetime.
As soon as I arrived at the airport in Barcelona and was greeted by Home to Home, amongst numerous other CAPS, I was made to feel so welcome. Subsequently, at the induction, I made some brilliant friends and we regularly meet up outside of school. We were all mesmerised by the beauty that exists in Barcelona.
My host family are absolutely brilliant and could not be more supportive if they tried! I already feel like part of the family and luckily, I am with them for the whole nine months! I’m always included in family activities and have experienced the celebration of the Three Kings, which is the main Christmas celebration here. It’s so interesting being immersed in another culture and learning how different everything is! I have a very good relationship with my family and often play games with the children/bond over similar tastes in music! Each weekend we explore Barcelona, whether it’s just going for a drink and something to eat, or exploring a new town/village, there’s always something to do! Even when I leave, they will always be my Spanish family.
My school is located in Sant Boi, a small town which is a train ride away from where I live. My host Mum is a teacher at the school, which really helped in terms of integrating within the community and enables me to ask her anything I need to know. Both the staff and the students have made me feel like a celebrity at the school and many of them make an effort to speak to me in English, which is really comforting. The school is like one big family and everyone knows everyone, it’s amazing.
My tutor in particular is always there for me if I have any concerns and I always feel like I can talk to her. We have a regular meeting every week, which is reserved for anything that we need to discuss or prepare for the day to day lessons within the school. She’s not only there for me at the school, but she has become a huge part of my life and she often visits me outside of school for a drink and a catch up.
My tasks at the school include working with pre-primary, primary, secondary students and the teachers at the school, therefore I am gaining a vast amount of experience; although, it makes it tricky remembering names!! The activities I do with each age group vary, but they are all focused on helping them with their oral English skills and learning new vocabulary and grammar. For example, activities with the pre-primary children involve teaching them very simple things such as ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘what’s your name?’ and I’ve learnt that flashcards are an invaluable resource when it comes to working with tiny children!
With the youngest group in secondary we are rehearsing the play ‘Robin Hood’ in English, ready for them to perform at the end of the year. In the older students’ lessons, we often revise English grammar using games/sections from the textbooks. Sometimes I take groups of the secondary students out of the classroom into another room, so I can help them on a more personal level with pronunciation and they can ask me any questions they may have.
This experience is most certainly the most challening, rewarding and exciting thing I’ve ever done. It’s definitely a rollercoaster of emotions, but one which I will never forget.
Ramon Pont is an infant, primary and secondary school located in Terrassa. They have been in the Program for two years. Their conversation assistant for this school year is Rachel, who comes from the US. She is having a great time in Terrassa and in Ramon Pont, and her presence there benefits both teachers and students. Thanks for writing to us, Rachel
My name is Rachel Lane and this is my first year as a conversation assistant with CAPS. I’m currently in a school in Terrassa, about 40 minutes away from Barcelona, called Escola Ramon Pont. Terrassa has been a great place to live so far; you are close enough to Barcelona to be able to hop on a train whenever you want, but you don’t always have to deal with tourists in Barcelona.
At the school, I work with ages 3-16, which has been interesting in that there are obviously varying levels of English, and that I get to do things such as sing English songs with the young kids, and go into more in-depth conversations with the older kids. My day-to-day work here consists of taking small groups from classes and doing various speaking activities. I really enjoy doing this because I get to know the kids and their cultures, as well as discussing my culture and life in America. Since the school I work in is small, I’ve gotten to know all of the teachers and students on a more personal level.
Another interesting aspect of the program is living with a host family. I am currently with my second family, and I think that this is the main way that I have become more integrated with life and culture here in Spain. Being so far from home, I am happy that I get a family atmosphere; we all have meals together, we go on outings in and around Terrassa, and I’ve even participated in family gatherings which have been great fun.
Overall, moving to Spain to be a conversation assistant has been one of the best experiences of my life. My two pieces of advice to anyone considering is 1) Start saving your money! The process can be expensive, and it’s good to have a cushion of money to fall back on in case you need it while in Spain. 2) Even basic knowledge of Spanish is extremely helpful while living here. I studied Spanish in college so I know a good bit, but I would imagine it would be much more difficult to do day-today things here without any knowledge of the language.
Sagrada Família school is located in Lleida. They have been in the Conversation Assistants Programme almost since its beginning. Felix comes from Canada and is the Conversation Assistant who is helping teachers and students with English activities this year. You can also visit the School’s English Blog to read about activities they do with Felix and have done with previous Conversation Assistants.
