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What it means to experience

As I am starting to write this blog, I am realizing that I have just passed my first month here in Spain. Sounds like I’m counting down a pregnancy, but it’s nice to know I made it ⅓ of the way without messing up (too much) or feeling as if I made a mistake coming here. Now, when I think about, I don’t want March to come so soon - I don’t mind the superfluous time I have to myself away from the academic rigor of Dartmouth. Most of my weekdays are spent at the high school or in my little town, and the kids are beginning to grow on me. Especially the younger ones (and by younger I mean 8th and 9th grade, still young). Although there are many norms about the education system here that still seem a mystery to me, such as why skipping school seems to have zero consequences and how some days buses just decide not to run, I find that I am enjoying my life as a teacher and can maybe see myself doing this full-time.

If I decide to pursue a career as a teacher, people might speculate why risk my Ivy League education for a not-so-high-paying job? But what I find more curious to question is why not? Why not dedicate your life to not only something you love to do but something that makes an impact? Living in a country where money is not number-one on people’s mental lists of priorities, I’m beginning to understand through experience that there’s so much more to life than your paycheck. Its sounds very cheesy to say, but something I always knew as a kid was that whatever I would be doing in my life, I don’t ever want to wake up one morning dreading going to work. Although teaching English is not easy, especially at a rural high school where many kids know very few English words, I am finding that I am learning along with them by simple interactions. This week, for instance, I discussed with some of students American versus Spanish symbols, or icons that represent culture, and loved the passion these kids had for jamón (for those that don’t know, jamón is a Spanish ham and is very typical to eat here). And of course I used the timing of the Super Bowl last Sunday to talk about U.S. v. Spanish football - which pretty much excited everyone in the room to explain to me, the naive American girl, what is real football.

Recognizing my the ephemeralness of my time here comes with thinking more about what I am taking back with me to the U.S. (besides more clothes and a Cultural Leonesa beer bottle). That’s when the phrase “collect moments not things” starts to make more sense - here I am striving to make memories of each day, of each of my traveling adventures, who I meet and what I do that opens my mind to different ways to thinking and being. I came into this experience forgoing the hope of expectations and choosing instead to live with what comes my way, which is a choice I am proud of and encourage anyone searching for a change in their lives to consider. I hope to return with not just a greater appreciation for different cultures but with a newfound perspective on what it means to live for experience. Not a concept well taken by many Americans, but nonetheless something I find important for understanding your place in this world.

Hasta luego,
Beth

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También escribí en español y por favor, tenga paciencia - todavía estoy aprendiendo el idioma :) 

Estoy dándome cuenta de que pasé un mes aquí en España mientras escribo este blog. Suena como si estuviera contando un embarazo, pero es bueno saber que cumplí ⅓ de mi tiempo aquí sin fallar o sentir que todo fue un error  No quiero que marzo venga tan pronto - me encanta el tiempo para mi mismo y estar fuera del rigor académico de Dartmouth. Paso la mayoría de mis días en el instituto o en mi pueblo y por eso, me estoy cayendo bien los alumnos, específicamente los menores (de las edades 13, 14, y 15). Aunque hay cosas de la sistema educativa de aquí que me parecen raras, como la normalidad de faltar a clase y que los autobuses no funcionan todos los días, estoy contenta con mi vida de profesora de inglés y quizás puedo perseguir esta carrera.

Si decido perseguir esa carrera, la gente pensará ¿por qué estoy tirando mi educación del Ivy League por un trabajo que no se paga mucho? ¿Pero por qué no? Por qué no dedicarte a una vida donde haces que lo quieras y lo que significa algo importante? Vivo ahora mismo en una sociedad donde no le importa mucho el dinero y, por mi experiencia, pienso que hay más en la vida que el sueldo. De niña, siempre sabía que nunca iba a despertarme y sentir que no quería ir al trabajo. Aunque el trabajo de profesora de inglés no es tan fácil, específicamente en un instituto rural donde no saben muchas palabras en inglés, estamos aprendiendo juntos cada día. La semana pasada, por ejemplo, hablamos sobre símbolos de los Estados Unidos y de España y me gustó la pasión de los alumnos por el jamón. Y también, por la casualidad del Super Bowl este mes, discutimos las diferencias entre futból americano y el futból que juegan los españoles. Se alegraron mucho cuando me explicaron el futból.

