When you’re on a student budget you have to be a little more creative when it comes to affording travel. I used to trawl gumtree.com looking for free travel opportunities, or even better, ones that paid.
I came across VaughanTown. An English immersion ‘camp’ that drafted in anglophiles to chat with Spaniards for five days in return for luxury accommodation and as much food and drink as you could possibly consume. You just had to pay for your flight to Madrid and everything else would be taken care of.
I managed to blag my excellent friend Lisa to join me and after filling in my application, and hers, we quickly got an email back saying we’d been accepted.
Working at VaughanTown
On a cold January morning off we flew to Madrid. I got chatting to the guy sat next to me on the plane, it just so happened he was doing the same thing and was VaughanTown bound. After an insane night out with him enjoying the best of Madrid’s nightlife, which I couldn’t possibly write about here, Lisa and I went along to the meet up in the centre of Madrid to meet the other anglophiles and to find out a bit more about what we’d actually let ourselves in for.
Every ten steps we debated backing out. What did we have to lose? All they had were our names, and what was this VaughanTown anyway? Murderous and cult-like thoughts were passing through our minds.
We arrived at the bar and awkwardly chatted to the others. We had some sangria, some tapas and an update on what was going to happen. At 22 we were the youngest there by far, but the oldies seemed a good laugh and we went out to paella with them, before enjoying another night out in Madrid’s nightlife.
We crawled in the door at about 4am, just remembering to set the alarm for 7am so we could meet the group at 8am at the bus for the four-hour journey out there.
At 8.15am – after chucking our bags down the six flights of stairs and taxiing it to the bus in the same clothes we’d slept in – we made it just as they were about to leave. This did not make us very popular.
We arrived at the monastery where this particular VaughanTown was taking place and were shown to our beautiful rooms. The place was absolutely incredible. High ceilings, incredible craftwork, marble staircases and stunning views out over the snow-covered Spanish countryside easily made it the best place I’d ever stayed in my life.
We were treated to the best of Spanish cuisine. We had starters, mains and desserts at every sitting for a week and table wine to boot. Every meal time you were expected to sit with an equal mix of anglophiles and Spaniards. The whole point of VaughanTown is to give Spaniards an understanding of conversational English. It’s fine them learning from textbooks and DVDS, but they needed to hear it in action.
Meal times were long, as is the Spanish way, and I was usually on the table that lasted the longest.
There was a lot going on in the evenings at VaughanTown. I was in a play one night, then we’d play games another, and just hang out in the bar another. The people in my group were really friendly and we were happy to hang around and chat, and drink of course. This is when the real conversations happen.
Who goes to VaughanTown?
Spaniards: anyone. From college students with a bit of cash who want to better their English to high up business people who need to improve their English to get on at work.
Anglophiles: again, anyone. Our group ranged from 22 year old university leavers (us) to bored 30 year olds to a 50ish year old Australian lady who wanted to enjoy some unique experiences in Europe to a 70ish year old old man who did it every month to keep him busy. And to have someone listen to him.
Is VaughanTown any fun?
I had such a good time at my first VaughanTown – I went back for a second go six months later, which was equally fun. It would depend on your Spaniard as to how each hour was going. To get conversation out of some of them was like getting blood out of a stone. There were quite a few awkward silences with some of them, but they could also be the most satisfying people to work with as when they did speak to you as the week went on you could see you were making progress.
Having to explain things we do in the English language could be hard. I remember one guy – a Spanish politician – wanted to understand idioms. We had a full hour of going through the likes of ‘Make hay while the sun shines’ and ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ and what they all meant. It was painful.
VaughanTown is a great way to enjoy an almost free and very luxurious holiday. All that’s required of you is to be with your client at the scheduled time and to talk, as much as possible.