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Nothing but goodness

If anyone ever has the concern that moving abroad is a challenge, don't sweat it!! This is now my second time moving to Spain and the second time where I have gotten everything essential, finding a place (for a 150!!!!), setting up a phone, locking down all necessary documents, all in the first three days! Stressing about a situation before you even get into the situation is probably the worst thing you can do, your not there yet and you don't know the circumstances yet so worrying about the situation (thats unknown!) before you even get there is so detrimental! 

Im so excited to be back in Spain and living right in my town I will be teaching in, El Boalo. I am four minutes walking from my school, living with three Spanish brothers, fully furnished flat, paying only 150 a month everything included and live right at the base of the Sierras! 

Thats what I wanted my situation to be, TO THE T! And because I didn't worry and I was highly optimistic, everything worked out exactly how it should have. 


In the words of Bobby McFerrin, Don't worry, be Happy!

The Cutest and Most Basic Thing to Do in Madrid

The cutest and most basic thing to do in Madrid is obvious. What comes to mind when I say, "melted dark chocolate, dough, and calories?"

It's easy.



This picture is documented evidence of my first-ever churro. On a cozy and chilly night, a few of my girlfriends and I checked out Chocolatería San Ginés, the oldest chocolatería in Madrid. It was cute and quaint, located in the center of Sol. Although crowded, I didn't feel trapped. The staff was inviting, and the kid at the register didn't say a word when I ordered twelve. 

Of course, every girl, basic and non-basic, takes a pic with a churro. It's kind of a thing. 

My conclusion on the product? Good not great. I personally felt the chocolate could have been darker and slightly more bitter. Still, I'd go back.


I don't expect this to be my last time eating chocolate con churros considering I only have a handful of months before they disappear from my life for a while. I'm currently in search of new basic foods to post. Stay tuned for next month!

Live Large and Sparkle.




Teacher Connection: Sam

"It’s time to let go of the long hours and live a balanced life.”—Samantha LoDuca

Samantha who goes by “Sam” recently spoke to me about her studies in Rome and why she enjoys European culture. She is an ambitious goal seeker who has met the goals that she set for herself. She calls this her “self pact.” She thrives by putting herself into situations where she is learning. Her interview taught me more about who she was and who she wants to become while she is in Spain.

I met Sam in my Spanish class and she is also a CIEE participant. Because we were in the same class, I got to see a side of her that was eager to learn yet vulnerable at times. We only knew each other by name and whatever Spanish topic was discussed that day. I didn’t know who Sam really was until our interview. After we spoke, I realized how committed she is to learning Spanish by immersion.

Sam is dedicated, sophisticated and takes pride in her appearance. Her skirts billow past her knees and she is always perfectly accessorized and her authenticity shines when she speaks about her goals. That unique, authentic aura is why I wanted to highlight her favorite quote which she shared with me after our interview. When I read it, Sam's outlook was clearly reflected.

"Every one of a hundred thousand cities around the world had its own special sunset and it was worth going there, just once, to see the sun go down" - Ryu Murakami


Meet Sam, the culture seeker:

Samantha LoDuca is originally from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin but, for the past five years she has been living in Chicago. She went to Loyola University and, immediately after graduating, she got a job working in HR at a large corporation in Chicago.  After about two years of working 60-plus hour work weeks, Sam decided to seek her destiny in Spain —a new life immersed in a culture that she longed to be a part of.

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

Sam smiled, “I always wanted to live in Europe ever since my first visit when I was 15 years old. I developed a love for learning about languages and culture after my family vacation to Italy. During my last year of college, while visiting Japan, I made a pact with myself that I would be living in Europe three years after graduation. I call this my ‘self pact’.”

What are your goals while you are here in Spain?

“My primary and most important goal is to learn Spanish. I would like to become fluent. My secondary goal is to force myself out of my comfort zone by integrating into Spanish culture as much as possible. I will do this by meeting and speaking with Madrilleños. Finally, I would like to get the most out of the teaching experience by making a connection with my students. I want to make an impact in their lives.”

Have you ever taught before? In not, what was your career field?

Sam paused, “No, I have never officially taught. In high school, I worked as a tutor through Catholic organizations and in college, I worked as nanny with a family. I tutored the kids in the family. I worked for two years with the same large corporation. I was an intern in my senior year then worked for one year with the same company in human resources.”

What do you think teaching in Spain will be like? Where are you teaching this year?

