Saturday, October 18, 2014

No Soy Yo: On Being Myself in Another Language

Ok.  We all know learning another language isn't easy, but expressing yourself...that's the hard part.

When you speak in your native language it feels natural.  You can crack a joke without thinking, have small talk with ease, and express yourself as an individual.  In another language it's just not the same: you fumble for words, your sarcasm doesn't come through, and cultural jokes are lost on you.

Being away from loved ones certainly doesn't help either
I can understand, have conversations, and produce Spanish.  But even with how much my Spanish has improved living abroad I still don't feel like myself.  I'm no poet, but in English the words have always come easily (excellent for all that SAT prep) but in Spanish I feel more like I'm the equivalent of a ten-year old child.  And not even a very funny one.

I know fitting in is always hard, especially being a naturally shy person, and moving abroad is no exception.  It's a frustrating circle of struggling to express myself, disliking my inability to express the real me in Spanish, and feeling further anxiety at the thought of struggling to express myself in the next social situation. Ugh.
Cracking jokes with my BFF back home
Speaking Spanish, especially the fear of speaking it incorrectly and inadequately (even though I know it's incredibly silly) has led me to just keep quiet.  I kept pulling the whole "try and make yourself invisible" that we all know never works.  I know the irrational fear of my Spanish causing me to be laughed out of a room has only been made worse by my anxiety, but knowing this didn't always make it easier.

So as this new year began I've finally realized that, after years of struggling to reconcile the real me with the "Spanish" me, the fear holding me back is pointless.  My Spanish won't get better if I'm too afraid to speak it.  And the more I hold back the progress of my Spanish the longer I stifle my personal expression.  Not to mention if I've never judged anyone for making mistakes in English why would I be judged for imperfect Spanish?  Answer: I can't let fear hold me back forever.  
Definitely speaks to me this year.
I know it was a brave thing picking up my entire life and moving to another continent, to start over in a new city, a new culture.  But as I remember the little girl who walked into my grandmother's Spanish classroom unashamed to babble in Spanish and share herself, I think that maybe it's time to be brave again.  To allow myself to make mistakes in Spanish, to share myself more freely, and to not be so afraid of just being me.

 Plus speaking Spanish can't be as scary as jumping out of a plane, can it?

How has your experience been expressing yourself in a different language?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Barcelona and Gaudí Galore

The famous La Sagrada Família
Back in March my boyfriend and I planned an impromptu trip to Barcelona, and by impromptu I mean it.  It was a trip planned in three days and I thought I was going to have a panic attack because we didn't even know where we were staying until we arrived to Barcelona.

Despite the near panic attack, I was still very excited to arrive because I had always wanted to travel to Barcelona.  The plans were finally pushed into fruition this particular weekend as a reunion for my boyfriend and his friends.  I have to point out that the biggest thing I had noticed about discussions of Barcelona is that it seems to elicit strong feelings, everyone either seems to love it or hate it.

To be honest I managed to fall somewhere in between those opinions.  And before anyone gets offended, it wasn't really Barcelona's fault.  The weather was terrible, a mix of rain and cold, and we were so rushed to see the city in only a day and a half. What instead moved me about the city was how kindly I was treated by the BF's friends there.
I was obsessed with the stained glass windows

We arrived to Barcelona late at night, picked up by one of the BF's friends to be dropped off at another friend's house where we'd be spending the weekend.  When we finally arrived at our home away from home for the weekend we were greeted by home-cooked food the family had saved for us from their dinner, I love Spain.

After we shoved food in our face a quick dinner we met the rest of the friends in the center for a night out.  A night out that proved why botelloning gives anxiety, though no worries my #guiristatus and the fact that I wasn't drinking saved me from the whopping 12€ fine.  Kind police officers aside, I still prefer just paying at a bar or club and not worry about my anxiety when I want to salir.

Thankfully the rest of the night was not nearly as exciting and we woke up bright and early, still not sure how we we did it, to tour the actually city of Barcelona.  Which if you couldn't guess is a lot to do in one day, but is possible if you if you A) Don't mind paying for public transportation or B) Don't mind walking until your feet make you want to cry.

We chose B and started out near the center at the Arco del Triunfo and made our way to the world famous Sagrada Família, which is really a church and not a cathedral like many people think.  For those unfamiliar with this beautiful church, it's famous because it was designed by Catalan architect Anton Gaudí and also because as work depends on donations and ticket sales the construction has taken well over 100 years and the church is still not complete (though it's anticipated to be finished in 12 years).

[General Tickets: 14.80€, Student Tickets: 12.80€; to visit the towers too General Ticket: 19.30€, Student Ticket: 17.30€; the Basilica is open 9-8 PM]

After Sagrada Família we then walked to Park Güell, another famous site designed by Gaudí.  For new visitors the rules of visiting the park have recently changed.  The park used to be entirely free but now visitors have to pay to enter the famous Gaudí area of the park, though the rest of the park still remains free and open to the public.

The biggest shock to me when we purchased the tickets is that you're given an entry time.  If you miss your entry time, well then you're out of luck.  Since we had about 45 minutes to wait for our entry time we decided to walk around the free area of the park, starting at crosses that mark the highest point of the park.  By climbing to the top you get a spectacular view of Barcelona, and a nice little hike.  Though be cautious if it's a windy day, seriously had a few moments clinging to the rocks and fearing for my life...

