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Touristing

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In the several months leading up to my parents’ visit to Madrid, all my chocolate-crazed mom could talk about was how excited she was to try churros and chocolate for the first time.

On their first day here, she passed a churrería-chocolatería that had creme-filled and chocolate dipped churros in their display case and quite literally jumped for joy. She was then shocked to discover that I have never tried filled or dipped churros. How could I live in a land where those existed and never have had them?

That got me thinking. Despite being the chocoholic that I am, I realized that in the eight months that I’ve lived in Spain, I’ve only had churros three times. Three. And all three of those times were in my first month of being here. It didn’t make sense, because there is nothing I love more than a steaming cup of thick, rich, and creamy hot chocolate. So why had I stopped going for churros con chocolate?

And then it hit me: getting churros felt like something a tourist does. And after just one month of living in Madrid, I had stopped “touristing.”

Throughout the rest of my parents’ trip, that realization continued to be reinforced. Guiding my parents through Madrid’s major sights and watching them marvel at their quaint European and Spanish charm, I noticed just how normal and natural those wonders felt to me now.

At first I was worried that this meant I no longer appreciated how lucky I am to be living in Spain - that I took it all for granted. But in actuality, I think my feeling so settled and comfortable in Madrid is proof of how far I’ve come. I’ve moved to a new continent and have been living in a different country, surrounded by a foreign language and culture, and have successfully adapted and adjusted to the differences. What an accomplishment. 

While I still love being a tourist in other cities around Spain and throughout Europe, I’m very grateful that my "touristing" days in Madrid are over and I've graduated to simply "living."

The Countdown has started!! Yahooo! Ole!
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Puentes Galore!

O ‘tis but a joy to be an auxiliar.  Oh the places you’ll go. The puentes you’ll have!  Who could complain?

This past puente I found myself visiting a friend in Geneva.  Random. YES! But that’s what’s exciting about living here. You take those kinds of trips that you probably wouldn’t if you were flying to another continent for a week’s vacation from work.  I’d never been to Switzerland before and was very excited to add another country to the list!

Traveling is exhilarating.  There is always something new to see, to eat, to hear.  It’s a full sensory experience. Switzerland has such an interesting mix of languages and people.  At the airport there was a sign saying “Bienvenue. Welcome. Wilkommen.”

That night my friend took me to an outdoor market with little stands from which to buy olives, cheeses, breads, beers, wines, everything!  Heaven! And it was crowded with people standing everywhere and sitting all over the ground with their cheese plates, antipasti platters, beers, and wines.  Thankfully my friend is a fluent French speaker, so I could just relax and enjoy the eating.

We had an incredible cheese plate -- my favorite was Gruyere.  The land of Gruyere. I had a dream to visit Gruyere and the chocolate factory nearby in Broc, but wasn’t sure it would work out because of transit and money.  I had given up the dream until I was reminded of rental cars. What an invention, right? We would rent a car Sunday to drive to the chocolate factory and Gruyere.  And then of course all of these other options piled on the visit-plate: Charlie Chaplin’s world near Montreux, Montreaux--home of all things jazz, the Queen Studio Experience, a lake promenade.  Too much, as usual. I’ve found myself more on the side of hustling on trips than on the relaxation side. And I’m not unhappy about it!

So, Friday we wanted to go to Bern.  We didn’t buy the tickets ahead of time.  Switzerland is NOT a cheap country. I repeat:  Switzerland is a VERY EXPENSIVE country. But what could we do?  We were only there this one time. So we bit the bullet and bought tickets that morning at the station.  I can’t share the price. It was worth it, regardless.

At the train station we purchased some snacks as the ride from Geneva to Bern is just under 2 hours.  I had a gut feeling I should get the pastrami sandwich on a light brown bread. Looked like there were greens in it and some sauce.  We also got a mini quiche. WOW!!!! The pastrami sandwich was incredible! I can taste it as I write this. If only I could ship them in tons to me.  If only…

So, the train ride was entertaining and not just because of the snacks.  The train chugs (in a 21st-century sense) right along the lake and my goodness how gorgeous it is.  Oh and also the Alps are there. THE ALPS. I’ve never seen anything like it. For those of you who think “mountains are mountains, come on.”  No. Just, no. These mountains are incredibly and overwhelmingly gorgeous, pointed, intimidating, lovely. I gotta say I could not stop thinking about the Disney Matterhorn while there.  Disney really does an incredible job of evoking the aesthetic of a place…

