Nyk and Lenka
Name: Nyk and Lenka Bigmore
Dates employed: September 2006- June2007
LIVING AND WORKING IN ANDÚJAR
Andujar is a pleasant place to live. It is an unpretentious working town, with friendly locals, a fabulous daily market (great for fresh foods!) and some vibrant and colourful local festivals. I was initially disappointed by the dearth of bookshops and art galleries, but there is a reasonably good library with helpful staff. And culture-vultures need not despair, for Andujar is extremely well-located for trips to Cordoba, Granada and Seville. For me, the town’s greatest asset is the Andujar National Park, a vast expanse of unspoilt wilderness which starts just a few kilometres to the north. The park is one of the last outposts of the Iberian Lynx, the world’s most endangered ‘big’ cat. On one memorable late spring afternoon, my wife and I were fortunate enough to see one of these exquisitely beautiful creatures basking on a rock. There are numerous other exotic flora and fauna, such as the multi-coloured European Bee-Eater, and the park is a nature-lovers dream.
Getting Around – a) Without a car: It’s really a car culture here (at least in this part of Spain), and local public transport services are not very good. Bus services within Andujar itself are virtually non-existent, but this isn’t really a problem as everything is within 15/20 minutes walking distance. And the bigger cities further afield are quite easy to reach by public transport, especially Cordoba, Seville and Cadiz, which are on a direct rail route which runs through Andujar. (Granada is also a fairly easy bus journey away, although it does involve a change in Jaen). The biggest problem for those without a car is access to the Sierra (National Park). Inexplicably, there are currently no bus services up to the park, so if you don’t have the use of a car, you’re stuck. The fringes of the park are within walking distance of the town, but unless you’ve got lots of time and energy, walking right into the park itself isn’t really an option. For ecologically-minded and/or skint teachers, who don’t want to buy a car, I’d say a bicycle would be a good investment. But be warned, the park is very hilly! b) With a car: Thanks to Julie’s generosity, we’ve had the occasional use of her feisty little Renault for trips at weekends and on Public Holidays. (I’m not sure if this generosity will extend to the next teacher; the car is getting on a bit!) This has been a huge bonus for us, as we’ve been able to explore some of the more remote villages in the area, and get a real taste of rural Andalucia. c) Car or No car?: Opinions differ among the teachers as to whether it is really necessary to buy a car in Spain. One of my colleagues bought a second-hand carquite cheaply, and has found it indispensable, but another has managed without for some time now, and swears it is an unnecessary expense. All I would say is that rural bus services are very infrequent, so if you do want to do a lot of exploring, then you’re going to have to either buy a car or get on your bike!
The school is centrally located in a quiet pedestrian street. The classrooms are quite small, but they overlook a small central courtyard, so they are light and pleasant. Class sizes are also small (no more than 12 students), so the whole class can participate in fun-filled lessons using the recently installed classroom-wide whiteboards!
Materials and Resources – There are loads of supplementary teaching materials to choose from, including lots of games and activities for younger kids. Every thing is very carefully filed away according to the relevant topic area or grammar point, so these invaluable resources are easily accessible. The school has also built up quite a collection of additional stuff, such as balls, animal toys, educational posters, maps, flash cards, and the like, all of which is useful. There are plenty of good quality dictionaries, both monolingual and bilingual, and a huge array of course books, theory books, etc. There are 2 video/dvd players, and the spacious staff room has internet access. Each classroom has its own large box of scissors, glue, crayons, etc.
The Staff – Everyone at the school is very friendly and helpful. I was especially impressed by everyone’s willingness to help me out with tricky phone calls and bureaucratic hiccups in the first few days and weeks. The school is extremely well run, and all the staff have a very professional but relaxed attitude to their work. Julie and Lorraine (the DOS) expect high standards, but are very supportive and encouraging!
Students/Classes/Levels – It’s been both a challenge and a privilege to teach such a range of age groups (from eight year-olds to forty-eight year-olds), and the experience has been very fulfilling. It’s quite a busy schedule, but fortunately everything is well-organized, so you soon get in to a routine. The class sizes are kept very small, which enables you to build up a close rapport with the students. They can be quite noisy at times (perhaps rather more than Northern Europeans!), but this indefatigable liveliness does tend to grow on you. The students are all very friendly, and I’ve had some good laughs.
Teacher Training – Julie is determined to get the best out of her teachers (!), so she provides lots of opportunities for teachers to hone their skills. This happens both within the school (ideas are pooled at regular ‘sessions’, and there are also observed lessons once a term) and also outside the school, at training sessions in Seville and Malaga. At the same time, individual teaching styles are encouraged and respected. All in all, there’s a very supportive and enlightened approach to teacher development.
Finding a Flat – Julie was very helpful, and took me to see quite a few flats, but none of them were quite what I was looking for. In the end I found our flat myself, by simply walking around the town looking for ‘Se Alquila’ (To Rent) signs. I was lucky, in that my wife came over a few weeks after me, and one of my new colleagues kindly put me up during my flat search. These factors enabled me to search around for two weeks. I recognise that teachers coming over with partners or families may not have that luxury, but I would still caution against snap decisions, as rents do seem to vary a lot. Enlist the help of other teachers (I did!), and hunt around.
The Cost of Living – Rents are cheap. Our rent is 300 euros a month including the community charge, which is below average, but then there is no air conditioning, and the fittings are all slightly dodgy. The kindly landlord and the large balcony more than make up for these deficiencies. Electricity prices seem to be comparable to the UK, but Internet/ phone prices are ridiculously high. We’ve been paying up to 100 euros a month, and after living here for almost a year I still don’t understand why. Again, it’s worth shopping around, and if you can avoid Telefonica, do. On the positive side, fresh food is cheap and good.
Health Cover – This is all sorted out by Julie, who makes sure staff and their families have proper medical insurance. Lenka became pregnant here, and the medical care (both at the Local Health Centre and at the brand new hospital on the outskirts of town) has been excellent.
Other relevant comments: Lenka (who is Czech) was offered free English lessons by the school. Through the friends she made in class she became involved in voluntary work in a local primary school (Where she helped present the English Corner on the school radio!). She also found work at a Day Care Centre for Children with Special Needs.
Through these voluntary jobs she arranged weekly English/Spanish conversation exchanges with some of her colleagues, and was thereby able to make quite rapid progress with her spoken Spanish. There is also a very good indoor pool in town, and Lenka really enjoyed the twice-weekly swimming/coffee sessions with staff members and their partners.