At first I was hesitant about packing up my life and moving overseas to a country, culture, and language that was completely alien to me, but it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.
The families I have stayed with have been extremely kind, hospitable, friendly, and welcoming. Each day I yearn for more chances to do activities with the kids and teenagers, and many of them are eager and good students.
The teachers here have also been very helpful and welcoming. It’s already been three months and it’s felt like only a few weeks!
Escola Pia Vilanova has been in the Conversation Assistants Program for three years. This year they are hosting Nadia, who comes from the UK and works with kids from Primary to Batxillerat. We thank Nadia and her tutor Mireia for sharing their experience with us!
I have always liked working with children of all ages and at Escola Pia Vilanova I work with children between the ages of 6 and 18, which is perfect for me.
I was a little apprehensive when I got to Escola Pia as the school year was already underway and there was so much for me to learn about the school, scheduling and culture, not to mention the names of the 650 or so students that I would be working with! I shouldn’t have worried though because I soon became comfortable and began to adjust as all the staff at the school were very supportive and patient, making the adjustment quicker and easier.
I have enjoyed being at Escola Pia, the enthusiasm of the students rubs off on me every day and their eagerness to learn motivates me to work harder and to create new and interesting ways to teach them. I have learned the dynamics of the various classes and the personality and educational needs of the students; this has allowed me to adopt personalised teaching methods for each class.
The best part of Escola Pia for me is the diversity. I love the fact that in one day I can go from doing Arts & Crafts with 9 year olds to discussing global issues with 18 year olds, only to spend the afternoon singing Christmas Carols with 6 year olds! The joy I get from seeing a student formulate a sentence to express something they thought they couldn’t or using unexpected vocabulary is truly immeasurable.
The city of Vilanova i la Geltrú is a very eclectic one and in my free time I find pleasure in walking in random directions and discovering new stores and restaurants. I already have a favourite supermarket, ice cream parlour and bakery, all of which I discovered during my explorations. My students have given me suggestions on places to eat and things to try and I enjoy coming back each week with results and feedback on their suggestions.
The host family I’m currently residing with have been hospitable and I’ve had an introductory meeting with family members of the other two placement homes so I’m excited to experience living with them.
So far this experience has been very enjoyable and I look forward to what the rest of the experience will bring.
Over the last few months I’ve been living near Barcelona, Spain, in the small town of Olesa de Montserrat, where I also work at the Escolapies School as the English speaking assistant through the CAPS Home to Home organization.
The experience so far has been great, I’ve lived in 2 homes already. The first was the home of 4 of my students. This immersed me in the culture and language of the country as well as the more mundane day to day living. The greatest aspect of this was being able to communicate with my students on their opinion of my classes and gain feedback. The second house, and my current home, is the house of another teacher whom I work with and her family. It’s been a rewarding experience, once again being immersed in the same culture from a different point of view, the most important aspect of this was to have another teacher to consult with regularly, someone who was in the same profession as I was, however someone who was more experienced and new the inner workings of the school.
The job itself has been so rewarding to improve on my teaching techniques and knowledge of the mechanics. The school is run perfectly. I notice it’s a very rigid studious school environment, however Escolapies also takes a very artistic liberalized approach to its teaching very similar to the Montessori schools and their teaching philosophy.
My only words of advice for a family who wishes to host a language assistant is that it helps to have at the very least a basic understanding of English as it can be trying when a language barrier exists. It’s also noteworthy that in northern Spain other languages exist alongside Spanish this includes Basque, Catalan, and Gallego and even though they’re relatively similar and all have Latin origin it can still confuse you if you come to northern Spain (Barcelona area) expecting a total Spanish environment like Madrid and its surrounding area.
In a couple of weeks I move to my new host family. Everything has been great so far and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants the experience of a lifetime.
My name is Michael, I’m 22 and I travelled from New Zealand to take part in the 2014-2015 CAPS programme.
For me the decision to come was an important one. Firstly, Spain and Catalonia is on the otherside of the world, and I spoke no Catalan or Spanish. Secondly it would be my first time this far away from and by myself. I was a little nervous to say the least. Regardless, I decided to take part and almost two days after leaving New Zealand I arrived in Barcelona ready to start the next nine months.
I was placed in a smallish town called La Garriga, which is about half an hour by car from Barcelona. The school, Sant Lluis, is small. There are only around 420 students and I am active in every class, from age three through to age sixteen. Most of my time is spent encouraging the older kids to speak English and to help build their confidence through friendly conversation and activities. In the primary school I help alongside a teacher working to build their vocabulary and getting them speak basic, but common, phrases. In the pre school my time is spent playing in the playground, helping the kids with their art projects or telling stories to the children.