So the train ride was an attraction in itself (another justification for the price of the tickets).  We arrived in Bern and I was googly-eyed. I just love being in a new place--such a funny concept for me, so anti-change, so into the new.  Now that I’m home I can’t remember how I became aware of a museum pass. Oh I think it was some online research on the train. This was one of the least-planned trips I’ve ever taken.  [We had a hotel booked in Barcelona for Monday-Wednesday, but no travel booked to get there hahaha, it’s funny now looking back hahaha.] So the museum pass! We calculated it made sense to get it, so we went to the tourist office at the station.  What a joy to have a credit-card-like card just for museums. It was incredible to waltz into a museum, show the card, and be granted access immediately.

Our first stop was the Zentrum Paul Klee.  I didn’t love it, but the setting is beautiful.  You have to take a bus from the station to the museum and that’s very easy to do.  There was an exhibition devoted to Down syndrome and an exhibition on Klee’s work during WWI--a bit uncomfortable because he was drafted into the German army.  The museum seems to be a spot for events more than for the Klee work (though I’m sure Klee specialists are thrilled with it). The building designed by Renzo Piano was the most intriguing--three metallic gray slopes in the middle of the hills.

After the Klee stuff, we took the bus back down to the Barenpark.  The symbol of Bern is the bear, and so they are known for this bear pit, literally.  We passed a mini stone pit but saw no bears. We realized there why some would be upset by the treatment of the bears.  I had read that there was a new home for the bears that was more suitable. I desperately wanted to see the bears, but amongst the trees next to the river, we saw nothing.  Then! The bear! Napping in the shade! Couldn’t get a good photo. Of course upon walking away from the bears we see that two of the three bears are right there out in the open next to the bridge.  Bears, check. Lovely meeting you, Bjork, Finn, and Ursina.

We walked onto the main drag and passed so many shops, so many well-dressed people, so many “classy” restaurants.  We saw a lot of these doors that opened to what seemed like an underground cellar where the monsters hide in horror films but these turned out to be steps leading down under the street to shops, cafes, etc.  That seemed to be a popular thing. We passed the Einstein house and went (covered by our museum pass). Einstein lived in Bern for a bit. Some places will really really take advantage of any big name that can be associated with the place.

We continued and found a beautiful chocolate shop with a beautiful tiny sandwich on pretzel bread.  Delicious. It had the magic touch of a pickle.

We then found a cafe and took a chance on a good looking apricot cake.  Not my favorite flavor, but it looked good. It was incredible. Fresh, soft, not dry, delicious.  AMAZING.

We trekked onward towards the famous clock.  Passed a shop with a beautiful display of buttons, arranged by color.  Once we got closer to the clock we saw that it was covered with a sheet.  A trompe l’oeil! I’d been fooled!

The Kunstmuseum had an amazing exhibition on the works discovered in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, son of Hildebrand Gurlitt--art dealer for the Nazis during WWII.  I was impressed by the museum’s openness to present their work as it is--in the process of determining provenance. It’s kind of a mystery why Cornelius Gurlitt bequeathed the art to the Kunstmuseum in Bern, and they mention that.  Every work has a label telling you they know who it was stolen from, if it was stolen, if it wasn’t, etc. It was special to be there for this show.

I’m gonna skip ahead to the snacks we purchased for the train ride home.  There’s an incredible (yes, I’ve overused this word) chain of quick-stop food called Brezelkonig.  How I wish they existed elsewhere. We got a Raclette Pretzel and a hot dog stuffed inside a pretzel bun.  They had all kinds of pretzels, but I can attest to the goodness of the raclette option. And the hot dog one.  Wow.

In Geneva we took a boat tour on the lake, we walked around the old town, we saw the university.  We passed all the watch companies you can name in 10 seconds and some immaculate chocolate shops. Major food stop in Geneva was crepe cafe.  We had a waffle with salted caramel topping and two crepes: one with spinach, egg, gruyere and ham, the other with banana and chocolate. Oh and chantilly cream--one of my weak spots.  I too am laughing at myself for writing about food this much, go ahead, it’s okay.

