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Still Thankful, Now for New Reasons

With Thanksgiving just one day away, most Americans start the annual discussion of why they are thankful.... and social media becomes flooded with posts telling the world (or at least people's followers) details of gratitude. (Not a critique against those who choose to share publicly, just a comment that I believe most social media participants could agree on.) When people are asked, "Why are you thankful this Thanksgiving?" most people respond with some variation of "family, friends, and a roof over my head" (or at least I'm assuming those are some of the most common answers). And I, too, am grateful for those things today, and every other day, but the why behind feeling this way has taken on a different meaning since moving across the Atlantic this year.



This one is intentionally placed at the top of the list. Moving to any new place can provoke feelings of anxiety and isolation; moving to a new, foreign city, where I understand, but am not cultured to, the customs and am significantly less proficient at the language than I would like to admit, can be a potentially panic-ridden disaster. But that could not be farther from my (three month and counting) experience. While there are many factors that have made my transition from Nashville, Tennessee (with a summer stint in my small New Jersey hometown) to Madrid, Spain smooth, the friendships that I have developed have made the biggest impact. Probably a combination of being Americans (don't worry, I'm working on forging international friendships) and just being who they are, my new friends have filled any potential holes I would have felt from leaving behind my family and friends in the U.S. (Side note: don't worry, none of you back home are being replaced) I have yet to experience feelings of loneliness or homesickness, and I credit a huge part of that to my new friendships. I truly believe that any experience, good or bad, can be positively or negatively impacted by who surrounds you. I thought there was no way lightning could strike twice (the first being the lifelong friendships I made while studying abroad), yet I feel equally supported here in Madrid for my second time around.


Florence, Italy in late September


Of course, I am grateful for my entire family. In particular, though, I feel immense gratitude for three of them this year. I've always felt slightly cooler because I could say I had family members who lived overseas, as if that somehow made me more cultured, but I never anticipated needing their expertise for real life situations. Whether it be housing difficulties (check out the third point in this post), international safety concerns, or general "living in a foreign country advice," two of my uncles and one aunt have guided me through adult-ing abroad. Prior to moving to Madrid, I hadn't anticipated needing their wisdom; now, I know how blessed I am to have family that can help me through this specific phase of my life.


The "finding a place to live" situation over here is cutthroat. In August and September, thousands (I don't think I'm exaggerating that number) of young, foreign adults bombarded Madrid. Whether they traveled here through Erasmus, study abroad, or to work as an auxiliar, finding a reasonably priced, decently nice, and relatively safe, in a neighborhood nearish the center, apartment was a nightmare for anyone during that time period. After not finding anything I would deem livable (that makes me sound like a diva, but trust me, I wasn't... I looked at one apartment that didn't even have a kitchen) or affordable, I opted to live with a Spanish family through a language exchange program. I'm not going to go into detail, but the process took about a month to be placed, and when I finally moved into their home, I only ended up living with them for a week. That entire housing ordeal made me seriously question my stay in Spain, despite wanting desperately to remain here. Luckily, I happened upon a newly redone apartment, which is where I now reside. While the apartment is far from perfect (yes, it's redone, but not with high-quality materials), it is comfortable, in a neighborhood which I appreciate, and filled with respectful roommates. 

I could list off so many more things and reasons why I'm grateful, but I wanted to share how my perspective differs this Thanksgiving from years prior.


Happy Turkey Day!

Cage the Elephant

Similar to the Cheetah Girls, there is one more band that takes over the life of a millennial. Three words: Cage the Elephant. The truth, you are either team love or hate.

When I was in seventh grade, I was new to town. When everyone at the local bus stop would gossip, I had my headphones plugged in playing "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked." 

That was over ten years ago, because I was a fan before their debut album dropped. 

Three Italians and I, made our way to Sala Riviera. We got lost, seven months in Madrid and still getting lost. You have no idea how many Concierto Riviera's there are in the La Latina barrio. Several.  A few times we had to use the aseos, this required stopping for cervezas because local shops obvi want our financial support first.  

We missed the first act, which I was personally okay with because I still don't remember their name. We arrived on time and I jammed out, singing every lyric, every word, with three Italians who were equally involved, but lacking similar memories that I used to connect with C.T.E.



