The English Language, Galicia, and You!

To begin, I apologize to my loyal readers (do I have loyal readers??) for not posting as often as I originally intended. This has been a crazy first month in Spain, and without a fixed wireless connection in my apartment I have found it hard to find time to write. Before I left for Spain, my Mom gave me a copy of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America; I began reading the book while in Porto, Portugal this past weekend, and I immediately felt guilty for not updating my blog on a regular basis. I also felt very disappointed with my own travel writing abilities, but that’s a story for another day.

After a few tough weeks running around like a chicken with its head cut off, I have finally worked my way through the majority of the logistics involved in a move abroad. This has left me with time to focus on more pleasant endeavors, and after roughly a month in A Coruña  I can finally say that I have settled into my new life here quite nicely.

Though I have only been living in A Coruña since late September, I feel that I have already learned a great deal more about Spain and about myself that I would like to begin sharing here.

It recently came to my attention that my school, CIFP Ánxel Casal Monte Alto, has only participated in the Auxiliares de Conversación program for three years. According to two of my colleagues who founded the school’s bilingual studies program, the decision to begin teaching certain core departmental courses in both Spanish and English was extremely controversial. At the time, many faculty at the school thought it was not “politically profitable” to expand the school’s English language course offerings. This came as a shock to me, because I know so little about the political relationship between Galicia and the rest of Spain. As the region fights to preserve its own Gallego language and culture alongside Castellano Spanish, the requirement to study English comes off to some people as an additional threat the reduces the importance of both Gallego and Castellano in a global context.

As an English Language Assistant, I occupy a strange position within this whole debate. I am being paid solely to teach people English and represent American culture; I don’t need to know Spanish. I don’t need to be interested in Gallego customs. I just need show up and speak with a native accent for twelve hours a week. To the people who still disagree with the program’s implementation, I essentially embody the problem. While no one has been downright mean to me, there are some faculty who pretend I do not exist, and I have heard some nasty stories about how some of the teachers made fun of the first Auxiliar the school had in 2011.

I think it is definitely unfortunate that we live in a world where there is a sort of English language cultural imperialism.  I am very aware that the English language is a tool in systems like the global economic market, where inequality runs rampant. That being said, working every day with adults—many of whom have come to the vocational training school after losing their job or struggling to find work with their secondary school or university degrees—has helped me arrive at a more nuanced understanding of ENGLISH CULTURAL IMPERIALISM that I feel helps me reconcile my personal politics with the demands of my work. Given the far-reaching effects of the Spanish economic crisis, I think that one of the most important things I can do is respect and support the choices my students make about what they want to get out of their education. If a student believes that studying English will help them be a more successful job applicant in Spain or anywhere else in the European community, I want to help each individual as much as I can.

Because I am treading on slightly perilous waters within the world of Ánxel Casal, I feel incredibly lucky that the teachers I work with in the bilingual courses have been so kind and supportive of my work. Ending on a positive note, two of my coworkers, Antonio and Teresa, treated me to a lovely day in Santiago de Compostela two weekens ago, and some of my other co-teachers have been discussing other trips in the region! Despite some of the headaches and hurdles I have found in my path thus far, I think I am going to have a fantastic year teaching at Ánxel Casal.

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