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53 posts categorized "*Spanish Culture"

Jamón Chips

We need to talk about jamón chips.  Jamón potato chips. Jamón-flavored potato chips.  They are heavenly. They are so weird, but you don’t even think about that because they are so delicious.  They are salty, but not too salty (while you’re eating them) to the point where you’re wondering why they’re so salty and what preservatives and flavoring methods have been used.  No. No, no, no. Ruffles jamón chips are deliciousness in a purplish-maroon bag.

Jamon bien
Image from https://www.pepsico.es/brands/information/products/ruffles/08410199008329

Everyone here eats them.  Well, maybe not everyone, but at least some people in every sociologically-determined group eats jamón chips.  My point is that they’re just not local fanfare for tourists. Everyone here knows jamón is a big deal. You can have it serrano-style, ibérico-style, York-style, the list goes on.  You can have it on sandwiches, in crepes, on eggs, on a box, on a fox, in a house, with green eggs and ham, I say! It’s one of the symbols of the city/country. Museo del Jamón is a temple for locals and tourists alike; cheap bocadillos of jamón (and other specialty meats) abound along with cañas of beer.  If you haven’t seen legs of jamón hanging from some type of surface, you may as well erase Madrid from your list of “Cities I’ve Visited.”  BUT, if you have tried a jamón chips, feel free to write that one back in.

Crunchy, crispy, jamón chips can be purchased in bags of all sizes.  For as little as 60-cents for a small “individual-sized” bag—do not be fooled, these are not sufficient for one person—and as much as probably no more than €1.50 for a “large” bag.  That large one may satisfy two people, but I’d buy another just to be prepared. And buy some more for your trip home! And some more for your family members anxiously awaiting souvenirs!  And then maybe some for your coworkers! And heck, why not a lifetime supply to always snack on!

I’ve never seen them in the U.S, and this concerns me.  I’m sure I will deeply miss jamón chips. They satisfy a savory craving unlike any other.  For now, I will focus on the fact that they are right at my fingertips (and then lingering on them until the ceremonial hand-washing occurs—this would ideally take place after the ceremonial hand-licking, and yes, your entire hand, because crumbs will accumulate all over as you reach in for these treasures).  

Just be sure to have a glass of water nearby when you decide to indulge.


For this week’s post I’m just going to briefly touch on something I’ve been thinking about for a while here:  the omnipresence of English. No, no, I don’t mean tourists or expats speaking in English. I mean the integration of the language into daily Spanish life.  Every week I pass yet another advertisement or sign of some sort that uses English.

What strikes me the most is the fact that the opposite does not seem to occur in New York.  In some neighborhoods it does. For example, in Washington Heights there are ads translated into Spanish because the predominant community there speaks Spanish.  One of my favorites is a New York Lottery ad at a bus stop that I cannot find a picture of, unfortunately.

But what’s different is that these ads exist in English and are translated to specifically target Spanish-speaking communities.  Here, neighborhood differences don’t seem to determine whether or not there’s an ad in English or with an English word. Check out how in this ad for an upcoming production of Young Frankenstein the whole thing is in Spanish except for that word “casting” thrown in there.  It’s located near the Royal Palace.





Or how in the window of this glasses shop they’re advertising “New Sun Collection” -- and this one’s not even close to the city-center.




This is one of my favorites.  It doesn’t really count because it’s the name of a store, but I have to share it.  Reader, meet Aristocrazy.




This use of English is the kind that has a match in the States.  One widespread use of Spanish in the U.S. is Rafael Nadal’s Nike/clothing line.  “Vamos, Rafa” is on hats, t-shirts, etc. But here, “Ready?” is at the bottom of advertisements for major internet-provider and phone network Vodafone.  These ads extend beyond the city of Madrid into the outer-cities of the province of Madrid. They are on billboards and bus stops.

So many English words have been adopted into Spanish, and this brings me to the next major area of English-incorporation:  speaking. Often you can hear native Spanish-speakers refer to “un show” or “un text” or “un email,” “un brunch,” etc.  Sometimes English words have been translated into a similar Spanish version.  “To troll” is trolear, “to Google” is googlear, but often one will hear English words as they are.

