Last December, a friend told me about Vaughantown, a volunteer program in Spain for native English speakers that sounded almost too good to be true. You fly yourself to Spain, give up six days of your life to speak English to a group of Spaniards for about 10 hours a day, all while staying in a 4-star hotel located in a quaint town outside of Madrid. Oh, and they provide three meals a day which includes wine at lunch and dinner. I can’t leave that out!
Six months later, I’m on a flight to Madrid and ready to spend a week conversing with Spaniards and Anglos (what we are referred to throughout the week!) from all around the world. While the program is only six days long, Sunday through Friday, the Anglos are invited to a tapas party the night before in Madrid. This gives us a chance to get to know some of the other volunteers that we will be with that week. We also get to meet our program director and master of ceremonies who both emphasis the one rule at Vaughantown: Do NOT speak Spanish.
This is a full-on English immersion program for the Spaniards who have paid a great deal of money to improve their English in a short amount of time. Most are business professionals but there are some who are simply there because they want to personally improve their English. These are people who have studied English in the classroom before, some for several years, but who haven’t had the chance to practice conversational English with native speakers. During my program, our group of volunteers provided a great mix of accents for the Spaniards to be exposed to, hailing from all over the United States, Canada, England, and Australia. I found most of the Spaniards to be quite proficient in English already but who lacked a bit of confidence and found it hard to stop second guessing themselves while conversing.
Currently, Vaughantown has four different locations to choose from which are about 90 minutes outside of Madrid. After only seeing a few pictures and doing a quick google search on the hotel, I decided on Pedraza. This Medieval town was declared a National Historical Heritage site in 1951 and it’s easy to see why. The entire town is surrounded by a wall with only one entry which leads you into what seemed like a movie set to me. Every day we would have a few one on one’s with the Spaniards where we would spend 50 minutes talking and getting to know one another. We could choose to stay in the hotel and talk or wander around the town which is often what people chose to do. While Pedraza is quite small, with a population of 400, it was still so much fun to explore and had quite a lot to offer.
As you saw from the schedule I posted above, our days were jam packed, but in the best possible way. Since there are almost always more Anglos than Spaniards, I did get extra free time throughout the week. Our job is to speak conversational English with them which makes this a very fun and casual learning environment. After the second night, there would always be a group of us at the hotel bar staying up after dinner to spend additional time together since we were all forming close bonds at this point. I met several volunteers who had participated with Vaughantown before, several times in fact. I was quickly beginning to understand why they come back each year.
There were several moments throughout the program where I couldn’t quite believe how fortunate I was to be exploring such a beautiful and interesting Spanish town that I never would have found on my own, all while getting to know people from around the globe. Six days might not sound like a long time but it’s almost impossible not to bond and form friendships with people who you’re spending 10 hours a day talking with. It honestly felt like summer camp… for adults! It’s been over three months and I still keep in touch with some of the Spaniards and Anglos I met during my program. I’ve already visited a few in the states and have plans to return to Spain early next year.
Vaughantown really opened up a whole new world of traveling for me. This was my first volunteer program abroad and I walked away with such an enthusiasm and appreciation for the Spanish culture and its people. It takes a lot of courage and determination for these Spaniards to spend an entire week completely surrounded by English speakers. They weren’t even allowed to speak Spanish with the other Spaniards after hours. The improvement they showed in just six days was absolutely incredible and, quite honestly, a joy to be a part of and witness. I would do it again in a heartbeat and am eagerly awaiting Vaughantown to release their 2015 dates in the upcoming weeks.
If Vaughantown is of any interest to you, I definitely encourage you to visit their website and sign up once the new dates are out. I know I didn’t cover every detail of the program but I’m happy to answer any questions down in the comments or through email.