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A New Perspective

 

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Week one - done. I can’t help but say it feels good to have made it through my first week here in Spain and have never felt more relaxed about my life. Of course certain worries and fears don’t just fade away with a plane ride across the Atlantic. Mainly I question (a) what am I going to do with such an overwhelming amount of free time and (b) how am I going to survive (or thrive) when I can’t completely understand people when they talk. My job here is to assist with classes that involve English at the local high school (which is actually a combined middle and high school). However, to my inner over-achiever dismay, this is not a full-time job being that I only work for around half the day four days a week. Seems like more of a vacation to me since I am used to working multiple jobs on top of being a full-time student at the Ivy League. But what I hope to better appreciate is a sense of enjoyment for the little things in life and an ease to let go of the time and live in the moment. I have always felt that my days at Dartmouth resemble a ticking time clock whereby I am constantly plagued with the idea that there so many things to do with such little time to do them. Papers are due, tests are coming up, the number of pages to read seem to increase exponentially with time. But this life doesn’t exist here and I am forever grateful for that.

What I have learned so far from working with Spanish secondary students, alumnos as they say in español, is that they don’t seem to take things too seriously. My 17-year-old host sister - if you’re reading this Monica thank you for being such a good friend to me - is definitely not as stressed about school as I was, in a good way. Especially because the school I am working in has around 80 students for both the middle and high school level, I have come to somewhat grasp the role of community within a school - try to imagine a school where about every teacher knows every students’ name. Crazy. At least it was to me when it seemed that every teacher knew who my host sister was. Although I can’t surmise whether a more relaxed approach is actually more conducive to actual learning, all I can say is there are very obvious differences among American and Spanish public schools and educational systems (look forward to a future blog about this!). Despite this, I am still approaching this experience with an open mind and with hope of being someone that these kids can look up and feel comfortable around.

Even though I still have the same 24 hours in a day that I had in the states, time does not feel as pressing. I remember the more laid back approach to time when I lived in Santander but, because I was taking Dartmouth-level courses and participated in multiple excursions weekly on top of my schoolwork, I never had too much time to myself. Now without these responsibilities I can truly appreciate the Spanish conception of time. Only time can tell what these next couple of months will bring and I can only sit back and think to myself how lucky and grateful I am to be here and for the opportunity to take this little hiatus in my life. 

Un abrazo,

Bethany

Español versión - please keep in mind I am still learning the language (gracias Mónica por la ayuda) :) 

La primera semana  - terminó. No puedo dejar de decir que me siento bien que yo haya cumplido mi primera semana aquí en España y nunca me he sentido tanta relajada en mi vida. Claro las preocupaciones y los miedos ciertos no simplemente se desvanecen con un vuelto a través del océano atlántico. Principalmente, me pregunto (a) que voy a hacer con una cantidad abrumadoramente de tiempo libre y (b) cómo voy a sobrevivir (o medrar) cuando no entiendo completamente que dice la gente. Mi trabajo aquí es ayudar con las clases que involucran inglés en el instituto secundario (que verdaderamente es una mezcla de la escuela media y secundaria). Sin embargo, a la consternación de mi persona interior que rinde más de lo normal, este no es un trabajo del tiempo completo porque yo solamente trabajo por sobre el medio del día por cuatro días de la semana. A mi me parece más como los vacaciones desde estoy acostumbrada a trabajar varios trabajos encima de ser una estudiante del tiempo completo del Ivy League. Pero lo qué espero apreciar mejor es el sentido del placer por las cosa pequeñas en la vida y la facilidad de dejar ir el tiempo y vivo en el momento. Siempre me he sentido que mis días en Dartmouth parecen un reloj que hace tictac por el cual estoy constantemente atormentada con la idea de que hay muchas cosas para hacer con tan poco tiempo para hacerlas. Los ensayos son debidos, vienen los examenes, y los números de paginas para leer parecen aumentar exponencialmente con el tiempo. Sin embargo esta vida no existe aquí y por eso estoy agradecida para siempre.  


Lo qué he aprendido hasta hoy de trabajar con los alumnos  de secundaria españoles, alumnos como se dice en español, es que ellos no se paran a mirar las  cosas muy seriamente. Mi hermana española de 17 años - si estas leyendo esto Mónica gracias por ser una amiga tan buena - definitivamente no está tan estresada sobre la educación que yo estuve, de lo mejor. Especialmente porque el instituto, en cual yo trabajo, tiene más o menos 80 alumnos para ambos el medio y secundaria niveles, he llegado a comprender un poco el papel de la comunidad entre un instituto - intente de imaginar una escuela donde todos los maestros saben el nombre de todos los estudiantes. Loco. Al menos era loco para mi cuando me pareció que cada profesor sabía el nombre de mi hermana española. Aunque no puedo conjeturar si un enfoque más relajado verdaderamente es más conductivo para el aprendizaje, todo que puedo decir es que hay diferencias muy obvias entre escuelas públicas y sistemas educativas en los Estados Unidos y España. A pesar de estos, todavía me aproximo a  esta experiencia con una mente abierta y con la esperanza de ser alguien para los alumnos admirar y sentirse cómodos conmigo.