Moral of the story?  I’m not quite sure. The dominance of English sparks a lot of thought.  I’m fascinated when I witness two people from different European countries here communicating in English; it’s the go-to, default language.  It’s clear that I’m lucky to have it as my native tongue. Funny, though, how I wish I had experienced Spanish from a young age the way people here experience English.  

Granada: Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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


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


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


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


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. 


Instagram: @kamalaalcantara

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!


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


Making Lessons Fun

Take everything you know about school, and toss it out the window.

Spanish schools are a whole new ball game.

I went to Spain thinking that I would just be assisting with speaking. Little did I know that I would be creating entire lesson plans, and leading classes of 30 students. The teacher is in the class, but they have handed me the leadership role.

This is hard. And it was not what I expected at all. 

Many times, I have stood in front of the class not knowing what to do. I have learned to go with the flow. I have learned to improvise.

Silence has a different meaning in Spain than in USA. In Spain, silent means a low hum or chatter. I have had to change my perceptions. 

The most important thing to remember is to make it fun. 

Students don't want another day of class. They want to have fun. And when your students have fun, you are having fun. Because, suddenly, that student in the back of the class who is always quiet is suddenly participating. That is the rewarding part, and it makes you feel like you are making a difference. 

I have prepared worksheets, readings comprehensions, various powerpoints...

The most effective lessons involved a simple game of Go Fish, which works asking questions.

Other games that I have had success with are Heads Up (a phone app), Taboo, Jeopardy, word dominoes, and hangman. Students, from 1st eso to 2nd Bachillerato, love hangman!

Another difference with Spanish and American schools is Spanish students know how to compete, and they like to win. Even more than American students. Just picture a Spanish fútbol game and the energy, then put it in a classroom. Remember to keep students calm during all this fun...

So good luck teaching! Make it fun and you will enjoy the days more. It's a cliché, but seeing your students smiling and learning really is so satisfying.

9 Reasons You Should Drop Everything & Teach Abroad in Spain

9 Reasons

Hello dreamers, world travelers, future auxiliares and teachers abroad, 

If you opened this, maybe you want a change in your life, thinking about living abroad, maybe you're on the fence about moving to Spain to teach--or you've already made up your mind and want a sign or more affirmation! Here's your sign--go, DO IT! As a recap, I'm Kamala, I moved to Madrid, Spain in August 2017 with the CIEE Teach Abroad program. I'm 27 years old, dedicating most of my adult life to higher education, educating university students and then homebuyers as a mortgage banker. My fiancé and I were falling into a tiny existential crisis--we have so many skills and degrees between each other and so much ambition. We knew we wanted to make a positive impact on the world...but first we wanted to know the world---we dreamed of traveling the world first! But, we didn't know how and didn't have much money saved at all. SO, we found a legit program that also married what we loved: education, the opportunity to make a positive impact abroad, the chance to learn and grow, and we could travel! Which brings me to my very first reason:

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Adobo Stock Photo, Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain
  1. You can travel Europe and to the gate of Africa CHEAP! By cheap what I mean is freakin' cheeeeap flights to another European or African country as low as 20€ ($25.00) ROUNDTRIP! You can stay in hostels for as low as 15€ a night (maybe lower), we stayed in a hotel even for 50€/ night in Paris (YES, Paris!!!). I even found a flight to the Philippines for 400€ (easily a $1200 flight in the U.S.). 


2. As an auxiliar you only work 16 hours PER WEEK 4 days per week, I repeat: SIXTEEN hours per week & 3 day weekends! If you're already a working professional, you know that we work an average 40-60 hours a week easily in the U.S. and we STILL make time to have fun and have a social life, take selfies and "adult". IMAGINE, 16 hours a week of work,  you could find yourself, travel to over 20+ new cities and countries, make sooo many friends, actually go to the gym, sleep for 8+ hours, nap AND anything else your heart desires. We're paid 1000€ per month, that's plenty to live on--but I do suggest saving money before coming (at least $3000).


