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8 posts categorized "Ana Alicia Sontag"

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.

New Year, New Me


That's how the saying goes, right?
It is so easy to get caught up in the daily routine - the commute to work, lesson planning, teaching English, running to private classes after school.

Sometimes, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are in SPAIN. So, maybe it's a new year, but this new me isn't really new. It is rather an extension of myself, a hidden me that has been waiting to emerge. A European, more understanding and aware version of myself.

My new years resolutions are a mixed bag of tricks. While I still have the usual goals to drink more water, exercise, eat healthy, I want to push myself more out of my comfort zone. After reflecting on the last 4 months, and realizing I still have 6 to go, I have taken the time to think about what will really scares me. I still fear speaking Spanish in public, so I have made it my goal to go to more intercambios, to speak to the teachers at my school in Spanish, increase and review my knowlege of the subjunctive and preterite. Maybe I can start learning one new word a day. Maybe I can eventually increase that to three a day. But overall, at the end of this year, I want to be fluent and speak Spanish effortlessly.

Eat healthier? More like enjoy more pinchos and tapas. Save money? Spend it all on travel and seeing the world. 

I watched Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts the other day, and I couldn't help but relate to her journey through Italy, India and Bali. Maybe our time abroad in Spain is just about growth and learning to enjoy ourselves guilt free. So maybe I can take the time to enjoy the little things, without feeling like I don't deserve it. We have this moment in our lives, so why not SEIZE it. The time we have here is already almost halfway over, and this day is fleeting. We have no choice but to embrace and live it. 

The growth I can see in myself is surprising. On the surface, my English is flatter, less accented, with fewer unnecessary vocal fluctuations and usages of the word "like". I have chopped off my hair. I have worn out my shoes from the amount of miles I have trekked across Madrid. My Spanish is better. But there are deeper parts within me that are different, changes that I cannot yet identify and are still emerging. But my love for Europe has increased exponentially. 

I am excited to continue forward and making 2018 the best and most memorable year of my life. Because what fun is it to remain static, stuck in time when we could be pushing ourselves forward and watch huge changes take place in such a short period of time?

New year, new country, new me . 

Deciding to Apply to Teach Abroad

So you are considering applying to teach in Spain. Excellent decision.

BUT! Here are some things you should consider before you make the decision to uproot your entire life and fly halfway around the world with only your most essential or favorite belongings crammed into a tiny suitcase:

Do I like to travel?

Now, this is an important question. If you do not, what are you thinking! If you do, perfect, CIEE is the best way to see the world. Getting to Spain from America is a feat on its own, and with the long weekends and free time provided, there are many weekends for exploring, whether it is Berlin, Morocco, or Retiro Park here in Madrid.

How do I feel about children and teaching?

Do not forget, teaching is the main reason you are here! While you are provided with countless travel opportunities, we are here as language auxiliares. Students come first. Many auxiliares forget that while here. And, mainly we are teaching children, aka students aged 5 to 17.

Do I want to learn about myself?

Being in Madrid will push you to your limits. Some days are easy. Ridiculously easy. Some days are hard. Ridiculously hard. Some days I want to skip through Plaza Mayor and see everything. Some days I want to hide in my room and be a hermit. Both are okay, but in the process, you will learn more about who you are than you ever had before. Be prepared to see your rawest form of self, and be prepared to break that person down and rebuild who you are. This decision will change you for the better.

Be Comfortable Being Alone

There is something empowering about travelling alone. I went on a short trip to Dublin, Ireland this weekend. And it was amazing.I was alone, but I was never really alone.

I recommend staying in a hostel. Reach out. Talk to strangers. Because you never know, you could meet your best friend.

I used to consider hostels as places to avoid. I thought of bed bugs, communal showers, and strangers. But then I realized I was regarding this in a negative light instead of as a positive  opportunity for growth.

After my first afternoon touring the Dublin, I walked into my hostel, contemplating where I was going to eat dinner. Someone held the door open for me as I walked in, and I half glanced over, said a quick thanks, and made it half way up the stairwell before pausing.

A split second passed and I turned. Before I had thought the words through, I asked this stranger, “If you’re traveling alone, do you want to grab dinner with me?”

Now, if you knew me, you would know that this is not something I would ever do. Not in a million years. Yet, here I was, asking someone had known for a grand total of three seconds if he wanted to join me for a pint and a stew.

As it turned out, the stranger was from Madrid, Spain, studying in London for his masters. He had popped over to Dublin for a quick weekend trip, and the universe put us in the same hostel at the same instant.

We enjoyed our dinner, had a lovely conversation in a mix of Spanish and English while sitting in a loud Irish pub, before paying the Temple Bar a visit.

The next morning, I had breakfast with a student from Melbourne, Australia, whom I was sharing my dorm with.

Later, I toured to western Ireland with a Canadian from Vancouver and an American from New Jersey.

If I was with my American friends, I never would have had these opportunities. I would have kept to myself, dined with them, stayed in a hotel with them, and missed out on connecting with others who all have their own unique tale.

So stay in a hostel. Look around. Move out of your comfort zone. Because 10/10 chances are, that person sitting next to you is just as uncomfortable as you are. And, 9/10 chances are they want to be friendly and learn about you. We are social beings, and it is in our nature to reach out. So don’t think about it, don’t hesitate, and just do it.

When else will you find yourself surrounded by people from around the globe? Likely never. You’ll never know whom you will meet. And when I am 55 years old working with a 9am-5pm desk job, these are the stories I want to remember. And, plus, now I have one more friend in Madrid.

