Over summer, I took a 3-week trip to Valencia, Spain to volunteer at a children’s English summer school and improve my own level of Spanish.
During the mornings on weekdays, I spent 5 hours helping out at The Learning Bus’ summer school for 4-7 year olds, teaching them English. Although most of the time we were speaking English to the children, I learnt a lot of Spanish by being in the classroom environment with Spanish children. The work was fun but also rewarding as I got to see their English improve over the two-and-a-half-week period during which I was working with them.
As I was only at the summer school in the mornings, I had the afternoons and weekends free. Besides aspects of typical Spanish culture, Valencia has a lot of its own culture to offer, giving the city a unique identity which is unlike other parts of Spain I’ve visited. This paired with its rich, diverse history and vibrant atmosphere meant there was never a chance to be bored in Valencia. Being there for a longer period of time meant I started to feel at home and could explore the city and surrounding areas beyond the typical tourist attractions and activities, getting to know locals who showed me how to do Valencia like a Valenciano. I visited Albufera National Park (where I took a boat trip on Spain’s biggest lake), swam in natural swimming pools in mountains near Chulilla and played beach volleyball by the unspoilt sand dunes of El Saler.
I also took the opportunity to take Spanish lessons at a local language school called Hispania. Although I was working with Spanish children and using my Spanish as much as possible, the classes allowed me to top up my grammar and further improve my speaking. The best thing about this language school was the array of social and cultural they organised, which made meeting people whilst travelling alone a lot easier. I got to learn how to dance salsa and make sangria like a Spaniard with lots of interesting people from all over the world who were also studying at Hispania. The ‘intercambios’ (language exchange/conversation evenings) run by the school and a local company were also a great way of meeting both people taking classes like mine and local Valencians, and having proper conversations in Spanish.
This trip was the first I had been on by myself, but there wasn’t a chance to get lonely. Everyone I met was really friendly and welcoming, and I met many new people, for example through the language school and in the hostel I stayed at. There were plenty of other travellers, especially a surprising number of solo travellers, with whom I went out and explored Valencia and its culture. Travelling alone and making new friends on the trip was good preparation for my year abroad in third year, and my confidence to spend longer periods of time living abroad grew. All in all, this was a really fun and valuable experience, and I am very grateful to the Gateway programme for giving me this opportunity.