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Your Sevilla Itinerary: Places & Food

It's no secret I love Sevilla, but almost every person that I have talked to that has also visited this quintessential Spanish town has told me they wished they had more time there. No one is able to escape the special feeling of it. Even Spaniards I've talked to says it has a certain, "encanto" or charm. If still not convinced by my ode to Sevilla post or my photos, I challenge you to talk to people who have been or just go and visit to see for yourselves! If you've already made the decision to visit, here are some of my must-see places and restaurants to check out!

 

Things to do

 

1. Plaza de España

 

This is one of those places where no photos can do it proper justice. I urge you to walk around the base and walls of the Plaza to admire each of the Spanish provinces displayed, cross the bridges and take a boat ride around the river and just take in all the details. Afterward, walk around Parque Maria Luisa (right across from the Plaza) and enjoy the beautiful gardens and pathways.  

 

2. La Catedral y La Giralda

 

 

The third largest church in the world and the largest gothic church, you will not be disappointed by its grandeur. Don't forget to stop by Christopher Columbus' remains which also lie here. La Giralda (the bell tower) was originally a minaret turned Catholic bell tower after La Reconquista. You can climb to the top and look out over the city — I insist though, the best view overlooking Sevilla is on top of Las Setas (See #5). 

 

3. Real Maestranza (Bullfighting ring)

 While the bullfighting season takes place from the end of April to the end of September, they offer tours year round. Bullfighting has become extremely controversial in Spain and some provinces have even banned it. Still, I recommend it as a cultural experience, even just the tour. If you visit and wish to see a real bullfight, go for it! I did when I studied abroad. I'm glad I went, but wouldn't do it again. It's a one time thing. But I'm going to leave it up to you.

 

 

4. See a Flamenco Show

 

Did you really go to Spain if you didn't see Flamenco? I recommend Museo del Baile Flamenco or Casa de la Memoria. Museo del Baile Flamenco offers more seating and while a bit "touristic"provides the audience a great show. Casa de la Memoria is also a fantastic option if you really want to see authentic flamenco: the small room gives the audience a sense of intimacy with the performers and the performances are top-notch in my opinion. 

 

5. Las Setas (Metropol Parasol)

 

For the best view of the city, go here! Las Setas (meaning: the mushrooms) is a wooden structure in the city center, you really can't miss it! For just a few euros, you get to go to the top for a drink. Tip: head here before sunset since it obviously becomes very crowded, but the view is incredibly worth it. Below Las Setas is the Antiquarium, where Roman and Moorish remains are on display in a museum.

 

6. El Alcázar 

 

 

For all you GOT fans, this is Dorne! For everybody else, this is a royal palace developed by Moorish Kings. If you're going to Granada and visiting the Alhambra, feel free to skip this, since they are very similar but still beautiful, or if you're really into royal palaces, go for it! 

 

7. El Rio Guadalquiver

 

If you want to truly feel like a Sevillano, take an afternoon stroll (dar un paseo) along the river while many stores shut down for siesta. It's a nice way to relax while seeing another beautiful part of the city. There's always people biking, walking and running along the path. 

 

Restaurants & What to Order

 

1. La Brunilda

 

 

Brunilda is hands down my favorite restaurant, perhaps of all time. It's a great lunch spot, but get there early to put your name in because it gets crowded! I recommend ordering the patatas bravas, mushroom riostto and the pork shoulder with sweet potatoes. Some of the best food I've ever eaten — If the wait is too long, they have a sister restaurant (with the same chef) that is called "El Bartelomeo" and is right around the corner.

 

2. El Rinconcillo

The oldest bar in Sevilla, which has been running since 1640, is a great place to take a quick break with drinks & tapas of course. You can't go wrong with some tinto de verano, cheese and espiñacas con garbanzos. And it's right in the neighborhood where I studied abroad :) 

 

3. Las Tabernas Coloniales

For the ultimate and authentic Spanish tapas, go here! Warning: portion sizes are huge! They don't take reservations, but you can put your name in on a chalkboard and order a drink outside while you wait. I recommend the chicken in almond sauce and the spinach croquettes. 

 

4. El Contenedor

For the foodies who want a nicer and a little more of a sit-down restaurant feel, this is the place to go! It's considered a slow-cook restaurant and the place really goes for a holistic experience from the ambiance to the food where the servers cater what you order to the order it is brought out. The service is outstanding. They recommend sharing plates as to not overeat and to try more options.I recommend the duck. Tip: Definitely make a reservation online. 

