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A Lesson in the Formal

I always thought I was fluent in Spanish - that is, until I arrived in Madrid and hopped off of my flight on Iberia. 

Spanish, thickly accented with Castillian lisps, fired rapidly at me, and all I could do was blink in confusion and gawk. 

.......But.... I speak Spanish? I studied the language in college and high school. I am from California. Signs are written both in English and Spanish at home, and in Napa, it is never uncommon to hear Spanglish from the aisles of the grocery mart. But reality blind sided me. There I was, standing in the airport of a foreign country, realizing that I know very little of the language I was surrounded by.


After getting over my culture shock, going through the motions of CIEE Orientation, signing my lease to my new Piso, I felt like I was making progress. I am overcoming my fear of speaking, and actually enjoy learning new words, eaves dropping on conversations in the metro, and absorbing the language to the fullest extent possible. Some days, I understand everything, and feel confident participating in conversations. On others, I fail miserabley, and struggle to make distinctions between the words that slur together from the mouths of locals. A few days, I have had to lock myself in my room and surround myself with English and movies from home. Yet the majority of the time, I put in my  headphones, and jam away to the top Spanish hits on Spotify, willing myself to learn the language fluently through pure auditory osmosis. Every day is a new challenge.

Fastforward to the Sunday Rastro. The Rastro is a flea market that extends for miles, offering wares - clothes, Spanish fans, hookah pipes, just name it. I perused the streets, bombarded with noises, friends greeting each other, merchants shouting out deals, smells of onions and tortillas and seafood filling the air.  After stumbling across a art stand, the artist, a 93 year old woman, made her way over to me.

 "Hola, como estás?" I promptly said, smiling, and feeling brave. 

"Es estáis," she replied frowning. 

"...Oh. Estáis," I repeated back to her. She angrily walked away from my rude American self. 

And so began AND ended my lesson in the formal. I guess I am never finished learning. Next time, I know. 

The Metropolis Building, or edificio Metrópolis on Gran Vía, is one of the most iconic parts of Madrid. Topped with an Angel watching over Madrid, the building is magnificent at all times of the day. Crowned in gold, it is the jewel of Gran Via.


Panicked Packing

I am a planner. I go all out - checklists, detailed calendars, etc. So when it came time to prepare for something as big as moving to a foreign country, you better believe I planned like CRAZY.

I had read every single Facebook and blog post that existed about how to pack for ten months in Spain. I knew about the “Rule of 3” (only bring three articles of each type of clothing) and that I should lay out everything I want to bring and then cut it down by half. I had researched Spanish weather, how to secure a year’s supply of medication, and the baggage size regulations of the airline I was flying on. I bought space saver bags and practiced arranging my pile of things into my brand new suitcase until they fit just right. There was even room to spare.

And then I weighed my suitcase: 85 lbs.

The weight limit for any single item of baggage is 50 lbs. For an extra fee of $100, an item can weigh up to 70 lbs, but no more.


I had planned so carefully and worked so hard to ensure that everything fit into exactly one suitcase - I had planned to avoid the inconvenience of dragging two bags around Madrid. In my eagerness to plan for space so perfectly, I had completely overlooked planning for weight. I felt a tightness in my chest as I sat on the floor next to my overweight suitcase, wallowing in disappointment and frustration.

In the end, after poring over the airline’s website and talking on the phone with a representative, I figured it all out. I paid a fee for an extra piece of luggage (a duffel bag that could sit on top of my suitcase, therefore not an extra nuisance to carry) and was able to laugh at myself about the whole thing. The lesson learned was that in any endeavor, no matter how much you plan, there will always be something that goes wrong. And that’s okay - the key is to be flexible and not let one hiccup, even one that weighs 15 extra pounds, ruin your overall experience.

Hey, at least I measured my suitcase before getting to the airport, right?


Embracing Uncertainty

In two days, I will have been living in Madrid for an entire month. Not sure if I ever thought I would be able to say that, but as I sit on my kitchen counter watching the sun rise over red tile rooftops and stucco houses and listen to the faint murmur of a new day beginning in the city, I realize this place is slowly becoming my new home.

So what have I been up to this month? And what advice do I have to give to future participants?

For starters, the first month living in a new country will definitely be the most challenging one. Take it in stride and embrace the uncomfortability. I lucked out with a pretty solid group of CIEE  friends that have helped me navigate metros (shoutout to myself because I've never lived anywhere with necessary public transportation), residency card waiting lines, tutoring applications, Spanish walk-in clinics with 3 hour wait times, and the dreaded piso (apartment) hunting. This will all seem overwhelming at first and you will most likely run across a few setbacks. For me, getting WiFi was a week and half long process and there's nothing quite as terrifying as being lost in a city that you've lived in for a week because your phone died on the way to the Metro. Citymapper and Moovit are essential to navigating metros and bus routes here, but take it from me, screenshotting pictures of those routes will save your phone battery AND your first phone bill.

