Monday, December 30, 2013

And What Exactly DO You Do? A Day in My Life Abroad

A lot of people from home, and others looking into working abroad in Spain, have asked me what I do on an average work day.  Usually I met with a mix of shock and amazement.  They tend to think my life abroad is super glamorous: always going out, constantly traveling, stocking up on a fashionable European wardrobe; that's really not the case (I wish, right?!).

And I mean yes, I do go out sometimes and yes, we have such an amazing opportunity to travel here, but I am still working.  I still have responsibilities, bills to pay, and errands to do during the week.  The reality is that my daily life in Madrid is relatively normal; I wake up, go to work, cook lunch, do errands, plan lessons, and go to sleep.  In many ways it's much like my life last year and of my friends who are working back at home.
For those of you wondering if you want to make the move to Spain too, here is a breakdown of my day-to-day life here in Madrid:
7:25 am (I know, I'm weird) I wake up and start to get ready for a day of work.  I would say 'Bright and early' but the sun is really not out until I start walking to the train.  With my program I only work 16 hours a week and have all Mondays off, it's pretty awesome.

8:10 am I leave the apartment to catch the cercanías/train in Sol.  Luckily our apartment is really close so it's a quick walk.

8:19 am I catch the train south to Getafe, it's about 18/20 minutes on the train and then another 10 minutes walking to the school.  I don't actually mind the commute, one of my favorite parts about Spain is all the walking and public transportation.

8:50/8:55 am I arrive at the elementary school and make sure I brought everything I needed (so far so good!) and that I have everything prepared for my classes.

9:00 am The school day begins and I go to my first class, either First or Fourth grade English or Science.  All my classes are different depending on the day of the week, but they're all always with the First and Fourth graders.

10:00 am Second class of the day.  Usually it's First or Fourth grade English or Science but on Thursday I have Physical Education (PE) class with my Fourth graders.

11:00 am Third class of the day, again First or Fourth grade.

11:45 am Break/recess, students go out to play on the playground and the teachers get a delicious breakfast in the lunch room.

12:15 pm Fourth class.  On Wednesdays I have a break during this period and I use it as more planning time.

1:15 pm Last class (yayy)

2:00 pm End of the school day!

On the days I don't have private classes I take the train back to Madrid capital to have lunch with the BF, run errands, and prepare for the next day.  However, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have my private lessons so I don't come home until much later.

On Tuesdays I have two private English classes I teach.  One at 4:00 pm and another at 6:00 pm
2:00 pm Planning time at the school, I use this hour to finish any preparation for my private lessons or classes.

3:00 pm Lunch in the school lunch room with the other teachers and administrators.

4:00 pm My first class that is just perfectly right near my school. When this first class ends I have a coffee with the family then leave straight to my second class, which is about 40 minutes away.

6:00 pm.  Second class of the day with two siblings.  It's fun class that's all about different games.

8:00 pm This is around when I arrive home.  It takes roughly 40 minutes to get back home when the class ends so I usually get home very late and very exhausted.
How I feel at the end of every Tuesday..., source
Thankfully it's a day with a much easier workload, especially now that I might be dropping my second class (really not worth the stress it puts me through, just not a good fit).
2:00 pm Planning time while I eat a lunch I packed from home since there's not enough time to grab a delicious lunch from the school.

3:30 pm This is actually the same 4:00 pm class from Tuesdays, just thirty minutes earlier.

5:30 pm Arrive home from my class and prepare for the next day of work.  Usually feeling great on Thursdays because Fridays are so easy in comparison!

As for what I actually do in my in-school classes depends on the class and teacher I'm working with.  In my classes I'm used differently by all of the teachers I work with, some I prefer more while others tend to leave me guessing.  It's definitely been interesting getting used to all the different styles and trying to figure out what is expected of me in the different classes.