Cuando me daba cuenta de mi tiempo aquí no durará para siempre, también pensaba en cómo cambiaría mi vida cuando vuelva a los EEUU (además de tener más ropa y la cerveza de la Cultural Leonesa). Ahora viene la frase “recoger los momentos no las cosas” - cada día intento de hacer recuerdos de cada aventura del viaje, conocer gente, experimentar cosas que abren la mente a diferentes formas de pensar. Llegué aquí sin esperanzas y decidí que iba a vivir en el momento, y ahora estoy orgullosa de esa decisión y digo que si estés buscando por un cambio en tu vida, considéralo. Espero que vuelva a mi país con una apreciación por diferentes culturas y con una perspectiva nueva de lo significa vivir por la experiencia. A pesar de que muchos americanos no adoptan esa cosa, me parece muy importante para entender tu propósito en nuestro mundo.

Hasta luego,
Beth

Lions and Tigers and Clowns.. Oh My!

Stretch. Pull. Yank. Squeak. A metallic red leotard makes it over my shoulders. I tie a funky mask around my bedazzled eyes, half concealing my overly make-uped face. I step into one fluffy, red leg and then  the other. I zip up the onsie and pull the hood over my head. The outfit is complete. I have managed to transform from a English auxiliar to a Mushu-like dragon. I walk outside to meet up with a unicorn, a hula dancer, a floral nymph, a tourist, and 2 nerds clowning around. We are shortly joined by an oversized Pikachu and the Wicked Witch of the West. We hop on a bus and make it to the city center. The smell of salt water drifts through the air and into our noses. A cool beach breeze brushes against our bedazzled faces. My eyes are blinded by the sun bouncing off my friend’s metallic leotard. My ears are ringing with the shouts of people all around me. Welcome to Carnival in Cadiz! IMG_2671
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First stop: the beach. We meander through the crowds, stop to buy a disco para la playa (my best guess at how to say frisbee), and make it to the coast. The ocean is cold but I don’t care. We walk with our feet in the sea until we find the perfect spot for a game. A pup joins in and turns our frisbee game into a full on sprint. A closed castle is the backdrop for our first group photo. Tiny cliffs make a the perfect spot to explore and take it all in. Grumble. Grumble, grumble. Okay, relaxing done. Time to look for food.

Bocadillo stands line the crowded streets where people are wander aimlessly. Alleys are blocked by people stopped to watch groups break into musical showdowns. Children dressed as whatever their hearts desire march to the beat of their little plastic drums. The cutest mini cookie monster gives in to our encore and plays a mini show just for us.

As the sun begins to set, the children slowly disappear and drinking in the streets starts to pick up. More and more people arrive to the peninsula. Plazas fill with a range of characters and costumes. I pass a Gofre stand that I simply cannot pass up. Chocolate joins the make-up and jewels that decorate my face. The bus is coming to take us back to our hotel at 23:00. A show starts in the main plaza at 22:00. The tent we passed on the way in is barely starting to bustle at 22:45. Next year, I’ll come a little later and stay a little longer. Maybe someday I’ll learn that Spain’s timeline is a shift to lazy mornings and sleepless nights.

 

Spain is Trying to Kill Me

Monday 21:00 I’m not feeling so hot, I’ll sleep early

Tuesday 00:30 Cough. Cough woke me up but I’m fine. Back to bed.

Tuesday 1:00 Cough, cough. Ahh I just need water. Okay, really time to sleep.

Tuesday 3:30 Cough, cough, cough. Uh oh. This isn’t looking good.

Tuesday 6:15 Beep, beep, beep, beeppppp. Alarm for school already?

