Thursday, September 29, 2011

Auxiliares de Conversación: First Orientation

Last night (Wed.) we had an orientation for my program, auxiliares de conversación.

The program is also called North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain, and I linked that text to the 2011-12 program manual, which explains how to apply.

Let me just preface the rest of this post by saying that things in Spain aren't always done the most efficiently.  One of the things I learned the last time I lived here was that you have to have lots of patience.

At this point, all I know are the names and addresses of two institutos at which I'll be a language assistant.  I know that I'll be spending 8 hours (2 days) at each during the week, and have one day off.  I sent both of them an e-mail in the middle of the summer, as instructed when I got the letters, but only have heard back from one of them.  And what I heard back was simply there is no finalized schedule yet, they're making lots of changes this summer, etc.

So before the orientation, I still have no idea when/where I'm supposed to go to each school, how we get paid, what I'm supposed to do about applying for the NIE/TIE (foreign identity card and number I'll need to open a bank account, get paid, and to be a legal immigrant after 3 months).

So after I finally find the building of this reunión, first a woman comes in to speak to us.  We're split up into two groups on two different floors so that they can give two orientations at once.  She talked to us about the public education system in Madrid, and facts about how many auxiliares were in each type of school and in each area of Madrid -- lots of maps and charts with figures.  I don't have very many notes from when she was giving her powerpoint presentation.

Next was a man from the U.S. Embassy who talked about safety and gave us some Embassy phone numbers.  Nearly everything he said I already knew (pick pockets), but when he mentioned something about taxis, it reminded me of a helpful tip our coordinator of my study abroad program had told us: Put 20 euro in your wallet (separate from where you keep your other money) as emergency taxi money.  Some day (or night), you may find yourself out and about, needing to get home or elsewhere, you'll have spent all your money, and the metros will be closed.  That's when you use your emergency taxi money.  I'll withdraw this money... as soon as I buy a wallet!

Our schedule (the only handout of the orientation) said that the Embassy would talk for 40 minutes until 17.30.  This guy talked until 17.40, then said his coworker was talking to the downstairs group, and that they were supposed to switch 20 minutes in, say whaaa!  So then a woman came up from the Embassy and talked to us about the cultural programs she does.  She said if we're interested in maps of the US or other materials they have for classes, we could e-mail her coworker.

So we're already way behind schedule.  The orientation was originally supposed to go until 19.30.  So we have a brief 5 minute break (the schedule showed a 15 minute break after the Embassy presentations from 17.30-45, but we're long past that).  Then another woman from the program talks to us for a while.  She too has a powerpoint presentation, which just so happens to have many of the same slides or information as the first woman.  And then she finishes.

And we all have so many unanswered questions about the program.  Someone raised their hand and asked her if she was the last speaker of the day.  When she answered "yes," people started to get worried. Then she mentioned to us, "You know you start on Monday, right?  You all go to your schools on Monday."

And the hands go up.
"How do we know when we're supposed to go?  I've tried calling my schools and e-mailing them and haven't heard back."  
"If we have two schools, which one do we go to on Monday?" 
"I went to my school yesterday, and they had no idea who I was or that I'd be working there." 
"I'm in two schools, and one of them told me I'd work Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and to tell that to the other school -- but I thought if we have two we weren't supposed to go to both schools on the same day, just two days at one and two at the other."
The woman definitely wasn't expecting these types of questions, but she basically "answered" all those peoples' questions by saying they'd need to work it out with the school.  If you hadn't figured out your schedule yet, call the school tomorrow morning or go there.

Then someone raised their hand and asked about the TIE/NIE, that I guess you have to go to the police office and ask for an appointment, then you go the appointment and bring all the forms you need in order to get this number and foreign ID card.

The woman asked if we had all gone and made our appointment yet.  One person (of 85) raised their hand to say yes, but said "I went to to the police station yesterday, and the earliest appointment they had was June 22."

Oh. My. Goodness.