I have one teacher who asks me to teach the class's lesson in advance and I will look through the book and plan how I will present the material to the students.  With another auxiliar in the same grade we also plan activities for the students on American culture for special occasions and holidays (for example this super cool "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" game), as well as do special tasks they want us to do like creating the above book cover for the class book on growing up.  Sometimes they put a lot on our plate but the teachers are really understanding and grateful for everything we do.
It is, right? source
I have another teacher that doesn't usually ask me in advance, but will ask me in class to teach the lesson.  At first it completely caught me off guard and I would sweat my way through the lessons until I figured out exactly how she wanted me to teach the material.  Luckily I started to have a hang of it before she left for a few weeks and I had to solo teach her class.  Usually she doesn't have me plan anything special for holidays because she's so on top of it, she plans the most amazing things for the students.  While the last minute planning was a bit unnerving at first, I now know exactly what is expected of me with this teacher too.

It's my final teacher that I still sometimes don't know what is expected of me.  Sometimes she tells me what she would like of me, other times I have to figure out, some days I'm asked to plan something, other days I'm expected to plan something without knowing.  I finally brought it up to her and she explained what she wanted and I'm thinking over the Christmas vacation how I can realize those expectations in the classroom.

This whole experience has been full of so much learning for me as a teacher.  It's definitely made it easier that I came into the program with prior teaching experience, but the education system and styles in Spain are so different that I've had a lot of catching up to do.  It's important to remember that each teacher has a different method to the madness and it really helps to talk to them and get on the same page.  Being so shy I have had trouble going up to the "much-more-forward-Spaniards" but it has really helped discussing what we both want to accomplish in the classroom.
This is what it's all about after all

How does my life compare to yours?  Do you have questions about teaching English in Spain?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Día de Acción de Gracias: Thanksgiving Abroad

Thanksgiving.  A huge American tradition where you gather with your family to remember all the things you have to be thankful for, supposedly like the pilgrims of Plymouth hundreds of years ago.
The problem is though, what happens when you're an American in another country over 3,000 miles away from your family?  Well that's when the big girl pants come on and you pretend like you know how to cook a roast bird in a teeny tiny oven and invite everyone you know over to judge your cooking abilities.  Forget last Thanksgiving where I thought it was a big deal to cook with a fully prepared kitchen and ample seating.  I'm talking about how you find cranberry sauce and make pumpkin pie happen when you can't find the key ingredients?

But I digress.

Barely a week before Thanksgiving I thought: "Hey.  Wouldn't it be a great idea to invite squeeze ten people into our 40 mapartment some of our friends over to celebrate?"

And it was great, but not always easy.  Especially finding all the traditional Thanksgiving fixings.  I took care of the desserts and meat (and a few random things like green beans and baked brie) which overall wasn't too bad finding most of the foods.  I had some serious difficulty acquiring ingredients for the pumpkin pie and cranberries though.  Luckily Madrid is a huge city and has plenty of American stores and managed to snag the last can of cranberry sauce in the store near my house. (Muahahaha)  And on the subject of the meat... I honestly gave up entirely on a huge roasted turkey and settled for a close-enough roasted chicken and turkey filets (with a delicious vinegar reduction sauce I might add).
Thankfully it was potluck style so different friends were helping with different foods.  One friend made absolutely delicious squash and mashed potatoes, another supplied appetizers, and the rest supplied the beverages.  As per typical American tradition we had way too much food for all in attendance and all left completely stuffed.  And we even ended the day watching a little bit of good ol' American football.

And even though it was great, it was (for lack of a better word) different.  It was the first time I was away from my family for the holiday, the first time I was in charge of the meat, the first time I independently hosted it, and the first time celebrating in a place where Thanksgiving doesn't exist.  As an American abroad, not only are you missing the family and traditions you grew up with but you realize exactly how foreign you, and your culture, are.

But most importantly celebrating a holiday like Thanksgiving abroad reminds you why it was so special in the first place.  Too often we're so used to how things have always been done that we just go through the motions.  Celebrating, and teaching about, Thanksgiving here reminded me why I love this holiday and why this holiday is so important to us: to celebrate all the things we have to be thankful for.  And living abroad here in Madrid, how can I not be thankful for this experience and for all the great people I've met so far along the way.  An experience like this comes once in a lifetime and I'm truly grateful for everything, the good and the bad, that comes from living in a new country.

And just to everybody else to be thankful, I'll leave you all with an adorable anecdote of teaching my students about Thanksgiving.  

