Excellent !! This is a very affordable and enjoyable opportunity for anyone who wants to experience an authentic Spanish or Catalan family environment, and improve his or her social and language skills. I have found the balance between spending time with the families and finding time for myself to enjoy this experience, but in all honestly I have been lucky in that most of the time I actually want to spend my free time with the family. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I think it is a great way to improve your foreign language skills, if this is something you’re interested in doing, and also this experience gives you the chance to work, learn and live in the sun, with great food, wine, football and people. There is a great deal of support offered to you right from the beginning, which in my case I wasn’t in need of any particular guidance, but it is always reassuring to know that there is a group of people who are here to help you in case anything goes wrong, if you feel a little homesick or you just need someone to talk to, in your native language.
At first, I was quite nervous at the fact of living with three host families, giving up my complete independence and always having to tell people where I’m going etc. However, I have loved the whole experience of living with families. The first experience was perhaps the most daunting as it was the first family, and that the children were only at home with me every other week. They really tried to include me in all aspects of family life, and we frequently visited the grandparents’ town at the weekends, where I tried snails and gazpacho for the first time. I was introduced to lots of unique Catalan traditions, and I was always being taught some important Catalan words and phrases!
After Christmas, I changed to my second host family and the settling in period was very quick. I had met this family on Castanyada, and was invited home for dinner several times before the change. This family had hosted before so they knew what to expect from the Conversation Assistant, and they also knew what was expected of them, in regards to family time, family project etc. We grew very close almost instantly and the English level in the house was very good, especially my best friend – the host daughter, Laia, from Primary 5. We visited lots of different places every weekend and had celebrated lots of birthdays together too. To celebrate the host dad’s 40th birthday, we went to Andorra and threw him a surprise party in the apartment with lots of confetti and balloons. We’ve also visited some tourist attractions in Barcelona, such as Tibidabo with my sister who was visiting from Glasgow, Christopher Columbus Monument, despite the dad having a severe case of vertigo, and Montserrat – where we exhausted ourselves walking round and round, but enjoyed the cable cart journey up to the mountains. We made use of the good weather and visited Pals, where we stayed for the weekend and dipped our feet into the sea and also went to La Roca Village for some retail therapy. Even the simple things such as visiting a dog shelter to try to help cure Laia’s fear of dogs, riding the dad’s motorcycle across the autopistas (don’t tell my mum!!), rollerblading around the house when the parents were working, pizza & pyjama parties and sleeping in the living room in sleeping bags/mattresses, participating in the towns Carnaval Extravaganza and Pancake Tuesday. The experience in this family has been very easy, natural and warm. I feel very lucky to have been welcomed into their home and their hearts, and I am grateful for how much time they have spent with me, letting me practice my Spanish, taking care of me when I was ill and just being there in general for me. It will be very emotional when I change to my third family after the Easter break, but I know that I will always have a family here in Ripollet, with the most generous and open parents and three of the sweetest, loving and energetic little kids.
I was lucky enough to have classes in all levels i.e. infantil, primary and ESO ages 5-16. In the first week I was presenting some power points about my country, traditions and customs. The tasks later developed into taking split groups with the main teacher for infantil, working independently with half of the class in primary and then more intimate groups with ESO. In Primary, we would work from the class book normally, but I would usually include some entertainment i.e. songs or dances to help the pupils remember the learning outcomes of each activity. I worked on my own initiative in this regard and it proved to be very effective as pupils could then recite the songs i.e. 3D shapes, textures and materials, animal habitats etc. When working with ESO pupils, I really enjoyed listening to them speak about the things that they were passionate about and I found myself forgetting that they weren’t native speakers due to their fluency. Particularly with ESO 4, conversations would flow naturally and we would work on class book activities, but I would alter them to make them more relevant. With the younger ESO pupils, I incorporated some games into the learning process, rather than just reading vocabulary or grammar rules. When they were learning about comparative and superlative adjectives, I created a ‘Stop the Bus’ version of these adjectives, where each group that came to the class would work together and try to beat the time of the previous groups, to write as many words on the board as possible. These interactive lessons worked extremely well, but it was important to me to maintain the balance between these types of activities and practicing the vocabulary they had learned in class, in a more traditional learning environment. Also, this would depend on the behaviour on the pupils, however I was fortunate to have very well behaved pupils in my company at all times.
I would say the most important thing, especially in the first few weeks, is to make an effort. This is relevant for any future CA, because these initial weeks are key in making an impression on your co-workers and the pupils. It’s the simple things such as a ‘Hello, Bon dia, Hola’ in the morning, or asking someone how their weekend was. Living in a foreign country can be daunting therefore its very important to be as welcoming to others as they will definitely return this warmth to you.
For anyone lucky enough to be placed in my school, I would wish them all the best and tell them to relish the experience. All of the teachers there are very welcoming and most of them are able to speak English. The three English teachers at the school have been the most inviting, caring and encouraging ladies I have ever met, and they have been amazing role models for me. Its incredible to see how much hard work they put in to their jobs, and I have been able to see how rewarding it can be when you receive the recognition that they have all given me.