But here's the irony and the beauty in my number one advice I could give to any of you so far -- DO get lost. Talk to the Spaniards who have taken the Metro their whole lives (Spanish people are incredibly nice and will point you in the right direction). Take that weekend trip to the coast and swim in the Mediterranean with new friends, take the day hike and chase some waterfalls, go to that sketchy babysitting interview and fumble through your Spanish with the help of Google translate and 10th grade Spanish vocabulary, and land that side job that will allow you to go out and get lost some more.

My best experiences here, so far, have required this of me. To let go, to trust in the journey. If I feel uncomfortable, unlike what most of us have been conditioned to believe all of our lives, it is a good thing.

There is infinite space to grow in the midst of uncertainty.

Grasp it, use it, push yourself.

I can't say that I still don't take shortcuts. If I go up to a Spaniard at the grocery store, and they hint at knowing English, I will usually fall back on what I know best. Sometimes, this may be necessary, but in the long run its not what you came here for.

I'll leave you with a really cool experience I had the other day at my host-mom's house. It was my last night to come over for dinner after moving into my new piso. As I walked in the front door, I was surprised to see that she had company -- a woman and her young daughter. As I ate in my usual silence, I couldn't help but be pulled in by their conversation. The little girl (Milba) was discussing her English classes and I wanted to know more, so I nervously stumbled through my broken Spanish to ask her how they were going. She responded in perfect English, of course, and we continued a conversation in Spanglish for the next few minutes. Before I knew it, I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, flipping through Milba's bilingual textbooks and laughing over our mutual hatred of Mathematics. As we bonded, the mother (Karina) started to open up to me as well. Her English was similar to my Spanish -- remedial, but we managed to have a conversation about the difficulties of navigating a new language together.

"No pasa nada" she kept telling me. Its no problem if you struggle, keep trying.

Its hard to explain the strange surge of emotions I got from this simple dinnertime conversation. When I spoke with Milba, I was reminded of myself at 10 years old, excited and eager to learn -- full of potential. Speaking to Karina felt like having a trusted conversation with one of my aunts, warm and encouraging and full of laughter. And my host mom, I don't think I had really earned her good graces until that last night in her home... As I was getting up to leave, she embraced me and gave me the traditional besos on both sides of my cheeks, but it was in the smile of her eyes that I could tell she was really proud of me. She had been pushing me for two weeks to speak Spanish in her home, and I had finally stumbled my way through some words and enjoyed what I can only say was the perfect Spanish night -- sitting in a home surrounded by friends and good food and great conversation.





Making Lists and Letting Go

Moment of truth: I like lists. A lot.

I like to make to-do lists (for work, for my personal life), I like making packing lists, I like making pro/con lists. More specifically, I like checking things off of my list. I like the feeling of accomplishment and knowing a task has been completed and completed well.

So, when I returned to Maryland, after moving away from Buffalo, I made a list of things that I wanted and needed to do. Some of it was wrapping up loose ends from things I hoped to accomplish in Buffalo, other things included personal goals of completing things (like making a t-shirt quilt, creating Jesse tree ornaments to take with me to Spain to celebrate Advent away from home, writing a blog post), some where a list of necessities (figure out phone situation, deal with car everything, etc) while other things involved visiting with friends and family. As I planned everything out in my head it was perfect - I would complete all my tasks, visit with both family and friends, and spend the rest of the time relaxing and packing. Sounds great, right?

Fast forward to now. I’m currently at the airport in Madrid, sitting down to write the blog post that I’ve been meaning to write for the past week, with various bits and parts of a t-shirt quilt sitting in a plastic bin in storage back in Maryland (waiting for another time in which to be completed), working on a device that was picked up literally less than 12 hours before I left the house.

If I had to use a word to describe how the last two weeks have been, I certainly would not choose “relaxed” or “restful” but, despite that (or maybe because of that), I would have to say that the past two weeks have been blessed.

I had to just let go of some of the things I felt I "needed" to do and trust that it would be okay, that things would work out. Then, because I was able to do that, I was able to spend precious time with family members and had the chance to see and talk to dear friends.

And, in the end, I have been helped by a number of people who have gone out of their way to make sure that I had the supplies that I will need (and even some things that will just be nice to have), and I have had the opportunity to stop stressing and just trust that everything will work out when it is meant to.

