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?