As soon as I returned to school after the puente holiday, I began helping the art teacher to set up the nativity whenever my other teachers could spare me. The nativity scene (or belén) that my school set up was tied to India, the country that classes were paying special attention to this year. Every age of student created artwork for the belén: the young ones (infants age 3 & 4) painted stars and wrapped string around them to hang in the air above the scene, the next age level created snakes, the second and third graders painted elephants, the older students created houses and people figures out of cardboard and chess pieces.
Part of the goal of the project was to teach the children about the beautiful traditions and culture of India as well to bring awareness to the difficulties facing a country that is relatively newly-independent. As with any project, sometimes execution was a bit wonky (let's just say there was a video clip made in which the sixth graders said, "Our project this year is set in India. In India there is a lot of poverty. Merry Christmas!"), but I do think the children learned a lot about Indian history and gained a lifelong interest in another country's culture and way of life. The kids loved reading stories about Divali (the Hindu Festival of Lights) around Halloween, which was extremely fun for me.
One of the most exciting parts about the Christmas celebration at my school (It still feels strange to me from an American perspective to have holidays that are so tied to the Catholic Church; when I mentioned Chanukah, I had to explain the holiday to all of my students because they had never heard of it), though, is that the children all learn songs to perform in front of their parents. I work primarily with third grade and fourth grade (though I have classes with every other grade except first grade), so I learned their songs with them. They perform two English songs and a Spanish song, and third and fourth grade's songs were "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," and "La luz que nace en ti" ("The Light that shines from you"--literally it would be "the light that's born in you," but from what I understand of the song, I think the literal translation makes it sound like it is referring to the light that you shine with/your individuality and loses the point that the light is shining out of you, connecting you to all who see your light). They all had adorable dance moves to help remember the words to the songs; my kids would all "hop" on the line "at the Christmas party-hop" in "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."
The children had so much fun, and the songs and belén were incredible. Seriously, the art teacher and religion teacher are so creative; no wonder there are so many Spanish master painters and artists.
Now all that's left to say is ¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!
I don't consider this my New Years resolution list, because I have particular things on that list that I will be sharing for another time.
Since living in Spain, I picked up on a few cultural trends in the lifestyle and fashion department. I'm turning this into a check list of things I want to add to my life in the new year- again, these are not my resolutions.
1. Number one is going to be rollerblading. Rollerblading was my childhood. I would say I used to rollerblade with my next door neighbor the way some kids used to ride their bike. This was before the iPhone of course. Everybody rollerblades in Spain. Three kids I tutor: Jimena, Javier, and Gadea, rollerblade every Monday and Wednesday evenings in Retiro Park. Once, while walking out of The Good Burger (McDonalds on steroids) at around eleven o' clock at night, a couple was rollerblading by, holding hands and wearing light-up jewelry.
I don't think about my rollerblading years too often, but Spain is sparking that part of my brain into action again.
2. Number two is dark lipstick. The kind of dark lipstick that Kylie Jenner is obsessed with. Dark purple, almost brown. Dark blue, almost black. Nobody wears pink lipstick. 'No pink lipstick' kills me. Anybody who knows me would say I was born with bubblegum pink lips. Pink lips are my thing. I've decided if picking a new lip color is what's required to fit in with the local chicas, then I choose a dark plum purple. I'll photograph my final selection.
3. The white sneakers. This could have been a trend in America as well, I've heard rumors about it. But everyone knows I was in Africa last year, so give me a little break- the trends still new to me. There isn't much to say about this other then, you must own a pair of white sneakers. Preferably Adidas, Puma, or Nike. If you wear New Balance, the Spaniards prefer those to be in color. It's about the only thing they would ever be caught dead wearing in a color other than black, dark purple, gray, or brown.
4. The difference between platform shoes in America and platform shoes in Spain is that people in America just like to say they wear platforms, when in reality it's really only about a half inch subtle heel. Platform shoes in Spain are worn by everyone. Older women, high schoolers, strippers, young adults- everyone is wearing platforms. The platforms look like you just sawed off a block of wood from shop class and superglued it to the bottom of your boot and painted it black. Not going to lie, I love it, I want it, I need it.
5. Last I have pom poms. If you don't know what I'm talking about, the pom pom looks like a ball of fluff pinned to your back pack or purse like a key chain. A ball of fake fur, in other words. Or maybe real fur...
It's cool. It screams posh if worn with the proper outfit. I'm determined to add one of these to my collection of accessories as soon as I get my next pay check.
I'm not in touch with American fashion as much as I used to anymore. It's sad but I also enjoy the slow evolution of what my wardrobe is turning into. It's a different life out here and sometimes writing these words isn't enough to capture the way I feel.
Live Large and Sparkle.
The holiday season is a magical time for all who celebrate Christmas, and even those who don't . This is no exception in Spain and its classrooms.