I eat lunch at the school with the students and the teachers. The food is great, healthy and hearty, and there is always plenty to go around. The teachers at the school have been awesome to me too. If they are not helping me with my Spanish, they are introducing me to past students my age, or offering to take me out for the day or the weekend to places around Catalonia. Because of its size the school feels like a community and everyone is part of its family. Its nice to be welcomed into that as I have been.
The thought of living with strangers, a family with young children, was quite alien to me – I have been flatting with friends for the last five years. However my family have made the transition easy. The parents both speak English very well, and have been more than happy to introduce me to people, places, food and experiences. They have three children, aged 11, 8 and 5 who all attend Sant Lluis. So far I have been able to travel all around Catalonia with them.
During the week I spend most of the day at school and in the evening I teach private classes, where I have one on one conversations with children, parents and even the teachers. Every one has been very welcoming inviting me into their homes and lives. Extra teaching has been very lucrative for me, and is a great supplement to the 200€ a month. I’m saving enough to enable me to travel around Europe after the school year finishes.
Finally, I was initially very nervous about the language difference, however I have been able to get by just fine with my very basic knowledge of Spanish and Catalan.
If anyone is thinking of travelling from down under but nervous about the distance I would suggest that they do it. Its a great experience and really life changing. The team at Home to Home have been friendly and helpful in organising the experience and everyone I have met since has helped me enjoy my experience more.
Here is our third blog submission, coming from La Salle Comtal school in Barcelona. There, Joseph, who comes from the USA, helps pupils from Infant to Secondary school improve their English. Pupils, teachers, and Joseph are all making the most of this experience. We thank Joseph for sharing his thoughts with us!
December 9th, 2014
An American In Barcelona
When I first stepped foot onto a plane in Miami, Florida knowing that it would be the last time I’d be in the United States for a year, a cloud of uncertainty surrounded me. America was all I’ve ever known for my 23 years of life, and leaving home was equivalent to moving to Mars for me. Thankfully the staff, families, and students at La Salle Comtal have eased my concerns and I’m happy to say I feel at home in Barcelona and at La Salle Comtal.
My name is Joseph Jackson, I’m 23 years old from Atlanta, Georgia and I’m serving as the conversation assistant at La Salle Comtal for the 2014-2015 school year. Atlanta is a city located in the peach state, Georgia, and is your stereotypical American metropolitan area. The home of Coca-Cola, the 1996 Olympic Games, the great Ray Charles, and myself, Georgia is a southern state with charm and the well-known hospitality of the southern portion of the United States. I study political science and Spanish at Georgia Southern University and was the vice-president of a political organization on our campus. In my free time I enjoy playing sports, playing the guitar, listening to music, and meeting new people from different walks of life.
My experience at La Salle Comtal has been all that I wanted and more. Jose Luis, my tutor, has been excellent at aiding me with withever I need and creating a schedule to implement me seamlessly into the classes here at school. All of the staff have been very accomodating, friendly, and patient in dealing with my horrendous Spanish accent and American English accent that differs from what they’re used to hearing. The students are full of life and do something new every day that brings a smile to my face. Whether it’s being attacked by a gang of 1st of primary students, or enjoying physical education in English with the 4th of ESO students, everyone has been friendly and happy to accept me as part of the family here at La Salle Comtal. In my apartment back home in Georgia I proudly hang an American flag on my wall. When I return I’ll have the flags of my two homes on my apartment wall, the American flag and the flag of Catalunya. I’d like to thank La Salle Comtal for having me here this year and am looking forward to enjoying 2015 here in Catalunya. Thank you all!
From Col·legi St Ermengol, in Andorra la Vella, we are proud to introduce you to our language assistant, Chris. This is the first time we have joined the” Programa Auxiliar de Conversa” and we are really grateful for his help and assistance. Teachers and students are both enjoying the experience to have a native speaker at school. This is an article written by Chris. Enjoy!!!
I arrived in Andorra with sore feet and a thin wallet. I’d spent a couple years bouncing around the globe, making ends meet with odd jobs and volunteer work, looking for something to catch and hold me, something that could keep my attention for more than the usual few weeks it took to decide to move on. Always just another backpacker. Canada, America, and Mexico flashed before my eyes, filled my brain with snatches of small moments: conversations with strangers on busy street corners; bizarre meetings in quiet places; crisp early mornings that gradually melted into warm handshakes and tearful hugs. An expiry date had been stamped on my work visa in red, and the ominous sequence of numbers and dashes had grown bigger and bigger until it seemed that my passport would explode out of my pocket.
