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20 Differences: Spain vs. Latin American Spanish

A Petite Traveler

When I first moved to Madrid, Spain at the beginning of August 2017, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the country, and also by all the cultural differences, especially in the language. I learned Latin American and Mexican Spanish growing up in the United States. Here in Spain, I've learned European Spanish from my host family stay and from Tandem: a prestigious language learning school in Madrid. I'm still learning from my private Spanish classes, my intercambio partner who is a native European Spanish speaker, and from living in Spain! I've rounded up 20 differences in verbs, expressions, and what things are called here for your leisure. Of course, I do not offer an exhaustive list and I will continue to add to it! Please leave comments or follow me on Instagram @APetiteTraveler if you have any questions or comments!

(All of my photos are purchased and licensed through Adobe Stock, except the one of me above, that's just a selfie! Haha.)


1. Vosotros

In the majority of American schools, our Spanish teachers skip this form and we only use "yo", "tú", "él/ella", "nosotros", and "ustedes/ellos/ellas". This is because they only use the vosotros form in Spain and there are over 20 other Spanish-speaking countries. Sorry, Spain! So if you're like me and you're immersed in Spain Spanish or otherwise called "Castilian" or Castellano, it sounds like a different language apart from Spanish!

For example: "¿Como estáis, chicas?" This means, "How are you?"--to 2 or more girls/women or even more basically: "How are ya'll?"

2. Vale.

In Spain, this word means "okay" or "alright". It is used in almost every sentence, everywhere, by EVERYONE! Once you start using "vale" you're on your way to assimilating into Spanish culture. 

3. ¡Qué guay!

This translates to "cool" or "awesome" or "amazing! This word is very highly used from children, to teenagers, to young adults, and to 30 to 40 somethings. 

4. Zumo

Juice. NO ONE says "jugo", no one...unless they're not from Spain... 

5. Conducir

This is the verb for "to drive". You may have learned "manejar". In Spain, everyone uses the word conducir.

6. Coger

I know, I know!  This is something Rated R in most Spanish-speaking countries, however, in Spain, this means "to take" (transportation or an object). For example, "Voy a coger un taxi." I'm going to take a taxi. 

7. Coche

This is the word for "car". You might have learned, or use the word, "carro". If you say carro, half the time they'll probably know what you're referring to, but everyone says coche here. 

8. ¡Genial!

Literally it means, "great!" You'll also hear this ALL the time! It's almost like "awesome!" For example, "Oh, I found an extra bottle of wine for the party!" You can respond, "¡Genial!"

9. Ahora Mismo

If you say, "ahorita" (translates to "right now"in Spain, you'll get some funny looks. They know what you're talking about; but it's more common to say "ahora mismo". It means "right now" or "this very minute" but it also can mean "in a couple minutes" or something you're about to do next!

10. Móvil

It's the word commonly used for "cell phone" vs. "celular".

11. Sobremesa

In Spain, we eat dinner around 9:00-10:00pm (21:00-22:00 Spain time). Late late late into the night, after dinner is over you'll find the Spanish still talking at the same table with friends, lovers and family. This time spent after dinner still talking at the table is referred to as "sobremesa". You don't actually use it in speech like, "let's go sobremesa", no! But just know there is actually a name for it! I love this culture...take your time and enjoy life!

12. No Pasa Nada.

You will hear this A LOT in Spain. It basically means "don't worry".

If you're taking too long at the grocery store to grab your card to pay at the cash register and you say, "Sorry! Just need to grab my card..." the cashier will probably say "No pasa nada". Literally this phrase is thrown out daily!

13. ¡Hombre!

This is literally just like saying "MAN!" or "Oh man (I forgot something)" in American English. Or like "what the heck!" This is usually said in excitement or exasperation. 

13. ¡Venga!

This basically means, "come on!" and can be said seductively all the way to angrily. It can mean "hurry up", or "let's go!" It can be said when an irritated dad is rushing a very slow 5-year old. You'll hear this a lot!

15. Puente

This word translate to "bridge" but in Spain it also refers to a long holiday break from work or school (like a 3-6 day weekend due to a holiday like Christmas or Semana Santa.) 

16. Ordenador

The word commonly used for "computer" or "laptop". In Spanish class in the U.S., you probably learned, "computadora". 

17. ¡Qué chungo! 

This word is a little versatile. Children and adults say it to mean "creepy" or "problematic". In this way it means "how creepy! or "how problematic!"