Geneva wasn’t my favorite city, but I’m still glad I saw it.  In the next post, I’ll write about the beautiful day trip to Gruyeres, Broc, and Montreux.  Au revoir for now!

A Week's Vacation in Three Parts: Cantabria

Spring has sprung in Madrid.  The smell of olives is wafting into my apartment.  People have morphed into vultures, circling around the cafe terrazas waiting to pounce on a free table.  The sky is lit until 9pm, deceiving you into thinking you could sit out until it got dark and still have time to accomplish everything you want to that evening.  So I’m in vacation mode and would like to return to the roadtrip. Part Two. Cantabria.

Teleférico of Fuente De.  The teleférico of fuente de.  Wow. What words are there to describe it?  High up. Snow. Mountains. Words not usually associated with me, but that day, they were.

We arrived in sneakers and well I guess we weren’t dressed properly for the skiing, wood cabin, put-up-a-fire-and-let’s-have-some-hot-cocoa mountain look, so we went into the trunk in the parking lot and I pulled out my winter hat.  Still in sneakers, we ascended the stairs to the entrance amongst a crowd of winter-hatted others with chunky boots and cameras. Does that age people now? To say they have a camera? Yikes. We had our disposable ones :) I digress.  Luckily there weren’t a lot of people because it was early. Perhaps also some stayed away because they thought it would be foggy. We were so lucky. Bright blue sky, bright sun, bright white mountains.

Now this is not a cheap experience.  17€ round trip. But it was worth it for me.  I’m not often up in the snow-capped mountains taking chairlifts up hills to ski down, let alone in one of Spain’s national parks--Los Picos de Europa--with access to one of the major tourist highlights.

Initially, I couldn’t see the thing.  I couldn’t see a cable in the air, or poles, or something moving, nothing.  Just gigantic mountains and little dark spots of trees poking out like hairs.  After paying for the ticket, I watched as a red, white, and blue box-like thing was lowered into the loading dock.  I was gonna get on THAT???? I was terrified. Absolutely terrified. It didn’t even stop swinging a bit, so when you get on, your foot is not in the spot you thought it would be when you picked it up to put it on.  Am I being dramatic? Absolutely. Did it feel this dramatic? Absolutely.

Before I could change my mind, the door closed and we were ascending.  I just kept thinking don’t look down don’t look down don’t look down. I don’t think I did.  I was looking up and straight ahead. It was getting brighter and brighter as more and more of the mountain range revealed itself.  Always hiding from people, make you work hard to see it.

At the top I breathed air like I’ve never before.  Both literally how I breathed and the air I breathed.  Full, crisp, intoxicating. To be eye-to-eye with the mountains was to soar.  If I had done nothing else “exciting” the whole trip, I would’ve been beyond content to have just experienced this.

It wasn’t long before I found myself in the gift shop (only after 200 photos, of course).  And then nearby there was a small room with photographs documenting the history of the teleférico.  I was reassured reading about the two ways you can be saved if your cable car stops in the middle.  It's clear that this attraction is a jewel of the region.

On the way back down I felt confident.  I had conquered. Triumphant, I looked down on the way down.  Before I knew it, I was back on the ground looking up at those glorious mountains I had just had the pleasure of meeting.  The world is open.

Hala, Madrid

My life is messy.

In the literal sense, as I walk into my apartment after returning from almost a week in Santa Pola, I let out a long, arduous sigh. My room looks like a bomb went off inside of it. I've tossed clothes everywhere while packing -- on the floor, the bed, chairs, any available, empty space -- , there is still trash that should've been taken out before I  left, my fridge contains a half jar of jam and about 3 eggs...

Instead of cleaning up my mess at 11:00 at night, I've decided to write instead. The mess can wait until tomorrow (life motto).

I want to tell you guys about the last week, and the last couple of months here in Spain. How radically different they've been from when I first began my journey here in August. What I´ve experienced, and struggled with, and learned.

Gah, what I´ve learned. If I could sum up this entire year in Spain it could probably be encompassed in that one statement. Which is honestly why I haven´t been able to write about it as much.. my head is constantly swarming with new information, moments, and stories I want to tell -- but where do I even begin? How do I wrap it in a bow and make it something concise and inspiring and worthy of one blog?

