When I was choosing my regions for the Northern American Cultural Ambassador program, I was pretty lost. I had only visited Europe once for my dad’s wedding in Scotland, and I had never been to Spain. Being asked to select a region where I’d like to spend the next year in a country I’d never visited where I couldn’t speak the language? Please. It was like throwing darts at a map.
Well, that’s a lie because I didn’t make the decision at all. I left it up to my boyfriend Chris, who had at least spent six weeks in Barcelona studying abroad. He showed me pictures and made a list of all the pros and cons of each region. I checked it out, but to be honest, it didn’t matter to me all that much. I was in it for the adventure. And I knew I would get an adventure no matter where we ended up.
It turns out it was all for naught, because we didn’t get any of the regions we requested: Asturias, Cantabria, Las Islas Baleares. We were assigned schools in Logroño, La Rioja.
If you are looking for a complete overview of all the regions, I would recommend this blog post. But if you’re looking for more in-depth information about what it’s like to work as an Auxiliar de Conversación in La Rioja, I hope this helps!
Do you get paid on time? Yes.
With the exception of the first month, in which we got paid on the 4th of November, we have received our monthly stipend within the first three days of the month. La Rioja is responsible for paying me – my teachers made it clear the schools were NOT – and my paycheck is deposited directly into my Spanish bank account.
Cost of living
Can you live in La Rioja on the $700 per month stipend? Yes.
You definitely can. However, I recommend picking up private lessons if you want some cash left over to travel. Here is a breakdown of what my monthly expenses look like:
- Apartment: $170 – $350 per month
My rent is $225 per month to share a three-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend. In total, we pay $450 together and have tons of space – a guest room for visitors and an office for writing/giving lessons. One bummer – it doesn’t have a balcony, but we are within walking distance to the city’s bus and train stations. This has turned out to be the ultimate amenity for traveling, because we can leave our place and arrive at each within a few minutes. No more running through the streets like a crazy person trying to get there before departure time.
Other auxiliares share apartments and pay as little as $170 a month. The most expensive place we looked at was $350 per month each – it was BEAUTIFUL & centrally located – just more than we could justify when we knew we wanted to have money for travel. We looked on idealista, as well as the University of La Rioja listings, but ended up taking an apartment from an inmobiliaria that we stumbled into.
- Cell phone: $10/month
I use a pay-as-you-go service from Republica Movil. My plan includes 1.2 gigs of data and 100 minutes of talk-time. It’s plenty to send WhatsApp messages every day, check apps like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat and listen to Spotify when I walk to work.
If you think you need more data – and it’s always better to be safe than sorry – there is an option for $10 that includes 2 gigs of data without any minutes. Here is a list of their options if you want to check it out:
- Internet: $20 per month/person
Our WiFi bill is $40 a month through Vodafone for fibre optic service. Our place was already wired for it, so setup was easy. It’s super fast and reliable.
- Bills: $50/month
OK. I fudged this number. In the first two months that we lived here, our landlord only brought us one itemized bill that included electricity, water and municipal services like trash and sewage. It was for $99, or $50 each for the two months. However, this bill didn’t include any gas costs (which we use for cooking, hot water and heating), so that monthly figure will go up after we know the total.
- Groceries: $20/week
Food is pretty affordable here. You can buy a loaf of french bread for $0.40, a package of queso for $2 and some chorizo for another $2. Viola – lunch for a few days. Your grocery bill will fluctuate depending on your dietary preferences, but in my experience, you can easily get staples like pasta, rice, milk and cereal for about $5, total.
- A night out: $20 for 4-5 pincho bars including food & drinks
A typical night out in Logroño starts on Calle Laural with pinchos and wine/beers. You can get by on less than $20, but I’d say this is a good figure in case you plan to hit up any of the discos after the pincho bars close after midnight.
- A cup of coffee: $1.10 – $1.50
Depending on where you go, you can get a café con leche for a little over a euro. A full breakfast including a croissant and glass or orange juice will run you less than $3 at most places.
I work at two semi-private schools in Logroño. This means they are somewhat state-supported, but somewhat private and definitely catholic. Another thing they have in common is that they both have good English programs.
- What are the teachers like?
The teachers I work with speak extensive English (don’t be mistaken by their accents), and do a great job of translating between students and myself when there is a language barrier. They have ample resources in the schools, and a strong idea of what they expect from the students.
- What are the students like?
Students’ ability and motivation vary. Some kids are eager to practice and will corner you on your way out of the classroom to try to get in a few more words. Others refuse to make an effort and clam up if you call on them.
