Stories from Spain, as our wonderful gappers past and present share their gap year experiences.
Briana in Spain
If you’re not sure what you want to do when you leave school, a GAP YEAR – taking time out to explore possibilities and try new things – is a good option.
“My gap year will give me enough time to fully think about what I want to do at university, and enough time to change my plans if I want to,” says 18-year-old Briana Woodward. “This means I’m not rushing into something that I don’t want to do.”
A former student of Samuel Marsden Collegiate School in Wellington, Briana is a volunteer with Lattitude Global Volunteering. She works as an English teaching assistant at a primary school in Spain.
“I loved the idea of fully immersing myself in a new culture, especially in a beautiful and historical country that I had always dreamed of visiting. It gives me the opportunity to do things that I love – travelling, experiencing new things and helping people.”
While she misses her family and friends, Briana is finding teaching rewarding and loves living with her host family.
“They offer me an insight into Spanish culture and help me to get the most out of my time in Spain. They are half Portuguese, so I have also got to experience a bit of Portuguese culture as well!”
While she studied French (alongside Geography, Economics, Chemistry and Classical Studies) in Year 13, and German in Year 12, Briana spoke “next to no Spanish” when she arrived in Spain.
But this hasn’t been a problem, she says, because everyone has been willing to teach her. So much so, Briana is thinking about studying tourism and Spanish at AUT next year. “Since I have already learnt a bit of Spanish here, it will be easy to continue learning at university.
“I think this gap year will help as it has made me more independent, which will be good when I move to Auckland by myself. It has also improved my confidence, which will help with meeting new people and fitting in with a new routine.”
If you are thinking about doing something similar, Briana’s advice is: “Definitely do it! It is a great opportunity to broaden your horizons and really get out and experience the world.
“It’s also really good if you don’t know what you want to study, so you can take some time to think about it.”
The staff at Lattitude “go above and beyond for the volunteers” and are willing to help “with anything”.
So don’t worry about being alone, Briana says. “The other volunteers from New Zealand will be only a message or a phone call away, and they can share your frustrations, worries and good experiences.”
Article originally printed in Leaving School magazine:
Madeleine in Spain
Hola, my name is Madeleine and I am currently volunteering in Spain with Lattitude. These last two months have been pretty action packed and very eye opening, and although my Spanish is still coming along slowly, I have had an amazing time experiencing all that Spain has to offer.
My brother volunteered with Lattitude in South America in 2016 and had an incredible time, so when I saw that Lattitude was offering a placement in Spain, something clicked. I could do something challenging and rewarding involving travel and people, in a country that I had always dreamed of visiting.
Spain was a major draw card for me because it was a country overflowing with history and beauty. Spanish food was also something that attracted to me, famous for their tapas and sangria; I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. I loved the idea of fully immersing myself in a foreign culture in one of the most beautiful and historic countries in the world.
I’m currently living in a small city called Avila, in Castilla y Leon (a large region in the center of Spain). Avila is an incredibly historic and scenic city, surrounded by snow-covered mountains. Avila is famous for it’s medieval wall, which surrounds the old part of the city, and the ancient churches (of which there are many!). It’s a pretty small city but it has everything you need, and bigger cities such as Salamanca, Valladolid and Madrid are close enough to visit easily.
I’m working in a high school, Jorge Santayana, volunteering as a teaching assistant in English language classes. It’s a public high school with about 400 students, located near the center of the city. I may be a little bias, but I think it might just be the best school in all of Spain. The teachers, particularly the English department, are so enthusiastic about teaching and helping students, and the students are just as enthusiastic about learning. The students are always curious to learn about New Zealand and my life at home, and love comparing life in New Zealand to life in Spain. Working in a high school is great because the students have a relatively high level of English, which allows them to engage more during my class. Classes are often filled with debates and arguments, all of which is okay so long as they speak in English.
An average day for me at school consists of classes with a range of age groups, often giving a presentation about New Zealand, anything from traditional food to popular sports. In some classes I read Shakespeare or recent news articles, followed by a rather lively discussion. I am on a two week rotation, meaning I have a different class every day for two weeks, then start from the beginning, therefore, I get to interact with lots of different students with different levels of English. As well as teaching in school, I also teach private English lessons outside of school, for teachers, friends and total strangers! This provides me with enough pocket money to travel on the weekend, and offers another level of involvement into the Spanish culture.
