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Swap Chit-Chat for a Week in Spain

Swap Chit-Chat for a Week in Spain

Enjoy Spanish food, culture and company in a rural Spanish retreat…all in exchange for speaking English. © Floortje iStock

When I first learned about volunteering in Spain to speak English with Spanish executives, my reaction was “What fun! I can meet and get to know Spaniards without needing any Spanish!” I instantly filled out the application. For that reason alone I would have done it. Of course, free room and board at a four- or five-star hotel in exchange for talking seemed like a good deal, too!

It was also a great opportunity to see more of Spain. Since I was already in Barcelona prior to the program, my only expenses were the hotel in Madrid before and after the program ($68 per night), the spa ($25) and the bar.

The last motivation was that one of the locations, Layos, near Toledo, was a spa and golf resort. Being an avid golfer, I harbored hopes of playing. As it turned out, I didn’t have time since I was having too much fun talking with the Spaniards.

Vaughan Town is a six-day program where a group of Spaniards and native English speakers (the “Anglos”) travel to a secluded location to provide English immersion for Spanish executives who are studying a Master’s English program with Vaughan Systems. From the time the bus leaves Madrid at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon until 3 p.m. the following Friday, all participants speak English, and only English.

To “open their ears,” Spaniards speak with native English speakers from Canada, the U.S., Wales, England and Australia, aged 24 to 73, during one-to-one sessions, telephone calls, a conference call, presentations by the Spaniards, group activities and meal times, where two Anglos sit with two Spaniards. It goes from breakfast beginning at 9 a.m. until the end of dinner at 10 p.m., with a two hour siesta in the afternoon. The evenings always continued well past 10 p.m., when I joined the Spaniards for more English speaking and lots of laughing.

In the introductory meeting on Sunday afternoon, each Anglo paired with a Spaniard and then introduced each other using a rhyme or a famous person’s name. “My” Spaniard was easy because he already had a useable nickname—Nacho. For my name, I suggested Christopher Columbus but he needed no help. I was “Crispy Chispy” and remained so all week!

By always choosing different meal partners, I learned typical dishes from around Spain. A Spaniard would say, “this is typical from…” The simplest one to copy at home is typical of Andalucia—rubbing tomato on good bread and topping it with jamon iberico (Spanish ham) and a drizzle of olive oil. But it’s very important that it is a really good tomato!

I laughed more than I can ever remember.”

Through the one-to-one conversations, I spoke with every one of the 18 Spaniards. They all live in Madrid, but come from different parts of Spain—Galicia, Andalucia, Basque, Asturias, la Mancha, Catalunya. With topics that ranged from food, cooking, travel, home, work and professional life, education, family, philosophy, art and anything else that came up, I believe I learned more about Spain than if I had been traveling for the same period of time.

Though they were paying participants, the Spaniards were natural and gracious hosts, and always treated us like guests. For example, Cesar ordered a bottle of Protos Crianza 2008 at lunch one day, because we should try a better Spanish wine than was served with the meal. Another day, Nacho organized horseback riding during the siesta. They were always ready to answer any question, and to offer any advice on Spain. And they were always ready to laugh!

And how often do you have the opportunity to watch a soccer game on television with anyone who is as passionate about it as the Spaniards, particularly when it is Real Madrid against their arch-rival, Barcelona? The whole group walked the five minutes to watch the 10 p.m. game at Casa Benito, the only bar in the village. The only reason we didn’t see sunrise is because it was winter!

Still, we were on time for breakfast the next morning. Luckily, that was the day I decided to try the spa during the siesta hour. There is nothing like walking on pebbles in hot and cold water, being pounded by strong water jets, and splashing ice on your body after a steam sauna to get you ready for another evening. And a measure of my attachment to my new Spanish friends is that I went directly to watch their presentations, without even drying my hair. I didn’t want to miss a thing.

I laughed more during that week than I can ever remember. After just six days, I have 18 new friends in Madrid, who I feel I can ask for information and referrals on travel in Spain. And I sincerely hope that the Spaniards received as much benefit for their English as I received in joy, fun and friendship. I look forward to seeing all of them again, and to my next Vaughan Town! Better than free, the experience was priceless.

If you fancy a week-long break in Spain or Germany then Vaughan Systems runs programs throughout the year in both countries. Choose from five rural getaways in Spain and one in the heart of Germany’s Black Forest. For details, see here.

Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – How to Retire in Paradise on $55 a Day. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)


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