“I am teaching in San Augustine del Guadalix. It is located north of Madrid. I am taking the approach of not thinking about what teaching will be like. I am not setting expectations for myself. The biggest challenge will be not to associate my past experiences of corporate job expectations. For example, how we are used to doing things the right way and at a fast pace. Corporations care about the most efficient way, and in Spain they care if the job gets done but it does not have to be the most efficient way.”

Why did you choose to teach abroad and also, why did you choose to teach in Spain over other countries?

“Teaching abroad is a great opportunity to travel abroad and to experience another culture. I chose Spain because I studied Spanish for eight years throughout school. I visited Madrid once before and loved it. I knew it would be a great spot to live and I could see myself living here.”


What would you like to accomplish while you are in Spain?

In Chicago, I worked way too much. I worked 60-70 hours at the corporation plus 20 hours being a nanny at night and on weekends. I did not have time left during the week for a social life. I did not take the time to enjoy life. In Spain, I want to accomplish taking the time to enjoy life. I want to take the time to be “Spanish” by going to dinner and socializing with friends. I want to have free time. It is time to learn how to let it go. It’s time to let go of the long hours and live a balanced life.

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

Sam paused, and then looked up assertively, “it is great and it is very different than Italy. They are both cultures derived from Latin roots but very different. In Italy, it was hard to connect with the locals for two reasons. First, it was hard to practice the language with locals because Italian people used English all the time. Second, in Italy, it’s hard to integrate into the culture. They don’t accept you immediately into their social circles. You must not be too willing or be too eager to be accepted in to the Roman circles. When they see you are not trying too hard, they meet you half way and embrace you. Because of this social dynamic, it was hard for me to integrate into the Italian culture in the three months I was there. Also, I was not very willing to be cold to people in order to be accepted. I am a friendly person by nature; therefore, I did not integrate as well as I would have liked.

In Spain, the social barriers are different from those in Italy. I can be myself and people accept me into their social circles right away. Also, people do not speak as much English in Spain as they do in Rome. Here in Spain you can practice the language. They appreciate you trying to use Spanish.

What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here? Have you found them to be accurate or inaccurate?

“I thought more people would know (speak and understand) English than they do and they do not. Also, I assumed I would be afraid to speak Spanish and thought it would take longer to get over the fear to speak. But, after two weeks, I wasn’t afraid and I said to myself, 'I am going to give it my best shot. I am going to try and if they don’t understand, they don’t understand. I know I tried and that’s what matters.'”

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

Sam looked at me with a smirk, “I am going to knock on wood. I have not had a moment where I have been fed up. The hardest thing has been getting used to the Spanish sleeping and eating schedules. I am not sure how I am going to adjust during work or how Spanish people do it.”

The Spanish eat their meals at entirely different times than Americans. They eat a small tostada when they wake up, then at 2:00 p.m. they eat a large ‘comida’ comparable to the American dinner but always more social. Dinner is around 10:00 p.m. For most Americans, this is typically the time when most are getting ready to go to sleep to get up for work the next day.

What has been the best experience?

 "I do not have one moment or one “best.” Retiro Park is my favorite place in Spain. Going to the park is a different idea for me. I would never do that in the states. I never had the free time to do it. No matter how you are experiencing Retiro, with people or alone, there is always something new to see or do.

How do you feel about your integration of the culture so far? Are there things that you have embraced or are hoping to embrace?

I have loved the integration part so far. I think I have a lot more work to do; especially, during the next few weeks while I am on break before I start to teach. If I am not exhausted by the time I go to sleep then I am not trying hard enough to integrate into the culture. Other areas that I focus on are really recognizing that the culture is different by not reacting to it. For example, I try not to get frustrated by the unorganized slow paced government that I have had to work with on a weekly basis since I arrived.”


Since my interview with Samantha, I’ve been fortunate to get to know her more. Her desire to enjoy more free time this year reminds me of Lynnette’s goal when she first moved to Spain two years ago. She has a completely different story but the two women had similar goals once they arrived—to “chillax.”

Sam is a driven and determined hardworking woman. She knows what her goals are yet she is learning how to switch gears and take some time for herself.  The next time I check back with her, I plan to see just how immersed she has become and how she is enjoying her free time.

Stay tuned for our connection!