My problem is that I feel like this is impossible. Let me try to explain...

Earlier today I was sitting on the beach with some of my Spanish friends -- Raul, my Spanish student I met in the town that I teach in, who graciously invited me to spend a week in Alicante with his friends and family for the puente, his nephew Adrian, a 23 year old soon-to-be engineer, their friends they grew up with, Jano and Noelia (sidenote -- Noelia is my new favorite Spanish name), and Jano´s parents Rafa and Carmen. Carmen reminds me a lot of my own mother. Gracious, selfless, full of life when she´s around the people she loves. As she began walking towards the water, I saw her roll up her sleeves to take in the sun; and visions of my mother started flashing in my mind. Moments with my family, so similar to this one. On a beach somewhere familiar, in a town where I know the best places to eat and the best bars and where I remember digging sandcastles in the hot sun... I watch as Rafa, her husband, follows her with his eyes..his hands on his hips, gazing into the afternoon sun. And then within a breath he steadily begins to follow her to the rocks on the edge of the water. Another sidenote, the romantic in me died at this moment, especially when he sat down and joined her to overlook the sea, taking it all in after God knows how many years together.. They have the strong and quiet kind of love that I see a lot here in Spain. That familial strength that I´ve only ever witnessed in Spanish-speaking countries.

Spain has taught me a lot about that -- the importance of connections and relationships. Its also has inspired in me a profound love for intercambios. Exchanging languages, especially with a bit of understanding on each side, is absolutely incredible. Finding commonalities in our words and  our little terms and catch-phrases that we believe only belong to our own cultures. The shock and giddy surprise we feel when we relate to each other in that moment of connection. I´ve witnessed this in moments at my school sitting in the cafeteria gabbing with my co-teachers over food and hangovers (yup, everyone knows the meaning of that word), with my little ones who have their first crushes or get in a fight with their friends over the same things I did when I was their age, and with my Spanish friends that I´ve made here...singing Reggaeton songs or watching the Real Madrid game and Rafa looking over at me and saying ¨Victoria, esta es nuestra Superbowl!¨

If you haven´t watched futbol with a band of Spaniards yet, you´re seriously missing out on one of the best experiences, cultural and just in general..

What else have I learned in these past 8 months?

I´ve learned, with much lucha (struggle) how to start speaking up. I´m a generally quiet person. I only like to speak when I feel confident in what I´m going to say, and I only like to say something if I know that it matters. That it has a purpose. In Santa Pola, my friends Raul and Adrian challenged me to a day where we would only speak in Spanish. At first, I was really excited. ¨This is going to be good for me,¨I thought to myself as I went to bed that night. The next day when I woke up and walked outside to greet them, I froze. With Spanish and English spinning around in my head, I had no idea what to say and had no clue how to say it. Therefore, I didn´t say much. And although I did decently well early on in the day (to be debated, but I was proud of my elementary conversational skills), by the time we got to lunch to meet up with a few of their friends, I felt exhausted. Defeated. I sat and listened most of the 2 hours while we ate (which honestly is my preferred way of being, I love to observe).

But observing is only part of participating, only part of the challenge, only part of really learning.

So when we arrived a few hours later to watch the Real Madrid - Munich match at Rafa and Carmen´s, I decided to give it one last go. Carmen chose to sit down beside me during the game, and this weird feeling of calm came over me. I mentioned before how she reminds me a bit of my own mom, and I think this familiarity instantly flipped a switch in my behavior, in my mind. She started speaking to me and her son kept telling her ¨despacio, ma¨, but the weird thing is, I didn´t need her to slow down. Even if she was speaking rapidly, it was all making sense. Again, maybe it was the familiarity, maybe it was that patience, that grace I saw in her too, but I got it. It clicked, and we had this great little chat about something as simple and average as our daily work commutes -- but thats all it takes, guys.

Its as simple as that. That tiny connection filled my heart and I was overwhelmed with gratitude, and excitement.

I spoke up, and the rest followed...

 

I have two months left here in Spain. A weird mixture of sadness and readiness consumes me, like I´m sure it does the rest of us fellow Auxilliars. We´ve all explored and experienced and learned so much. We have so much to take away from this, and yet still a bit more to learn.

