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The Pros, Cons and Pitfalls of Intercambio

Since moving to Vejer I have been introduced to practices and events that are ‘normal’ for here but new and sometimes alien to me. Intercambio being an example and, rather like the metaphoric skinning of a cat, there’s more than one way to ‘exchange’ as I’ve come to discover.

My initial introduction to Intercambio, Spanish-style, came shortly after arriving when a friend suggested the weekly event would be a great place to meet new people and practice actually speaking Spanish.

Every Thursday evening an eclectic and ever-changing group of people come together at a local tea shop/bar to exchange language and conversation. The group switches from Spanish to English at fifteen minute intervals. As you never know who you’ll be sitting next to and there are no set rules about the topics you cover, the evenings are always lively and challenging. And I ‘get’ them. I understand that the payback for the listener having to suffer through 15 agonisingly slow minutes of my appalling Spanish, is my complete and undivided attention when their turn comes to butcher the English language. I love the equality of the evening – sometimes you drag yourself through treacle trying to converse with someone who either won’t speak or appears to have nothing very interesting to say and on other occasions you’re immediately immersed in a fascinating (if stilted) conversation with someone of real interest to you.

The benefits (to me) of my second introduction to an intercambiar are slightly less tangible at this, admittedly early, stage of the exchange. Having volunteered at a Punto Solidario (an organisation working to improve the quality of life for all in Vejer through projects and a FairTrade shop) the head lady recommended me to a local man looking for an English tutor for his son. “It’s an intercambiar” I was told. ‘Okay’ I thought not entirely sure what I was being offered in exchange. Off I trotted to meet with said father who speaks no English and is a form of alternative therapist that I’m not entirely sure I’d understand even in my native tongue but his explanation was way beyond my limited Spanish comprehension.

In for a cent, in for a euro as they quite possibly say over here. I have committed to two hours a day, five days a week for the next fortnight, to tutor a thirteen year old boy in the run up to his English exam on 1st of September. In return I’m being offered something that I don’t understand and am not even sure that I want.

“They saw you coming” was my husband’s helpful and motivating comment once I’d explained the arrangement. Although I don’t think they can have done, because their offices are at the back of the building and don’t overlook the road I walked down to get there?

In the spirit of: adventure, putting it out there, trusting the universe and givers gain, I’m honouring my agreement confident that I’ll benefit in ways that might not be immediately obvious. After just one hour for example, when supportive hubby asked “So, what have you learned so far then profesora?” I was able to reply that my pupil is an only child, his father has 3 sisters and a brother, his mother has only one brother, I know the names of both sets of grandparents , that my pupil has a medium sized, black, water dog and that Spanish Water Dogs don’t moult. Not bad huh!

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