Tuesday 9:00 Oh, I’m late for… actually I’m not going to work today

My head feels like it weighs 300 pounds, my nose is completely congested, sudden attacks of gnarly coughs come and go, and body aches  that make it hard to move creep over me: time to look for a doctor in Spain. They told us to look for one at orientation but who does these types of things early?

Step 1: Email coordinator to let them know I won’t be in today.

Step 2:Call my insurance company to see what doctors were covered (I might be sick but I can still hear my bank account crying form my last trip).

Step 3:Google doctors near me.

Step 4: Start attempting phone calls. My Spanish is mediocre at best but Spanish when I’m struggling to even breathe? Ha! First place I could find, “Ummm hola, necesito una cita hoy.” Silence. No appointments.  Onto the next. They had an appointment but wanted to know my symptoms... in Spanish? Here we go (thank you google translate app): cough-tos, asthma- asma, congested-constipado (false friend- not constipated btw)... this is going to be a long day.

“Becca. Go see Dr. Borras,” my roommate who has been here a year already chimed in through my closed door. She overheard my struggle on the phone and recommended an English speaking doctor. They have an appointment for 3 pm. Finally, help is in sight.

Tuesday 14:00 Alarm goes off. Really? I just fell asleep

Tuesday 14:30 Look like death on the metro, avoid everyone

Tuesday 15:05 “Hola, tienes una cita?”

I respond in the most whispery, broken, breathless Spanish, but at least I’m trying right? I think I was told to sit down and wait, so I take a seat as far away from everyone else as possible. The doctor comes out, “Rebecca, Espanol o Ingles?” “Yo! Y English porfa!” I muster to blurt out. I’m all for using Spanish because I am in Spain after all but there’s something about feeling understood when your sick. He asked my symptoms, checked my breathing, looking in my throat, and prescribed antibiotics. I stumbled over to the pharmacy: 8 euro and 50 cents for antibiotics and an inhaler? What a steal.

This was my first experience with being sick back in November. Since then, I have seen Dr. Borras a few more times and even made a last minute appointment with a Spanish doctor when needed (working with 3 year olds is the most adorable hospital sentence). I can say that it all feels a lot less frantic after the initial trial. 6 months in Spain, 5 doctors appointments, 4 justificantes, 3 antibiotic treatments, 2 almost booked flights home and... a partridge in a pear tree? I won’t lie to you and say this has been the easiest thing to handle abroad but it has been doable. If you’re worried about figuring all of this out before you come, stop. Your year abroad won’t be all sunshine and rainbows, but it will work itself out. You’ll get through the illnesses and the confusion. It makes the late nights with friends, the last minute trips, and the hunt for the best croqueta that much more exciting. The ying and the yang remain in balance after all.

 

Teaching English but Learning Spanish

Moving to Spain, I expected I would be speaking Spanish all the time even though I would be teaching English. However, I've found that you have to go out of your way to really try to learn and speak Spanish. Maybe it's because Madrid is such an international city or maybe it's because I live with Americans and hang out with a lot of CIEE people and maybe it's because I should only be speaking English at schools and my private lessons.. Maybe a little bit of everything.

 

Your schools tell you that you shouldn't let the kids know you speak Spanish because if they do, they're more likely the speak Spanish to you if they're having difficulties. However, if the students think you don't speak any Spanish, they are forced to try to use circumlocution to try to explain what they mean in English, which gets them using their vocabulary they already know. Totally makes sense. I had to do this in my Spanish classes and as frustrating as it was, I get the point now being on the other side. I do help them every now and again, but I do find it super entertaining when the kids hear me speaking Spanish to other teachers and they ask me if I know Spanish, but they believe me when I say no!

Don't get me wrong, I love the people I live with and love all my American friends and teaching English, but sometimes, I feel as though I really don't speak Spanish as much as I thought. There are plenty of resources to change this of course, so I decided to compile a list of apps and activities in order to inspire and motivate myself and inform other people of the things they can do.