However if you were to say, as my private Spanish teacher said, "¡Ten cuidado! Ella parece una chica chunga." You're saying, "Be careful! She looks problematic", or like someone rough-looking that you shouldn't associate yourself with.

You can also say: "Estoy chungo/a" to mean something just doesn't feel right, or you don't feel well but you just don't know what it is.

18. Patata!

In Spain, instead of saying "cheeeese!" when someone takes a picture, you say "patataaaa!"

19. Cortado 

When you go into a café or one of the many delicious bakeries in Spain, you wouldn't say you want an espresso with milk, you have to say "¡Quiero un cortado, por fa!" They'll instantly know you mean you want an espresso with milk. Trust me, after 10+ cafes saying it wrong, my life is so much easier now!

20. "¡Ching ching!"

This is how you say, "Cheers!" in Madrid, Spain. It's also pretty widely used in other languages in other European countries--same sound but different spelling!

And there you have it! I'll be sure to add to this list as I learn more words!



Blog For Birthday Week

This post will be the written manifestation of what my daily life is like here: the first half devoted to life at school, the second half to life outside of school. It will include the same emotional swings as a day in the life here does. And I don't mean that dramatically!

In my Advanced English Bachillerato classes I gave them yet another assignment.  I’m really enjoying creating these assignment sheets.  Probably also am taking some pleasure in knowing I’m not on the receiving end for a change.  For the rest of the year--2017--they're going to develop short stories! My lesson plan (adapted from a creative writing teacher in the US): bring in about 10-12 books, preferably fiction, have each student look through a book to find a word, preferably one they don't know too well, write it down, pass the book to the next person.  In the first group, they wrote 10 words down. The rest of the groups progressively diminished their word count. I felt 10 was a bit much, a bit too difficult, so 5 sufficed.

After writing their words down, they had to stand up (keep them energized however I can) and pick the opening sentence of one of the books. They had to take a picture of it or write it down (some students actually did not have their phones! miracles can happen).  I didn't specify preface, introduction, first chapter, didn't matter. I then asked them what think is a story. Then what they think is a short story. Did not do the genre-explaining justice oops. I'm learning. Then I told them that the opening sentence they chose is the opening sentence of their story and they have to incorporate the 10 (or 5 or 4 or 7) words they have written down into their story. To soften the blow I said “those of you who wrote about wanting to expand your vocabulary on the blog, here you go, take this opportunity to not only learn new words, but also work on incorporating them into sentences.”    

I think they found the task a bit daunting, but I stressed that this isn't "write a story in a week, go!" In one week they have to just have ideas for their stories or some sort of plan. In another week they should have a first draft (they thought this meant a chart or storyboard maybe? That was interesting.  I gave them my definition of a first draft and said it means it can be rough, very rough). In two weeks (another vacation) they'll turn in their revised story. On the assignment sheet I emphasized that what they're practicing is revision: writing, revising, writing revising, etc. I wrote the words over and over so that they'd get the point. At the bottom of the assignment sheet I included my definition of revision: going over something with the intention of making it better. That definition certainly needs revision (I crack myself up!!!!).  

When two students were laughing I asked them what was funny, not as a challenge. They said they'll have trouble STOPPING themselves when writing. Another student stayed after the bell rang to tell me her ideas and chat a bit. I'm pretty lucky with this group of students.

Week after week it becomes more and more clear to me that effusing passion is the most engaging way to teach. When I'm excited, they perk up; if I'm just plowing ahead, trekking through the mud, and avoiding quicksand, they feel the tense, rough road ahead. What a performance teaching is. Very funny to experience as someone who never liked the spotlight, kind of :)

As for the second half here, it was my birthday this week.  Did I give that away already?  I had a wonderful birthday even though I'm far away from most people I love.

I went to see Cyrille Aimee as part of the Madrid Jazz Festival. Aimee is a French jazz vocalist who won a Montreal vocal competition that put her on the map. Her set was awesome and the venue was awesome. Sala Clamores felt just like a jazz nightclub should: dark lighting, red lighting, a bar with overpriced cocktails that take a long time to make, the logo of the place in bright lights behind the stage, a middle-aged male owner running around in a t-shirt that says "give all" or something motivational like that.

I went to the bar to order cocktails and they were delicious. Aimee's set was a lot of fun. It was the first stop of this tour for her and this band (a female pianist!).  They started with a great rumba version of “I Could've Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady.  Perfect opening number for a set. Later on, Aimee showed some serious vocal and arranging chops on a solo number where she looped her voice using that machine that I don't know the name of. Ed Sheeran uses it too... You sing or play a phrase of music that the machine records and can play aloud while you record the next part you want to play with that first part.  Even more people took out their phones for this number; everyone perked up and realized they were witnessing something special.