 

5. Bar Estrella 

Bar Estrella is on Calle Estrella, a tiny, tucked away street about a 10 minute walk from the Cathedral. It's small and quaint with its outdoor seating and the tapas are absolutely delicious — I recommend ordering the solomillo al whiskey. You will not be disappointed! 

It's an Aqueducto

Here is Spain when you have 2 extra days off from school for the weekends, they call it a puente. When you get three days off, they call it an aqueducto. 

Well that's what last week was. (Thanks random Spanish holiday that I have no idea about or why it is significant)

I now have a new favorite city in Spain because Granada is unbelivable. A city that has both palm trees and mountains should not exist, but it does. It's an incredible city with an Arabic influence, the small town mountain feel I love so much, and the typical Spanish life. You can go to restaurants and grab a drink, but the best part is the tapas are free. You can spend all morning/afternoon looking out over the city as you walk through La Alhambra and then you head to the city to enjoy som drinks and free food. 

Other adventures from the past weekend include Malaga and Sevilla. Malaga has a beach and that's all any city really needs if it doesn't have mountains. But it also has those. Sevilla is another great city for sure. There is so much to do and see. Plus everyone there is super friendly. They warn you that people from the south have an accent that is much more difficult to understand but somehow every single person I talked to I understood. Don't let that fool you though. Some people have such a strong Andalucian accent that you have no idea what they are saying because they have the typical Spain lisp and they just don't use the letter s. As time progresses in Spain it becomes so much easier to understand everyone, and by the end of the year, you too can be a pro at understanding everyone.

 

 

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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. 

 

To Learn the Local Language or Not?

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Last weekend was a weekend of firsts. Not only did I visit the gorgeous country of Portugal for the first time, but it was also my first time being in a country where I didn’t speak the local language. Until then, I’d only ever been to English-speaking countries (USA, Canada, and England) and Spain.

As a lover of languages, I decided to try to learn some basic Portuguese to prepare for the trip. During the weeks leading up to my departure, I loyally completed my daily DuoLingo lessons and listened to YouTube recordings of useful phrases, repeating them constantly so that I could use them if necessary. 

Yet, once on Portuguese soil I discovered that my efforts had been rather unnecessary. Not one time during the five day trip did I come across someone that didn’t at least know English or Spanish. Sometimes when I would try to use my newly learned phrases, my American accent would give me away and whoever I was speaking with would automatically switch to English for me.

I’ve been told that this is the case throughout much of Europe - that English is everywhere and we English speakers therefore have no need to learn foreign languages because we can get by easily enough without them.

But what do we lose by depending on our English to get by in the world? In my opinion, quite a lot!

For one, we’re losing out on an opportunity to exercise our brains! Language learning is a great way to keep the mind and memory skills sharp.

We also miss the chance to show respect towards the people of the country we’re visiting. They are “hosting” us as tourists, and to me it seems only polite that we make a small effort to use our hosts’ language. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way, not only for avoiding breakdowns in communication, but also for encouraging positive cultural exchange.

Lastly, we deprive ourselves of the beauty of experiencing a new culture through its own language. Language and culture are inherently intertwined, so by learning a little bit of the language, you are therefore brought closer to the culture. You can appreciate it on a level that goes a bit deeper than the surface experience of looking at cool art and architecture. For a just sliver of a second, you can come closer to understanding not only what it’s like to visit a new country, but what it’s like to live there the way the locals do. It’s a both a humbling and thrilling feeling like no other.

So yes, English is a global language, but in my opinion, that doesn’t mean it’s the only one that matters. If you like to travel, I invite you to enrich your experiences even further by always making just a little effort to learn the local language. You won't regret it!

All the feels...

There are multiple sides to every story... there are even multiple sides to every situation and the way that we, as people, process those situations.  I realize that every time I sit down to write a blog post.  I’m always torn between giving the factual account of what is happening and sharing the emotional response I have towards my day to day experiences.  As you have probably noticed, I tend to switch off with being either more factual or more emotional... I have just been typing up a more factual account of my first full week of December, which I will post shortly (once I have edited it a bit), but I want to first post this, for it has been on my heart since the beginning of December.

One thing with our emotions and our memories is the way that they follow us, wherever we go... We can never run away fast enough or far enough to lose them - at least not completely.  And I hope that we wouldn’t want to lose those memories or emotions, for I do believe that they are a vital part of who we are.  They are reminders that people who have come in and out of our lives each have the potential to leave a mark on us, if we let them.