That is what I hope for the rest of my time left here. To keep improving my Spanish, to really dig in deep on the relationships I want to keep. To see and experience a few more things that surprise and move me.

But I do know one thing for sure.

Living and teaching in Spain has taught me more about life in one year than I think I´ve learned in the past 25 put together, and I am so grateful.

 

 

Day Trip: Sierra de Madrid

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If you’re looking for something fun and outdoorsy to do now that the weather is finally starting to warm up in Madrid, then a day trip to the Sierra de Madrid is for you!

The trail starts at a little outpost called Puerto de los Cotos and is relatively easy for those new to hiking, a fact to which I can personally attest, having just completed it as my first major hike since I was little. Despite my misfortune of making the trek before all the snow had melted and having to stomp through it in very soggy sneakers, I still found the course manageable and just the right amount of challenging.

 Even for the more experienced hikers out there, this trail does not disappoint. Its wide variety of landscapes are breathtaking and keep you guessing as to what you’re going to find “just around the riverbend.” From pine-covered mountains, to steep rock walls, to trickling streams, rushing rivers, rolling fields of grass, and majestic lakes, the Sierra de Madrid offers a little bit of everything.

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TEACHER SPOTLIGHT: BRIANNA REYES

TEACH IN SPAIN + 4 WEEKS OF SPANISH IMMERSION

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Meet Brianna, one of our Teach in Spain + 4 Weeks of Spanish Immersion participants for the 2017-2018 academic year!  Check out what she has to say about her experience as a Language and Culture Assistant in Madrid.

Why did you want to teach English in Spain?  What did you hope to learn, gain, and contribute?

I had always known that I wanted to teach abroad, but had never really considered where. One of my coworkers told me about how she had taught English in Spain through CIEE. She absolutely loved the program, and her enthusiasm got me really interested. After doing my research, I knew that the CIEE 4-week immersion program was for me! I would be able to learn Spanish (a longtime goal), live and teach abroad, and add a new experience to my career as an ESL teacher.

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Tell us about your daily routine as an English teacher.

I work at an amazing primary school located an hour outside of Madrid city center. Every day I take the bus from Moncloa to Robledo de Chavela at 7:45am. We (there are four auxiliares at our school) arrive to the school around 9:00am.  What our typical day looks like in terms of activities and participation varies based on the grade, teacher, and subject. I work with fourth and fifth graders and have a wide variety of responsibilities. In the classroom, I often read aloud to the students, review their workbook activities with them, and play vocabulary games.

Tell us about your host family experience.

My host family was incredible! My host family consisted of my host mom, dad, and brother and their dog Moto. When I wasn’t studying for class, I would hang out on their beautiful balcony. They lived by the river in Madrid, so we had beautiful views and a nice park to visit. My family was so kind and supportive, and living with them really helped improve my Spanish.

What were your Spanish immersion classes like?

The language immersion classes were awesome! Coming into the program, I had a lot of gaps in my knowledge due to the fact that I had only been studying for two months, but the teachers were really good about making things easy to understand. The activities were all hands-on, and the two teachers each had their own style and method for teaching.  Overall, the school was in a good, central location, the classes were the perfect size for both discussions and small group activities, and I feel like my Spanish improved significantly within that month.

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What is the funniest thing a student said while you were teaching?

Students say hilarious things all the time! Sometimes, students get a little confused switching between languages – for example, when a student told the teacher that a synopsis is when a magician puts you to sleep.  When you’re in a school setting, no matter the age group, students are always saying hilarious things!

What advice would you give to an incoming CIEE teacher in Spain?

I think that my biggest piece of advice would be to make the most of your experience here, without jeopardizing your students. I wholeheartedly believe in traveling whenever you can, going out for drinks and tapas with friends, and having the best Spanish experience that you can. That being said, we are here to be auxiliares, work in the schools, and help our students improve their English. Our fun should never get in the way of us being professional and doing the best at our jobs. You should (and can!) live your best life while always remembering to give your students the best that you can.

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A Week's Vacation in Three Parts: Asturias

The trip started, as most do, with a car, a contract, and a discussion on whether or not we should pay for a prepaid tank of gas.  But I’ll fast forward through those nitty-gritties. On the road we went. Destination? Oviedo. Asturias would be our first stop.