Aunque todavía tengo las mismas 24 horas en una día que tenía en los estados,  con el tiempo no me  siento tan urgente. Recuerdo el enfoque más enfocada al tiempo cuando viví en Santander pero, porque estuve teniendo clases de la nivel de Dartmouth y participé en muchas excursiones cada semana encima de mi tarea, nunca tenía tanto tiempo para mi mismo. Ahora sin esas responsabilidades, puedo realmente apreciar la concepción del tiempo español. Sólo el tiempo puede decir que los meses siguientes llevarán y solamente puedo sentarme y pensar en mi misma ,de la suerte tengo y que tan agradecida estoy para estar aquí y  para la oportunidad de tomar esta interrupción pequeña en mi vida.

Un abrazo,

Bethany 

 

Christmas In Four Countries Pt. 1 Belgium

Now that it is the new year and everyone’s schedules are settling down I wanted to recap and share my experiences celebrating the holiday season in four countries... in three weeks!

This post is going to cover my time traveling around Belgium. In Spain there is a holiday called "Puente de la Constitucíon". Puente is a day off of work or school to bridge the time between the weekend and a holiday, thereby creating a long weekend. 

Since I had Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off my friends and I decided to plan a trip to Belgium. We heard that there were going to be many Christmas markets there and we wanted to get into the holiday spirit. We planned the trip which included four cities. They were Brussels, Brugge, Ghent, and Antwerp.

We arrived to Brussels late Tuesday night and made our way to the hostel. My first observation of Brussels was that it was a lot cleaner than Madrid. The buildings looked more modern than Spain's and the streets were filled with Christmas lights. I was starting to get excited to see what adventures the week was going to bring. Once we arrived to the hostel we were exhausted from traveling so we decided to start our five day adventure the following day.

The next morning we dressed warm to venture to the Christmas Market in the center of the city. Before shopping we went to an amazing crêpe restaurant for breakfast. We were enjoying ourselves warming up with hot chocolate, tea, and coffee while people-watching from the cafe window.

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Once we felt ready to brave the weather we decided to head to the Christmas market. Huts were filled with goods to buy such as paintings, scarves, candles, shoes, etc... There was also festive holiday fare being sold like candied nuts, mulled wine, and traditional Belgium dishes. The group decided to quickly browse because our next stop was Brugge which we heard was going to be worth seeing. 

Once we arrived back to the hostel we quickly grabbed our bags and made our way to the train station. Once there, we bought tickets and boarded for the hour trip. I was pleasantly surprised by how lush Belgian terrain is. In Spain they don't get a lot of rain so it really created a contrast for me to see how dry Spain actually is. 

Once we arrived in Brugge we decided that we should check into the hotel which ended up being extremely close to the train station. We were happy about this because the temperatures were a lot colder in Belgium than we were used to. Once we were settled, and bundled up we headed into town.

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Brugge is very tiny compared to Brussels with a lot more charm. The town is filled with restaurants, shops, and the Christmas market of course. We were enjoying walking around but decided to go warm ourselves up at one of the local bars where I ordered an amazing Irish coffee. 

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Once we were warmed up we perused the market and walked around the town some more. We ended up hopping into different bars and pubs talking to locals. I was relieved that most people in Belgium spoke English.

After socializing for awhile we decided we were hungry and started asking for restaurant recommendations. We were pointed to a nice restaurant close to our hotel so we decided to head there. I ordered a traditional Belgian stew paired with a whiskey neat. We left the restaurant full and exhausted from our day of travels so we decided to head back and sleep to prepare for the next day. 

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We woke up, had our free hotel breakfast, and decided to head to our next destination; Ghent. We headed back to the train station to board for another hour long journey to the city. We knew Ghent was going to be bigger than Brugge, but we didn't know what to expect.  Once getting off the train I already knew that I was going to enjoy my time here. The architecture was absolutely beautiful.

We had to take a tram to our hostel which ended up being one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed in. It was called the Treck Hostel which was an indoor trailer park filled with custom RV’s, so basically indoor camping! I'm going to share with you the link in case you ever need a unique place to stay in Ghent: http://www.treckhostel.be/ The bathrooms and showers were communal and there was an activity room with a movie screen, toys for smaller children, and a ping pong table. In the check-in area there was a bar/cafe with alcoholic drinks, coffee, a wide array of board games, and really good Indie Rock playing over the speakers.

Once we looked around we knew we wanted to spend some time there, but we decided that we would go out for dinner and check out some of the city even though it had been raining all day. We took the tram into the center of Ghent where their Christmas market was located. This city center was very cool since there were 5 or 6 churches and a castle close in proximity. We ended up having dinner and some drinks and it started snowing. 

