There is a place in Spain that offers a nice break from large cities like Madrid and whisks you away to forest-covered hills and mountain views. Here you can enjoy three-course meals, pool facilities, and a retreat to a villa. Best of all, you can get this for free.
The catch? At this Spanish location, no Spanish is allowed!
This shouldn’t be much of a problem for native English speakers, but each of these people, referred to as an “Anglo”, will have to spend all day talking with native Spanish speakers who want to improve their English. The English-only rule is a bit more difficult for the Spaniards!
In order to expose the Spaniards enrolled in the program to different accents and expressions, the program, called Pueblo Inglés, recruits Anglo volunteers from places like England, Wales, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. I was one of the volunteers representing the United States in a recent program. Volunteering does require putting in long hours of sometimes difficult conversation. Most of my day consisted of talking one-to one, having group discussions and partipating in activities that somehow helped practice English. But in return, I received transportation from Madrid to a scenic resort, three-course meals and a stay in a villa all for free!
Of course the Spaniards do have to pay for this language learning experience, but it is an incredibly effective program as it is an intensive eight days of speaking nothing but English. I saw many people who started the program having difficulty understanding me even when I was speaking slowly, but towards the end of the week we were chatting like I would with someone from home.
Over the course of the week, Anglos and Spaniards do everything together. At meals, each four-person table had two Spaniards and two Anglos. Group activities included discussions, icebreakers, parties, and even a tour of the nearby town La Alberca. Now THAT is an experience I must tell you about!
Most of us chose to walk from our hotel to the town through a backroad. On the way, our master of ceremonies told us about the La Alberca black pig. This area is famous for their ham, and one way they promote it is by having the community raise a pig each year that roams around town. We were warned that the pig isn’t always in an easy-to-find area, but at that point I was praying for a special experience of finding the pig! And boy, was that prayer answered!
After looking at few of the notable La Alberca sights, our group sat on the cathedral steps a block away from the town square while we listened to the beginning of a story of an earthquake in the town. Suddenly, someone sitting in the back began shouting. Among other choice words, he notified us that there was a pig climbing up another set of steps. Of course, the story had to be paused while we all attempted to take a selfie with the famous pig. But after a few minutes of trying to get the pig to smile, out MC convinced us to sit down again as the pig started to wander away from the excitement.
Little did we know, once we were settled down, the pig wanted to cause some chaos. She wandered up behind us. Then, she decided to root for food right where I was sitting! I never expected to get that personal with a pig! But it only got worse. Since she couldn’t find any food underneath me, she did a taste test of me! She bit the closest part of my body she could find. Since I was trying to stay seated on the step and not interrupt the entire group, there was one particular body part right next to her face. At this point, there was no way that the group wouldn’t be disrupted as everyone was already pointing and laughing and getting out their cameras. The pig continued to make her way through the group, sampling the bags and shoes she came across. Our MC finally hollered, “Forget about the earthquake story; let’s move this way and leave the pig!” The rest of the tour finished the way a normal walking tour typically does. When we had some free time after that, I busied myself exploring the cobblestone back roads, but from a distance I spied the pig, who had found new victims to harass. To continue our time in town, we were treated to a wine, cheese, and meat sampling where we learned the secret way to cut the perfect slice of ham straight from the leg. I dont normally eat pork, but since the pig tried eating me, I sought my revenge by eating a tiny bit of pig.
I just finished my last day of Pueblo Inglés, and it was surprisingly hard to say goodbye. I had come to teach the Spaniards English, but they taught me even more about the world and life in general. The week had a feeling akin to an adult summer camp, so along with that came the kindling of new friendships that I believe will last a long time. I hope to see many of them again, either by traveling to their home country or by inviting them into my home. And I may have to attend another program in the future!
Spending a week volunteering (or possibly enrolling in) Pueblo Inglés may be one of the most meaningful and most fun things you can do in Spain. Just make sure to keep a safe distance from that pig’s snout!