December is a reminder of all these things for me - and for many people who have loved and lost someone; whether in death or even just the ending of a friendship or a relationship.  The holidays are blatant reminders of how things should have been - the laughter and cheer, the music and lights... No matter how many years pass, there is always going to be a pain when this time of year comes along.  With the pain though, in time, I have come to also look forward to the reminder of happy memories and the miracles of the season as well.  With every loss there is still new life, new celebrations, the potential for new joy.  I remember those who I have lost and I do my best to live a life that reflects their legacy, to live as a better person - in the ways that they have inspired me to.  It seems fitting, in a way, that on the anniversary of the death of one of my closest friends from high school, I came home from work to decorate the Christmas tree with the boys and the family - to commemorate the anniversary with laughter and love of a beautiful family; much like the family she was blessed with.  

I recognize that this post doesn’t seem very relevant to my time in Spain, but I guess it just serves as a little insight on how important it is to recognize and acknowledge the things that we are feeling - whatever country we are in.  It’s important to have people to talk to and turn to.  It’s helpful to be okay with not always being okay... It is also okay to find that things are actually OK, maybe better than you expected them to be, even when they don’t go as planned.  Things may change, break-ups may happen, people may lose touch and life definitely will happen, but it is all part of the adventure.

So, before I finish up, I’ll end with this last thought.  I won’t lie, there is a great deal that I miss, not being home (both in respect to Maryland and Buffalo) for the Advent season.  But there is also a quiet peacefulness that I have been able to experience here in Madrid - most especially in Rivas, where I reside.  There seems to be less hustle and bustle around and the season seems to be a bit quieter and less commercialized; I find that, as I climb into bed at the end of the day, I can appreciate the chance to look up at the stars in the silence of the night.  As much as I enjoy the change of pace, I am still looking forward to finding my way home for Christmas and enjoying a white Christmas back in the States... just as I am excited, at the same time, to return back to Spain to celebrate 3 Kings Day here on the 6th of January.

Alright, I know, I know... enough emotions for one post.  I’ll write again soon.  But, for now, ¡Felices Fiestas!

-Stephanie
(Lk 2:8-14)

11 Free Things To Do in Madrid!

Madrid is a city bursting with life; literally ALL DAY & ALL NIGHT, there is just so much to see, so much to do, so much to EAT and so many things to spend money on! But sometimes, you just wanna go out, have a good time and NOT spend any money. Or maybe...you're just broke for the moment and you're in between paychecks...or you're an auxiliar and have a fixed monthly stipend--No pasa nada, you'll find something you'll like on this list whether you live in Madrid, or if you're just passing through! Check it out!

  1. Stroll around the Ópera, Gran Vía, Retiro, Sol and Goya Metro stops--these areas are PACKED with tourist hot spots, Instagrammable scenery and you literally just have to walk around! If you so happen to have a couple euros on you, this could potentially buy you a delicious ice cream and a small snack! Hours of free fun with your significant other, visiting family, friends or just a simple solo trip...
  2. Visit the Royal Palace of Madrid It's free to stroll around the garden and admire the palace up close. Carve out an hour or so of your day for this...you're gonna wanna take pictures (see my picture above) and stroll on over to Almudena Cathedral!

3. Admire the Almudena Cathedral --just a minute's walk from the palace. Even if you're not religious or just not Catholic, tourists from all around the world love to visit the Almudena Cathedral. Over a century years old, this Roman Catholic church is a sight to behold from the outside in. You can even donate 0.20 euros to send a prayer to the Virgin Mary. If you have an obsession with gorgeously gothic and artful doors, you'll love the one below outside of the cathedral.

4. Experience the famous Mercado San Miguel This market is a must-see! This culinary paradise holds wines, candies, paellas, tapas and so many Spanish delights! If you're looking for a taste of Spanish culture, step on in! It's free to take in the sights and smells of all the delicacies, but if you've got 5 euros on you, you'll be able to try Spanish Paella, taste a chupito of yogurt, have a cup of wine or share a couple tapas!

 

5. Stroll along El Capricho Park This park is precious! Large green trees, vibrant flowers and autumnal leaves welcome you...you'll also find precious treasures and lakes as you make your way through the park. It's a great way to get some free exercise and enjoy nature with your lover or friends.

6. Wander around Retiro Park Madrid's Retiro Park is one of the largest urban parks in Europe. Hundreds of people enjoy the park in multiple forms. You can paddle boat, bring your dog, picnic, drink, eat, enjoy a museum, run, do yoga, play sports and almost anything you can do in a wide open space with plenty of grass!