Those are the joys of travelling: to branch out, to explore, and to learn. If you are comfortable being alone in your own head, navigating a foreign transport system, a foreign language or accent, and a foreign currency, then you can do anything. You are unstoppable.

The saying goes that you have to get lost before you can be found. And, while I am losing myself here in Europe, I realize that I am finding in my old place a more worldly person. Push boundaries, break down your inner walls, and maybe, just maybe you will discover a freer person who is more comfortable in their skin. 23472419_10215275933878333_1588418495520614541_n


The most amazing part of traveling is exploring and finding yourself. The best part of getting lost is not always knowing where you are going.

Remind yourself, it is okay to wander.

It is okay to not have a plan, to take each day moment by moment and just appreciate the now. 

Spur of the moment, I bought a bus ticket to Nerja for a long weekend. An eight hour bus ride later, I was standing on the sand of a beautiful beach, looking out across the Mediterranean Sea. The African continent lay just across that beautiful stretch of blue.

And that was mind blowing.

Staying at home, safe in our bubbles, we forget how large and how grand the world is. There is more out there than the web that we create. Even as I become more comfortable in Madrid, and create a network between my piso, my school, the metro lines I take everyday and the markets that I visit frequently, I have to remind myself to stop, and to look around. To appreciate the magnificent city that I live in.

I also have to remind myself to keep going, and to keep pushing the limits. To be safe and secure is to fall into idle fantasies. Safety nets only make us complicit. 

I want to keep exploring, keep pushing the limits, and see where I can go.

Maybe, just maybe, that is how the original explorers felt, standing on the edge of the Mediterranean and looking out, wondering what is out there. Maybe we aren't so different than the famed Ferdinand Magellan, Christopher Colmbus, or Amerigo Vespucci. 

During my time in Spain I have already realized that comfort is overrated, and only when pushed to new limits can we expand our minds.

I think I will go further, and push into Africa next. Morocco, anyone?

A Lesson in the Formal

I always thought I was fluent in Spanish - that is, until I arrived in Madrid and hopped off of my flight on Iberia. 

Spanish, thickly accented with Castillian lisps, fired rapidly at me, and all I could do was blink in confusion and gawk. 

.......But.... I speak Spanish? I studied the language in college and high school. I am from California. Signs are written both in English and Spanish at home, and in Napa, it is never uncommon to hear Spanglish from the aisles of the grocery mart. But reality blind sided me. There I was, standing in the airport of a foreign country, realizing that I know very little of the language I was surrounded by.


After getting over my culture shock, going through the motions of CIEE Orientation, signing my lease to my new Piso, I felt like I was making progress. I am overcoming my fear of speaking, and actually enjoy learning new words, eaves dropping on conversations in the metro, and absorbing the language to the fullest extent possible. Some days, I understand everything, and feel confident participating in conversations. On others, I fail miserabley, and struggle to make distinctions between the words that slur together from the mouths of locals. A few days, I have had to lock myself in my room and surround myself with English and movies from home. Yet the majority of the time, I put in my  headphones, and jam away to the top Spanish hits on Spotify, willing myself to learn the language fluently through pure auditory osmosis. Every day is a new challenge.

Fastforward to the Sunday Rastro. The Rastro is a flea market that extends for miles, offering wares - clothes, Spanish fans, hookah pipes, just name it. I perused the streets, bombarded with noises, friends greeting each other, merchants shouting out deals, smells of onions and tortillas and seafood filling the air.  After stumbling across a art stand, the artist, a 93 year old woman, made her way over to me.

 "Hola, como estás?" I promptly said, smiling, and feeling brave. 

"Es estáis," she replied frowning. 

"...Oh. Estáis," I repeated back to her. She angrily walked away from my rude American self. 

And so began AND ended my lesson in the formal. I guess I am never finished learning. Next time, I know. 

The Metropolis Building, or edificio Metrópolis on Gran Vía, is one of the most iconic parts of Madrid. Topped with an Angel watching over Madrid, the building is magnificent at all times of the day. Crowned in gold, it is the jewel of Gran Via.


The Unfortunate Part of Living Abroad - Navigating Healthcare

So you know that how there is always that person who always gets sick and ends up on the ER on day 1? Well, yeah, this time it was me. 

Here I am, day one of orientation, and just starting the info session of navigating the hospital system, when I have a allergic reaction, break out in red hives, and feel my throat start to tighten. God only knows why. 

I was rushed to the "Sala de Emergencia" of HM Hospitales, located on the other side of Madrid as far away from the hotel as possible. Because day 1 of moving in a foreign city isn't hard enough, I just had to go and complicate things by needing medical attention. Handling that situation in a language that isn't my mother tongue was prettyyyyyy daunting. 

Luckily, I had all my information ready to go in one spot. This included my passport photocopies, Kaiser primary insurance information, INext Healthcare insurance, and vaccinations.

Honestly, the healthcare process was a breeze. At the hospital, I immediately was welcomed by a fluent translator, who began handing me paperwork to fill out. They printed out my primary insurance care form, which I completed, as well as the hospital's regular forms. They took my vitals, and a nurse ushered me into see the doctor. A translator stood with me the entire time, ready to step in as needed, while I gave as much of an account in Spanish as possible. The doctor examined me, and gave me the meds needed to stop the reaction in its tracks. 

An hour later, I stood, hive free and breathing freely again. I completed the rest of the unfinished paperwork. I walked out with a prescription that I picked up at a local pharmacy, knowing that I am now in the system. 

Needless to  say, I'm pretty proud of myself for going into a foreign hospital and coming out alive and well. I still hate needles though.


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