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Granada: Part II

Let’s talk about tapas.  Tapas in Granada are, as some would say, next level.  Tapas in Granada are when you pay 2-euros for a drink and are gifted a plate of something substantial.  In Madrid, when you order a drink, you usually will get a bowl of olives or potato chips with it.  In Granada, IN GRANADA I SAID, you may get any of the following plates with your ~2-euro drink:

  • Paella (Bodegas Castañeda - special housemade vermouth from a barrel as well)
  • Potatoes with ali-oli (Bar Aixa)
  • Meatballs with patatas fritas (La Porrona)
  • A mini hamburger with patatas fritas (La Botilleria - amazing, would eat sit-down dinner here)
  • A piece of bread with a slice of jamón, olive oil, tomato, and olives (Taberna La Tana - for wine lovers and everyone)
  • Sliced chorizo in a wine sauce (Bar La Riviera - you get to choose the tapa you’d like!)
  • Patatas caseras with bacon, onion, and a creamy cheesy sauce (Bar La Riviera)
  • A plate of fried sardines (Bar Los Diamantes, go early otherwise very crowded, one of the most well-known in Granada)
  • Tosta with guacamole and squid (El Cambalache, this was incredible)

And there is so much more!  So much more, the list goes on and on.  Moral of the story: after your beautiful day seeing the Alhambra, go on a self-guided tapas tour!  Start early to avoid crowds.  Or go late if you like the crowds!  If you see people outside an establishment with drinks and a small plate of food, it usually means you’ll get that plate of food free with your drink.

Now let’s talk about ice cream.  Helados San Nicolas, right by the viewpoint, which will seem like an outdoor party.  Vendors abound at the Mirador, people gather for the view of the Alhambra and the rest of the city.  I had a beautiful purple cone of lavender ice cream while looking at the Alhambra from a few ways away.  A bit more peaceful.  And there’s a splendid backdrop of the Alhambra in the shop for a photo-op!

The special dessert of Granada is the Pionono - a very VERY sweet little cake with sweeter sweet stuff on top named after Pope Pius IX who was supposed to come to Granada but didn’t (according to a tour guide?).  The dessert remains.  I enjoyed a spontaneous eclair from a bakery in Plaza Larga even more.  Be free with your food choices.  You never know what could surprise you.

So what are you waiting for??  Go get some tapas in Granada!  The Andalucian weather is just one of the many draws.

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The Uncomfortable Life


I’ve always lived by the quote that goes something like “life begins when you step out of your comfort zone.” This means that I like to keep the perspective that once you’re settled and feel comfortable with where you’re at in life, something ought to change. I’m aware that many people would not agree with this view and would question what kind of person would choose to get rid of the peace that she has right now in her life, namely who would choose discomfort over comfort? I am not underrating the happiness that comes with comfort - I mean, who doesn’t enjoy those lazy Sunday mornings in bed where you can allow the sound of the TV and coffeemaker to consume your world, where you can feel both physically and mentally comfortable with yourself. I am however emphasizing what I find as important when it comes to making life meaningful and interesting - and that involves opening doors that we have always imagined as being forever shut and treating each day as a new opportunity to learn and make mistakes. It’s understanding that you’ll never do anything perfect but at the same time there’s no loss in trying. It’s accepting that you’ll make many mistakes and that you never want to wake up one day thinking “I should have..” or “I wish I had…” because that would just be a waste of time. It’s instead being brave enough to let go of the normal and easy and bracing the challenge and foreign. In this sense I do not imply that latter invokes a negative outlook on life but rather makes the unfamiliar now familiar. But even if the negative comes to fruition and dominates the positive, so be it. At least I will always know I tried.