Thanks to the emails of information that we have received through the CIEE pre-departure communications and the online discussions and everything, I feel as though I am prepared with all the paperwork, materials and clothes that I will need; I’ve begun looking at apartments in the area I hope to live and I know what cellular plan I’d like to get.

While not everything I hoped would be done at this point is done, I am in a good place. I am loved, I am safe, and I am excited for the days and months to come.

Our small group of early arrivers is growing, so I am going to sign off for now. ¡Hasta pronto!

(Psalm 23)

Nothing ventured nothing gained

            My mom always said this quote to me growing up. Nothing ventured nothing gained. I slowly understood the meaning more and more as I gained more life experience. How am I supposed to gain anything, whether it is personal or professional, if I don’t venture and immerse myself in new experiences? Shoutout to my parents who instilled the adventurous quality in me. Exploring is now a deeply rooted part of my identity.

            Ever since I studied in Chile 3 years ago, a little voice has been nagging at me to move abroad again. It wasn’t until the voice was shouting that I took the big first step: I applied to a bunch of international programs and jobs. In the midst of other applications, I got accepted to the CIEE teach abroad program in Spain! With only 10 days to decide on my fate, I said, “why not!” and accepted the position. Since that monumental day of acceptance, my decision to move to Spain feels as good as a snuggly glove.

            I don’t know where my life will take me next summer when my teaching duties have been fulfilled. Will I stay in Spain? Will I continue on as a teacher? A writer? It’s anyone’s guess. What I do know is that from the moment I step off that plane, each and every experience I gain will water those roots that allow me to keep growing.

            So despite the last minute packing chaos and pre-departure nerves, I feel more ready than ever to leap into a new chapter. I’m pleasantly surprised at myself for making such a big life change and I hope this sets precedence for bold decisions throughout my life. But before I get ahead of myself, I’m soaking in this moment in time when my journey is taking me to teach English in Spain. I’m grabbing the bull by the horns (Pamplona, anyone?) and jumping into my madriculous adventures.

The Unfortunate Part of Living Abroad - Navigating Healthcare

So you know that how there is always that person who always gets sick and ends up on the ER on day 1? Well, yeah, this time it was me. 

Here I am, day one of orientation, and just starting the info session of navigating the hospital system, when I have a allergic reaction, break out in red hives, and feel my throat start to tighten. God only knows why. 

I was rushed to the "Sala de Emergencia" of HM Hospitales, located on the other side of Madrid as far away from the hotel as possible. Because day 1 of moving in a foreign city isn't hard enough, I just had to go and complicate things by needing medical attention. Handling that situation in a language that isn't my mother tongue was prettyyyyyy daunting. 

Luckily, I had all my information ready to go in one spot. This included my passport photocopies, Kaiser primary insurance information, INext Healthcare insurance, and vaccinations.

Honestly, the healthcare process was a breeze. At the hospital, I immediately was welcomed by a fluent translator, who began handing me paperwork to fill out. They printed out my primary insurance care form, which I completed, as well as the hospital's regular forms. They took my vitals, and a nurse ushered me into see the doctor. A translator stood with me the entire time, ready to step in as needed, while I gave as much of an account in Spanish as possible. The doctor examined me, and gave me the meds needed to stop the reaction in its tracks. 

An hour later, I stood, hive free and breathing freely again. I completed the rest of the unfinished paperwork. I walked out with a prescription that I picked up at a local pharmacy, knowing that I am now in the system. 

Needless to  say, I'm pretty proud of myself for going into a foreign hospital and coming out alive and well. I still hate needles though.


Making My Way to Spain

In August last year you could have asked me what my plans were for after graduation, and I would have told you an internship at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda. Well that didn't happen, and now I'm sitting here in Madrid. As of April I had not yet decided on any plans after graduation and May 6th was quickly approaching. I was talking to my Spanish professor one day and she said I should look into teaching abroad. 3 hours later I was filling out an application to teach abroad in Madrid. As I sit here drinking my morning coffee looking at the streets of the Salamanca barrio I realize how thankful I was that my professor told me to go abroad for the year.

The last 2 weeks have been an awesome experience for learning about Spain. The first 4 days were filled with lots of paperwork, but also lots of exploring. We went to a flamenco show the first full day we were here and it was AMAZING. You could see the music running through the dancers from their toes to their fingers. Everything was so fluid and improvised in a way that almost seemed rehearsed. Others were surprised that it was mostly improvised, but I knew that they were talking to each other on stage and playing off all the energy between each other and the crowd. If you are ever in Madrid looking for something to do, go to a flamenco show.