The group members were lit. Matt and Brad Shultz, Daniel, Jared, and Lincoln. Lit names. First, I'm in love with Matt. He owned the stage. Everyone stood still, working their instruments, but Matt, he didn't stop to take a breath once. He ran from one side of the stage to the other, screaming "Nashville, Tennessee." He swung his arms everywhere in his "Tokyo" studded jacket. His flaming reddish hair dripped in sweat. Daniel stood right-downstage, strumming his bass guitar, lighting cigarettes, and living in the music he produced. 

The passion was there. I've seen Beyonce. I've seen T-Swift. I've even seen Kanye. They all bring it, they do. But Cage the Elephant was another level of beauty. 

One side of this story is, I'm in Madrid and I went to go see a band from Nashville Tennessee... I get it. The thing is, sometimes a taste of home in a foreign city can be comforting, even when you don't realize you need the comfort. Many times I forget celebrities have international fans. I think of Drake and I only picture Americans singing a long to his songs. I forget that Italy, China, Australia, Denmark, Chile, and more are singing the same chorus in another time zone, another hemisphere. To be placed in a pit of Spanish speakers all waving their arms and singing the wrong words to songs they maybe listened to as much as me, it was, for lack of a better word, breathtaking. 

Live Large and Sparkle.




Happy Birthday, Plaza Mayor! ¡Felicidades por 400 años!

So this year is the 400th anniversary of Plaza Mayor, and to celebrate, the city of Madrid put on an amazing light and projections show.

The projections told the story of Plaza Mayor from its founding to the present day. At one point the plaza went up in projected flames; at another it transformed into a music box. Standing in the square, surrounded by buildings, with projections on all four sides, it feels like being a part of the show. Having all the people in the plaza surrounded by the story turned the audience into active members of the show, shouting "bravo" or clapping or screaming in fright (the little girl next to me screamed the entire fire scene). It was very immersive, and a very cool example of bringing history to life (especially since it utilized such modern technology).

Here's a photo...


...and a video from the show:

***Password to view is PlazaMayor400***

Happy 400th Anniversary, Plaza Mayor! May you be around for 400 more!



Around Town, Now Featuring: Rain

I tend to organize my days around meals. On the weekends, that means brunch and dinner. 

When I heard I needed a costume for my school's Carnaval celebration, the first place to look that popped into my head was El Rastro (a huge outdoor market right in the center of Madrid that runs 9am-2pm every Sunday--you're welcome). As my friend and I wanted brunch at a reasonable brunch time (which in Spain, is anywhere from 11-1:30), we decided we would rastro from 10ish-noon, then head to Panela (a not-too-pricey brunch place of dreams in the posh Salamanca neighborhood). 

As it turns out, if you head to El Rastro by passing through metro Embajadores, there are these amazing sections of wall painted in all different styles (by, I presume, different artists). They are stunning. 

Here're a couple photos:


My friend the boat


As they say, "a concrete jungle"


Anyway, we got a bit carried away playing with the murals. Which was fine until we realized we had paint/plaster ALL OVER US. It was somehow dry, yet still able to spread onto all of our clothing and purses. I fundamentally disagree with the formula and manufacturers of this wall paint. I for one certainly hope it was not certified as waterproof.

Anyway, after 20 minutes of tissue wiping and hand sanitizing, we were starting to get hungry, so we only ended up poking around the market for just a little over an hour, then were on our way to brunch.

So we arrived at Panela, only to find out that it is not open on Sundays. Heartbreak. Well, being the hungry munchkins we were, we quickly decided to go to another little place, Crepes and Waffles (a huge international chain that started in the Americas), which was a solid choice because their food (and waters! and juices!) are fantastic.

A sample:


It's called "Hidrátate"


Dessert (of course) 

As I was still costume-less due to our limited time at El Rastro, after brunch we popped into a little bazaar-market. I'm on a budget, so when I saw a €2 tiger tail there, that made my decision. I will be a tiger for my school's Carnaval celebration next week. Sunday shopping trip success.

The New Auxiliar in Town

One of our auxiliars had to return home for good over winter break, leaving my school short an assistant. Because of the short time from when the auxiliar notified the school she could not return after winter break to the start of classes in January, we had to find someone who was either an EU citizen or had legal permanent residence/visa that would allow that person to work in our school. Luckily, one of our teachers is married to an American citizen who was studying education in grad school. He was up for the job, and we met our new Auxiliar a couple weeks ago.