Now, what does all this abstractness have to do with teaching abroad at 20? It explains exactly why I decided to embark on this experience in the first place and to be honest, I must say that it has been uncomfortable and challenging (and it’s still not over!) and that yes, I could have done something more comfortable and easier with my time off. This past weekend my Spanish family took me climbing up a mountain with four large dogs in the cold snow. Many of you reading this know that I am not a fan of heights nor hiking nor snow but I went anyway, imagining it would be short and that I might actually enjoy it. Unfortunately, I’m not mentioning this to bring you a happy story; on the contrary I hated the hike and felt that with every step I was going to slip and fall to my doom and I wouldn’t even have cell service my last moments. Of course, four plus hours later I made it back and survived another week teaching English. 

My Spanish sister, Mónica, kept reminding me (in Spanish, of course) that I needed to trust her and there was no point in being scared of something that you have not tried yet. She told me that I needed to look at this as a new experience and that you can’t live in fear of something foreign to you. Being my stubborn self I responded by saying that I will never do something like this for the rest of my life (a promise I still plan on keeping today, says the Floridian in me). However, Mónica is 100% right. You should never choose to not put yourself out there for the sake of failure and disappointment, no matter where you are in life. Because my time here in Spain is teaching me how to live without expectations (frankly, Spaniards still surprise me everyday) I plan on continuing to incorporate this new fearlessness into every aspect of my life, from relationships to work to the knowledge I take in every day. I guess this is what is characterizing my hiatus, understanding how to change the feeling of being out of place to one of knowing you had the courage to leave your comfort zone and be there.

Un abrazo,


p.s. for those wondering, I will be returning to the U.S. in exactly 20 days :0 

To apply or not... is that even a question??

It’s March... And the sun finally came out today (after a week of rain)! I was on a run the other day and I realized that I, and all those who arrived in Madrid to begin work in October, have been working as an auxiliar (English Language Assistant) for over 5 months now. It is truly amazing to think back on where we began and where we are now.  One year ago I had yet to even apply for the CIEE Teach Abroad Program and now here I am. And I can only imagine where I will be in a few months time...

In mid-September I arrived in Madrid for CIEE’s Orientation. I was thrown into a week of information to help prepare us all for what would follow. There was information about banking, phone services, TIE appointments, housing, classroom lesson-planning and more... It seemed almost like a blur as we rushed from one thing to the next, getting ready to settle into life in Madrid. I remember getting my SIM card for my phone on day 1, deciding that communication was one of my top priorities at that moment. Later, we were given information about banking and various banks that would be easiest to work with. Another young woman and I in the program got up early one morning - before the day’s first session began - to be at the Banco Sabadell, closest to the hotel, as soon as they opened so that we could get our bank accounts set up right away and make it back to the hotel for when the session started. Everyone began the frantic search for housing, each in their own ways... some people had better (and faster) luck than others and those “others” found different methods of coping - whether staying with friends, booking an “air b’n’b” or a hostel, or widening their view of what the “perfect” place might actually look like or even considering options like being “au pairs” and living with a Spanish family.
The whirlwind of the first two weeks in Madrid is something that now makes me smile. I won’t lie, it was a little crazy and even, at times, a bit overwhelming. But, looking back, from where I am today, I’m glad I stuck with it! I have spoken to many different language assistants over the year. Some have, like me, had awesome luck with housing and have remained at their original location; other individuals have switched living situations (some have even switched multiple times).
I have made wonderful friends with the auxiliars and teachers at my school.  I have even begun looking at Master's programs with a growing interest in bilingual education.  I love the family that I live with and I appreciate the honest day-to-day immersion into the Spanish lifestyle and culture. I have travelled a bit (and still have more to see) and continue to learn a lot.

And so, as the time to apply (or re-apply) rapidly approaches, I will only say this: to spend one year (or more) teaching abroad will teach you a great deal about yourself. You may find courage you didn’t know that you had, or you may find yourself forced to face things you would have shied away from in your home country, you may find a passion for teaching or traveling or for a country and a culture that you would never have expected.
Whatever you find, it could change everything... if you are willing to try!
-Stephanie Moss
(Dt 31:6)

Where to go for the February Puente

What is a puente, you ask? A puente is a long weekend break! This year, the break fell on Thursday, February 15 and Friday, February 16. That meant four full days!

