Águilas, a small coastal town in the region of Murcia, Spain, wasn’t actually my first experience of teaching English. That honour belongs to Albacete, a larger town in the more central region of Castilla-La-Mancha. It was a short 4-ish month placement in a primary school as part of my Spanish with History (Spanish for my love of sun, tapas, sangria and incredibly loud conversation and history only as a combination so as to be at least semi-employable) BA at university. The Auxiliar de Conversación program, if you’re familiar. The children were almost unbearably adorable, the teacher’s English levels ranged from very good to so-bad-I-wouldn’t-even-dream-of-allowing-a-native-to-work-with-me, everyone was friendly, everything was cheaper and I got to see the sun for almost the entire time I was there. In short: couldn’t fault a thing. Well, I lived with two English natives and only went out with teachers/students who spoke English so never actually improved my Spanish level (and whose fault is that?) but, in all my naivety, I thought ‘what could go wrong? Plenty of Spaniards speak English!’
Enter: my second placement. This one would be a whole terrifying 9 months, and with the majority of it being in the winter period! As part of our course, we were given two options: take university classes or work as a teacher. Now, my placement in Albacete had been considered ‘practicas’, basically voluntary, and so I hadn’t received a salary. For this placement, if we were to choose to be a teacher, we would receive 700 euros per month + 100 from the EU as well as our usual student loans/grants. Despite repeated warnings from our lecturers to not choose teaching on a whim solely because of the money, well, most people did. We were university students, chronically poor, and in a mindset of grabbing any money thrown at us – who could blame us?
The next step was choosing the region. The regions/cities are separated into groups, as people tend to overwhelmingly choose the same three or four (Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia for sure) so this is to avoid everyone choosing the same place. I immediately ruled out any region that had a second language, as I was convinced I would need 100% Spanish on the street and also basically ruled out the north. Nothing against it, it’s beautiful, but at the time I was purely sun-chasing. I settled on Murcia.
My assigned town came during the summer break: Cehegín, a very small village (population around 16,000 – maybe not so bad for Spain) located further north in the region. It looked pretty enough but, horror of horrors, there was no beach! I’d really had my heart set on a beach, really I had. I did get a stroke of luck, however, the school that I had been assigned to sent me an e-mail saying that their previous language assistant from the year before wanted to stay on and had family who lived close to Cehegín, so, please please, would I consider a trade? Her assigned placement wasn’t far away, a coastal town by the name of Águilas. Quick check on Wikipedia gave me a beach and the trade was complete. It was July 2011, my birthday had just passed, and I was relaxing, half-heartedly studying Spanish from my notebooks and waiting for October to come.