The woman said that she doesn't really deal with this part of the program, and doesn't know anything about the TIE/NIE.  She was about to just leave and end it, but someone asked her right away "Well, who does? Who can we ask about the TIE/NIE?  And how do we get paid?"

Thank you -- that's what I wanted to know too.

Then she said, maybe my coworker can answer some of these questions, and she called to some woman that was out in the hall.

So this new woman comes in, and about six Americans go up right away to ask her questions one by one.  Meanwhile there's lots of chatter, and the rest of us are all just sitting there waiting to hear something from her.

Finally when all the individual questions were over with, she told us that they know the appointments are way backed up, so they've been trying for the past two weeks to arrange something with those offices so that people in this program could go earlier than say, June 2012.  It sounds like it was a big hassle for them to arrange, since each person in the different offices would tell them conflicting information.  This is Spain.

The good news was that as of that day, they had secured a certain number of appointments for auxiliares to apply for the TIE the following week.  But they had to one by one assign us the day and time.

First she began with Europeans or people of dual citizenship.  There were three.  So one at a time she took their names, typed them on a word document that was projected on the screen, then explained to those three where to go, what to bring, etc.

Then we had to count off one by one for her to figure out how many Americans would need a TIE.  There were 83 of us left.  Ok, she had enough appointments for us. Phew.

So then she brought up a word document that said all of the documents we'll need to obtain/copy for the appointment.  We all copied it down (why couldn't they just e-mail this to us?).  More people went up for individual questions, during which everyone else would start chattering and it'd get loud.  Then the woman would try to speak again when she was done with the individuals, and have to quiet us down.  Mind you, I'm still sick, hadn't eaten much yet that day, and it would take me an hour to get home after the whole thing finished.

Ok next, the woman brought up an excel spreadsheet with all of our names on it and read them off one by one.  If you were there, you'd raise your hand, then they would paste in a new column your date and time of appointment, and in the next column a number.  Fifteen people had the first day and time, so the number kept track of how many people had been given that time slot.  Thirty people got the next day and time. And so on and so forth.  I was in the second or third group, but once you had a time you could leave.  Again, this could have been done much more efficiently (Jacob, that woman could have used your help with some excel shortcuts -- I was cringing the whole time).

I would have just let us all go, and assigned time slots on the excel sheet on my own time, then e-mailed out the spreadsheet along with the word doc of required documents and the address of the building to us auxiliares.  But bueno.

So it was a long afternoon, and I didn't get home until after 10pm, then eventually ate something.

I'm still sick today; going to look at an apartment at 10 tonight.  I called both of my schools this morning (morning here is before 2), and am planning to go to both tomorrow morning to figure out my schedule.  So hopefully tomorrow I'll know where the heck I'm supposed to go on Monday.  And hopefully I wake up on time tomorrow, because I have not been getting up early at all since I've been here.


  1. Hey, it's me again! Just wondering if anyone has mentioned anything to you all about the teacher strike affecting secondary schools in Madrid. It's been on the news a lot, so kind of hard to miss, but with jet lag and all the preparations and paperwork etc. that you all are doing, maybe you haven't seen it. It looks like the next one is scheduled for the 4th, so by then you will already be at the school and will get more firsthand information, but just a heads up if you didn't already know about it. It may not be affecting your schools much anyway, but I bet it will be a topic of conversation.

    On the other hand, I bet they will be psyched to have you get started!

  2. Wow, I would have been tweaking out over the disorder... that's crazy. I'm sure you'll get it all sorted it out.

  3. @Kate Thanks for the heads up! I did see something about this on the metro news the other day, but now I'll be much more aware.

    @Luke Yeah, I probably would have been tweaking if it were the first time here. Also, I had read on some forums to expect those types of situations with the program. At one of my schools I went to this morning they asked me, "So are you a volunteer, do they pay you,...?" And I'm thinking jeez, YOU'RE supposed to pay me! (Because we're supposed to be paid by the schools, not by the program).