Ciao for now,

Leesa with two EE’s


An American in Madrid

I came to the sudden realization this week that I've already been in Madrid for a whole month now. Crazy! Time has been flying by so far. Since this isn't my first time around living in Spain, some things I've just taken in stride, forgetting how different some of it is. Other things I had forgotten about or had to readjust to. Since those of you reading this might be considering your own move to Spain, or perhaps even just a visit, I thought I'd share with you some of the differences that might catch you by surprise when you come. 

1. Almost everyone here smokes. No wonder they are so thin. Thankfully, the last time I was here they banned smoking in doors (to my asthmatic relief), but it's still a struggle for my lungs walking past all that 2nd hand smoke on the street all the time. Being indoors or at the park can be quite a relief, unless my window is open and someone else is smoking with their window open in the same building. 

2. This one is kind of gross, but one of the things I definitely didn't miss about Spain when I was in the U.S. was the dog poop, everywhere. Yuck. You really have to watch your step! It definitely depends on the area. The center and the parks usually don't have as much, but the more residential areas are typically worse. In my opinion it's because there isn't enough grass for the dogs to do their business on. 

3. Ham legs. Like, the full leg, hoof included. This is jamón ibérico, which is very delicious and quite common in Spain, but a little odd for Americans to see just hanging like that in grocery stores or restaurants. See below for one of the pictures I took at a friend's grandmother's house last time I was in Spain. This is a little more conservative since it was partially covered, but you get the point. 

4. Everyone walking wherever they please on the sidewalk. This can get pretty annoying and frustrating, particularly when the sidewalk is only so wide and people are walking three across. Also, there's no rhyme or reason to which side they walk on. They just pick a path and go for it. There's no walking on the right side of the sidewalk here! 

5. Piropos. The Spanish version of a catcall. These are pretty typical. If you standout as a foreigner, you might get some extra. If you do get them, just keep walking and ignore it. 

6. Pickpocketing. Okay, this is found all over the world, but with all the tourists in Madrid it can occur fairly often. Thankfully my friends and I haven't had this happen to us, but we have all heard stories of friends of friends that it happened to. Yesterday I went to the Starbucks across from the Prado Museum (known for its pickpockets) and saw 4 little thieves getting kicked out by one of the baristas, who then warned some of the Americans to watch their phones. As long as you are careful and pay attention, you should be okay. 

(If you need a taste of home, do not fear, there are plenty of Starbucks here! I only use them for their free wifi and outlets since the coffee and food is much better at pretty much any other cafe.)

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7. Things happen when they happen, and how they happen depends on the person. Spain is on a different timetable than the U.S., and trying to open a bank account or apply for government documents can be an interesting process. One person might tell you one thing, another person might tell you something else. Case in point, while trying to open an account, one bank sent me to another because of my age, one told me I needed a utility bill in my name, and another was fine with everything, except that they wanted my official foreigner card as my foreign number on my visa and letter from the government of Spain wasn't enough (note: this was the same bank, just different branches). 

8. Smaller portion sizes. I actually love this. I don't have to worry about how much of the meal I eat or trying to take the rest home with me. I've already lost 5 pounds between that and walking everywhere!  It's refreshing coming from the land of bigger. 

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9. The daily schedule. Breakfast is at a pretty normal time, but lunch is around 2 and dinner around 9 pm. Also, if you are planning on going out, be prepared to be out for the whole night! It's pretty common to head to a discotec around 2 am and not leave until at least 6 am. 

10. Hospitality. In the U.S., it's common to split the check if you've invited someone to go to lunch with you and to have people in your house fairly often. In Spain, it's the opposite. If someone has invited you for a coffee, lunch, etc., it usually means they are paying (always bring enough to pay for yourself, just in case though). It's also fairly uncommon for Spaniards to have people over to their homes. This obviously depends on the person/family, but don't be surprised if you live with Spaniards and they don't want people coming over or spending the night. 

In spite of all the differences, of which these are just some, I highly recommend living in or visiting Spain. It is a beautiful, culturally rich European country with much to offer. More on that in later  posts. 

Until next time! 

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Writer's Block


Photo by: Megan Budweg 

Writer’s block: “a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years.”

Here’s the truth. I love Madrid, I love Spain, and I love traveling. So much so, that the pressure to record it all down with words or in a photo is difficult to do. How do I express to you everything I’m experiencing in a way that will be simple to understand? Well, it’s not simple. There’s a pressure here and so often with social media to document everything we’re doing, from what we’ve had for breakfast, to our next vacation, to our wedding day…

What can I say that hasn’t been said before? What can I share that hasn’t been shared before?