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There was a coloring corner so we decided pass the time and get creative while waiting for the snow to stop. Once the snow was finished we decided to take a walk around the city. Ghent at night is magical with the canals and how the buildings are lit. All the attractions were closed since it was late so we decided to treck back to the Treck Hostel (pun intended). We ended up having a ping pong tournament and some good laughs settling into our RV for the night. 

The next morning we woke up and had free breakfast in the cafe. Belgium is known for chocolate so the spread was paired with blocks of chocolate and Nutella of course. We decided to take advantage of the board game corner so we decided to play Scrabble while we ate.

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After breakfast we checked out and decided to go into town to see some of the main attractions in the city center. We decided to take a tour of the castle, and afterwards we went to the churches. We felt satisfied with what we had seen everything so we decided to head to our next destination; Antwerp. 

Once we arrived in Antwerp it was dinnertime and we were starving. We  were getting used to talking with locals so on the train we had gotten another restaurant recommendation from a passenger heading home. We were getting lucky with our hotels being next to the city center. After checking in we had a very short walk to the restaurant and on our way we noticed that the Christmas market's grand opening was going to be the following day.  We noted it and headed to the restaurant to warm up.

This was a traditional Belgian restaurant, and we decided that we were going to try something new. We decided to order the bone marrow as an appetizer which was a spread that you put on toast. I wasn't expecting it to be served inside the bone, but I am adventurous so I will try anything. My friends on the other hand weren't too thrilled. They each took a bite, and decided that it wasn't their cup of tea. As the main meal we decided to order Carbonade Flamandeand A Po which is a beef stew. It was very good and warmed us up quickly. After dinner we headed back to the hotel to rest up for our day of exploring Antwerp. 

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The next morning we woke up, got ready, had our free breakfast. At this point I was getting used to eating chocolate with every meal and I was really enjoying myself. Once we were finished we headed to the city center. As we started walking around we ran into a marching band warming up for the Christmas mark opening that evening. We decided to stop and listen and our Spanish friend said that this kind of band is typical in Spain and that they were performing here since they were on holiday as well.

Once we were finished enjoying the show we walked around the Christmas market which was the most elaborate I've seen thus far. Antwerp was colder than the other cities since it was right on the water. We were so cold that we stopped and had a Belgian beer in one of the covered tents. After our beers we walked along the water even though it was freezing. We happened upon a burger place and decided to go in since all we'd been eating is Belgian food. I got a salmon burger that was absolutely amazing.

We ended up talking to our waitress about the opening night of the Christmas market because we were deciding whether to leave and go back to Brussels. She said it was worth staying and to also check out the observatory in the building next to the restaurant. Once we finished our meal we headed to the observatory, and the view was absolutely beautiful.

Afterwards, we went back to the center and made it in time to see a light show they were having for the grand opening. In Europe it is common to have light shows that are projected on the buildings and I had been wanting to see one since I arrived in Spain. I had originally wanted to go to Lyon for their light show that they have every Christmas so this was a pleasant surprise. I quickly grabbed an Irish coffee to warm up and stay awake since it had been a long day. We decided we were heading back to Brussels that evening since we were flying out of their airport the following day. 

The show itself was very unique to anything that I have experienced before. The different projections were so colorful and not what one would expect for a Christmas light show. Even still the story was beautiful and we were glad we waited to leave.

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After the show we headed back to our final destination and where our trip began; Brussels. Overall, my friends and I were very pleased with the trip. I would recommend to anyone planning to travel to Belgium to do so. 

Surviving The Bomb Cyclone At JFK

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After the holidays I am back in Madrid safe and sound, but it was no easy task getting here. My experience of trying to fly out of JFK airport after the Bomb Cyclone was nearly impossible with no answers, many delays, and a lot of frustration. In this post I am going to share my experience of the chaos that went down at JFK and tips on how to survive being stuck in an airport.

After I had spent some time in New York visiting friends it was time for me to head back home to Madrid. I was traveling back with my best friend and roommate who was on a different airline than me. We made our way to JFK airport from Upper Manhattan which is an hour metro ride plus a 10-15 minute air tram to the terminals. On my way, I decided to check into my flight that was scheduled to leave at 10 pm. Once I opened the email and saw the updated time for departure I was in shock. I saw that my flight was now leaving at 6 am the following day and I didn't want to believe it was true. I asked Maria if she had any delays with her flight and as far as she knew she was okay. At this point I was so impatient to get to the terminal and talk to an agent about my flight status. 