3. Food & Drugs--Legal Drugs ;) -- are so affordable! During the weekdays, a lot of restaurants in Madrid have a "Menu del Dia" this is basically a hearty 3 course meal (including wine, beer or soft drink) for only 10-15€! In Spain, LUNCH is the biggest meal of the day! You'll find so many deals everywhere you go! With over 6,000 restaurants, you're bound to never run out of delicious affordable meals. Pharmacists in Spain have the amazing superpower to grant you drugs that normally need a prescription in the U.S.! In the U.S., when something minor ails us (headache, cold, 1st day fever) we usually go to Urgent Care or maybe even a hospital or primary care physician. Here in Spain, you can walk into a 12 or 24 hr pharmacy anywhere and tell the pharmacist your symptoms and right there and then they hand you medicines to alleviate your symptoms--even prescribing multivitamins and the like. For example, WITH INSURANCE, one of my prescriptions in the U.S. costed me $180 per month. Here it is $49/month. Ibuprofen is around $2.00. Antibiotics, cold medicines, and other medicines cost under $10 as well.

4. You can finally become fluent in Spanish! So many Spanish people in Madrid want to learn English, and meet up to have a language exchange. You'll also be surrounded by the beautiful sounds of European Spanish (Castellano) every single day. If you're already fluent, you can learn French or German or another language, you have 152 hours in your week you can basically do anything! When I first came to Madrid in August, I didn't even know how to order at a restaurant, have a regular conversation outside of small talk or even understand Spanish spoken to me. Now I can eavesdrop on the metro (just kidding), have intimate deep conversations, navigate different shopping situations in Spanish and converse with anyone I meet! I'm still learning everyday. If you want more tips on becoming fluent in Spanish, check out my blog about it!

5. It's a humungous Resume booster! Top employers in the U.S. are looking for leaders, self-starters and people with excellent communication skills. When you live abroad, you are faced with so many challenges and opportunities that will force you out of your comfort zone and beyond your limits. Living abroad changes you, it betters you and equips you with skills you can't possibly obtain living in the same country your entire life. You have to learn to navigate a completely different world and work with people with different cultural practices and beliefs. You might even add Spanish to your resume! If you're coming straight out of college, this would look impressive to a future boss or hiring team. Living abroad, away from family, far from friends--you learn to be independent, increase your own confidence and if you travel even further while living abroad, the possibilities for tremendous positive growth and enlightenment are that much closer. 



6. The Spanish lifestyle is so different, lively and exciting! Most Spanish people do not start work until 9am, they don't eat lunch until 2pm and dinner is at 9pm or later. When you walk the center of Madrid, on a Tuesday around 11pm-1am, you'll notice hundreds of people out having dinner on the many many restaurant patios, laughing and talking very very late into the night. Clubs do NOT close until 6AM. SIX in the MORNING. Most Spanish people don't start to go out until 2am. If you're a party-goer or clubber you know that in the US, most clubs will close between 1:30-4:00am and the party doesn't start til 12am. Some clubs in Spain don't even open until 6am so you can keep the party going all night!!!! I know I didn't believe it at first but it's true.  Some clubs have live shows included in their entrance fees, and almost always come with a free drink or two. You'll find that ladies get in free before 1:30am at a lot of hot clubs too!

7. You could become a world-traveler. Besides being severely cheap to travel between European countries, EVERYTHING is super close to Madrid. You could fly to Portugal, Africa and several luxurious island/beach paradises in 1 hour; Paris and Rome in 2 hours, and Hungary in 3 hours. Before moving to Spain, in nearly the three decades I've lived on this Earth, I had only been to two other countries outside of the U.S.: Mexico (Rocky Point, of course--I'm from Phoenix, AZ!) and the Philippines (my mom's home country, and my 2nd home country). After living in Madrid for only 5 months I have been to over 5 more countries and I have planned travel to over 10 more countries in the next 3 months alone.



8. You will make a positive difference in so many young lives. As an English language and cultural assistant (auxiliar), you have the unique opportunity as a native English speaker to impart Spanish children ages 3-18 with a required skill to obtain high-paying jobs. In Spain, many jobs require Spanish citizens to pass an English test (it's literally similar to the GRE and is tricky for me--as a native English speaker). Check out my blog on what a day in a Spanish school as an auxiliar looks like! Come teach abroad!