Let’s start with why I write, I write because it’s my favorite creative outlet. I have countless journals with my thoughts and stories all written down. Journaling has been my outlet since I was ten years old when my grandma Heidi bought me my first journal for my 10th birthday.

So what do you do when your favorite creative outlet has shut you out?

Find another outlet I suppose…

Okay, cool. So what’s another outlet?

For me, I hesitantly decided… exercise?

So I went for my first jog in Madrid. My thoughts have been tangled for some time now and trying to write any of them down started to feel more like work and stress rather than relaxing and therapeutic. I decided I want to experience the city of Madrid in a different way, through sweat dripping down my face and the pulse of my heart in hopes of heightening my senses.

I come from a very small woodsy Michigan area where outdoor exercise was once a revitalizing and stimulating resource in my life. Here in Madrid the green is scarce, not unlike most cities but I was more accustomed to breathing in the fresh pine scented air, especially throughout Michigan’s ever changing seasons.

The streets of Madrid are always full with a lot of cars, streetlights, crosswalks, and narrow sidewalks. Listening to music helped drown out the city noise but the waves of people slowed me down. Weaving in and out of blurred faces and cigarette smoke made me nauseous. Nonetheless, I was ready to accept this as my running reality when not a mile in I hit Retiro Park. Gated in by a historically beautiful black iron fence and just like that, the city changed:


fresh mint

leafy cool chill

Fall launching from

tree branch and stem

saturate nose

filling lungs full chest


unlike outside


Maybe it was the nostalgic outdated playlist on my phone or maybe it was Retiro Park itself. Maybe it was the timing of the evening but this small cage of green was filled with a community. People running, walking, training, stretching, playing with their dogs, each with a purpose unknown to me. It felt like one large and strange support group. As I jogged around the park I could see the rest of the city passing by through the fence. It was like watching a trailer to the movie of your life, a place you’re temporarily separated from but will join again shortly. I moved along the trail in the park with the restless runners, the restless like me and just like that, I could write again.

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Retiro Park via Google 

Row Four Is in the Middle of Twenty

Yesterday I went to an art talk, and other than thinking for a hot sec that the speaker said that Max Beckmann and Hitler were friends, it was a pretty successful outing.

To clarify, Beckmann and Hitler were not friends; Hitler essentially was the reason Beckmann moved away from Germany.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I had purchased these tickets (€25 for students, €100 for adults: moral of the story, never get rid of your student ID, even after you graduate) for a series of four talks held weekly at the Thyssen-Bornemisza (What can I say? I like art) on artists Magritte, Rauschenberg, Beckmann, and Titian.

I show up, terrified as usual about having to ask directions in Spanish (it’s very hit or miss for me, sometimes they respond at a reasonable pace, other times they talk like my question is the only thing keeping them from the new episode of Game of Thrones), but they understand and describe how to get to the table where I can check in.

Here’s where the entire event gets fishy. My ticket is in iBooks on my phone (I thought it was weird, too, but this happens frequently with my Spanish tickets purchased online) and it says “Fila: 4, Butaca: 5” (as far as I know, “Row: 4, Seat: 5”). Okay. Well the usher is talking to me and I’m showing him my ticket, which is great until he gets me to my seat and it’s IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AUDIENCE. In the middle of an audience that does not have eight rows. As in there is 100% no way this is row four unless Spaniards really don’t like the traditional numerical order. So of course I sit in seat 5 of this row anyway and just worry for the next 20 minutes (I was five minutes early, but this is Spain, people were wandering in until about a half hour had passed) that someone was going to come and get mad at me in Spanish about stealing a seat.

Luckily no one did. Though I was not four rows from the back or four rows from the front, I was in seat 5, so I at least halfway followed my ticket’s orders. And though stressed I was going to get in trouble in Spanish and only be able to respond with classroom taught “con permiso” or “perdón,” the talk was one of the best events I have been to in Spain so far.

I am a newfound fan of Max Beckmann (I was only vaguely familiar with his work before this). He has a way of describing his and others’ works that is brutal and insightful. Plus, his painting of the sinking of Titanic is gripping and demands the viewer’s attention. To look at it is to see anonymous faces of anguish, much like the people in the lifeboats probably saw as they sailed away from the wreck.