Finally it was almost our entry time to the monument portion of the park so we marched back downhill and had our tickets collected by the security guards at each entry point.  And to be honest, I was not as impressed as I was with La Sagrada Família.  At 8€ to enter, a specific time available to enter, and such a small portion of the park actually designed by Gaudí it was beautiful, but not my favorite spot on our whirlwind tour of Barcelona.

[Online Tickets: 7€, Office Tickets: 8€; the park is open 8:30-6:00 PM October 27 to March 23, 8:00-8:00 PM March 24 to April 30, 8:00-9:00 PM May 1 to October 26]

Too tired to walk back to the center, we took the metro to head to Casa Batlló, a house that was redesigned by, you guessed it, Gaudí.  The roof is said to represent a dragon and the spire on top the lance of Saint George, Saint George (Sant Jordi) being the patron saint of Cataluña.

It truly is a beautiful building, especially with the gorgeous mosaic Gaudí is known for, but at 18.5€ for a student ticket it was just more than we wanted to spend so we just stopped by to see the façade.

[Adult Tickets: 21.50€, Student Tickets: 18.50€, the building is open 9:00-9:00 PM]

After the quick walk-by of Casa Batlló we made our way to La Rambla, the famous Barcelona street that connects Plaça de Catalunya and the monument for Christopher Columbus.
While La Rambla is known for its shopping, it is also infamous for tourists, tourist traps, and pickpockets.  We spent most of our time trying to find a place to wait and stay warm until we met our friends for dinner.  Too cold to walk much further and we hid in Starbucks and naturally I ordered a cold drink, sometimes my intelligence knows no bounds.

After the previous night's dinner at possibly the worst Chinese restaurant I've ever eaten in, at least it had Karaoke, we spent our last morning in Barcelona with a quick tour of the area known as the "Gothic Quarter." This area of Barcelona is famous for the number of buildings that are from the Medieval Period. 

We started the tour at the Cathedral of Barcelona. While the structure of the cathedral is from the Medieval period, few people seem to know that the façade is actually neo-Gothic and was added in the late 19th century.

As we walked through the streets we entered a plaza called Plaça de Sant Felip Neri that is famous for the damage it sustained during the bombing of the Spanish Civil War. During the bombing people were hiding in the basement of the church and 42 people, including children, were killed. Here's a great video about the plaza from Barcelona Blonde (previously Hola Yessica) from her MyBarcelona video series.

It was a shame we saw this area so quickly, and on our last day, because it ended up being one of my favorite parts of Barcelona.  While it didn't entirely win me over on my first visit, I would love to head back to Barcelona one day and explore more of this area.  With bad weather and such little time, it wasn't quite enough to get charmed by the Barcelona that everybody seems to love.  Though this time I'll be checking the weather reports!

Have you ever been to Barcelona?  What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Carpe Diem

Since my last post I've been busy, as in: finishing the school year, moving apartments, visiting home, and moving back to Madrid busy.  Even though I'm finally back in Madrid and settled into our new apartment I still had trouble feeling inspired, until this week.

This past Monday the world lost one of its greatest talents, and it got me thinking about where I am in my life all thanks to one of my favorite Robin Williams' movies: Dead Poets Society.

Don't worry, no spoilers here if you haven't seen the film (though you should), but Dead Poets Society has inspired me since the first time I watched it in my sophomore English class.  The major concept of the movie is an unconventional teacher, played by Williams, inspiring his students to think for themselves and make the most of their lives.

Being a high schooler myself when I first watched the film I could relate to the students who struggled with concepts of peer pressure, conformity, and self-doubt.  I laughed, I cried, and I vowed that I would take Williams' advice and make my life extraordinary.

Fast forward to Monday, and the start of this post and the question of what I'm doing with my life.  Yes I went to college, got a degree, made friends, fell in love, worked hard, traveled, and moved across the world but was I really "seizing the day?"  

Ok, moving to Spain I may have taken the road less traveled but what good is it if I'm not "living deliberately," if I'm not fully enjoying and appreciating this amazing opportunity that I have.

I have become so comfortable with my life, both back in the USA and now here in Spain.  During the school year I woke up, went to work, came home, cleaned and cooked, and went to bed.  Not really an extraordinary life is it?  Even now on vacation my life has fallen into the routine of cooking and cleaning, sounds like instead of "sucking the marrow out of  life" I'm "choking on the bone."

With the sudden, tragic loss of Robin I decided it was time to make good of my sophomore year vow.  Before it was too late I would make my life extraordinary.  So what did I do?  

I bought running shoes.

Sounds pretty normal right?  But for someone who loves to exercise but has never been able to run outside because of hip pain buying a pair of good running shoes (apparently I had high arches all this time) is the start of me seizing the day, and my life.  And today, on this beautiful sunny day, I went for a jog and for the first time I finished without any pain.

Templo de Debod, beautiful place for jog.
To me, living an extraordinary life doesn't mean crazy dare devil moves or spending lots of money, it means enjoying your time and making the most out of every moment.  Whether it's time with friends, having a nice run, picking up a new language, or trying a new recipe.  Push yourself, open yourself up to new things, and take every ounce from your life that you are capable.  Always remember that the most beautiful thing about life is:

"That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blast From the Past: Visiting the Medieval City of Ávila

Edge of the murallas, walls, of Ávila
Maybe you've never even heard of it.  But, you should give it a try.

