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19 posts categorized "Samantha Becci"

The Perks of a Spanish Halloween

While terrifying, Halloween in Spain has one specific major perk: it is a vacation day (at least this year it is)! Tomorrow is November 1, or All Saints' Day, which is a holiday in Spain. #CatholicHolidaysforthewin 

Because of this well timed holiday, I got to visit one of my favorite people over the weekend. She lives in London, and we spent the weekend traversing the city, seeing the British Museum's exhibit about the sunken cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus (Canopic jars, anyone?), a fabulous show at the Lyric Theatre (Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and F--ing), and the Tate Britain (where they claimed Benjamin West as a British painter and didn't reference his American heritage...But it's okay because the museum is fabulous).

Sometimes traveling is the worst, though, because it makes you want to be in too many places to count. How am I going to be able to survive the return back to the States at the end of this year when it means I can't travel around Europe via €20 flights?

 

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/16103120/03e0a1e1-bfa7-4836-8815-cb7fe9c0a68d.png
Walking along the Thames at night
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Hey Buckingham Palace

 

A Halloween for the Brave

When you’re more afraid of an eight-year-old in a costume than of the real thing the costume represents, you know you’re in Spain. A Spanish Halloween is not for the faint of heart. There are no cute five-year-old lions or cats or princesses or Raggedy Anns. No, every child dresses up as a demon, zombie, murderer, anything blood-covered or dead, or a witch. Our school celebrated Halloween on Friday, and I think I saw one princess in the infantil section (5yrs).

You know those fake guns that look like real guns that are illegal in the City of New York and several other U.S. cities? Well, one teacher had to collect 5 of them from her 6th grade class. And they actually shot projectiles. They were basically less painful airsoft guns. And these are at school.

We are not in the United States anymore.

This really hit home while I was on a field trip to Toledo on Thursday.

There was no counting. I’m pretty sure the universal U.S. school field trip policy is to count children every 15-20 minutes. On my first Spanish field trip, we absolutely never counted to make sure we had all the children! There were motorcycles and cars zooming around, and the kids (and teachers!) were unfazed by the automobiles’ proximity to small children. I, reverting to my American ways, was freaking out every time the cars had to drive up next to the children.

But, as with any sort of cultural immersion, “when in Spain…,” so I dropped the worrying really quick and followed the other teachers’ lead. No children were lost, and the trip was a major success (even if we did get back to school a bit late).

That doesn’t mean I agree with the no counting, though…

 

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The other auxiliars and I (who were at school on Friday)

 

Assorted other photos from Friday:

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Row Four Is in the Middle of Twenty

Yesterday I went to an art talk, and other than thinking for a hot sec that the speaker said that Max Beckmann and Hitler were friends, it was a pretty successful outing.

To clarify, Beckmann and Hitler were not friends; Hitler essentially was the reason Beckmann moved away from Germany.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I had purchased these tickets (€25 for students, €100 for adults: moral of the story, never get rid of your student ID, even after you graduate) for a series of four talks held weekly at the Thyssen-Bornemisza (What can I say? I like art) on artists Magritte, Rauschenberg, Beckmann, and Titian.

I show up, terrified as usual about having to ask directions in Spanish (it’s very hit or miss for me, sometimes they respond at a reasonable pace, other times they talk like my question is the only thing keeping them from the new episode of Game of Thrones), but they understand and describe how to get to the table where I can check in.

Here’s where the entire event gets fishy. My ticket is in iBooks on my phone (I thought it was weird, too, but this happens frequently with my Spanish tickets purchased online) and it says “Fila: 4, Butaca: 5” (as far as I know, “Row: 4, Seat: 5”). Okay. Well the usher is talking to me and I’m showing him my ticket, which is great until he gets me to my seat and it’s IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AUDIENCE. In the middle of an audience that does not have eight rows. As in there is 100% no way this is row four unless Spaniards really don’t like the traditional numerical order. So of course I sit in seat 5 of this row anyway and just worry for the next 20 minutes (I was five minutes early, but this is Spain, people were wandering in until about a half hour had passed) that someone was going to come and get mad at me in Spanish about stealing a seat.

Luckily no one did. Though I was not four rows from the back or four rows from the front, I was in seat 5, so I at least halfway followed my ticket’s orders. And though stressed I was going to get in trouble in Spanish and only be able to respond with classroom taught “con permiso” or “perdón,” the talk was one of the best events I have been to in Spain so far.