1. Podcasts: Español Automático

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With a 50 minute commute on the metro, this is an easy and convenient way to get some Spanish in and work on your listening skills. I'm usually listening to music or a podcast anyway, so I try to make it a goal to listen to these 25-30 minute podcasts once or twice a week. The host, Karo Martinez, also has a website where she offers transcripts of the pod, resources and even classes to help you with your Spanish. Her goal is to help people speak in a more natural and fluid way. She speaks really clearly and recommends habits while discussing a variety of topics.

 

2. Netflix Shows

We all binge-watch. Sometimes escaping reality and sitting in your room for the whole day is very much needed because I do have to remind myself that I live here, and somedays I need some American culture. But instead of turning to a show that you've already seen or watching something in English, watch a Spanish show! I recommend Cable Girls or "Chicas del Cable." It's a show — not dubbed in Spanish — that takes place in Madrid (how perfect) in the late 1920s and about four women who meet working at a Telephone company as operators and their crazy storylines: there's love, friendship, revenge, murder. The classic recipe for a drama. I watch it in Spanish with subtitles and cannot stop watching it.

 

3. Tandem: iPhone App

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So intercambios can be a great way to meet people and there's a million you can go to. It can be a bit overwhelming and the few that I've been to, people tend to hear you speaking English and flock to you. I've met some great people from all over the world, but I always end up speaking English. Tandem is a language exchange app where you can practice speaking any language with native speakers. Some people choose to video chat, but I recommend posting that you are looking to practice in person. (You can set your location) so you can guarantee you'll be talking to people within your city limits. The one-on-one setting I find better to practice and improve.

 

4. Tus Clases Particulares

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Just as I teach private english classes, there are private classes in Spanish. These will usually cost 15-25 euro per hour and classes can vary from conversational to more formal one-on-one classes but if you're really committed to learning Spanish, this is a great way to guarantee Spanish learning.

 

5. Meetup

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Meetup is not only a great language resource but also a great way to find your tribe in Madrid. They have a bunch of meet-ups focused on area of interests but also have intercambios listed. Interested in something? Try meeting up with a group and see if there's any people you can practice Spanish with while doing something you love!

Bespectacled in Madrid

How to

        Hello fearless future auxiliares & current teachers,

        I don't know about you, but even with very good insurance in the U.S. glasses for people with myopia can be extremely pricey. But in Spain--it's so easy and economical!! I have -3.25 in both my left and right eyes (meaning it's very hard for me to see things 3 feet or more away from me without extreme blurriness). Glasses are necessary for me, and maybe you too! 

        You don't need insurance in Spain to have excellent eye care. I walked down my posh street in Salamanca, Madrid to one of the many many chain Multiópticas.

Quick notes:

  • No contacts for 24 hours. They say it messes with the graduation for accuracy of determining your prescription and will turn you away, I know, not common in the States. 
  • No appointment needed.
  • They have deals as low as 2 glasses for 159€ INCLUDING: the eye exam, anti-reflective AND added protection for staring at screens. 
  • TONS of options! I'm super picky, and I found multiple that I loved!
  • You pay when you get your glasses. You may be asked to leave a minimum deposit of 20€ or you can just pay the whole price.

You don't actually see an optometrist like in the states. You will meet with a tech who'll complete your eye exam in literally 5 mins. You only need identification (TIE, passport) to proceed with an eye exam. They have literally the SAME equipment in the states. 

When you're in the eye exam, you are able to say the alphabet in English or Spanish, and you only need to know the words "mejor" (better), "igual" (the same), and "peor" (worse).

Depending on the business of the store, you can have your glasses within 1-5 business days. And there you have it! They were super nice, and so patient. I think I spent an hour trying on glasses, haha! 

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"4 eyes, 4 eyes you need glasses to seeee!" haha Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs reference. 

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Instagram: @kamalaalcantara

Follow the Music

The day in Málaga began beautifully - warm and sunny. The night before my friend and I had made a list of sights we wanted to see and now we were headed off in the direction of the first one - la Alcazaba de Málaga.