I came to realize pretty early on that Spain and its education system is not secular. Religion classes are offered in public schools, and while parents can opt their children out of taking such classes, the idea of religion (really, Christianity) being taught in grade school was new to me. Spain's lack of secularism became particularly apparent during the month of December. Streets were lined with Christmas lights and Christmas trees popped up in every major plaza; although, this is quite normal for major cities, regardless of which country they're in. The schools participated in a furthering degree of the Christmas spirit.
Again, the schools were decked out with the regular Christmas decor: ornaments, garland, snowflakes, and other seasonal decorations. However, it was unique and a little surprising for me to notice all the nativity scenes throughout the school. From students' handmade shoe box versions to the official one constructed by elderly members of the town, this religious decor moved away from the commercialized decorations typically seen in schools. During the final days before break, each class went to see the town's handmade nativity scene. This year's was the scene of Bethlehem, and it was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. Every single item in the building, including the building itself, was handmade over the previous year (each year's is different from the year prior). You can check this year's and all the previous ones here: http://asociacionbelenistacamarma.blogspot.com.es/
(I apologize for the poor picture quality, these were taken via Snapchat on my iPhone 5S)
Other holiday school festivities included a Christmas card competition across 6th grade, a school wide Christmas performance (for which students practiced their songs and dances for many hours), the reading of Christmas stories in the decked-out library, and writing letters to pen pals in Poland about their Christmas traditions. While this isn't intended to critique the Spanish way of celebrating the holiday season (I acknowledge that many public schools across the U.S. also participate in Christmas-themed traditions despite the fact that they're public schools), I found it interesting just how intense and religious Christmas celebrations are in public schools without, what it seemed like, consideration that not all students may participate in this holiday. (Note: Yes, Spain is a predominantly Catholic country, but there are many Muslim people living there, hailing from Northern Africa, Turkey, and the Middle East, and I'm sure, other religions, too.)
When I was nine, a Disney Channel Original Movie was released that changed my world, The Cheetah Girls, starring Raven Symone, Adrienne Bailon, Sabrina Bryan, and Kiely Williams. Disney went on to produce a sequel, The Cheetah Girls 2.
YouTube can't seem to produce a good quality trailer. Here's the best its got:
The Cheetah Girls 2 is the story of four girlfriends who travel to Barcelona to become *~*SUPERSTARS~ !! I wanted to be just like them. I still do. In fact, four years ago I bought a cheetah print bodycon dress due to the mass amounts of cheetah girl soul that still burns within me.
My mother, father, and grandparents came to Madrid for a visit. We had no big plans except for eating, drinking, shopping, and more drinking. I could live peacefully if I never ate a croquette again in my lifetime. Aside from this list, we had one other major task on our "to do" list. Can you guess?
We woke up at five in the morning to catch the six am speed train heading straight for that cheetah-licious destination. Our boy, Nicolas, showed us around the city. I liked him. He was young, but graying slightly. He had an earring that was not proportionate to his head size, and a flannel print flat cap. He was boss, and by my definition, quite trill.
Our first stop was Museu Nacional D'art de Catalunya. Standing on the front steps you see an incredible view of the city. Clouds or sunshine, it's breathtaking.
The four white columns in the picture above were my favorite architectural monuments of the city. I understand this sounds crazy considering Barcelona is the motherland of Gaudi. Sometimes all the grand designs in the world can't satisfy the unexplainable aesthetic pleasure found in the simplicity of these four columns. Who really knows, maybe these four columns are actually real ornate and I sound like an idiot. I didn't ask about their history. I find many times it's better to keep your own imagination than ruin it with facts.
This here was Gaudi's church. Gaudi was a famous Spanish Catalan architect if you haven't picked up on that yet. Gaudi died in a carriage-tram accident on his way to this church. It's lovely, isn't it, how the most elaborate, detailed, over the top designer finds haven in a place as bland and beautiful such as this. I get that this picture still portrays Europe, and to the normal eye this might look as far from bland as possible. Google image "Sagrada Familia"....catch my drift?
Barcelona is magical. I truly do love it. But as great as it is, Madrid is home, and always will be home as long as I live in Spain.
Live Large and Sparkle.
I arrived at my assigned primary school in early October to take a tour of the campus and meet our Bilingual Coordinator. Although I felt super excited to introduce myself to the staff members and get a feel for the school, I also felt nervous about one thing in particular.
My dad and I had a vacation booked for late November, and I would be missing at least 6 days of school in order to be there. And I kept getting conflicting advice about how to approach the conversation.
Don’t tell them right away! Bad first impression, for sure. In Spain, it’s better to wait a few weeks in order to establish yourself as a trustworthy person and hard worker. Then, talk to the Deputy Head of Studies.
Just tell them when you get there. They might dock your pay, but it’ll be alright.
