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.
Find out more about Gap Year programmes in Spain