We arrived at the fortress wall, climbed up, and were rewarded with a lovely view of the city. We were slightly disappointed at how small the wall itself seemed, but decided to be on our way to the next item on our list.

We found a path and walked down it, came to the end, and had to choose which way to turn. Unsure, we were about to pull out Google Maps when, suddenly, the soft, twangy sounds of a violin echoed from a tunnel on our right. We peered down the dark passageway but couldn't see anyone in the bright glare shining from the other end. We made eye contact with each other, shrugged our shoulders simultaneously, and turned right. If ever there was ever going to be a moment when the universe sent us a sign to guide us, a violinist playing sweet music at the end of a tunnel certainly felt like it was one of those moments.

And our violin-guide did not lead us astray. As we stepped into the blinding, warmth-enveloping light at the end of the tunnel, we involuntarily stopped in our tracks, eyes glued to the splendid scene before us. This was the fortress we had come to see. Behind us, the wall meandered through the hills endlessly. Before us, the sparkling Mediterranean sea was framed by a bustling waterfront lined with little boats, and lush gardens and palm trees filled in the edges. We hiked up the steep path along the fortress wall, planted ourselves on a stone ledge, and soaked in the beauty of it all.

 Several peaceful minutes later, we descended down the fortress and were about to decide where to go next when we heard an electric guitar playing a slow song around the corner from us. Laughing to ourselves, we obediently followed the music. It took us to a lively plaza and up on our right appeared the ruins of a Roman theatre nestled into the bottom of the fortress. We nearly giggled with excitement as we stepped onto the crumbling stone, took our seats on one of the ancient benches, and imagined ourselves sitting for a play (the people-watching from our spot was just as entertaining as any Roman piece of theatre).

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So, for the rest of the day, we committed ourselves to following the music. It guided us to the breathtakingly beautiful Cathedral, to a giant, multicolored cube, a gorgeous waterfront with salty sea air and an adorable Christmas market, a bench with the perfect view of a caricaturist hard at work, and a quaint gelato shop with the most divine red orange flavored gelato we had ever tasted and probably will ever taste again in our lives.

 We forgot all about our list of “must-sees” and not once did we again pull out our phones to ask them where to go. We let Málaga and its music guide us to its little wonders and it made for an absolutely perfect day.

Fun Can Always Be Free

Last weekend was a fun example of how you can do so many wonderful things in Madrid for free! 

We made a plato of delicious rice (ingredients had already been purchased, no money spent) and packed it in a tupperware for a picnic in Casa de Campo.  I figured it’d be fun to take the metro to a stop near the park that I’d never been to before and just see what we could find.  We got off and found tons of restaurants surrounding a (dried up) lake.  It looked beautiful.  We’ll definitely return when it’s warmer.

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Just a bit further in we found a lovely picnic spot atop a hill with views overlooking rows and rows of trees.  Casa de Campo is a magical mystery.  You never know what kind of landscape you’ll encounter, and you’re always bound to be pleasantly surprised.  We ate at a wooden picnic table while a family played soccer nearby.

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After eating, we wandered up and over hills and on dirt roads until we found space to play frisbee.  It was nice to get in some kind of physical activity in a wide open space in a city.  The field was beautifully lit just before sundown.  The sun cut through the trees yielding lines of light and lines of less light alternating on the ground.  How fulfilling it is to be amongst natural beauty!  (Insert appropriate Walt Whitman quote here).

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We exited Casa de Campo at a spot that would lead us to a special church in Madrid.  I had been there once before with a class during my semester here a few years ago.  Francisco de Goya--one of Spain’s most beloved and well-known painter--painted the frescoes that decorate the walls and ceiling of San Antonio de la Florida.  The imagery is dedicated to the story of a man who came back from the dead in order to clear the name of his father who had been wrongly accused of murdering him.  It’s a wild story with a wild depiction; Goya includes all sorts of madrileño social types (specifically, ones that San Antonio is supposed to represent) in the crowds witnessing the event, mixing the modern with the traditional (I’ll be giving a presentation on Goya this week, more on that to come…).  The main event of the story is situated around the inside of the dome at the top of the church.  The entire scene takes place behind a fence that circles around with the dome.