I am a newfound fan of Max Beckmann (I was only vaguely familiar with his work before this). He has a way of describing his and others’ works that is brutal and insightful. Plus, his painting of the sinking of Titanic is gripping and demands the viewer’s attention. To look at it is to see anonymous faces of anguish, much like the people in the lifeboats probably saw as they sailed away from the wreck.

Wifi & PSL’s, Or How I Met My School

Like the naïve little first year auxiliar that I am, I decided to pay my school a visit, learn my way around its grounds, and figure out my commute prior to the first day of classes. Whoops.

Flashback to yesterday: after not receiving any email/response from the school I'm supposed to be working at starting Monday, innocent, unknowing little me comes up with the brilliant idea to visit and learn the lay of the land in person.

(I maybe didn’t *entirely* come up with this idea on my own considering the carta de nombramiento we received from the Community of Madrid describing our placement and pay explicitly says we should go before the first day of classes)

Anyway, there I am in the Boadilla Centro metro ligero station—which, the metro ligero is AMAZING, free wifi for days, super fast—at 10 till 9am, and I look at my phone with maps pulled up so I can follow my teeny tiny dot toward my school. Well, I get "there." Except "there" is this huge, gated compound-looking situation. With possibly eight (8!) gate-doors. So of course, the logical course of action is for me to stand petrified and look at one specific gate labeled Secretaria (secretary) for 45 minutes debating the best course of action. There was a fancy buzzer/video combo just waiting for me to pluck up an ounce of courage.

Luckily, no one made me say anything when I finally pressed the button, considering the phrases I had prepared—por favor “please,” ayúdeme “help me,” disculpe “excuse me/beg your pardon”—this is a very good thing. No, they thankfully just buzzed me in silently.

So I enter this compound situation that doubles as a school (it’s actually extremely nice and cute and had those pleasant triangle roofs shading the patio outside the entrance that you see all over elementary schools in my county in Middle Tennessee; it just had the misfortune of having six different buildings that all look the same and are surrounded by a very serious wall). Of course there are no signs anywhere pointing to the main office, so I wander around a sort of quadrangle in the center of all these buildings, deciding that my best bet was to pick the one building without art projects on the walls and signs like 1º, 2º, 3º (which were abbreviations for grade levels).

Finally I get to the main office, where the secretary is super friendly, kind, and excited to see me. She takes me to the principal, who is in a meeting, so she lets me wait in the staff room. After a few minutes, I meet the principal, who spoke no English, and a secondary school bilingual teacher (I believe he was from the UK, he had an English accent). Then she introduces me to another English teacher in the school (unclear if she was secondary or primary). For the next twenty minutes she passes me off to English teacher after English teacher while she finished getting a card signed (the whole scenario is very funny from an American perspective--if I had shown up at my childhood elementary school unannounced, the principal would have been buzzed, I would have been told to wait quietly in the office and handed a yearbook or PTO manual or something).  Eventually, the headmaster asks me for the documents that allow me to work with children in Spain, and then she proceeds to take me to meet the primary school bilingual coordinator.

The primary school coordinator was in the middle of teaching a class. So the principal interrupts and drops me off with the coordinator in front of 20 third graders, who were very adorable and kept waving (kids are the best). The coordinator explains what they’re working on, then asks me to write a quick presentation and give it to the class. So here I am, expecting to just find my school and drop off my papers with the secretary, maybe get a schedule, and instead I am all of the sudden in front of a class telling them about myself.

Mostly I’m just a little salty that I didn’t bring my computer with my slideshow and my little pillow of Washington, D.C. that I was going to use as a teaching aid for my introduction. It’s very adorable; on it are doodles of the Potomac and the Capitol and the Mall and Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Memorials.

 

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I mean, look how fun this photo in my slideshow of the blizzard from this winter is! Kids love snow! This would have been a hit, I know it.

Overall, it was an incredibly exciting and fun day, but boy, did I feel like I was thrown into the deep end for a moment.

But, like all scary or anxiety-inducing experiences, it was nothing a Pumpkin Spice Latte and some free wifi couldn’t fix while I waited to meet up with friends.

Guest Blogger: Other Perspectives on International House Hunting

As my experience house hunting was a bit dismal, I asked around to get some other ideas of how to be happily housed in Spain. Kasey kindly shared her experience, which totally contrasts mine! She lives outside city centre and with a very lovely host family. Here are her thoughts

So you want to find a place to live in Spain?

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While everyone else is searching frantically for a tiny piso and struggling to even get a response from the landlord, why not consider the alternative and live with a host family?