9. Build valuable connections and incredible new friendships (or love?) In Madrid, there are so many opportunities to meet and connect with people from across the globe, or someone like you who just wants to live life to the fullest and see the world. It takes a certain kind of person to travel to a new land and experience diversity on purpose! You're going to expose yourself to new people and sometimes that means a new friendship or even romance. I've seen it and experienced it first hand. Traveling here WITH the love of my life has strengthened our bond like never before. I've made wonderful new friends that have become like family. I've even deepened connections with friends back home. When you move away from home, you know in your heart who your true friends are--they are the ones who are still right there with you even though thousands of miles separate you. You have to see for yourself. JUST GO!




To see more of my adventures or if you have any questions or comments, follow me on Instagram! @KamalaAlcantara



Running to 2018 with Madrid's San Silvestre Vallecana 10K!

Hello wonderful CIEE auxiliares and soon-to-be auxiliares/world travelers! Happy New Year and welcome 2018!!


Today I'm going to share with you two time-honored traditions that are celebrated on New Year's here in Madrid, Spain. 

  • The San Silvestre Vallecana 10K Run
  • Eating 12 grapes with the strokes of midnight! 


The San Silvestre Vallecana 10K Run

I'm a pretty seasoned runner; I've participated in over twenty 5K runs, 10 event runs (like the Color Run or Wipeout Run), now five 10K runs, three 15K runs and 2 half-marathons. I am ADDICTED to post-run endorphins, the race expos, collecting medals and keeping a strong physique and positive mentality. Though I have a hate/love relationship with weekly running and race training, running frees me and makes me feel good.

Over 40,000 people from across the globe run the San Silvestre Vallecana Run. It was only 20 euros to sign up (SUPER CHEAP compared to runs in the U.S. where I'm used to paying $50-150.00). They make you a run video, give you a sick Nike dri-fit long sleeve shirt (perfect for running and ALSO has your number already on it), and other goodies!


The race itself is PHENOMENAL and worth every single euro. It's super hyped up with LIVE bands at EACH kilometer. You run through the most beautifully festive streets adorned with bright colorful Christmas lights. There are plenty of Instagrammable and photogenic stops along the way--and runners DO stop to take pictures and video. (I saw someone running with a selfie stick!) There are HUGE decorations and ballon arches that encourage you to keep going, thousands of people cheer you on and kids line up alongside the course to give spirit-lifting high-fives. Runners DRESS UP and run in TEAMS. (For example, sharks, a taco, the Flinstones, the Incredibles, Marvel and DC superheroes, Sesame street, Gladiators, Matadors and so much more. It's just a wonderful spectacular event for anyone willing and able. It's a run you should not miss!!

Click here for some cool video!

Depending on your pace, (mine was >60) there are 4 waves--my wave was the last and we start at 18:15 or 6:15pm. The race finishes latest around 9pm for the slower runners...but typically you're done in 60-90 mins and can just go home after returning the race chip and receiving a post-race goodie bag!! 

Getting home was not too bad, the race ends 10 mins walk from a metro and even with all the runners, we got home in about 50 mins (normally 35 mins). Enough time to shower and head out for the festivities!!


MY fiancé and I wearing the shirts and cool scarf they gave us to wear!


12 Grapes on Nochevieja

This tradition is quite unique! Spaniards have been ingesting 12 grapes at the stroke of the new year for over 100 years! The belief is that if you can eat all 12 grapes in time with the 12 strokes of midnight you will have 12 months of good luck! This superstition runs deep and supermarkets now sell 12 grapes ready to eat with NO seeds to avoid choking! Below you'll see a picture of what I bought and successfully ingested for only 1,95€! 


Thousands of people usually go to Puerta del Sol where they have a live countdown and fireworks at midnight. The millions of others will go to fancy clubs, bars or stay home and watch the countdown on TV with their 12 grapes (this is what we did!)


However you celebrated, I hope it was fun and I wish you a very wonderful 2018 filled with adventure, delicious food and endless happiness!




Follow me on Instagram for more! @KamalaAlcantara 








The Truth about Host Families


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.


My host family and I watching the Christmas parade

An authentic look into the culture:
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. 



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. 


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