Other fairly well-known songs performed: “Whatever Lola Wants,” “Off The Wall” (Michael Jackson), and “Oye Como Va.”

I also, on my birthday, went to one of my favorite cafes. This is part of wonderful life in Madrid: I get home with enough time to turn the day into something totally different if I so choose. On the Monday of Birthday Week, the second half of my day involved cappuccino, truffle mortadella, manchego cheese, churros y chocolate (birthday week, bear with me here).

Only in Madrid.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Okay, while I didn’t plan this, I feel as though I managed to find the perfect way to kickoff the (pre)season of Advent and, for all intents and purposes, Christmas!  If anyone is looking to really start the season of preparation for Christmas right, head to Germany.  From my arrival to the Madrid airport to my departure from the Köln train station, my weekend seemed to be seeped in the start of Advent and Christmas celebrations.  

668ACE89-54B0-4E53-8340-A3A96F9AFDCE (The display I was greeted by in the Madrid airport on Friday morning)

So, Köln...
My first adventure alone in a foreign city since I arrived in Spain. I won’t lie, there was a mixture of emotions as I stepped out of the plane and made my way through the airport. There was the disappointment of not getting my passport stamped (I know that it may sound silly, but I want the proof in ink that I took this trip!), the anxiety as I waited in line to buy a ticket from the ticket kiosk (and listened to all the German being spoken surrounding me), and the excitement of having made it. Because, for better or worse, I was there - in Germany - alone, for a weekend.

I started the morning at the Dom (Cathedral) located right outside of the train station in Cologne. I took a tour of the Cathedral, taking some time to sit and rest both my body and soul. After such an early morning (catching a taxi before 5am meant that I had to be up around 4:30!) and a very restless week of sleep, I was very in need of some coffee.
When in doubt, look for a Starbucks and you will find baristas who speak English and coffee that you recognize. I settled in with a hot chocolate (because they have their Christmas/holiday drinks out now) and my devices, and began writing and planning what to do during my time in Cologne. (Nothing like being prepared ahead of time!)

I knew that I couldn’t check into my hotel until 2 and I didn’t really want to carry my bag of stuff with me while I went exploring, so I finished my last blog post at the coffee shop and then headed over to the hotel a little after 2:30. Once I got to the hotel, I put my stuff down and decided that I would make my way to the Rhein Garden for a stroll before heading out for an early dinner - I had skipped lunch and I was also still tired. After checking out some reviews online, I had decided to go to Bei Oma Kleinmann for some authentic Schnitzel. As I walked, I thought of how this was the first time that I have gone somewhere “nice” (and by nice I mean somewhere where you sit down without your phone out or a book open...) for dinner all by myself... It was a bit nerve wracking, but I’m glad that I took the plunge. I sat at the bar, where the very nice (English-speaking) bartender chatted on and off with me as I ordered “ein Bier, bitte” and my Kinderschnitzel. Despite the initial discomfort of sitting by oneself while being surrounded by groups of strangers, it was a great experience! I walked back towards my hotel, stopping to meander in and out of a few stores that I passed along the way.  Everywhere I looked I saw Christmas lights and decorations.


Waking up on Saturday was glorious! I had slept for about 10.5 hours and was excited for the start of the day. After breakfast at the hotel, I got ready and headed out to go walk across the Hohenzollern Bridge (covered in locks left by couples as a romantic symbol of their lasting love) over to the observation deck on the opposite side of the Rhein river where I spent some time looking out over the incredible city that is Köln.

The only thing, besides buying my tickets for my flight and booking a hotel, that I had done, in Spain, to prepare for my trip was to get a ticket to the Cologne philharmonic orchestra concert that was happening on Saturday. After determining (with the little German skills that I possess) that I needed to print out my ticket, I made certain to do so before I left Spain. And then, of course, I left the ticket, which I had so intentionally taken the time to print, in the house. So, this posed a new problem for me...

After trying to find (unsuccessfully) a “multishop” that was open, I ended up at the Köln Tourism building. The woman that I spoke to was so incredibly nice and printed out the ticket for me.  With my ticket in hand I made my way over to the trusty Starbucks I had found yesterday.  I picked up a gingerbread latte and some chocolate cake (because when in Germany, one aught to eat chocolate cake), and I ended up sharing some laughs and having a great conversation with a handful of people - two Russian sisters who were visiting an uncle in Cologne, a wonderful, older, German woman and a girl from Michigan who is in her 3rd year studying business here in Cologne - in a mixture of German, Spanish and (mostly) English.