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One major part of the church is how the city has gone about conserving the artwork.  According to a plaque in the church, the building was bombed during the Spanish Civil War, and serious restoration was needed.  At some point, whoever was in charge of the church did not take care of the frescoes, and so more restoration was needed.  Now the pamphlet at the entrance to the church makes a point of noting that the frescoes are being taken care of, and stands with information in the corners of the church have photographs of what that entails (fixing up some cracks, not being able to fix up other cracks, etc.).  

I must say, one of the most fun parts of the visit was the statue of Goya across the street from the church.  Erected in the 1980s, it is in perfect condition, unlike so many other statues wanderers come across in historic places.  The dedication on the statue is legible and at eye-level.  Goya sits in a chair, brush and palette in hand.  It’s puzzlingly placed on a street with not much pedestrian-traffic, but I’m sure that statue is in tons of selfies (if the large tour bus next to it was any indication…).  Of course, I got my picture too!  

I went on a walk this past Monday in La Latina and was getting inspired by all the cool graffiti art on the streets. This is my favorite shot I got from the day. :)

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Auxiliares in Primary School: What I Know For Sure

What I know for sure

Helloooo fellow and soon-to-be auxiliares/teachers abroad,It's Kamala again! 

I’m am a HUGE advocate for learning from experience. Experience is one of life’s greatest educators. But, it never ever hurts to be given a “heads up”. If you’re having a tiny bit of anxiety as a 1st year auxiliar/English teacher/teaching abroad in general, dive into our blogs here. We’re experiencing it first-hand. I spent an hour or two a day reading blogs about living and teaching abroad--I wanted to know the good, the bad and the ugly. Here’s a dose of experience for you, straight from my heart and fondest/not-so-fond memories:

  1. Try to secure housing AT LEAST within 1 hour commute (Metro, etc.) from your school. Seriously, I know it’s only 16 hours a week, but as you may have seen in my post about my actual schedule--chances are you’ll actually be in school a full day 9am-2 or 4pm. Living in the center of Madrid sounds cool but if you’re not placed near it--you can also take a metro into the center! You have to be in school 4 days a week...do you want to be on a train for 16 hours plus a week!?!?

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  2. Communicate with your Director/a, Head of Studies and teachers. Up front, talk with them and make sure you’re clear about their expectations of you. What do you do if you’re sick or running late? In class, teachers are typically really excited if you have a cool game to learn English with the kids or love it when we create materials (board games, etc.) for their classroom. You should have a teacher or your coordinator on WhatsApp and a means to communicate after school or over the weekend if necessary! Also DO NOT PLAY HOOKY, honestly, we do have a LOT of days off. This will also ruin it for future auxiliares. When you're very sick, let them know and they'll understand--you may be required to bring in a doctor's note. Talk to your school! At my school, when we want to take a holiday (the term for vacation/day off) for travel or something else--it absolutely has to be important. For example, some of the British auxiliares requested two days off extra before the Christmas holiday because flights were significantly cheaper to go home and be with family. This is okay! Make sure you tell them in advance because you'll have to make up the hours.

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  3. The kids will NEVER be completely quiet so don’t stress about it! I teach in 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th grade. The kids are NEVER quiet. NEVER. Maybe for a couple minutes during an exam or video, but someone is always going to be talking, chatting with their neighbor, playing with their pencil cases--etc. They can’t sit still; the teachers typically yell at them in Spanish if it gets too crazy loud, but if a couple kids are talking here and there the teacher just continues talking over them if the majority of kids are paying attention.