A day in the life of a student in Spain


Hello adventurers! 

Today marks my third week in Segovia, Spain. This week I learned a lot about classroom educate, how the bilingual sector of school works, what it's like to be a student in a foreign language class.

Fun Facts

Legal drinking age in Spain: 18, but 15 or older can drink at the bars with parents permission because bars never ID

Legal age to get a license in Spain: 18

Legal age to live on your own in Spain: 18

Legal age you can get a piercing without parents permission in Spain: 16

Legal age you can get a tattoo without parents permission in Spain: 16

   Discipline in class 

    I have come to notice that if a student swears, is being disruptive, or is misbehaving by throwing things across the classroom, initially the behavior is ignored. If the student continues, the student will be given a piece of paper from the teacher listing the behavior to bring home for their parents to sign. In my opinion, the classrooms are a bit more rowdy then I'm used to and a lot of the time the teacher will continue to teach even if the students aren't listening or paying attention. They leave it up to the students to decide what they get out of the class. Also, saying 'shut up!' in English is used a lot when I'm more used to hearing 'be quiet.' 

Another thing I find interesting is that when a student is misbehaving the teachers will almost always say to me El/Ella esta consado--He/She is feeling tired. Almost as an excuse for the behavior; not getting enough sleep. When if I laugh a lot at my host families house they will ask me Connie, esta consado?--Connie are you tired? 

Homework my students turned in that made me smile

Different variations of how students spell my name (Connie): Cony, Coonny, Coney, Coony and Cooney.


"This picture represents a leg of hermes killing Draco"


"Orion is by far the seasonal constellation. The famous Orion's belt makes the haunted easier to find"


This drawing is amazing!

Spanish Class

    I decided to go out on a limb this week and sat in on two classes, completely in Spanish. I told the teachers I would try to do the activities and readings to see what it was like to be a part of a class that was my second language. Wow was it tough! I felt panicked, confident, ashamed, embarrassed, optimistic and scared all at the same time. I was able to do the activities and readings just fine but when it came to listening to the lecture... that was a completely different story. The class was a senior level Spanish history class; the first time I sat in on the class I understood about 20-28% and the second time, 29-40%. It really made me see through the eyes of my students and how important it is to speak clearly and slowly for them to understand. Dios mio!

Advice of the week: when in doubt, speak Spanglish

    Having talked about how difficult it is to take a class in a second language; I've noticed that when I'm teaching a class this is what tends to happen:

Step 1: Give the lesson in English as slowly and clearly as possible without being redundant 

Step 2: Explain more complicated concepts in Spanish first, then in English.

Step 3: Spanglish just happens sometimes "Who finished la tarea?" (the homework)

Overheard Spanglish: Me- Please take out your homework from last week!

Student- Teacher, I olvidated (English: I forgot. Spanish: Me olvide)


Must eat food of the week: Chocolate y Churros is a typical dish of Spanish cuisine! Available at almost any bar or cafeteria in Segovia. Eat it as a snack or a special treat at any given time of the day. 

In closing, teaching English in Spain is absolutely fabulous and the students are hilarious! Hasta luego amigos!

Funny quotes of the week: Me- Manuel, let's play darts! Manuel: Good idea, I'm a super crack! (He thought the world 'crack' was a slang word for 'boss')

Bus driver: Hola! Me: Aloha!

Teacher: (talking about geology and invasion) ...and then the 'Biscotti' people invaded Britain! Me- Do you mean Scottish? Teacher: Oh yes, because a biscotti is not a person? Me- No, it's a bread you eat with coffee haha

What I Know and What I Don't: My First Week in Spain

Today, on the anniversary of one week with my host family, there are things of which I’m unequivocally certain, things of which I’m semi-certain, and things that I don’t know at all.

I’m certain:

