How about a holiday in Spain, free of charge, including your own comfortable room with a superb view over the mountains or the ancient town below, hearty breakfasts and gastronomical lunches and dinners with red wine from the very same region, a lovely swimming pool, and splendid weather? And on top of that, the opportunity to get acquainted with 20 highly motivated Spanish professionals who will fill you in on "everything Spanish", plus another 20 interesting Anglos from all walks of life and every corner of the English speaking world? "Great", you may say, "but..... what's the catch"? Well, it's hard to believe, but all you really have to do is converse with your new friends in your native tongue, English!
As soon as I heard about the program of Pueblo Ingles, a Spanish organization that pairs English speaking volunteers with Spaniards eager to improve their conversational English, I could not resist the temptation and signed up for a week. The only requirements: NOT speaking Spanish, enjoying meeting and talking with new people, and making one's own way to and from Madrid. Although the program does not come cheap for Spaniards - mostly executives with an intermediate knowledge of the English language, and often sent by their companies - the Anglo group is paid for their contributions with free room and board. The program runs in various venues throughout the country (small villages close to Salamanca and Soria in the North, and Jaen in the South) from January until November. There are also teen camps during the summer months.
On the first day of our program, all participants gathered in the early morning on Calle Almagro in downtown Madrid. From there, a bus would bring us to the ancient mountain village of Cazorla in the province of Andalucia, about 4 hours south of Madrid. While waiting for our transport, most of the Spaniards clustered quietly together, obviously intimidated at hearing all the different English accents around them from Aussies, Brits, Irish, Texans, New Yorkers, and Canadians. "That was not exactly the English we had learned in the classroom!" would be their comment later that week on the variety of pronunciations and slang words they suddenly heard that morning. The engaging program directors had no pity with their timid compatriots, however, and cheerfully enforced the "no-Spanish rule" as soon as we boarded the bus, making sure that each Spaniard was seated next to an Anglo. That soon broke the ice and paved the way to what was still to come: an intense week of non-stop English conversation and the forging of new, close friendships between people ranging from twenty-something to over 70.
Upon arrival, we were each assigned a room en-suite in one of the villas of our 4 star hotel, from where we could enjoy wonderful panoramic views: an old castle in the mountains, the white-washed medieval town of Cazorla, and the sierra with its endless rows of olive trees.