When my coffee and cake were finished I headed over to the shopping district in Cologne and did a little window shopping as I passed the time before heading over to the concert hall. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I arrived for the concert, but it definitely wasn’t what I encountered...

It was a very small concert and I was actually sitting on the stage, right in front of the musicians!! The concert hall is, in and of itself, incredible - it is located underground and has an awesome set-up. The musicians (there were only seven musicians performing - 2 pianists, 1 clarinetist, 1 trombonist, 1 french horn player, 1 trumpet player, and one bassoonist) were very talented and passionate in their performances. And the music that was chosen for the concert was beautiful beyond words - a great mixture of fun and emotional. The experience was truly wonderful and I’m so glad that I got to be there!

If you’re interested in listening to some great music, check out Pierre Gabaye’s “Récréation” - I highly recommend it!  Actually, there wasn’t a piece that they performed that I didn’t love...

Once the concert concluded, I made my way back towards the center of the city and found a quick and easy place to grab dinner (a Falafel sandwich from Doner Kebab). I stopped into the Cathedral around 6:15 and sat - listening to the last couple decades of the rosary being prayed in German. Afterwards I headed back out into the cold and spent just a few minutes walking around and appreciating the lights and excitement taking place in the center of the city before I made my way back to my hotel room for the night.


My final day in Cologne was a quieter one; I enjoyed breakfast at the hotel and went back to the Cathedral one last time for Mass and a final look around.  While I arrived in Cologne too early to enjoy the Christmas market that German cities are so famous for, I still got to see the setup for the main event and some of the pre-decorations.  Then I took one last walk around the city, enjoying some time to just be as I stood and looked out at the Rhein river, off of the Hohenzollern Bridge. I know that I would like to come back and visit again - maybe once I have improved my German skills!

I made my way to the train station, picked up some postcards, and caught my train that would take me to the airport. As a reminder of where I’d gone (and where I would like to go), I picked up a copy of one of my favorite books “Der Kleine Prinz” (The Little Prince) and hopefully I can, one day, sit down and read it all the way through!


As much as I loved my trip to Cologne, there is always a special excitement that comes with heading home. And with that excitement ever present, I made my way back to Rivas, where I now sit contently on my bed after sharing dinner and hugs and the like with everyone here at home.

So, without further ado, I will say goodnight, so I can get some rest before another busy week begins! Gute Nacht! ¡Buenas noches!

(Pr 3:5)

Can Openers

Today, I did battle with a can opener.

Here’s how it happened:

Fall has descended upon Madrid, and with the arrival of cooler temperatures and browning leaves has also come nostalgic memories of growing up in New England during autumn-time. Colorful leaves, crisp air, and pumpkin- and apple-everything: bread, pie, crisp, cider, you name it. While I still cannot thank my lucky stars enough to be living here in Spain, this season has got me missing home a little bit more than usual.

So, I decided to bring a little New England fall magic to Spain by bringing some pumpkin bread and apple crisp to my kitchen.

The first obstacle to overcome was finding all the ingredients I needed. American recipes unfortunately do NOT cater to people living abroad, and I begrudgingly ended up at a Taste of America store to buy a can of pumpkin purée (I could’ve gotten a pumpkin easily enough to make my own purée, but as my mom always says - not only is canned easier, but sometimes it even tastes better).

So, with my kitchen fully stocked with all necessary ingredients, I was ready to start mixing some magic. First up was the pumpkin bread.

Step one: open the can of pumpkin.

That’s when I realized that my flat did not have a can opener...at least not the kind I was accustomed to using. We did have a small metal piece with a curved tooth that clearly seemed to be intended for puncturing cans...but I could not for the life of me figure out how to use it.


Five google searches on how-to-open-a-can-without-a-can-opener later, I was sweating profusely from struggling to pry open the lid and nervously praying that I wouldn't injure myself in the process. After a solid thirty minutes, I finally made a hole just large enough to start desperately scooping out the pumpkin with a tiny spoon. It took another five minutes just to coax it all out.

When the mushy pumpkin was all sitting triumphantly in my bowl, I nearly cried from joy at the victory. And I could’ve kissed that sweet-smelling pumpkin bread when I took it out of the oven. The top was burnt because, naturally, I hadn’t set the oven to the right setting, but at that point, I was just grateful to even have pumpkin bread, burnt or not. 