At first I didn't know much about Ávila either, I had only become familiar with the area when I met one of the BF's friends who is originally from the province.  It was a last minute idea when my co-workers and I decided one weekend that we wanted to travel somewhere together.  Among other options, Ávila was the top contender for spending a relaxing day outside of Madrid.  As the capital of the province Ávila, in Castilla y León, it may be a small city (with a rough population of 60,000) but it's proximity to Madrid makes it an excellent, and affordable, day trip.

To arrive to Ávila from Madrid we took one of the many trains from Chamartín, which is about a 1.5 hour journey (if you don't take the regional train, 2€ less but not worth the extra time!) and roughly 10€ each way.  After our train arrived, also known as the 1.5 hours I spent being used as a race track for the two-year-old boy sitting next to me (who would NOT share his kit-kats), we made our way to the entrance of the old town of Ávila.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ávila is mainly known for its old city center and murallas (walls), that enclose most of the old town.  Built between the 11th and 14th centuries these walls are impressive for their sheer size alone.  While they may not seem that tall at first glance, the history nerd in me wants to comment that most Medieval cities were built into hillsides so they could use the height of the hill to build protective walls to their advantage (think entering the city of Toledo and its uphill trek).  The city of Ávila however is quite flat by comparison, meaning that with a rough perimeter of 8,000 feet and a height close to 40, there are few medieval walls I've seen that are as massive.
Naturally, the walls were the first part of the city we set off to explore.  While not all of the walls are walkable, nearly half of the perimeter is open to the public.  The general ticket price was 5€, but with a student ID only 3.5€ (with both including a guided audio tour).

We spent a good hour walking around the wall, enjoying the view and beautiful March day, before hunger got the best of us.  Nearing lunch time we wandered in the center of the old town to find some typical food.  One of my favorite things about Spain is that each region is known for it's "typical food," travelling from one province to another you're able to enjoy part of their individual.  One of the foods that Ávila is famous for is it's chuletón, or rib steak, which is just as juicy and delicious as the picture below looks:

source, Chuletón, yum!
After lunch we decided to walk around the rest of the old town, some claim that Ávila is one of the towns with the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita in Spain, whether or not that's true there are definitely plenty of beautiful churches to see.  Two that we visited in Ávila were the Cathedral and the Convent for the patron saint Teresa de Ávila, built on her birthplace.

Though both beautiful, with only a few hours left before our train we decided to take some of the locals' advice to head to "Los Cuatros Postes," to get a full view of the walls.  On a hill outside the walls, the view from the posts was worth the twenty minute walk to overlook the city.

As we headed to the train station to return to Madrid we forgot we had opted to save 2€ by buying tickets home on the regional train.  Not worth it!  As the train pulled up we realized with a sinking feeling that we would be spending the next two hours stuck on a cercanías train, with a transfer in El Escorial, and the cherry on top was that we almost sat in a seat where someone had previously "tossed their cookies."  Ew.

Moral of the story, spend those 2€ for a shorter, more comfortable train ride.  Trust me.

source, yemas de Ávila/Santa Teresa
But don't forget to pick up some traditional yemas before you leave!

 Have you given Ávila a try?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Renewing Your TIE in Madrid

It's that time of year already, back to paperwork!

After receiving my new Carta Nombramiento for this coming school year, and yes staying in my same school, I thought I would try take a few (baby) steps on the paper trail.  Per usual, extremely overwhelming.

As my anxiety started to set in on how I would possibly be able to get all of it done in the month before I go back to the USA for a visit, I had to take a step back and organize myself.  Leading me to this current post, as I assume I'm not the only one grasping at straws right now.  Prepare to be informed and simultaneously bored, after all Spain can't always be exciting.
Representation of my current emotions, but not as pretty...or fun
First off, make sure to use ANY resource available: If you're part of the main Madrid auxiliares FB group, look up in the documents section the document "RENEWING NIE in Madrid."  If not, just use this document from the Madrid auxiliares' website: Renovación de la tarjeta TIE, which was just updated today.

The documents that you will need are:

1. Impreso de solicitud en modelo oficial (“Solicitud de autorización de estancia y prórrogas-
EX – 00) make sure it's completed and signed, and that you have two copies. I used this link
2. Copy of ALL pages of your passport, plus bring your actual passport with you.
3. Old carta de nombramiento from the 2013-2014 school year
4. New carta de nombramiento from the 2014-2015 school year
5. Certificado de aprovechamiento from the 2013-2014 school year (Ask the director of your school!)
6. Photocopy of the student TIE that you want to renew (front and back of card)
7. Receipt of tasas de prórroga: Modelo 790 / Código 052 costing 16,81 euros Download, complete, and print here, make sure to mark the box for: 1.3 "Prórroga de la autorización de estancia por estudios, movilidad de alumnos, prácticas no laborales o servicios de voluntariado (titular principal y sus familiares)"
               *Make sure you select the right province: Madrid- código de provincia 28)
               *No need to photocopy, it will print out the three copies of the tasa to bring to the bank

Applying for the renewal:

You must go in person to the Oficina de Extranjería at C/ Garcia de Paredes, 65 (Metro: 
Gregorio Marañón – Line 10, 9am to 2pm, Telephone: 91 272 91 71 – 92 88) either within the 60 days before your card expires OR within the 90 days after your card expires.  According the auxiliares document (linked above) if you later need to present another document, or something has changed you can drop off the document at the registro público auxiliar de la calle Manuel Luna, 29.