On the actual day of Thanksgiving I helped teach the children about the history of the holiday and what it means "to be thankful."  In one of my first grade classes they got to thank each other for the nice things they do and many of them also wanted to thank me: "Thank you for loving me, thank you for helping me, and thank you for being in my class." THEN when some of my fourth graders realized that I wouldn't be able to celebrate with my family they told me they were sorry, gave me hugs, and wished me a Happy Thanksgiving anyway. Leave it to a bunch of sweet Spanish students to remind me of the meaning of Thanksgiving.

I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving too, whether near or far from your loved ones.  I'm thankful for all of you!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Where Have I Been?

Where have you been?  Why haven't you been posting?  Are you not doing your blog anymore?

Woah.  Slow down there everybody.

I'm still in Madrid and am still working on this blog, problem is they "why" part.  Why haven't I been posting?  It's a question I sometimes ask myself.  There are so many days I come to my blog and start a post but half way through stall, only to finish eventually or delete it permanently.

Even though I technically work only 20 hours a week (26 with all the travel time and 30 if planning is included), my life here isn't super glamorous here.  I don't travel every weekend, I don't go out every night, I don't buy all the clothes I can (trust me, this is really hard here).
Christmas lights in Plaza Mayor
You want to know what I did this week?  The highlights so far have been enjoying the Christmas lights (oh my they're gorgeous) and buying some yarn to knit a hat.  I know, I'm secretly a grandma.  (Is my youth redeemed if I drink a beer while I knit?  I'm going to pretend it does...)

But really.  Despite what most people may think about me living in Spain, during the week my life is pretty routine: I go to work, have private lessons, come home, eat lunch, run errands, eat dinner, get ready for bed, and repeat.  So what do I have to write about that, it's just like most people I know at home.  Who really wants to know which grocery store I'm going to today or how long it's taking for my clothes to hang dry (forever now that it's cold out if you were wondering) other than my family that is.  Though I do have some posts to come that are a bit more interesting, the main reason I've been absent from blog world is the fact that the past few weeks at school I have been extremely busy.

After Halloween we celebrated the Spanish festival of Castañada, a festival traditionally celebrated on All Saint's Day as a way to remember deceased loved ones but is now more a celebration of Fall and its food (like different fruits and nuts).  After that came Thanksgiving where the auxilars had to explain its history and our American traditions.  And now we are starting that stretch before the holiday break that is full of exams, so there has been a lot of revising the material.  Not to mention planning Christmas activities for the next two weeks!
The extent of yarn you could touch before purchasing...
And to add to the mounting list of planning on my plate, one of the main teachers I work with has been out for the past two and a half weeks so I have been acting as the main English (technically English and science because both are taught in English) teacher for her classes.  Do you know how hard it is to get first graders who speak your own language to listen to you?  Now imagine they are just beginning to learn your language.  Imagine how well that worked out, especially when I'm not allowed to speak Spanish.  This would be your face --> :-s

The effort I put into trying to get one of her classes to not keep falling behind seriously had me dreaming about it.  I'd wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the different joints, body parts, and children screaming: "profe. Profe. PROFE. PROFE! PROFEEE!" (Yes, Spanish children call their teachers by their first name or just "Profesor/Profesora" a.k.a. "Teacher").

Today when she returned we had the nightmare of trying to get the students all on the same page, literally.  How do they end up on three completely different pages?  How did we survive without her?
More lights, because who doesn't love lights!
Thankfully with two full months under my belt here things have been starting to feel more normal.  I don't feel like such an outsider, I can tell my Spanish has improved, I successfully hosted a Thanksgiving celebration, and successfully cooked my first Spanish food.  I've really started to feel more and more sure that moving here was the right decision for my life, no matter if it turns into something long term or not.

I guess it's part of what you feel after the culture shock of moving abroad, but I'm not complaining.  I never thought I would end up working and living in Spain, or a large city, one day but I'm extremely happy that I decided to take this leap of faith.  It may not always be perfect, but surprising Madrid really does feel like home now.

Where have you all been the past few months?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

November in Sevilla

Cathedral of Sevilla
For the puente (long weekend) back at the beginning of November my boyfriend and took a trip to the city of Sevilla, the capital of the Province of Sevilla as well as the capital of the Autonomous Community of Andalucía.  While it was a bit of a last minute planned trip, it was a trip I have always wanted to take.