Now, opening a can was something that I had mentally checked off the list of things I know how to do. As was baking something in an oven. As was going to the grocery store for ingredients. As was...etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

But moving to and living in Spain has completely changed my perspective on these types of things - the things I thought I already knew how to do. Skills and tools I took for granted. Little things like can openers that I just grew up learning and can’t even remember being taught.

Yet, I’m realizing that as frustrating as they are, these can-opener moments are incredibly important - they help us become more competent and knowledgeable adults. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to avoid looking like you don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s truly much more rewarding to test something out, fail, and be that much wiser for having tried.

In the end, I dove into a delicious bowl of pumpkin bread, apple crisp, and vanilla ice cream, tasting memories of my childhood and the satisfaction of a battle hard won. So, my advice is to not be afraid of discovering your “can openers” and to make sure you give them all you’ve got, because it’s those victories that taste (sometimes quite literally) the sweetest.


Barcelona on a Budget!

PArk Guell

Barcelona, Spain is an incredible city that you absolutely HAVE to see for yourself. You've probably heard of the famous Sagrada Familia, the beautiful Park Güell, and the epic market La Boqueria: The Mercat de Sant Josep. Travel can be quite expensive; but to be a savvy traveler, all you need is to do a little research and set a budget before going. I stayed in Barcelona with my fiancé for 3 days and 2 nights and we only spent 100 euro/per person. You could easily spend 300 euros per person in Barcelona, trust me! 


In those 3 days, we explored the city by foot (free), bicycle (6€ for 2 hours), metro (4,50€ 1 trip), and bus (6€ airport bus)! We stayed at the Atlantis Hotel where we took advantage of the free and filling breakfast. When you go, spend a couple hours exploring and going into shops at Plaça de Catalunya, walking around and taking in the sights and landmarks like Arc de Triomf (above). We spent time strolling through La Boqueria and couldn't help but taste some of the delicacies (fresh oysters, fresh Yakisoba noodles) and of course savored some interesting yet tasty chocolates. Bring some euros with you because the minimums for credit/debit card are horrendous and force you to spend money! For example, chocolates can be anywhere from .50-5€, they also had oysters ranging from 3-9€ each, the minimums can be 10-20€. Food in Barcelona is super affordable with restaurants offering lots of deals and meals being anywhere from 2-12€! 

La boqueria

We didn't end up going inside La Sagrada Familia since there was a lot of construction and the line was longer than a new Disneyland ride line (2 hours + wait) but it was wonderful to just SEE it! 


There are tons of really cool shops and restaurants near the Sagrada Familia; you can easily take the metro there as they have a stop that's literally called La Sagrada Familia, haha. You can buy tickets to La Sagrada Familia here!

Park Güell is also budget-friendly and you have to see it as well!  The picture of my fiancé and I above is taken at Park Güell. It's wise to purchase your ticket online (9€/per person) to enter this part of the park. You definitely want to see it! You can order tickets online here


A list of free places to see (can fill 2-3 days):

  • Park Güell (the top half)
  • La Boqueria
  • Gothic Quarter (filled with tons of amazing architecture, narrow pathways, cheap bars and restaurants to grab lunch or dinner)
  • Plaça de Catalunya 
  • Walk along the beach, port
  • The Arc de Triomf (pictured above)

I could write so much more! Any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out on Instagram @APetiteTraveler or leave a comment below!







Exploring the Country

Every weekend we have a three day weekend and what better way to spend the extra day off than traveling. Some times just a day trip will suffice, and some times you can take your long weekends to travel further.  Even if the weather is awful, it is still good enough to travel. The best part about exploring is being at the top of the city and looking out at the whole city center as if you were in a movie.


Photo- Salamanca 22728796_1867405686633171_7708892017542006050_n

Finding the courage...

A brief confession here... I hadn’t quite realized how difficult it might actually be to keep a blog when I decided to apply for the opportunity. It’s not a problem of writing things down - I’ve written a number of posts that still are sitting in my draft pile; it is the inner-conflict of being vulnerable enough to share my thoughts and experiences with strangers and family/friends alike.

And, if I’m being honest, I’m not sure which is more challenging. In some ways it’s easier to share with strangers - people who don’t know me (and likely won’t meet me in person) - versus the people who I love and respect and would never want to disappoint. But, on the other hand, the family and friends who know me are probably a bit more invested in me as a person as they celebrate and commiserate with my joys and challenges; and I appreciate the prayers and encouragement that they offer me!