Which meant we could *finally* finish our meet the auxiliars bulletin board which we had been working on since October (a day in the life of an auxiliar at our school involves a lot of one-on-one time with students or lesson support with teachers and not much time for crafts). So when a fellow auxiliar and I had to come in our day off (we are making up some days), we got to work on all things decoration/motivational poster inspired.

How'd we do?



City Life

Last week, a few friends and I decided to finally go to trivia night at J&J's Books and Coffee (J&J's is half bar-half bookshop run by English-speaking expats, unclear why they leave the key bar component out of their name). We hardcore bombed. The categories were World Leaders, Music, Complete the List, and Famous Painters. We, uh, got 10/40 right. However!!! That put us solidly in the middle of the pack (so it really was quite hard). We can't even use the excuse of the pub quiz being about Spanish history/pop-culture, as it was at J&J's, the expat bar. Oh well.

At the very least, we got some good Irish cider and incentive to return (we must redeem ourselves, after all!).

Oh, and the best part about J&J's pub quizzes? You grade each other's answers then and there after all the rounds are finished. Our neighbors were especially creative, citing a Wheat Thins lover as the artist who painted Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring. Snaps to them.


Spanish Resolutions

I know I promised a post on my new years resolutions. Hinting at it the numerous times that I did. There's just a couple issues with that idea of a post which I didn't think about at the time. The good news, while teaching, something better got my attention. 

I gave my students an assignment to come up with three new years resolutions as a class. This took me about thirty minutes to carry out. This is because it takes me five minutes to get to class, four minutes to let the kids file in, another seven to take attendance, nine minutes to get them as close to under control as possible, and finally five minutes to give the assignment. Long story simplified: yes, it takes thirty minutes for me to say "I spent my New Year in Boston, these are my resolutions..." Teaching the lower levels ain't easy. I finally understand how my high school Latin teacher felt while trying to educate me. Probably no surprise I can only remember one word, "est" translates to "is" in the present tense. And even that might be wrong.

SO, I provided examples of my own:

  1. Eat healthier (more veggies)
  2. Exercise three times a week
  3. Travel around Spain
  4. Expand my vocabulary, both English and Spanish

^I call these my fake resolutions. Because I'm twenty three years old and I can promise you that eating healthier while living in Spain where three out of their five main dishes are deep fried in oil, and their only beverage being beer- it is just not going to happen right now.

I can't post my real resolutions in public, for reasons...

but these are my resolutions as sugared down that I could make them:

  1. Stop sending raunchy snapchats
  2. Free the Nip 
  3. Don't smoke as many cigarettes
  4. Eat more sushi

SO, I didn't get mad at my students for coming up with the following three resolutions as a class. I simply, just understood.

  1. Buy more video games
  2. Be rich
  3. Pass English class
  4. Eat more fish

I think I would be best friends with those angsty pre-teens if I was born post 2000 as well. I like where their mind is at. They never fail to send me surprises like this. Who would have thought, eat more fish and your life will be at peace.

Peace, Love, Fish.

Live Large and Sparkle.




Christmas Time in Madrid

Let's talk Christmas. Okay, so this might be late, but at least in Spain it's only 2 weeks late, not 3 or 4 as it would be in the U.S! This late post might come in handy though if you are thinking about teaching in Spain next year and are wondering about the holidays here. 

While it's of course going to be different from home, I still love Christmas in Spain. I love the lights strung up all over the streets, the giant Christmas trees in the plazas made out of lights, the Christmas markets that pop up, and chestnuts roasting on the streets. I also love that Christmas lasts at least a whole week longer with the celebration of 3 Kings Day on January 6th.

For those of you not familiar, 3 Kings Day is like their Christmas Day (although they also celebrate that sometimes with a gift or two from Santa Claus). The 3 wise men leave presents for the children and put candy in their shoes. The children leave out water for the camels and treats for the wise men. There is also typically a parade the night before with the 3 wise men "arriving" to the city and throwing candy to the children watching giddily in the crowds. 

Image may contain: night, sky and outdoor Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

This is my second Christmas in Spain, but my first in Madrid, which is a whole other ball game. For the month of December and the first week of January, tourists pour into the city and swarm the more popular locations. As teaching assistants, we get almost two and a half weeks off from school between Christmas and 3 Kings Day, as well as almost a week off at the beginning of December for a Madrid holiday, so I spent a fair amount of time traveling (to Austria for the Christmas markets and Thailand to spend Christmas with my sister who lives there) in order to take advantage my time and avoid the craziness of the crowds in Madrid. I did, however, enjoy the Christmas-y things in Madrid while here and even made it back for the 3 Kings parade. 