Probably the best part of my volunteering experience in Spain has been my host family. Words cannot describe how welcoming, understanding and helpful they have been. My host mother is a teacher at my high school, and her and her husband have a six-year-old daughter. They have opened their home to me and have provided me with an irreplaceable insight into Spanish life. Living with a family means I get to eat traditional Spanish food, interact with their friends and family, and travel to places in Spain and Europe I would not have otherwise gone to. They have been very patient with my Spanish, adapted their meals to suit my diet, and full-heartedly welcomed me into their family.
As amazing as my experience in Spain so far has been, there are certainly a few cultural differences that took some time to get my head around. Probably the most difficult for me was adapting to meal times. Unlike the usual New Zealand 12:30pm lunch and 6:30pm dinner, Spanish people tend to eat a lot later, I mean A LOT later! Lunch is usually served around 3:00pm and dinner is 10:00pm if you’re lucky! Safe to say my first few weeks were spent with a very hungry stomach by the time 10:00pm rolled around. However, I am now used to it and actually quite enjoy the later meals. It means the afternoon lasts longer and there is no need for a midnight snack. Something I was really worried about before leaving New Zealand was the language barrier, as the only Spanish words I knew were fiesta and siesta (both very important words to know!), but I really haven’t had too much difficultly communicating. Most people have a basic level of English, and if they don’t, they are more than happy to try their best. On my first day of school, two teachers, neither of whom spoke a word of English, sat me down and taught me the vital Spanish phrases, first of which is ordering a coffee, “Quiero un café con leche por favor”!
Regardless of these difficulties and differences, the best part about travelling with Lattitude is that there are always other volunteers only a phone call (or train ride) away; volunteers who quickly become close friends. Travelling with others who are in a really similar situation means they are going to understand your immense hunger at 7:30pm, your frustration at naughty students, and the daily struggle of being teased about the way we pronounce “ten” and “bed” in a New Zealand accent.
Like the amazing people in Spain, the country itself is also pretty incredible, and there is no shortage of weekend trips to picturesque towns and cities. Because Avila is so centrally located, most cities are only a train ride away. Every city I have visited so far has offered something different, from jaw-dropping Cathedrals to picture-perfect main squares and endless art galleries. And while Spain has an infinite list of must-see locations, it is also only a skip and a jump away from the rest of Europe.
One of the highlights of my time in Spain so far has been the many weekends spent getting lost in a new city. Weekend trips to Salamanca, Madrid, Valladolid, and San Sebastian, as well as a long weekend in Belgium have resulted in a very full camera roll and a very satisfied traveller.
Even though I have only been in Spain for a couple of months, I have already noticed some pretty cool and important personal developments. For one, I am now an expert at understanding hand gestures and sign language (given I often cannot understand a word of Spanish; they speak VERY quickly), although my understanding of the Spanish language is slowly but surely coming along. I have also grown confident speaking in front of a crowd and I have developed confidence travelling by myself. Train rides and airports are a lot less daunting now. My sense of direction has improved, helped by identifying the spire of the cathedral!
While I am still uncertain of what my future plans are, I know that a job with the potential to travel and interacting with people is what I want. Regardless of where I end up, I know the leadership skills, independence and confidence I am developing while in Spain will take me far.
Deciding to volunteer with Lattitude has been the best decision I have ever made. Not only have I been completely immersed in a fascinating and unfamiliar culture, but also I have been presented with an opportunity for personal development and I have the ability to explore a new city every weekend. I have made some incredible new friends and have gained a second family. Spain is a diverse and spectacular country; the people are incredible, the food is delectable and the scenery is unbeatable. I couldn’t recommend volunteering with Lattitude in Spain enough; it really is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Gabriella in Spain
Hi I’m Gabby and I am volunteering with Lattitude in Spain.
