I was early to the tapas reception at El Bajo, of course. The pull-down metal gates had not even be lifted yet, so I walked around the Bilboa Metro area for about 30 minutes.
It was my first full day in Madrid and I had explored the city center for a few hours, wandering nearby my hostel and the Anton Martin Metro stop. After taking an hour or so back in my room, I figured it was time to head over to the Vaughan Systems reception for the people who were going to help native Spanish speakers improve their English by talking talking talking for six straight days.
Once the gates were lifted, I headed over to the bar. It was empty, save for one woman going over name tags.
This was it. And I was the first.
I walked to her and introduced myself.
“I’m Marisa, the program director,” she said in a lovely Australian/Spanish accent, handing me my name tag.
Within the hour, more English speakers began to wander in to the reception.
In total, there were four Americans (me, Bob, Anthony and Mike); three Aussies (Jess, Deanna and Helen) and three from the UK (Emma, Jo and Peter — all vets of the program).
Then, there was Dade — the master of ceremonies for the Valdelavilla group — on his final week of work with the company before heading back to the UK.
Marisa explained the program to us. Essentially, these Spaniards were participating in this program out of necessity — for work or personal reasons, and they needed to feel comfortable speaking English.
It was our job to help them achieve this by speaking to them each day in only English. Spanish was not allowed. If they were caught speaking Spanish, they got one warning and then were sent packing.
Each day, we would have many one-to-ones with them, talking to them 60 percent of the time so they could learn our language and begin to work with the various accents represented.
There would also be phone calls and conference calls to help them acclimate to conversations on the telephone, and group activities.
By the time Marisa was done explaining our jobs for the six days, I began to question exactly what I had gotten myself into. When I had applied to the program, I thought it was a cool idea, but more than anything else, thought it was a great way to extend my travels an additional week (room and food were covered) and learn about the Spanish culture.
I was wrong.
The six days at Valdelavilla turned out to be so, so much more.