I was flying with Air Europa and something you need to know about European airlines is it's common that the check in desk doesn't open until 3 hours prior to boarding. When I finally arrived to Terminal 4 there was a huge line of people waiting to get answers, and I could already feel myself getting impatient. Helpless, I got in line and waited to see if I could find out what was going on. Unfortunately Air Europa hadn't opened their desk yet so all the attendants were setting up their materials to get ready to deal with the sea of confused travelers. Once they opened the desk it seemed like an eternity before it was my turn to speak to an agent. When I went up to the agent I was informed that the flight had been delayed but would be leaving sometime that evening, and I was pleasantly surprised. My bag was checked and I was given a ticket and a $20 dollar voucher to eat dinner. I called Maria since she was at Terminal 1 and she told me that she was experiencing the same thing, and that there was also a huge line of people waiting to get answers as well. I told her to keep her spirits up since I got a voucher to eat and my flight was scheduled to take off. When I was through security I felt better since my flight was on the board for departures, but there was no scheduled time so I decided to go and grab dinner. After I was finished eating I went to check the status of my flight again and the fight had been taken off the Departures board. I found it strange since I saw two other Air Europa flights that were both going to Madrid but wasn't mine. At that point I was trying not to panic and decided that I would try and get to the gates of both flights and figure out why mine had been taken off. The problem with JFK is that each terminal acts as it's own mini airport. This means that flights were arriving to JFK and there was nowhere to dock them. This meant that even though there was room at Terminal 4 to dock planes that were supposed to dock at Terminal 1, the airport would not allow the planes to dock at a different terminal. This caused chaos and a lot of planes with nowhere to go. 

Regarding the two flights I saw on the board, each attendant I spoke with told me the same and that was they had no information on either flight and they would let us know when they were given further instruction. With International airlines is it's rare to have a desk with an attendant to talk to which was the case in this situation. I was being shuffled around from desk to desk, each worker telling me they don't work for the specific airlines, and that I should call the airline customer service number.When I would call customer service they would tell me to someone that was in the airport, so as you can see this created a very frustrating situation.

After about 3 hours of this cat and mouse game I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was sleep. I found two armchairs that belonged to a Jamba Juice stand, created a bed, and fell asleep. At 4:45 am I was woken up by a rude worker who kicked my chair and told me to wake up because they were about to open the smoothie stand for the passengers coming in in the morning. Since I was up I decided that I needed to clean myself up in the bathroom. I went to the gift shop and bought a toothbrush, toothpaste, dry shampoo, a comb, and a I <3 NY t-shirt which was ironic since I couldn't stand the city at this point in time. A tip I would give to you is to make sure that you pack an emergency kit in your carry on in case you get stranded. Unfortunately I didn't have any of these things in my backpack so I had to buy from the gift shop and it can get pricey. 

After I had cleaned myself up I decided to check my email to see if there were any updated statuses to my flight. I checked my email and the flight had now been delayed to 6 pm, and I couldn't have felt more defeated. I knew it was going to be a long shot, but I started to realize that waiting in the terminal wasn't doing any good. I decided to take my chances to see if there was anyone from the airline I could speak with at the desk. I knew that it was going to be a long shot because of what I explained earlier about the desk not opening until 3 hours to boarding, but I figured since the airport was so chaotic that maybe they would have attendants working overtime. 

Before leaving the terminal I asked a worker in security if I would be able to re-enter with my boarding pass and I was told yes. I decided to leave the terminal and go to the desks and I didn't see any signs for Air Europa. Once I realized that there was no one from my airline available I went in line to go back through security. As soon as I got to the front the man checked my ticket they told me that I was not allowed back in because my flight was not scheduled for later that evening. 

Upset, I felt like I was deserted on an island with nowhere to go. I curled up in a corner and fell asleep for another two hours. Once I woke up I realized I was hungry so I decided to go to a cafe that was on the ground level. I ordered a coffee, eggs, and sausage and decided to try and check my flight status again. Not surprised the flight had now been delayed to 10 pm that night. I couldn't believe it as I was sitting there eating my breakfast. I felt hopeless and started to accept that I would be in the airport all day. I sat for two hours enjoying my coffee and working on my laptop. At this point I was constantly checking my email to see the updated times. Around lunch I re-checked the flight again and the updated time was 4:45 am.

I knew that I would have to get a hotel because there was no way I was going to spend all day and night at JFK again. With some help I found a room that was close to the airport and decided to try and get my checked bag before leaving so I could change into clean clothes. At the baggage claim the attendant informed me that my luggage was in a crate in storage and I was unable to get it. After that I was done and just wanted to take a shower and be in a comfortable bed. I finally took the tram out of the terminal and upon arriving to the hotel I felt much better. I relaxed most of the night, but still worried that tomorrow's events would be a repeat of what I just experienced. I set my alarm for 3 am praying that I would get on a flight the following day. 

At 3 am I woke up early and checked my flight status. The flight had new been delayed to 6 am which was only an hour so I decided to head to the airport and remain positive. When I entered Terminal 4 there were signs for Air Europa and I my spirits were lifted. Once I was checked in I got into the long line for security. I was at the front ready to go through the main checkpoint the man told me my ticket had not been stamped properly and I would need to go back to the check-in desk to get it stamped. Furious I ran back to the check-in, got my ticket stamped, and returned back in line for the second time. 