7. Write a poem or read a book at Desperate Literature This perfect little bookstore just opened 2 years ago offers plenty of the newest and best selling books in English and Spanish. They even have an adorable reading corner for children--along with English children's books. Some books even cup with a shot of whisky if you decide to purchase them. You can even write a poem on an old-fashioned typewriter--don't forget to leave your name--they may publish you!

8. Check out the sunset or sunrise at the Temple of Debod The Temple was a gift from Egypt; so here you'll find a piece of Africa in Spain! As you can see in the picture below, it's quite a picturesque place. It's also right by Calle Serrano, a posh shopping district where you'll find Nike, Louis Vuitton and other high end products.

9. Head up to El Corte Inglés's Top Floor - Gourmet Experience It really is a gourmet experience. In Sol, this famous Spanish mall has it's food court on the 9th floor. You can actually step outside and enjoy a quick bite to eat or just simply to enjoy the sites. The view from the top is marvelous--and you don't have to spend a dime to enjoy it.

10. Check out all the cute things in HEMA, Tiger and ALE HOP. Seriously, just walk in! It's kind of like a Spencer's mixed with the irresistible $1-$3.00 bins at the front of all Targets plus a PG rated Novelty Store in Las Vegas.

11. Chill at Plaza Mayor. This plaza is highly Instagrammable! There are always events going on here; tons of vendors will sell there wares and you'll find a lot of performances. If you're thirsty, they have great restaurants and little shops to grab a drink or some lunch!

BONUS - CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN MADRID

Plaza Mayor in Sol has over 100 vendors with nativity scenes, Christmas trees, toys, winter clothes, books and all things Christmas! It's free to look around and take pictures--but trust me, you'll probably want to bring a 20 euros or so to purchase some Christmas swag!

I will continually add to this list, but Madrid ALWAYS has a lot of events--especially in Lavapiés and in the Sol and Malasaña areas. You can find so much to do! You could spend the day window shopping or just getting lost in the mesmerizing narrow streets. Comment below if you'd like to add to the list!

As always, follow me on IG for more travel tips @KamalaAlcantara

xx,

Kamalía

To teach: to share knowledge and gain wisdom

With two months of working as a language assistant, I have done a fair deal of teaching but a whole lot more of learning.  Working with the younger students (those in primary schools) I have witnessed numerous differences than the education that I received - including the fact that all students, no matter their academic level, are mixed in every class.  From what I have heard and seen, the separation of comprehension levels doesn’t occur until secondary school (7th grade).  So, while certain students in a classroom may have a high grasp of English and even their other subjects there are just as many (if not more) students who struggle, even with the subjects being taught in their native language.  It poses challenges for students and teachers alike but can also be used as a great opportunity for leadership and growth among all the students.  

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A present from one of the 2nd grade students that I work with - a “Spanish-English dictionary” of words.

Working primarily with the second graders, I see how, even at the young age of 6 or 7, several students who have higher comprehension levels take the time to work with those who struggle to grasp the concepts being taught.  There are several students who are truly behind that I have been asked to specifically engage during classroom “assembly” (where we gather and do the daily routines of discussing what day it is, what the weather is like, asking questions to allow the students to practice sharing information about themselves, and reviewing the topics from the units we are studying).  After trying to specifically engage several of these students by asking questions of him or her each day, one student in particular clearly began to rebel.  When asked his favorite animal, his response (in Spanish) was “tu madre”, or “your mom” in English.  Several of the boys in the class snickered but I, for one, was less than impressed.  Rather than get upset with him (as is often tempting to do), I came up with a different plan.  Now, I ask one student a question and then have that student answer and then ask another student the same question.  I’m finding that this is a better received method for those students who are struggling to not feel like they are being “called out” in front of their peers and for those who have a stronger understanding I can allow them the freedom to think of different questions to ask after they have responded.  

With so many students, all at such different levels, it is easy to see how one could get frustrated - especially when students are talking and appear to not be listening, or when they are acting out in class - but when you realize that the student talking to the boy next to him is explaining what the activity is or that the girl who isn’t even trying is so exhausted that she’s fallen asleep in class and seems to have some problems taking place at home or that the “trouble-maker” has taken the time to make you a present and really does work hard when someone takes the time to help him, all of those moments make you want to try just a little harder, to be a little more patient, and show a little more affection to the ones you sometimes think you could strangle (but not really!).  