At school, all of us assistants did Christmas activities with all of our classes, which ranged from making origami stars in Art to watching The Grinch and doing Secret Santa gift exchanges with the students. On Wednesday before Christmas, the teachers invited us to a nice lunch with them in celebration of the holiday and on Thursday, a half day at school, the students took on the parents, teachers, and assistants in volleyball and basketball matches. If you are thinking about traveling early and making up some of the days ahead of time at school, be sure to check with your coordinator to make sure first that it's okay, but second, that you aren't going to miss out on all of the fun there. 

For those of you planning on being here in Madrid in the near future for the Christmas season, here are some suggestions for surviving and enjoying your time:

1. If you feel averse to crowds, avoid Sol and Plaza Mayor.

2. Watch your belongings. Pickpockets are out and about in excess during this time. 

3. If you plan on traveling or going home for break, buy your tickets several months in advance. You'll get better prices and better choices of flights.

4. Buy tickets online ahead of time for the Navibus. For only 2 euros, you can go on a bus tour of all the Christmas lights in the city. Just don't make the mistake I did of thinking you could buy a ticket once you got to the bus or of thinking that you could buy a ticket last minute as they sell out really quickly. 

5. Have fun exploring the Christmas markets, shops, and nativity scenes around the city. Don't get your hopes up too high for the Christmas market in Plaza Mayor, but it's still fun to go and people watch. 

6. Europe has some pretty amazing Christmas markets in other countries as well, which I highly recommend checking out.

7. To put yourself more in the Christmas mood, go ice skating in one of the temporary rinks they have set up for the season, grab some hot chocolate from Starbucks, or get churros y chocolote from San Gines (note: hot cocoa and chocolate are two VERY different things here in Spain! Think hot cocoa vs. drinkable warm chocolate pudding). 

8. Eat 12 grapes, as is tradition here, with the strokes of the clock at midnight for New Year's. 

9. Go see the 3 Kings parade. There's quite a crowd, but you can go early or go further up the parade route for a better view. It's worth seeing at least once. Plus, there's free candy being thrown at you. =) 

10. Spend time with loved ones and family. It's Christmas, after all. 


Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, outdoor Image may contain: one or more people, night and outdoor

Until next time, 


Putting yourself out there

Making friends is hard enough. Making those who speak another language is even more trying. It's as much of a challenge as it is a reward. Here are a few ways to find some new amigos españoles:

1. Sign up for an intercambio to polish off your Spanish skills and teach some English. You get what you put in when it comes to Intercambios, no one is going to force you to meet up with them, but you definitely should. You never know who you might meet.

My friend Martha and I at a bar with my intercambio and a group of his friends. Not only did we get to meet my intercambio for the first time, but many other Spaniards as well.

2. Try a salsa, bachata, or merengue class. Even if you have never danced before, there are classes for all levels. Some clubs offer free classes on certain nights so you can get a feel for what you like before you commit to a studio. There are a lot of studios in Madrid, so make sure to do your research before you put down any money.

3. Join a sports  club. There are plenty of running clubs as well as intramural sports teams throughout Madrid that you can join. You can see how well you match up to the locals in fútbol, try something completely new, or you can stick to a sport you're seasoned at.

4. Go out. The most friends I've made, both American and international, have been from nights that I simply went out with the intent to meet new people. Whether it's grabbing a beer at a bar down the street or spending all night at the club, there are a lot of ways to be social, have fun, and make new friends.


I met my friend Emma through some friends I met at CIEE orientation when we went out for dinner one night. Turned out she lives one block away from me. She noticed I was sick, lent me some cold medicine, and the rest is history. Here we are exploring San Sebastian in the north of Spain.

5. Explore and adventure through the city on your own. Trying out cafes and bars, browsing through stores, and exploring landmarks on your own can lead you to find people interested in the same things as you. And finally,

6. Don't be scared. The best friendships take some effort. Just remember, you're never alone in a city as big as Madrid. There's always something new around the corner.

