One of the greatest expenses associated with travel in Spain is the cost of food and lodging. Fortunately, travelers usually have a wide range of choices to fit almost any budget. Of course those choices almost invariably involve making certain sacrifices. Will they dine on champagne and caviar or soda pop and hot dogs? Will they be staying in a 5-Star grand hotel preferred by the rich and famous, or a bare bones hostel favored by starving artists and students? Usually it comes down to budget and choices…but not always!
Would you believe it is possible to spend an entire week in Spain enjoying the culture, excellent local cuisine and lodging in pleasant, clean, spacious and inviting accommodations at absolutely no cost? Believe it! Hundreds of informed, savvy travelers do it every year. Okay, so what’s the catch?
Pueblo Ingles is a company that was established in 2000 for the purpose of providing Spaniards, who have studied English, an opportunity to become more comfortable and fluent in their use of English. Almost all of their clients are professionals (doctors, lawyers, professors, consultants and government employees). Pueblo Ingles developed and conducts week-long immersion courses where only English is spoken. Any use of Spanish is strictly forbidden! To accomplish this (here’s the catch), Pueblo Ingles offers free room and board to native English speakers from around the globe who volunteer, and are accepted, as conversation partners for their clients (normally referred to as “the Spaniards”).
Should you be accepted, you will be required to provide your own transportation to and from Madrid, and any lodging before and after your week with Pueblo Ingles. On the appointed day, you will meet at a designated location in Madrid and be driven in a comfortable, air-conditioned bus to the appropriate venue. Pueblo Ingles has several locations in Spain and even one in Italy for Italians to polish their English. Pueblo Ingles also has an excellent program just for teens.
Volunteers, or “Anglos” as they are called, spend a week just talking and engaging the Spaniards in conversations about anything and everything. During these conversations, they are encouraged to politely and gently correct the Spaniards when words are mispronounced or used incorrectly. Because the Anglos come from a variety of English speaking nations (England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, United States, Australia, etc.), different levels of education, all ages, and a multitude of professions, very few of them are experts on English grammar. Consequently, the Anglo volunteers are really more like “coaches” helping the clients polish their skills in using typically common conversational English.
Although free room and board is certainly a major consideration in choosing to be a Pueblo Ingles volunteer, there are even greater rewards for those who are accepted. As one who has had the privilege of serving as an Anglo coach, the icing on the cake was the opportunity to meet and develop genuine friendships with so many nice and interesting people among both the Spaniard clients and Anglo volunteers. Another benefit of this program is that it is ideal for either those people who are traveling alone or with a companion. Within a day or so, everyone is extremely comfortable in the Pueblo Ingles community and enjoying forging new friendships. It is not uncommon for volunteers to be invited to visit their new Spanish friends in their homes before leaving Spain.
As fun, exciting, enjoyable and culturally rewarding as it is, a week of constant conversation can be somewhat taxing. A typical day begins at 9 a.m. with an elaborate buffet breakfast in the venue’s dining room. Following breakfast, at 10 a.m. the Spaniards and Anglos will pair off for “one to one” conversations. After each fifty minute session there is a ten minute break and then the Anglos and Spaniards will change partners and begin another conversation. Pueblo Ingles will usually provide a list of suggested topics, but the conversation can be about absolutely anything! Normally, the volunteer will defer to the client’s choice of subject. However, at some point during every conversation, Pueblo Ingles encourages the volunteers to introduce and explain common English expressions the Spaniards might eventually hear but have no clue as to their meaning. Expressions such as “raining like cats and dogs”, or “once in a blue moon” are typical examples.
Lunch is selected from a menu and is served from 2 – 3:30 p.m. To the delight of most of the participants it is always accompanied by wine. While dining, it is customary for the clients and volunteers to take alternate seats around their tables in order to facilitate a continuation of conversation between the Spaniards and Anglos. Following lunch, free time (in my case, a siesta) is built into the schedule from 3:30 until 5 p.m.
At 5 p.m. all of the Spaniards and Anglos will gather in a large meeting room for a one-hour group activity conducted by the Master of Ceremonies. This person is a Pueblo Ingles employee who is charged with conducting and facilitating all program activities for the week. This is just one of the highlights of a very enjoyable day as these activities, while promoting the use and understanding of English, tend to border on the absurd and lead to a great deal of fun, raucous laughter and immense pleasure.
From 6 to 8 p.m., the clients and volunteers will resume one-to-one conversations, have real telephone conversations (each from his or her cabin), or possibly participate in a live conference call attended by three or more people.
Dinner is served from 8 – 9:30 p.m. (with more wine) and then followed with an informal social gathering in the bar (think “happy hour”) for (you guessed it) more conversation! After a couple of days the entire community has bonded and everyone is now very comfortable in their new environment and with each other. Consequently, “happy hour” will often last until 2 or 3 a.m. (depending on your interest, age and endurance).
Still interested? If so, then I suggest you visit www.puebloingles.com and explore their website. You will find a wealth of information about the programs, locations and dates for which they are seeking volunteers. You can even apply online. The considerable number of volunteers who return year after year is an excellent testament to the immense popularity of Pueblo Ingles. Should you be fortunate enough to be accepted, I promise, this adventure will prove to be an incredibly rewarding experience which you will treasure for a lifetime.