So this is how I found myself living luxuriously, swimming laps in a pool facing the mountains in rural Spain, alongside a new friend from Australia.
The deal was this. I would stay in a private room, with jacuzzi tub, in a four-star hotel in Barco de Avila outside Madrid. With three meals a day provided, at the aforementioned four-star hotel. All for free. Just for being willing to speak in English with Spanish people all day.
I happen to be very good at speaking English. This seemed like a very, very fair deal. No, a great deal! Off I went. Never even thought to contact friends to see if they wanted to go. They'd just get in the way.
A company called Vaughantown "hires" English speakers to spend a week at one of several locations where Spanish students and businessmen go to improve their English skills.
We create an English cocoon where the Spaniards can safely try out their faltering "Please pass the salt's" and "I work in the telecommunications industry's" on us without the stress of a real business encounter. Their companies pay for the privilege. We live off the fat of their expense accounts.
The week I went there were 17 Spaniards and 17 "Anglos," a mix of Americans (only three), Aussies, Brits and Canadians. The best part was that I got to spend a week getting to know Spanish people I would never have talked to any other way.
And I got to ask the important cultural questions. Like, how exactly how does one "siesta?" Do you get in your jammies and sleep for a couple of hours at home? Take a power nap at your desk? We got a siesta each afternoon at Vaughantown, which is when I would either nap or head to the indoor pool with the picture windows.
I would love to do this again.
The original fantasy included hitting it off with a Spaniard so I'd have someone to visit. Someone I could practice Spanish with. Preferably someone with a large villa. Didn't happen. But the people were lively and the days had purpose.
There's another company called Pueblo Ingles that runs what seems to be a similar program.
*This post ran originally in 2007.
Photos: Ellen Perlman
1. Spanish students doing an Irish jig they learned from an "Anglo" from Ireland.
2. The view from my window at the hotel in Barco de Avila, Spain.