According to the FB group, you follow the sign that says “Registro”unless you have questions and need to go to information.  Once you have turned in all of your paperwork you will be given back the stamped copy of your EX00 and Tasa 052 receipt (which you willl need these for your second appointment and to apply for an autorización de regreso if you plan on traveling outside of Spain while your NIE is expired). Make sure the address on your EX00 is correct because this is where information will be sent to you.

While I'm not sure of any specific time frame as I'm in the process myself, the documents from the ministry claims that within two months you should receive a letter in the mail telling you if your renewal was accepted or not.  If accepted, the letter should have a date of when you're supposed to go to Aluche and what documents you need to bring with you.  And after that approximately another month or so until the physical TIE should be ready.
source, Don't let this be you!
I'm in the initial stages of the renewal and have collected almost all of the paperwork, except the certificado de aprovechamiento from my school.  If you're still waiting for your carta, I highly suggest starting to gather all of the documents you'll need.  Most of them felt much easier to gather than from the initial TIE appointment!  Not to mention it will help you start to prepare if you are going home for part of the summer and need an autorización de regreso like I do.

[Update 7/18: Checked the status of my renewal to see that the result is: favorable, meaning that so far in the process my renewal has been accepted.  Pretty good considering it hasn't even been a full month since I turned in my papers.  Now just waiting to see when I get the official letter in the mail to get my fingerprints done!

Update 8/18: About three weeks into the process my favorable letter still never came, so figuring it was either A) lost in the mail or B) sent to my old apartment I decided to make the appointment myself without the letter.  To make an appointment for your huellas (fingerprints) in Madrid go to the extranjería website, select Madrid and EXPEDICIÓN DE TARJETA DE EXTRANJERO (HUELLAS), then follow through and put in your information.  

1. Once you have your cita, print the justificante form.
2. Print out your "favorable" status
Pick up the Tasa Modelo 790, Codigo 012 form at any national police station or foreigner's office (This cannot be downloaded, I went to the foreigner's office on Calle Silva near Callao) and make sure to mark box "4.2 Tarjeta que documenta la renovación o prórroga de la autorización de residencia temporal, la prórroga de la estancia o de trabajadores transfronterizos" pay €18,56 at a bank
4. Original + copy of your passport (including old visa and entry stamps)
5. Original + copy of your empadronamiento
6. Your old TIE + copy of your TIE (front and back)
7. A new photo (carnet size, I went to one of those booths in the metro stops and it cost 5€ for six)
I also brought the EX-00 document with the stamp/sticker from my original renewal appointment just in case. 

Update 9/18: Went to pick up my new TIE today!  No issues and I was out in five minutes with my shiny new card :)]

On the day of your appointment go early, like at least an hour early if you can (and bring water if it's in the summer!).  Get in the line labeled "huellas" and wait until it's your turn to enter, if it all goes well you'll get a resguardo at the end and be told to come back in 25-30 days with your old TIE and passport to pick up your shiny new card.  Good luck!
So hot the line was waiting in the tents.

Autorización de Regreso

After you turn in your renewal paperwork you can start to apply for your autorización de regreso (yes, at the dreaded Aluche), which gives you permission to re-enter Spain once your card is expired and you don't have a valid card.  The regreso is valid for three months and is only good for one use, which is why it's suggested to only present it IF asked for it.

To apply for the regreso you must have these documents:
source, How I feel when I have to go back to Aluche
1. Original and copy of your passport (some debate on the FB group if you need a copy of the whole thing, or just the information page)
2. Original and copy of your NIE (front and back of card)
3. Stamped EX00 form from your renewal appointment
4. Copy of your plane reservation
5. EX13"solicitud de autorización de regreso" I used this link
6. Receipt from Modelo 790 Codigo 012 (pick up a PHYSICAL tasa form from any police station or foreigner's office, I went to the one Calle de Silva, 19 near Callao) so show you paid the fee of €10,30

Be sure to ask for an appointment: here.  Choose “Madrid” and “Autorizaciones de Regreso” from the drop-down menus. Click “Entrar” at the bottom and be sure to fill in your personal info correctly. Select “Solicitar cita” to make an appointment and from there complete the rest of the information. Do not forget to print out the confirmation, you need it for your appointment!

Definately feeling the pressure to get these done with my flight home only a month away!  Just a reminder that while life in Spain can be great, it's not as glamorous as people think.  It's full of lesson planning, daily errands, and enough of paperwork to keep you on your toes.
Now go celebrate some football!

Have you started the renewal process, or applied for an autorizacón de regreso yet?  What tips do you have?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Día de los Reyes and Carnaval, Two Holidays with One Stone

This post is long overdue, months overdue, back in January overdue...I am hiding this behind my "students have their English exam next week" excuse.  But seriously.  Apologies for Trinity exams consuming my life for the past few months.

La Cabalgata in Santander

Anyway, now to bore you with an informational post, my "B".  One of the greatest parts of living in Spain with a native Spaniard, and working at a Spanish school is that I get to experience many Spanish holidays quite authentically.  Two such holidays this year were: Día de los Reyes and Carnaval.

Día de los Reyes

Our "USA meets Spain" Reyes presents
Día de los Reyes, or Day of the Kings, is celebrated January 6th in honor of the day the Three Wise Men are thought to have 'beheld' baby Jesus after he was born.  In Spain this holiday is in many ways quite similar to how Christmas is celebrated for children in the USA, as it is traditionally the Magi that bring them holiday presents and not Santa Claus.  They're incredibly popular and if you ask many Spaniards they always had a favorite growing up (Balthasar is in particular quite popular among my friends).