  • That today is a national holiday celebrating Spain’s military police, El Pilar. As of last night, this had belonged in the “Semi-Certain” category, because one person had told me October 12th was a holiday celebrating a Catholic Virgin, and another had told me we were celebrating Christopher Columbus, and all of this was in Spanish, of course, so I probably misinterpreted even more than I should have. I did hear the word “Columbus,” though. And “Virgin.” I swear.
  • That my students’ hearts and minds are more open to me than I’d ever think to deserve. Yesterday, my first Tuesday at school, I began the day with twenty minutes with the infantils – the pre-school, essentially. As you can imagine, they speak and understand virtually no English. I thought, let me introduce myself (I made a little cartoon Jenna, with “Favorite Foods” and “Important People” and all that jazz scribbled over my body) and then we’ll play “Simon Says” in English. I’ll be able to pantomime the motions, and they can follow along. At least this will give them initial exposure to the language, to the most basic verbs. Now, pause for a moment to put yourself in the shoes (or smock – they wear adorable, monogrammed smocks) of a Spanish-speaking four-year-old into whose classroom a stranger prances, babbling in a foreign language and throwing her hands up into the air and sticking out her tongue. Personally, I’d be dubious, at the least. I might keep my tongue in my own mouth, thank you very much. But these kids, like all of the others I’ve worked with over the past week, leap delightedly into the unknown. They absolutely gobble up our mangled, half-coherent interactions, the waving of the arms in front of the room, the “No lo se”’s and scrambling through dictionaries, my urges to try, try (I know it’s hard!) to articulate yourself in English, to mess up or to ask a friend, to tell me that your favorite foot is espaghetti, because Spanish is like this for me! And then we spend the afternoon outside in the park, racing and playing soccer and climbing trees, and we don’t need any common language at all.

I’m semi-certain:

  • I ended up in Portugal or near Portugal last night? (Yay, new country!) The two little girls in my host family are learning charro (charo?), a type of traditional song and dance typical to the region of Castilla y Leon, so specific, in fact, that I’m having trouble finding any information about it in English on the Internet. My host mom mentioned that their teacher was hosting a concert at the Roman Baths in a neighboring pueblo (no, not el bano like the one with the shower, no!), and asked if I wanted to go, and I did, of course, so at 8 her and I and the littlest girl piled into the car, picked up Abuela, and drove off into the broad, starless country night. Then we got lost. Hopelessly, I think. And getting lost in Castilla y Leon means travelling kilometers and kilometers down long, rumbling little roads past castles and cows making shadows against the sky before alighting upon a sign post and realizing you’ve just travelled a half hour in the wrong direction. I couldn’t help, obviously, so I sat in the back and watched, helpless. The concert was at 10, and it was 9:45 now, and my little girl and I began to get nauseous, and so we poked at each other half-deliriously, meowing, making animal noises. She said, “Hola Caracola” and I said, “Hola Concha,” and we’d go on like that for a while, and we giggled and then shut our eyes and pressed our heads back against the seat because suddenly we were nauseous again. At 10:15, we arrived and cheered about it, and skittered into the hall, and watched the loveliest performance, with shrill flutes and drums and wide green and red dresses and headpieces decorated like city streets with mirrors and beads. I beat my hand in time with la pies, wheeling around at the ankles like butterflies, and the arms held up at right angles, fingers snapping softly and guiding the bodies around in circles and other shapes. At the end, we were invited up to dance, and I motioned towards my sleepy happy Concha and we danced and whirled together up front, albeit with a drop less grace than the dancers themselves, though she was picked up by one of the gentlemen and whirled around like a queen and I watched and clapped along. My host mom told her teacher, the leader of the group, that I was from New York, and when we lined up together for a picture, one of the dancers burst out, “New Yorrrrk, New Yorrrrrrrk!” Frank Sinatra-style, and we all laughed.

I have no idea:

  • What my address is. I know we’re house number 23. That’s got to count for something, right? I also feel awkward, this deep in, about asking, “Um…where do we live?”
  • What time anything is, ever. I haven’t mastered my prepositions yet, “at” and “on” or “during,” and so when my host mom tells me that music is at ocho, I don’t know if we’re leaving at eight, getting ready at eight, expected at music at eight, and so I’m constantly getting ready early and then loitering about like a kitten waiting to be adopted at a homeless shelter. A happy, hopeful kitten, but the kind who gets her head stuck in peanut butter jars.
  • WHY I CAN’T STOP EATING JAMON IBERICO. At least sixteen times per day, I fantasize about the leg of jamon in the garage. When my host dad steps out to slice off jamon for meal times, I begin instantaneously salivating.

And so, there you have it – the first week! Cheers to scooching more things into the

“Certain” and “Semi-Certain” categories, but embracing the undoubtedly countless new things that’ll plop into the “I have no idea” category in coming weeks. That’s what it’s all about, right?

