A lot of people find my blog by way of the guest post I wrote on Liz Carlson’s blog Young Adventuress. In that guest post, I gave an overview of the program that I went through in order to teach English in Spain, an organization known as UCETAM. I thought I wrote a decent and fairly detailed post of how the program works and covered all the basics. However, as it turns out it seems a lot of you future auxiliar applicants have more questions about UCETAM if the several e-mails I receive every week are any indication. I realize there is not a lot of information about UCETAM online and I have sort of become the unofficial UCETAM go to person in the teaching English in Spain blogosphere. I’ve been happy to field your questions and answer to the best of my knowledge, but I’ve noticed a lot of you are asking the same questions. I’ve decided to compile a list of some of the most Frequently Asked Questions about UCETAM that I get. In no particular order, here we go:
1. How competitive is the program?
This is without a doubt one of the most common questions I receive. And unfortunately, I don’t have a straight answer. If I were to hazard a logical guess, I would say UCETAM is more competitive than the Ministerio de Educacion’s program (aka North American Language and Culture Assistants) simply because there are less positions available. The Ministerio has around 2000+ positions to fill. According to my entirely unscientific research approach online, it seems most people who apply to the Ministerio receive a placement. I’ve never heard someone who applied to the Ministerio’s program say, “I didn’t receive a placement this year.” (Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but I don’t think it is common.) Unlike the Ministerio, UCETAM only places its auxiliares in Madrid and not all over Spain. I have no idea how many auxiliares are employed by UCETAM (though I’ve been told the number grows every year as more and more schools sign up to take on auxiliares), but I am reasonably sure it is significantly less than 2000. Maybe a couple hundred? Maybe a little over a hundred? Your guess is as good as mine.
At any rate, I know for a fact it is definitely more competitive than the Ministry. However, I do not know how many people decide to apply each year. I do not how many people decide to stay a second year (you can work for UCETAM for a maximum of two years), so I can’t tell you how many positions are available on a yearly basis. In my personal experience, it seems I was pretty much guaranteed a spot because I was an NYU graduate. NYU is a partner institution of UCETAM (which isn’t exactly a secret, you can clearly see the NYU logo at the bottom of the website) and it seems most people who either went to grad school or undergrad at NYU get accepted right off the bat. This may give us NYU people (and other applicants from partner institutions) an unfair advantage, but honestly I had no idea NYU in Madrid was even involved in this kind of program when I picked the school to do my MA. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
2. Do I need to know how to speak Spanish?
And the answer is, yes, you do. Some people who e-mail me about UCETAM have taught or are currently teaching English in other countries and it seems they were able to “get by” speaking English. I can totally understand if you were teaching abroad in a country which does not use the Latin alphabet, such as somewhere in Asia or Russia (the Cyrillic alphabet scares me to death!) for example. If you did go out of your way to learn the local non-Latin alphabet using language, you deserve to be immortalized somewhere in a Language Learner Hall of Fame or something. Respect.
Fortunately, Spanish uses the Latin alphabet so in my opinion, it is not as intimidating to learn if you speak a language that already uses the Latin alphabet (such as English). Definitely invest in some Spanish language classes before you leave or enroll in some Spanish classes once you arrive in Spain if you have never learned Spanish before (and if you are doing UCETAM in Madrid, you are in luck because there are plenty of language academies available). Don’t expect Spanish people to be able to speak English. You expect people to learn English in the USA, right? Well, guess what? The same applies to you in Spain. In my experience, very few native Spaniards knew much English, apart from the English-speaking expats and language assistants already living in Madrid. Spain has a reputation for having the lowest level of English speakers in Europe. I know some European countries are known to have a high percentage of English speakers such as the Scandinavian countries, Germany etc. Spain is definitely not one of them. And this actually makes your job as an English teacher easier because it keeps you in business! But it does mean you will have to do your part and learn some Spanish. You don’t want to feel isolated during your year in Spain due to the language barrier.
3. Where is the link on the website that says where to apply? It’s all in Spanish, I can’t find it. Tell me where to go.
Despite adding a direct link to the website in my guest post on Liz’s blog, a lot of you can’t seem to find the “auxiliares section” of the website. I’ll admit, the first time I searched for it, it took me awhile to find what I was looking for because it is not exactly user friendly. First of all, to switch the website to English, it’s very simple. There are three flags to the left of the home page–Spain, USA, and the UK. By clicking the USA or UK flag, the website will switch to English.
You then click on “Click here to enter” on BPU Bilingual Program. From this page, look at the top of the page. You should see the links BPU, Agreements, Activities, and Auxiliaries written in blue. I know it seems weird, but you have to click on Auxiliaries and this will take you to the page that tells you how to apply to the program. But just in case all of this is too confusing, here is the direct link to the Auxiliar program: http://www.ucetampbu.es/index.php/programa-de-auxiliares/auxiliares
4. What is the program director/coordinator’s e-mail?
Previously, I had given out the program director’s e-mail because the information on the website was outdated. But it seems they updated the info on the website so I will no longer be giving that out. If you still can’t figure out how to contact anybody from the program, there is a contact info section on the website here. If the website’s info becomes outdated again, then I may again provide contact info. For the time being though, it is accurate.