The previous times I have visited Spain I had never traveled further south of Toledo, which is in central Spain, and I've always wanted to visit Andalucía.  It was the city my grandmother probably visited the most in Spain, because of friends that lived in the city, and was also the city I always heard the most about growing up.

Sevilla is a very old city, to be fair by USA standards all European cities are very old, and has been one of Spain's most important cities for centuries (how cannot it not be when its mythological founder was Hercules!).  It was first part of a culture of people who had a similar culture as the ancient Phonecians, taken by the Romans, then the Moors, and then Spain during the Reconquista.  Essentially a long, long history of various cultural influence.  A history major's dream.
Slight obsession with the beautiful tiles throughout Sevilla...
Shadows cast walking up the Giralda
Our arrival to Sevilla was a bit rough and honestly we almost didn't catch our plane.  It was an early morning flight so we were planning on taking a taxi to the airport because the metro doesn't run very frequently that early.  We we didn't plan on was that it was the day after Halloween and at 6:00 am people would still be going out and there would be no taxis in the center near our house.  Fail.  

We managed to catch sprint to the metro and get off fall up the escalator with my suitcase at the bus terminal at Avenida de América to finally get a taxi to the airport.  We arrived at our gate just as our section began boarding the plane, both pretty sweaty and out of breath.  SO not a good start to the day.

Luckily though it is a quick flight from Madrid and there is a shuttle from the airport to the center of the city.  Even luckier was that one of the stops was barely a two minute walk from our hostel.  And still luckier when we arrived at our planned hostel and for unforeseen issues with the room we were moved to a hostel even closer to the center.  As in next to the Alcázar of Sevilla (winning).  It was nice finally having the day turn around from the morning's panic.
It may be November, but there were still beautiful blossoms in the Alcázar.
Once we arrived we wanted to walk along the Guadalquivir River and start to plan what sights we would want to see that day.  We casually enjoyed some churros and gofres (waffles) by the Puente Triano/Isabel II and basked (literally) in the fact that Sevilla was, even in November, way warmer than Madrid.  Ok so Madrid isn't that cold and I am from New England but this body is just not meant for anything remotely 'cold.'  I've spent the past week decked out in my puffy winter coat complete with hat, gloves, and scarves (note to self: should have brought all my knitted items from home, damn.)

But anyway, I really liked Sevilla.  Even though it's one of the largest cities in Spain, it had a small-city feel to me.  I loved the narrow winding streets in the Barrio Santa Cruz, the history of the city, the tiles covering the buildings around every street corner,  and overall I loved seeing how different cities in the south are from the northern cities, like Santander, that I'm used to.  It's part of what I love about Spain, there's so much diversity in the cities and provinces.  They just seem to have their own distinct 'feelings'.

In our long weekend we managed to see most of the main 'touristic sights' and while the BF and I really loved some sights, there were others that we were a bit disappointed by (the Torre del Oro for example).  Personally our favorites were the Alcázar, Plaza de España, and the General Archive of the Indies.  They were in short: spectacular.  The beautiful tiles, the history, the detail.  If I were to visit Sevilla again they would definitely be worth a second (or third) visit.

La Maestranza Bullring

Torre Del Oro

General Archive of the Indies

You can see the roof of the Archive to the left.

Catedral de Sevilla and La Giralda

Oh hey there Columbus.

Alcázar of Sevilla

Plaza de España

Parque de Maria Luisa

Metropol Parasol and "Antiquarium"

The last day we spent in Sevilla was more about enjoying the city of Sevilla itself instead of seeing anymore sights.  We enjoyed some cañas, watched street performers, and wandered some more throughout the winding mazes of streets.  But while visiting Sevilla was great, we both found the center to be very touristic (maybe just a bet biased because of all the horse poo we had to avoid trying to walk back to our hostel).  By the end of the last day we both ready to return home to Madrid, to our piso and own bed.  

Wanting to go home to our piso was the first time that I really felt at home in Spain, the first time that when I said 'home' I meant Madrid.  We did really like our trip to Sevilla, but there was honestly nothing better than going to sleep in our own bed that night (having a nice mattress pad from Ikea certainly helped).