After I was finally cleared through the terminal we had 10 minutes before boarding began. I made it to the gate, but we were informed there had been a gate change which of course was on the other side of the terminal. We ended up waiting an hour before boarding began so I got a coffee and made a new friend who was on the same flight as me. She was an older woman in her 60's who was telling me that Madrid was her connecting flight. She was going to be teaching at a University in Rome for the next year. In my mind I was thinking at least Madrid is my final destination.

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Once everyone's tickets were checked we were all taken to a room to wait for buses to take us to the plane since it wasn't docked. This whole process was beginning to feel like a marathon, but I knew we were in our last miles and I could taste the finish line. Finally the buses came and took us to the aircraft. After about thirty minutes the regular routine began and we were heading to the runway. I had the biggest smile on my face because the nightmare was finally over and I knew all I had was another 6 hours before I would be back in Spain.

After landing, getting my baggage, and finally in my own bed which what seemed like years I started to contemplate the experience that I had just lived the last two days. I learned a lot from my experiences with dealing with airport delays. First, try to remain calm when things don't go as planned. Second, patience is a must when your flight is delayed and no answers are given. Third, I learned that in the end you are going to get out so just try to remain as positive as you can for your own well being. Other than that make sure you have an emergency kit in your carry on because you never know what craziness an airport will bring. Always be prepared with food, water, toiletries, chargers, a change of clothes etc... It's safe to say that I am happy to have a break from traveling and enjoy my next month and a half grounded in Madrid. Until next travels... :) 

Friends-Giving - Spending Thanksgiving Abroad

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It's safe to say that this year I am Thanksgiving-ed out, and I am sure you are wondering why since Spain doesn't celebrate the holiday. The reason is because all of my new American friends abroad were really inspired to keep our Thanksgiving traditions alive overseas. So what does that mean? A lot of Friendsgivings.  

 

My roommates and I decided to jump on that bandwagon and throw a Thanksgiving Potluck at our apartment the weekend before the holiday. We were excited to eat, drink, and get into the holiday spirit. Friendsgiving_1

It was a mutual agreement that a turkey wasn't possible since we all had to work that day so we decided to get two whole chickens that looked like turkeys. Because this was potluck style, we would prepare the chicken along with a few dishes and everyone else would bring something with them; Bebida o Comida :) 

 

The night had arrived and  I started to feel the pressure of preparing the food and and making sure the atmosphere was perfect. This was first time that I had any hand in helping out with a dinner this large, let alone Thanksgiving which is the most important meal of the year. I now have a better understanding of how my mom must feel Thanksgiving day.

 

My roommates prepared most of the food and I decided that I would make the communal sangria. We all cleaned and decorated the apartment, got ourselves ready, and started to set out appetizers for our guests. We prepared the bar with wine, mixers, cups, lemons, and limes and were ready to enjoy the evening.

 

Once people started to arrive our nerves had settled and we were ready to enjoy the night but especially the food. Some of the dishes our friends brought were a homemade pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, and apple crisp. As you can see most of the Thanksgiving favorites. Being in Spain for a few months you learn to appreciate an American dish.

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Overall, the night was filled with good food, drinks, music, and conversation. Our Spanish friends who attended really enjoyed being able to celebrate an American holiday, and we were happy we were able to give back to them since all we've been doing is learning about their culture for the past two months. I believe this is what Thanksgiving is all about. Sharing experiences, knowledge, and thanks for new friends and experiences. I am especially thankful for my time abroad so far, and I am excited to continue this feeling of thanks into the holiday season. 

It's Next Year!

It’s Next Year!  Happy 2018.

We meet again, blog.  How does it feel to be back, you ask?  Good.  And overwhelming.  Mostly good.  It was wonderful to see family and over a gazillion works of art in approximately 16 museums in 3 cities.  I am, however, tired.  Grateful and tired.  Transitions are always difficult.  And the weather in Madrid has not been its usually wondrous self!

I desperately have to get the students’ papers together so I can get back on track with them.  It’s hard, though, when every student is on a different page.  I’m still getting some to sign up for the blog, some are still giving me drafts of their short stories, some are already revising drafts I’ve given back with comments.  My appreciation for teachers just grows and grows…

Back to vacation.  Here are a few (really not a substantial list at all...) highlight artworks/art-places seen:

Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère (drooled, my mom and I photographed our own stellar interpretation of the painting in front of the painting)

Manet’s Le dejeuner sur l’herbe

Delacroix’s July 28: Liberty Leading the People (I heard the people sing)

David’s Oath of the Horatii

David’s Napoleon Crowning Himself Emperor (such a big painting)

van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait (Als Ich Can ;) )

Chaim Soutine exhibition at London’s Courtauld Gallery

Museo Cerralbo (dripping with luxury, a must-see in Madrid)

Sir John Soane's Museum (why, a London townhouse filled with antiquities from ancient Greece, Rome, etc. of course!)

