In December, 2023, my nomadic life brought me a rewarding volunteer opportunity with VaughanTown in Spain.

Vaughan is an English language school based in Madrid. Part of the curriculum offered to adult students is the opportunity to spend a week at another location speaking only English.

Now, who will these students be speaking English with? Well, that’s where native English speakers come in. The main criteria for volunteers with VaughanTown is to be fluent in English. Even if we speak Spanish, we are not supposed to speak it with the students, even if we’re trying to help them understand a word or phrase.

English only, please.

What’s in it for volunteers?

First off, it goes without saying, but volunteers should enjoy having conversations with new people and learning about another culture. Spain is a very interesting country. Some of the things that are normal in Spain could be a culture shock to people from other parts of the world.

Only volunteers who enjoy meeting new people and having all kinds of conversations with them need apply!

If you’re lucky enough to be a volunteer, you will get a bus ride to where the VaughanTown program is taking place that week (along with the other participants), hotel, and all meals included.

I’m a nomad so I want to take advantage of any programs that give me a free place to stay. Free food is good too!

Choosing a location

When applying to be a volunteer with VaughanTown, their website has a calendar that lists all the dates and the city the program will be in that week. The status is also listed – closed, nearly full, or open.

From the calendar, the volunteer chooses a location based on their interest or the date when they plan to be in Spain.

Pretty easy.

VaughanTown allows volunteers to apply for more than one date. Say you’ll be in Spain for a few weeks and are interested in participating in back to back weeks, go ahead and apply.

I applied for two different dates. The following day I was accepted for the December 3, 2023 program taking place in San Juan de Alcazar. About a month later, the other date, late November, sent me a “sorry” message.

😒

VaughanTown begins

VaughanTown got down to business right away when we boarded the charter bus in Madrid outside their school.

The first thing on the bus ride, students and volunteers were paired together to start having conversations.

A younger fellow named Alberto was matched to sit with me. And he was taking two weeks back to back with VaughanTown, this being his second week. If I had been accepted for the previous week, we’d have already been good buddies by then!

So the first thing we want to do is find common ground. I ask where he lives.

Pamplona.

Pamplona you say! I was just there in September while walking the Camino de Santiago and there was a weekend fiesta going on in Old Town!

I pulled out my phone to show him the videos I took.

Alberto tells me his uncle owns an albergue near Pamplona. I pull up my Camino app and we locate uncle’s albergue and take a look. So we had a lively conversation.

After an hour or so, the bus stops at a restaurant where we have a short break and can buy coffee or a snack. Standing outside the bus is where I met Jose Luis, who has walked the Camino several times and even has tattoos on his legs of his favorite stamps he collected along the way. Talk about devotion!

Yes! We’re getting off to a great start here!

Alcazar de San Juan

We arrived at our hotel in Alcazar de San Juan (Don Quixote country) which became our classroom for the next few days.

Schedules are put up daily in the reception area so we know who we’re paired with. We can either chat inside the hotel or go for a walk around town. And we can talk about anything. Topics are not suggested. It’s just go with the flow.

There were a few different activities where the volunteer might have two students for a small group chat. Or a telephone call. It’s really hard having a conversation in a foreign language over the phone, so this helps the students learn how to do this.

We also had outings. Kind of a scavenger hunt where we had to take photos to prove we found the items.

Meals not optional

We had to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily – whether we wanted to or not! Tables for four, and each table needed to have two Spaniards and two volunteers.

This was to continue having conversations over meals.

9am breakfast was buffet style with the usual offerings that many hotels provide for continental breakfast. Except this hotel offered a little more. Cheesecake for breakfast? I tried it one day and I was pretty much hooked! There other dessert items on the breakfast buffet like cakes and donuts.

Lunch was served at 2pm. Yikes to us foreigners who usually eat lunch around noon or 1pm. Hungry, hungry. I’d often take a banana from the breakfast buffet to help me through any hungry times.

Dinner was served at 9pm. Double ouch for us foreigners who are used to eating dinner much earlier than that.

Lunch and dinner menus were posted a day in advance and we had to choose which starter, entree, and dessert we wanted in advance. We could also choose a vegetarian option or even just a salad.

One lunch I choose green beans and tomatoes as a starter. Unknown to me was that it came with ham! Not fun for a vegetarian. I didn’t eat it. Eventually a manager came over and asked me if something was wrong with my meal. Just the ham, I replied. They offered to bring me another without ham but I declined. I had salad coming for my main course. And when they brought my salad, they brought me green beans and tomatoes, which I again declined. I was pretty certain they just picked the ham out and brought it out to me again.

Cross contamination anyone?

Other activities

Volunteers occasionally got slotted with free time instead of one on one conversations with the Spaniards. We could do whatever we wanted. Swim in the pool. Walk around town. Hit the bar. Have a nap.

We all had free time for about two hours following lunch and before conversations were scheduled again starting at 5pm. Sometimes a group of us would head out for a walk.

We all got along great, so spending our free time together just came naturally!

At 8pm there was entertainment that usually involved some of our group participating in song and dance numbers.

Dinner usually ended sometime after 10pm and after that would often be an optional activity. For example, one night we played trivia. Another time, there was an outing to a local bar.

Optional because some of us foreigners like to hit the sack about that time, unlike our party hearty Spanish friends!

Volunteering at VaughanTown

My time in VaughanTown ended all too soon. On Friday afternoon we were bused back to Madrid.

I had an amazing time and made many new friends. The next time I visit Spain, I will have more people to meet up with.

The volunteers mainly came from England. There were four volunteers from the States, mostly on the Eastern seaboard, and I was the only Canadian. VaughanTown looks for English speakers with a variety of dialects to help the Spaniards get used to different accents. One of the volunteers was from Georgia, so we had the mesmerizing southern drawl. But what was truly amazing about this man is he is 81 years old, walks with a cane, and traveled solo to Madrid, for his 20th time at participating in VaughanTown! Wow!

To sum it up, my review of volunteering with VaughanTown is definitely two thumbs up.

πŸ‘πŸ‘

If you are planning a trip to Spain and have extra time, consider volunteering with VaughanTown. It’s an amazing, rewarding experience!

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