Either way though, I really feel like it is important to be honest - to share the truth - even when it is hard. Which is, in part, why it always takes a little while for me to post.

So now that I have all that out in the open, I want to share my latest self-discovery.

I have spent a lot of time being afraid in my lifetime. It’s not something that I am proud of, nor is it something that I think a lot of people realize. But, the truth of the matter is that I am easily frightened by a lot of, seemingly, irrational things. Some of this fear stems from my personality. As an introvert, being with people, meeting new people, and putting myself out there can actually be emotionally and even physically exhausting. Add to that an extra dose of fear (fear of rejection, fear of disapproval, fear of whatever else) and that’s what I face; sometimes on a daily basis.

This is a huge part of me and it is something that I have to constantly address.  I really don’t want to spend my life being afraid and so I work to be brave instead.  I have faith that is greater than my fears - usually - but still I have to remind myself that leaving the house is something that I should do; that I wasn’t created to sit in a room alone. The desires of my heart require me to step out of the comfort of my bedroom and into the world.

A wise man once told me that “Courage is not a lack of fear; rather, courage is facing your fears while still shaking in your boots.” (Thanks, Mr. Mihovich!) And while he told me that over a decade ago, I think of it often.  I’m not going to let fear stop me from living.

And so here I am: living in Spain, going salsa dancing, talking to strangers - in other languages -and taking solo-trips to other places, like Köln - where I’m currently sitting, writing this post in a German cafe (okay, I’ll admit, it’s a Starbucks; so maybe it’s not quite a “German” cafe, but, still it’s in Germany and I’m making plans to go to actual German places!). 

I can’t wait to share more with you about all the crazy, adventurous things I have been doing but for now, I’m going to go check into my hotel and head out into the city... Check back on Sunday to hear about my dancing and traveling adventures... Bis bald!

(Mt 14:25-31)

SEVILLA: NO8DO, You Have Not Abandoned Me

Sevilla's official motto is NO8DO, No Me Ha Dejado, which means "[Sevilla] has not abandoned me, and I finally have a complete understanding of what this means. This past weekend, I decided to go back to the place I studied abroad for the first time in three years. (I went through CIEE too!) In fact, it had been 1056 days since I left Sevilla, but it felt as if it I still lived there. To be honest, I was worried about going back since my friend, Rhea, went back about a year and half ago and said it was so different. What if I went back and nothing was the same? What if all my favorite spots were gone? What if visiting would somehow taint my favorite experience, my favorite place? Rest assured, none of the above happened, and I truly discovered that Sevilla did not abandon me. A part of it has been with me ever since I left: always with my thoughts, my worries, my happiness, my thinking. Everything. Even if I didn't realize it. It has shaped so much of who I am today and just like living there was an unforgettable experience, going back for the first time was just as special. 


As soon as the bus pulled up, I knew I was in for a weekend of a lifetime. Memories I hadn't thought about in three years came flooding back. I recognized the place where we bought churros the first time we went out and wanted some munchies. I remembered the time Nicole and I took an afternoon to walk around Triana; the time after class we climbed the Torre del Oro; the time at the sangria place where we booked our first trip to Rome and Paris while eating doritos from "the Boxes" or what we would call, the vending machines.


 I'll never forget when I saw Plaza de España for the first time, I cried because of how beautiful it was and this time, I cried because it was even more beautiful than I remembered.


To put it simply, I have never felt a more overwhelming joy — I still knew the 45 minute walk from my university to my home through the windy streets. I recognized the jazz bar my friends and I went to that one time and all my favorite spots (my favorite restaurant, bar, kebab place). They were all untouched. Restaurants I would walk past were ones I had been to once or twice. I felt like I could pinpoint every moment, every memory. 


My favorite memory this weekend was visiting my host family. I had texted my host mom, Manuela, a week before coming explaining that I was living in Madrid and coming to visit and would love nothing more than to see her. I never got a text back, so I decided to bring some flowers and show up, knowing she didn't leave the house very often. After feeling extremely emotional making the walk from the plaza to my house, I rang the doorbell and opened the door to the tightest hug and Manuela's standard three kisses on the cheek. To think I was worried she wouldn't remember me! How silly of me because she remembered me AND my cute sombreros that I would always wear. My travel hats live on!