Many people by mid February are ready to escape the cold. So where to travel to? Most CIEE auxiliares decided to use this time to visit a tropical island for Carnival, like Tenerife. Others went to Morocco, and a few went to Portugal. All of these destinations are relatively inexpensive, and if you plan ahead accordingly, flights are not outrageous either. So have fun, plan ahead, and make sure you get out and see a new part of southern Europe, the Iberian Peninsula or Northern Africa!

Don't let any one tell you differently - Madrid has a long winter! I know, it's Spain, so you must be thinking, "It can't really be that cold right? After all, Spain is the land of sunshine- I mean, the center of the capital is called Sol for a reason."

I once thought this too. Coming from sunny California, I did not understand what "cold" meant. But, Madrid does get cold. Temperatures drop below 0 degrees Celsius in winter, especially at night. It also rains, a lot.

We have ten days of rain in the weather forecast this week. This is the last week of February, and Friday is the first day of March. That means umbrellas! Luckily, Spaniards have paraguas available for a few euros in almost every corner store.

My advice to you, world travelers, is to bring winter clothes on your Spanish adventure. Coats, gloves, scarves. Because what you won't bring, you will want to buy in November the moment the weather turns chilly.
Or maybe leave them at home and buy these essentials here anyway to ensure you are fashionably Spanish!

Granada: Part I

Granada is a stew of religions.  A stone-roaded, twisty-streeted, living history map.  Coca-cola signs hang above bars in circles of the signature Grenadine white-and-blue ceramic style.  Street names change at every intersection, even while continuing in the same direction.  A small archway leads down a tiny street of shops, formerly a silk market.  Around the corner is the Aljibe de Trillo, which holds just some of the secrets to the city’s genius water system.  Teterías (Arab-influenced tea-rooms) calmly await visitors.  Carmens abound with orange trees and special views of, oh yes, the Alhambra.  

The Alhambra sits atop the city, guarding and guiding it as it has for centuries through all sorts of transitions.  The complex dates to about the 13th or 14th century (though there may have been construction earlier).  Now you can visit: Generalife (palace and gardens), Palacio de Carlos V (16th-17th-century Roman-style palace with circular inside and small art museum), Palacios Nazaríes (the most well-known with incredible patios, ceilings, and the quintessential tiles sold in souvenir shops around the country), and the Alcazaba (lookout point with flags and views of the city and surrounding mountains).  Quranic ideals flood the Palacios Nazaríes and Generalife in particular with patios of ponds, greenery, and fountains, paradise in the sacred book of Islam, as well as script from text itself.   

Once the Catholics took over the Iberian Peninsula, at the end of the 1400s by Ferdinand and Isabella (los reyes católicos), they continued using the Alhambra, described to us as a “city” by a local tour-guide.  But they destroyed the Great Mosque, and, upon that exact spot, placed a church.  Our tour-guide explained that a key to understanding the city is that the shift to Catholic rule did not entail eradication of all that had come before (though there was destruction).  So when he pointed out the Iglesia de San Gil y Santa Ana, he noted that the tower still looks exactly like a minaret, and still has the blue and white patterns from the time of Muslim-rule--it’s mudejar and reflects the coexistence of Muslim and Christian cultures.  

Today, the main cathedral of Granada is the second-largest in Spain.  We only got a brief look inside, but it seemed like one of the more interesting cathedrals in Spain visually.  The inside is a bright white--quite a change from the usual tannish brown stone.  The outside, though, does have that tan color, which makes the inside that much more exciting.  A mosque was here before, and it was destroyed and replaced with the cathedral.  According to Rick Steves, there was a plot of land nearby that would have been more suitable for the building of the cathedral, but the new rulers insisted on using the same plot as the mosque.  Also according to Steves, the “Ave Maria” at front-and-center of the cathedral’s facade was accepted by the Muslims because Mary plays a large role in the Quran.  This is just one of many tidbits of information that make Granada unique.  Though the religion in power shifted, there were still aspects of the previous culture that remained and kept it alive with the city’s inhabitants.

