Volunteering at VaughanTown Puerta de Gredos was not only my fourth time participating in this immersive English program, but it was also an experience filled with laughter, cultural exchange, and making new friends. Nestled in the beautiful Gredos mountain range two kilometers east of El Barco de Ávila (population 2250), this secluded venue provided the perfect setting for deep connections and unforgettable moments.
A Familiar Format
Having first volunteered at the now-defunct Valdelavilla venue in 2013, I was delighted to find that the core format of VaughanTown had remained largely unchanged. Each one day was filled with memorable activities, including delicious meals, engaging one-to-one conversations, entertaining comedy, and fascinating presentations. And let’s not forget the exciting tradition of queimada, which added an extra touch of mystique (and fire) to an evening.
A Welcoming Isolation
Similar to Valdelavilla and Ánades, the Puerta de Gredos venue offered an isolated environment, setting it apart from the bustling city of Aranjuez. This isolation provided fewer opportunities for getting drunk, although that didn’t stop the enthusiastic volunteers and students from trying at the hotel bar!
Unlike Hotel Ánades, Hotel Puerta de Gredos was large enough that each volunteer could have their own room. There were 15 students and 14 volunteers.
A Fantastic Team
Under the guidance of Fernando, who had previously served as the program director during my time at Ánades, and with Andreea as the MC, the VaughanTown Puerta de Gredos team was nothing short of well-organized. Their dedication and enthusiasm ensured that the program ran smoothly and that every participant felt welcome and supported.
Perfect Weather and Outdoor Activities
One of the highlights of my time at Puerta de Gredos was the consistently beautiful weather. Blessed with sunny days and comfortable temperatures, I made it a point to start each morning with a refreshing run. On Tuesday, I ventured on an exhilarating bicycling excursion with Jorge and Vicente on mountain bikes from the hotel. We explored the scenic surroundings and embraced the challenges of the ride, which included quite a bit of climbing.
Students with Diverse Goals
The students attending VaughanTown Puerta de Gredos came from various professional backgrounds and shared a common goal of improving their English language skills. Many of them were employees of companies that had been acquired by British or American firms, emphasizing the importance of effective communication in their roles. Notable participants included the CEO of Europe’s largest drone company, who was preparing for a crucial meeting in Dubai and an executive program at Stanford, and the owner of a commercial construction company, who had exciting plans to tour Alaska and wished to enhance his English proficiency before embarking on this adventure.
A Global Volunteer Family
True to the spirit of VaughanTown, the volunteer team comprised individuals from diverse backgrounds. While most volunteers hailed from England and Ireland, I was delighted to meet fellow volunteers from Scotland, the United States, and Canada. This melting pot of cultures fostered an enriching exchange of ideas and perspectives, enhancing the overall experience for everyone involved.
The program was not solely about language learning; it was also about creating lifelong memories. The Thursday night dance party was an absolute blast, with participants even forming a Conga line as they joyfully made their way back from the party room to the hotel, music blaring from a Bluetooth speaker. These evenings of camaraderie and celebration created bonds that transcended language barriers.
A Culinary Delight
No account of my time at VaughanTown Puerta de Gredos would be complete without mentioning the exceptional food. Each meal was a delight for the taste buds, offering a variety of delicious dishes that catered to different dietary preferences. The culinary team ensured that we were not only well-fed but also treated to a unique gastronomic experience.
I Even Learned Some English
Some British English words I learned included courgette (zucchini), balmy (eccentric or crazy), and aubergine (eggplant).
Australians say capsicum instead of pepper.