To celebrate the arrival of the kings to Spain on January 5th, most cities hold a typical parade known as the Cabalgata de Reyes Magos that welcomes them into the city.  The parade I saw in Santander had different floats, trucks, and even sheep (who doesn't love a herd of sheep wandering through a city)!

Near the end of the parade the kings finally arrived on their own floats and are followed by different fire trucks and delivery trucks that "help bring the children their presents".  Later the Magi walked around the city distributing candy to any little children, which was absolutely adorable to see...and I maybe asked for candy too...maybe...
Our Roscón de Reyes
As it's celebrated on the 6th, this is the day where most Spanish children receive most (if not all) of their holiday presents.  For their breakfast celebration it's typical to have a special cake called a roscón (similiar to a fruitcake, but tastier!), which can even be filled with different things like cream or chocolate.

What makes the roscón so special is that inside there's often a small toy that's been hidden inside, sometimes even a bean.  If you find the toy you are proclaimed the 'king/queen of the day' but if you find the bean in your piece then you're supposed to pay for next year's cake.  This year in the cake the BF and I bought for ourselves I found the prize, which was a tiny turtle!  Though it did help that I devoured most of it...


Carnaval is a great holiday for Auxiliares because we get to celebrate it with our students.  It celebrates the time before lent with a hugeee party (think Río and Mardi Gras), but in Spain there's more child-friendly activities than 'earning' beads.

In my schools the children got to do a lot of fun activities preparing themselves for a big parade at the end of the week.  The theme for the year was art so all the students made costumes depicting different artists and aspects of art like: crayons, colored pencils, paintbrushes, and even the melting clocks of Dalí.  The teachers even had their own costumes to parade around with the students.  As you can see I was a beautiful painting.

At the school they had El Entierro de la Sardina or "The Burial of the Sardine" which is a Spanish tradition that one of our teachers explained as symbolizing the end of Carnaval by burying the past in hopes of a better future after fasting during Lent.  The sixth grade students and their teachers all wore black and paraded around 'mourning' as the fun of Carnaval ended and Lent was about to begin.

Celebrating El Greco
Our 'Sardine' was a large, colorful, paper Sardine that was actually burned instead of buried and when that sucker finally went up in smoke everyone cheered for the end of the celebration (or maybe just that it was time to go home for a nice long puente).

Later that weekend there was a parade in Madrid capital that we watched with my BF's parents who were visiting from Santander.  Instead of having a tradition 'Carnaval' theme, the parade was designed to celebrate El Greco (as this year marks since the artist's death) along other important, particularly Spanish, artists.

Las Meninas
The various floats and displays featured works ranging from El Greco himself, to Bosch, Velázquez, Picasso, Goya, and even Andy Warhol.  Between the floats there were also various performances of cultural groups from different areas of Central and South America.  Even though I've celebrated Carnaval once before in Spain (read as going out with friends in costumes), this was the first time I had seen any kind of parade.  Even though it wasn't "traditional" Carnaval, the art nerd in me was still impressed by a lot of the floats.

It's definitely a unique feeling to be a part of another culture's holidays, but I've also found that experiencing these holidays now that I'm living and working here has helped me learn a lot about Spain and its history, and also feel a little bit less like the "token guiri".

What experience have you had with Día de los Reyes or Carnaval?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How Spain Has Changed my Taste Buds

Reading one of my favorite expat in Spain blogs (Kaley Y Mucho Más)a few months ago I read one of her posts where she had asked several expats about what foods they started to enjoy after moving to Spain.  The more I read, the more I realized how much Spain has changed my taste buds too.

I remember my first visit to my boyfriend's house nearly three years ago and how much I dreaded even trying some of the food (FISH) that was put in front of me.  I had grown up in Rhode Island, the Ocean State, but couldn't stand fish or seafood (I know, crazy).  I didn't like beans, olives, eggs, or even eggplant.

I didn't consider myself a picky eater, I just liked the foods I was used to eating...and didn't like the ones I wasn't used to. ¿Sabes?

With Spain being in my life for nearly three years now, and after living in Madrid since September, I can't help but look at that list of what "I didn't like" and laugh at how silly I used to sound.

Fresh Vegetables

It's not that I didn't like fresh vegetables, but they're just so expensive in the USA that I was not that used to cooking, or eating them.  Though specifically, zucchini and eggplant, were not high up on my list of veggies I loved.  Iin fact, before this year I flat out refused to eat eggplant (unless the BF's mom handed it to me, there was never a choice).  Over time spent eating with my boyfriend's family I've come to love both zucchini and eggplant and they now have both become staples in my diet.


This has been the most challenging food selection to overcome.  As a child the only time of seafood or fish I ate was greasy, fried fish and chips (which I only could stomach if it was drowning in ketchup, gross I know).  I have slowly grown to love seafood like: squid, razorclams, clams, and octopus but to be honest I've not come so far with fish.  I can actually enjoy some fish now (certainly helps if it's from a nice restaurant), but most I really just tolerate (aka cod) because it's good for me.  Still not sure if it's more of a taste or textural thing...
Pulp Gallego (Galician Octopus) source


Eggs.  It's all about how they're cooked.  Before Spain came into my life the only way I ate my egg was scrambled with ketchup or jam, and only for breakfast.  This would not last in Spain as egg is rarely served for breakfast and is a common part of the Spanish diet, from tortilla española (Spanish omelette) to huevos rotos (broken eggs).  From day one eggs were forced on me and I have to say, I don't hate eggs anymore and will readily enjoy tortilla or huevos rotos. But. Still not a fan of hard-boiled eggs...
Huevos Rotos (Broken Eggs) source

Red Wine

Before Spain I was OK with red wine, it wasn't my first drink choice but also wasn't my last.  With a lack of decent beer choices in Spain though (slowly being remedied in large cities, like Madrid!), I gradually turned to wine.  Over the years with Spain in my life I've come to appreciate a good Crianza and enjoy a nice glass of wine at the end of the day.  The choice is made even easier knowing that in Spain you can buy a decent bottle of red wine for a mere 4€.