Instead of paying to go further into the cathedral, we decided we couldn’t pass on the Capilla Real--the burial site of Ferdinand and Isabel.  The right decision.  Though creepy in ways, the tombs of the Catholic Monarchs (as well as their daughter, Juana, and her husband, Felipe I) are aesthetically remarkable.  Carvings surround every side of the large cubes--the eternal beds of the royals--on which the monarchs lay.  On the tomb of Juana and Felipe, each monarch has an animal for a footrest and a pillow for their head.  On the other tomb, Ferdinand and Isabel have animals at their feet, but not below them.  All of the pillows are intricately carved with patterns and tassels.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  Apparently some attribute Isabel’s large impression in her pillow, larger than Ferdinand’s, as a symbol of her intelligence.   

And if visitors aren’t already bombarded with the visual superiority of the monarchs, across from their tomb is the altar.  Not just any altar.  This is a humongous gold altarpiece filled with dioramas dedicated to various saints and biblical stories.  Two deaths of saints are centrally represented, one of which I remember for certain involves a beheading--one figure holds the head up next to the beheaded body.  Most interestingly, Ferdinand and Isabel are represented at each side of the altar on their knees praying.  The whole piece looks like a toy dollhouse, figures have skin-tones, eyeballs of color, vibrant outfits, and hairstyles.  The attempt at realism is alarming, as is the juxtaposition of this altar of colors-galore with the stone-gray tombs.  I’m not used to seeing life-size color sculptures of 15th-century monarchs.

Just beyond the tombs is Isabel's art collection, including pieces by Rogier van der Weyden, Sandro Botticelli, and Hans Memling.  Just before leaving are two sculptures of Isabel and Ferdinand kneeling in prayer.  These are the originals that were by the altar inside.  Ferdinand (I believe) didn't think they looked pious enough, or something like that.  Exit the Capilla Real, and you're back on the streets of incense.  To be continued...

Illusion of Immersion


One of my personal goals for my Teach Abroad in Spain year was to solidify my conversational Spanish. What better way to immerse myself in Spanish than by living among the Spanish and doing as the Spanish do?

It seemed like the perfect plan in theory, but after a month or so of living in Madrid, I realized how surprisingly easy it is to not speak Spanish in Spain. I discovered a dangerous trap, one that I’ve dubbed “the English Bubble.”

What is the English Bubble?

It’s the fact that despite living in a non-English speaking country, I spent the majority of my time speaking in English when I first moved here. My language assistant job is in English, of course, but that was only the beginning. Unless I made a strong effort to start conversation with the Spanish teachers during coffee break, it was all too easy to just chat with my fellow auxiliares in English. Along the same lines, a lot of the friends I’d made were native English speakers, and it felt weird to try to speak Spanish with them. Many store attendants and restaurant servers recognized my American accent and would switch to English for me, making it awkward to continue speaking in Spanish, and many sources of information - menus, brochures, signs, etc - were all available in English.

At times I was grateful to not have to strain to use a non-native language all the time, but as comforting as my English Bubble was, it meant that when I finally found myself in a situation where I had no choice but to speak Spanish, I was all of the sudden too nervous and self-conscious about my abilities. I would wilt into a stuttering, jumbled mess. After several months of living in Spain, I came to the horrifying realization that my dream of becoming fluent in Spanish was still no where close to coming true.

