Once upon a time, there was a princess. Her name was Fallon. She had blonde hair and blue eyes. She was happy and she spoke English.
These were the opening lines of a storybook that my second grade students created and preformed for me. It is the story of a girl who sets out to find a cure for her ailing pet donkey. She faces many trials and tribulations along the way, but with the help of her new friends she learns that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
This story is a great reflection of this past year. It was simple, but the message was heartfelt and sincere. While I had no donkey to save in real life, I did face a few difficulties this past year. Fortunately for me, I could always rely on my host family, friends, and colleagues for help and encouragement. While I struggled with my own moments “lost in translation,” I am amazed at how much my students have accomplished at such a young age. It’s a great feeling to know that you have left an impression on your students, but its even better to know that they have learned from you. This storybook, created by second graders, is a great example for the purpose of a bilingual school: to think creatively and critically in English. I am so grateful to be part of their process.
The halls are now empty. The classrooms are silent. The air smells heavily of bleach and mildew. The English department is a disorganized cluster of books, papers, and what seems to be a never-ending pile of flashcards. School is out, and my time as an auxiliar at CEIP Infanta Catalina is coming to a close. However, I am not quite ready to leave España. Three-day weekends and extensive traveling have made working here a breeze, but just as I encourage my students to push themselves, it is time I take my own advice. In an effort to make the most of my time in Spain, I will be completing the Teach and Learn bilingual master program at the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares next year. This will mean longer hours and a larger workload, yet in the end I will be doing what I love.
Now that summer is here, I cannot wait to embrace my next two months of freedom. The tickets are bought and the itinerary is set. I am heading eastbound and down towards my next adventure: Greece and Turkey. Bazaars, hot air balloons, swirling dervishes, scuba diving and coastal sunsets. What better way to start off the summer than touring the Mediterranean?
There is an old Spanish proverb that says, “Experience is not always the kindest of teachers, but it is surely the best.” I have found this rings most true in this program. No matter what I write about here today, every auxiliar has had a different experience. It really is what you make of it. There seems to be hundreds of blog posts about the reasons to travel and work abroad. My advice: ignore all of them. Spain can be good, bad, ugly or beautiful. It is whatever you want it to be. The ultimate goal is to experience it yourself.
My daily commute is like a life-size game of pinball. On the sidewalk, I am bumped into left and right, then hit with a purse over here, or stepped on by a passerby over there. Thus, I often feel like the little ball that gets tossed around inside the pinball machine. And no, it is not because I’ve been wearing Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. The reason this happens is merely that our beloved American concept of personal space does not exist in Spain. Spaniards do not have a personal space bubble; they are not fazed by uncomfortably close proximities nor constant physical contact with others. This is often manifested by unassuming strangers who stand practically on top of you even though there are plenty of open spaces, or the occasional shoulder plows into yours as someone hustles to make it to next metro on time.
In school, personal space became a topic of discussion when one of my teachers mentioned that Spaniards had reputation for being impolite and asked if I felt the same. I told her, that frankly, I found Spaniards to be fairly friendly and respectful, the only exception being the lack of appreciation for personal space. She looked at me with a confused face and as such, I went on to explain the meaning of this foreign notion. She laughed and said, “no existe aqui.” She then told me about her recent trip to New York City where she recalled walking down the busy streets and was surprised that she had not been touched or bumped into at all…. Quite the concept indeed.
At first, I found myself frustrated with people constantly popping my personal space bubble. I felt like I had to strategically maneuver through the streets, dodging people all the way. In the U.S. it is fairly standard that when walking down the street, if you see someone walking towards you, you sub-consciously start to migrate toward the outside of the sidewalk and make room for them to pass. Alternatively, Spaniards will keep on walking as if there’s nothing in their path, that is, up until the last minute when they just might make a slight move to the side. More likely, however, you will be the one doing the moving otherwise, you risk being graced by a strange shoulder or elbow. Therefore, each stroll down the sidewalk becomes a game of what we have come to call, “pedestrian chicken.” Who will move out of the way first? Will they move at all? Only time will tell.
I’m proud to say, however, that I am now accustomed to foregoing my personal space bubble and often find myself wandering through the streets and metro stations, casually gracing shoulders with others and bumping people with my bag along the way. I’ve even come to find that there’s a certain beauty in it all. Instead of avoiding physical contact like the plague, I’ve begun to acknowledge a kind of connectedness and leisurely “take life as it comes” kind of attitude. Mind you, I still did not exactly appreciate the lady who crashed into me yesterday with such force that she knocked my phone clear out of my hand and sent it skyrocketing across the metro floor; but no pasa nada because little cultural oddities such as these are one of the things that have made this experience so special.