I am continually being challenged and offered the chance to grow as a teacher and as an individual, with every passing day.  And when I’m tired of trying to get all the students engaged in an activity after break (when it is often a time of total chaos) or repeating the same grammar explanation again for the 17th time in a class period, I look up and I smile (even if it’s an exasperated smile) because I have the chance to teach and to learn, to love and to instruct.  There are so many blessings that come from teaching children; and even if these students never learn that “it has” but “they haven’t”, I hope that they learn that they are capable of greatness and that they can accomplish more than they think.

-Stephanie
(Pr 22:6)

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City Spotlight: Segovia

Ever since I visited Spain two years ago, I've been raving about how Toledo is my absolute favorite city in the entire world.

But now, I think I’m going to have to say I have a two-way tie, because I just visited Segovia for the first time and am already in love.

Just like Toledo, Segovia is a magical place. Walking through its old, narrow streets I felt as though I had walked through a portal in time, with the city’s ancient buildings and vestiges of the past inviting me to contemplate what the world used to be like centuries ago. An overwhelming sense of humility and awe came over me as I took it all in, and as the bus took me away, I was already eagerly planning my return.

Whether or not you’re inclined to such emotional and philosophical reactions to ancient cities as I am, Segovia is certainly a place all can enjoy! Here are three reasons why Segovia is an absolute must-see:

1) Alcázar de Segovia IMG_1004
Disney fans will be delighted to know that this majestic castle is rumored to have inspired the Cinderella castle in Disney World. I would highly recommend touring the inside and enjoying the breathtaking landscape views from the castle's mighty tower.

2) Acueductos de Segovia IMG_0950
As one of the city's only remains of Roman times, the aqueducts are a glorious sight to behold. They stand tall and proud smack in the middle of the city, surrounded by adorable shops and restaurants. Also worth a climb to the top!

3) Catedral de Segovia IMG_0897
A testament to Gothic architecture, the cathedral is simply awe-inspiring. Its intricate designs and powerfully looming presence make it a worthy visit. 

Other notable Segovian sights are the Plaza Mayor, Casa de los Picos, and Barrio Judío, among many others. In short, a highly recommended and very easy day trip from Madrid!

Hoy lo mejor: Blog Post #8

When I went to title this blog post, I could not believe that it’s number eight.  EIGHT.  That means I’ve been here for 8+ weeks.  Two months.  Wow.  It feels simultaneously like I’ve been here for forever and for no time at all.

I’m pushing myself to write weekly, and so sometimes substance suffers for the sake of (hello alliteration!!!!!) timeliness.  A good learning experience nonetheless--routine writing, time management, all those lessons that one never really stops learning.  I had a really nice class with my 2nd Bachillerato Advanced English students this week, so I will write about it.  

Their teacher warned me that they were not thrilled with their grades for the first trimester, but noted that because of this, they would all be quiet and attentive.  Ecstatic to report that they were!  I also handpicked the group of students I would have, assuring a quiet and attentive bunch.  Last week I had a student hang around and tell me about poems she had written in a class the year before.  This was after I introduced the short story project they would all be doing for me (written about in a previous post).  She was obviously excited and I realized in that moment that this had been another one of my dreams.  I always wanted to be the teacher whose students hung around after class to talk to.  I used to do that with teachers/professors that I loved and wanted to experience the other end of the exchange.  It’s almost always a sign the students are enjoying the class.

I told this student to bring in her poems so I could read them.  Needless to say she brought them in and is one of the most engaged students I have.  This past week the bachillerato classes had to turn in the first drafts of their stories to me.  While the turnout wasn’t wonderful, I’m happy there was a turnout at all.  I have about 6 drafts and while I could focus on the fact that I have only 6, I’ve chosen instead to focus on the fact that I have 6!  I am very excited to read them and write notes to the students about my experience reading them and also thoughts on how they could improve their writing/English.

That lovely class though…  I prepared a lesson on the NFL players who are protesting violence against and oppression of Blacks by kneeling or raising a fist during the national anthem.  I thought they’d welcome insight into some major topics of conversation in American culture right now.  I also know some are interested in politics, history, law, etc. and so I figured they’d be intrigued by the “controversial” topic.

