Filed under Adventure, Body and Mind, Culture, general
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I look out the window of the bus.  We’re passing through small villages in the Soria providence of Northern Spain.  As the bus winds up the mountain range I notice that I’ve lost my cell phone signal.  Panic rises in my throat: a week with no cell phone, what will I do?   Will I survive?

Getting off the bus I gaze up at the tall trees, I smell the rosemary and lavender that is growing wild in the underbrush.  The air is cool and crisp; I’m only 150 miles from Madrid and I’m thinking I may have to bust out a long sleeve shirt.

There are 34 of us here in the remote village of Valdelavilla.   Seventeen of us are Anglo volunteers.   The other 17 are Spaniards who’ve come to participate in an English immersion program called Vaughan Town.  We are all a little nervous, complete isolation with only each other for company.  No cell phones, no computer, what have we gotten ourselves into?

This is the second summer that I’ve volunteered for Vaughan Town, an English language program that focuses solely on communication and conversation.  Spanish speakers learn they can express themselves effectively in English without worrying about grammatical errors.  For six days Spaniards eat, drink, and breathe the English language in a safe environment; breaking down those walls of fear many of us have when acquiring another language.

Anglo volunteers are given room and board in exchange for effervescent and endless conversations with our Spanish learners.  With communication being the sole objective, confidence builds, and like magic these Spanish adults are speaking English.

For six days we eat, drink, play, and most importantly we speak English from sun-up to sun-down.  Anglos have 50 minute one to one sessions with each Spaniard.  During these sessions we walk through the mountains talking about our lives back home.  We teach each other card games, we have phone conversations, and we laugh.  What we DON’T do is learn English grammar as that would disrupt the flow of communication and the summer-camp atmosphere.

Under the direction of our program director, Marissa, and Pete, our master of ceremonies, the nights are filled with entertaining each other with songs, skits, and many laughs over gourmet dinners prepared by Valdelavilla’s house chef.

An amazing thing happens in six days: people connect.  I’m not sure what it is, the isolation of Valdelavilla, the mountain air, or the common goal we all have, but the 34 of us became this strange multicultural family.

Personally, I feel the beauty of Vaughan Town is the people; Spaniards and Anglos from all different backgrounds and ages.  Our group included doctors, lawyers, technology specialists, backpackers, and teachers; all of us working together to communicate in English and have fun.  Getting to know people that I would never meet in my real life had to be the most enriching experience of my six week European journey.

I recommend participating in Vaughan Town for any traveler looking for a week of good times, a little work, and that simple gratifying feeling of helping another learn.

Quick Facts:

  • English volunteers pay for their own travel to Spain.  Vaughan Town provides 4-star hotel rooms and 3 meals a day for the entire six day program.
  • Valdelavilla is not the only location for Vaughan Town.  Volunteers can also go to Gredos in the providence of Avila and Villacarriedo, near Santander in the Cantabria providence.
  • English volunteers DO NOT have to be teachers, just be willing and able to hold conversations day and night.
  • Vaughan Town is not a typical English school setting; the main goal is for Spaniards to feel comfortable and confident as they communicate in an English setting.  Mistakes happen when acquiring a new language and Anglo volunteers are asked to disregard any errors keeping the Spaniard focused on communicating ideas.
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13 Comments

  1. sandraNo Gravatar
    Posted August 26, 2010 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    What a great article. I’m ready to go to Vaughan Town and teach next summer!! Thanks Susan for another fun article!

  2. Nita ClapperNo Gravatar
    Posted August 26, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Oh what fun! Wish I was a bit younger. Thanks for the wonderful article.

  3. DallisonNo Gravatar
    Posted August 30, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    What a fantastic experience! Do they have a Vaughan Town for learning Spanish?

  4. volunteer workNo Gravatar
    Posted September 3, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Hello, I found your blog in a new directory of blogs. I don’t know how your blog came up, must have been a type, Your blog looks good. Have a nice day.

  5. adenaNo Gravatar
    Posted September 3, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Thank you!

  6. MarieNo Gravatar
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Great Information, Susan. Thanks. Exactly what I’d like to do. Curious: Is 60 too old for the group?

  7. NehaNo Gravatar
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Wow…This seems so interesting…. I really want to do this…Can you provide me with all the information of how i can apply for the same …I do not know Spanish…I’m from India……..

  8. H J Thomas, JrNo Gravatar
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Being a returning participant (7 or 8 sessions now!) it was good to read your article. I agree – the people, both Anglo and Spanish, make the program. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in learning more about a country than just the sites seen by the tourist.

  9. Jane HodgesNo Gravatar
    Posted October 14, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I did this a couple of years ago and would really recommend it – and there is no age limit – 60 is certainly not too old – go for it – you nevef know where it may lead…

  10. KathNo Gravatar
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Hi, I’ve participated in 13 VaughanTown programmes and I’m doing my 14th this coming Sunday. I even did a programme with HJ! (Hi HJ, how are you?)

    It’s the most wonderful experience and I’m hooked. Marie, 60 is not too old! You just need to enjoy talking and being around people. The benefits are too many to mention. Give it a go. Thank you Susan, I really enjoyed reading your blog :-)

  11. BevNo Gravatar
    Posted December 13, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Age is no barrier! If you are fit enough to get there you are fit enough to go! You meet so many different people and make new friendships. On my last trip there were several Anglos over 55..I think the eldest was mid 70;s, The Spanish seem to really appreciate the time you give them and I have appreciated the time they have given to me in telling me about their country. It is a load of fun..it must be..people go back for more!!! Locations are great…mealtimes are fun. You can even do 1:1 on sun loungers by the pool. Sometimes you get a free hour…and feel like an outcast! Iagree with Kath.

  12. GillNo Gravatar
    Posted January 20, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Is that Rhys and Nathaniel (Nat) from Australia in your photos? I used to work with them in Cardiff!!!!!!

  13. Nd:YAG Laser No Gravatar
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Well, another blogger already posted a topic like this.-*”.-

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