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  4. Spanish kids hug and kiss you, and stare at you. In Madrid, it’s perfectly okay to hug and kiss the students back--to say nice things to them, to play with their hair and kiss their boo-boo’s (hygienically). You will see a lot of affection between the teachers and students--kissing on the forehead, the cheek, and warm and loving hugs. If it doesn’t melt your heart when a tiny human is super excited to see you and throws their arms around you, you may or may not be a robot or an unactivated sleeper soldier. About the staring--coming from the U.S., a lot of Spanish kids have watched American films, dance to American music and might even eat American products, but it’s rare that they’ve met an American before (besides other auxiliares). Back to hugging, believe it or not, tiny humans are powerful in groups--sometimes one student will hug you, then another...and next thing you know you're struggling to balance from the weight of 15 or more students!

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  5. Be flexible everyday. Bahaha, I know this is evilly vague--it’s because I want you to really READ this tiny paragraph. When you come into the school, you’re probably going to work with different teachers in different classes! We all know teachers come in every shape and size and personality. Some might be more prepared or more lax than others. Some days I’m asked to lead the entire lesson with no prep (for example: Social Sciences, they’re learning about first aid and penicillin.) This is fun for me--it means I have free reign to make students come up in front of class and play games! Acting ANYTHING out and being a really animated person is EASY to do on the fly.
  6. Theatre skills help so much! When learning English in primary school, they are learning things like: emotions, instruments, sea animals, animals, occupations, boy/girl etc. Once they pair the pictures to the vocab words, it’s SO EASY to use ALL of class time “Acting it Out!” Let’s say the students are learning about sea animals, you can call one student up to the room and have them act out the sea animal, have the class raise their hand to guess. Emotions too! I had a small group of 5 students (this is typical, I rotate 3-5 students in a group for intensive english) and I would dramatically act out being sad and they have to guess. Not only does this reinforce their learning, it is entertaining and they are so excited to act out as well. Drama is good in this case.

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  7. Make them RAISE THEIR HANDS!!! If you tell the class “Who can tell me what the weather is like outside?!” Everyone’s going to start yelling or “Me! Me! Me!-ing” at the same time. You MUST tell them to raise their hands as much as you can. EVEN in small groups of 2 children, I’ve learned this the hard way, trust me!

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  8. EVERYONE loves STICKERS! or “pegatinas!”. Be it 2nd grade to 6th grade, they LOVE and would KILL for stickers! Okay, not kill but severely injure! Stickers are super motivating for 2nd-4th grade especially. When I have them in groups of 2-8; I make fun theatre games or read them stories and ask them a question on each page. I turn EVERYTHING into a fun competition where they win points and depending on how many stickers I have, I will give the winner 3-6 stickers of her or his choice, and 2nd to 8th place will have one sticker less than the preceding. They are obsessed with the stickers I buy from “Accessorize!” They’re always excited to work with me whether they get stickers or not--and I haven’t noticed a sharp change in motivation--but it’s always fun to reward them with stickers. They’re certainly more eager to read aloud and try their very best to speak.
  9. DON'T USE YOUR PHONE IN CLASS. For one thing, this is sometimes considered rude, and most schools will ask that you're not on your phone. Another thing, students are SO distracted by your phone. Sometimes, I'll tell the teacher that I want to show them a video or play a game--this is okay. But if you're texting a friend, or your SO--this is a no-no.

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  10. You should hang out with your fellow teachers! Trust me, I'm sure one or two of them at least want to hang out with YOU! In my experience and in speaking with other auxiliares, most teachers are going to be your age or only a bit older. Either way, they probably know the best bars, best food and how to make the most of Madrid. Why not be friends with the people you work with in close proximity 4 times a week? Plus, you could improve your Castellano!
  11. No one really knows the term "auxiliar". You're called "profe" or "teacher" or your first name by all your students, and when asked by anyone you meet in Spain you say you're an English teacher or "Soy profesor/a de Inglés". If you say, "I'm an auxiliar" to anyone who's not an auxiliar, they probably won't know what you mean...  