The way there felt like we were rolling through that ride at Disney where you pass through different movie sets, except we rolled through seasons.  One second we were winding between snow-covered mountains, the next we were among the greenest hills I’d ever seen. Probably one of my favorite observations from the trip was that you’ll be on the highway and the speed limit will be 120 km/h, then it’ll be 90 km/h, eventually getting to 30 km/h when you go through a town.  These towns consist of a 1 to 2-minute stretch of highway (one lane, each direction) and on the mountain side of the road there’s a pharmacy, a bar, and laundry hanging out the window of homes. The other side is a drop down (I didn’t look). Before you know it, the town name is on a rectangular white sign with a diagonal red line through it signaling “you are now leaving” whatever town it was.  The speed limit jumps back up. We’d do this dance many times along the way.

We made only one stop on the way, to purchase jamón chips, of course, so we got to Oviedo just when the sun was setting around 8:30pm.  I’d picked this particular place to stay because it had beautiful views of the city. I’ve learned that if a place has beautiful views, that usually means the drive to get to it requires going up steep hills often with twisties.  Also picked it for the breakfast the next day. The room had a view and it was breathtaking. At night we could see the town lit up like the reflection of stars in a tiny pond between the mountains.

By 10:15pm we were seated at Tierra de Astur, recommended to us by the hotel and a popular spot on Calle Gascona--the street of cider.  This is where the major sidrerias are. Once you order your 3€ bottle of cider, the waiter will perform the pour. Proper pour position is: bottle is lifted above head, arm straight up in the air, eyes looking straight ahead, not up at bottle, glass is held in other hand below waist, that arm is pointing downward, commence pour.  Beware of some drizzle on your ankles! No one says that, but now I’ve told you.

Along with our yummy cider, we wanted to have fabada--the special Asturian stew of fava beans and Spanish meats.  They were out of it! So we had a similar stew instead, with cabbage. It was delish. The chorizo was amazing and having the bread to sop up every last bit was a life-saver.  Oh my goodness, I skipped perhaps the best part of the meal. We started with a wonderful cheese--Rey Silo. It arrived beautifully laid out on a block of wood with some quince (sweet) paste and apple slices.  I loved the cheese so much, I wrote down its name in my phone. It forced me to create a memo on my phone devoted to “Cheeses We Like.”

We finished off the meal with what the waiter suggested as a typical Asturian dessert: leche frita (fried milk).  It came cinnamon-sugared-up in a bed of tasty creamy yellow liquid.  Inside the fried exterior was a soft milky interior. All of this for 25€ people, get going!

The next morning we had breakfast in a room with windows for walls showing the beautiful views of the city.  At times it felt like we were looking at a green screen. It was hard to yank ourselves away, but we managed to do so and headed out to see some of Oviedo in the daytime.  We had to hustle because our next stop for the night was in Pembes--about 112 miles away. And we needed to stop in Gijón, Covadonga, and somewhere in the Cabrales region for a cheese tasting.  

We made a point of looking for Mafalda in Oviedo and we found her on a bench in a park!  After a solid photoshoot, we walked around. There were Botero statues, rainbow-painted benches, and a long line outside of Starbucks because they were handing out cups for a free drink.  We purchased 2 disposable cameras and headed for Gijón.

In Gijón we walked along the beach for a bit, took some pics with the established photo-op--Gijón in red letters on the waterfront--and got back in the car to go to Covadonga.  Along the way we pulled over for souvenirs. How could I not stop, it was a giant building filled with souvenirs. I left without a purchase and regret.

In Covadonga we circled around and around the same small area ready to pounce on a parking spot.  A giant waterfall jutting out of an imposing mountain cascaded into a tiny reservoir. People were walking up the side of it to go into a cave that housed a chapel and shelves of candles.  We would do the same.

If this post sounds a little packed, I’d like to tell you that the trip was more than a little packed, to the point where it’s hard to recall what was done on which day.  I’m getting stressed just writing about it. But I’m also grateful.

After Covadonga, we called a cheese factory to see if they were open for tours.  Luckily they were. I haven’t been that close to real cows perhaps ever. We even watched them get milked by a machine!  And we saw a baby calf. The tour finished with some samples. Queso de cabrales is not for the faint of heart, I’ll leave it at that.  