I spent the next hour and a half catching up with her and her new three-month-old granddaughter, Alegría (who is absolutely adorable). Later on, her daughter, Carmen and son, Pepe came over with the other grandkids, Manuela and Luis who were five and few months respectively when I lived here. It was crazy to see how much they have grown! Since they speak absolutely no English, my Spanish was pouring out of the mouth like I've lived here for three years. I was very impressed with myself to be honest. Manuela asked when my parents are coming back to visit since they got to meet each other last time, and this was one of my favorite memories of study abroad. Coming back and spending time with them was an experience so near and dear to my heart. Manuela kept trying to feed me, offered me my old bed to stay and packed me a Bocadillo for the road. Nothing had changed. I promised I would be back soon.

I can't explain the magic that is Sevilla. It's a charming, quintessential Spanish city that is so rich in culture and beauty. If you know, you know. From walks along the river to visiting the cathedral, no wonder it's Lonely Planet's #1 place to travel to in 2018. It's been mine since 2014. I plan on giving my top recommendations for Sevilla in another post but wanted to put my weekend into words first. Sevilla, you are one-of-a-kind. 

Deciding to Apply to Teach Abroad

So you are considering applying to teach in Spain. Excellent decision.

BUT! Here are some things you should consider before you make the decision to uproot your entire life and fly halfway around the world with only your most essential or favorite belongings crammed into a tiny suitcase:

Do I like to travel?

Now, this is an important question. If you do not, what are you thinking! If you do, perfect, CIEE is the best way to see the world. Getting to Spain from America is a feat on its own, and with the long weekends and free time provided, there are many weekends for exploring, whether it is Berlin, Morocco, or Retiro Park here in Madrid.

How do I feel about children and teaching?

Do not forget, teaching is the main reason you are here! While you are provided with countless travel opportunities, we are here as language auxiliares. Students come first. Many auxiliares forget that while here. And, mainly we are teaching children, aka students aged 5 to 17.

Do I want to learn about myself?

Being in Madrid will push you to your limits. Some days are easy. Ridiculously easy. Some days are hard. Ridiculously hard. Some days I want to skip through Plaza Mayor and see everything. Some days I want to hide in my room and be a hermit. Both are okay, but in the process, you will learn more about who you are than you ever had before. Be prepared to see your rawest form of self, and be prepared to break that person down and rebuild who you are. This decision will change you for the better.

Be Comfortable Being Alone

There is something empowering about travelling alone. I went on a short trip to Dublin, Ireland this weekend. And it was amazing.I was alone, but I was never really alone.

I recommend staying in a hostel. Reach out. Talk to strangers. Because you never know, you could meet your best friend.

I used to consider hostels as places to avoid. I thought of bed bugs, communal showers, and strangers. But then I realized I was regarding this in a negative light instead of as a positive  opportunity for growth.

After my first afternoon touring the Dublin, I walked into my hostel, contemplating where I was going to eat dinner. Someone held the door open for me as I walked in, and I half glanced over, said a quick thanks, and made it half way up the stairwell before pausing.

A split second passed and I turned. Before I had thought the words through, I asked this stranger, “If you’re traveling alone, do you want to grab dinner with me?”

Now, if you knew me, you would know that this is not something I would ever do. Not in a million years. Yet, here I was, asking someone had known for a grand total of three seconds if he wanted to join me for a pint and a stew.

As it turned out, the stranger was from Madrid, Spain, studying in London for his masters. He had popped over to Dublin for a quick weekend trip, and the universe put us in the same hostel at the same instant.

We enjoyed our dinner, had a lovely conversation in a mix of Spanish and English while sitting in a loud Irish pub, before paying the Temple Bar a visit.

The next morning, I had breakfast with a student from Melbourne, Australia, whom I was sharing my dorm with.

Later, I toured to western Ireland with a Canadian from Vancouver and an American from New Jersey.

If I was with my American friends, I never would have had these opportunities. I would have kept to myself, dined with them, stayed in a hotel with them, and missed out on connecting with others who all have their own unique tale.

So stay in a hostel. Look around. Move out of your comfort zone. Because 10/10 chances are, that person sitting next to you is just as uncomfortable as you are. And, 9/10 chances are they want to be friendly and learn about you. We are social beings, and it is in our nature to reach out. So don’t think about it, don’t hesitate, and just do it.

When else will you find yourself surrounded by people from around the globe? Likely never. You’ll never know whom you will meet. And when I am 55 years old working with a 9am-5pm desk job, these are the stories I want to remember. And, plus, now I have one more friend in Madrid.

Those are the joys of travelling: to branch out, to explore, and to learn. If you are comfortable being alone in your own head, navigating a foreign transport system, a foreign language or accent, and a foreign currency, then you can do anything. You are unstoppable.