It was a good thing I got the chance to rest because things were about to get extremely busy with my work here in Madrid, a.k.a. the reason I have been missing in action from the blog world for the past month.  Let's just say with everything going on I'm looking for the holiday break at the end of December...
Home, sweet home.

Have you been to Sevilla?  How did you find the city?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Adults Can Feel Homesick Too?

It's been ages since I felt even slightly motivated to write anything, ugh.  And I was going to write about my recent trip to Sevilla, but over the past few weeks I've started to become bothered by some creeping negative feelings that I couldn't quite describe.   And it wasn't until a few days ago when I read a blog post about another girl doing the same program as me: "How I'm Battling Homesickness", that I realized the feelings I've been experiencing recently are actually the result of homesickness.

You heard me right.  And to those that know me well it may come as a shock, because I've never really been one to be homesick.  When I was little I always wanted to go to the longest sleep-away camps, stay forever at my family's summer cabin, or always sleep over my friends' houses.
A recent care package I received from some old students from home
I hadn't even realized my mood had changed until it was pointed out by my boyfriend.  "Why aren't you studying Spanish anymore?  Why don't you go out with your friends?  Why don't you seem happy?" he kept asking.  But I'd just brush it off by arguing that I was exhausted, I would feel better soon.  But I wasn't feelig better, and how could I be that tired when I'm only working twenty hours per week?  Yes, dealing with the language barrier and children are tiring, but there had to be something more.

And queue me stumbling upon that aforementioned blog post about homesickness and reading what she had to say: "Homesickness has nothing to do with whether or not you wanted to move to your new place or if you were forced. It’s a completely involuntary reaction" (source).  It hit me.  It wasn't about me missing anything specific about home, but about missing things that felt familiar.  I of course missed my family, friends, and cats; but I also missed feeling comfortable.  I missed feeling like I belonged.
My BF trying to help me keep my Halloween traditions abroad
I do love living in Spain, but living in another culture isn't always easy.  I missed being able to tune in and out of a conversation without being lost, I missed knowing how to get around my town without getting lost, and I missed feeling like I belonged.  I missed so many little things that I had taken for granted at home, things I didn't notice until they were gone like: living in a house instead of an apartment, not having to plan trips around available public transportation, marathons on TV, and comfort food.

I think there's nothing inherently wrong with feeling homesick.  It's perfectly normally when you make a big change or move away from where you have become familiar.  As far as I'm concerned it just means that you left a place that was worth you missing it.  My problem though was that over the past few weeks I had become so busy wallowing in my homesickness that I had stopped appreciating all the wonderful reasons that I had moved to Spain for in the first place.
A hiking field trip with my students definitely helped clear my head.
So instead of continuing my moping, I set out to find ways to deal with finding ways to deal with my bout of homesickness in a healthier way:

    Don't want to lose touch with this cutie ^
  1. Allow some Familiar Media-I had set out to only watch programs and movies in Spanish while I was living here, but then I just found myself missing the familiar voices of characters from my favorite shows and movies.  So I came up with a compromise of watching my favorites in English but the rest in Spanish to improve my understanding.  And to be quite honest I find that now that I feel like I have the choice, I generally choose to leave the TV in Spanish.
  2. Don't Hide Away from the World-There have been so many days recently where I'd rather hang out in the comfort of my apartment then explore the outside world.  I even postponed grocery shopping as long as humanly possible because I just didn't feel like moving.  When I finally got myself up and moving, and spending time with friends I started to remember that Madrid is starting to feel like home, but only if I let it.
  3. Find a Comfort Hobby-At home I always used to cook.  I love cooking, baking, trying different recipes, and food in general.  But when I moved here I was without an oven for the first time in my life and had trouble finding sufficient substitutes (hello where is the baking soda?), but thankfully my boyfriend and mom banded together to help me buy a small oven.  It is sadly seriously my favorite thing in my apartment and has made me feel so much more at home here in Madrid.  It's perfect for those cookie and cupcake cravings.
  4. Don't Lose Touch with Home-Wherever you are in the world, whether it's near or far from where you're comfortable don't lose touch.  Sometimes it's not easy (the six hour time difference is not very forgiving) but even a few moments on Skype or just chatting on WhatsApp makes a world of difference.  Even if just for a few minutes talk to my cat, yes I said cat, I feel infinitely better.
  5. Most Importantly: Don't Take Anything for Granted-Remember why you made this change in the first place.  Maybe you moved away for a great job or a new experience, but whatever the reason don't forget why you chose this step in your life.  You made the choice for a reason and don't take the opportunity for granted.  I may miss the comforts of home, but I am still incredibly grateful for this wonderful experience.
In the end, I have to realize that the good and bad are both parts of the experience of moving abroad.  Yes, I may have given up a lot and miss a lot of the familiar things from home, but as I near the three-month mark in Spain I realize I have also gained so much from living abroad.  I am more self-reliant, braver, and truly happier.  And not to mention that for the first time in the past two years of our relationship, my boyfriend and I are finally reunited.  Even on the worst days that is enough to remind me to be grateful for this experience in Madrid together.

