Volunteering in Spain: “We are more than we were”

Posted on the 3rd May 2019

Anne Newmarch is a part of our awesome team of volunteers in Spain in 2019. She’s shared a great description of her time away with Lattitude for your reading pleasure!

“Oh, that building isn’t that old,” she says. “Only around 300 years.”
Spain is a country so steeped in rich history that what would be a historical monument back in New Zealand is just commonplace. In the morning after I wake up, I can look out my bedroom window and see the castle. The narrow cobbled streets of the town wind between quaint houses with terracotta roofing and grape vines dangling from the balcony. Sometimes I take a walk along the river and wonder what the ruins used to be.

In my placement as an assistant English teacher at the local primary school in Berlanga de Duero, I help the students with everything from pronunciation and vocabulary to science and PE. The questions are never-ending: What’s the difference may and might? Is a penguin a carnivore, or an omnivore? When does a pond become a lake? Why doesn’t the magnetite work like a magnet? It’s these questions that dominate my google search history. There is truly nothing like a group of children looking up at you like you know everything to make you realise how little you actually do know.

However, at the end of the day, my job isn’t to know everything but to get the children excited and engaged in learning English. The language barrier between us may be daunting for both sides, but by being friendly and energetic I can give them a concrete reason to want to study English -to communicate.

At home, communication comes in a flurry of English and Spanish, the conversation often switching languages mid-sentence. I enjoy being a part of the family as much as I earn it, doing my chores and helping my host siblings with their English for my board in a beautiful house. My host parents always take care that I am comfortable and happy, and I have found that it is impossible to leave the dinner table with even an ounce of hunger. My host family are kind and generous, and we go on trips together around Soria and Castilla y Leon.

HRH Princess Royal with Lattitude

 

In the weekends, I am free to explore Spain with the other volunteers, and we have been amazed by each city we see. It’s hard to pick out a single highlight. Even after travelling an hour the architecture and landscapes change, and the people that inhabit them as well, fiercely proud of their local culture.

Everywhere you go people are eager for you to try the local food and beverage and it is the burden of the traveller to tell each one that it is the best you have ever tasted. I have seen many things, -but never all- from the contemporary artistic city of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to the ancient and magnificent carved doors of the University of Salamanca, proudly the oldest in Spain. I have loved every moment of it, and can’t wait to see more.

In preparation before coming to Spain, I worked with the Latitude staff in understanding my placement fully and discussing the differences when living overseas. I was able to meet the other volunteers before leaving, and I believe this helped us to gel together as a group. I also started learning the core of the Spanish language for six months before my placement, and that work has been invaluable in my comprehension. I would encourage the next group of volunteers to do something similar, so that when you get dropped in the deep end of the Spanish language you can know how to doggy paddle.

HRH Princess Royal with Lattitude

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from our orientation, but Lattitude Country Manager Josh’s relaxed manner eased us all into the Spanish way of living from the perspective of someone else that had come to Spain from a different country. We had group discussions about how to teach but also plenty of free time to roam Valladolid and see the streets of Spain for the first time. As such, the tone of orientation matched the tone of our placements.

Before coming to Spain I outlined some goals that I wanted to achieve within the year, including learning Spanish and gaining communication skills, perseverance, and leadership qualities. Already, after three months I am proud of how far I have come in speaking Spanish; from being unsure about stringing together a simple sentence to managing conversations on a variety of topics.

The other goals are harder to measure, as it is hard to notice incremental changes over weeks in difficult to define areas. However, when I was speaking with some of the other volunteers at an English camp recently we all agreed on one thing: we are more than we were.

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