Spanish food is known for using all parts of the animals, whether it's pig snout or ears, and while I've not quite grown to love all these "new" foods, there are some (like morcilla) that I probably enjoy too much.  Morcilla, a Spanish blood sausage, that is either prepared with rice or nuts (depending on the region).  When the BF first told me about this dish I didn't even want to try it, he even went so far as to order it anyway and not tell me what it was!  Lucky for me though because I fell in love from the first bite.  The type that I prefer is Morcilla de Burgos, it's from the province of Burgos and is usually prepared with rice.

There's still a lot of various foods I'm still working on, sorry all you beans, but that's the best part about living in another culture.  There's an endless about of new food possibilities to try...but I still don't like olives!  Sorry Spain!

What's one of your new favorite dishes?

Monday, April 7, 2014

March Madness

And no I'm not talking about college basketball...

I can't believe I let a month fly by without posting anything, but I guess that's life for you.  Sometimes it can call for more than you're used to.

Spring blossoms on the way home from work.
It's not like March was supposed to be a busy month, the only thing I anticipated was the coming of Spring and hopefully having my clothes start to dry in less than a week (wishful hoping).

Instead March was a month full of extremely high "ups" and equally low "downs": stress, anger, frustration, joy, love, and fun.  It was a crazy month that I guess has kept me posting because I A) Didn't know how to express everything I was going through exactly as I wanted and B) Because I just didn't have the time to sit myself down at the computer and write.

And I really did have posts lined up to write, I even started a few of them: my first Día de los Reyes, Carnaval in my colegio, the process of renewing, and my thoughts on how living in Spain I've grown to love so many different foods.  But then they all just got put on the back burner of my life.

Spanish potluck dinner with friends.
I don't want to bore you all with a long post of every detail of my month, trust me, some of them I would rather not relive.  And that being said, some other ones I will put in their own post (hopefully not several months behind again).

To get over with it I'll start with the worst of the month:
  • School drama.  My school is great, don't get me wrong but two situations that had been growing for a while mad March a very stressful month:
    • One of my usual teachers was on maternity leave for a few months and a long-term sub was brought in.  Normal, right?  The only problem is that they brought in a teacher whose level of English was not up to what it should be in a bilingual school and she also could not control the class, among many other frustating situations.  I have never been so happy to have my teacher return last week, good teachers make all the difference.
    Las Meninas at the Carnaval Parade
    • With another grade we are preparing exams, which is frustrating for all parties involved.  The other auxiliar and I started to become way overused (and overwhelmed) with what we were being asked to do, like: solo teaching all of the classes.  It just got to be too much, finally leading us to a meeting to talk through all the issues and miscommunication.  Which was a reminder that when there is a problem and/or you feel uncomfortable, it will only get worse until you talk about it.
  • General job stress.  With the crisis in Spain and lack of jobs for most of the youth, we were anxiously waiting to hear back from the BF's company if he would get officially hired like they kept hinting.  My staying in Spain for next year depended a great deal on whether or not he would be able to stay in Madrid with me.  After a long distance relationship for two years we've both vowed to do whatever we could to avoid being in the situation again, making the uncertainty of his job a huge stress for both of us.
  • Children are infested disease carriers.  Kidding...only a little bit, at least they're cute...
Sneak peak of las murallas de Ávila.

But like I said before March also had its beautiful moments, worth all of the stress and frustration.

  • Finally good luck in jobs!  At the end of the month we finally received good news on both fronts and will likely be here for at least two more years (at least one more for me with Auxiliares as I was officially placed last Thursday!)
  • A day trip to Ávila, the capital of the province of Ávila in Castilla y León, with friends.  It's a great small city known for it's medieval wall and it's high number of Romanesque and Gothic churches.  Plus great Chuletón (a type of T-bone steak)!
  • An impromptu trip to Barcelona last weekend to visit some of my boyfriend's friends.  It was my first time in Cataluña in general and I had an amazing time getting to know them and the city.  There's nothing better than having native tour guides, especially ones so welcoming!  We didn't get to see everything we wanted, but we both want to go back with more time to enjoy the city and his friends.
  • And general exploring and enjoyment of Madrid.  Like watching the Carnaval parade in person, visiting the Museum of Sorolla (one of my favorite Spanish artists), and devouring the Spanish cuisine.  We're a couple that really, really loves food and on the weekends (and sometimes the ambitious weekday) we like exploring different corners and restaurants of Madrid. 
  • And finally my dad arrives to visit on Wednesday and I'm beyond excited to see him, as I haven't seen him since August!  I spent most of March planned for his visit and looking forward to his arrival.  It's his first time in Europe so we have plans to travel to some different sights in Europe and Spain.