I had copies made of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Washington Post article, “Insulting Colin Kaepernick says more about our patriotism than his” from summer 2016 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/08/30/insulting-colin-kaepernick-says-more-about-our-patriotism-than-his/?utm_term=.add82fddfdca).  I instructed the students to each read aloud one of the paragraphs of the article so they could practice pronunciation/speaking, etc.  Then I told them to take a few minutes to circle or underline words or phrases they don’t understand, and also to familiarize themselves with the article, summarize it and determine Abdul-Jabbar’s argument.

I had initially intended on preparing two articles for them, one by an author who doesn’t agree with or like the NFL players’ protest and one by an author who supports the players’ protest.  But due to time constraints and typical teaching-improv, I decided to just focus on the WaPo article.  To bring in the other stance, I found a page on the New York Times website where they have listed comments sent in by readers on the NFL situation.  So after I clarified the meaning of some words and phrases, we had a discussion.  I asked them to tell me what the article is about, their thoughts etc.  They all agreed with Abdul-Jabbar, and so to spark thought and play that advocate game that academia loves so much, I showed them a comment by a reader who says the players shouldn’t be invoking their right to free speech on the field.  I could hear their brains moving, as cliche as that is, and as cliche as it is to say “as cliche as that is.”  

Lastly, I showed them Trevor Noah’s segment on The Daily Show, “When Is the Right Time for Black People to Protest?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-Gx23vH0CE).  They LOVED it.  How do I know?  Because the bell rang signaling class was over and NO ONE, NO. ONE., moved.  They all stayed put until the end of the video.

THEN I even had a couple of students who stayed behind to chat about various things.  To the student interested in poetry I recommended she look up Adrienne Rich.  Another student wanted to ask me if he could write on our class blog about the Barcelona soccer matches.  I told him he could.  Then he told me he likes these sorts of videos and he watches similar shows here in Spain.  He also helped me put the desks back in rows (I have them in a circle for the class and then usually am putting them back into place by myself, barring the help of some thoughtful students).

Later in the day, the 2nd Bachillerato teacher told me that the students came back to her after our class and said “hoy lo mejor, lo mejor.”  That means “today was the best” : )

Where are you from?

Hello my name is Colin Gill and this is my first blog for the Teach Abroad Spain blog.  I was meaning to post earlier but the last couple of months have been quite busy trying to settle into my position as a Language Assistant and other life events.

I have been living in Spain for nearly three months now and a question that I have been thinking about and reflecting on is when someone asks, "Where are you from?".  For me, this question is not usually because of my physical appearance, but rather when I speak in Spanish and an accent is detected.  Or when I write something in Spanish with grammatical errors.  At first I did not think much of this question, until recently when someone messaged me on a dating app saying, "Hello beautiful, you must be a foreigner because your Spanish is quite bad.  Lets meet."  Did he actually think I would meet up with him with such a statement?  Not only was I taken aback by his rude comment, but I was also painstakingly reminded that no matter what I am an outsider here.  Additionally, it made me reflect on the ways in which I am privileged in the USA.  I am white and I have a "Standard American Accent" [whatever that actually means].  For example, when I go into a grocery store, go on a date, order a coffee, etc. I will be assumed to be an "insider" in U.S. society.  No one back home will ask where I am from.  I will be assumed to be an American. 

The question of "Where are you from?" made me also remember discussions I have had with my friends back in Seattle who are people of colour and frequently receive comments such as, "You speak English so well!" or  "Where are you REALLY from?".  When in fact, most of them have lived in the U.S.A. for decades and sometimes longer than my own family.  They are American.  Nonetheless, they are treated and viewed as outsiders in U.S. society.  I was aware of these instances of othering that my friends encountered, however, I had never experienced first-hand what it means to be an outsider based on accent or nationality.  Certainly I have faced othering due to my sexual orientation and genderqueer identity.  But this felt different because it's based on my accent and nationality.

Because of my skin colour many people will not look at me physically as an outsider in Spain.  I will never experience the same form of systemic oppression that a person of colour faces.  Yet, being asked multiple times, "Where are you from?" is getting tiresome and is a constant reminder that I am an outsider.  Not to mention it reinforces in my anxiety ridden mind that my Spanish is no where near perfect and will never be my mother tongue no matter how hard I try.  

Thus far, I think this experience of being othered because of my accent has helped me develop a deeper empathy for people immigrating to new countries.  I will state clearly that this experience in no way erases my white and class privilege, but it has helped me better understand why the question of "Where are you from?" can be problematic and signify your status as an outsider.  Being an outsider enables you to see things that may be missed by the insiders within a society.  

If you have experienced something similar please feel to share with me.  Until next time, hasta luego!

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