(Part One of Volunteering with Vaughan Town.)
Lock 15 “crazy” Anglos together with 13 “shy” Spaniards in a remote Spanish hotel and what do you get?
28 freaked out Spanglos by the end of the week.
If you’re longing for an unusual experience where you help people practice their English through games, one-on-one conversations while walking through the Spanish countryside, delicious three-course meals with wine, a beautiful hotel room and nightly entertainment then Vaughan Volunteers may be just the program for you. Now here’s the amazing part; all of this is paid for so you are only responsible for your airfare to Madrid, and any extras you wish to purchase.
Last year, while attending a writers’ conference in Orange County, California, I was fortunate to discuss volunteering abroad with a fellow writer. She asked me if I’d heard about the Vaughan Volunteers program in Spain, and said she signed up for the Fall. At first I was surprised as this lady was in her late seventies, and I thought you had to be young to sign up. I soon find out that this is a popular program for volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, and that they encourage non-teachers to sign-up. They are looking for different accents so that Spaniards can learn to communicate with British, American, Canadian, Australians an other native English speakers from around the world. It is mainly sponsored by Spanish companies, who pay the fee for their employees to improve their English conversation skills. Those fees pay for the Anglos to attend.
Needless to say, I am anxious to sign up, however, the program fills up quickly as it is extremely popular.
I book my ticket to Madrid and stay at the EuroBuilding 2 Hotel (photos), where the Vaughan Town headquarters are located. I land at Barajas International airport early on Saturday morning, which gives me sufficient time to do a quick tour of Madrid’s famous, “Mercado de San Miguel,” a must for all foodies with its selection of tapas, breads, cheeses, meats, sweets and drinks. Who would have thought Spain was still suffering from a recession after seeing the local crowds enjoying a Saturday outing with children, parents, grandparents and friends. Check out the mojitos served in the mercado.
On Saturday evening, the Vaughan Volunteers program starts with a festive tapas reception to meet the other Anglos; most of us are from the UK , the US and Canada. I am surprised to find out that many of the Anglos are on their 4th or 5th volunteer program.
Sunday morning we meet our “Spaniards” transfixed to the sidewalk, gripping onto their suitcases and loved ones. They are searching for a friendly Anglo “date” to sit next to on the bus ride to a small village called Torrecaballeros, one hour and fifteen minutes from Madrid.
I put myself in their place. How nerve-wracking to speak English to Anglos from all over the world, with such diverse accents. How long will it take for them to feel relaxed?
Check out the video of my beautiful hotel room with a view over the pastures of TorreCaballeros.
We arrive at the gorgeous “El Rancho” hotel on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. The weather is sunny and warm, and after placing our suitcases on the stunning hotel lobby mahogany floors, and admiring the paintings and interesting artifacts from Africa, we order a cafe con leche at the bar, and the bonding continues.
Please tune in June for Part Two.
Pete and Marisa, are the two wonderful organizers of our week at El Rancho.