Some street art I stumbled upon during a recent trip to Granada, Spain. Todo con mucho amor literally translates to: everything with lots of love, a excellent representation of my feelings toward my experience in Spain, thus far.
I somehow managed to finagle my way onto a “gym class field trip” to Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home of the Real Madrid soccer club. The day began with the shuttling of about fifty students to the stadium via metro, which was an adventure in and of itself. Picture this: fifty eleven and twelve year-olds screaming and running all over the place while teachers try and corral them and simultaneously squeeze them all into two metro cars. However, they were certainly no worse for the wear when we finally arrived at the stadium. In fact, the kids were beaming with excitement. Let me preface this by explaining the importance of soccer in Spain. To put it lightly, soccer is no joke here. Whether it is Real Madrid, Athlético, Barcelona, etc. everyone identifies strongly with one team or the other so much so that it is always a topic of conversation in my classes with these tiny fans. It makes American football fans and the recent super bowl look like a backyard game of hopscotch in comparison.
As the actual tour began, so did the sea of smartphones taking pictures of every inch of the stadium. The kids wanted to take a picture of every poster, picture, and trophy in the place. Mind you, Real Madrid has quite the collection of trophies from simple and basic to elaborately decorated and almost gaudy. They’re most well known for winning 10 European cups.
The guided tour allowed us to see all aspects of the stadium from the museum of trophies and history to the locker rooms, the VIP seating, and the “dugout” – or whatever the appropriate soccer term is. The tour itself was supposedly a sanctioned field trip because the guide was said to be explaining the background and history of the facilities in English but it was evident that all the kids were too memorized by the stadium itself to listen or care. Admittedly, I was right there with them. Even though I haven’t played soccer since high school, my inner soccer player was awestruck by the stadium. I was secretly dying to run out onto the field and play around. Needless to say, thanks to this lively field trip, I will definitely be going to a Real Madrid game in the near future.
With two of my fellow teachers alongside of the field
During the study abroad days, pictures of friends in famous sites worldwide were flooding the Internet, often posing the question; can you actually get a sense of a new city in just a few days? Is it just about taking pictures to claim you’ve been there or do you really experience this new place? After my many adventures these past few months and beyond, I’d like to argue the later. You can only capture so much on camera. Obviously. You’re not walking around snapping pictures every moment of every day. Even though sometimes it seems as though all anyone sees are pictures of you with the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, etc. Frankly, however, no one takes pictures of the good stuff because we are too busy living it.
Between a few long weekends and an extensive winter break adventure, I have been lucky enough to travel to six new countries: Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Czech Republic, England, and France. By no means am I now an expert on German history nor a connoisseur of Parisian cuisine, but I have certainly learned a little more about the world around me and a little more about myself. For instance, I can now successfully plan a multi-country trip from start to finish. I understand that sometimes getting lost is the best way to explore. I learned to keep an open mind. I’ve discovered that you meet all kinds of characters in hostels, for better and for worse. I learned that everything you need can fit into a backpack. I’ve learned that language barriers create for some really, really interesting intercultural communication, i.e. creative hand gestures and pointing. The list goes on....
So skeptics, worry not, travel certainly has more value than the pictures let on. It may not be documented for the entire social media world to see but behind the scenes, you can find us globetrotters meeting locals, learning all about cultural customs, and discovering a little more about this wonderful world we live in.
"Fairy tales can come true It can happen to you if you're young at heart
For it's hard, you will find To be narrow of mind if you're young at heart"
Frank Sinatra taught me that what's important when working with children is the ability to be young at heart. He didn't say those words exactly, but his song Young at Heart holds an important lesson for everyone in a teaching career.
"You can go to extremes with impossible schemes You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams And life gets more exciting with each passing day
And love is either in your heart or on it's way"
After 4 months of being a teaching assistant I've had lots of time to evaluate the lead teachers I work with. I've questioned what makes the difference between a "good" teacher and a "bad" one, in a personal attempt to emulate the good ones. I've managed to narrow it down to one thing that all effective teachers have in common: those that are capable of commanding not only the attention, but the respect of their students are those that are able to place themselves in the students shoes. As teachers we must approach the world in the classroom from the eyes of our students. To do this we must channel our inner child. This often means making a fool out of ourselves acting, dancing, and singing in front of the classroom in order to get a point across or to teach a specific concept.