A New Year To Remember

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Happy New Year friends and readers! I would like to take the opportunity to say I took a few weeks off to clear my mind and enjoy my holiday vacation. I hope all of you did too! Over the course of my vacation, I was able to visit the United States, my home, Florida and also climb Mt. Teide in Tenerife, Spain. I have become conditioned to live in the moment, so looking back on my journeys over the course of the past five months, I feel blessed. Mt. Teide was a beast! It was certainly a great start to checking off one of my New Year's resolutions.
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One of my very first blog entries was about “Embracing Uncertainty.” It was about my grandmother and how I would handle living abroad while knowing she was ill back home in the States. My visit back home was a memorable one because I spent time with her. She was full of joy and it was as if she waited for my arrival home. She remembered who I was and her mind was lucid.
The following week I headed back to Spain and the day I left to say goodbye she wasn’t feeling well. I won’t forget the feeling I felt getting on the plane because it was if my body’s subconscious was telling me that something was wrong. A few days later my dad called to tell me her health declined and Hospice was at her home. My grandma, Micaela Colon passed peacefully on 11 January 2017.
Looking back at the past five months in Spain, I’ve met some really great people. Some of the best moments have been through meeting new people and traveling to new places. I have also had an incredible journey so far at my school. I look forward to sharing that information through my Series 2 interview.
Here’s a recap of the quote’s from last year’s blogs. I enjoyed rereading them and remembering when each piece was written. I look forward to the upcoming year so that I can learn more about my colleagues and also, continue to feel inspired.  
“Some people pass through our lives in a shorter time frame than we had hoped to teach us things they never could have taught if they stayed.” – Anonymous
“It’s about putting yourself out there to make it the best you can!” —Morgan Yearout
“Madrid especially has won my heart.” – Catalina Valdez-Dapena
“The most important relationship you have in life is with yourself.” – Michelle Nicchi
"It’s time to let go of the long hours and live a balanced life.”—Samantha LoDuca
“It is interesting to see the direct impact teachers have on the community.”—Justin Hughes-Coleman
“If I were to live my life as a punctuation mark, I always tell people I am a semicolon. Why? Because I just keep going.” – Lynnette Aizpurua
“Go with the flow.”—Leesa Truesdell
 “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” – Dr. Seuss
“If you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.” – Paulo Coehlo
“What's in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” –William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
With those very inspiring words, I would like to preview what’s to come in 2017.
Teacher Connection: Series 2 will be launched from it’s new home. Details will be coming.  Thank you so much to the teachers who have volunteered their experience and time. This series is going to highlight more of the classroom experiences each teacher is working on now.
Thank you to all of you for reading and sending messages about the blog. Your feedback combined with the memory of my grandma has inspired me to launch some new ideas this year. 
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The view from the top of Mt. Tiede!
Stay tuned!

Ciao for now,

Leesa with two EE's

12 Grapes

Happy 2017! Here's to the new year and the new me, I guess everybody is saying it. I came home for the holidays, it's been a while. I miss Spain. I need to get back. 

I have a story I want to tell the world. I thought, no better place to write it. Three weeks ago I was in Madrid, in Valdebernardo, teaching my super cool high schoolers. I just finished a presentation on my holiday traditions. Their task was to write a paragraph discussing similar topics. I walked around, reading over shoulders, editing, correcting grammar. It took me a good half a period to realize Diego, Jesus, Maria, Alba, Manuel, Jorge, Gemma, and every other thirteen year old in the classroom were attempting to form sentences around the same noun: grapes. Uvas

Grapes are good, delicious if it's hot outside, but I'm not crazy about having grapes as a winter holiday dessert. I didn't understand the obsession. Apple cobbler, hot chocolate, and peppermint bark por favor. It was eventually explained that Spain has a New Years Eve tradition, which involved grapes. 

Supposedly Spaniards count down the new year with the last twelve seconds instead of the last ten. In those twelve seconds, you eat twelve grapes. The goal is to eat one grape per second. I believe it's meant to bring you luck, wealth, love, and all that fun stuff. 

I was in Boston for the new year. I told all my friends about the grapes so we went to the seven-eleven down the road and picked out a bunch of grapes. Grapes from seven-eleven sound a little sketchy now that I'm reflecting back on the memory. 

12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1... I couldn't do it. It's not easy to chew that fast. My older brother once peeled and ate a clementine in ten seconds, he was going for the world record. 

I should have got my grape-eating countdown on video, as proof. Just believe me, I guess. Mostly it was me giggling, screaming, and shoveling grapes in my friends' mouths as well as my own. My friends and I made a pact to practice our grape-eating on the last Sunday of every month until new years eve came around again. Surely twelve days should be enough. Surely...

Keep life trill. Live Large and Sparkle.



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