So, I took a hard look in the mirror and decided to make some changes. I signed up for Spanish classes, as well as some salsa classes taught entirely in Spanish. I started making a very deliberate effort to speak with the Spanish teachers during coffee break at work. I chose the Spanish TV shows on Netflix and put on Spanish subtitles or dubbing for English shows, and before I knew it, I was surprising myself with how much I could understand and produce. I started picking up new vocabulary and feeling more confident with verb tenses and grammatical structures, and it felt amazing.

I had to learn the hard way that language immersion is an illusion. Just living in a Spanish environment isn’t enough to magically become fluent - language skills don’t subconsciously soak into our brains (at least not as adults!). It takes deliberate effort and active participation in language practice for immersion to be able to do its job. It’s most certainly not easy, but it’s most definitely worth it.

A Potpourri

I saw La familia Addams this weekend.  Fun show!  It was fascinating to see how an American musical was translated not only into Spanish language, but into Spain’s culture as well (including a reference to popular words and recognizable social types).  Even if you miss some of the jokes and quick twists of the tongue, you can grasp the difference between a line of plot and a line for the audience’s enjoyment.  The latter is that moment when a character breaks away from the other ones, walks towards the audience, and digresses briefly about something, often using physical cues to signal something outside the story.  This could be an eye-roll or some kind of body movement--physical comedy--something that says “this is a joke that is not related to this musical but is related to the world in which we all live in and we should all laugh about it now!”  Concise, I know.

It was also interesting to be in that theater.  The stage seemed to be very close to the audience and at eye-level.  This was quite different from some spectacles on a Broadway stage.  I was wondering if this is what performance was like way back when.  In a college course, I learned about the evolution of the physical stage-audience relationship.  The beginnings of superstardom (mostly in pop music, I believe) coincided with the separation of stage and audience.  Intimacy out, gigantic stages in stadiums in.  This theater, though, felt like it could have been used in the 1700s for a royal night of music.  The show, therefore, was a fascinating mixture of that sensation with the modern musical.

Another thing to note: the audience at the end did not go wild the way most audiences seem to do nowadays.  I appreciated that.  In the era of everyone-gets-a-standing-O-on-American-Idol and everyone-has-a-great-voice-on-The-Voice, it was refreshing to be part of an audience that was not ready to stand up for just any performance.  

The next evening for a birthday I found myself at a restaurant called Amazónico.  Prices?  High.  Quality of food?  High.  Worth it?  Yes.  For a special occasion.  I had skirt steak and it was delicious.  Though it’s easy and affordable to find solomillo here, it’s not everyday auxiliares can drop euros on a nice steak.  What better opportunity to do so than at a celebration of a quarter-century of someone’s life?  None, you say?  And I agree.  Emphatically!  Additionally, we had samosa-style spring rolls with chicken.  Delicious.  We had a bottle of moscato.  Delicious.  To finish off the meal, we had two desserts:  1) grilled pineapple with cake and coconut ice cream and 2) a stone bowl filled with warm melty chocolate.  The chocolate was a bit dark for my taste but OH MY GOODNESS someone stop me I’m turning this into a food blog!  Hard not to.  Food gets me going.  I thought I had writer’s block until I started to write about this meal…  Is anyone surprised?

Before we part...I’ve been wanting to post this video for a while.  It captures fuzzy feelings I had during one weekend-walk.  I found myself gliding through a plaza, surrounded by the chatter of people and children playing, the clinking of glasses, the smell of coffee and wine in the air, sunglasses resting on tables, cigarettes “breathing” their final stilted breaths on the ground, metal chairs being dragged from table to table, and the song of a Spanish guitar.   


[As for the Super Bowl, I do have a comment:  MY EAGLES WON!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Chicken wings are not the easiest to find ‘round here FYI, but it can be done.  It can be done.]     

Get certified or nah?

A big decision I had to make once I knew I wanted to teach English in Spain is whether or not to get my TEFL certification. The Spanish government does not require language assistants to take the course, so it was a matter of personal choice. Ultimately, I chose to enroll in the course, but not before making a classic pros and cons list!