The furniture floor at the V&A in London (speechless)

The Morris Room at V&A cafe in London (spent more time with the Pre-Raphaelites)

Happy to see you again, blog!  More next week…  [not pictured: photos of my face, both with expression and expressionless, in front of treasured paintings]

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Edouard Manet (1832 – 1883), A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882, Copyright: © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
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Jacques-Louis David, The Coronation of the Emperor Napoleon I and the Crowning of the Empress Joséphine in Notre-Dame Cathedral on December 2, 1804, 1806-07, Louvre, Paris
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Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434, National Gallery, London

Why Teach Abroad?

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The first time I heard that teaching English abroad was a real thing, I thought, “Wow, what a cool thing to do with your life!

Yet, despite my intrigue, I never considered it to be a serious option for myself. It was something other people did, not me. I don’t know why, but I felt it carried a stigma of not being a viable post-graduation plan.

However, now that I’ve chosen to go through with it and have been living in Spain for over four months, I can happily say that that line of thinking was completely misguided - this has without a doubt been one of the best life decisions I’ve made to date. Period.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on why this experience has been so wonderful and influential to my growth as an individual. So, without further ado, here are my three reasons why anyone who is even remotely interested in the idea of teach abroad should definitely consider it as a legitimate option:

1. The People You Meet and Everything They Teach You

Naturally, moving to a new country means meeting a lot of new people from a different culture. I both expected and looked forward to meeting a lot of Spaniards and becoming immersed in Spanish culture while living in Madrid. What has surprised me, though, is how much I've learned from meeting and speaking with the other language assistants like me.

I say “like me” lightly because in reality, the language assistants in Madrid come from all over the world, with different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. We are united by the fact that we all chose to come to Spain to teach, which builds a bond and sense of community between us, making it that much easier to learn from each other and grow together. It has been so wonderful to listen to how others found their way to teach abroad, what they want to get out of it, and where they want to go next. As someone who is searching for my own path in life and struggling to figure out my next steps, this exposure to the variety of viable paths available to me has been eye-opening and inspiring. 

2. The Free Time that Shows You What’s Important to You

As a language assistant, I work sixteen hours a week. Sounds super lush, right? What on earth could I possibly do to fill up all that free time?

That’s just it, though. I can do anything I want with all that free time. Teach abroad is a breath of fresh air after working myself to the bone studying in a high-pressure, fast-paced American University. I used to be so busy and focused on school that I never had time to discover what was truly important to me. How could I possibly have chosen a career path right out of college if I had never figured out what I want from life?

This year is giving the opportunity to do just that: to learn what my priorities are and what will make me happy in life. I’ve discovered a newfound love for cooking, something I never had time for before. I’m getting the chance to travel and see more of the world, and the more I see and experience, the better I’m able to define my goals for the future. I’m slowly starting to grasp what’s important to me and how to build a fulfilling lifestyle. 

3. The Different Way of Life that Teaches you Life Skills

Living in another country, immersed in another language and culture, has taught me a lot of practical skills. Problem solving and improvisation are much more second-nature to me now, as I’ve had to navigate and survive in an unfamiliar world. From trying to buy groceries I don’t know the name of to needing to get to the hospital in the middle of the night by myself, I’ve had to learn to use my resources and even more importantly, how to ask good questions.

Furthermore, the very fact that I’ve adapted to a different way of living has broadened my mind and made me inherently more understanding of cultural differences, and I believe that is a fundamental skill that will never cease to be of use in any future endeavors I undertake.

 

So there you have it! Of course, not everyone’s experience is the same, so the above list merely represents the reasons I’ve personally found to be the most valuable and rewarding, and why I will forever be grateful that I made this choice. I hope they may be of help to anyone who is on the fence about deciding to teach abroad!

New Year, New Me

NEW YEAR, NEW ME


That's how the saying goes, right?
It is so easy to get caught up in the daily routine - the commute to work, lesson planning, teaching English, running to private classes after school.


Sometimes, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are in SPAIN. So, maybe it's a new year, but this new me isn't really new. It is rather an extension of myself, a hidden me that has been waiting to emerge. A European, more understanding and aware version of myself.

My new years resolutions are a mixed bag of tricks. While I still have the usual goals to drink more water, exercise, eat healthy, I want to push myself more out of my comfort zone. After reflecting on the last 4 months, and realizing I still have 6 to go, I have taken the time to think about what will really scares me. I still fear speaking Spanish in public, so I have made it my goal to go to more intercambios, to speak to the teachers at my school in Spanish, increase and review my knowlege of the subjunctive and preterite. Maybe I can start learning one new word a day. Maybe I can eventually increase that to three a day. But overall, at the end of this year, I want to be fluent and speak Spanish effortlessly.

Eat healthier? More like enjoy more pinchos and tapas. Save money? Spend it all on travel and seeing the world. 

I watched Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts the other day, and I couldn't help but relate to her journey through Italy, India and Bali. Maybe our time abroad in Spain is just about growth and learning to enjoy ourselves guilt free. So maybe I can take the time to enjoy the little things, without feeling like I don't deserve it. We have this moment in our lives, so why not SEIZE it. The time we have here is already almost halfway over, and this day is fleeting. We have no choice but to embrace and live it. 