"Don't you know that it's worth Every treasure on earth to be young at heart For as rich as you are It's much better by far to be young at heart"
It means stepping out of our super serious adult mindset and conversing with our kids on their level, treating them like little humans rather than "children." Practically this means leaving the troubles of everyday life at the door of the school, and walking in with a smile on my face. Some days the smile is forced, but only for as long as it takes me to greet my students, because seeing 25 smiling faces staring back at you is highly contagious. The work of a teacher is challenging and exhausting, some days I wonder and doubt if I have it in me. It's on these days that's I tune in to Frank Sinatra for reassurance...
"And if you should survive to a hundred and five Look at all you'll derive out of bein' alive
And here is the best part, you have a head start If you are among the very young at heart"
IES Gabriel Garcia Marquez, also known as my current place of work, is a bilingual secondary school about 30-45 minutes outside the center of Madrid. Instead of having elementary, middle, and high schools as they do in the U.S., Spain divides their schools into primary and secondary. Therefore, working in a secondary school means that I work with students age 12-18 (about 6th-12th grade in the US) who are required to take about half of their classes in English. Admittedly, I was pretty nervous when I found out that I would be working with more high-school aged kids than I had initially thought. I mean teen angst wasn’t exactly high on my list. But as it turns out, I’ve really liked the older kids. Well, I like most of them. Every class that I work with is completely different; we’re talking polar opposites. Some are motivated and enthusiastic, others say practically nothing and stare blankly at me, and lets not forget about those who listen to absolutely nothing and are intent on wreaking havoc for the full fifty-five minute class period.
Hence, I would be lying if I told you I didn’t have my favorite groups. Primero F, a class of 12-13 year olds, is has definitely taken the lead. They have a substantial amount of English under their belts and they are not above participating. It almost seems that someone has let them in on the little secret that, in fact, the more you participate, the more cool points you earn in the game of life. Their hands stretch towards the ceiling, waving eagerly and desperately trying to catch my attention by saying, “Teacher! Teacher!” Oh yeah, my name is now, “Teacher.” It was during this class that the following interaction ensued…
Student 1: Teacher, why deed you come to Madrid?
Me: Well I had never been to Europe before and I wanted to be in a Spanish-speaking country. Madrid, has so much going on, it’s so rich in culture… etc.
Student 2: Ummm you know we have Ebola here now, right?
Well played, well played.
As an auxiliar, I am essentially a Teachers-Assistant. As such, I help with the daily lessons and introduce any and all activities, games, and songs from my camp counselor repertoire. I help mainly with English language and literature classes but I have somehow also wound up in a few science and art classes. I’ve always liked science, so cell structure and world geography are totally doable. Art classes on the other hand, can get pretty interesting since my artistic knowledge spans about as far as stick figures. I should probably start taking notes.
Beyond the actual teaching itself, I have been particularly impressed by the informality of working-relationships between co-workers and between bosses. In other words, it is expected for colleagues at my school to take a legitimate interest in each other’s lives. A strictly professional demeanor is seen as rude or aloof. During the daily coffee break when they say, “Hi, how was your weekend?” or even just a simple, “How are you?” it is evident that they really, truly want to know. A one-word answer does not fly here. I was both flattered and a little dumbfounded by this at first. Spaniards expect a full play by play on the events of your weekend or your current emotional status; where as the same greeting is more of a formality in the US. In return, they expect you to ask sincerely about their family and friends and all the details of their weekend. It creates only the most open, personable atmosphere where I feel comfortable to ask my billions of questions and I know I will get honest, considerate responses.
Let it be known that prior to this year I had zero intention of being a teacher, nor do I plan on pursuing teaching as a career in the future, but I’m surprised daily by how much I’m enjoying it. I took a leap and chose to trade the entry-level desk job for a chance to explore new cultures and perspectives, and what a valuable experience it is turning out to be.
Today is my 22nd birthday. However that was not the first thing on my mind as I woke up this morning. My brain ran through its usual morning thoughts: is it cold outside? I wonder if it's raining, what on earth do I wear?! Thank God it's Friday, oh shit what time is it? Good I still have time, is it enough time to squeeze in ten extra minutes of sleep? Eh better not risk it, just five minutes then... 30 minutes later I've decided to get out of bed.
