So, lo and behold, I have discovered a whole community of people like me – older, addicted to travel, and doing it on the cheap. YES!
These are my fellow volunteers in the Diverbo “Pueblo Ingles” program. I met about half of them at the organization’s official reception in Madrid last Thursday, at a restaurant renowned for its Flamenco performances. We were served enormous plates of paella and free-flowing red wine, then hustled upstairs for a private performance of guitar, singing and flamenco dancing. It’s an extremely congenial, sociable group. Several of the gentlemen have volunteered for the program multiple times (one British gent is currently doing his 105th program!) Many of the volunteers have spouses who do not come along. Interesting to see couples figuring out ways to individually do what they want in retirement.
Spaniards keen on improving their English pay to attend a week of English immersion (or in some cases, their employers pay). The Anglos are the volunteers – and come from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Uruguay & Spain (for this session anyway). All parties are bussed to a fairly remote location where we stay and talk English for a week.
They treat the volunteers very well and many come back over and over again. The 4 ½ hour bus ride to La Alberca (just south of Salamanca) was lively, even though dispiriting for the 3 Canadians as snow fell steadily, turning the fields white. WHAT? WHAT? We though Spain would be warm! Quite disconcerting.
The resort is a series of very small villas, with a shared living room, a larger bedroom and bath upstairs for the paying guest (i.e. the Spanish person) and a smaller room with shower downstairs for the Anglo. As we spend practically NO time in our villas, it hardly matters, but the beds are comfortable.
The days are chock-a-block with activities. Approximately five 50-minute one on one conversations per day (each with a different Spaniard), group activities (games/challenges/discussions), conference calls, plays, and plenty plenty food and wine (in fact an insane amount of food. I feel perpetually stuffed and will likely be moon-faced by the time I leave.)
It’s been fascinating getting to know the other volunteers, who come from a wide range of backgrounds & walks of life – and especially the Spanish people. Because we have so many intensive one-on-one sessions, as well as meals (where we sit Anglo-Spanish-Anglo-Spanish) I’ve learned a huge amount about Spanish culture. Up until about 15 years ago, students in public school learned French as the second language, so these participants never learned English – but now that it is the international language, they all need to be able to speak English for work. Hence the popularity of this program (a number of the Spaniards have also taken the course before.) They take it seriously and are very anxious about their proficiency – which is generally excellent. Many are managers, in accounting and IT companies, most are somewhat younger than the majority of volunteers (late 20s to mid 50s, I’d say.) All very friendly and fun.
We do get a good siesta break in the afternoon, but apart from that, we’re in sessions from 9:00am until at least 10:30 at night (which, as you can imagine, is a challenge for me!) But I do get to take a long walk every day, through lovely countryside.
I am thoroughly enjoying the experience – and we just about at the halfway point of the program.