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  12. This is one of the coolest "jobs" ever. You get to live abroad in Spain, in Europe! You have over THIRTY days OFF for Spanish holidays and school break where you're free to travel the world. (This is not including the fact that you have 3 day weekends!!! Plus you only work 16 hours a week!? YES, you're going to have those days or weeks when you're gonna wanna scream "I HATE KIDS!", you're students are acting up and can't be quiet for two seconds, and maybe they just plain don't want to learn English. Breathe! It's okay! :) You have this unique opportunity to escape your own cultural limits living in a completely different country and you can also share your culture with others. We can influence a positive sentiment towards the United States.  Being an auxiliar does not even feel like a job to me, more like a higher calling to prepare the next generation of bilingual leaders to raise stronger and healthier families.

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I’m dying to hear your thoughts and questions on what it takes to survive as an auxiliar!

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For more of my adventures, follow me on Instagram! @KamalaAlcantara

 

Time Is (Maybe) An Illusion

It’s a curious thing, time here in Spain - it seems to follow the speed of light while still lingering around the so-called ticking time clock that we all at least once in our lives watched with fury, waiting for something else to begin. My days at my Spanish high school are starting to become a routine as well as the names of people there (I wonder if it’s a coincidence that I can only remember those of the English-speaking teachers…). This grudgingly brings me to my struggle with reconciling my pre(or mis)conception that I had at least somewhat of a hold of the Spanish language and culture. In reality, I have found the lack of English to be the bane of my existence here as ironic as that seems being that I am an English teacher. Now, I know I am exaggerating, but I can say for certain that I understand what it’s like to feel different, even alone at times but still part of a larger community and family. And surprisingly I have found ease knowing I may never fully assimilate into this community even though it will always be there.

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Looking back on these past few weeks, I am able to focus on my two non-exclusive reasons for being here: (1) to teach english and leave a mark on this small town and (2) to explore the beautiful country of Spain and take advantage of my time off from Dartmouth. And thus my desire to travel led me to the heart of Madrid for a weekend where, for the first time not only was I able to hold multiple English conversations and get to know others teaching abroad with this program, but finally stepped into a big city that I could perhaps call home one day. Madrid has taught me the value of relationships, beauty in nature and architecture, and the liveliness of a cosmopolitan but yet tranquil city. Being with my host family in Ponferrada or Salamanca for a little getaway or spending an afternoon in León (the closest city to my little
pueblo), I am slowing beginning to realize the beauty of life in Spain. With that I can say I made the right choice (few of you know about my internal conflict of whether or not I should come here, but rest assured that I wouldn't have changed a thing).

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There are many things that defined life in the United States that I have always taken for granted (one being peanut butter) and hardships that come with living within a culture that’s not yours. Little things people do (or don’t do) help you better understand your own roots and open your mind to change. At Dartmouth I could never imagine spending an hour in a bar just sipping coffee and talking to people - there’s so much I could have done in that hour - but here I cherish it. And that’s where this whole time perception comes into play. It’s hard for many Americans to simply let go of time and live in the present rather than planning out every day to ensure top-notch productivity. Ask the average Dartmouth student. Taking hour-long paseos and stopping at a bar or cafe to tomar algo seems like a surrender to time but instead is more of a gift from the latter. And a gift I'm fortunate to accept. 

Yesterday at lunch with my Spanish family, they explained to me why people burn receipts. Actually burn receipts from places such as the grocery store. Because if these tiny pieces of paper fall in the wrong hands, things can get messy (i.e. your neighbor will find out you’ve been buying just too many bottles of whiskey and share the news of your newfound "alcoholism" to your other neighbors and family). Small town woes, as I’d like to think. This helped add more context to the strength of relationships and meaning of time here. It's interesting to live in a place where people know and care about everyone else, which is something I picked up very quickly at my school, to the point where personal shopping habits become a target of gossip. Instead of telling myself to make every moment count I find it better to tell myself instead to just breathe and watch what happens. Carpe Diem and cheers to more 6am adventures! 

Un abrazo,

Bethany

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