In the end I had nothing but a homeward-bound ticket to fill my empty hands.
But home wasn’t the same any more. Or maybe I was different. I flew to Sweden and killed time working as an assistant to a carpenter. Cold weather comes to Sweden in August; I chose to chase summer instead. I blinked and watched as Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria passed me by. Italy was still warm in late September. I spent a week idling in the mountains near Florence until I was offered a place to teach English in Andorra. I wanted a job for winter, but I was too used to being a loose end. Days were spent agonising over whether to accept, nights haunted by dark visions of draconian uniform codes, nails scraping against chalkboards, chairs crashing against tables, and the staring eyes of children.
Eventually I accepted, and a few weeks later I stood in the doorway of my host family’s house, trying to make good impression in my worn out clothes. “I think you’ll be comfortable here,” the father said as he showed me around the house. He showed me my huge bed, my en-suite bathroom, my balcony that looked over the entire city. A penthouse suite in a mountain palace. A month before I’d shared the same square footage with six people. The family treated me with impeccable hospitality and good manners, and I tried to respond in kind. That first night I gazed through my window at the lights of Andorra far down in the valley, trying to shake the impression that I was in an aeroplane during lift-off, gazing at the winking lights with falling eye-lids, until finally I drifted to sleep.
On my first day at school I realised that there are ways to educate children that differ from the British system. There was no school uniform here, no “Sir” and “Miss”, no standing up when a teacher walked into the room. Young children were allowed to hug and hold the hands of their teachers, and all the students addressed teachers by their first names. At lunchtime, wine and beer was provided for free to the teachers and they spoke noisily across their three course meals. As I toured the classrooms I was surprised by the excitement of the children. Everyone knew my name and it followed me in a cacophony of smiling shouts in the corridors. Almost every moment brought a new friendly greeting to crack an unsuppressed grin across my face. The welcome from the other teachers was equal in enthusiasm. I had never known such heady heights of social validation, and all for nothing more than speaking my mother tongue.
I began my first lessons nervously, standing in front of the pupils with little idea how to gain their attention and obedience – until I realised that they would listen to me simply because I was a novelty. Teaching is a performance of confidence and the only rule given to me was that the pupils should speak English. Actually, they don’t have a choice. It’s the only language I know. I, on the other hand, have a lot of control over the classes I deliver, and I transform them as often as possible into lessons of drama, art, or music. I have a lot of fun and learn new things every day.
I’m a couple months in, now, and for me the novelty still hasn’t worn off. Each morning I wake up excited to return to school – a stark contrast to the sleepy slog of my own school-going days. The support I receive from my host family and English teachers is phenomenal, and I find it difficult to believe I am being paid to live a life of such varied pleasures. Not just another backpacker. No need to move along. Settled for a while, and I hope when I leave, it’ll be with hands full. New skills, good friends, and fine memories.
Here we have the first blog submission for this school year 2014-15, coming straight from Col·legi Doctor Masmitjà in Girona!
This Infant and Primary school in Girona has been in the Conversation Assistants Programme since its beginnings in 2009. This year they are hosting Erin. She comes from the state of New York, USA, and will be staying in Girona for 9 moths.
We thank Erin and her tutor, Enric, for sharing their experience with us!
I could write an entire book about my positive experiences here in Catalunya. To say that I am thankful for being placed here in Girona is an understatement. The culture of Doctor Masmitjà is one that I am so blessed to be a part of: kind students that are eager to learn new things, as well as friendly and optimistic teachers that made me feel immedidately comfortable upon my arrival in September. It is obvious that they are making an effort as many of them choose to speak English with me throughout the day!
My new family members did the exact same. They have welcomed me with open arms and include me in all of their daily activites. We often cook for each other and share new recipes, hike in the mountains, and swim in the sea (when it is warm enough)! When I am at the school Monday-Friday I truly enjoy my hours spent there. I am lucky enough to work with ages three all the way to twelve so each day is an exciting mix! The English teachers that I work directly with every day include me to the fullest in the classroom. Sometimes I even have the opportunity to participate in the school´s excursions including to a dormant volcano! When I am not at the school I enjoy teaching English privately as well as exploring the unique beauty Girona offers with friends.