Now that April is here and the weather is BEAUTIFUL I'm excited to (finally finish the posts I've planned, of course) what this month has planned for me and spend more time walking around and exploring Madrid.  It's such a huge city and there's so many places yet to discover.

View of Barcelona from Parque Güell.

How has March treated you this year?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Nochevieja, Celebrating Like a Spaniard

A little late in the year for talks of New Year celebrations, but never too late to learn some new traditions!

New Year's Eve throughout the world is quite the spectacle, but never have I seen a spectacle as large as in Spain.  This year was my first New Year's Eve away from home, and I got to spend it with my boyfriend's family and friends in Santander learning how to ring in the new year like a Spaniard.
I was first most surprised by how family oriented this holiday was compared to the United States.  Unlike in the USA where I either celebrate at my house with my mom and a few friends or at a friend's party, my boyfriend's whole family got together for a huge family dinner (very similar to their Christmas Eve here).

We arrived at their grandfather's house for around 9:00 pm, perfect timing for a Spanish dinner, and spent the time playing games and planning on how my hair would be done for later that night.  Yes, you heard that, how my hair was going to be done...but more on that later.
Bringing two cultures together with pie!
As the clock struck 10:00 we all gathered around the table for a huge dinner of langostinos, pâté, anchovies, cured lomo, salad,  piles of bread, cochinillo (suckling pig/piglet), and cordero (lamb).  Finished off with dessert of torrijas (like a very sweet french toast) and apple pie I made to share some of traditional USA culture.  As usual everything was delicious and I rolled away from the table with a stomach too full for my own good, my typical state after big Spanish family dinners.

Now with an hour to spare before the twelve chimes from Puerta del Sol, the hour of the peinados (hairstyles) began.  In Spain once midnight strikes it's very common for teenagers/young adults, who are of drinking age or atleast pretend to be, meet with their friends to go out.  One of the ways to do this on New Year's Eve is to have a cotillón, a party where a group of people rent out a bar for one pre-paid entrance fee (normally anywhere from 35-70€) and stay and drink there until the bar closes around 6:00 am.  In Santander everyone is dressed to the nines for these cotillones, the men in suits and the women in nice dresses, some even with their hair styled.
My fabulous hair-do
As it was my first, and maybe last cotillón as many of our friends aren't feeling cotillones anymore, we wanted to go all out.  The BF's aunt used to be a hairdresser and she fabulously styled my hair and his sister's.  While we were being "beautified" he was on grape duty.  Counting out grapes for all the family members and making sure everyone had the twelve grapes in time for the twelve chimes, probably the most well known Spanish New Year's tradition.

Unlike watching a giant crystal ball drop in Time's Square, well they have a small ball drop, everyone gathers around the TV, with grapes in hand, to watch the center of Madrid and wait for the clock to strike.  Once the clock strikes numbers appear on the screen with each chime, telling when each grape should be eaten.  I'm proud to say I ate all twelve grapes in time, good luck and prosperity for the new year!, though it did help that we had seedless grapes...  Regardless, we toasted the new year with cava, gave besos to the whole family, and enjoyed all the fireworks being set off near the house.

Now that it was after midnight we were in a time crunch to finish getting ready to meet our friends in the center for 1:00 am.  We were dropped off by their father who agreed to pick us all up the next morning in the center around 7:00 am, a reasonable party end in Spain.

Altogether the cotillón was fun, not the greatest music unfortunately, but after being in Madrid it was great going out with all our friends from Santander.  And like any great Spanish party, we ended the night (began the day?) with chocolate con churros.

When we woke up later that day we went back to their grandfather's house for a New Year's Day family lunch of delicious home-made Paella.  A few games later, more like the same game of Risk for a few hours, we all went to the cinema to catch a movie (Keanu Reeves's 47 Ronin) together.  The perfect way to relax after a long night, and to remember how much I love the Spanish importance of family.  There's nothing better than family time!

How was your New Year's Eve?  Have you ever celebrated it as part of another culture?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Post-College Expectations Vs. Reality

Where have I been for the past few weeks?  Drilling Spanish children on what it means to be healthy or unhealthy? Yes. Over indulging in Spanish culture?  Maybe.  Ignoring blog world? Never.

The truth is that my computer suddenly decided it didn't love me anymore and now processes at a speed roughly slower than a snail/tortoise hybrid baby would.  While it "claims" there is no virus, I'm currently only able to add anything to my blog when the BF isn't using his computer (and with his Master's presentation this week, that time has been few and far between).

With that being said, it's also been a while since I've had a post more about dealing with life after college, instead of my current life abroad in Spain.  While this does happen to be my life after college, I understand that there are many who may come to this blog who aren't very interested in what I'm doing but are looking for advice in the process of leaving their college years behind.
Well this one's for you guys.

Last year before I came to Spain I wrote a post called: Common Life After College Myths Debunked talking about some common myths I had heard, and some I felt, before graduating.  Now almost two years post-graduation (Seriously? One year after college was hard enough to process...) I'm realizing that all my own expectations and plans have changed, and not necessarily in a negative way.

I thought I would have a real job by now...

