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4 posts categorized "Lexa Muehlbauer"

How to Plan a 48 Hour Trip

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Sunset in Sorrento, Italy

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Truth about Host Families

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Living with a host family is an extremely unique experience that I would recommend to anyone. Somehow, I’ve been lucky enough to have three wonderful families through my times studying abroad and teaching in Costa Rica and Spain. If I’m willing and excited to live in a stranger’s home three different times, I clearly am a huge supporter and somewhat of an expert on the topic. But I understand why some people might be turned off to the idea: what if you don’t click with the family? How will it restrict your freedom? So for anyone toying with the idea of being an “adopted” member of a Spanish household, here’s my honest take on the positives and negatives of living with a host family.

Benefits:

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My host family and I watching the Christmas parade

An authentic look into the culture:
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othing will give you a better look into the Spanish culture than living right smack in the middle of it. Living, breathing and being engaged with your host family every day helps you notice, catch on to and mimic customs distinct to Spain. One of my favorite things is to watch the news because not only am I attuning my ear to rapid-fire Spanish, but I’m also learning about what’s going on in the country. So don’t be surprised the next time “Madre Mia!” slips from you mouth.

-Relaxed practice with the language:
Everyone is insecure about speaking a foreign language, especially with native speakers. Every time before I enter a bakery or shop, I’m practicing in my head what I want to say so I don’t feel like a fumbling foreigner. But all of the pressure slips away when you’re sitting around the dinner table with your host family. The conversation is relaxed and easygoing. Plus, they’re learning English too, so there’s a level of empathy there.

-Built in support system:
New school. New city. New life. It can all be very overwhelming in the beginning. Going home and talking to your host mom about your day is really comforting because you know you have someone in your corner. Another plus is that they’re experts on the city. So if you don’t know how to use the public bus system, they’ve got your back. This is also a time when you’ll be exploring the world and learning so much about yourself. Having people to talk to about your trips and share those experiences with creates such a unique bond that soon you’ll be thinking of them as a second family.

-Free and homemade food:
For all of the other non-chefs out there (anyone else thankful for microwaves besides me?), this is a HUGE perk. The meals here are fresher than in the U.S. Not only are you eating healthier, but you’re getting an inside look into one of Spain’s most critical parts of its culture: food. 

 

Challenges:

25530483_10212315603503359_1465080248_o-Less alone time:
With your family at home, you have family obligations. Here, those same feelings tend to creep in. One big cultural difference between here and the U.S is that Spanish families tend to spend a lot of time together (and they enjoy it. Shocking!). You may feel guilty for chilling in your room and taking time for yourself. After all, they’ve volunteered to let you live there for free. It’s a hard feeling to shake and has been something I’ve struggled with all semester. My advice is to try and make an effort to be present with your host family every day, but also respect when you need to recharge. It’s a delicate balance that you’ll figure out day by day.

-Less independence:
One of the greatest things about leaving home at 18 in the U.S. is the independence. Whether you start college or work, you’re completely on your own-and it’s amazing. No one is asking where you are or when you’ll be coming home. But with a host family, it’s different. Shooting them texts about your plans, going with them on family outings and keeping them up to date on your travel itinerary are all things you’ll fall back into. As a 22-year-old college graduate who thrived off of those independent college days, it’s an adjustment to revert back to constantly keeping in touch with my “parents.”

-Adjusting your lifestyle:
It’s a no brainer that with a new country comes a different way of life. Being open minded is the easiest way to adapt to Spanish customs. For example: your eating pattern. Spaniards will have a late lunch around 3 p.m. and then not eat dinner until around 10 p.m. In the beginning, snack up between these meals and eventually your stomach will become accustomed to late meal times. *Tip: wear stretchy pants! Most meals will include multiple courses. Spanish mothers are extremely concerned with how much food you eat, so you will feel pressured to stuff your face. Secondly, smaller cities take a siesta time in the middle of the afternoon, meaning that businesses close from about 2 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. There have been multiple times where I’ve forgotten this and wasted an entire afternoon trying to run errands when everything is closed.

Lastly, experience the social and nightlife. Spaniards put a lot of importance on enjoying time with friends. So it’s typical to see most people out after 10 p.m. eating tapas and bar hopping until 5 a.m. (my host parents do this on the regular!). As an American, I’m used to eating earlier, going into any business at any time and staying out until 2 a.m. at the latest, so it definitely takes some time to physically and mentally keep up with the Spanish lifestyle. While some customs might feel unnatural to you at first, it’s a really cool experience to embrace a culture different than your own. 

 

The Power of Music

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Watching my 4th graders dance "La Jota"

One of my favorite parts of immersing myself in a new culture is seeing it in action. Anything from trying new foods, to watching dances, to hearing music makes me feel more connected to Spain. What really sticks out to me about the Spanish people is how passionate they are, especially with their music.