When I was little I never had a dream career… I haven’t always wanted to be a Firefighter, Vet or Chef. But I figured that by the time I reached high school I would have it sussed… Or at least by the time I reached year 13. But time flew by, and before I knew it, I was half-way through year 13. I attended all the university presentations, thinking that a career would simply call my name. As you can figure, it didn’t. So instead of jumping into a degree or career, simply because everyone else was doing it, I decided to take a gap-year.
The reason I chose Lattitude was because it combined two things that I am passionate about; travelling and experiencing different cultures, and helping others. I decided to volunteer in Spain because I wanted to challenge myself and be pushed out of my comfort zone. And when I look back, I can already see the benefits of this experience beginning to show; I am more confident, independent, better at problem-solving, and definitely a lot better at Spanish!
My placement is in a city called Valladolid, (however Bai-yad-o-lith is probably more similar to how the Spanish pronounce it!) which is the ‘Capital’ of the old ‘Castilla y Leon’ region of Spain. I am working as an English-language assistant at a school called ‘CIEP Margarita Salas’ in a suburb just outside the city called ‘Arroyo de la Encomienda’. It is a reasonably-sized bilingual school with about 600 students.
Valladolid, like the rest of Spain, has so much history it is hard to comprehend….especially coming from a country as young as New Zealand! It is where Ferdinand and Isabel married way back in the 15th century, and where Christopher Columbus died after he discovered the Americas. With almost every corner you turn you find yourself looking at another incredible cathedral, plaza, monastery, or simply another beautiful building that is hundreds of years old.
My host family welcomed me on the first day with a home-made sign reading ‘welcome home’, glitter and all. From that very first day they have been super lovely and accommodating, and it has been great to see both my Spanish, and their English, improve immensely throughout my time here. A few highlights of my time with my host family include… attending large family gatherings lasting into the early hours of the morning, joining in with traditional Spanish singing and dancing after a choir concert at the local church, and cooking ANZAC and Afghan biscuits with my host sister. I think that living with a host family is an invaluable way to experience Spain, as you get a truly authentic Spanish experience, and it is also nice to be able to share a little kiwi culture with them as well.
I usually work from about 9.30 in the morning to 1.30 in the afternoon, and I am with a different class every lesson. This means I have helped with kids ranging between the ages of 3 (in what is called ‘Infantil’) and 13… Let’s just say each lesson can be quite different from the next!
At school, my main role is helping the kids practise their speaking and improve their pronunciation, so I often talk, play speaking games or read stories with them, using the vocabulary that they have been focusing on in class. In the first few weeks I showed my classes a powerpoint I had made about New Zealand, which they loved. Everyone at the school is very friendly, and it is fun walking down the hallway and hearing 20 or so little voices saying ‘its Gabriella!’ or shouting ‘Hola!’ enthusiastically in my direction.
Because I only work from Mon-Thurs, there is plenty of time to travel. Madrid is only 90 minutes away and the public transport is great, which makes it super easy to go anywhere. I have loved all the places I have visited so far, and each place has had its own fairy-tale aspect. Some highlights include…seeing snow-covered castles in Segovia, looking at original 15th century maps of South America in the archives of Simancas, surfing in San Sebastian, watching the sun set over Madrid from the temples of Debod, and walking around the huge medieval wall in Avila. It is also easy to travel from Spain to any other part of Europe… Once my friend and I simply hopped on the train for a mere two and half euros, and spent the afternoon eating crepes and exploring the small beachside town of Hendaye in the south of France!
I remember when someone asked me to describe Spain in one word after my first few weeks here, and all I could think of was ‘different’. A different language, a different cuisine, different traditions, different sleep patterns, different buildings, different plants and animals, the list goes on.
However, whilst all these differences may stand out to begin with, once you start looking, you begin to discover many similarities! I have become friends with people whom I couldn’t even speak with in the beginning!
If you want to experience a new culture and live in a country that is super interesting and very different to New Zealand, then I would definitely recommend volunteering with Lattitude here in Spain.
Living in Spain has broadened my horizons and has helped me to develop a greater sense of the world and my place in it. Whatever I decide to do after this, I know that I will be better prepared and more likely to succeed because of this experience.