In general, I’ve noticed that primary school students are eager to participate. They love being called on, they love answering questions. This changes once they hit puberty. Gross, I know. The 13-14-15 year olds are the toughest crowd. They are not impressed by ANYTHING. They won’t answer if you ask for a volunteer, and they do everything begrudgingly because they want to ‘play it cool.’ This reverses once they hit the 15-16 year old range. The 4th ESO group I work with are some of my favorites because they’re genuinely interested and have something to say.
- What is expected of you in the classroom?
Some of the teachers know exactly how they want to use me in the classroom, and give me specific instructions to prepare activities. For example: We are working on physical descriptions. Can you create something on this?
Others give me free reign. They tell me roughly what the students are studying (present simple, past tense, questions) and leave it up to me to put together an activity to use with half the class, while the other half does workbook activities with the teacher.
And another seems to have me there as a kind of an ‘English mascot.’ She isn’t super communicative about what the class is studying, and I spent the first three months sitting next to her as she had the students come up and read short essays. I was supposed to correct their pronunciation, although she prefers British English and tends to override my opinions. From time to time, she will divide the class in two and say half the class is mine. Then I’m forced to come up with an activity on the spot. For me, this is the worst-case scenario.
My school schedule changes a little bit every week. I have afternoon classes on different days, but it generally looks something like this:
- Mondays: School A (9-10, 10-11), School B (3:30-4:430)
- Tuesdays: School A (10-11)
- Wednesdays: School B (3:30 – 5:30)
- Thursdays: School A (8-9, 9-10, Break, 11-12, 12-1, 1-2), School B (4:30-5:30)
But you can see that you have plenty of time for private lessons and other side-hustles you have going on.
Do you need to speak Spanish to live in La Rioja? Long answer, short: Yes.
Logroño is what I’d call a ‘full immersion’ experience. Everyone speaks Spanish, and they will expect that you can, too. Outside of your students, teachers and auxiliar friends, no one will speak English to you. Not the bartenders, not the cashiers, not even the people at the Extranjeros Office.
That being said, I don’t really speak Spanish – and I’ve survived. So it’s possible to get by and learn A TON. This is a great place to go if you need a kick in the rear to dust off your Spanish skills and get serious about becoming fluent.
Is it easy to find private lessons in La Rioja? Yes.
The upside to no one speaking English is that, as a native speaker, you are in high demand. During the first week of school, a teacher approached me to give lessons to her son. I have found my four others lessons through Tus Clases Particulares. The going rate is between $10-$15 per hour.
Is it easy to travel from La Rioja? Not really.
To fly somewhere, you have to first take a 2-3 hour bus ride to another city with a larger airport. If the bus doesn’t take you directly, you have to catch a local bus to the airport and plan in extra time for the change-overs, delays, etc.
From Logroño, the nearest is Zaragoza. It has RyanAir flights to popular destinations like Milan and Paris. However, you might find better fares if you make the trek all the way down to Madrid. Another option is to fly out of Bilbao – which is a great way to visit London.
What this comes down to is that you spend the majority of a day traveling. And between the flight and the bus ride, you spend another $40 on transportation to and from Logroño. Is this a huge problem? Hell no. We have managed to take a lot of great trips during our first few months here. But it’s something to be aware of.
What’s the weather like in La Rioja? Relatively mild
I say relatively because it depends on where you’re from, and where you’re living in La Rioja.
I am from Minnesota originally, and spent the last four years living in Boston. So it takes a lot of cold and snow to bother me. If you are from California, Florida or Texas, it might be a different story.
Logroño, the capital city of La Rioja, is situated in a valley that shields it from a lot of inclement weather. It might be snowing in pueblos in the mountains, but it’s just hazy or drizzly in the city. The fall was pretty mild – a little rainy, but pretty warm. And I’ve heard that it gets really hot during the summers. If you’re moving here, bring layers.
What is there to do in La Rioja? Drink wine. Hike. Walk along the river. Drink more wine. Eat pinchos. Have people over to your piso. Visit local vineyards. Drink wine.
La Rioja isn’t an art hub. It has nightlife, but that’s not its primary draw. The region is famous for its wine and food. When you’re here, you take advantage of that – and that famous slow-paced Spanish lifestyle.
On a side note, the people here are very warm and welcoming. Logroño is known as a city that’s untainted by tourism. Authentic food, authentic people, and an authentic experience. It’s a beautiful area where you have a real chance to dig your heels in and try to carve out an expat life for the year.
Do you have any other questions about what it’s been like to live in La Rioja? Did I miss anything? Leave me a comment to let me know.