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Gorgeous building in the city center of Valladolid

This week, my school celebrated La Día de la Música by having the kids listen to traditional instruments of Castilla y León (the region of Spain where my host city, Valladolid, is). A group from a nearby village paraded around the playground playing the dulzaina and bombo. Everyone was feeling the music-teachers were dancing, kids were swaying and the musicians were feeding off of our energy.

Some of my fourth graders even wore traditional dresses and danced “La Jota.” It was like being transported back in time. You could see, hear and feel the history flowing through every note. Since American history is much newer than Spanish history, kids in the U.S. don’t have the same opportunity to learn and appreciate how music contributes to a country’s dynamic culture. Sure, we learn about the Harlem Renaissance, but you don’t see Jazz players having concerts at public schools. I definitely envy the Spanish for this because music is such an important part of culture and super fun to listen to!

Today, the kids listened to a Rondalla-an ensemble of stringed instruments played with a pick (like a guitar). It comes from the word “Ronda” which means to serenade. And that they did. You couldn’t help but picture a Spanish couple slowly dancing around a dimly lit tapas bar at dusk. It sounds cheesy, I know, but music does that to you. It helps you picture the past and feel an emotional connection to the sounds. The kids were actually quiet most of the time (which is rare) because they were so entranced by the melodies.

While the kids might not understand how important music is now, it exposes them to the sounds of their history and is something tangible that they’ll remember. I’m so glad to be part of a school that takes time away from stuffy textbooks to give the kids a more interactive experience. As a foreigner, these are the moments that I really love because I can actually hear the difference between this culture and mine. Even though I’m not a Spaniard, for a hot minute I get to pretend I am because we’re all hearing, feeling and clapping the same beats together-which is a pretty cool feeling.

 

 

 

Embrace your Inner Teacher

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Goofing around during an assembly

Ever since I started babysitting at the age of 13, I’ve always been around kids; we just seem to get each other. For the past nine years I’ve worked as a babysitter/nanny, mentor, daycare worker and camp counselor. Finding the Volunteer program in Spain was the perfect fit for me because I could work on my Spanish with a host family and be around kids-which was a comfortable feeling for me.

But teaching is its own kind of animal. Now I stand in front of a room with 25 pairs of eyes staring at me. It took me a few weeks to get into a rhythm where I felt like the kids and I were connecting. The language barrier isn’t your only challenge; you also have to make English FUN. Blindly walking into the teaching world has been an eye-opening, frustrating, hilarious and great experience...but getting comfortable takes time. Here are some tips to ride out the awkwardness of your first weeks so you can embrace your inner teacher:

1. Go with the flow

Something Spaniards are notorious for is their relaxed attitudes. As an American who lives by her watch and schedules everything to the hour, this was a challenge. If school starts 10 minutes late? Don’t worry about it. If your teacher isn’t in her classroom? No need to panic, she’ll be there soon. It’s definitely a cultural thing that you’ll find yourself falling into, so just embrace the chill pace.

This “go with the flow” mentality also applies to classroom time. Most likely, you’ll walk into each class everyday without a clue as to what’s going on-what a rush! There’s nothing like having to think on your feet or learn 6th grade science vocabulary on the spot. Honestly, this makes teaching really exciting for me because it’s so spontaneous. You get to feed off of what the kids like/don’t like, plus your lead teacher is running the show, so you’re not the sole person responsible for feeding their young minds with knowledge.

2. Try (and fail) to make activities

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Where the learning happens

What I love about the teachers I work with is that they let me be hands on. I’m constantly helping with pronunciation, correcting homework and running lessons. My favorite part is helping come up with interactive activities. So far I’ve played “restaurant” with the kids to help them with conversation & vocabulary, created competitive review games and done Halloween charades. You’re definitely on a teaching high when you see that your kiddos are excited about the activities you came up with.

But sometimes your ideas fail: To help the kids learn about the digestive system, I tried putting them in groups and had them draw pictures to make connections between the information and visuals. All good in theory, but the kids were extremely distracted working with friends and just ended up copying images from the books instead of using their imagination.  Total fail-but a great lesson for me. Now I know what activities to stay away from for that class.

3. Get to know the kids

I try to have side conversations with the kids before and after class so there’s more of a personal connection between us. This helps me get to know their personalities and to give them extra practice with their English in a more casual way.

4. Have a sense of humor

Kids are crazy, whether you’re in the U.S. or Spain, it’s a fact. As an English Assistant, you only have to work 3-4 hours a day (go you!), so don’t let those tough days get you down. Try to turn the mood around and do what you can to keep most of the class on track. Most likely, your lead teacher will be just as overwhelmed as you are, so spreading some positive vibes could be a huge help to her.

Since being an English Assistant is fun, have fun with the job! This is your time to give them a break from boring grammar lessons and show them a different side to American culture. Cracking jokes and creating a fun (but respectful) teaching environment will keep the kids engaged and excited to learn from you.

Un saludo,

-Lexa 

 

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