Whatever you do, don’t admit that you’ve already bought the flight!
After our auxiliar orientation, I began to feel anxious that the administrators at my school would be upset that my family had already committed to a trip. The vacation had been booked over 6 months in advance - before I even knew I had been accepted into the Teach Abroad program - so, at this point, it was a matter of broaching the subject in a culturally acceptable way.
I finally decided to do what felt most natural to me. That meant talking to the Deputy Head of Studies, Isabel, on the first day of school to let her know that I’d be missing 6 days of class time for a family vacation.
… and nothing really happened.
Both Isabel and the Bilingual Coordinator, Cristina, were very understanding and excited for me. Cristina simply asked me to make up the hours I’d be missing over the next several weeks during my free periods. It took me about 7 weeks to get it done, but since auxiliares generally do some presentation prep and other activities outside of class, anyway, it was a breeze.
Side note: I’m aware that the highly positive reaction of my school administrators might not be the case at all schools in Madrid, but I do feel that this reaction is more common than one would think. Moral of the story for me was to be honest up-front about this sort of thing! Either it will be okay or it won’t, but a delayed conversation doesn’t help the situation.
So, after two months working as a teaching assistant in Madrid, it was time to pack my bags once again and head to the South Pacific!
My dad and I spent a couple days diving in Fiji (where I got lucky and saw a tiger shark!) and then 10 days on a liveaboard dive boat, The Bilikiki, exploring the seascape around the Solomon Islands. Our group of 19 divers made good use of both our macro and wide angle cameras, as the underwater fauna ranged from tiny nudibranchs to 20-foot sharks. We also saw the healthiest coral I’ve ever seen, including a field of green staghorn coral lovingly named “The Rolling Hills of Ireland” by our dive instructor, Tina.
The 14-person crew worked hard to ensure that our experience onboard and in the water was enjoyable and unforgettable. Huge thanks to The Bilikiki for a breathtaking journey!
P.S. The best thing (besides the trip itself, of course) was returning to school and showing all sorts of underwater photos and videos to the kids in my classes. Check out some of the pictures below!
*Photos are copyrighted: Copyright © 2017 Larry White. All rights reserved.
Last weekend I had a tranquil saunter through the chilly city, under Christmas lights, and in good company. We had no destination in mind, yet found ourselves in an Irish pub watching the Barcelona vs. Real Madrid game. We moved farther towards the center of the city to find pizza and papas fritas. We noticed a small bus cruising around the center and thought, why not? So we jumped on with no place to go, ate our food, and engaged in a nice conversation with a Spaniard. We jumped off once our food was finished and our hands warmed to satisfaction. Every now and then, no destination can end up being the best.
The next day we set out for coffee and postcards and I had a little side mission to find the zero kilometer origin of Spain.
I found Kilometre Zero, or in other words the “zero mile marker” used traditionally to measure distances for roads and guidebooks. It’s located in Puerta del Sol in front of the old Royal House of the Post Office. I found it in a tourist guide magazine before looking for it in person and sure enough I stumbled upon a huddle of tourists looking down and snapping photos.
Sometimes we’re so busy planning our weekend trips and vacations that we forget to have a simple jaunt around the city we’re in. So please, this holiday season, make sure to enjoy the sights in the area you’re in. Sometimes the simplest pleasures hold the least amount of pressure and bring the most joy.
Madrid is a different being in the winter. 'Tis the season. I could almost say it happened overnight. The city went from gray and cold, to this:
In my opinion, I think New York might take the win on the worlds greatest Christmas tree, but Madrid puts up a good fight. The lights are mesmerizing. Unfortunately all the bulbs like to turn off at around 1:30 in the morning, which is somewhat hypocritical since Madrid sleeps less than the Big Apple.
Only a couple weeks ago, half of the Hadid family were represented all over that billboard.
The lights got hung up around the beginning of November. Santa's elves would hang the unlit lights late at night. The elves would do it in front of every passer-by on the street. For those who observed, it was easy to question where they were going with the design. Magically enough, it seems to have worked quite well. I need to remember to never doubt the creative minds from the North Pole. The lighting ceremony took place on Thanksgiving this year, how ironic.
I've never felt such a dramatic change within a community, simply due to an upcoming holiday. Every plaza has its own market. Although, I'm somewhat confused, the most popular market items up for sale are a variety of colored wigs (more on that later). You can have your choice of red, pink, dark purple, blue, glitter green, and red violet. I'm confident when I say every store has been officially stocked since last Monday.
Starbucks holiday cups clutter the hands of locals, tourists, and me. I'm a regular order of the Gingerbread Latte Christmas Blend, grande. Every corner has some sort of merry-go-round. I even saw a cotton candy stand chilling on the side of the road today. A young adult was eating a pink wad of it while dressed as a cow. It's all kind of incredible. The city turned in to a giant festival.