Is anyone else out there feeling homesick too?  How are you dealing with it?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Exhausted in Madrid

Yes.  I know.  It's been over a week since my last post, but trust me; definitely not the most exciting week you've all been missing.  If you don't believe me here's a quick rundown of the "excitement" you've been spared from missing.
Proof of delicious Spanish beer!
  • Picked up my NIE (Foreigner Identification Number) so I'm almost legal in Spain
  • Experienced a field trip to the zoo with my fourth grade students
  • Tried, and I can't believe I'm saying this, some good Spanish beer this is actually brewed right here in Madrid
  • Finally made a Spanish bank account; seriously why is it such a hassle here?
  • Started the first of my private lessons that I will hold after school
  • Planned a trip for the upcoming puente "long weekend" to Sevilla
  • Enjoyed the Fiesta del Cine (Cinema Festival) in Madrid

But mainly what the world has been missing from the commentary on my life abroad is how exhausted I'm finding myself at the end of every day, even though I'm working far less than I did last year.

I love my school, my classes, my students, and my teachers; but it can be exhausting the effort it takes to communicate some ideas to the students (especially the younger students).  My school has a very strong bilingual program and in all the Science and English classes the teachers, and the students, only speak in English.  It's very impressive, but some days dealing with the language barrier (and studying Spanish at home myself) are harder than others.

I seriously forgot how much practicing, and especially teaching, a language can take out of you.  At work we're not allowed to speak Spanish or translate and while it's definitely better for the students to make them speak English, it's much harder as the person trying to convey the ideas.  I'm constantly searching for words and ways to describe concepts in English, repeating simple commands, and keeping track of my instincts to respond to Spanish with Spanish.
PERFECT thing to come home to after working all day

The younger students generally are more tiring because of their boundless energy (can I have some pretty please?) and the fact that some days I find myself constantly repeating: "Go to page 10.  Page 10.  Page 10.  Page 10."  or "Raise your hand please.  Raise your hand.  Raise your hand. Raise your hand."  Many days by the time the students have recess I'm ready for a longggg siesta.

And now after school I've started giving private English lessons for some extra spending money.  So far I only have four hours, and they're on the same two days, but I will be out of the house and commuting more than I am used to.  On the days I have private lessons I won't be home until around 7:30 pm if I'm lucky.

But I'm still only working twenty hours.  And never in my life would I have thought that working twenty hours a week would be something to complain about.  Twenty hours in itself is practically nothing, but living abroad it's not just that.  It takes a lot living a different country and adjusting to many different aspects of life in a different culture.  I honestly think the real things that exhaust me are a combination of the language barrier and the Spanish schedule.  Let's face it.  At 23 years old I've been living my life like a grandma.  How many other people my age spent the past year knitting and going to bed before 11:00 pm?

Preparing crafts for Halloween at school next week
In Spain the lifestyle is much later and much more social on weekdays than I'm used to.  It's very common for us to meet our friends out for drinks and dinner late on weeknights (not that I'm complaining about some post-work drinks) but it's just this dang time-frame that the grandma in me is not adapting to very effectively.

On an average night in Madrid we eat dinner around 10:00 pm and are lucky if we make it to bed by midnight.  Then wake up at 7:30 am to do it all again.  Personally I don't know how Spaniards are not perpetually worn out by the late schedules they keep.  I guess it's just something they are used to?