This morning on behalf of my birthday, I added something to my pre-wake up routine. Rather than stress about the day ahead or the fresh body piercing that still aches and screams with every movement of my body, I chose to count my blessings: 22 to be exact. Finding 22 reasons to be happy wasn't exactly hard. If you read my last blog post you saw that I have a lot to be thankful for. A wonderful home, great work, amazing friends, health, youth, food in my fridge, and clothes in my closet! Still with all the abundance there was one thing I counted twice-something I am doubly grateful for: Madrid. This beautiful city, my home. A city I dreamed about living in every day for 2 years. I am truly grateful to be living here.
Cristina (aforementioned Thai-Italian fire ball) slaved in the kitchen for 6 hours to make me lasagna from scratch. Later in the evening 6 of my housemates and 8 other friends joined me to drink wine and enjoy the food! I received flowers from my best friend in America. They were waiting for me in the door when I came in from work! I was gifted a handwritten card and a fresh new album courtesy of my friend Jingwei who flew in from Belgium that morning to spend the weekend with me. Put simply: I was surrounded by people who love me, there is not a better place to be in the world. My birthday toast is as follows "this morning I woke up and counted my blessings. Every single one of you was one of them." I am young in years but old and rich in blessings.
It has now been about 2 months since my arrival in Madrid and to say we hit the ground running would be a colossal understatement. Almost as soon as our feet touched down on Spanish soil did the incessant to-do list begin. During which time, I reluctantly learned lesson number one: nothing is ever as easy as it seems and sometimes all you can do is shrug and say, “no pasa nada.” (Don’t worry about it/it’s all good)
In the country where no pasa nada is the rule of thumb, for each item on our seemingly simple to-do list, add at least two other hurdles to jump over before you can check it off the list. You want to join a gym? No silly, you’re going to need a Spanish bank account for that. Need a bank account? No silly, you’re probably going to need to visit at least five different branches of the same bank until you find one that will adhere to your needs because naturally, they each get to play by their own rules. Insert the classic- no pasa nada.
Now don’t get me wrong, we may have struggled through each and every task on our to-do list, but such is life when moving to a new country. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not stepping far enough out of your comfort zone. Thus, the learning process begins. Best of all, then you can look back and laugh about the time that you frantically ran around Madrid looking at upwards of six different apartments until you found the right one. Or the time that you created a small lake in your kitchen because you didn’t know how to read the Chinese-like symbols on the washing machine… oops.
After the dust began to settle from the initial chaos, I finally had the opportunity to explore the city that was to be my new home for the next year…Wait, what? I live in Spain?! This fact is still a bit of an anomaly for me and I have to pinch myself from time to time. In the land where tapas and sangria are abundant, so are sites rich in history, big and beautiful parks, nightlife that never ceases to impress, and people with an authentic and friendly demeanor. Seeing as this is my first time in Europe much less in Spain, around every corner seems to lie something new and exciting. Every week we stumble upon a new neighborhood, nearby town, or even a restaurant that casually has a beach in the basement (beach chairs and beach balls included). And just when you thought you’d seen it all. We’ve just begun to scratch the surface here in Madrid and I’m beyond excited to see where the next few months lead. Tune in for the many adventures that lie ahead!
View of Madrid from an incredible rooftop restaurant!
I’m going to premise this virgin blog post with the fact that I’ve been in Spain for two months already. Living, breathing the Spanish way of life. Every day I take a 2 hour siesta, before beginning work in the afternoon. I eat dinner around 11 and stay up with friends, talking, eating tapas and reveling in the ambient street life that occupies most cities in Spain. I wake up to the sunrise with a cup of coffee in my hand before beginning an 8-12 hour day full of children, full of energy and thirsty for knowledge. On this particular day I walked into my first grade class, and within the first minute of entering, 24 6 year olds attacked me with hugs and shouts of “Priya! Priya!” I was immobilized for 2 minutes before I managed to wrench the children off of my legs and disclaim that “This is a time for learning! Let’s learn!”
How did I get to this exact moment? When it was confirmed 6 months ago that I was coming to Spain to teach primary school children, my heart was full of fear. I had never worked with children. I had never been abroad for more than 4 months at a time. I was about to embark on my greatest journey yet, with no return ticket booked. It might be years before I stepped foot once again on the soil of the place I was supposed to call home…
I got here because I said Yes. I said Yes to the things in my life that called to me the most. I said Yes to my dreams. I said Yes to leaving my friends and family. I also said yes to living with 7 strangers, which has turned out to be the greatest blessing of all. The thing about saying Yes, is that you can’t do it just once or twice. Throw some caution to the wind. Put your fears aside. Make a mistake-but make a passionate one. Close one window, so that a door can open somewhere else in your life-somewhere you never even imagined was possible.
