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My Spain Story: Meredith Miller, 7 Years Working as an Auxiliar de Conversación in 3 Different Programs

Residency experiences in Spain can feel like a roller-coaster journey – we know, we remember those frustrating days. That’s why in this SpainGuru blog series, we’ve interviewed successful expats so they can share a more personal side of their residency experience.

We hope this series helps guide those who have some of the same questions and are in the same spot as we were once in our residency decision/process in Spain.

Expat: Meredith Miller (US)

Where do you currently live in Spain?

I live in a southern neighborhood of Madrid, the beautiful Vallecas.

Have you lived in any other cities/regions/Comunidades in Spain?

No, I’ve only lived in Madrid – in different parts of the city, but always in Madrid.

What year did you arrive in Spain?

I came to Spain in September of 2011.

What kind of visa or permit did you initially come to Spain with?

Initially, I came with a student visa to work with the Ministerio as an Auxiliar de Conversación.

What kind of permit or visa do you currently have?

I have residency. My TIE labels me as part of the “regimen comunitario”. I have residency as a “familiar ciudadano de la unión” because of my civil union (pareja de hecho) with my boyfriend.

How long did it take you to go through that process?

I went through the process of getting residency almost 4 years ago, so I’ve honestly forgotten many of the specifics. I do remember a lot of tedious things to gather and a lot of paperwork. In total, I think the whole thing must have taken about a year. First, I had to get the “pareja de hecho” done. I had been warned the wait for that appointment could be up to a year but it ended up being about six months. After I had that, I began to submit paperwork and go to the appointments for turning it into my legal residency that I have today. That took me another 5 or 6 months to complete.

How many different visa/permit processes have you gone through in Spain? (Tourist, Student, Work Permit, Pareja de Hecho, Marriage, Nationality)

I’ve gone through two processes in my time here. As I mentioned, I came with a student visa but now I have residency which I was able to get through a Pareja de Hecho with my boyfriend.

What process (if you’ve done several processes) was the easiest and/or the most difficult to go through?

I am not good at maneuvering Spain’s bureaucracy, so all of the processes were daunting for me. In my seven years here, I’ve had two visas: student and resident (due to Pareja de Hecho). The student visa was a hassle because I had to renew it once every year and be “en trámite” for 2 or 3 months while my TIE was renewed. I always dreaded going to Aluche and waiting for hours! Later, the paperwork seemed overwhelming for pareja de hecho but it will last me five years before I have to renew so it was definitely worth it!

What is something you regret about your whole legal process for Spain? Anything you wish you would have done differently?

As I was able to get both my student visa and work residency through Pareja de Hecho there isn’t much I regret. I think I should have had a bit more patience and faith in the process. Eventually it will work out!

How much longer do you see yourself in Spain?

It’s always hard for me to say forever, but I see myself in Spain for the foreseeable future.

How does Spain compare to your home country? Why do you prefer living here?

As an American, I absolutely prefer the health care system here and an overall quality of life that feels more relaxed than life in the US. I think the Spanish are better at enjoying free time, vacations, and weekends more than the average American. My priorities have changed here.

What is your current profession in Spain?

I am an Auxiliar de Conversación with the BEDA program.

What have been your past professions in Spain and for how long?

I have been working as an Auxiliar de Conversación for the past 7 years but I’ve always supplemented that with private English classes and more recently giving food tours with DEVOUR Food Tours. The private English classes have been a great source of cash for me over the years and I think that’s why most Auxiliares do them.

I also worked briefly for an academy but I preferred giving the classes on my own terms and making more money per hour as well. DEVOUR has been a nice change for me more recently. It’s a seasonal job and I don’t depend on it year-round for money but during the high tourist seasons it’s great. I’ve also enjoyed the change from working mostly with kids as I do at the schools to mostly working with adults.

As you’ve been an Auxiliar de Conversación here in Spain, could you briefly describe your experience working for the various programs? Which programs have you participated in? In which Communidades did you work in? Which program did you prefer and why?

Over my seven years here in Spain I’ve worked for three different Auxiliar de Conversación programs: the Ministerio de Educacion, UCETAM, and BEDA. The job with the Ministerio was what brought me over to Spain in the first place. I worked in a public school in Valdemoro, just south of Madrid, for two years. My third year I was placed in a school in Cantabria but declined that offer and instead joined the UCETAM program.

UCETAM is similar to the Ministerio program but partners with concertados (charter schools) instead of public schools. After the max of two years with UCETAM I switched to BEDA which also places assistants in concertados. My experience in all three programs has been similar. I think the biggest factor in determining your experience working as an Auxiliar in Spain is your individual school placement and not the program that you choose to work with.

Though of course there are some differences between the three programs (and I would say my preference was UCETAM mostly because the pay was the best), I also felt I had more responsibilities in and out of the classroom with UCETAM. Often, I was in the position to be planning and leading the class, which might explain the higher pay.

I felt more like an assistant during my time with the Ministerio and BEDA. But as I said before, so much depends on the school you’re placed in and every teacher is different as well. Sometimes in a classroom I felt taken advantage of and sometimes I felt useless. But if your goal is to live and teach in Spain, any of the three programs is a decent way to do just that.

Is there any advice you would like to give to anyone trying to “make it work” as an Auxiliar?

Financially speaking, in order to make it as an Auxiliar I would say plan to take on a side job – anything that you like or have time to do. Because of the students you meet at school it’s always easy to give private English classes and I think that’s the most common thing people do. I give my private classes in person but I’ve been hearing more and more about people giving their classes through online academies, especially out of China.

As for the actual job itself, your experience depends more on the school you’re placed in than the program you’re working with. Go to your schools prepared but flexible. You don’t need a degree in teaching or even any experience doing it. It’s just important that you enjoy working with kids and teens and you’ll be fine.

What have you found to be the most challenging aspects about living abroad in Spain – personally, professionally and culturally speaking?

The most challenging aspect of living in Spain is missing out on time with family and friends back in the US. Personally, that is hard on me and I think one of the hardest parts of life for anyone far from home. Professionally, I had very little direction when I came to Spain as an Auxiliar. I’ve enjoyed teaching, but I don’t have a teaching degree and I’ve felt that there aren’t as many work opportunities for me here as there would be in the US. Culturally, I enjoy most parts of my life here in Spain.

Any future goals for your life here in Spain both personally and professionally?

I’m probably in a crossroads in my life professionally at the moment. My time at BEDA is coming to an end after four years and I need to figure out what’s next. I’m considering going back to school at the moment or even trying out something other than teaching.

Have you ever considered going back to your home country/or to another country? Is it still on the drawing board or are you only focused on staying in Spain? Why or Why not?

I’ve considered going back to the US. I think it must cross everyone’s mind at some point. I could still see myself back in the US in a distant future. I think if my job options were better here I would be more certain about staying. Also, having a Spanish partner is now a big factor as to why I am here.

Any tips for those still deciding whether to stay long term to live in Spain?

I think Spain has a wonderful quality of life and could be an excellent choice for making a life. But it’s such a personal decision to make; I’m not sure what tip I could give. But I do strongly feel if Spain becomes your life plan, having a good speaking level and understanding of Spanish is essential. Even if you didn’t come to Spain with that, I think being able to communicate comfortably here will add a lot to your quality of life.

What’s your Spain story? Why’d you move here?

If you would also like to share your personal residency experience on SpainGuru, please send your responses to hello@spainguru.es along with:

  • any social media accounts or blog/website links you wish to include promoting yourself or your business
  • 1-3 photos of yourself (it is up to you but we would like at least 1)

Thanks so much!

Shaheen, Stacey and Tina