And so I guess what you all really missed this past week is that I made a life-changing revelation: It's time to kick that internal grandma out of my life and enjoy my youth.  I've always forced myself to be serious and work hard but I've come to realize that there's nothing wrong with working and taking part in some cheese, wine, and dancing.  So yes. I'm currently exhausted; but I'm living my life and I don't think I've ever been happier with where it's going.  Thanks Spain!

How has your Fall been going?  Have you had any life-changing revelations?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Day Tripping to El Escorial

One of my friends, who is in Madrid teaching with another program (Activa), and I were talking about taking some weekend trips to get to know the area around Madrid better.  A few weekends ago she, her boyfriend, and I took a trip to El Escorial.  El Escorial, just northwest of the capital city Madrid, was once a royal palace and monastery.  Located in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, nestled at the southeastern side of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range, the complex is today home to the Order of Saint Augustine, a museum of Spain's history, and the burial site for many of the royal family.
The rain managed to keep away for this shot!

We took a bus from the Moncloa station, which cost 4.20€ each way, and it took just about an hour to arrive.  Unfortunately we picked a pretty rainy day to visit so  our primary plan of attack was to find a cafe to have a snack and dry off from the downpour.

In our rush to get dry the first cafe we found was ridiculously expensive so we all just settled for some natural orange juice.  When we finished our juice, and more importantly when the rain had stopped momentarily, we made our way to Escorial.  It was a very short walk and my friend and I were both ecstatic to see that there were some signs of Fall showing.  As a native New Englander the annual 'changing of the leaves' is just a natural state of the Fall season for me, and I was loving the fact that the trees at Escorial were actually showing signs of this.

We walked around to the main entrance of the museum and snapped some shots of the garden on the way, unfortunately with all the rain it wasn't much of an option to enjoy them.  Upon entering we paid the museum fee, the normal price is 10€, but we all paid the discounted student rate of 5€.  Luckily I had a copy of my passport and visas and I just had to show the copy of my student visa (for those doing the Auxiliares program you might also get a discount if you show your Carta, I think they had discount options for teachers).

Once inside El Escorial there are several main rooms and exhibits you walk through during your visit.  Some of the ones I found the most interesting were: the basilica of San Lorenzo el Real, the Pantheon of the Kings, the Pantheon of the Princes, the Architectural Museum, the library, an art gallery, and my personal favorite the Hall of Battles.

The Pantheon of Kings though, complete with wood, marble, and gold plating, was arguably one of the most beautiful rooms in the complex.  Inside the Pantheon are twenty-six vaults, or sepulchers, that hold kings and queen regnants, as well as royal consorts who were parents of monarchs since the reign of Charles I.  With this limited space comes the issue of what will happen to the current King and Queen of Spain, as all of the places are filled or reserved.

As the Pantheon of Kings is for the monarchs,  the Pantheon of the Princes is for the essentially the rest of the royal family.  The Pantheon of Princes consists of multiple rooms that hold the remains of princes, princesses, as well as royal consorts that were not parents of any monarchs.

Most of these tombs are quite simple vaults of marble, compared to the gold plated tombs of the Pantheon of Kings, but the pantheon houses a huge number of royal family members: like the brother of the current King and a large mausoleum for the princes and princesses who sadly died before puberty.

My favorite room, the Hall of Battles, was a room that we almost (shame on us) didn't feel like walking up all the stairs for.  Our curiosity got the better of us, as well as trying to continue our hopes of waiting out the rain (fail).  In the end I think we were all glad we forced ourselves up the narrow stairs because the fresco paintings were definitely worth it.

On each of the four walls was a fresco depicting some of the major Spanish battles including: a victory over the Moors, campaigns with the French, and battles for islands in Portugal.  If I make it back to Escorial I would definitely want to spend more time poring over all the details in the Hall of Battles.

By the time we left El Escorial we had spent a good three hours, had unfortunately not been able to wait out the rain, and were absolutely dying for a big Spanish lunch.  As we tried to make a break for cover from the rain we managed to find a restaurant that boasted of Menú del Día on a Saturday and cheap food specials.  And just like that we were sold.  For once our luck held out because the portions were gigantic and I sprang for the Menú were I was treated to practically a whole loaf of bread and a whole bottle of house wine.  Winning.