Today I discussed with my piso mate Cristina—a fiery half Thai, half Italian girl who has become like a sister to me— that nobody could pay me to change my life. Not for 10 million Euros would I change a single thing…I say this with 14 Euros in my bank account.
I hope whoever is reading this will say yes to that thing in their life that calls to them. Whether it be your greatest dream, the thing you are most afraid of, or both. Save some money, make the change, move somewhere, do something, leave someone. Work every weekend if you have to. Put away the dollars now, so that one day you will be doing something so amazing that all the money in the world wouldn’t matter.
In Madrid, I have two main activities: I teach and I volunteer at a hospital. I would like to connect the two communities with a project, in which my students create a bilingual book for the hospital´s pediatric ward as a Christmas present.
To give students the opportunity to give back to the community, and show them how rewarding that can be. In addition, this project will provide a way for sick children and their parents to find entertainment and fun when they need it most.
Most of the children in the pediatric ward at the hospital where I volunteer (Hospital Severo Ochoa in Leganés) are extremely young – babies and toddlers. Therefore, the children who I work with in my school (CEIP Gloria Fuertes), who are in fifth grade, will be making a child-friendly, animal picture book with both Spanish and English labels. Here is how it would work:
The children (approximately 50 in 5th grade) will be divided into five groups, each group being assigned a sub-theme under animals – for instance, the jungle, the desert, the poles, the forest or the ocean.
Within those five groups, the children will be divided into pairs. Each pair will be responsible for designing one page of the book. Thus, the book will have 25 pages, with 5 pages on each theme.
The materials for making the book will be provided by the school (the school has a catalog for ordering art supplies) and paid for by the CIEE enrichment grant (see budget below). I will particularly encourage the students to use materials that have interesting textures, so the children at the hospital can feel and touch.
Students will label their pages with both Spanish and English words, and I will edit the words for spelling. (Students will write in pencil first, then I will approve it before they copy over the words with pen.)
I will design the front cover, back cover, the first inside page, and the cover page for each chapter, and have the book finished and bound in time to deliver it to the hospital for Christmas.
As I reflect on this project, I think about what a rewarding experience it has been to watch children feel the joy of giving something back to their community while simultaneously learning something pretty cool – namely, about the components of a particular ecosystem. If the project provides as much joy to patients at Hospital Severo Ochoa as they did to my students at Gloria Fuertes, then it will have been a success.
Now, as I begin my path to medical school (first through a Master of Science program next year), I will always remember this project as one of my first major contributions to the medical community.
Por fin, the school year has come to an end and I am free to frolic about Spain on my motorcycle with an expired TIE (Foreigner Identification Card). No tengo miedo de la policía, hombre.
I suppose I could offer up some advice as parting words for anyone looking to come and teach English here in Spain. However, I don't want to lose anyone in the logistics. I will save all the advice for packing and dealing with all the bureaucratic red tape involved in legally becoming a resident here for the group forums on Facebook.
Another one of Madrid's odd statues, a baby head with eyes closed, resting on a rainy day.
First, make sure you come for the right reasons. I understand the allure of Europe and all the romantacism associated with it can have Americans starry-eyed and ready to bite the bullet when it comes to being butchered in the currency exchange slaughterhouse just to get here and pasar un buen rato. There is no need to hoard money upon arrival, just be prepared to foot the bill. In view of all that, keep in mind life is still just life over here and people are still just people... well, they happen to be people who don't generally speak your language, which brings me to my next point.
Learning a foreign language is not exactly full of blithe and ease as though suavely sliding into it off the backside of the rainbow and landing in some new, sexy plane of fluency. It takes time. I have had to learn to be comfortable with not understanding everything all the time. I have also had to learn how to become a good-listener, which happens to be one of my social defects not so easily airbrushed over and concealed. My grandmother, while she was still kicking, had the candor to tell me I was stricken by 'diarrhea-of-the-mouth' syndrome when I was a child. She was never afraid to call a spade a spade.
