Vaughntown: spend a week in Spain at a nice resort for free
I spent a week just outside Segovia talking to Spanish people in English. Aside from transportation and overnight stays in Madrid, the whole week’ room and board were free. Only native English speakers can apply for these positions.
In our group, there were 14 Anglos and 9 Spaniards, so the Anglos had downtime, the Spaniards didn’t. On the other hand, they had each paid $2400 for the week, so they were determined to get the most out of it. The ratio differs with each program, so the amount of free time for the Anglos varies, as you will understand when you see the daily schedule.
The only rule (other than attending all activities held between 10:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.) had to do with seating at meals. We always sat at tables of 4, two Anglos and 2 Spaniards. This was so that the Spaniards would hear Anglos talking among themselves, which is different than when we talk to foreigners.
The schedule for each day was as follows:
9:00-10:00 breakfast (you didn’t have to talk then, just grunting sufficed. You didn’t have to stay for the full hour, either.)
10:00-14:00 – One on One conversation with a different Spaniard each hour, 10-minute breaks between sessions. I never had more than 3 and never 3 in a row. There was at least one free hour each morning.
14:00-15:00 – Lunch (15:30 if you had an interesting conversation going)
15:00-17:00 – break/siesta (Spaniards and Anglos)
17:00 – 18:00 – Group activity – everybody in central meeting room, no responsibility unless the MC selected you to participate in a skit or sing!!
18:00 – 20:00 – One on Ones (again, never more than 1, w/free time the other hour)
20:00-21:00 – Group activity – everybody together, no responsibility except to laugh at MC’s jokes
21:00 – 22:00 – Dinner
22:30 to whenever – optional pub quiz, bingo, whatever in bar
Long day, but hardly intense. Between 6 and 8 pm on a couple of days, the Spaniards practiced phone calls, conference calls, and One-on-Ones over the telephone. They find this difficult, as there is no body language to help them understand what’s being discussed.
Two paid staff on hand – the program director, who handled schedules, all details and emergencies, and the Master of Ceremonies, who explained everything and handled all the group activities.
I found the whole thing very enjoyable. The facility was luxurious, the food was excellent, the other Anglos very interesting and the Spaniards quite outgoing, very determined to improve their English and so not shy in the One-on-One conversations. They had 6 hours of One-on-Ones per day, and not once did I ever feel they were tired of doing them! It was remarkably easy to get conversations going – I never had to resort to the usual questions. You know, “Where are you from, How long have you been studying English, Why are you studying English”, etc. Sometimes we had to rush to get the the next One on One because we were in the middle of a conversation and forgot to look at the time. Youngest participant was 23, oldest about 50. One of the young men was the son of the ex-Governor of Madrid and ex-head of the Spanish national police. A 40-year old guy had just finished building a huge solar-powered photo-voltaic plant with 5 partners, one 30-year old woman was a high-school English teacher, another 30-year old was an optician (who lives in Valencia, coincidentally), one account executive for Pernod-Ricard, etc. Only one recent college graduate who has not yet had a job. Many of the participants had been sent by their companies, although some paid the full amount themselves.
The Anglos included 3 Australians, 1 Swede who spoke excellent English and who teaches Swedish to immigrants as his real job, 1 Czech (many years in England), 1 Trinidadian, 1 Canadian, 1 American (me) and the rest from England, although not all with the same accent! No Irish or Scots — too bad for me, as I love those accents. Various ages.
Vaughn has a special hotel rate at the hotel where they hold the opening reception on the Saturday evening before, as many Anglos arrive in Madrid on Saturday. We met with the Spaniards at the bus at 9:00 am on Sunday morning, got to the site in a couple of hours, had lunch and an orientation session and One-on Ones Sunday evening. On Friday, the last day, we had 2 One on Ones, a closing ceremony (with presentation of certificates, of course), a farewell luncheon, and left the site at 3:00. Got back to Madrid about 5, so the Spaniards who were going home by train could all get home that evening. So the program runs an actual full 5 days.
The whole week was very well organized and the participants felt that the week had been worth it. Some were already trying to figure out how they could spring for another week!
I went to the El Rancho de la Aldeguela resort. You can see it on Google Maps. Look up “El Rancho de la Aldegüela, Spain”. It is near Segovia, which some of the group went to for a few hours in their spare time. A very beautiful old city. I didn’t go, as the sun was really bright and burny up there. At the resort, the weather was perfect. Hot in the sun, but very comfortable in the shade. So you could do your One on Ones outdoors in one of the gardens or indoors in the bar or one of many other quiet spots. They
didn’t care. You could go to a neighborhood cafe if you wanted to, or walk over to the grocery or pharmacy if you needed something.
I talked with some Anglos who had done the program several times. Three or four of them were doing back-to-back weeks at two different sites. They said all the facilities are excellent, and only one is so remote that it has no Internet. That is Valdelavilla (sp?) Unfortunately, it is also the one with the best food . Given what Vaughn charges the Spaniards, the facilities had better be excellent… I met a very interesting American at the opening reception who was going to Gredos, one of the other sites. She has emailed me that she had a wonderful time there as well.
Vaughn posts the schedules way ahead of time so folks coming from far away can book flights, arrange the rest of their vacation, etc. Some of the Brits who have done it before just check for last minute openings and hop over on a discount air carrier if the weather forecast looks bleak in England! From Valencia, we can do that as well, as we can get to Madrid on the train. Once you have been accepted, you do not have to reapply – you just go online and pick your week, if there are still slots when/where you want to go. Very clever!
Everything I said above could be wrong, of course. You may have a different ratio of Anglos to Spaniards, they may all be very shy or at a lower level, who knows? The Anglos said that we did have a bit more downtime than normal, but that the English level of the participants was typical. I thought it was quite advanced, actually, and that they were there for exactly the right reason – they wanted to get their speaking capability more closer to their reading and aural comprehension level. Apparently they have to “test” in – somebody calls them up and they talk over the phone in English.
It took them about a month to send me the acceptance notice, although I think the only requirement is that you speak English, can put two sentences together and are willing to invest your time to improving the English of these folks. We had all different types of people in the Anglo group, from a young Australian guy whose main concern seemed to be when he was going to get his next beer to a couple of English housewives.Here is the link to the VaughnTown program: http://volunteers.