Though my original plan was to find a piso like everyone else, I found my host family through a former participant of the CIEE Teach in Spain program.  I emailed her over the summer to ask what the program was like and what I could expect while teaching. After a couple emails, she told me she knew of a family living near my school in Villanueva de la Cañada that was looking for someone who speaks English to live with them.  I got in contact with the family, and after finding out what was included in the rent, I couldn’t help but agree to live with them!  Here’s why I chose to do it:

The Pros:

+ I always have people around, so there’s no chance of feeling lonely.

+ I get authentic opportunities to practice my Spanish (and boy, do I need it!).

+ I live within walking distance to my school, so no long commute squished between strangers every day.

+ I get home-cooked meals daily, and they are freakin’ delicious.

+ My host family gives me helpful advice about various things (what bank should I sign up for, how do I use the bus system, where I should travel, etc.)

+ My room is spacious and I didn’t have to worry about buying furniture or setting up Wi-Fi.

+ My mom wasn’t freaking out back in the U.S. because I actually had a place to stay and wasn’t homeless.

The only complaint I have at the moment is that it takes an hour by bus to get to Madrid, and since the buses only run until a certain time each day, I have to plan my trips into the city very carefully.  But compared to all the benefits of living with a family, that is something I can deal with!

So if you’ve given up on every finding a piso, consider doing a homestay!  Talk to people at your school, other people in the program who are doing it, or check out some of the websites recommended by CIEE.  I’m very happy living with my host family, and you could be too!  (Well, not mine.  Get your own :P.)

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Real Life House Hunters International: Not So Fun

Funnily enough, I had no idea how hard it was to find a home in a new city, where I barely spoke the language, and in which I didn't know anyone. Well, let  me just say, it's truly awful (partially because calling in a foreign language, at least for me, is terrifying). Luckily, this city is beautiful and amazing, so you can grab a glass of wine and sit outside with friends having the same issues and laugh about the chaos. Future auxiliars: come early! Or come late and use the extra money to go to an agency because by the third week of September, things were being snatched up quickly. And housing goes FAST in Spain. 

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Average Timeline:

Ad gets put up

Call/Whatsapp/Email the landlord the same day

WhatsApp/Facebook Message from said landlord (usually that same day) saying that you can come by at x time tomorrow to look at the room available in the "piso," or flat (if you're their first of the day, that'd be around 10/11am). 

See piso and, if you like it, pay "fianza" (deposit) and first month's rent and get the key, then and there

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The issues most of us auxiliars have been having is with getting a response from a landlord. In addition, often landlords will forget or just simply not care enough to take their listings off idealista or whichever platform they are using.

As crazy as the piso hunt has been, it could have been so much worse! When I was super desperate, I went to CityLife Madrid and sent in a housing request, and they sent out my profile to several agencies/websites. I ended up using Spotahome, which I had known a friend to use and be very happy with. I've heard mixed reviews, though I had a good experience, and I think it may be a result of people booking non-verified ads. Don't book an unverified place! There are so many options that are verified, and if you are desperate for a location or specific place, go to an agency in Madrid (NOT olisson or the TLS company). For anyone else experiencing the housing struggle, you will find a home, you will get settled, and it will be worth it :) 

Preparing for Spain! (Part 3): Language Struggles

I still have yet to figure out how U.S. schools' Spanish curriculums determine the “useful” vocabulary to teach its students (How is it that I can say yellow ochre and pollution in Spanish, but not vacuum or any of the ordinal numbers past 10?), but hopefully any dearth in my vocabulary will be resolved by the incomparable DUOLINGO!

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of playing on duolingo, it is an amazing, free resource for reviewing and learning languages. It definitely works better as a review-type tool, but if you ever just have the craving to learn a little bit of a new language, it works swell for that as well (I can say “I’m a woman” in Irish now). As my arrival in Madrid gets closer and closer, I will be spending all of my free moments reviewing on duolingo (or playing with these two distractions <3 )

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Preparing for Spain! (Part 2): Packing…

Being the avid Google-fan that I am, I have researched all variety of superfluous (but still exciting and potentially useful!) packing and European travel safety websites (what I wouldn’t give to have a perfect accent, speak impeccable Spanish, and be mistaken for a native).

