Iberia: English Immersion

 “A man’s feet should be planted in his country, but his eyes should survey the world.”
 
George Santayana.

 

 Hispanic-American philosopher Geoerge Santayana’s wisdom was earned by experience, for he spent his childhood in Madrid, Spain, his adulthood as a Harvard professor in America, and his retirement years in Rome. When I finally had the opportunity to visit the Iberian Peninsula, I understood why Santayana could never have given up his Spanish citizenship, for although I arrived in Spain a total stranger, with no kin or friend in sight, a month later I left with a sense of wonder at this beautiful land. Moreover, when I returned to Texas, it was with the knowledge that I would never again see life, or the world, in the same way. One could easily search far and wide before discovering a people whose history has been filled with as much suffering, through eight-hundred years of Moorish occupation and nearly seven-hundred years of Roman rule, yet still exhibit such joy at life.

 

Street Dancer in Puerta Del Sol, Madrid, Spain

Street Dancer in Puerta Del Sol

 

Street Entertainer at Plaza Mayor in Madrid

Street Entertainer at Plaza Mayor

English Immersion in Iberia 

In mid October, 2013,  I received an email from Diverbo, an organization in Madrid that provides English immersion programs to Spaniards who wish to improve their use of the language. I had been invited to spend sixteen days in a quiet little villa near the village of L’Espluga de Francoli for the purpose of engaging in  conversation with Spanish educators from Valencia, thus allowing them to combine the grammatical skills they had already developed with fluency that is achieved by conversing with native English speakers. My reasons for accepting this invitation were simple. First, I had never traveled to Europe, and it had always been my dream to do so. Second, the ability to immerse myself into the culture in which I am visiting is foremost in my travel goals. I decided to accept the invitation and use the villa in the Poblet National Park as a hub from which to explore the Iberian Peninsula.

Ole!

Ole!

 

 About the Iberian Peninsula

The  Iberian Peninsula is the home of two countries, Portugal and Spain. Its western shores embrace the ancient Mediterranean and its eastern shores provide easy access to the Atlantic trade routes. Thus, with the exception of the Pyrenees Mountains, which divide France and Spain, the peninsula is surrounded by water. At its southernmost tip the Strait of Gibraltar separates it from northern Africa. The strait has been both a blessing and a curse for the inhabitants of Iberia, leaving it very vulnerable to invasions throughout the centuries. Foreign infiltration has left a lasting impact on the Iberian culture.

 

Home-grown Spanish Olives

Home-grown Spanish Olives

 

Yum! What to Choose

Yum! What to Choose?

 

A Meat Lover's Paradise

A Meat and Cheese Lover’s Paradise

 

To describe the architectural achievements of the Iberians is to touch upon the Moorish and Roman occupations, as well as the traditional European concepts of beauty, especially the magnificent monuments of Orthodox Catholicism. As I feel an incredible affinity to the spiritual world, these holy places always fascinate me, and stopping on a busy day to experience the tranquility they provide leaves me refreshed. One can wander the tiny cobblestone streets of any city in Spain and discover remnants of the historic past simply by viewing the architectural designs of the Spanish buildings.

 

Almudena Cathedral in Madrid

Almudena Cathedral in Madrid

 

Almudena Cathedral

Almudena Cathedral

 

Palacio Royal de Madrid

Palacio Royal de Madrid

 

English Immersion Programs: Angloville and Diverbo

 Diverbo provides English immersion programs for both teachers and business professionals at several different venues in both Spain and Germany. Angloville also provides very similar volunteer programs in Poland and Hungary. It is not necessary to be a teacher or have a degree in English. Since the task of the volunteer is to carry on conversations rather than teach the language, both organizations simply look for native English speakers. The application process is very easy, and the people with whom you will work if you should choose this route are very professional and great to work with. An added bonus is that you enjoy international travel and make many friends, not only with the citizens of Spain, Germany, Hungary, or Poland, but also with Anglos from all over the world.
 

Ways to Save Money on Traveling

Hostels in Madrid and Barcelona averaged costing me $40 each night, and I shared a lovely apartment in Barcelona with friends for $50 each night. My savings are always greatest in food. I am a very selective about my food. I tend to lean toward Southern cuisine and am happy with cheese, fruit, crackers and wine. So my cost, other than the flight, averaged $32 per day. The hostel in which I stayed in Lisbon, the Living Lounge, was recommended by friends. It was nice, clean, comfortable, and situated in the perfect location, on Rue de Crucifixo. Flights to Europe, although rather expensive, are easily covered by using the travel rewards system. Travel websites such as Nomadic Matt and the Points Guy provide excellent strategies that will allow one to successfully navigate the rewards system process. By purchasing an open jaw flight on America Airlines, my itinerary allowed me to visit two countries and three major international cities.

 

 My sixteen days at the Diverbo’s volunteer English immersion program cost nothing, as all expenses, including meals, were paid by the organization. Therefore, my savings in accommodations and food, based on average costs on the Iberian Peninsula, were approximately $2,000. When added to the savings on accommodations and meals for my five month visit in Alaska, my entire savings for my travels thus far in 2013, have  been approximately $9,000. As a female solo traveler on a limited budget, these types savings are important to me. The purpose of A Pilgrim’s Parable is to provide information and incentive so that you may experience worldwide travel also, if you should choose to do so.

 

Living Lounge Hostel in Lisbon

Living Lounge Hostel in Lisbon

Suggested Resources

English Immersion Programs

Diverbo
Angloville

How to Save Money Using Points