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?