Leaving the cheese factory, I was struck by how peaceful it felt to be standing in the middle of fields and mountains.  My city-self is not always at ease in the midst of wide open spaces. But here, I breathed it in. And how wonderful it was.  Asturias.

Stepping Out of the Book!

So, I have spent the school year living with Raquel - possibly the coolest teacher ever.  She is funny and brilliant and inspiring... This year Raquel is teaching 1st grade at the school I am at and, even though I do not have the chance to be in her classroom, I have gotten the chance to witness her ideas in action as I work with the other 1st grade class and see the various projects that the students get to take home every couple of weeks.   

You see, the 1st graders don’t have books for their subjects.  Instead, the teachers create worksheets, arts and crafts, and the like that are turned into lapbooks.  These lapbooks include all the information that the students would find in their books (if they had them) but present the information in a much more engaging and hands-on manner.  

After seeing how great the lapbooks always seem to look and the pride the 1st grade students take in the work that they completed, I decided to take some initiative and see if it might be possible to try a similar idea with the 2nd graders.  Therefore, after returning from Semana Santa, I talked with the teacher I work with, I borrowed the Teacher’s edition of the 2nd grade Natural Science book and began looking through the unit that we were beginning - all about "How my body moves".  I went through the various pages, looking at the sections of our body, the bones in our body, the way our muscles work, our joints, and how we care for and protect our body.

It took a couple hours to find all the things I wanted in order to include all the information and present it in a fun way but, in the end, I am happy with how it turned out!  While I may not always be able to take the time to prepare lapbooks for every subject and every unit, I hope that the students will benefit from the break from the book.  I know that I have!

-Stephanie
(Ex 33:14)

  

 

A Spain I Call Home

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“Ellen, guapa! Qué tal? Cómo fue tu viaje?”

Walking through the front door to CEIP San Fernando the first day back from Semana Santa, I was instantly greeted by these welcoming words and kisses on both cheeks from Rosa, the physical education teacher. A spirited woman and just about the friendliest person on the planet, Rosa is part of the reason I feel like I can call Spain a home.

When I made the decision to move to Madrid for Teach Abroad, I was extremely grateful and excited beyond measure. Two of my lifelong dreams have always been to 1) live in a foreign country and 2) become fluent in Spanish. So basically, this was the best decision I could ever make.

My first couple of months in Madrid were indeed a dream come true. I spent my spare time wandering down cobblestone streets, admiring gorgeous architecture, meandering through parks, visiting ancient ruins, and pinching myself to make sure that everything was real.

As incredibly happy as I was, however, it didn’t take long to feel just how far away I was from my amazing network of friends and family. Having moved to a new continent on my own, I hadn’t yet developed a new network of people, and so there were many moments when I missed the simple things: movie nights, family dinners, and just having people to sit around and do nothing with.

Don’t get me wrong, there was not a single instant when I regretted my decision to move. From the moment I arrived in Spain I felt perfectly comfortable, but being so far from my support system in the U.S. made me realize that for Spain to truly be a home, I needed to establish deeper roots.

Oddly enough, giving private English classes ended up providing me with a major sense of belonging. I happily agreed when two of the teachers at my school, Rosa and Laura, asked me to give joint private lessons to their fifteen-year-old daughters, thinking that the extra cash would be great. Little did I know, the personal relationships I would develop with those two teachers was the best form of payment.

Rosa and Laura take turns driving me to one of their houses, feeding me snacks, and kindly bringing me to the train station after the lessons are over. It has been incredible seeing how close the two families are and getting a direct glimpse into Spanish culture. It has been even more amazing how they’ve so effortlessly invited into their world to experience it for myself.

Rosa and Laura stay up to date on my life, always asking me about my travel plans and checking in with me whenever I’ve been sick. Their warmth and caring always brightens up my day and has helped integrate me into the community of the other teachers at my school. Not to mention, my Spanish has improved tremendously throughout all my conversations with them.

Now being seven months into the program, I’ve built up my much-needed support system of friends from both the U.S. and all over the world. But it’s Rosa and Laura that make me feel to connected to Spain and its wonderful culture, and for that I am so grateful.




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