The growth I can see in myself is surprising. On the surface, my English is flatter, less accented, with fewer unnecessary vocal fluctuations and usages of the word "like". I have chopped off my hair. I have worn out my shoes from the amount of miles I have trekked across Madrid. My Spanish is better. But there are deeper parts within me that are different, changes that I cannot yet identify and are still emerging. But my love for Europe has increased exponentially. 

I am excited to continue forward and making 2018 the best and most memorable year of my life. Because what fun is it to remain static, stuck in time when we could be pushing ourselves forward and watch huge changes take place in such a short period of time?

New year, new country, new me . 

“Have courage and be kind.” — 2018 New Year’s Resolutions!

Well, as promised, here you are - a glimpse at my 2018 New Year’s Resolutions: 

  1. Appreciate the gifts I’ve been given (and make the most of them).  This year, I want to be more mindful of the life I get to live, so as not to take any of the blessings in my life for granted!  The chance to teach abroad - living with an incredible family, working at a great school, meeting amazing people, having the opportunity to travel - is something that many people only dream about.
  2. Worry less.  Two of the most common phrases I have continually heard since I arrived in Madrid are “No te preocupes” and “No pasa nada.”  More or less, they are phrases used to say “don’t worry about it.” (Which tends to drive me crazy because I already am worrying about it! - whatever “it” may be.)  My constant worrying is something that seems out of place in the more laid-back culture I’ve experienced here in Spain. (Just ask anyone that I’ve met up with, as I frantically rush to arrive at the pre-planned location 5 minutes early!)  While I don’t want to lose my desire to be, respectfully, prompt; I would like to let go of some of the anxiety I create for myself as I set these unnecessary expectations, and maybe embrace the Spanish idea that there’s really not any reason to worry - at least not all the time.
  3. Be brave. I want to push myself to step outside of my comfort zone - whether that’s going on a solo-adventure throughout Europe, talking to a stranger (in another language!), being open to new relationships, or learning a new type of dance.
  4. Be kind. (To others, of course, and also to myself)  Like many people, I often resolve to be healthier or lose weight or whatnot.  But, this year I had a thought, I decided that - rather than worry about a size or a number - I will work to be more kind to myself this coming year. So, if I’m not happy with how I look, I will strive to love my body better and recognize the strength I have (as I lace up my sneakers for a run) and use that as my motivation instead of trying to create a change out of disgust.  Or, if I “fail” at being as brave as I’d like to be, I’m going to choose to not beat myself up but to try again the next time an opportunity comes around.

And there you have it... my Resolutions for my time here in Spain and for the year!  I hope we all can “have courage and be kind” this  year, as we see just where, exactly, that might take us.

 

-Stephanie 
(Heb 12:1)

Fall Teaching Highlights

The first semester has wrapped up and before I dive into the second half of my year, I’d like to take time to reflect on the highlights from the fall. Teaching can be an overwhelming job for me which can sometimes feel like I’m not accomplishing much, especially when time flies by so quickly. I work to take pride in the little moments because it shows how much my efforts are paying off! Below are some of the moments that made me smile in the last four months.

  • When a student sent me an email asking for extra help.
  • When my students engaged in a passionate discussion about feminism.
  • When my students started singing along to Reflections by the MisterWives during a lesson on phrasal verbs, despite never having heard it before.
  • When I showed a clip from The Office during a lesson on TV comedies and they fell in love with it (most had never seen it before).
  • When the teacher was sick and I led the class by myself without much prep and they listened (I may have bribed them with a clip from The Office).
  • When the mock conference that I planned for Global Classrooms (like Model UN) went beautifully.
  • When a teacher whom I don’t directly work with told me he heard I was doing a good job.

Looking forward to the next round of highlights!

Besos,

Claire

Starting a New Year...

Eek... despite all of the best intentions that I have had the past month to catch up on my weekly reflections/blogs; here I sit, the 6th of January, and I have made the decision to let my need to stick with my “perfect” schedule go and start fresh this year.

So, let’s leave it with the fact that December turned into a very different experience than I had planned for.  From spending a week and a half in the ICU with a co-worker who was admitted for what has turned into a plethora of medical reasons (but is soon returning to Canada to continue her recovery back closer to home) and learning a lot more about the Spanish hospital system (from insurance to structure to medical vocabulary and more) than I ever really wanted to know, to struggling with adjusting to the Eastern Standard Time Zone for just less than two weeks (which I think I finally accomplished the morning that I left - the first time I was able to sleep in all the way until 7:30!).  Nonetheless, I am thankful for the month that I had, the time here in Spain and the time back in the States with family and friends alike!