Izzy: Cultura Semana 5

I'm blogging hungry so of course this is going to be about food. I've been in Spain for five weeks now and I've only had paella twice so I think I need to up my frequency if I do in fact intend to find the best stuff out there. That said, what I've lacked in frequency, I've definitely made up for in authenticity. I was able to make it down south to Valencia last weekend and got to try the paella from the paella capital of the world. While most people probably think of paella as a rice dish that incorporates seafood, Paella Valenciana actually uses chicken and rabbit as it's protein. The most treasured part of paella--at least for me--is the crispy edges around and at the bottom of the pan. This is actually so beloved that it has its own name: "socarrat." While many restaurants will present the paella in the pan to you and subsequently serve it up for you, I personally think that the best way to eat paella is to find a place that lets you dish it out of the pan yourself. This way, you can pick at all those crispy edges.


Does anyone have any restaurant recommendations for great paella in Madrid city center? If so, leave them in the comments.


xx and xx,

Teacher Connection: Justin

“It is interesting to see the direct impact teachers have on the community.”—Justin Hughes-Coleman

First impressions are impactful no matter what the culture or social setting. I have noticed that in our CIEE program, there are not as many male teachers as there are female teachers. Because of this, I knew I wanted to interview a male participant. I also wanted to interview someone who commuted and worked in the north of Madrid, therefore, Justin was a perfect candidate. I had not had a long conversation with Justin until our first interview. He struck me as the friendly type. After our meeting, I realized he was extremely easy going with a smile that lit up the room. His first impression was a memorable one.

After our first meeting, I walked away thinking what a great guy. His experience in Spain is going to be such a great journey to follow. Additionally, I thought he is going to be a great teacher. His enthusiasm and joy for life will brighten up a classroom. The new challenges that Justin seeks are about to unfold. How exciting! 


Meet Justin, the soul searcher:

Justin is from San Diego, California. He went to California State University in San Marcos. He graduated three years ago. Since that time, he has worked in retail, finance, real estate and also, in Americorp as a legal advisor to families. He decided to make a change with his professional path because he needed a new challenge. Once he became proficient at each job, his mind would start to atrophy from lack of challenge. Because he worked long hours, he felt that his brain was shut off for the majority of the time. His soul was not fulfilled because he felt his work had no meaning. Making the decision to come to Spain pushed him to confront the challenges that he had not faced.

Before his journey to Spain, he never taught. He decided to teach abroad with CIEE because one of his good friends had done so the previous year and said great things about it. Because she did the exact program in Madrid, he knew she would be a great resource.

He has two major goals while he is here. He would like to learn more Spanish and he would like to travel through all of Europe and see parts of Africa.

Where are you teaching?

Justin smiled, “I will be teaching at a primary school in the north part of Madrid in an area called Tres Cantos. It’s a one hour commute and I will be living in the city.”

What do you think teaching in Spain will be like for you?

“I try not to think too much about it before it happens. My mom is a teacher. She has taught my entire life. We can’t walk into a store in town without one person knowing her or saying hi. It is interesting to see the direct impact teachers have on the community.

What are you looking forward to most with teaching?

Justin looked up with a really big smile and said, “I am looking forward to preparing lesson plans and seeing how my plans impact my students.”

Justin chose to teach abroad to fulfill his desire to nourish his soul both professionally and personally. He explained this at the beginning of our interview. He added to this, “in the United States I would not be open to creating new lesson plans in subjects ranging from science to American history because I would have a bias as to what a teacher should do and the limitation on the lesson plans they are permitted to teach. However, in Spain, I do not know how their school system works and what is permitted. I can teach from a different perspective that might help the students learn in a different way. So, instead of making lesson plans ahead of time that I might have to change or totally get rid of, I am going to wait for some guidance from my school and use the skills I have learned from my mother to help craft lesson plans that will fit the needs of the school.”

As I watched Justin breeze through these next questions with such ease and charm, especially during a time of what he considered to be his difficult time in Spain, it showed me just how much he truly wants this experience. Even though I later learned he was going through a difficult time at the moment, I had no idea at the time because he was so at ease.

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

“The people in Madrid are very friendly. I am not used to people being so friendly and helpful. Even strangers are personable. While looking at a piso, a receptionist at the building started speaking to me and asking me about my day.”

I would like to highlight Justin’s response here by saying there is a difference when it comes to Spanish people’s personalities versus their behavior. Spanish people can be very friendly but also, very direct.


Justin’s response to this next question made me laugh. It was funny and also, it was flattering.