After satiating our hunger we caught the bus back to Moncloa, just barely since we didn't realize at first that the bus to leave Escorial were at the lower level (go figure), and were all very pleased about our day trip to such an important piece of Madrid history.  If you're in the city of Madrid and looking for an affordable day trip I suggest giving Escorial a try.  Hopefully your visit will be a tad drier...

Have you ever visited El Escorial?  What was your favorite part of the complex?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

I Survived the First Week

I keep thinking that as the weeks go by and I'm more settled in Madrid it will become easier to keep up with these posts.  Then it comes time to actually sit and write and I just can't seem to get the words out as I want.  Everyone at home asks me how things are and what exciting things I'm doing, but really things just feel normal.

Maybe it's the fact that being in a classroom is the norm for me, or that I'm living with my boyfriend, or now with my first week of work I'm officially speaking way too much English here!  This weekend has been my first alone to decompress and to really reflect on both this past month abroad and surviving my first week of work.
And yes, you heard that right.  I survived my first week, high-fives anybody?  And from now until the end of June I will be working Tuesday through Friday in one fourth and three first grade classrooms.  If you ask why only the four days, in my program we can only work 16 hours per week.  But don't worry!  I'm looking for private classes too, we all know I'm a weirdo that lives to be busy.

Anyway, my school is a bilingual elementary school.  This means that multiple core subjects are taught completely in English, even to kindergarten and first graders, and each week I assist in teaching English, Science, and Physical Education (super fun!).  Even though it's only 16 hours per week, it's far more tiring than any teaching I have ever done before, and in fact far more frustrating because I have to pretend I don't know Spanish.  So many of the students are eager to talk and bond with me, but the young ones cannot communicate effectively in English yet.  I know they will improve quickly with all their exposure in school, but it still breaks my heart when I see their frustration because they can't express themselves.  I guess right now I'll just have to settle for hugs, kisses, and hearing "Hello Lauren (L-ow-rain)" yelled down the hallway.

My Experience

Each morning I wake up bright dark (seriously pitch black) and early at 7:30 am to catch the 8:26 train.  The day starts at 9:00 am, they have recess from 11:45 am to 12:15 (teacher's get a delicious breakfast!), and the school day ends at 2:00 pm.  At this point students can either be picked up by their parents or stay for the school's lunch.

And to be honest, my first day was a little jarring (and not only because they use mostly British English: rubbers, trousers, basins, toilets, oh. my. goodness.).

Luckily I had previously visited the school and kind of had an idea where everything was, so I wasn't that big a bundle of nerves.  Upon arrival the other auxiliares and I all met for a meeting where we received our health insurance cards, filled out paperwork, and discussed our weekly schedules.  Since there are four of us it was decided that two have Mondays off and the others Fridays.  It worked out quite nicely because two wanted specific days off and myself and the final wanted specific grade levels (luckily the opposite ones!).
As I was sent off to my first classes I saw how different the spectrum of teaching can be.  Day one, a teacher of mine was what I would call 'a little bit rough around the edges'.  She was very, well, vocal in the class and it took me back a little because I'm not used to a teaching style like that.  In fact, I left the first day completely overwhelmed and unsure if I had made the right decision moving all the way here...

But I'm glad I brushed the thought off and came into school the next day with an open mind and a positive attitude.  Over the rest of the week I talked with the three different teachers I will be working with for the year about the plans they have for the class and it was then that I could fully see what dedicated, hard-working, and caring teachers I get to work with.  They do have very different teaching styles, but they all put so much personality and effort into their students and their lessons.  Especially clear in the constant celebration of the little victories: from when a student knows what day comes tomorrow, to asking if they should use a light or dark blue crayon, or to knowing what a cake is and that it starts with a "C".  'Good jobs' and high-fives all around!  So far it's been such a rewarding experience!

And on this note, I vow to carry the 'little victories' over into my own life for this year.  Maybe I'm still not a social butterfly, maybe I can't follow the news programs on tv, and maybe I still cannot have a heated debate in Spanish.  But I can run all the errands on my own, I can use public transportation without getting lost, and I can hold my own in a conversation.  Not bad for my first week of working abroad.
Exhibit A of the little victories:  Good wine and cheese

How has your first week been?  Has it been a good experience so far?