I read the Facebook groups and occasionally the forums for this year’s Conversation Assistants in Spain. I see the various questions about what to bring, visas, NIEs, etc. I also see the questions about “bucket lists” or, if you want to use the less-annoying term, “goal lists.” You know, it’s cool to have goals. I’m pretty terrible at setting goals, so I’m inspired when people set goals and achieve them. But some goals should never be set. Let me tell you what not to put on your auxiliar/Spain “to-do” list.
- Date a Spaniard—Wait, what? Is this really a goal of yours? I know, I know … I too am attached to one, and they are great. Well, Mario is great. But why oh why is your goal to date one? At the end of the day, Spaniards are humans, just like you. So perhaps you can understand why I find your goal of a Spanish significant other to be flat out stupid. They are not a commodity to be had. Sorry.
Spaniards aren’t an item to check off your to-do list.
- Become fluent—Unless you come to Spain with an absurdly good level of Spanish, your Spanish is not going to progress to “fluent” level in just one year. Fluency is notoriously difficult level to achieve. Fluency requires immersion, a lot of speaking time, and loads of patience for the times when you don’t believe your Spanish is getting any better at all. It’s a good goal, but perhaps not so realistic if you only plan to stay a year. But don’t be discouraged! You can improve a lot—if you try.
- Only hang out with Spaniards—I understand your motivation. I do! But, to me, this goal reeks of snobbery. I mean, I understand you, in a way: you want to embrace Spanish life, to have an authentic experience. But, seriously, is only hanging out with Spaniards feasible for you? You know, it is kind of nice to have a person who empathizes with you. I found my American auxiliar friends to be of great help. They knew what I was going through, and we made time to “tomar un café” once a week or so.
Hanging out with all Spaniards. Am I cool or what?
- Travel all over Europe—It’s just not possible, tempting as it may sound. While you definitely should take advantage of your time to travel around Europe a bit, you should also find time to explore your own area and even visit other areas of Spain!
Since I now feel like a total aguafiestas, I want to assure you that it’s not all a “no” for me. I’m not an expert, but here’s what I think sound like good, reasonable goals for your time in Spain:
- Make some Spanish friends—Do it! You don’t want to only hang out with English speakers. I mean, yeah, it’s cool that your friends are also from Britain and Canada, but you did go all the way to Spain, and it wasn’t just to hang out with people from Illinois. (But people from Illinois are cool! I swear.)
- Improve your Spanish—You’re going to Spain. You should learn Spanish if you don’t know it. Likewise, you should improve if you already know the basics.
- Get to know your own town or area—Like I said above, your town or area likely has a lot to offer. Zamora, where my husband is from, is not a place most guiris put on their to-visit lists. Nonetheless, it is an interesting city, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more about it over the years. Your town may not be Santiago de Compostela or Sevilla or Valencia, but it likely has something to offer.
Exploring the province of Zamora: Toro’s wine festival.
- Realize how capable you are: moving abroad, doing it all yourself—Maybe you’re just out of college, like I was, when I moved to Spain in 2009 to do an internship. I didn’t know anyone, but I packed all my stuff into one suitcase (how?), and landed in Salamanca in early September 2009. I had no idea that I’d meet my husband that very month, that I’d be moving back indefinitely in 2012 with a ring on my finger, that I’d have a family in Spain. I was alone, but I was capable. Moving abroad can be exciting, but it can also be scary. You’re doing it!