5. Can I send in my application early? What if I’m not around and traveling if/when UCETAM decides to accept me and I am unavailable to respond?
I have no idea if you can send it in early but it can’t hurt to contact UCETAM and ask. And if you happen to be traveling during the period that UCETAM will be sending out acceptances/rejections, my advice is to make sure to check your e-mail regularly. If you really want it that badly, you should make yourself available. Consider it like any job interview. You wouldn’t tell an interviewer that you are going to be unavailable for the next 6 weeks because you are backpacking throughout Europe or whatever it is you have planned. It is unprofessional and makes it seem like you don’t really care that much. They can easily contact another candidate and replace you. It’s fine if you are heading out of town for awhile, but make sure to check your voice mail/e-mail, even if coverage is spotty. Most places are equipped with Wifi so it shouldn’t be too difficult to shoot an e-mail saying “I accept/decline the position.” And if you really are going to be too busy traveling, maybe consider applying the next year.
6. Does UCETAM have an age limit?
(Mark Twain may not have said this, but it sounded appropriate to me.)
I am fairly certain UCETAM does not have an age limit. The majority of UCETAM language assistants are typically in their twenties, recently graduated from undergrad, and trying to figure out what the next step in their lives are. Teaching English abroad seems like a really unique adventure and puts off the “real job search” for a few years. However, that doesn’t mean people who are not in their twenties shouldn’t apply. Everybody can use a career break. Everybody is entitled to their own unique adventure. Teaching English abroad should not have an age limit. Some programs do have an age limit (I know TAPIF in France does) but UCETAM doesn’t discriminate based on your age. Don’t let your age be a hindrance. And most of you have more life experience (and teaching experience), so in my opinion you will get more out of the program than us youngins who don’t really know what we are doing. (Please let me know if you feel you were not chosen for UCETAM because of your age and if I am mistaken. These are things I want to know).
7. Does UCETAM prefer hiring people who are already in Spain and who already have a NIE? Do they give preference to EU residents?
I’m not sure how this rumor got started but several people have asked me this, so maybe there is some truth to it. If any current or previous UCETAM participants have any information that may shed light on this, feel free to share. All of the people who applied to the program from NYU the year I applied got accepted. We were already living in Spain and we already had NIEs (or in my case a French passport). However, I also met people who were in the States when they applied and they also got accepted. I really don’t know what goes into the UCETAM admission process. If UCETAM does prefer hiring people who are already in Spain, it may make their job easier. But I really hope it isn’t true because they are missing out on hiring some awesome people who are not already in Spain.
However, I can say with all certainty UCETAM does not give preference to EU residents. The majority of program participants were Americans. I was one of the lucky few that did not have to go through the visa/NIE process because I inherited French citizenship thanks to my dad.
8. How did you decide on UCETAM versus other teaching English in Spain programs?
I’ve already touched upon this in some of the previous questions. Towards the end of MA program at NYU in Madrid, UCETAM held an info session about the program at the NYU campus. I attended, thought it sounded like a great way to stay in Spain a second year, so I applied and then got accepted. I tried applying to the Ministry program, but once I heard back from UCETAM that I was accepted, I abandoned the Ministry application. I also didn’t really want to live anywhere else in Spain and with UCETAM, I was guaranteed to stay a second year in Madrid.
9. Does UCETAM offer language/teaching instruction?
Unlike BEDA which has mandatory classes auxiliares must attend on certain weekends, UCETAM does not offer any language or teacher training. There is a one week “orientation” before classes start at the beginning of the school year and a general info session. But that’s it. Depending on the school you are placed in, you may receive instruction on what topics you should cover in class and what materials you should use or you may be given total freedom to do whatever you want in the classroom. If you are nervous about walking into the classroom with no training whatsoever, you can always enroll in a TEFL/TESOL course before starting the program. TEFL classes are offered worldwide and online and there is a variety of options you can choose from. I can’t recommend any specific TEFL course because I never actually did one so I suggest you do some research before applying.
10. Can you tell me about other teaching English in Spain programs like the Ministry, BEDA, CIEE, Fulbright…?
I’m a huge proponent of sticking to the cardinal rule of writing what I know and so I would rather not discuss programs I did not experience firsthand. However, I am happy to point you in the direction of people who did some of these programs and who will be able to answer your questions. Below are some blogs that I think are great resources for people wanting to learn more about other programs. (Note: if you would rather I not link to your blog, then please tell me and I will remove the link)
North American Language and Culture Assistants: Sunshine and Siestas part 1, Sunshine and Siestas part 2 , The Most Comprehensive Guide to NALCA on Young Adventuress , Trevor Huxham
Fulbright: Simply Spain,
This post is a work in progress, so as I get more questions, more will be added to the list.