The saying goes that you have to get lost before you can be found. And, while I am losing myself here in Europe, I realize that I am finding in my old place a more worldly person. Push boundaries, break down your inner walls, and maybe, just maybe you will discover a freer person who is more comfortable in their skin. 23472419_10215275933878333_1588418495520614541_n

An Assortment

I have no idea what to write this week.  A lot has been happening.  I’m getting into the swing of teaching, realizing how important it is to be organized (laughing), etc.   I felt good after I paper-clipped sheets of paper together -- that’s me getting organized (still laughing).

It’s been a lot of fun reading the students’ posts on the blogs I created for them.  They all seem to be very open to learning and they all sincerely desire to speak and know English “better.”  I push them by assigning them articles to read that could be read in a US college course, I think.  For this week, they can choose between two articles in The New York Times to read and respond to.  One is about the recent race for Governor of Virginia.  One is about First Amendment rights.  So far the students who have read and completed the assignment have all chosen the second article about a baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay male couple.  They also had to pick out 5-10 words they didn't recognize and define them, as well as pick out two sentences they enjoyed reading and write why.  In this way I hope I'm helping them to expand their vocabulary and take ownership over their thoughts and feelings about writing/reading.  Feel empowered, if I may go that far...

One student in particular let loose and wrote that it’s not okay to discriminate against anyone period.  They wrote that anyone who discriminates, according to their standards, should not be allowed to talk, essentially.  I felt like this was a perfect opportunity for me to engage as a teacher and impart the knowledge I have on this particular subject, thanks in large part to my astute, legal-minded lawyer of a father.  I asked this student where to draw the line on free speech.  I wrote that if we suppress one kind of protest, that same argument can be used to suppress a different protest, one that they may support.  I included in my comment links where they could read briefly about the Nazi rally planned for Skokie, Illinois in the late 1970s.  One link led to an essay in a 1986 issue of the California Law Review, in case this student would like some background information or insight into legal-speak (wouldn't we all).  I should have also included a link to an article about students who stopped a university president from speaking because they felt the university was not acting the way they wanted it to.  The university president -- who wrote the article -- pointed out the irony of the students’ protesting to block his (free) speech.  Anyways, I hope this student finds this topic interesting as I do.  Makes one wonder, what’s the root of it all anyway?

In other classes, some lessons have gone over better than others.  My presentation on Neoclassicism was a lot of fun because at the end, I showed a picture of Beyoncé that related to my college thesis and it sparked an interesting discussion.  It was awesome to hear the perspectives of young students in Spain on the subject.  This past week, because the class was about to study the American Revolution, I decided to tell them about Hamilton (the musical), Lin-Manuel Miranda, and In The Heights.  I thought they would enjoy In The Heights because of the Spanish that is spoken throughout and the setting of Washington Heights.  I thought it’d be cool for them to see an important aspect of my New York culture too.  When I played a clip of the Hamilton performance at the Tony Awards, they seemed a bit bewildered by lots of people on stage dressed in old-timey costumes dancing around and singing.  I don’t know, it was hard to gauge how that one went over.  I saw some lit up faces, others laughing (perhaps making fun of it), and others half asleep yadda yadda.  Always a mixture, I guess.

Now I’m going to write about some of the many wonderful things in Madrid.  I saw some very interesting films thanks to LesGaiCine Madrid taking place this past month.  Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? is about a gay Israeli man who flees his family kibbutz to go to London where he contracts HIV.  The movie moved a bit slowly, but was both upsetting and enjoyable to watch.  The main character is resilient and thoughtful and admirable.  The director (in attendance) afterwards explained that Saar, the main character, was the first person he’d ever met with HIV who didn’t blame anyone for it.  He said usually other men he had met with HIV were angry with the person they had gotten it from, but that Saar wasn’t because he knew why and knew he was responsible.  Haven’t fully processed the takeaways of that film yet, but I recommend other people see it too.

And for the cherry on top of this post:  I went to the Prado for the first time since returning to Madrid.  I was struck by the Velázquez room with Las Meninas, as usual.  I’m not sure if these two other paintings in particular were in that room the last time I went, but they were remarkable: women on horseback with long, sparkly, beautiful garments laying over the horse’s side.  The detail with which Velázquez painted is truly something.  Remarkable.  I’m always struck by his work.  I think it has something to do with knowing I’m in the place where he created.  And because he’s such an art historian’s artist, so to speak.  He clearly loves and is obsessed with art (yes, present tense), and that passion just jumps out of the artwork and into my soul.  As cliché as that sounds.  I love it.

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