Yeah I know it wasn't a good market, and very few people were being hired...but I thought somehow I would be different.  Those statistics didn't apply to me, I had done well in all my student teaching practicums and even won awards, it may take a few tries I would be hired.  Wrong.  I still remember the first teaching jobs I applied to where over 400 people applied to the same position and I wasn't even called in for an interview.  I was heartbroken, like I wasn't a good enough teacher because I wasn't hired straight out of college.  
But after I started substitute teaching  I began to realize that those statistics were there for a reason, and that I wasn't the only one trying to break into the education field.  There were so many subsitutes I met who had been struggling like this for nearly a decade!  And I finally realized that not having my dream job right away didn't mean I wasn't good enough, I had to define my own worth because no job would do that for me.  So I made up my mind that, that was the year I made the move to Spain.  I wanted to do something different with my life, and while it's still not my dream job being an auxiliar, I feel much more fulfilled working long term with a group of students then subbing in their classroom a few times a year.

I didn't think I could stay healthy

For anyone that has ever known me I'm a food-iac.  I love food, love eating, and worse have a killer sweet tooth.  On the other hand though, I also love to workout and stay physically active, but have the vice that I easily get overwhelmed by pressure and nap when I should be sweating.  While in school I was able to keep up the tentative balance, but was never quite happy with my health regime.  Regardless, I was worried that I would be able to break old unhealthy patterns, hmm dessert you say?, and that I wouldn't be able to afford to have healthy meals.
May not look like much, but stuffed eggplants!
So I started to learn how to cook and the beauty that is moderation.  In the U.S. the food was a little more difficult because fresh fruit and vegetables can be so expensive, but here in Spain fresh produce is my cheapest purchase.  I've taken my health into my own hands by constantly searching for new healthy ways to cook the food I love.  I've also started to tap into Spanish foods with my Christmas gift of a Spanish cook-book which is full of vegtables and fruits.  Overall the most important thing I've learned is that while we eat to fuel our bodies, we also eat to enjoy.  Between using fresh ingredients, cooking from scratch, and moderation I have stayed healthy and happy post-college.  Not to mention staying active is now as easy as searching fitness on pinterest!

I thought my university would always be home

I was not the stereotypical college student, I spent more time with my friends off campus than on, but it still felt like home to me.  And with friends still left behind, I thought that feeling would never change for me.  Especially since my campus was fifteen minutes away from and I practically grew up on the campus.  Instead, I found that from the moment I stepped back on campus that it wasn't home anymore.  

I was working six days a week and while I was worried about bills and going to bed on time, my friends were talking about parties and their classes.  I found that except for a few close friends, I couldn't relate to the people I had once hung out with anymore, or the goals that had for their lives at that moment.  Everytime I returned to campus I just felt more and more like an outsider looking in and one night when I walked past my old dorm, and saw a light on in my old room, it became clear that I no longer belonged there.  And wouldn't again.  At first I was sad, but it gave me the push I needed to move out of my comfort levels.  My old college may no longer be my home, but that didn't mean I had to lose my friends or the memories I would take with me.

I didn't think I could afford my loans

Oh student loans, why must you be so expensive?  They're were one of the most daunting things about graduating.  I just remember thinking helpless, how would I ever be able to pay them back?  But then again, I'm a proactive person and spent my senior year working two jobs on top of my studies to save money.  When my grace period was over I had already saved enough money to make the payments of my first year of loans.  And last year I saved up enough money to make the payments for two more years.
Mini-Plaza Mayor at Parque Europa
Don't get me wrong, it was a lot more work then you may think, I had to sacrifice a lot of time and things that I wanted. But thanks to that work I have been able to travel and make it to Spain this year (and afford my loans).  Yes, student loans are expensive, and a nuisance, get the picture.  But they don't have to be impossible.  With planning and hard work, you can beat your loan payments and enjoy your life.  If you need some help making sense of your loans, read my post about dealing with student loan debt.

I thought I would be near my friends

This has been one of the hardest pills to swallow about going to a college near my house, and moving abroad to Spain (both with my friends from high school and college).  My friends are some of the most important people in my life and I thought I would be able to keep up our girl's nights and general adventures.  Post-college and having moved away I feel like I have to start all over again.  I feel like I'm back in high school, or a freshman in college trying to find new people I can connect with (particularly hard if you're introvert that does a poor awkward job at pretending to be an extrovert).
But the hards thing has been that being so far away means I have missed a lot, of both the good and the bad.  I can't be there to congratulate my friends on the new job or comfort them when a loved one has passed away.  Even with skype, facebook, email, and whatsapp I'm not a part of their lives like we used to be.  I feel like I'm in a long distance relationship all over again, but this time with my friends.  While it's not easy, I've learned that the friendships (like all types of relationships) will remain strong if all parties want it to work and the effort is made to stay in touch.  Thanks technology!

I didn't think I could travel

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that post-college I would be able to travel, let alone live abroad.  Believe me when I say it hasn't always been an easy path, but for me it has been worth all that I've had to given up.  And when I say give up, I mean all those little things that we have been told we need to be able survive: the newest clothes, the latest technology, a big house, new car, etc.  And if those things make you happy, there's nothing wrong with that.  I know plently of people who look at what I'm doing with my life and wouldn't feel happy or fulfilled.
But if you're like me, and traveling is your dream, then anything is possible.  Maybe I don't have the nicest phone or laptop, maybe I don't have designer clothes or expensive accessories, I have a great experience and great memories.  I can say "Remember that time we rented an apartment in the center of Paris and could see the eiffel tower from our balcony?" or "Remember that time I celebrated my birthday in Pamplona at the Running of the Bulls?" or even "Remember that time I fell up a crowded metro escalator with all my luggage trying to make a plane to Sevilla on time?" (true story, complete wipe out).  And those memories, even the embarrassing, are for me worth giving up all those little things.

How has the post-college life met your expectations?