Our host is a nice lady. She was a historian back in the day, but is retired now. She has traveled 
to the United States and lived in California and Miami for a number of years. Because she knows English and Spanish she is super helpful for learning because when we don't know a word she can teach us. A couple days ago  we gained a study abroad student from Nairobi, so now there are 3 exchange students ( 2 from CIEE and the new one) and a whole lot of learning about the differences between all the places.




Pictured is the Royal Palace of Madrid, which we visited while exploring the city the first few days here.



Preparations and Musings

I will be leaving in about a week to come over to Madrid to begin my new adventure. This is my first blog entry about my experience with the CIEE Teach in Spain - Professional program. I am both excited and nervous, which is a strange feeling because I have moved abroad before, but this time it’s different. I don’t know for sure, but I am most likely one of the older students in the Teach in Spain program. I’m 33 and I am basically restarting a part of my career. I realize that I am a bit more cautious than I was thirteen years ago in terms of what to pack, who I contact to get information, thinking about certain aspects of the program. But, building on to my career with a move abroad, in a country where I don’t really speak the language, is exactly what I want and need to do right now.

I’ve studied with CIEE in France (all the way back in 2004). That semester abroad in college changed so many things for me. I continued to study and work in teaching both French and ESL for ten years after that. I am hoping this year in Madrid will bring the same kinds of changes and re-invigorate and reaffirm the work as a teacher that I began after my college graduation. Now, I’m taking a slight step back to learn Spanish and to work in another European city.

I have visited Madrid several times and I have friends who live there. So far, from the perspective of sitting behind a computer screen in my apartment in the Midwest, everyone has been warm and welcoming about my participation in the program. In some ways, I know what to expect from a program like this: teacher training, setting up bank accounts, finding an apartment, buying a phone, etc. But the rest of it is a mystery, in the best way possible. I know it will all get done, although the language barrier is a bit of a struggle for me. I am so happy to know that I will have help and support along the way. I look forward to learning more about Spanish culture. I know some information, but as I make my preparations, I realize that I have so much to learn.

Anna Shailer

Endings and Beginnings...

Have you ever had to start something, but not known quite where to begin?  

I feel as though that is how I would explain how I feel right now...  Since I learned that I would have the opportunity to keep a blog about my experience of Teaching Abroad through CIEE, during my time in Spain, I have been eager to start.  My dilemma was where to start.  

It was suggested that we begin with an introduction - which has never been my strong suit, so, after much deliberation, here I am.  For those who may be coming across this out of curiosity, coincidence, or happenstance, my name is Stephanie - a 2010 graduate of Iona College in New Rochelle, NY.  I have been a "professional" young adult, working in the field of Youth Ministry for the past 7 years, living in a wonderful, but cold, place called Buffalo (NY).  After a few interesting twists and turns over the past year or so, I decided to apply (VERY last moment) for the CIEE Teach Abroad in Spain program for the 2017-2018 school year.  Being a Youth Minister has been a blessing and a challenge and has certainly kept life interesting over the years but I felt like I was being invited into something new.  And so, when this door opened, I chose to accept the opportunity. 

It is both an exciting and slightly terrifying position to be in.  In many of the obvious ways it is exciting - I mean, Spain for a year? The chance to travel, to practice the language, to step back from the hustle and bustle of the American culture and experience life in another country; who wouldn't be excited?  Yet, on the other hand, there is a very real understanding that I am not one of the recent college graduates who is heading to Spain as a stop before they enter the real world.  I have no clue at this point what I will do, or where I will go, after these 10 months are done.  And as someone who is quickly approaching 30, that's not exactly how I saw my life going when I planned that all out.  (You know what they say about making God laugh?  That's basically my life.  I plan, God laughs.)  So, that's where I am in a nutshell.  

And now that everyone's caught up on where I am, this is now the point in time where all of this is quickly becoming a reality.  I am currently taking a break from packing up my apartment (procrastination 101 - apparently I haven't forgotten everything I learned in college) and will be departing Buffalo at the end of this month to move my extra belongings back to Maryland, where I am originally from and where my parents have so generously offered to store my things.  There are so many people I would like to say goodbye to as the days here wind down but so little time.  I hope that this will offer a chance to stay connected in the months to follow as I begin the next chapter of life's journey.  I still will have some time in the States, back in my hometown, before I head off to Madrid in the middle of September.  

I'm guessing that, when I have wrapped up my work and responsibilities here, the couple of weeks I have in Maryland may offer some time to process everything that's happening and really prepare for all the new beginnings that I'm eagerly awaiting.  I look forward to sharing the ups and downs with you all - so feel free to ask any questions and stay in touch!  ¡Hasta pronto!

(Jeremiah 29:11)

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