That research has boiled down into a list of killer packing websites and my list of important documents to take with me! Without further ado, my document list and packing/safety links:

VISA DOCUMENTS AND OTHER IMPORTANT PAPERS

  • Documents:
    • Passport w/ Visa
    • Copies of: Passport ID pages and Visa page
    • Madrid Letter of Appointment (3 copies)
    • CIEE letter (3 copies)
    • Notarized Background Check (1-2 copies)
    • Proof of Health Insurance from iNext profile w/ account number (KNOW THE POLICY NUMBER)
    • Copy of Boarding Pass and Ticket confirmation
    • Detailed arrival document
    • Extra passport photos (4-6)
  • EMERGENCY DOCS:
    • Extra copy of passport
    • Copies of Credit/Debit cards (w/ int’l service numbers)
    • Copies of Birth Certificate and Driver’s License
    • All CIEE emergency numbers, contact info, and addresses
    • Emergency Passport Kit:
      • Passport photos (3 identical)
      • Passport ID pages
      • Another form of US govt ID
      • Proof of US citizenship (social security card or birth certificate)
      • Airline ticket, booking confirmation or itinerary
      • Police report if possible
      • In person passport application fee of $100 payable in US dollars or currency of the current destination or US dollar bank draft
      • Passport application form (available at US Embassy)

Packing Lists (for travel in Europe):

http://www.thecollegetourist.com/study-abroad-packing-tips-what-to-pack-or-not/

http://oakland.abroadoffice.net/res/saoffice_static_pages/2068/updated%20Study%20Abroad%20Packing%20List.pdf

http://usac.unr.edu/travel/packing/pack-half-full

https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/packing-light/ricks-packing-list and https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/packing-light/packing-list-women

Safety Tips and Tricks for avoiding pickpockets/petty crime:

http://www.thelocal.es/20160601/10-tips-pickpockets-lost-passport-barcelona-madrid-spain

http://grrrltraveler.com/trip-planning/ways-to-outsmart-pickpockets-and-thieves/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-hhVQOTkEk

http://www.venere.com/blog/avoiding-pickpockets-madrid/

http://laurenonlocation.com/7-madrid-pickpockets/

Preparing for Spain! (Part 1)

“The friend of my enemy is my enemy.”

(You know, just putting a twist on an ancient proverb to justify giving an ungrateful football player gum that paints his mouth horrid colors*)

Tangent: just look at my cute cousin who was at dinner with us while we were talking about this.

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Anyway, while looking up this gum online (see link below), I had a spasm of nerves about leaving for Spain in a few weeks. To be fair, basically every time I go on Amazon I have heart palpitations. I’ve lived abroad before (shout out to Trinity College Dublin and my 25’ long Ethernet cable), and Amazon is not the same in Europe. Not the same at all!**

So of course I decided the best way to prepare/calm my nerves was to start looking up the stores I used in Dublin (and poking around blogs from expats and people living in Spain) so that I could return to the life of buying in person (R.I.P. 48- and 60-pack toilet paper delivered to my doorstep).

And I found places! So I know that I can survive this year! …Not that it was ever really a question because Madrid is a major metropolitan place, but nerves will be nerves. Without further ado, and hoping this list will be useful to people, a list of useful department/convenience stores/supermarkets:

El Corte Ingles (no personal experience, but the bloggers swear by this dept. store)

IKEA

Tiger (It’s literally an adult junk store. But practical. It was the cheapest in Dublin—think €1-5 price range—and was just amazing)

Carrefour (I went to one in Strasbourg, France, once, and it was mostly food)

Aldi

Lidl (!!!) (In Dublin, it was the cheapest food store.)

Costco

Taste of America (This place apparently has Poptarts, Reeses, and peanut butter. Yes Please.)

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Here’s a handy blog with links to major retailers’ websites: http://www.expatbriefing.com/country/spain/living/shopping-for-expats-in-spain.php

And another: http://www.easyexpat.com/en/guides/spain/madrid/practical/shopping.htm

 

I'll be on the lookout for better food and/or home goods stores when I finally arrive in Madrid (T-3 weeks!), so let me know if there are places I've missed!

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*For real though, these gumballs are insane (or they used to be, I saw them in action once, back when they were still “TongueSplashers”). I’m just going to leave this link here in case anyone has some naughty kids on their Xmas list this year: http://www.candywarehouse.com/candy-type/gum/bubblegum/products/painterz-mouth-coloring-bubble-gum-240-piece-tub/.

** Okay so Amazon is basically the same, but Amazon Prime is not (i.e. Amazon Prime in Europe is like a small, sad weed shadow—when it even exists—to the glorious Redwood that is Prime in the U.S.). But then I remember €1,50 bottles of wine being sold past 10pm, and I don’t care anymore.

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