Let’s start with the cons. Right off the bat, this course isn’t cheap. It took some of my savings to cover the cost and it hurt. I took my course through CIEE and it was $1,000 for a 10-week class: 150 hours including a 20 hour practicum. Additionally, it was time-consuming. I took this course while working a full-time job, so I would come home and work for 2 hours minimum on the unit. I put in more work than I expected and I was exhausted at the end of each day.

On the other hand, I learned so much during the 10 weeks and I felt more prepared for my job. Despite the price, you get a lot of value and material from the class. Also, even though I don’t plan on teaching for the rest of my life, I have the ability to teach ESL in other countries (or even online for extra money!). I love traveling and immersing myself in other cultures and having this certification gives me an advantage for other opportunities. Lastly, I connected with a network of people going through the same process who were traveling to all corners of the world. In fact, one of the girls was also coming to Madrid and we met up when we arrived! 

In the end, I'm happy with my decision to get certified. So if you want to teach English as a foreign language, do a little research into the requirements and weigh your own pros and cons to see if the course is right for you!


Where Do I Go From Here


There is something strange and scary about getting used to a new place while at the same time feeling so out of place. I learned it takes strength and courage to find comfort in the uncomfortable and contentment in the challenge. It also takes a certain type of person to take the leap so early in their lives to leave what they call home for a change that they knew would not be easy. Being here in Spain definitely places me in this category, especially knowing that my hiatus here would not be equivalent to a vacation nor a continuance of my 2017. For instance, what would qualify as a challenge in my American life (i.e. a 30-page research paper) does not necessarily define what a challenge means here. I am learning what it means to be challenged with basic everyday interactions and yes, the language barrier plays the most important role in making socializing a bit hard for someone outgoing like me. However, what actually takes precedence are the cultural differences, which despite being on the less extreme side, are still pronounced in my everyday life.

You walk into a bar (which yes, people do very often here) and it's awkward to decide who's going to pay for the drinks. Spain has the custom of paying in rounds, which means that one person would pay for the entire group while someone else would pay the next time - something inherently agreed upon. The American ideal of individualism is lost here because it is considered rude to pay for oneself, a concept that I am slowly beginning to accept. Growing up in an individualistic society, I am grateful for the shift to having a not so you’re-on-your-own mindset and knowing that there’s more important things in life than your own pleasure.

It is also a whole spectacle to say goodbye or end some sort of event here. The concept of saying “Bye, I have to go, see you later” does not fly by here. You are indebted to wait for everyone to mutually agree to leave or to begin the process of leaving the group 20 minutes or so before you actually need to leave. People also very rarely spend time alone, which shows the priority of community over all things. It began to make sense to me why Spanish people do not stop talking (what even is silence...?). Perhaps the idea of loneliness scares them as it does to almost anyone or that its so ingrained in the lifestyle that they cling onto the idea of family and socializing to avoid the uncomfortable.

Every day at school, all the teachers go out to the bar across the street to talk and drink coffee during the recess period, no matter how much work they have to do they stop and head out. It’s easy to question why they don’t just drink coffee while doing work during the break period, a classic example of efficiency and good time management. But you see, the point is not to caffeinate but to catch up, to socialize, to do your part in upholding to the community that, in my perspective, makes the society I’m living in now run smoothly.

Now - where do I go from here? Do I go back to the U.S. and casually assimilate back into my home culture and forget how my time in Spain has and continues to change me? It seems like then I would be calling my time here a waste, which it is not. I finally understand what it’s like to live in a place where one lives for others rather than for oneself. At Dartmouth (and away from there too) it can feel as if everyone is on their own, looking out for their own best interests which has always perplexed me. Now I understand what it means to live for the coffee breaks and bar hopping, for who matters most to you (and here’s a hint - it’s not yourself). Therefore from here I go with that in mind, never taking for granted the little things people do for you and living in a world beyond myself.


Un abrazo,

Beth <3 

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