My friend, Joaquin, and I searched Google images in hopes of blending in with the locals as we prepared to make our way to 'The City of Love'
Of course, Spain is a beautiful country to see and who would not want to come here? I must mention, however, there is a big difference between passing through Spain for a quick, spin-dry McEuroTrip experience and actually living here. Most Americans are used to their space, quality customer service, dryers, nightclubs that close early, a wide-variety selection in gastronomy and, naturally, speaking English--a language less inherently curt compared to Spanish. These are things that I didn't consider before I came.
Mont Blan'd out after a day well-shared with my friend Luke
Of course, I am not saying I have been living like a pauper here. The standard of living is quite comfortable. We just happen to be from a place in the world where even the poor get to recline in La-Z-Boy recliners to watch the big game, laugh & scratch, and maybe even share the privilege to fight over who controls the thermostat in their Section 8 housing. We have it pretty good in the States. Besides, it is hard to beat a country that sucks most of the world's resources down with the outright shameless exhibitionism of one of those excessively nude male locker room dominator types seen and avoided across the gyms of America.
I understand that a lot of us do not come here with the intention of bettering ourselves as teachers. I studied journalism and have no intention of returning to the States to teach. However, that should not let us off the hook. At the end of the day, we are here to do a job, no matter how much the level of difficulty mirrors the most clear cut antipode to rocket science I've ever seen.
I also understand what we are doing here is not saving the world one English-deprived child at a time. On the other hand, being an adult with the opportunity to impart something positive into a child's life is not something to be taken lightly or missed out on. All foreign language proficiency aside, one axiom always reamins true: One only truly lives in the giving of oneself to others.
The feet of mother and son facing Barcelona from a teleferico
I would suggest not applying if one's patience for children is low. Maybe secondaría is different, but at the younger levels, there are students whose mothers birthed them primarily to assist in the personal growth of teachers cultivating their virtues. I've seen teachers who I thought were mean as junkyard dogs in the States. They do not hold a candle to a few Spanish ones I've seen here, but then I saw the children. Of course not all are bad. There are the sweet angels you'd be tickled pink to adopt and then there are the diablillos.
My very first night in Spain walking about the streets of Seville
Be prepared for brain-drain/cerebral apathy and the sneaking suspicion that you may be walking about Spain casting the shadow of a snake-oil salesman. Although it is nice to speak into a young child's life, it is hard to avoid the occasional view of yourself as some quack standing about, briefcase broad and open, on a densely crowded street corner vending magical English lotions and potions, promising it is just the ointment necessary to cure all of the ailments succeeding the Bubonic plague era.
I would also suggest bringing your interests with you, honing skills learned in college and picking up hobbies, preferably intellectually stimulating ones. The truth is the hubbub of daily college life comes to a screeching halt here, ejecting all go-getter drive acquired from the recent past swiftly through the front windshield where all backbone is broken on the civic religion of manaña. There are many graduates looking for such a break before entering the workforce, too, of course.
Don't be surprised if you find yourself on the grand stage of human emotion known as a train station or airport having to say goodbye to a flame you may never see again. There are always taxes to be paid for transient lifestyles.
If you decide to date the locals, be ready to break it off with someone in a language that is not your own. The words, intrinsically, do not carry much meaning to us, but the effect they have on the reciever is always a barometer for your skills in the handling of the language.
And, finally, stay curious. Don't pass the entire time with other Americans or English speakers. The Spanish are generally open people and patient with those learning their language. It is a waste of an opportunity not to get to know them. I understand they are in the middle of an economic crisis and, as a result, do not always have the resources to go travel with whatever run-of-the-mill guiri happens to cross their path.
The desire to seek out your own culture is natural while abroad. It is what is normal to us. For the trips about Europe's playground, there is a much higher probablity to find others like you wanting the same. However, do not be afraid to travel alone. You will meet new people you may have never known otherwise and will have experiences undefined by the company you keep. You will be a small individual sucked into a much larger, more precarious world full of all its blind alleys and mystery. You may even emerge 'some' the wiser.
Do not worry about coming alone and making friends either. If you want to make friends, simply be interested. If you want to be alone... be interesting.
I have come here and I have enjoyed myself extensively. I have drawn a lucky hand to end up at the school I was in and I look forward to returning to it next year. I know others less fortunate. I hope my last entry has been somewhat useful, insightful and not in any way seemingly Holier-Than-Thou for those to come.
With a heavy heart, I say goodbye to you all. For those of you who would like to continue reading, I provide a link to my personal blog.