In reality I know that there is no way to recount all the joys and challenges that December brought in a way that would do justice to them all.  One thing I will continue to acknowledge, though, is that I have been so very blessed by all the incredible people who care for, love and support me - the beautiful family that I live with here that was always checking in on me and offering hugs and concern during the more stressful moments of running between work, the house and the hospital (even in the midst of health struggles of their own), my family back in the States who checked up and offered medical guidance and support (thanks Mom!), and all those who welcomed me back to the States with open hearts and homes.  I am not ashamed to admit that leaving the US was more bittersweet than I expected it to be - it was in many ways harder to say goodbye when there was so much more I wanted to say and do, so many people I still wanted to see and talk to, before returning to Madrid.  But, as it tends to do, time flies and before long it was time to fly back to Spain.

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With only a small glitch of weather, which led to a total change of flights, I made it back to Madrid - exhausted, hungry, and not ready to lug all my bags onto the metro.  I headed out of the terminal, towards the metro exit/entrance when I heard one of the sweetest sounds as Saúl, the 9-year old, yelled “Stephanie!” and ran towards me.  Raquel and the boys came and surprised me at the airport and drove me home!  I won’t lie, I almost cried... quite possibly a mixture of joy and exhaustion, all rolled into one.  

We made our way home and I couldn’t have picked a more exciting day to return if I had tried... for I arrived on January 5th - the Eve of The 3 Kings Day.  We all had dinner together and then Raquel, Alejandro and I went to the 3 Kings parade in Rivas.  It was raining so it was decided that we would not head into the city for the big parade, but the one in Rivas was pretty fun and Alejandro loved collecting all the candy!  It is a tradition that there is a parade for the 3 Kings on January 5th - it happens in each town and city, getting more elaborate in the larger cities.  The parades each have a theme, so in Rivas the theme was “Alice in Wonderland” with all of the schools creating “floats” with various characters or themes from the story.  Meanwhile, the theme in Madrid was “Inventors and Inventions” and featured a fairly huge Albert Einstein.  The 3 Kings appear at the end of the parade, as they wave and make their big appearance!  

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Then, back at home, we watched the rest of the Madrid parade and played an interesting board game (which the family had gotten for Christmas) called Carcassonne; I handed out the gifts and goodies I had brought from the States and then the boys got everything set and ready for the 3 Kings (and their camels) before heading to bed - including leaving out a pair of their shoes?? (I still have to figure what that’s about).  It was truly an exciting way to start the new year in Spain!

I’ll post my New Year’s Resolutions for my time here in Spain tomorrow, but, right now there is a game with my name on it (and tonight I’m not going to lose!).  ¡Feliz 2018!

-Stephanie
(Is 40:30-31)

How to Plan a 48 Hour Trip

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Sunset in Sorrento, Italy

 

Aside from teaching the kiddos, one of my biggest goals was to travel around Europe as much as possible. What better way to spend a Friday off of school than to fly to France? While it’s a little crazy to only spend 48 hours in a different city or country, it's totally doable (and worth it) with the right amount of planning, stamina and luck. Here are some tips and tricks to planning an awesome weekend getaway:

Timing is everything:
Try to plan at least two weeks in advance. Planes will be cheaper, you’ll have more hostel options and it’ll give you more time to make a loose itinerary. Since I live about three hours away from Madrid by bus, I also have to add in extra time getting to and from the airport-which can get tricky. There’s many times where I’ve taken an overnight bus and a 6 a.m. flight because it’s cheaper and then I get more time exploring. Who needs sleep anyway? Having all of your transportation and accommodations booked in advance makes everything way less stressful.

Favorite sites:
Skyscanner-the BEST site to compare flight prices across all of the cheap airlines.
GoEuro-like Skyscanner, but it also compares train and bus schedules so you can find the fastest and cheapest routes 
Hostelworld- shows you a hostel’s rating, amenities and distance from the city centre. So far, most of the reviews have held true, so I really trust this site.

Research, research and research some more:
The key to a jam-packed weekend of site seeing and attractions is to find the right ones. Honestly, part of the fun is getting a sneak peek into the cool parts of a new city by doing a ton of research. Pinterest is a huge help! There are so many 48 hour city guides written by locals that give great suggestions on where to eat and what to see.

Be lazy and cheap if you can:
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A week of teaching can fly by and sometimes it’s a challenge to find time to plan out your trip. So don’t! There are a ton of travel organizations specifically for young people. I used WSAEurope for my trip to Budapest and didn’t have to worry about anything. Our entire itinerary was planned and we had our own private guide. For my trip to Italy, I booked excursions to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast through TripAdvisor and Viator. These sites are super easy to use because you can compare the different organizations easily and read reviews before booking. For all of the other penny pinchers out there, use your international connections! Reach out to your foreign friends to see if you can crash at their place. Most likely, you’ll get a free place to say, a free meal, and your own personal tour guide.

Always do a free walking tour:
Since you’re on a time crunch, it can be overwhelming to decide where you should spend your time. Free walking tours are the perfect way to get the lay of the land, see the most important sites, learn some history and get a better idea of what’s worth going back to.

So take those red eye flights, drink a ton of coffee and explore the beautiful cities around you!

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