What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here? Have you found them to be accurate or inaccurate?

“I thought Spanish people were going to be more “svelte” looking people, like you. But, in general they aren’t.”

For those of you who do not know what svelte means (me included), it means thin in an attractive or graceful way. I have to say, thank you, Justin (blushing)!

While answering the next question I saw Justin’s character shine during his personal storm.

What has been most difficult since you arrived?

“Piso hunting has been the most difficult. People cancelled appointments that I reserved minutes before I arrived. They won’t call to cancel the appointment in advance. Now that I have a piso, the hardest thing to get used to is the directness of the Spanish culture. An example of this was when someone told me I looked very messy on the subway (in broken English-Spanish). I was drenched in sweat.”

“On the flip side, they aren’t very forthcoming with information or specifics. Getting detailed information from potential landlords during the search was extremely challenging.”

What has been the best experience?

 “Meeting all the new people. Americans and Spanish alike.”

How do you feel about the integration of the culture so far? Are there things that you have embraced or are hoping to embrace?

“I have integrated more easily than I thought I would. When I got here, I thought it would be very difficult to get around. But, that is not the case.

“I hope to embrace the soccer culture and understand it better. In general, the Spanish lifestyle is a slower lifestyle. When you go out at night you pace yourself. I feel like in America, you either go hard or go home. It’s about getting drunk.

Here it is about enjoying your friends and enjoying the evening. I’m looking forward to that.”


Justin took the leap of faith to come to Spain to look inside himself to find out more about who he is and where this journey will take him. The self-discovery process in Spain is going to be a great one with Justin. One thing we can be sure of, Justin will be encountering and embracing many new challenges in the upcoming months. We will check back with him half way to find out more.

Stay tuned for our next connection.

Ciao for now,

Leesa with two EE's

 Photography: Nicole Geist 


Izzy: Highs and Lows of Week 5

It's fall here in Madrid! The weather turned this Wednesday and all of a sudden I'm wishing I packed more sweaters. The weather matches the mood what with having just finished our second week of teaching. Here are the highs and lows of it.

The Lows

  1. The Weather: Some people are fall obsessed and some people just want to crawl into bed forever and cry about the departure of summer; I'm the latter. Fall here in Madrid is significantly cooler, with mornings dropping into the single digits of the Celsius scale, and rainy. Here's a recent google search I had to do because of the change in weather. In the end, I did not rewash.


  2. Lack of Sauces: This is a really weird low, but the more I find myself whipping something up in my apartment kitchen, the more I really want a cabinet filled with soy sauce, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and the like. What I've actually got is a bottle of olive oil and a bottle of white vinegar. Haven't been able to find the sauce action I crave here in Spain but the hidden upside of this is that I may try to do BBQ sauce from scratch in the near future.

  3. Tree Dedication at John Lennon Bilingual: This past week, our school dedicated a tree to a second grader who lost her battle with Leukemia. It was a beautiful gesture, but it goes onto this side of the list because it was the first time where my Spanish language proficiency level prevented me from saying the things I wanted to say. A lot of the students, especially the younger ones were crying and I wanted to let tell them the story of my friend who lost his battle with Lymphoma and how my relationship with him is still an active presence in my life. I wanted to console these children and I didn't know how. Emotional ammunition to start diving into the Spanish language? Check.


The Highs

  1. Pull Out Classes: Last week I was observing teachers and introducing myself to classes. This week, I get lesson plans and activities in the morning and actually get to pull students out of the general education classroom and work with them in small groups of 4-8. Since I was a SPED educator back home, this feels familiar and I feel super empowered by the familiarity. Can't wait to keep working with students in this capacity.


  2. These Weekends, Though: I am so grateful to have a three day weekend every weekend. I just today started diving into different resources that I had previously not used in Spain (Craigslist, Meetup.com, etc) to start solidifying great ways to spend my free time. Could it finally be the year I actually do NaNoWriMo?

  3. Getting "Lost": A few times a week I go out for a walk or run with the intentions of getting lost. What I mean is, I don't have a set destination and I don't allow myself to use a map. This week, I went out for a run and got lost along the paths and winding staircases behind the Palacio Real. I found myself in formal gardens, amongst marble statues, and in awe of the quiet solitude the rain was providing (even though whenever I see an amazing house/used-to-be-house I always mentally am playing Flo-Rida's "Welcome To My House"... so much for solitude).


xx and xx,