All of the merriment floating around in the air is making me even more excited for the month of December to finally begin.
Live Large and Sparkle.
I love living in Spain. I don't regret my decision in moving here for the second time. However, I always miss home the most around the holidays. Spain has plenty for Christmas, between lights strung up on the streets, Christmas music playing at Starbucks and various other areas, chestnuts roasting on the streets, etc. Thanksgiving though, is another story. It's an American holiday, plain and simple. The only thing that Spain has incorporated from our tradition is Black Friday (not going to complain about the sales!), so naturally, I missed a lot of the traditions that I usually participate in with my family.
With all that said, my Thanksgiving here in Spain did not lack for celebration. My school loves having us share our holidays with the students, my private students were very curious and interested in Thanksgiving, and, where there are Americans, you can be sure there will be a Thanksgiving feast! This whole past week has been full of Thanksgiving and has made my heart happy, even if I still miss my traditional fall leaves and family in Tennessee.
Here's how my week went:
Monday through Thursday I worked on some Thanksgiving activities with my private students, including hand turkeys, thanks chains, showing them our traditional food (and explaining what sweet potatoes were!), and having them come up with their own ideal feasts (perfect since they were working on food in school!). The students and families were so sweet in double checking with me ahead of time to make sure I was still okay to come on Thursday and wishing me a happy Thanksgiving when I did come.
Wednesday at school every class participated in Thanksgiving presentations during the last hour and a half of the day. Each of us auxiliares got to go around with two other teachers to three different classes and judge their decorations, cooking, presentations, and skits. It was so much fun! I helped a lot of the students work on their activities the week and a half before they did them and it was so fun to see how they turned out! Some did better jobs than others, but it was great to see fall leaves, hand turkeys, thanks chains, skits about the first Thanksgiving, and the food they had prepared. I got to try everything from homemade apple pie to mashed potato croquetas to turkey with cranberry gravy sauce. I was actually pretty impressed with the cooking skill of middle schoolers. The teachers and students also wished me a happy Thanksgiving on Thursday. (*Side note: I would have loved to have taken pictures, but rightly so we aren't allowed to take or post pictures of students without their parents' permission. Spain is getting better about their protection of minors).
I also Skyped with my family on Wednesday to wish each other a happy Thanksgiving and catch upon the latest. So thankful for the technology which allows us to keep in touch!
Saturday was our American Thanksgiving feast with friends from three additional countries (including Spain, Italy, and the UK). For being potluck style, we were able to coordinate pretty well in order to have most of the traditional foods: turkey (really chicken since it's Spain and the fridges and ovens are small), mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, sweet potatoes, a version of apple pie, salad, and some other random American and Spanish dishes. It turned out to be a quite yummy and enjoyable party. We even went around the table and said what we were thankful for. =)
Happy Thanksgiving weekend, ya'll!
Until next time,
I'm twenty-three years old. I went to high school in a small suburban Connecticut town called Cheshire, or as we locals call it, "the shire." I still know very little Spanish. If we are on the topic of "subjects I struggle with"- there's also science.
I'm not going to discuss how I got in to AP senior biology, and I'm not going to brush up on the mitosis exam from level one sophomore biology- those are stories for another time.
Thus, it must have been my personality that convinced IES Valdebernardo biology teacher, Myriam, that I was a perfect fit for the excursion to Casa de Campo.
Casa de Campo is: an amusement park, a swimming pool, a lake, a running trail, and from my observation, much more. According to locals, it's the largest park in all of Europe. Kind of cool.
I was joining an older crowd for the excursion to Casa de Campo, the seniors. The English program was after their time, leaving Myriam and I as the only English speakers.
Should be interesting.
It started with a Spanish lecture that I quite enjoyed. Continuing with a hike to the lake and a Pokemon Go session. Once we arrived at our destination within Casa de Campo, we dropped the science kits, the netted poles, the gloves and the garbage bags.
Meanwhile, I was doing my own experiment: am I intellectually capable of piecing together what this senior biology class is testing.
Stand by, here I provide the following observations:
I watched as they taped the garbage bags to the ground, strapped on rubber gloves, and dunked the netted poles into a highly contaminated lake. I carefully took note as the kids opened their science kits and unfolded a chart containing colorful squares.
Thats when it all came together: PH Values, how acidic is the water! I don't know what that means, it's only what I remember. The lingering left-overs from my high school experience.
The rest of the excursion went by smoothly. We hiked back to the main building and I helped the kids unload their bacteria into the microscopes.
With the conclusion of our day, I was struck with a thought: Truly, no matter which country, which high school, or which language, it will always be the same PH Value science experiment. These small outings to places like Casa de Campo just adds to the fact that this world is much smaller than people believe. In a way, the PH Value science project unites us.
I think it's beautiful.
Live Large and Sparkle.